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Missing Justice    by Alafair Burke order for
Missing Justice
by Alafair Burke
Order:  USA  Can
Henry Holt, 2004 (2004)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Samantha Kincaid returns for more legal wheeling-dealing and investigation in Missing Justice. The title is a nice play on words since a judge is missing, and it looks like justice may also be out of the picture as events unfold. Like so many mystery writers these days, Alafair Burke brings a law degree to her second career - she was a deputy DA in Portland and continues to teach criminal law.

I like Sam. She's feisty and in control, always ready with the right quip, whether spoken or a mental aside to the reader, as in 'If I had boy parts, he never would have called my power move a little scene.' Reflecting on her best friend Grace's view that she has a 'problem with authority', Sam says that her 'only problem is that the assholes are the ones that get promoted.' By now, you get the picture that this heroine tends to go her own way. Sam has just returned from a Hawaiian vacation with Grace, after her harrowing experiences in Judgment Calls, which left people looking at her as the 'local Annie Oakley'. Newly promoted to Major Crimes (with a hot and surprisingly supprtive new boss), Sam's called out to the 'Creepy George Jetson' home of Clarissa Easterbrook, an Administrative Law Judge who's disappeared. Both dog and shoe show up, but no lady justice. Her surgeon husband Townsend is distraught, and her best friend Susan Kerr takes charge.

The case develops quickly. A body is found and a young black father (who had sent the judge threatening letters) is charged. But details worry Samantha, who skirts propriety by providing information to the defense counsel. Soon she's at odds with almost everyone on the case and in her personal life - her ex is in her face representing Townsend, her dad won't divulge an old family secret, and she can't find much time for her boyfriend, Detective Chuck Forbes. But this heroine is as stubborn and persistent as any of her male counterparts. Sam unearths shady doings surrounding the city's 'Smart Growth Act' and land whose future value is tied to city rulings. And, as in the first episode, Sam is imperilled again before the case is closed. Along the way, Burke shares social commentary, about the stereotyping of blacks as criminals, and about 'a link between corporate practices that thwart the American dreams of everyday workers and the desperation that causes people to rob, sell drugs, or even kill'.

I'll continue following this series for its engaging and empowered heroine, its credibly detailed legal context and its well-developed plots. Though I wouldn't object to just a little more action, Sam Kincaid is always fun to spend time with, as a partner in crime.

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