A criminal prosecutor is bound to make a few enemies over a decades-long career, and Dana Hargrove is no exception. Who has it in for her?
In 2015, the former prosecutor is in her second year as a trial judge in Manhattan. It’s a new world. Dana cut her baby teeth in the DA’s office during the crack epidemic, the ’80s and early ’90s. Now, the murder rate is a fraction of what it was, and public opinion about incarceration is softening. So is Dana. As a judge, she agonizes over every sentencing decision before her.
Midlife has also hit Dana hard on a personal level. She misses her children and adjusts to the empty nest by immersing herself in work. Instead of growing closer to her husband Evan, their relationship becomes strained. What is happening to them?
Tension builds as Judge Hargrove presides over two high-stakes media cases. The defendants: a glamorous dot-com millionaire who killed her business partner, and an orthopedist who runs a deadly pill mill. In the public mail bag, the judge receives a message from an anonymous crank. Then her family starts getting letters that sound all too personal. Someone with an agenda is harassing and shadowing Dana and her loved ones.
In Seven Shadows, the fifth standalone novel of the series, the judge and her pursuer are on a collision course meant to teach Dana the meaning of empathy and the value of the people she cherishes most.
A criminal prosecutor returns as a judge with a target on her back in this fifth installment of a series.
After many years as a prosecutor, Dana Hargrove finds herself on the other side of the bench. It turns out being a trial judge on the New York Supreme Court is just as exciting as being an attorney, particularly when presiding over the cases of two high-visibility defendants. Suzy Spinnaker is a former tech millionaire charged with the murder of her business partner, Connor Davidson. When the jury convicts her of manslaughter, Dana must decide her sentence. Garth Underwood is an orthopedist who sold pills on the side—until two people ended up dead. To make matters stranger, the judge’s younger sister, Cheryl Hargrove, is currently playing a district attorney based on Dana on a hit television show called Plain Justice. The home front doesn’t offer much respite. Dana and her husband, Evan Goodhue—who recently became a law professor—have grown distant from each other in the absence of their children, now away at college. Then a threatening letter arrives at Dana’s office. Soon Evan gets one at school. Someone is trying to influence Dana’s rulings, but who? And how far will they go? Kemanis (Your Pick, 2018, etc.) writes in a precise prose that elucidates the stakes of the cases while delving into the interior lives of her characters: “Allow the evidence or exclude it—either way, Judge Hargrove’s reputation is on the line, just like it is in the Spinnaker case. Suzy again. Not now! She pushes that case to the back of her mind. Sentencing is still a month away.” The author takes time to build her characters—Cheryl and Evan are drawn with the same complexity as Dana—and this gives greater emotional depth to the story than one often finds in legal thrillers. Each book in the series—the earliest of which is set in 1988—jumps six or seven years ahead in Dana’s life: a bold strategy to show how much a lawyer can change over the course of her career. This tale stands well enough alone, but those who read it will want to go back and discover the previous volumes.
A finely crafted legal thriller with fully realized characters.
The fifth Dana Hargrove book takes us forward to a time when Dana is experiencing her midlife crisis. Her children are all grown up now, and she feels her life has taken on a direction that might be quite unsure. She seems full of self-doubt at the moment, and to be honest, this sort of got to me in the book. Even her relationship with her forever-happy husband has hit a new low of ‘stale.’ In one year I will be at the age Dana is in this book, so I am a bit scared of what the future might hold. Will the menopause blues get me as well? The book really opened my eyes to the very near future and to the way different people are dealing with this aspect of their lives.
As for her career life, Dana is a former prosecutor turned judge dealing with two cases at the moment, both high-profile ones. The first is about a former-millionaire young woman who supposedly killed her partner. Once the verdict has been reached, now Dana finds herself in the very tough position of having to decide on a punishment. How many years will she get? A minimum of 5? Or dare she go up to 20-25 years to set an example of her?
The second case involves a pill mill that is run by an orthopedic doctor, and given the current opioid crisis in the US, this case is definitely one that everyone has their eyes on. The bigger problem is, however, that someone wants to keep Dana from hearing these cases and sends her and her family anonymous threatening messages. There is a stalker on the loose, and Dana, her sister, and the rest of her family might be the stalker’s latest target.
Even if this is a reader’s first book by the author, it is very clear that Ms. Kemanis has a strong legal background which she utilizes for maximum impact. There are numerous relevant and well-placed details about the cases and their handling of the respective authorities that only someone who works in the field knows how to tackle. Still, the author doesn’t go into extreme courtroom details that could bore a layperson.
The story is fast-paced, with lots of twists and turns, and with a very interesting ending that I didn’t see coming. The Dana Hargrove books are what I call legal mysteries. Having read too many legal thrillers so far, I do enjoy the lower level of thrill and chill in the V.S. Kemanis books. For people who find thrillers too unnerving, this series will fill a void that people didn’t even know they had. I found this book to be the most emotional in scope so far. There is a lot of soul searching in the Hargrove family. I daresay this book at times crosses genres from legal mystery to psychological suspense, equally drawing in readers of both genres.
My only worry about the series is that it might end soon. From what I’ve noticed, each book takes place several years after the previous one. We started with Thursday’s List in 1988 when Dana was just a rookie prosecutor. Homicide Chart takes place in 1994 when Dana is a young mother. The next book, Forsaken Oath, takes us to 2001 when Dana is an established and well-respected prosecutor. Next, we go to Deep Zero, to 2009, when Dana is the newly elected District Attorney. And finally, we get to Seven Shadows to 2015, when Dana is entering the second half of her own century. I love these books, so I really hope that we will get to see many more stories with Dana, her husband her sister who is an actress, and her now grown-up children. At some point Dana will have to retire, and that will be a sad day for the lovers of this series.
The protagonist of this involving mystery seems to have it all. Dana is a middle-aged judge in New York City. She has a loving husband who teaches law, a boy and a girl in college who seem to exemplify the best and the brightest, and a sister who’s a successful actress. She’s also well-respected by the people who work with and for her. Yet the core of this novel is not about superficial perceptions; it’s about being able to see things from different perspectives, and the need for empathy as well as experience when making difficult decisions.
The heart of the mystery involves a stalker (if it is only one) who appears bent not only on intimidating Dana but her family as well. Cryptic notes begin to turn up, notes that don’t make threats explicitly but rather are seemingly coded accusations about Dana, her family’s status, and questions of class inequities. As these odd missives increase, so too does the suspense about who is sending them and why, and certainly what the stalker’s ultimate intent might be. Tension mounts and leads to a climactic confrontation that is surprisingly different from what one might expect.
Author Kemanis has created an engaging plot on which to build her narrative—one chock full of technical legal expertise. Yet it is the emotional tributaries that flow from that plot that give this story a greater sense of literary weight. By honestly exploring the intimate feelings of her characters, she lifts this tale to a level above the average mystery. Readers will not simply question “whodunit” but also why we do the things we do and how we all might do them better.
RECOMMENDED by the US Review
Award-winning author V.S. Kemanis announces her new legal thriller, Seven Shadows, to be released in paperback and e-book by Opus Nine Books on January 28, 2020.