I decided to read this book solely because Alafair Burke is the daughter of James Lee Burke, the master of the crime genre. Also, it would seem, she is something of a family favourite, JLB having named the daughter of his main character 'Alafair' in his long running Robicheaux series. Alafair Burke has now written 3 Samantha Kincaid novels and looks like writing a whole slew more, so it was a pleasure to give her series a hit out.
Alafair Burke's first offering is set in Portland, Oregon. Her main character, Sam Kincaid, is an assistant DA. This makes the book more a legal procedural and this point of view is very welcome: many of the established series set in law enforcement place their main characters in the police force or as private investigators. The job of the DA's office is to take the work of the police and ensure the evidence is sufficiently kosher to enable successful prosecution.
Living in Australia, I think I have a better idea of how the American justice system works than I do of my own, including the differences in laws between the different states (at least in the states where the crime series I read are set!). I don't know whether this is sad or not, but at least I'm KEEN! Over here we do not have DAs for example, although we do have a Department of Public Prosecutions. I imagine any reader from outside the US has a similar sense of peripheral perception, but we get used to it especially when it comes to good crime series.
This book focuses on Sam Kincaid's involvement in a case where a 13 year old heroin using child prostitue is grievously assaulted and left for dead by 2 men. There is quickly a suspect for Kincaid to prosecute, but the case becomes more complicated when an older and similar murder is revitalised and the spectre of a serial killer begins to materialise.
My main criticism of the book revolves around the plot's clunkiness. I think this is mainly due to the fact that it IS the first in a series, and number one always seems to have these kind of problems. Burke is keen and she knows her stuff and some of it gets quite complicated. However some of the Oregon law enforcement acronyms are not explained and the US justice system does love its acronyms, all slightly different from state to state. I was also champing at the bit about the identity of the second attacker, Burke is mute on this for much of the book.
Further I found some difficulty with the character of Kendra Martin, the 13 year old victim, who was not quite 3-dimensional. Some of the story's importance revolves around the state Kendra was in when the police interviewed her after her attack. She had supposedly been given a shot of Narcan to counteract the effects of the heroin found in her system, something that usually leaves addicts furious and hell bent on only one thing: getting more immediately. She wasn't quite believable as an addict either then, or in her later behaviour. Even after 'only' 9 months of use, she would, I believe, have pursued her drug lifestyle a little more vehemently even after this gruesome attack, especially with the lack of family support Burke creates for her. Kendra is really quite 'tame'.
Outside of that, Burke has created some strong characters; her love interest Chuck who is also a cop on the Major Crimes Unit, her newly widowed Dad, her friend Grace and her dog Vinnie. It must be overwhelming setting up a series and getting all your ducks in a row. The criticisms I have of the book never made me want to put it down, just hope that Burke can iron everything out to keep the series rolling. And it appears she has done just that. I've just picked up 'Close Case' and its a cracker.
I believe Burke's main audience, readers of crime fiction series, will exercise patience with this book and she will pick up other fans as the series gets stronger. I for one welcome her and her character and the setting onto the scene and will be looking out for more of her Sam Kincaid series.