Margolin, Phillip. After Dark.

NY: Bantam, 1996.

Margolin is one of those authors who seems always to have a couple of recent volumes on the bookstore rack, but who otherwise flies under the radar in terms of awards or featured reviews. He’s been a criminal defense attorney for several decades, so it’s no surprise that he specializes in legal thrillers, or that he sets most of them in his home territory of Oregon.

In this one, which I picked up sort of randomly because I wasn’t very familiar with his work, Abigail Griffen, a very hot (in several senses) Assistant D.A. in Portland, is married to a State Supreme Court Justice, but he’s been playing around and she wants a divorce. Then there’s Tracy Cavanaugh, clerking for one of the other justices, who would love to work for Matthew Reynolds, a leading national-level defense attorney in death penalty cases, when her stint at the court is up — but then Tracy’s friend Laura, who is the clerk for Justice Robert Griffen, the philandering husband, is murdered in the basement of the Supreme Court building. And then, a few weeks later, Justice Griffen himself is blown up in his car.

Abigail finds herself accused of the murder of her husband by a special prosecutor brought in from Salem, and she turns to Reynolds for help, because the best is the best, and Tracy (who got the job) finds herself working on the case. And then there’s the stone killer whom Abigail had sent to death row three years before, but who was released by the Supreme Court on a legal technicality, and who wants revenge, and who is an expert with bombs.

If this sounds confusing, that’s because it pretty much is. The first section of the book especially, where all these characters are being introduced, rapid-fire, can be a bit bewildering. You might need a scorecard to keep everyone straight — especially the Supreme Court Justices, who are often referred to as “Judge,” “Judge,” and “Judge,” even on the same page.

The story itself, while it’s a bit soap-opera-ish, isn’t really bad — at least not until the last few chapters, where certain key characters come completely unwound, and in a not entirely believable way. There are also some oddities in the narrative style, considering how experienced this author is. Instead of letting you observe the characters and working out their hang-ups and psychological problems from what they say and do, he often just describes them outright and then recites their origins. I give this one two-and-a-half shrugs.

Published in: on 4 February 2016 at 5:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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