Phillip Margolin’s Violent Crimes, is a legal drama that unfolds at a brisk pace. While it doesn’t break any new ground, pages turn quickly and the story draws the reader a the tale of violent betrayal as it follows defense attorney Amanda Jaffee around her native Portland, Oregon as she struggles to unravel the tangled knot of mystery, deception, and violence.
Margolin is at his best when he presents the relationships between the court, the DA’s office, the defense team, and the cops. He knows it. He’s lived it, and we gain insights we don’t find in the 40 minutes of an hour crime show on TV. These people know each other well and often find themselves on opposite sides of a given case. The things that hold the delicate balance together are trust and the desire to learn the truth. Most everybody wants the correct perpetrator to come to justice. Getting to that end sometimes provides intense personal conflict.
Margolin weaves the often at-odds motivations of his characters into a cohesive whole that only loses some of its steam when romance rears its head. There are a couple instances where the suspension of disbelief is given pause, but they are minor bumps in an otherwise smooth ride to the climax.
Amanda and Kate Ross, her trusted and likable investigator, know all the angles and keep working the edges as the center begins to appear. After her client goes AWOL and more people start meeting violent ends, Amanda ends up in a race with the police and the DA’s office to uncover the truth.
Margolin’s fondness for Portland is evident throughout the novel. As Amanda confronts her obstacles, she moves with familiar ease through the Metro area between Forest Park, the West Hills, Washington County, the downtown business area and, of course, the courthouse. Portland isn’t glorified, but comes across as a real place, comfortable with itself.
Perhaps better than anyone, Margolin writes courtroom scenes that are right on the beam. His style is economical and clear. You can hear the murmur of the gallery, the slight echo from the working attorneys’ voices, and the sharp rap of the gavel. The legal maneuvers are fascinating and call to mind a chess match with very high stakes. This is where the book shines brightly.
Violent Crimes is a good book, doesn’t pretend to be a great one, and is a worthwhile way to enjoy a rainy Portland evening.
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