Author: Lisa Scottoline
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Price: $27.99 (Hardcover)
Each year the UA School of Law and the ABA Journal sponsor the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction, given to a book which “features the role of lawyers in society and their power to effect change.” This year’s finalists have been announced and I thought it might be fun to review the three novels. You too may want to read them and then vote for a winner at abajournal.gov. Voting closes June 30.
Last week I reviewed “Proof” by C. E. Tobisman.
This week’s author, Lisa Scottoline, is a long-time, professional, best-selling writer. Besides 8 volumes of non-fiction, there are 13 stand-alone novels, 11 Rosato & Associate novels and 5 Rosato & DiNunzio novels.
Bennie Rosato, powerhouse attorney, a toughy, has curly blonde hair, is six feet tall and wears only khaki power suits.
Mary DiNunzio worked as an associate for Rosato for nearly a decade, but now the two women are full, letterhead, partners.
Short and dark, tenderhearted, Mary is Mutt to Bennie’s Jeff. In their practice Bennie handles the big cases, often federal.
Mary on the other hand, has carved out a large niche in “contract disputes, wills…construction disputes, slip and fall, basic med mal and now special education....” She specializes in special needs kids who are not being properly served and getting the interventions they need.
Mary bills a million dollars a year and takes home “three hundred grand after taxes.” And she gets “to do some good.”
The novel opens, as many murder mysteries do these days, with a non-lethal crime. Mary’s friend from South Philly, Simon Pensiera, has just been fired from his sales job with OpenSpace, a company that manufactures office cubicles. Simon’s daughter, Rachel, has leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant. The company claims he did not meet sales quotas, but Simon is sure he was fired because Rachel’s huge medical expenses would run up the company’s health insurance costs.
Simon can lodge a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and seek redress under the Americans with Disabilities Act “association provision”: that is, it’s not Simon, but his daughter, who has the illness. And he has some proof.
Complications arise fast. Rosato and DiNunzio represent Dumbarton Industries which owns OpenSpace. Can Bennie represent Dumbarton while Mary, her partner, sues a Dumbarton subsidiary? With the help of their in-house ace legal researcher, Judy Carrier, a colorful young attorney with “spiky pink hair,” they check on whether this is an insurmountable conflict of interest. Their conclusion: it is not a “settled question” of law.
Mary DiNunzio cannot refuse to take Simon’s case. The Pensieras, like most of South Philly, are family. She files a complaint against OpenSpace. In retaliation, Dumbarton files a conflict of interest ethics complaint against Mary. This is serious business. Bennie insists Mary drop the case, and it seems the partnership, not one year old, will dissolve.
Dumbarton is playing real legal hardball and sues Simon for defamation of character. Then, Todd Eddington, the awful man who fired Simon, is found murdered, and angry Simon is the prime suspect.
It takes nearly 200 pages until this killing and although one learns a good deal about health insurance, conflict of interest issues, and the internal arrangements of a legal practice, I found the going a little slow. Scottoline loves her characters, including Mary’s family, friends and neighbors, all colorful, and describes their every move in detail, as they discuss the legal issues or make coffee.
Then, as if to make up for the insider baseball, the novel morphs into an action thriller. Rosato and DiNunzio, together again (as if Robin would ever break up with Batman), work to clear Simon’s name and find Eddington’s real killer and the real reasons Simon was fired in the first place. The internet, especially our immortal emails, plays a huge role in their investigations, as it often does in mysteries these days. For the rest of the book, we have kidnapping, capture, physical violence, escape and, finally, justice.
Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.” His most recent book is Belles’ Letters 2, a collection of short fiction by Alabama women.