html> "Violent Crimes" - a book review on Jules Brenner's Critical Mystery Tour
Violent Crimes
An Amanda Jaffe novel by Phillip Margolin
Book review by Jules Brenner
Harper, released 2/9/16, 304 pp., $26.99
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The crimes in this grisly legal thriller aren't only violent -- they're numerous and onerous. They start with a brutal murder to silence a whistleblower about to expose a law firm that's been cooking their books in order to win a contract from Big Oil. The killer then frames the wrong man for the crime, followed by a succession of similarly lethal coverups. Pandora's Box meets Hopscotch on a checkerboard of homicide.

The seemingly hapless frameup victim is ex-special forces Tom Beatty, co-worker of the murder victim, Christine Larson. After Beatty was engaged in a bar fight initiated by a man who seemed to know what buttons to press for a PTSD veteran to explode, Christine's mutilated body is found in Tom's apartment where a cache of drugs also turns up. Enter our valiant defense attorney, Amanda Jaffe, whose marvelous case record is about to be challenged in ways she hadn't, initially, expected.

The important point here is her level-headed approach guided by experience and great success defending the accused. She's not prone to easy assumptions. After she interviews Beatty, for example, she can understand his superior fight abilities given his military background, but she has some doubt about the circumstances of his arrest. That fight -- could it have anything to do with the frameup? And, the death of a whistleblower... where do suspicions immediately arise?

But senior partner in the firm Dale Masterson, who had much to lose by Christine's impending testimony is taken off the suspect list when he, too, turns up beaten to death, in much the same fashion as his bookkeeper, confounding the case for Jaffe. She's just gotten Beatty out on bail, which could further incriminate him, but there's an odd twist. Dale's son Brandon, a known radical eco-terrorist and troublemaker, is seen running from his father's palatial Oregon digs and, when apprehended, quickly confesses. Too quickly.

Amanda is hired to defend Brandon who is adamant about wanting no defense assistance, and she's only barely able to convince him to allow her to represent his interests in court. But defending two clients in the same case is a problem that Jaffe appreciates as a move that could create an untenable legal challenge.

For the reader, it's a complication that spells tension, acceptable in the framework of Amanda's (and, of course, Margolin's) experience and acumen. Moreover, she's drawn as a pleasantly determined but cool investigator with unusual patience and empathy for unruly clients.

Despite the mystery behind who is getting killed and why, Margolin maintains clarity and narrative flow, two essentials on my list of positive attributes.

If you don't yet own Violent Crimes and would like to purchase it (usually at a sizable discount), click here.