Close Case by Alafair Burke

Close Case is Alafair Burke’s third Samantha Kincaid mystery (see here for #1 and here for #2) and if you liked the first two, the third won’t disappoint. Those coming to Burke, and Kincaid, for the first time will find a interesting legal mystery with a feisty female lead character trying, often unsuccessfully, to balance her work and her personal life.

The plot is kicked off with the apparent murder of Percy Crenshaw, a popular investigative report, on the same night protests turned into riots. Samantha Kincaid, a 32-year old deputy District Attorney in Portland, is called in when suspects are found. It appears that two young thugs got high on meth and beat Crenshaw to death in a car-jacking gone bad. Tension builds when the partner of her newly moved-in boyfriend, police detective Chuck Forbes, pushes the interrogation to the limit and perhaps beyond in order to get a confession. Kincaid knows that her case hangs on the confession and that the police tactics could lead to it being thrown out as inadmissible. Once again she finds herself trying to balance her relationships with the police detectives (especially her boyfriend) with the responsibilities of her job in the D.A. office. And as in the first two books in this series, the original case unravels and Kincaid is forced to find out the truth the hard way.

I would guess that one’s appreciation of Burke’s Kincaid series depends heavily on perspective and taste. I found the mystery at the heart of Close Case interesting and well done for the most part. If you like mysteries with a strong mix of legal and police procedural you will likely enjoy Burke. What makes Samantha Kincaid different is the emphasis on relationships. Kincaid’s struggle to succeed at work while at the same time build her relationship with Forbes is a constant theme in the book. Not everyone wants a heavy does of “relationships” with their murder mystery. Not everyone wants Grisham mixed with Oprah (that was a cheap shot I know).

I am of two minds on this. In one sense the inclusion of the relationship issues makes Kincaid more real. This is after all the kind of messy complications that all too often intrude in real life. But on the other hand it feels a bit forced at times. The mystery portion of the plot moves rather smoothly and so when Burke stops to have Kincaid worry about Forbes or when the couple fights it slows down and distracts from the pace. Burke seems more sure handed with the intricacies of the legal system than with the inter-personal relationships of her characters.

As I noted above, if you enjoyed the first two books in the Samantha Kincaid series you will like Close Case. It has a strong plot and continues the exploration of the Kincaid character. But the focus on Kincaid’s relationship issues may turn a few people off.

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).

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