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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"Supreme Justice" by Phillip Margolin (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Website for Phillip Margolin Here
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AUTHOR INFORMATION: Phillip Margolin is an ex-criminal defense attorney from the New York School of Law. He has had nearly a quarter century of experience working as defense attorney in Portland, Oregon and has all sorts of criminal cases appear before the United States Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, The Oregon Supreme Court and The Oregon Court of Appeals. He was the first Oregon attorney to use the Battered Women's Syndrome to defend a abused woman. Two of his books and a short story have been made into movies.

PLOT SUMMARY: Brad Miller, Keith Evans
, and Dana Cutler (previously seen in Executive Privilege) are called to untangle a five-year-old case involving a ghost ship and the President’s nominee to the US Supreme Court. At the same time Sarah Woodruff is on death row in Oregon for murdering her lover, John Finley. Woodruff was tried for Finley’s murder once before but the case was dismissed mid-trial when the judge was slipped irrefutable proof that Finley was still alive! Meanwhile in the Justice Chambers, Justice Ronald Chalmers resigns, creating a vacancy that Dennis Masterson, former head of the CIA, is seeking to fill. Things take a more ominous turn when another Justice is attacked for no apparent reason.

These suspicious instances call for outside help, which is where private detective Dana Cutler and FBI Agent Keith Evans come in. Together with Brad Miller, they try to find out if the incidents are linked with the Woodruff appeal and a shoot-out which occurred years ago on a small freighter docked upriver in Shelby, Oregon, containing a dead crew and oil drums filled with drugs. The only survivor on the ship was John Finley! Brad, Keith, and Dana’s investigations lead them to a plot by a rogue element in the American intelligence community that involves the Presidents nominee to the Supreme Court, putting them back in the grips of a deadly, executive danger.

FORMAT/INFO: Supreme Justice is 312 pages long divided into Sixty-five chapters over seven different time periods/parts and an epilogue. Narration is via Third person for Brad Miller, Keith Evans, Sarah Woodruff, Dennis Masterson, Tom Oswald, Daphne Haggard, Max Dietz, Mary Garrett and Dana Cutler. This book has a self-contained plot line, but also contains characters who were in a previous book.

May 18, 2010 marks the North American Hardcover publication of Supreme Justice via Harper Collins.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Phillip Margolin has been a favorite of mine since I read Wild Justice back in 2001, since then he has written more books featuring the characters of Frank and Amanda Jaffe (From Wild Justice) and several other solo books as well. The thing to note over here is that Margolin doesn’t write sequels unless of course his characters fit the plot[Twisted plots are trademark of his] so with every other Amanda Jaffe book we get a solo book which feature a different storyline. One such book was Executive Privilege, which was released in 2008 and featured both Brad Miller, Keith Evans, and Dana Cutler. So when Phillip Margolin found a plot which could expand on these characters, he wrote Supreme Justice and here we are.

This book like other Margolin books is divided into several parts which are set in different time periods, for example the first part opens in 2006, the 2nd part in 2012, the third part in 2006, the 4th in 2007, the 5th again jumps to 2012 and the last two continue in the same vein. Each chapter begins with a different POV character and the characters are mentioned above. The story begins with John Finley surviving an attack on his ship, the next chapter then introduces us to Tom Oswald who happens upon an empty ship which has dead bodies and drugs. They are told to keep a lid on it by agents of Homeland security who abruptly confiscate the case. The narrative then shifts to Brad Miller in the year 2012 as he’s preparing for his Clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Felicia Moss. The Supreme court is in a bit of upheaval as one of the Judges retires suddenly and the vacant spot causes an issue as people from various factions try to fill it with their candidate. There’s also an attack on Felicia Moss which Brad foils. To gain more ideas about this he enlist the help of Dana Cutler.

The next part moves on to a previous murder trial which was dismissed the first time but now Sarah Woodruff has been indicted again for the murder of the same individual. Plus the prosecutor Max Dietz was never convinced of Sarah’s innocence the first time around. It’s from these varied plots that Phillip Margolin spins his web for the reader to decipher. The tale and the multi character cast might seem a bit daunting but it’s to Margolin’s forte that he pulls it off with aplomb. The reader will be sucked into this tale as clues and misdirections are presented and the saga unfolds exquisitely.

Phillip Margolin is quite a storyteller. This can be gleaned easily from this book as he presents three dimensional characters and gives each chapter from a different POV. This allows the reader to have a very omniscient view into the story but at the same time not everything is as it seems. It also allows the reader to race right along side the characters as they uncover the actual mystery and not feel as if it's happened in the past and told to them later.

Even though this book contains characters from a previous book, this story is a standalone and can be read as such. There are very few spoilers for the previous book and so readers who like this book’s characters can also check out their previous appearance in Executive Privilege. Phillip Margolin once again deftly shows how mystery/thriller writers can keep their books fresh for long time readers with enticing plots and mesmerizing characters. A very good thriller for those who like reading plots in the vein of those by Agatha Christie, Arthur C., Doyle and recent greats such as Jefffrey Deaver.


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