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Judgment Calls (2003)
Orrin's review is followed by a review from the Sister Judd, Mary-Ellen:
It can't have been an easy decision for Ms Burke, whether to publish under her own name and risk being compared to her famous and immensely readable dad or to take a pseudonym and risk disappearing unnoticed into the book stacks. In the event, her famous name proves somewhat distracting at first--anyone coming to her first novel expecting the dark mood and alcohol-soaked atmospherics of James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux series will be disappointed. But stick with her a while and you get a serviceable legal thriller that's strong enough on pacing to cover for predictable freshman flaws. Those flaws mostly concern the formulaic nature of some of the plot--especially the finale which might better have relied on brains than guns.
The story of a young Deputy DA in Portland, OR--Samantha Kincaid--makes effective use of Ms Burke's own similar work experience (she's now a law professor at Hofstra). If it's sometimes a bit too discursive about legal and police procedure, these details do serve to convince us that the author knows what she's talking about. Kincaid gets involved in the case of a teen prostitute and heroin addict who was raped, beaten and left for dead, but what seems a straightforward prosecution soon gets caught up in the politics of the DA's office and of the death penalty. Our heroine is long on pluck and gumption, though some older male readers, like your reviewer, may find themselves longing for a more laconic narrator. Ms Burke has assembled all the pieces for a standard courtroom fiction and moves them around with authority. One would only hope that as the series goes along--which it seems destined to--and her confidence builds, she'll be a bit more adventuresome and not be quite so confined by the genre.
We are introduced to Deputy District Attorney Samantha "Sam" Kincaid in Alafair Burke’s debut novel Judgment Calls. Sam is a tough-as-nails prosecutor in Portland Oregon who takes on the case of a thirteen year old prostitute who was savagely raped, beaten and left to die. That sounds like the makings of a great book . . . a "can’t put it down ‘til I’m done" read.
While Judgment Calls is a good book, it never reaches the height of a great book. Burke spends a little too much time on the minute details of criminal prosecution. I wish she had spent less time on procedure and more on character development. Burke has created an interesting cast of characters, but I never learned what drives them. Luckily, I like most of them enough to look forward to learning more about them as the series progresses.
In addition, her writing is sometimes over the top. "For the first time, I was seeing Chuck Forbes as a man, not as an icon of a glorious time in my life that was over. I felt tears in my eyes, blindsided by the sad realization that Chuck and I were no longer kids and by the profound honor I felt upon finding myself walking a common path with him as adults." Who says that kind of stuff?
What Burke does unfailingly well is capture the dedication and hard work that makes most prosecutors and detectives stand out. Law enforcement is a career that consumes you and Burke gets that point across. Prosecutors take their work home with them, physically and mentally. We all have our outlets for the frustration and emotion that consumes us. For Samantha Kincaid, it’s running.
In closing (pun intended), Judgment Calls is a good enough read that I look forward to Ms Burke's next: Missing Justice. 6/30/04
-Alafair S. Burke (Associate Professor of Law, Hofstra University School of Law)
-AUTHOR SITE: Alafair Burke
-INTERVIEW: An Interview with Alafair Burke (AlafairBurke.com)
-INTERVIEW: Like father, like daughter: For the Burkes, crime fiction is all in the family (JAY MACDONALD, July 2003, Book Page)
-REVIEW: of Judgment Calls by Alafair Burke (Susanna Cornett, Blogcritics)
-REVIEW: of Judgment Calls by Alafair Burke (January Magazine)
-REVIEW: of Judgment Calls by Alafair Burke (Kam White, Mostly Fiction)
-REVIEW: of Judgment Calls by Alafair Burke (Kate Ayers, Book Reporter)
JAMES LEE BURKE:
-INTERVIEW: The Dick Staub Interview: James Lee Burke is a Cowboy with a Conscience: The author of In the Moon of Red Ponies discusses rejection, perseverance, and the call to write. (06/30/2004, Christianity Today)
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