Monday, March 14, 2011

Ties That Bind / by Phillip Margolin

After graduating from American University, Washington D.C. in 1965, Phillip Margolin joined the Peace Corps in Liberia where for two years he assisted with the ongoing humanitarian aid in West Africa. Following that, he attended law school at NYU, actually teaching junior high school in the South Bronx to support himself, and eventually earned his degree in 1970. He then moved to Oregon to work as aid to the Portland district attorney and subsequently, from 1972 to 1996, worked as a private practice lawyer specializing in criminal defense cases both at the trial and appellate level where he covered over 25 homicides, several of which involved the death penalty. A steady stream of legal thrillers, appearing since 1978, have made Margolin well-known in crime fiction circles where his Amanda Jaffe novels have been among his most popular.

Portland lawyer Amanda Jaffe's still recovering from her latest high-stakes trial, one which threatened not only her career but her life, when she's asked to defend Jon Dupre, a known drug dealer and pimp now accused of murdering a U.S. Senator. The case seems a slam dunk for the prosecution. Not only is Dupre accused of murdering a the Senator, but he was also witnessed stabbing and killing his former defense attorney right in the jailhouse! Dupre ardently claims his innocence. He says he's being framed for the murder of the senator and that jailhouse incident was self-defense, statements no one but Amanda can begin to believe and even she has her reservations. There is one thing which lines up with Dupre's story: scratch wounds and bruises on his arms and chest giving some credibility to the self-defense plea. But why would Dupre's own attorney, a man trying to defend him against charges of another murder, try to kill him?

Things aren't quite what they seem. In fact, they're more treacherous than Amanda could've ever imagined. As Amanda starts to dig further into the incident involving Dupre's former lawyer, a connection starts to unravel between her client's case, issues surrounding Dupre's escort service in particular, and some of the city's highest ranking officials. Some of these high-powered elite are ones Amanda has crossed paths with, and in some cases, are people she currently works with. The deeper in she wades, the more she comes to realize that these men in high places will do anything to protect themselves, their reputations and their way of life. Finding justice for Jon Dupre won't be easy, but Amanda's used to the odds being against her and steadily plows ahead, putting herself and her client in harm's way at every turn.

Margolin's is a decent writer and his story is enough to keep the reader interested, building the drama through enough twists, turns and scandals to push the protagonist and to the limit. But while the premise itself, a big city prostitution ring servicing the high-powered elite, is a good jumping off point but aspects of the story lack continuity. The characters, even Amanda, come off a bit awkward and it might take readers a little too long too become familiar with all of the story's various players, both the big shots and the small fries, none of whom are especially well-developed. Plus the book as a whole might even have been better without a few of the sidestories. Other than that Ties That Bind is an entertaining, fast read, and though nothing memorable, it's definitely enough of a thrill ride to satisfy fans of John Grisham, Steve Martini or Scott Turow. (FIC MARGOLIN)

No comments: