Friday, 4 March 2016

The Ex by Alafair Burke


published 2016

The Ex
[Writer Jack Harris is being questioned as a potential witness. This is the transcript.]

Harris: I was on my morning run, and I see this woman in a party dress, sort of a pale pink color, strapless. But she’s sitting right on the damp grass. The sun was just beginning to rise. And she’s barefoot, drinking champagne straight out of the bottle. Yes, the whole thing was sort of surreal.

Boyle: And you mentioned a basket?

Harris: She had some kind of package on the ground next to her. When I got closer, I could see it was a picnic basket. I think she noticed me looking at her, because she held up her bottle like a toast when I ran by. Oh, and she was reading.

Boyle: And you said it was the book that really intrigued you.

Harris: Well, I’m a writer. So a beautiful woman in last night’s dress, drinking champagne, with a book. What’s not to like?

Boyle: But you didn’t actually talk to her?

Harris: Oh, God, no. But then I mentioned this woman to a friend….
 
commentary: This transcript forms the opening pages of the book, and the experienced reader will assume that Ms Pink Dress has been found dead somewhere, and Harris is in the frame. In the first of various confoundings, Burke isn’t going in that direction at all.

Harris is going to be charged with a different crime, and the book will then move into a first person account by Olivia Randall, a criminal defense lawyer who 20 years before broke Harris’s heart in some as-yet-unspecified way. Harris’s daughter will beg Randall to act for her father, and she agrees.

From then on it’s a very twisty thriller, going along well-worn routes but with some big surprises. Olivia believes totally in Harris to begin with, but then starts to wonder – IS it possible he shot three people one morning? The legal investigations are fascinating and authentic-sounding.

I spotted various clues and made some predictions along the way, but Burke definitely had some more tricks up her sleeve, and the ending was very clever. There were some questions left (there seemed a money problem, and there were connections between a couple of characters that surely would have come up earlier) and extra ones keep coming up the more I think about it – but overall I forgave Burke that because the book was so smart, and railroaded you along to accept the plot. Some of the characters and situations were rather predictable – Olivia drinks too much and has a terrible personal life, she has a mentor-ish father-figure fellow-lawyer, there’s this great bar where she drinks and eats, the daughter Buckley is your classic smartypants damaged teen – but that was OK. It helped that this was a standalone, so you had no certainties about any of the characters. If there was one message in the book it’s that we might think we know other people, but we don’t.

This was a highly enjoyable, entertaining legal thriller, and I would certainly read more by Burke.












16 comments:

  1. I'm very glad you liked this one, Moira. When I first read this particular Burke (212), I wondered how much I'd be affected by having read her father's work. But she's a different voice - and a talented one, too.

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    1. Yes she is different isn't she? I have read one by her before, but can't remember the title - it was fine, but this one was better. She has written quite a few now.

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  2. Thanks, Moira. It does sound rather good, though I am tired of the drinking/toxic personal life stuff. Have you read any of Quentin Bates's novels? His female police officer doesn't have any of that and is all the better for it.

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    1. Yes, I get fed up with the clichés. I've heard of Quentin Bates but not read - I must investigate (to use an appropriate word.)

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  3. Moira: Sounds like a book for me. Now, will it be in Canadian bookstores? I will keep an eye out for it.

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    1. I think you will enjoy the court-room aspects - I'll look forward to the professional view! I hope it comes to your part of the world soon.

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  4. Read one of hers before and whilst not quite wanting to remove my eyes with a spoon, didn't enjoy it at all. Perhaps I was judging her against her father, somewhat unfairly. I'm not minded to revisit.

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    1. I thought it was pretty good - and I've never got on that well with her father's books. I don't hate them, but I'd rather read the daughter. So we are neatly reversed...

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    2. JLB was for many years my favourite author. I've probably read most of the Robicheaux books at least twice, before somewhat guiltily giving up on them.

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    3. I think I remember you saying somewhere recently that you felt they went off later? I have only read the earlier ones and they were OK, just didn't do it for me.

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  5. I'm a bit of a JLB fan, but have read them all out-of-order, although I think I got to most of them eventually. I've got a few of Alafair's, and this one sounds rather good - I do enjoy a good legal thriller. When children of famous novelists get book deals (Alafair Burke, Jesse Kellerman, Joe Hill - Stephen King's son) I can be a little cynical, but she seems to be ploughing her own furrow and doing very well. You make this sound v tempting, Moira!

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    1. I know exactly what you mean - I am always (perhaps unfairly) suspicious. But this one was great, and you'd; think would be a credit to any publisher's list. I will certainly read more by her.

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  6. For some reason, I have never read many legal thrillers. Haven't read anything by this author. Sounds like I should try one someday.

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    1. I never seek legal thrillers out, but usually enjoy them if they turn out. And she's certainly good at creating a plot.

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  7. Just read this book today; a nice breezy little number. Oddly, I imagined the dress as short and fluffy.

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    1. Yes, breezy is right. It was the bridesmaid thing that made me think long...

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