Close Case

By Alafair Burke (

Henry Holt, 368 pages, $22


Setting a mystery in a city is a way of sending the place a love letter. Close Case is the third such billet-doux from Alafair Burke, a former Multnomah County deputy district attorney. With this effort, Burke has found a compelling voice for protagonist Samantha Kincaid, while offering a plot with the kind of headlong rush that's the attraction of the genre. She's also found a way to weave into the story one of the recent stains on our community, the Kendra James shooting, while making nice about reporters at The Oregonian.

Where most mysteries are told through the eyes of hardboiled, world-weary police detectives, private dicks or defense lawyers, Close Case is distinctive in that its protagonist is a prosecutor. This can be jarring at times, as Kincaid explains the workings of the legal system in intricate, exhausting detail. At the same time, Kincaid possesses a winning combination of sweetness and vulnerability that's rather refreshing-and almost unheard of in such mysteries.

The portrait of Portland, however, is somewhat unknowing-she's not quite up to speed on the current state of criminal law, for example-and that's understandable, given that Burke's been out of town a fair spell. Hence this plea to Jim Huffman at Lewis & Clark's Law School. Dean: Mike Schrunk says Alafair Burke was highly effective at her job here; she's said to be a solid teacher of criminal law at Hofstra; and now she's a TV commentator, too. Can't you find a spot for her on your faculty? After all, she and Phil Margolin would provide us with a wonderful pair of literary admirers.

Burke will read at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 228-4651. 7:30 pm Tuesday, Aug. 9. Free.