Missing Justice by Alafair Burke

In a follow up to her debut novel, Judgment Calls, Alafair Burke has produced another legal thriller set in Portland. Missing Justice is also a legal whodunit with a balance of court centered procedures and various plot twists centered around the feisty and independent deputy district attorney Samantha Kincaid. Burke again uses Kincaid to describe the inner workings of the legal system and worry about the people who often get trapped in the wheels of justice. And once again, Samantha’s stubborn insistence on running down every loose end gets her in trouble but also ends up solving the case. For those who enjoyed Burke’s debut, her latest work is likely a satisfying continuation of a promising series. As a stand alone work it is an entertaining, if fairly run of the mill, murder mystery.

After the wild ending she experienced in Judgment Calls, Samantha Kincaid takes a two week vacation in Hawaii. Upon her return she is promoted to the Major Crimes Unit and assigned what is presumed to be a minor hand holding job when Clarrisa Easterbrook, an administrative law judge for the city of Portland, is reported missing. Everyone figures that Mrs. Easterbrook, who is married to a wealthy surgeon, will turn up and explain that it was all a misunderstanding. As is usually the case in these murder mysteries, however, things don’t turn out as planned. Although her shoe and her dog were found not far from home, Mrs. Easterbrook’s body turns up at a suburban construction site. The police are having a hard time making sense of the clues.

Things only get worse when Kincaid’s ex-husband shows up at a press conference representing the victims husband (an obvious suspect for the police but whose connections make life uncomfortable for the DA’s office). With the pressure on, the police soon find some circumstantial but damming evidence against a former drug addict single father who had a case before the victim. With the case wrapped up in their minds the police are ready to move on and expect Kincaid to seal the deal. Instead, Kincaid can’t resist pulling at some loose ends to prove to herself that the accused really is guilty. Getting to the bottom of this case uncovers an affair with a city councilman, potential bribery and undue influence, and a plot to manipulate the city’s smart growth plan. In order to find out the truth Kincaid is forced to use some unconventional legal tactics and once again face the wrath of her boss. In the end, she manges to stumble on to the truth and come out unscathed, just barely.

As the above makes clear Missing Justice continues the pattern of Judgement Calls. Although the book can stand on its own, it is basically a different take on the same formula with repeat characters and setting. The writing seems a little tighter and the plot was more involved but if you liked the first book you should like this one and vice versa. Burke continues to go into some detail on the legal and procedural aspects and continues to develop Samantha as a character. It appears that her relationship with her on-again off-again boyfriend Chuck Forbes might turn more serious despite the potential conflict of working the same cases. And although her stubbornness and feisty independence continues to get her in trouble she is learning to work with her co-workers more and appreciate their advice. After all, there are only so many times she can threaten to quite before it starts to get old.

Missing Justice makes for good summer reading as it has enough plot twists and character development to hold your interest but is light enough to read at the beach or on the bus. If you like murder mysteries with an extra does of legal details, or you simply like feisty female lead characters, Missing Justice might be a good choice this summer.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).