Phillip Margolin is one of those quietly amazing authors who has
been laboring in the suspense/thriller genre for some years now.
Though Margolin has had his greatest success with his Frank and
Amanda Jaffe thrillers, he has carefully avoided formulas, choosing
instead to keep his characters --- and readers --- slightly
off-balance with the unexpected. PROOF POSITIVE, Margolin's latest
Jaffe novel, is yet another example of his continuing abilities to
surprise and delight.
If you are a longtime fan of Margolin in general and the Jaffes in
particular, please keep in mind that the father-daughter criminal
defense team winds up guest starring in PROOF POSITIVE. The
protagonist here is Bernard Cashman, a CSI technician who tampers
with evidence. At least one of his actions has resulted in a
wrongful execution, and it looks as if he is about to put two more
notches on his belt. One is Jacob Cohen, a mentally ill derelict
who is on probation and who, in Cashman's opinion, needs to be put
away for good. The other is a mobster who, as far as Cashman is
concerned, has escaped justice once too often. Cashman though is
not simply a delusional do-gooder. As is revealed about halfway
through PROOF POSITIVE, Cashman is far worse than any of the people
he is attempting to bring to justice.
A note here: there is an extremely graphic murder committed in the
book, the description of which will loosen your moorings a bit, so
be forewarned. Cashman's self-justification for his actions,
including murder, is in some ways even more chilling than the
actions themselves. What is fascinating about PROOF POSITIVE is the
cunning displayed by Cashman, and the feeling the reader gets that
he really is going to get away with everything.
Margolin is first-rate here as he creates a puzzle, gives the
reader the answer, and then describes how both the prosecutor and
the defense team wander around the truth, sensing that something is
wrong but not quite knowing what. By the time you're two-thirds of
the way through, the suspense is excruciating. It appears that
Cashman is not only going to get away with what he is doing, but
also will keep on doing so. Even when things begin to unravel on
him, Cashman remains cool, leaving the reader to wonder if he
eventually will get caught or, like a West Coast Ripley, escape
justice and return to commit more foul deeds.
Margolin seems to get better and better, and PROOF POSITIVE is
positive proof that he is at his personal best.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011