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Close Case    by Alafair Burke order for
Close Case
by Alafair Burke
Order:  USA  Can
Henry Holt, 2005 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is the 3rd legal thriller starring Deputy DA Samantha Kincaid in Portland, Oregon, and the series is just getting better. In the background to the action this time is racial tension in Portland due to a patrol officer's shooting of an unarmed African-American woman, Delores Tompkins. The cop claims that she drove her car directly at him and that it was self defense, but the community isn't buying it. The situation has also caused bad feelings between the DA's office, which will be prosecuting the officer involved, and the city police force. This is particularly hard for Sam, who now lives with police officer Chuck Forbes.

As the novel opens on Sam's thirty-second birthday, she's called to the scene of the murder of a hotshot black reporter, Percy 'Snoop' Crenshaw, killed in what looks like a 'carjacking gone wrong'. Complicating this case is the fact that Chuck's old friend Matt might be a suspect, since his wife Alison seems to have had a relationship with Crenshaw. But the police soon make arrests, of two young men involved in the rioting nearby. Unfortunately, Sam has serious reservations about the way in which Chuck's partner, Mike Calabrese, manipulated a confession from one of the alleged killers. Complicating her life even more is the involvement of her 'courthouse nemesis', defense lawyer Lisa Lopez, in the case.

This episode introduces an engaging new character to the series - junior Oregonian journalist Heidi Hatmaker, whose keenness to take on a real reporting job leads her to dig into Crenshaw's files and to decypher his cryptic notes. She finds that he was on the trail of discrepancies in crack arrests of black men. On the home front, Sam's conflict with Chuck's partner Mike and her investigation of his friend Matt hurt their relationship. Then, she's assigned prosecution of the Tompkins case, which makes her unpopular with the police in general. Personal angst piggybacks on top of major career challenges before this one gets resolved.

Close Call is Alafair Burke's best yet - a complex plot with a surprising resolution that ties up every loose end; an emotional roller-coaster of a personal life for the heroine; and credible (based on the author's personal experience) details of the DA role and day-to-day activities. I enjoy spending time with Samantha Kincaid, a heroine whose spunky attitude to life, the job, her dad, and relationships in general, make for entertaining reading. If you haven't met Sam yet, then start with Judgment Calls and enjoy your time together through all three episodes.

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