Sunday, May 15, 2011

Margaret McLean, Under Fire

Thanks to the Amazon Vine program for the advanced review copy.

I loved this book. It was truly a pleasure to read and is a powerful debut from an attorney-turned-novelist who has obviously taken care to hone her writing craft. The story centers around a fire that breaks out in a Senagalese Market in Boston. During the rescue of the two occupants from the apartment above the store, one of the firefighters is shot and killed. The fire appears to be arson, and the store owner, Amina Dialla, a Senagalese immigrant, is arrested and charged. The story unfolds in the courtroom as this emotionally charged case plays out. Amina is represented by Sarah Lynch and her uncle Buddy Lynch, who believe in their client's innocence, but at the same time realize that there is more to her story than she is willing to let on. And the trial gets off to a bang when Sarah is shot by an gunman who appears to be attempting to kill Amina during the arraignment proceedings. From there the pressure mounts as the firefighters and politicians are calling for justice, while Sarah and Uncle Buddy are racing to find evidence that can clear their client and show who really started the fire. As shady mortgage deals, political intrigue, and possible connections to another arson case from a few years before all come to light, along with a homeless man's story about seeing an angel emerge on the roof during the fire, there are a lot of pieces that need to be put together.

McLean's book is a riveting piece of legal fiction, with great courtroom scenes, lots of action, and building tension, as the reader pulls for Amina Dialla but also knows that they don't know the whole story yet. She uses the perspectives of various jurors throughout to both develop their characters and give nice texture to the courtroom arguments. This book is well built, with a great story, interesting characters, and a case that just needs to be solved. The ending is a worthy payoff without being to facile or predictable. In all, this was one of the most enjoyable books I've read in a while, and I look forward to more.

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