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Plea of Insanity is written by Jilliane Hoffman, the bestselling author of 'Retribution.' I hadn't read any of her other novels, and to be honest I think this was one of those library books that you get home, re-read the back and aren't too sure why you picked it up, but I decided to give it a shot anyway and see what I thought.
When star surgeon David Marquette's wife and three children and found viciously murdered and he himself with life threatening injuries, the evidence all points to the crime being committed by Marquette himself and worse, that he may have been behind a number of similar unsolved murders in the past, only this time one of his victims called police before they were killed and he didn't have time to escape so he turned the knife on himself, using his medical knowledge to ensure that he is not seriously injured.
Young prosecutor Julia Valenciano is flattered and thrilled to be asked to act as second seat in the states case against Marquette, and also into the bed of the chief prosecutor Rick Bellido. When Marquette enters a plea of not guilty due to insanity, Julia must fight to determine whether Marquette is truly insane or a cold-blooded psychopath who will use his medical knowledge to save himself from the death penalty.
As the trial progresses Julia must face up to the demons of her past and confront what lies ahead in her future as she struggles to understand what the nature of Marquette truly is.
I thought that this was an alright storyline, I've read a couple of novels like this before, the main downfall for me is that although they answer many of the question they raise, they also leave many unanswered and whilst some people might like speculate, personally I like they end of a book to tie up ALL the loose ends and not just some of them.
The book was well-written with flashbacks to Julia's own past interspersed into the narrative as past events are recalled to mind. You were left half wondering what the end would be, but to be honest I did think it was fairly obvious for a reasonable chunk of the book.
The story is obviously an emotional subject for the author, the brother of one of her best friends suffers from schizophrenia, so I can understand why she has written the book, however I think that the ending with Julia was really not necessary and added little, if anything to the book.
Whilst I won't be rushing out to read any of the authors other books, I would certainly read them if I came across one in my library.
A while ago I read Retribution by Jillianne Hoffman and thoroughly enjoyed it so I stored her name in my memory banks with the intention of reading more of her work. A couple of months ago while browsing in a discount store I saw Plea Of Insanity selling for a £1. I snapped it up feeling immensely pleased with myself, took it home and immediately started to read it.
That's probably the only good point about this book. The cheap price. The main character in the book is Julia Valenciano who is a prosecutor, a relatively new one so not top notch. The crime is a family murder, the wife and three children have been stabbed and the husband, David Marquette, is the suspect. It all sounded quite good at this point.
We begin with the emergency call made by the oldest child just before she is murdered and then move on to the investigation. Firstly Julia is not a character you can feel any empathy for, she is only second seat on this case due to the fact she is sleeping with her boss which does nothing to endear her to the reader. She also lacks depth and it's hard to stay interested in her life.
We flick back and forth for the first portion of the book as she remembers her childhood, her brother killed her own family then got diagnosed as Schizophrenic and David Marquette is claiming to have killed his own family for the same reason. Even the memory italic text sections don't pull you in as you'd expect, they are far too long and don't get to the point quickly enough. Also Julia is prone to panic attacks and these keep slowing down the story in general which again doesn't help.
As we read about the investigation there are factors that the detectives should look into but these are mentioned then ignored. It's almost as if the author was going a different way with the story then changed her mind and omitted to remove these bits of evidence from the text.
Julia discovers her brother is still alive and visits him. The portrayal of a schizoprenic lacked accuracy too, I had a close family member who was a schizophrenic and have met several in my life and the descriptions in this book didn't sit well with me, very stereotypical.
Julia has a dog who means the world to her yet by the last third of the book the dog isn't mentioned anymore and we have no idea where the dog is. When you reach the last section of the book it becomes clear what the author was trying to achieve throughout but she failed miserably and the "twist" at the end is both contrived and completely unimaginative.
The whole book is an erratic mess from start to finish, it's like the author started it then kept leaving it until eventually it needed rushing to get to the publishers. The characters lack any personality, the storyline had potential but turned into an uninteresting drone and the synopsis in the front cover is the most exciting part of the entire 590 pages.
I found it hard to concentrate on this book, not because it dazzled me with it's complexity but because it bored me senseless and was badly written. It took me 2 months to finish it, I gave up twice but then went back to it when I ran out of other books to read. Normally a book this length would take me a couple of days.
I loved her other book I read but this one was so tedious and left so many loose ends at the finish I'm not sure I'll read anything else by this author. I really don't recommend this book at all and it gets one star purely because I have to rate it.
Alerted by a telephone call from a young child in the early hours of the morning the police arrive at a family home in an affluent suburb to find an horrific scene - a mother and three children stabbed to death while the husband, a well respected local surgeon, is alive but injured. The murder enquiry soon points to the man as the chief suspect and in court David Arquette pleads not guilty by reason of insanity. Junior prosecutor Julia Valenciano finds herself offered the chance of a lifetime when chief prosecutor Rick Bellido asks her to "second seat" the case alongside him but her delight at being given the opportunity other junior prosecutors dream of soon comes into conflict with a tragic event from her own past.
"Plea of Insanity" is a loose follow on to "Retribution" and "Last Witness": there is now a new central character in Julia Valenciano but there are occasional references to CJ Townsend the attorney that featured in the Jilliane Hoffman's previous novels and one or two minor characters continue to play a part and the setting is still the Miami State Prosecutors Department. While Hoffman's previous novels have straddled the crime fiction subgenres, "Plea of Insanity" almost exclusively falls into court room/legal drama with nothing of the thriller aspect seen in the other novels and herein lies a major weakness with this novel. The basic premise for the story is rather good: was David Arquette insane at the time the crime was committed?
Unfortunately what should be the central thread of the story fades into the background and the dominant story is what happened in the past in Julia's family. This is told gradually throughout the book but it is entirely obvious from the outset what happened and the narration soon becomes tedious and drawn out.
Another failing is the focus on schizophrenia which, while interesting, takes over the book unnecessarily and really has more to do with the thread about Julia's family than the Arquette case. Most annoyingly, in spite of everything that is said or learned about the condition during the course of the story, the final outcome is so disappointing that the reader doesn't even know if it was ever pertinent to the story at all. At least fifty pages of pointless romance could be erased without any noticeable impact; some family background might be useful if Hoffman plans to feature Julia again but there is really too much personal detail even if this was the case.
I found Hoffman's writing clumsy at times; early on she explains how the prosecutors office is divided into teams and types of crime and while this did have some relevance I felt she could have explained it more succinctly. Similarly the sections about schizophrenia also seemed long-winded and overdone.
The story could have been told in a more exciting and compelling way. Since it's a legal drama David Arquette is the only suspect considered and this part of the book is all about his attempts to be acquitted on the grounds of insanity and the prosecutions case that he knew what he was doing. However there is one short chapter in which an unknown person watches unseen as a family settle down for the evening, later going into the house to kill them. But nothing more is said of this and this event in itself doesn't actually confirm or refute the final outcome of Arquette's case. It's possible of course that is a sequel is intended this might be relevant in a future story but in "Plea of Insanity" I couldn't understand why it was included.
After all these criticisms why did I finish the book? It's quite simple really; in spite of the signposting and the transparent chapter endings I really wasn't sure what the final verdict would be and I wanted to know. Given that the case rests on the contrasting opinions of expert witnesses and the instincts of the jurors the outcome isn't necessarily cut and dried. Unfortunately, I found that having avidly awaited the verdict, I found it unsatisfactory and - as you would expect from a verdict based on the instinct of the jurors rather than conclusive proof provided by forensics, for example - inconclusive.
I also stayed with "Plea of Insanity" because I liked the central character in spite of the fact that I found Hoffman's characterisation a shade too detailed. None of the characters - Julia included - are particularly original but they are at least credible - the cantankerous male judge, Julia's overbearing but well-meaning aunt and the rough at the edges homicide detectives. One character continues to rile me: the colourfully dressed, disdainful Cuban-American secretary who I can't imagine would get away with half as much as she appears to in such an important department.
Jilliane Hoffman knows her stuff; like many of her peers she too worked as an Assistant State Attorney and used her experience to write crime fiction. However, its not enough just to know the system, you have to be able to tell a good story too and I am beginning to think that in her debut "Retribution" we may well have seen her best ideas.
To read my review of "Retribution" use the link below without the gap
The prosecutor - Julia Valenciano. Young, ambitious and facing a case that could launch her career. The defendant - David Marquette. A successful Miami surgeon and devoted family man. The victims - Marquette's own wife and three small children. The plea - Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. The perfect father and model husband, David Marquette seemingly just snapped. His experienced defence team claims paranoid delusions caused by schizophrenia drove him to slaughter his entire family. But the state suspects Marquette's insanity defence is being fabricated to disguise murders that were cold-blooded and calculated. Worse, Julia believes Marquette could be responsible for a string of unsolved, brutal homicides.The distraught survivor could just be one of the most prolific and elusive serial killers in the country's history. To bring him to justice, Julia must embark on a terrifying personal journey back into her own past - something she has struggled for fifteen years to forget. And this will lead her to confront a future so chilling, she's not sure she will ever be able to face it..."