Deputy DA Samantha Kincaid, looking for variety and advancement, takes on a possible rape case turned down by the Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney in charge of the Major Crimes Unit - and plunges into a maelstrom of trouble. The victim, a 13-year-old girl by turns sullen and vulnerable, began turning tricks to support a drug habit nurtured by her erstwhile stepfather. Raped, beaten and left for dead in a ravine, she's found by hikers and survives to identify one of her attackers. But there's a problem with the evidence, quickly exploited by a fire-breathing defense attorney determined to fight hard for her client. And the question of whether the girl agreed to rough sex for pay isn't an easy one to answer.
Add the complications of a former and maybe future lover, Det. Chuck Forbes, as an investigating officer; obstructive behavior from the Major Crimes Unit DDA Tim O'Donnell; and a seemingly unrelated death penalty case suddenly all too connected, and you have the makings of a tangled puzzle that Kincaid must unravel - and it appears someone is after her too.
Judgment Calls, the first entry in a new mystery series involving Kincaid, is the first published book by Alafair Burke, a former deputy DA herself who now teaches law. It’s a solid plot, and the characters are engaging; Burke does an especially nice job with the victim, Kendra Martin. But the story suffers from a couple of flaws. Foremost is the lengthy exposition Burke uses to explain the intricacies of the court system and the progress of the case itself. It's as if occasionally the writer turns off the story to explain things to you - it's necessary information, but it's not integrated into the story itself. She would do well to see how other writers of mystery and courtroom drama use dialogue, action or less expository asides to keep technical information from slowing the story. Because of this expository style, the first half of the book moves quite slowly at times and may make readers impatient (I was, a few times).