Written by a former criminal lawyer, this is a solid legal thriller and, though it’s the second in a series, I didn’t have any particular difficulty picking up the background of the major characters, specifically Jessica Yardley, the US Attorney who is the central protagonist here.
The action kicks off straight away with the discovery of a gruesome murder scene - except, shockingly, the victim has survived what appears to be a serial killer. Jessica quickly befriends Angela River, the survivor, as she looks into the case, involving herself not only to be sure the investigators follow necessary procedure for a ‘clean’ conviction once they find the perpetrator, but out of concern for Angela, who she very much likes.
Unfortunately, Jessica has terrible taste in people, as evidenced by her ex-husband (a serial killer) and her last boyfriend (a copycat killer). Even her daughter Tara, a math savant, is beginning to show worryingly sociopathic tendencies, and in fact we the readers discover some things about Tara which would destroy Jessica if she knew. Tara’s character arc and eventual fate are surely going to be a strong theme throughout this series.
The courtroom scenes are probably the strongest part of this book; there were some other bits I was thrown by early on - like the two experienced detectives finding a woman lying on a table and not checking her pulse, just assuming she was dead. Literally the first thing first responders are taught to do is check for a pulse. I just didn’t buy that they wouldn’t do it, and this was in the first couple of pages, so my suspension of disbelief was damaged from early on.
There was a lot to like here: I liked the twists and turns and the complicated motives that were slowly revealed as the story went on. I’m not at all sure I liked the way things ended, because as Jake Peralta would say “Cool story. Still murder” and Jessica knew very well that mitigating circumstances would play a big role in how the perpetrator was sentenced. I have the feeling her choices could definitely come back to bite her at a later date.
Readers should be aware that this is a story with triggers for child sexual abuse as well as the gory adult violence described on-page. This was a plot development which rather took me by surprise, as it’s not hinted at in the blurb. Jessica, contemplating retiring from her post at the beginning of the book, takes a sidestep into prosecuting child-related crimes by the end, so it seems that’s the direction the series may be taking.
I enjoyed the read, but it felt a little disjointed at times, especially once defence attorney Dylan Aster came on the scene, around the midpoint of the book. It felt like the author was having a lot more fun writing Aster than Yardley from that point on. Maybe Aster is getting his own books, I don’t know, but I thought he got too much focus here. This needed tightening up to keep the focus of the story where it needed to be.
I’ll give this four stars, because it did keep my attention and the mystery had enough twists and turns to keep me guessing, but I could see a lot of places where it could have been improved.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.