Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid likes to be where the action is: at the scene of a crime, at the arrest of a suspect, with the cops on the Major Crimes Team. But when street smart, plugged-in reporter Percy Crenshaw is brutally murdered in the midst of pursuing a major story, she knows the stakes are high…
Within days, cops have a suspect; then a confession. Yet Samantha suspects that something is very wrong, and her concerns keep coming back to the police. The cop who got the confession used tough tactics. The murdered reporter was romantically linked to a cop's wife. And all of the cops she's concerned about are close to her live-in boyfriend, Detective Chuck Forbes.
Forced to prosecute a case in which the defendant may be an innocent man, Samantha must tread carefully to uncover the truth about Percy's murder -- without tearing her career, her home life, and the city apart. But just when she thinks her job can't get any more difficult, another more shocking crime comes to light...
About the Author
A former deputy district attorney in Portland, Oregon, ALAFAIR BURKE is an Associate Professor at Hofstra Law School where she teaches criminal law and procedure. She is a graduate of Stanford Law School and lives in New York City. The daughter of the acclaimed crime writer James Lee Burke, her previous novels in the Samantha Kincaid series, Judgment Calls and Missing Justice, are available in paperback from St. Martin's Press.
A former deputy district attorney in Portland, Oregon, Alafair Burke now teaches criminal law at Hofstra School of Law and lives in Long Island, New York. The daughter of the acclaimed crime writer James Lee Burke, she is the author of the Samantha Kincaid series, including Judgment Calls and Missing Justice.
Read an Excerpt
By Alafair Burke
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2005 Alafair Burke
All rights reserved.
Hotshot reporter Percy Crenshaw died on the last day of my thirty-second year.
I'm crystal clear on the timing, because I remember precisely where I was when I got word the following morning. I was slogging away in the misdemeanor intake unit, issuing criminal trespass after criminal trespass case, thinking to myself, This is a shitty way to spend my thirty-second birthday.
The way I saw it, I had no business working at intake. I have been a prosecutor for seven years, three federally as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in New York City, and four in my current position as a Deputy District Attorney for Multnomah County. Only someone with a local connection would know where Multnomah County is, let alone how to pronounce it. It's the county whose seat is Portland, Oregon, the rainy city in the Pacific Northwest. Not the big one with the needle in the skyline, the smaller one south of there.
Before hearing the news about Percy, my big complaint of the morning — and the reason I was at intake — was the protesters. Outsiders might not recognize the county name, but they know about these people, even if they've never made the Oregon connection. My hometown's protesters are the same nuts who stirred up the masses outside the World Trade Organization talks a few years ago. In a smaller local show, they tried to make a lost point about our soldier-a-day situation in the Mideast by upchucking red, white, and blue ipecac when the President showed up for a campaign stop. Some of them are rumored to be responsible for the arsons in California targeting suburban housing developments and SUV dealers.
The political causes may vary, but one thing remains the same: These kids love to protest. And the night before my birthday, the chosen cause was the fatal shooting two weeks earlier of Delores Tompkins, an African-American mother of two, by a patrol officer with the Portland Police Bureau. Like all police shootings, the Tompkins case would be presented to a grand jury before any official determination was made regarding justification. Unlike most, however, this one's purpose would not be simply for appearances. Tompkins had no criminal history, was unarmed, and was shot through the windshield of her car during what should have been a routine stop. And, as often seems to be the case with these things, the police officer in question, Geoff Hamilton, was white.
As the newest member of our office's Major Crimes Unit, I was not working on the investigation into the Tompkins shooting. But even I could sense a more than theoretical possibility that our office would be going for charges against Officer Hamilton. The public must have sensed it too. With each day since Delores Tompkins's death had come another related event — a prayer vigil, a town meeting, a conference with the police commissioner — each occasion an opportunity to apprise the city that its small community of color was fired up and paying attention. And as their message trickled its way each morning into a new edition of the Oregonian, the odds of an indictment reading State of Oregon v. Geoffrey Hamilton increased just a little more.
Until the Sunday night before my birthday, however, the pressure to indict had been quiet, subtle, and largely behind the scenes. All that changed when the state's band of semiprofessional protesters selected Delores Tompkins as their cause du jour, drawing a riled-up crowd of several thousand downtown on Sunday afternoon for a hastily planned March Against Racism. Supporters of the police bureau organized a counterprotest, not because they were marching for racism but because they interpreted the anger over the Tompkins shooting as a general attack on law enforcement. When a pack of militia types from eastern Oregon announced that it would piggyback onto the counterprotest, downtown Portland became the official magnet for every disgruntled wack job in the region.
At last count, the bureau had arrested 212 protesters for various counts of criminal trespass, reckless endangerment, vandalism, and disorderly conduct. Clashes among and between opposing political groups and police officers continued until 2 A.M. And, on Monday morning, extra available bodies in the District Attorney's Office — including mine — had been summoned to misdemeanor intake for the overload.
So that's why I was at intake when I found out that hotshot reporter Percy Crenshaw had been killed.
* * *
"This is a shitty way to spend my thirty-second birthday," I said, this time not to myself but to Jessica Walters. Jessica was the head of the District Attorney's Gang Unit. She had just walked in, forty minutes behind me, grande mocha latte in hand, trademark pencil tucked between her pearl-studded ear and her sporty frost-tipped haircut.
"Could be worse, Kincaid. I got ten years on you, it's not even my birthday, and I'm stuck drinking decaf because of this little fucker." She gestured with her Starbucks cup at the swollen belly hidden beneath her black maternity pantsuit. Leave it to Jessica to find a way to drop the f-bomb as a maternal term of endearment. "I guess intake is Duncan's idea of a reward for coming in early."
The boss of all the bosses, District Attorney Duncan Griffith, had left an office-wide voice mail for all of his deputies that morning. The gist: Intake needed help issuing custodies from Sunday night. The rule: The first deputy to arrive in each unit was to report to misdemeanor intake immediately to help, unless the lawyer had a trial scheduled to go out.
It takes a lot to make me yearn for a trial, but that did the trick. Doing someone else's work is bad enough, but this was mundane stupid busywork. Not to mention the fact that the intake unit was located in the Justice Center, two blocks from the courthouse, so in this case doing someone else's work had started with a walk back out into the rain.
"I guess the early birds really do get the worms," I said, handing her a misdemeanor intake file. "When I got the boss's message, I was tempted to hightail it out of the courthouse. Let someone else take the bullet."
I left Jessica with the misleading impression that my conscience had gotten the best of me. In truth, it was my paranoia, combined with my ignorance of technology. For all I knew, Griffith could be keeping track of who had logged in to voice mail and in what order. I didn't need to furnish him yet another opportunity to accuse me of not being a team player. Or, better still, to unleash my very favorite motivational phrase: "There is no 'I' in team."
Maybe not, I say, but there is a me, and that "me" had little interest in churning out another misdemeanor complaint. Jessica Walters, on the other hand, had little sympathy. "Cut your whining. If I can pull this duty, you can suck it up for one morning."
Known in some circles as Nail-'Em-to-the-Wall Walters, Jessica was a career prosecutor, a fixture in the office for nearly twenty years. Before her promotion to supervise the Gang Unit, she'd preceded me as the only female lawyer in the Major Crimes Unit, handling some of the toughest capital murder prosecutions in the state. She was right. It had been only six months since my promotion into MCU. If she wasn't too good for intake, I guess I wasn't either.
I counted another four files from the large stack we were facing, handed them to her, and then plucked out five more for myself. "Want to race to make it interesting? Winner on each set of five cases buys a drink?"
"Rub it in, Kincaid. You have no idea how much I miss my amber ales." She looked down again at the contents of her maternity suit.
"Sorry," I said sheepishly. "Starbucks?"
"You're on," she said, opening the first folder.
Jessica and I each issued fifteen separate cases in the next fifty-six minutes. I won two prosecutorial sprints of the three. A quick read of the police report, a few taps on the ten-key pad for the badge numbers of the arresting officers, and a few more strokes for the applicable sections of the criminal code, and — voilà! — out popped a criminal complaint.
If the pace seems callous, don't blame me; blame the system, at least when it comes to issuing custodies. These are the cases filed against suspects who were booked the previous night. If a custody case isn't ready for arraignment by the time the suspect is called on the 2 P.M. docket, the court cuts the suspect loose. Free lattes weren't our only motivation for rushing.
As eight-thirty was rolling around and the rest of the office was finally strolling in, a young woman I recognized as the intake unit's receptionist interrupted our case-issuing sprints.
"You're Kincaid, right?" she asked.
I nodded, scrawling my illegible signature at the bottom of yet another complaint.
"You've got a call from an officer. I'll transfer it back," she said.
"Who is it?" I asked.
"Who pays attention? They asked for you, though."
"Thanks a bunch," I muttered, under my breath. I couldn't figure out who would be calling me at intake, but for the moment it was an excuse to ditch my post, at least for a few minutes.
I picked up the transferred call. "Kincaid."
"Good morning, Ms. Kincaid. It's Jack Walker." Otherwise known as one of my favorite Major Crimes Team detectives. "So my sources were right. You've worked your way all the way up into the glorious misdemeanor unit."
"Rumor's out already, huh? You calling to gloat?"
"I'm busting you out of there. We got a body up in Hillside. I'm told you're our gal."
"Yeah? By whom?"
"That'd be one Senior Deputy District Attorney Russell Frist." He enunciated my supervisor's name in the deep booming staccato voice used widely in law enforcement circles to mimic Russ Frist. Apparently Russ had decided this call-out would be mine.
"You need me to come up there?" I asked.
"Definitely," he said. "This one's gonna be a doozy."
As my Jetta putted up the steep incline on Burnside toward what Walker had helpfully described as "the parking lot of those big pink condos," I considered the scenarios possibly awaiting me at the top of the hill — none of them good. Protocol requires the bureau to connect with our office immediately on every new homicide, just to be sure a DA works the case from the start. But most cases don't warrant the physical presence of a prosecutor at the crime scene. What made this one so special?
When I turned into the parking lot of sprawling Vista Heights, I silently cursed Jack Walker. There must have been eight hundred condos perched on the overlook above northwest Portland, surrounded by acres of parking lot. I cruised the main road surrounding the complex — as well as its various offshoots — at a steady five miles per hour, thanks to the frequent and enormous speed bumps spread throughout the property. I finally knew I'd reached the right place at the dead end of one of the side roads when I spotted a flurry of cop activity behind the familiar yellow crime-scene tape.
I found an open spot, grabbed my briefcase, and climbed out of the car, cinching my raincoat more tightly around me. It was the first week in November, and the autumn dampness had already begun to settle into the air and into my bones.
As I walked across the parking lot, I noticed neighbors peering from behind their blinds at the obvious bustle. A few had stepped outside their condos, some still in robes and holding coffee cups, trying to ascertain what could have brought so many uniforms and marked vehicles to this quiet enclave.
The learning curve in the Major Crimes Unit had been a steep one, and by now I knew the ropes on a call-out. I showed my badge to the officer monitoring access at the scene, watched as he logged my entry onto his clipboard, and then ducked beneath the tape that roped off about a quarter acre surrounding an open carport.
Jack Walker caught sight of me in his periphery and waved me over. He stood with his partner, Detective Raymond Johnson, in front of a black Mercedes S-430 sedan. The personalized plate read SNOOP. Even in a lot stocked with late-model yuppie-mobiles, that one stood out.
As I approached, I saw two crime-scene technicians rise from where they must have been kneeling next to the front driver's-side tire. A blur of crisp white linen flashed between them; then they carefully maneuvered a covered gurney through the tight corner in front of the vehicle. I nodded as they passed on their way to the medical examiner's van.
Johnson and Walker met me just outside the carport. Some of the other detectives referred to the pair as Ebony and Ivory. Even beyond the obvious contrast in melanin, the two couldn't have been more divergent physically. Walker wasn't much taller than my five-eight, but about twice as wide, testing the buttons of dress shirts that were almost universally short-sleeved. Johnson's frame, on the other hand, was tall, fit, and always tucked neatly into whatever suit he'd brought home that month from the Saks men's store.
Regardless, the partners were two peas in a pod. I couldn't imagine them working with anyone but each other.
"So who's our dead guy?" I asked, glancing back at the techs loading the gurney into the van. The MCU culture required a kind of nonchalance toward death — or at least the appearance of it.
The two detectives exchanged a glance. Using whatever silent language partners tend to share, they must have decided to let Johnson break the news.
"The one and only Percy Crenshaw."
"The reporter?" I asked incredulously.
"Didn't I just say he was the one and only?" Johnson retorted.
I shook my head. "This is not good."
"Try telling that to Crenshaw," Walker said dryly.
* * *
Percy Crenshaw started out doing "on your side" pieces for the Oregonian's Metro section. If a restaurant fed you bad meat, or your used car oozed mystery melt, or your new hairdresser surprised you with a blue mohawk, Percy Crenshaw was the go-to guy. More recently, though, he had managed to make a name for himself as a celebrity muckraker in this relatively quiet little city. Of course, like all good muckrakers, he had done that by turning what usually would have been relatively quiet stories into salacious tales of sex, greed, and corruption.
Last year, just for instance, I had worked on a case involving the murder of an administrative law judge. Sure, it had all the ingredients of a good scandal: bribery, betrayal, adultery, the works. At its heart, though, it was the sad story of a woman whose own mistakes had gotten her killed. Crenshaw had nonetheless managed to sell his version of the story, including every last irrelevant detail of the victim's sex life, toL.A. Magazine.
"That's some damn shameful timing," Johnson said. "The man was right about to hit it big."
"Didn't he just sell the movie rights to that magazine article?" Walker asked.
"Yeah, he did," Johnson said. "Got a nice chunk of change from that one actress, the blonde in all those legal thrillers."
His partner didn't read the entertainment section as thoroughly as I did. Walker wanted to know if she was the same actress who "gained all that weight for that one role." Nope, they just looked alike.
I guess that's the way the entertainment industry works. The victim dies, her family loses a daughter and sister, and I nearly get killed. But who sells the story and drives an S-Class Benz? Percy Crenshaw.
"I actually met him once," Johnson said.
"I hope you weren't the target of a story he was after," I said. "From what I've heard, the guy left no stone unturned."
"Understatement of the century," Walker added. "More like he'd crawl over his dying mother to get to the last stone left unturned."
"Nah, nothing like that," Johnson said. "We had a real quick 'Hello, how are you?' kind of deal about a year ago at a Boys and Girls Club thing. There's not too many brothers in this white-bread town with real jobs. Once you find yourself on the list of people to call for mentoring panels and whatnot, it's probably inevitable that you end up meeting Percy."
Fewer than 7 percent of Portland's half a million residents are African-Americans. Take into account the predictable decision of the upwardly mobile to live with similarly situated others, and you don't find many black professionals who move to or stick around the Pacific Northwest.
"So what was he like?" I asked.
Johnson's eyes darted briefly to the ME van, the doors now closed. He paused, then shook his head. "Not what you'd expect," he said. "You know, none of the 'tude he puts on in his interviews. Pretty down-to-earth. He talked to the kids about being one of the few black journalism majors at U of O. They were more interested in his work digging up the dirt. I remember him looking me right in the eye when he told them he'd thought of being a cop but wanted the freedom to do what was right."
Excerpted from Close Case by Alafair Burke. Copyright © 2005 Alafair Burke. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid returns in her third outing, Close Case. Samantha's cop boyfriend Chuck Forbes has officially become her shack up honey. Everything is going well in her world, until the brutal murder of Percy Crenshaw, a local and famous African American crime reporter. To make matters worse, a white cop is accused of murdering a black unarmed female. Tensions run high as Samantha is forced to merge her relationship with a cop, who sides with his cop pals, with her responsibilities as an attorney, and satisfying the needs of a racially divided city. Between catching murders and prosecuting a cop, Samantha is making enemies left and right, and destroying valuable friendships along the way. New character, Heidi Hatmaker, colleague and friend of the now deceased Perry Crenshaw, dives into his files to determine if the next big story he was working on contributed to his murder. She pairs with Samantha and the two of them race against the clock to catch the real bad guys. The plot in Close Case is a little wobbly, jumping from one story to another. The climax and conclusion are so abrupt attempting to tie everything together that it appeared rushed, sloppy and slightly disappointing. The character development and the social and romantic issues where very solid and helped to keep the book afloat. The new characters and returning of others gave the book a feel of James Patterson's Women¿s Murder Club series, just maybe not so successfully. Close Case hit some great parts but completely missed others altogether it was a good read and a nice addition to series. Valerie Jones
Enjoy her dad's books and the apple has not fallen far from the tree.
Multnomah County, Oregon Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid has her thirty-second birthday disrupted when she is assigned to work a highly visible homicide, the murder of investigative reporter Percy Crenshaw. Samantha goes to the Portland crime scene where she learns the victim was bludgeoned to death in his driveway. Not long afterward the police get a confession from a young man Todd Corbett who also points the finger at his pal Trevor Hanks. --- However, Todd recants the confession insisting the police used questionable tactics. Since the city is already in an outrage protesting law enforcement excesses especially the shooting death of African American Delores Tompkins by a white police officer, Samantha¿s simple case falls apart. Still Samantha, knowing she is under ¿trial¿ after her previous media case, begins tracing Crenshaw¿s paths to find who had motive. She never expected that her inquiries to take her into a cooperative police- drug trafficking. Her cop pals including her boyfriend object to Samantha¿s involvement, which could also lead to her murder if she is not careful. --- The latest Kincaid legal thriller is a dynamic tale that sub-genre fans will want to read as soon as possible. The story line provides fascinating legal battles like the dispute over Crenshaw¿s work files that are totally interwoven into the plot. Samantha is a dedicated courageous Deputy District Attorney, who tries her best to bring a killer to justice though her compatriots will question her methods, but readers will not. Instead they will take pleasure in CLOSE CASE, a fine thriller.--- Harriet Klausner