“Violent Crimes” by Phillip Margolin brings back the “take no prisoner” defense attorney Amanda Jaffe. In this fifth book of the series she has two clients suspected of the same murder, one accused while the other confesses. Beyond that readers get an interesting glimpse into the court process given Margolin’s ability to use his experiences of being a former top-notch defense attorney.
He talked about his style of writing, which is plot driven. “Everything starts with some idea. After that I try to figure out what characters would fit into the story. Take for example Ties That Bind, I had no intention of putting Amanda and Frank Jaffe in it, but after thinking about it, I knew these characters would fit perfectly. With ‘Violent Crimes’ it was a combination of wanting to bring Amanda back, but making sure it did not seemed forced.”
The plot begins when Amanda is asked to defend Tom Beatty, a former Special Forces Warrior, who has PTSD, and is accused of using excessive force in a bar fight. Although the charges were dismissed Tom’s troubles are only beginning after he is suspected of murdering his co-worker and dealing drugs. Shortly after getting him out on bail another lawyer, Dale Materson, is found dead, also beaten to death. While investigating the case Amanda finds that Materson’s business practices are suspect. The case gets more complicated when his son, Brandon, a radical activist determined to martyr himself for his cause, claims he killed his father. Amanda now has to defend two clients, trying to prove both innocent.
The contrast between defendants makes for an interesting read. Tom is someone everyone will root for, while Brandon is as dislikeable as they come. Margolin explores how sometimes a person’s background can influence how he is regarded. Because Tom was a former Warrior and now has PTSD he is seen as dangerous, but Margolin does a wonderful job of showing him as loyal, bright, and caring. On the other hand, Brandon is seen as an obsessed eco-warrior who resents his father for representing the interests of oil and coal companies. Being Dale’s son it becomes evident that the apple does not fall far from the tree considering Brandon is an egomaniac and thoroughly unpleasant.
Hopefully no one will ever be put into Tom’s position because Margolin points out in the book “Defending a murder case is expensive… two hundred and fifty thousand to start.” The plot explains how a death penalty case is unlike any other criminal case including a regular murder trial. In death cases the same jury decides not only the person’s guilt, but also a day or two later if they should receive the death sentence.
Margolin commented to blackfive.net, “I have been involved with twelve death penalty cases. I might be the only legal thriller writer who has actually worked on death cases. What you see in my books are things I have actually done in real life. In every other criminal case there is about a month between the conviction and the sentencing, not with death cases. It becomes really complicated so a lawyer has to hire many experts and investigators.”
“Violent Crimes” allows the readers to understand what defense lawyers are up against. Even seasoned pros like Amanda Jaffe must make hard ethical and moral decisions. Violent Crimes is a captivating legal thriller.