Wild Justice // by Phillip Margolin


//published 2000//

All the way back in the spring, I randomly entered a Sweepstakes sponsored by HarperCollins, giving away all five of the Amanda Jaffe books in order to celebrate the release of the latest in the series, Violent Crimes.  And somehow – I was one of the winners!!!  Even though winning the books didn’t come with any kind of obligation to review them, it’s just kind of what I do with books that I read, so even though it’s been six months since I received them, I am finally getting around to reading – and reviewing – this series.  A special thank you to the publisher for giving me these books!!

What really happened was I started to read Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne series.  I really enjoyed Sleepyheadand started to read the second book, Copy Cat, in the early spring.  But I just couldn’t get through that book.  There was too much gruesomeness, with a perpetrator who focused on torture and it was just too, too much for me.  I don’t enjoy reading violent descriptions.  Point is, I abandoned Tom Thorne and retreated to safety: Agatha Christie.  And I’ve been reading all of Christie’s stand-alone mysteries ever since.  I thought about putting those on pause and jumping into the Amanda Jaffe books…  but I was kind of scared.  What if they were violent and terrifying??  So they’ve just been sitting there…

But I finished with Christie and, out of excuses, started to read Wild Justice – and it was fantastic.  Honestly, I was drawn in immediate by the quote at the beginning of the book, from Francis Bacon – “Revenge is a kind of wild justice.”  I absolutely love that line, and it really set the tone for the entire story.

Amanda has finished law school and come back to Portland to join her father’s criminal defense firm.  Although she is young, Amanda is intelligent and a quick learner.  She loves her father – a widower – and is excited to work with him doing the work he loves.  But I really enjoyed the fact that Amanda was still wrestling throughout the story with whether or not criminal defense was the direction she wanted to go with her life.  There was also a lot of growing in the relationship between Amanda and her dad.  I liked that they had a good relationship, but that that didn’t mean that things were perfect all the time.

The story really picks up when a surgeon, Dr. Cardoni, is arrested for murder – and not just any murder – a gruesome, torture scene.  (Although, thankfully, mostly off-screen with vague details – a few scenes that made me uncomfortable – one in particular – but overall not too bad.)  Amanda’s father has represented Cardoni before (although not for homicide).  Even though Amanda and her dad – and basically everyone else – are convinced that Cardoni is guilty, they work hard to defend him (which leads to a lot of those conversations/thoughts about whether or not this is really what Amanda wants to do with her life – all of which I thought was handled really well).

There are a lot of threads going on in this story.  Margolin’s choice to go with a third person narrative, however, enables us, as the reader, to know more about what is happening than Amanda does.  Most of the time this works really well, although there were moments that I found myself thinking Amanda was rather thick – only to remember that it was because she didn’t actually know something that I did, if that makes sense.

One of the things that I liked about Amanda is that she was single for much of the book and that she was okay with that – but also not okay with that.  Being single can be a weird thing.  While you are content with who you are as a person and recognize that you don’t need someone else to be complete, there is still something really wonderful about the companionship and comfort that comes from a secure relationship.  And, as you get older and all your friends pair off, it feels awkward sometimes to be the not-couple friend.  As someone who didn’t get married until the age of 27 (and spent most of my 20’s single), I felt like Margolin captured that balance in Amanda’s character.

Amanda buttered her toast at the kitchen table.  While she sipped her milk she took stock of her life.  On the whole she was happy.  Her career was going well, she had money in the bank and a place she loved to live in, but she was lonely at times.  Two of her girlfriends had married during the past year, and she was beginning to feel isolated.  Couples went out with couples.  Soon there would be children to occupy their time.  Amanda sighed.  She didn’t feel incomplete without a man.  It was more a question of companionship.  Just having someone to talk to, who would be around to share her triumphs and help her up when she fell.

While the ending was satisfying, there were still a few loose threads that I would have liked to have seen taken care of.  Most of the circumstances were explained, but not all.  So while I definitely agreed that the conclusion was the logical one, I would have still liked to have seen the rest of the red herrings cleared up.

Still, Wild Justice was thoroughly engaging and a confident 4/5.  I really like Amanda and her dad and am interested to read the next book.  Hopefully it manages to stay on the conservative side of the gruesome line as well!