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Book Review: Notorious by Michele Martinez

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Michele Martinez is making her name in legal thrillers, and she’s doing it by offering rapid-fire action, legal expertise, and solid characters that grow with every novel. Notorious is her fourth book, and it once again features her New York City assistant district attorney heroine, Melanie Vargas.

Before turning to a life of crime-writing, Michele Martinez also worked as a prosecuting attorney in New York City. Her cases involved narcotics, smuggling, and murder. When she writes about something, she puts in a lot of authenticity.

Melanie Vargas is a hard-working single mother with an ex who was a lousy husband but a great father to her two-year old daughter. As of this novel, she’s currently estranged from her FBI boyfriend Dan O’Reilly. I enjoy reading about her, getting to know her co-workers and family, and watching her struggle with emotional entanglements with those people as well as her cases. She’s cleanly written and feels like a real person.

Notorious begins with a bang – literally. After Melanie talks to Lester Poe, the famous defense attorney she’s presently bumping heads with while attempting to put his rapper client away, Poe’s car gets blown to bits. Poe dies with it, and Melanie is deeply affected by his death. In just that small scene, Martinez won me over to the pursuit of vengeance/justice throughout the rest of the novel. I believed in Poe as a character as well – he was a lot like other attorneys I’ve gotten to meet. And I totally understood Melanie’s need to ensure the world still made sense and the good guys could still win.

The action picks up intensity as the police and FBI get involved. The scenes (and chapters) are short and brisk and made the read both easy and pleasant as the pages turned and turned. I was on the trail with Melanie, and there was no way either one of us was going to back down.

The tension didn’t go away when Melanie returned home, either. New dilemmas came at her from family and her ex-lover. It seemed like the world had suddenly conspired to turn on Melanie and beat her down, and I cheered her on the whole way.

The legal action was cool and felt real, from the impromptu visit to judge’s chambers and the legal brinksmanship regarding the rapper client, Atari Briggs, to the protection of the witness list and the prisoner who offers to turn state’s evidence for a reduced sentence.

Martinez is equally at home with physical action as well. Her road trip to separate fact from fiction ends in disaster and in the death of a close friend. Those scenes ratchet up the suspense and ring true.

The mystery deepens as Melanie looks into Lester Poe’s life, though. What she knew of him was only the surface and he has a lot of secrets, a lot of people who were willing to kill him. Evan Diamond, Poe’s partner, steps in as Atari Briggs’s lawyer and immediately seduces the newest addition to the district attorney’s office. He’s a good villain and I couldn’t wait for Melanie to get the upper hand over him.

The ending is a thumping winner-take-all finish. Once I hit those final pages, I couldn’t let go of the book until I’d finished. Martinez is an excellent writer and I can’t wait to see more of Melanie’s court cases. I hope she keeps a full docket.

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