Judgment Calls

by Alafair Burke

Initially, I was drawn to this book by its setting --- Portland, my
hometown. I like the feeling that comes with knowing a place
intimately. That way, it seems that I somehow have an edge over the
average reader. Along with the comfort of familiar street names,
buildings and cafes, however, Ms. Burke demonstrates a meticulous
knowledge of the inner workings of prosecutors and courtrooms. She
should, having spent years as a deputy district attorney right here
in Multnomah County. Ms. Burke's depictions of how the law works,
with all its frustrations and flaws, are dead-on accurate --- with
the possible exception of her belief that only rookie cops aren't
fat. (I owed that objection to my husband, retired from the
department after 26 years.) Ms. Burke handily reveals some gaping
holes in our legal system. Some of its failings shine from the
pages and you're left to wonder how victims --- especially young
ones like in JUDGMENT CALLS --- deal with the imperfections. I
could see how choosing not to press charges might look more
attractive than facing the horror of testifying before a room full
of invasive media, gawkers and general trial oddballs.

In this case, thirteen-year-old Kendra Martin has been viciously
raped and left for dead in the Columbia River Gorge, a scenic area
a few short miles from the city center. The details are so gruesome
that even Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid winces when she
hears them. The three major crime detectives that bring the case to
Kincaid don't need to argue very much to induce her to fight to
make this one stick. The victim, given mug photos, confidently
identifies her attacker. Even her body language says she's sure.
The suspect is quickly arrested and, in an unusual turn of events,
pushes for an exceptionally speedy trial, insisting he's

While the physical evidence convinces Samantha she has a solid
case, she faces an uphill battle with her victim. Kendra's
background isn't exactly squeaky clean, and she is no naïve
child. She turned to prostitution in order to support her drug
habit. In addition, her mom isn't the best role model, with a
shoplifting charge or two to her name. But the viciousness of the
attack dictates the need to put this guy away. That, plus the
threatening phone calls and a Toyota Tercel that Ms. Kincaid thinks
is following her, make her more determined than ever. In the course
of investigating this crime, Samantha stumbles onto evidence of a
web of crimes that appear linked to Kendra's attack. The
possibility of a serial killer sends her trial into a tailspin and
mobilizes the full force of the police department to uncover the

Alafair is definitely James Lee Burke's daughter, no doubt about
it. She pens a taut detective story with intelligent, witty
dialogue and moves it along roller coaster style. While she may
lack dad's polish --- polish that comes with vast experience and
practice --- with her talent, she should have many years to work on
it. For now, we can eagerly await another Samantha Kincaid mystery,
due to hit shelves in the spring of 2004.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 22, 2011

Judgment Calls
by Alafair Burke

  • Publication Date: May 4, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0312997205
  • ISBN-13: 9780312997205