The Scales of Justice by JB Heart
A melodrama rich with hard-boiled elements, JB Heart’s The Scales of Justice tells the story of the new “Florida Hurricane,” Harris Robertson. An assistant district attorney in Orlando, Harris is charming, enterprising, straight as an arrow, and dedicated to justice – but his world turns upside when a dangerous new case lands in his lap, just as an impossibly seductive new intern pops up in his office. As Harris delves deeper into the case and falls deeper into love with the object of his obsession, the body count rises and he tumbles into a rabbit hole of corruption and sin that threatens to upset everything he knows about his orderly life, and possibly end it.
A classic sort of legal mystery thriller, The Scales of Justice is appropriately shadowy and intriguing, balancing informed legal procedure with illuminated glimpses into an urban underbelly of crime, sadism, and backstabbing. The novel smolders with a dark southern flare, touching lightly on heady themes such as rape, racism, misogyny, incest, and vengeance in a world where blood is thicker than water and as potent as wine. But a counterpoint of pious romance, comradery, and family drama – highlighted by fun banter and character dynamics – is what really shines through. The grim and grisly aspects mix with this chaste melodrama to create a sort of teetotal noir where sodas, pizzas, and soft rock replace the whiskeys, cigar smoke, and fedoras; this manages to ground the novel despite its flair for dramatics. The story is meticulously plotted and composed, but is so intricate that it can become a bit convoluted at times, with poorly delineated scene changes and progressions creating an awkward pace – and yet the novel is rarely surprising. The narrative constantly reveals the goings-on behind the hero’s back, diminishing the sense of mystery and keeping the reader up to speed in clumsy ways – we always know whose side everyone is on, even if Harris does not. Heart has a penchant for explaining rather than showing; saying (or heavily winking at) what things mean rather than letting us discover them for ourselves. Attempts to create character can also become annoying rather than endearing – the protagonists’ constant flirting, easy moralizing, facile spirituality, traditional virtuousness, and heavy repartee can feel cheesy and become grating. And yet the novel’s spirit is so earnest, its dramatic arc so solid, its world so full of fascination, that readers still may find themselves on the edge of their seats. Even if it’s a journey into the already-known, The Scales of Justice is a sultry, beguiling, and gripping ride.
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