Violent Crimes by Phillip Margolin (Harper, 2016, $26.99)
Throughout his long career, mystery master Phillip Margolin has introduced readers to a number of great protagonists, but few are as memorable as Amanda Jaffe. In the fifth book of the series, Violent Crimes, Jaffe finds herself caught in the middle of a massive financial conspiracy, multiple grisly murders—including that of her friend, fellow lawyer Christine Larson—and two shady clients, one or both of whom may be guilty.
Jaffe, a brilliant lawyer at the firm where her father is a partner, takes on war veteran Tom Beatty as a client at the request of Larson, who has taken the man under her wing at Masterson, Hamilton, Rickman and Thomas, a powerful business and tax law firm where they both work. An assault charge against Beatty, stemming from a barroom misunderstanding and the veteran’s PTSD affliction, is quickly dismissed through Jaffe’s gathering of witness statements that support her client’s self-defense claim, but when Beatty is accused of Larson’s murder shortly thereafter, there seems to be no way out for her client. Matters are made worse when Beatty disappears in violation of a court order, leaving behind a bloody scene at his house and a myriad of questions lingering for Jaffe.
While Jaffe follows the breadcrumbs surrounding her friend’s death and her client’s disappearance, Christine’s boss is murdered in a grisly manner that mirrors Larson’s own death, with the man’s disturbed and estranged son confessing to the crime. Confronted with an impossible ethical dilemma as she is caught between her clients and the elusive truth, Jaffe quickly realizes that there are some dark secrets hiding at Masterson, Hamilton, Rickman and Thomas, and that if she doesn’t uncover the evidence needed to implicate the real killer, Jaffe herself may well be the next victim.
The mystery is fast-paced and well realized, with plenty of twists and red herrings to keep readers guessing. After throwing readers straight into the action from page one, Margolin weaves the tale with strong characters, a believable conspiracy, and plausible motives all around. The ethical dilemmas faced by Jaffe, Beatty, and Deputy District Attorney Larry Frederick also make the reader think, giving an extra layer of complexity to the tale.
Some characters, such as Jaffe’s investigator, Kate Ross, are not as well fleshed out as they could be, with deeper development taking a backseat to moving the story along, although as some of them are series characters, perhaps this is a product of the author’s assumption that readers have followed their development from previous books.
The writing is sharp and witty, with biting dialogue that brings characters to life as the story progresses. Also, the final twist, though portended about halfway through the book, is thoughtful and satisfying. Overall, fans of Margolin’s previous work, especially of earlier Amanda Jaffe novels, will find much to enjoy in Violent Crimes, and though the book may feel like it’s over before you know it, the ride is well worth taking. —Jeremy Burns