There are a multitude of reasons why you should read NOTORIOUS by Michele Martinez. A fast-paced experience? Check. Believable good guys? Check. Ruthless, though intriguing, bad guys? Check. Compelling plot? Check. Great cover? Well, that’s not a reason to read it, but certainly a reason to buy it. And once you do so, you’ll open it and read it all the way through --- top to bottom and beginning to end.
If you are unfamiliar with Martinez and her heroine, federal prosecutor Melanie Vargas, you need not fear jumping right into NOTORIOUS, the fourth book in her series. The author does an excellent job of making new readers feel welcome by backing up what has gone before with a sentence or two.
NOTORIOUS begins with a bang --- literally. Vargas is on the cusp of trying a high-profile murder case against Atari Briggs, a drug dealer turned rapper. Briggs is defended by Lester Poe, a world-famous criminal attorney. In an informal sidewalk meeting, Poe asks Vargas to delay the trial in exchange for testimony from his client concerning a notorious terrorist who is running drugs into the United States. Poe also hints at continuing --- on a social basis --- his relationship with her after the trial is over. She is interested in both propositions.
Her happiness, however, is cut short seconds later when Poe is murdered before her eyes. Vargas is determined to see Po’s killer brought to justice, but as a potential witness, she is boxed off of the case by her own office. Still assigned to prosecute Briggs, Vargas finds that Briggs’s new counsel, Evan Diamond, is less pleasant to deal with. Diamond has a bad reputation personally and professionally, and while he shared office space with Poe, the two attorneys were known not to get along. To make matters worse, Diamond denies that Briggs has any information for the prosecution or ever wanted any sort of a deal.
When her key witness is attacked, Vargas desperately seeks other testimony to convict Briggs. Her quest takes her to Las Vegas and a chance meeting with an old flame, but it ends in tragedy --- one that has its etiology in her own office. Racing against time, Vargas sets a trap that she hopes will catch a conviction, little knowing that her own life will be in danger before everything is resolved.
Martinez is an absolute master of infusing her novels with an over-the-shoulder look at office politics at the federal level, and she outdoes herself in NOTORIOUS. It is the ultimate irony that a government bureaucracy, particularly one involved in law enforcement, is often hindered in pursuing its mission as much from within as without. Intra- and inter-agency turf wars, support staff with influence out of proportion to rank, and supervisors out of touch with the job (if they ever were in touch to begin with) are but a few of the elements comprising the 10-ton bureaucratic millstone that Martinez describes so well.
Add believable characters, a perfectly paced plot and a satisfying, if ironic, ending, and you have another winner from an author who has quickly acquired a reputation in the thriller field for consistent excellence.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 13, 2011