by Bruce TierneyApril, 2006
A judge under fire
Perennial favorite Tami Hoag returns with Prior Bad Acts, a chilling tale of murder and mayhem in the Twin Cities. When a liberal female judge disallows evidence of a defendant's prior criminal record in a high-profile murder trial, a conviction seems a long shot at best. Everyone knows that the guy did it, but the direct evidence is a bit thin, and the prosecutor is left twisting in the wind. Minneapolis cops Nikki Liska and Sam Novak are assigned to the case after an attempt is made on the judge's life, probably as a result of the recent controversial ruling. The list of suspects is long: the aggrieved husband and father of the victims; the sullen son, left to hold the remainder of his family together in the aftermath of the unspeakable; and let's not forget the judge's husband, a failed filmmaker with a closet full of secrets and an unexplained $25,000 expense shortly before the attack. As is usually the case with Tami Hoag novels, there is no shortage of surprises, red herrings and multidimensional villains on both sides of the law. The writing is crisp, the dialogue filled with banter, and the plot advances steadily toward a very unexpected denouement. Novak and Liska were introduced in 1999's Ashes to Ashes; both have grown considerably in the intervening years, evolving into complex individual characters, all the while playing off one another better than most contemporary crime-solving duos.