Judgment Calls
Alafair Burke
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Judgment Calls
Alafair Burke
St. Martin's
368 pages
May 2004
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Though Alafair Burke may be the daughter of Edgar Award-winning author James Lee Burke, the two write as differently as night and day. Alafair Burke has a fresh style all her own. It seems obvious that her former work as a deputy district attorney, coupled with her education and teaching background, has worked in her favor, laying down the foundation for the plot and characters found in her debut novel, Judgment Calls.

A thirteen-year-old girl is kidnapped and driven to a remote deserted area where she is tortured, beaten and raped. The two people who assault her drop her seemingly lifeless body in the woods and leave her for dead. Teenagers out camping stumble upon the young girl and call for help, saving her life.

The police have mostly circumstantial evidence about the violent crimes committed. Though the victim is sassy and strong, the case is weakened by the fact that heroin was in found her system, and that she has priors for soliciting. Still, Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid decides to take on the case, one that most attorneys would shy away from. One of the attackers has been identified, and thanks to a trail of evidence that could be spotted from the Space Shuttle, is arrested. But what about the second perpetrator? Who is the other person involved in the savaging of this teenager?

Teaming with the police to work the investigation, Kincaid finds herself partnered up with Chuck Forbes, her ex-lover. While they work on the rape case, one of Forbes' prior convictions is getting overturned. An anonymous letter explains how the person in jail couldn't possibly have been responsible for the crimes committed. It is suggested by the defense attorney that the two cases, Kincaid's and Forbes', might be related. Though it seems ludicrous, it is possible that there is a sadistic serial killer still out stalking the city streets of Portland. It becomes Kincaid's responsibility to fit together the pieces of the puzzle and solve the mystery.

Judgment Calls is the first book in a series that will feature Samantha Kincaid. Though Burke's writing is strong, the plotting tight and the characters well-developed, I found myself become increasingly annoyed with the author's need to repeat herself. The evidence is shown to us over and over. There iss a recap, if not every chapter, then close to every other chapter. The book could have been cropped to a tighter, more taut thriller with some additional edits. Overall, the book is comparable to others in its genre. Judgment Calls is, though, all in all, a successful debut to what will become a winning series.

© 2003 by Phillip Tomasso III for Curled Up With a Good Book.

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