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Book Review: Justice in June by Barbara Levenson

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A follow-up to 2009’s Fatal February, Justice in June finds lawyer Mary Magruder Katz yet again embroiled in various cases that threaten her sanity, her personal life and, well, her very life. Barbara Levenson’s second book is a great read and a good choice to add to your summer reading list.

Mary Katz’ life changes drastically following two phone calls. The first phone call came from Judge Liz Maxwell, whose years of dedication are threatened by wrongdoings happening in her court, wrongdoings that she is being framed for. The second phone call came from the family of Luis Corona, a young Argentinean national who was supposed to land in Miami to close a business deal on behalf of his parents and who instead simply disappeared.

The tension of working on two difficult cases make things a little difficult for commitment phobe Mary and her boyfriend Carlos; they really become hard when Carlos is sued by his clients.

Justice in June is a well developed story; there are many details given to us by the author which fit beautifully in the storyline, making it richer rather than bogging it down. Most of these details come back later during the story and the entire thing wraps up at the end, making it a satisfying read.

At first I thought the author trying to write about three big cases at the same time was being a little bit unrealistic, and that the book would be messy at times. However, we were expertly led through each one of them by Levenson, who managed to resolve each case satisfactorily.

The characters that populate Justice in June are just as well developed; they become at times quite intriguing, and reading the book becomes just as much about finding out what happens in the story as finding out more about the characters. What I appreciated the most about the book is that, as someone without a law background, I was kept abreast of various important details and information about procedures without feeling like I was being patronized, or being drowned by awkwardly shared information. Explanations flowed throughout the book, most of the time without any hiccup, which makes me think that perhaps the author is a natural teacher.

Despite the multiple storylines, the details and the character development, the pace of Justice in June is fast while seeming pretty realistic (at least to someone like me who doesn’t work in the legal field). It also provides for an extremely à propos social commentary on the state of the American legal system with regards to the treatment of terrorism suspects. It’s definitely a book that you can’t let down.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of important weaknesses that take away from the book as a whole, the biggest being the writing. While there are parts that are beautifully put together, the author clearly needs to continue working on honing her voice. The use of short, staccato sentences throughout the book makes it at times very halting to read. There are also long pages of uninterrupted dialog that jump from one topic to another, leaving the reader somewhat bewildered at times. Sometimes I even had the impression that I was listening to teenagers prattle on and on about a certain topic, rather than listening to lawyers. Interspacing these dialogs with small paragraphs of action or quick introspection would have made it a lot better.

By the same token, interspacing the dialog with brief introspection would have helped us delve more into the characters’ psyche. For example, on page 163, Mary has a fight with her boyfriend. The fight makes complete sense; it's a logical conclusion when a woman like Mary and a man like Carlos are put in the situation they were in. However, the way the actual fight happened was totally out of the blue and this greatly took away some of its impact. Having no insight into the thought process of the character while the fight is occurring makes us wonder at its direction, which takes away from the book. Further ironing the manuscript would make this book great rather than only good, and allow Levenson to make more of an impact when expressing an important opinion about the injustices regarding the treatment of suspects of terrorism.

But these don’t make Justice in June any less interesting a read. It’s a great summer read, written by an author who has clearly found her voice and has potential to hone it into an enduring name in crime fiction.

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