Supreme Justice by Phillip Margolin, June 2010 (HarperCollins).
What do you do next when you’ve just written a thriller in which the president of the USA is bought down? Unfazed by this challenge, Phillip Margolin here turns his attention to the Supreme Court. Brad Miller, the young man who uncovered the conspiracy in Executive Privilege, is now a clerk for Felicia Moss, a liberal Supreme Court Justice. His fiancée Ginny is employed by a big DC law firm. The couple are happy in their life and working hard (in Ginny’s case to pay off college loans) but, as they are characters in a legal thriller by Phillip Margolin, the reader can trust that this state of affairs is not going to last for long.
Sure enough, the justices are one day considering a death-penalty appeal, specifically the legal question of whether state security can overcome personal freedom in the aid of a defence. The criminal in this case, police officer Sarah Woodruff, was convicted of killing her lover John Finley, but her defence was blocked from bringing into evidence the fact that Finley was involved in a covert investigation back in 2006, involving a Mexican drug-smuggling cartel and government agencies, possibly the FBI and CIA, but certainly the much-hated Department of Homeland Security. The prosecution had argued successfully that this background was irrelevant to the fact that Sarah had killed Finley, and so had kept it out of court. The appeal is based on the defence argument that Finley was killed by either one of the Mexican drug dealers or by government agents to keep him quiet about the operation. One of Felicia Moss’s fellow-justices argues strongly that there is no case to allow this argument into the public domain. Moss wants to find out more, so successfully argues for a two-week stay while she looks into the case more deeply – and this is where Brad comes in, as it is he who Moss tasks with the investigation.
Not only does Brad quickly find inconsistencies in the old case, but other factors soon come into play. Characters from Executive Privilege become involved in an extended mesh of subplots, including, I am pleased to say, Dana Cutler, the tough private investigator and, in a cameo role, Pat Gorman, proprietor of the sleazy tabloid Exposed. New characters also make an appearance, for example a local police chief Daphne Haggard and Sarah’s defence attorney Mary Garrett, as well as Sarah herself. The author specialises in writing varied, meaty parts for women, which is one of the reasons I like his books.
Phillip Margolin rings the changes with his customary flair and speed in Supreme Justice. Although one could pick holes in the novel’s style and characterisations, I am constantly amazed at how the author seemingly effortlessly keeps up a blistering pace while at the same time providing tons of fascinating details about what it is like to work in the supreme court, a law firm, the FBI, the police, as a private investigator, a spy or a journalist. There are lots of strands to this exciting story, and a good few twists in the tail at the end. Perfect summer reading – I am now joining the tons of Phillip Margolin fans who will be queuing up to read his next book (as I’ve already read all his previous ones).