Close Case: A Samantha Kincaid Mystery

by Alafair Burke

Samantha Kincaid has her hands full in CLOSE CASE by Alafair Burke.
This is the third book featuring the Oregon Deputy District
Attorney, who is enmeshed in a love affair with a detective; is
called upon to investigate the shooting death by a white cop of an
African-American woman, Delores Tompkins; and is the "go to" person
who has to deal with the fallout of a neighborhood protest, held so
that the authorities know the community will not accept a
whitewash, where no justice is found for the victim, Tompkins. The
rally ends in chaos. Then, to stir the pot even more, a beloved
African-American investigative reporter and activist, Percy
Crenshaw, is murdered outside his home after the vigil.

The public outcry is heard by the powers that be, which sends the
politicos scrambling to barricade themselves behind their staffs,
who are expected to apply due diligence and solve the crimes.
Samantha opines: "The news now ha[s] one more story to add to the
pile of coverage about Delores Tompkins and the protest." Her boss
tells her she is being assigned these cases because "It's not just
their race ... haven't you picked up a paper in the last week?
Officer Hamilton struck three bullets into that woman's

Of course Samantha takes on both cases and in her inimitable way
manages to maintain her integrity even while she inevitably shoves
the noses of her superiors out of joint. Burke says of her feisty
character, "A defining characteristic for Sam is her
near-pathological obsession to pursue what she considers to be
justice. She's so consumed by doing what's 'right' --- as she
defines it --- she often screws up her [personal and work-related
relationships, and] she doesn't want to sell out to office politics
at the expense of her own moral vision."

At first the cases seem unrelated. But the more Kincaid
investigates, the more convinced she becomes that the killings are
not isolated incidents. At the same time, she is forced to face the
crosscurrents and divided loyalties among her colleagues: the cops
begin to see her as a pariah, which becomes an insidious wedge
between her and the detective she loves. But this DA will not be
deterred in her quest to solve the crimes. According to the author,
one of the devices that saves her is that

"...Samantha's job takes her both into the courtroom in traditional
ways [and] also out into the field with police during the
investigation. The breadth of her official responsibilities gives
me a great deal of flexibility in the storytelling. Some plot
points are developed in court, but many are not."

Alafair Burke was a DA in Portland, Oregon, and in an interview she
explains why Samantha is also a DA: "I borrow details from my own
courthouse experiences and about Portland itself. [Samantha spends
little time in the courtroom because if I place her there, I am
caught in] "... the limiting nature of courtroom discourse [which I
believe] is not very dramatic. Also, realistically, prosecutors
spend little...time in actual trials. Instead, they occupy this
world in between the police precinct and the courtroom, where the
real action takes place in the criminal justice system. It's there
where the important decisions get made about whom the investigation
will target and how the investigation will proceed. I find that
world a much more fascinating place than the courtroom

For all of these reasons, and more, CLOSE CASE is an enjoyable
read. The well limned characters, interesting plot, believability
of the crime, and the way Burke brings readers right into the
investigation add to the tension and suspense. In an online
interview Burke said that she is at work on her fourth Samantha
Kincaid novel and if she decides to "try something without
her...I'll always keep coming back to her character as long as she
continues to be interesting and grow through the series. The real
challenge for me in writing a series will be to keep Samantha
interesting and fresh, but still familiar."


Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on December 27, 2010

Close Case: A Samantha Kincaid Mystery
by Alafair Burke

  • Publication Date: July 6, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
  • ISBN-10: 0805077847
  • ISBN-13: 9780805077841