Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Ex by Alafair Burke

Alafair Burke is a critically acclaimed and relatively new mystery novelist and I was researching which of Ms Burke's books to read and review.  I decided on her latest, The Ex, which was one of five novels nominated in 2017 for the prestigious Edgar Award.  The Ex didn't win but still quite an honor.  Ms Burke knows crime having been a prosecutor and she is the daughter of James Lee Burke a big name in the mystery genre best known for his award winning Dave Robicheaux series.

So, The Ex (published 2016) is a stand alone mystery set in New York City.  The novel is narrated by Olivia Randall a brilliant defense attorney who leaves no stone unturned when defending her clients. Her professional life is going great.  Her personal life not good at all.  Twenty years ago Olivia was engaged to her college sweetheart Jackson Harris.  She broke off her engagement to Jackson in a very cruel way which set forth a series of events that almost ruined his life.

Olivia and Jackson have not spoken or seen each other in the twenty years since the breakup.  Both have gone on with their lives.  So when Olivia recieves a call out of the blue from Jackson Harris' sixteen year old daughter asking Olivia to defend her father on a murder charge, Olivia is shocked.  She weighs the ethics of defending someone she was once engaged to but takes the case anyway because of the guilt she feels about the breakup.  Olivia starts out believing Jackson but she hasn't spoken to him since the breakup.  Is he the same person Olivia knew in college or did she really know him at all?  These are the questions the book ponders along the way and the tension is gripping. You get an education in The Ex about how a defense attorney goes about uncovering the facts and preparing her case.  The Ex is a page turner which is not an easy thing for a writer to accomplish and Alafair Burke pulls it off.

Problem is, I wish I liked Olivia Randall more as a character.  Olivia does a good job as the narrator bringing us along on the investigation, explaining the law and getting the story from point A to point B.  However, in a murder mystery there will be many characters you can't root for which is okay as long as you care about the private investigator, detective or defense attorney trying to solve the mystery.  Also there is the ending which I had a problem with.

I can't recommend The Ex but Alafair Burke is a talented writer and a number of her books have been given starred reviews from Publisher's Weekly (and they don't give those out lightly).  My friend Lorraine has recommended her novel, 212, the third book in Ms Burke's Ellie Hatcher series which I might try since its quite popular.


  1. Great commentary on this book.

    Too bad that the book fell short. The premise of this sounds fascinating.

    I tend to like stories that involve a people snd events character's past resurfacing.

  2. Thanks Brian, What I have found in writing my blog is that I have to be honest. I look back on one review in particukar A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. I was intimidated by the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award it won and gave the book a very good review. I still feel the writing was brilliant but in hindsight it was a very disturbing novel and I should have said so more forcefully.