The Barnes & Noble Review
A fast-paced tour through the dark secrets and hidden agendas of scenic Lake Tahoe, Acts of Malice is the fifth Nina Reilly novel from the O'Shaughnessy sisters writing team (Perri is the pseudonym for Pamela and Nancy). Here they give us a further view into the personal and professional life of midscale attorney Nina Reilly, as she tries to sort out her feelings for a murder suspect and her conflicts over a blooming romance with her courtroom adversary. The ironic title underscores the many tangled plot threads in this engrossing tale, from family deceptions to those with even greater consequences for all involved.
Nina, a scrupulous lawyer and single mother of a teenage son, Bob, takes on a case involving Jim Strong, a skiing instructor accused of murdering his own brother on a dangerous slope known as the Cliff. The coroner has switched his supposition from accidental death to homicide after discovering that Alex was stomped to death. Jim's wife goes into hiding, claiming that he is extremely violent and had threatened to murder Alex in the past. Jim's father, skiing mogul Philip Strong, is shattered by his beloved son's death and seems almost apathetic to helping Jim. Nina originally believes in Jim's innocence, but signs soon show that he may not be as guileless as she once thought.
Although Nina has a reputation as one of the most uncompromising and innovative criminal attorneys in Tahoe, she quickly becomes unsettled by the romantic attention given to her by Assistant District Attorney Collier Hallowell. Is he truly interested in her now that he's finally gottenoverhis late wife, or is he merely attempting to manipulate the case by using Nina's emotions against her? As evidence against Jim continues to mount up, she's drawn into an ethical tug-of-war with herself, unsure of whether she is defending a cold-hearted killer, or if there's truly a conspiracy at work as Jim professes.
The O'Shaughnessys are extremely skilled at keeping the reader teetering on the edge between truth and lie, intertwining clandestine situations and the secrets of both the past and the present. The story deftly bobs and weaves between Nina's home life, her escalating affair with Hallowell, and her moral dilemma over this latest case, keeping our intrepid heroine constantly on her toes. The authors refuse to allow for any pat answers, and all parties involved are constantly discovering more about themselves and exactly what the cost might be for each belief and stance taken. Betrayal looms around every corner as a clever killer slinks deliciously between these pages.
Acts of Malice is actually deceptively simplistic on the surface, working on many levels at once while the main criminal plot elements often take a back seat to equally intriguing elements of a more personal nature. It's these overlapping areas that prove to be the most interesting, when personal convictions, passions, and idealism run into one another. Nina Reilly is a fully developed protagonist, but that doesn't mean she is always confident or invariably makes the right choices. In fact, her mistakes and failures are what truly flesh out the character, and it's this understanding of human nature that makes the O'Shaughnessys' novels such gripping and satisfying reading experiences.
The plot is pleasantly twisty....[A] wham-bam heart-racing climax.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Attorney and single mother Nina Reilly makes her fifth appearance in the bestselling author O'Shaughnessy sisters' (Breach of Promise; Obstruction of Justice) new legal thriller, this one set on the ski slopes of Lake Tahoe. Reilly's client in this case is Jim Strong, a local ski bum whose family owns the swanky Paradise resort. Jim stands accused of killing his younger brother Alex, who was stomped to death by someone wearing ski boots whose imprints on Alex's chest match the soles of Jim's footgear. But the suspect claims he's being framed by his adulterous wife, Heidi, who gave a statement to police and has gone into hiding. The case gives Reilly the willies, as disturbing events ensue that cast doubt on her client. Philip Strong, father of the dead youth and the suspect, is behaving strangely, and the victim's wife, a libidinous ski bunny made wealthy through inheritance, seems to have more feelings for Jim than for her dead husband. And the prosecutor, the passionate Collier Hallowell, warns Reilly off the case, hinting that Jim is a psychopath who killed animals as a kid and will seek vengeance on her if her defense doesn't get him off the hook. Reilly almost takes the latter advice, because she and Hallowell are in love and talking about having kids together. Their romance strains credibility and verges on syrupy: "He kissed her like he was searching for something, looking for her, only her." The central question of whether Jim is a murderer or a sap has an answer as predictable as the love scenes are corny. Sisters Pamela and Mary O'Shaughnessy (writing under their vaguely disguised pen name) do well to surround Reilly with a well-drawn cast of characters who provide a pleasant diversion even after the suspense has fizzled. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
It's Nina Reilly to the defense again (see, e.g., Obstruction of Justice) when one son of a prominent Lake Tahoe family is accused of killing his brother.
San Jose Mercury News
Nina Reilly is one of the most interesting heroines in legal thrillers today.
The O'Shaughnessy sisters writing team (Perri is the pen name for Pamela and Nancy) produces its best courtroom thriller to date. When champion skier Alex Strong goes hurtling off a cliff, his death is ruled accidental. Days later the coroner reverses himself, and suddenly Jim Strong, Alex's brother, is up to his ski bibs in problems, because as far as the South Tahoe PD is concerned, Jim was the last to see his brother alive. And now the coroner is insisting that some of Alex's injuries weren't related to his fall. Beleaguered Jim does what troubled people in South Tahoe are getting used to doing: he turns to Nina Reilly for help. Nina, who has steadily garnered a reputation as the toughest, most resourceful criminal attorney in the area (Breach of Promise, 1998, etc.), is at first convinced of her new client's innocence. On the other hand, his father, sister, and wife seem not to be. Nina begins to worry: Is she defending a clever psychopath or is he, rather, the unlucky, unloved product of a dysfunctional familya gallant, blameless survivor? And she has other, distinctly nonlegal worries. Does Assistant District Attorney Collier Hallowell represent merely a sexual itch? Or are her feelings for him deep enough for a life beyond scratching? In the meantime, evidence continues to mount against her client, who continues vehemently to proclaim the existence of a conspiracy. There's a climactic courtroom battle, a ferocious clash of wills, and a slick bit of legal maneuvering that would have won the day for Nina if the fates had been kinder. Still, the villain does get hisin a denouement that meanders a bit along the way but is a smash when it finally arrives. TheO'Shaugnessys are too readilyand almost always unwiselydrawn to bathos. Nina, however, is likable enough to save them from their sins. ($300,000 ad/promo; author tour)
From the Publisher
"Will keep you turning the pages into the night....Pleasantly twisty...[a] wham-bam, heart-racing climax."—USA Today
"[O'Shaughnessy's] best courtroom thriller to date." —Kirkus Reviews
Read an Excerpt
Through her office door, Nina Reilly heard the gentle guitar and coaxing voice of Carlos Botelho, singing that love is a paradox that disappears the moment you find it. Sandy Whitefeather, her secretary, had developed a fixation on this particular recording and had been playing it over and over for two weeks. In the outer office, Sandy hummed along with the tune, if that rasping monotone could be called a hum.
After a long morning in court, Nina had just had lunch, a spicy quesadilla from Margarita's Mexican Restaurant across Lake Tahoe Boulevard from the office. Her yellow silk blouse now sported a salsa stain on the front, right where it stuck out the most. Men didn't have this structural difficulty. Also, sometimes they had the advantage of those patterned ties, so useful for catching drips.
Naturally, the prospective client who had come to consult her was an attractive male, tieless but stainless, who had immediately noticed the blouse. He had noticed all of her very thoroughly before he sat down, and now he was looking around the office, getting his bearings.
A, amor . . .
Love takes its rhythm from the sea
Seeking and leaving eternally
Outside her window a light, dry snow fell, shot through with sunlight as the squall moved on across the Sierra into the high desert of the Carson Valley. It was only the beginning of November, and snow already capped the giant peaks that surrounded South Lake Tahoe. At over six thousand feet, Tahoe caught the cold currents of winter long before the valleys of the San Joaquin and the Pacific Coast.
Stretching out her legs under the desk to relieve the pressure on her stomach, she gazed past him toward that calming fall of snow, thinking, here it comes again, the change of weather, the new case, the trouble that falls endlessly through the door.
"You're gonna love this one," Sandy had told her the day before, handing her the phone message slip. This could mean anything; that Sandy approved of the client's political beliefs, family ties, or bank account.
Nina had written his name and address and phone number at the top of her legal pad: James Strong, Paradise Lodge Manager, care of Paradise Ski Resort, Stateline, Nevada. "Call me Jim," he had said as he looked her over, holding out a hand. He had taken off his red, white, and black Tommy Hilfiger parka and seated himself in one of the client chairs, but he didn't seem ready to talk yet.
She watched him check out the office with its fiddle-leaf fig in the sunny corner, the picture on her desk of Bob, looking not-too-thrilled at being caught on film by the school photographer, and the framed certificates on the walls. Nina Reilly, attorney-at-large. Graduate, Monterey College of Law. Admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the State of California.
Hard-earned certificates. So hard earned, it had taken five years to pay off the student loans.
The low-key surroundings seemed to reassure him. Some prospective clients preferred ostentation. They went elsewhere. The Law Offices of Nina Reilly consisted of the front office where Sandy reigned and clients waited, the library and conference room next door where coffee was made and depositions were held, and Nina's small office in back, just big enough for the oversized desk and a couple of orange chairs given to her by her sister-in-law.
While Jim Strong looked around, she formed her own impression of him: blue eyes burning out of his face; brown hair, cropped close; powerful neck, finely honed features; a jock with brains. Skiing as a lifestyle had tanned his skin, beefed up his shoulders, and narrowed the rest of his profile. He was younger than Nina by a few years, in his late twenties. He wore a red sweater and jeans.
His physical presence was blinding. The ski bunnies must love him.
But it was his expression that her eyes lingered upon, the compressed lips that held things in, the furrow of skin between the thick brown eyebrows, the jaw that clenched and unclenched, working the muscles of his cheeks.
A man in the worst trouble of his life, she diagnosed, getting up to close the door that Sandy had left cracked open.
Slowly my love changes and becomes beautiful
Sending out sparks, and I catch fire--
She knew the Strong name from constant references in the Tahoe Mirror. Straddling Nevada and California, with runs in each state, Paradise was one of the oldest local businesses, a major employer at Tahoe, and one of the few ski resorts that was still run by a family and not a distant corporate conglomerate. Philip Strong, father and owner, also sat on the City Council, got loads of kudos for his philanthropy, and his fair share of respectful reverence for being among the area's founding fathers.
Also favoring the steady stream of publicity was the family's extraordinary athletic skill. Various members competed in world-class ski and snowboarding events that led to awards and exciting close races. It didn't hurt either that their physical good looks cried out for a Sunday photo spread. Nina suspected that they encouraged the coverage, which could only be good for a small resort struggling to wrestle patrons from the behemoths of Squaw and Heavenly.
But the most recent coverage, she remembered now, had been because of a tragedy.
She sat back down and swung her chair around to face him better. He focused on her face and she smiled.
"Any time," she said. "When you're ready."
"It's not easy, coming here." His voice was deeper and older than she had expected.
"I sure do agree with that. I have to come here every day."
A final hesitation, and then he came out with it.
"I think I'm going to be arrested."
She could smell his suntan lotion. Running a lodge at a ski resort, he must need to use a lot of it. His wide hands were like mallets, so hard used they were cracked and earth colored. He obviously spent more time outdoors than in the lodge. He pushed himself back in his chair, compacting himself, as if trying to contain his energy.
"They're saying I killed my own brother." Opening his mouth, he held it that way for an instant, then snapped it shut, then began grinning in embarrassment and shaking his head. "Sorry. It sounds like such a bad joke. Kill my brother? Can you believe it?"
"Alex Strong was your brother? I read about his death in the paper. I'm very sorry." The front page of the Mirror had headlined, "Championship Skier Dies in Accident." She hadn't had time to read the rest, but there had been a large photograph . . . the face had looked like Jim's, the hair lighter and longer, the face younger but no less intense.
"Yes. Alex. First he dies on me, then all this. It's the worst week in my whole life. I'm licked. I can't handle it. I need help. I'm not too stupid to figure that out."
She allowed herself to feel a slight sympathy. He had lost his brother. She, too, had a brother. She had experienced grief, also, that lightless sea that rolls in, drowning everything.
But the truth was, almost every person who walked through the door and into her office had experienced misfortune. It was a given. Over the years she had had to become less sensitive to other people's pain and more attuned to her practical role in alleviating it.
From the Paperback edition.