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Lily White

Lily White

5.0 2
by Susan Isaacs

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June 1997

Susan Isaacs is gifted with the ability to exact the richness, humor, celebrations and complexities of American family life and re-place them into her fictions. Ever since her wickedly funny debut novel, Compromising Positions, she has held onto readers with a surefire blend of satire and poignancy poured into bestselling prose. Her


June 1997

Susan Isaacs is gifted with the ability to exact the richness, humor, celebrations and complexities of American family life and re-place them into her fictions. Ever since her wickedly funny debut novel, Compromising Positions, she has held onto readers with a surefire blend of satire and poignancy poured into bestselling prose. Her favorite days are birthdays, after all: her own, her family members', her friends'. "Life is so unpredictable," she says, "we should shout whoopee, we got through another year and give extravagant presents and have a dandy time at every opportunity."

Susan Isaacs' care and gratitude towards the people she holds dear is readily apparent in conversation with her; if it is true that there are pieces of every author in his or her character creations, then the compassion of Susan Isaacs appears most often in her protagonists. Her newest novel, Lily White, revolves around a woman named Lee White, whose only fault as a young criminal defense lawyer is perhaps that she cares too much for her clients. Lee, called Lily by everyone she knows, is a product of the Baby Boom generation, raised by wasp-y Jewish parents in an affluent neighborhood of Long Island, New York. Her family life has its share of emotional swells and crests, but the young woman is sharp, and she is as smart as she is self-reliant.

The pages of Lily White detail Lee's current case involving a charming con artist named Norman Torkelson, who is facing the charge of murdering the most recent victim of his scam. Initially, it is an open and shut case, but as time wears on Lee begins to believe that Norman could not physically hurt a fly, despite a litany of prior offenses which have all involved the duping of wealthy older women out of their life savings. Is Norman protecting someone else, namely his fiancee, Mary Dean? Lee begins to believe so, and her involvement in the case becomes less detached and more personal by the day.

For the most part, Lily White is told in Lee's own voice, but occasionally, Susan Isaacs works in a chapter written in the omniscient third person, and through this window the reader learns about the person behind the lawyer. It is here that Isaacs' compassion for the human figure shines through, in relating the details of Lee's tumultuous life -- at times funny, at times sad. Lily White is a mystery novel, replete with twists and turns that convolute the case of Norman Torkelson; it is at the same time the triumph of Lee White, a woman who has often been betrayed, yet remains remarkably sincere. Isaacs' fans will not be disappointed.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
A big, fat, happy feast of a book. . . . [Isaacs's] most confident and appealing. . . . [She] is both funny and piercing, a highly satisfying combination.
Murder, sex, and humor make for a wickedly entertaining combination.
Her richest book yet.
Boston Globe
Riveting. . . . Best of all is the character of Lee, smart and sassy . . . self-deluded at the same time. Her good-humored, self-knowing, self-mocking voice is a treat for the ear.
Baltimore Sun
The ingredients for another bestseller.
Los Angeles Times
A one-volume vacation reader.
Cincinnati Post
Stunning. . . . [Isaacs] has created an ingenious novel that breaks out of the mystery genre. In fact, it sets the genre — in which, typically, the killer is brought to justice — on its ear.
St. Paul Pioneer Press
Touching, funny, and fast-paced.
Atlanta Journal
Shiny fun, jampacked full of story.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Lily White is a winner . . . with wit, insight, and enough twists and turns to keep the pages turning.
Entertainment Weekly
Isaacs delivers witty, wicked satire from beginning to end.
Fresh Air
Not only an entertaining legal drama, but a chilling account of family scapegoating. . . . Reading this smart, sassy book on the beach will be the very picture of civilization and its contents.
Lily is a funny, nervy survivor of some major betrayals...one house guest you'll wish could stay longer.
Miami Herald
A well-written, moving story that will keep the reader engrossed all the way.
Library Journal
Criminal defense lawyer Lily White thought she had it all: a career, a husband, and a darling daughter. But just as she is facing her toughtest case yet, her husband says he wants out of the marriageto marry Lily's sisterand he wants to take the daughter with him. Start thinking about who will play Lily in the movie, since Isaacs's novels usually end up on the silver screen.
Joanne Wilkinson
Can a tough, smart Jewish girl from a nouveau riche Long Island family find happiness with a gay black Republican? The answer is a resounding yes in the ever-witty Isaacs' latest genre-bending mystery-comedy. Told in chapters alternating between her personal life and her work, this is the story of Lily White, a funny, ambitious criminal-defense attorney. Lily becomes overinvolved in the case of her current client, Norman Torkelson, a con man who woos and then bilks desperate, lonely women. Something went terribly wrong in his last con, and the mark ended up dead. Now Torkelson is charged with murder; is he guilty, or was his gorgeous, ditsy girlfriend--prone to wearing orange lipstick and neon-colored miniskirts--overcome by jealous rage? As Lily pulls out all the stops in trying to determine what really happened, she also reveals her painful personal life--her increasing distance from her blue-blooded, ne'er-do-well husband, his startling revelation that he is in love with her sister, and her subsequent efforts to build a makeshift family with her best friend and mentor, an elegant gay black man. Aside from the many great one-liners and a gutsy, likable heroine, Isaacs offers a host of zinging observations on the notion of family, the politics of our criminal-justice system, and the importance of good eye shadow, all wrapped up in an interesting plot. Now that's entertainment.
Kirkus Reviews

Isaacs achieves a personal best with this warmly spirited tale of a Long Island lawyer conned over and over by life and love.

Lily "Lee" White, daughter of a wealthy WASPophile Jewish furrier and a beautiful, vain, neglectful mother, had always done her best to transcend her shallow background, attending NYU Law, marrying the love of her life, and serving the people in the Manhattan D.A.'s office. For a while, it seemed she had succeeded, as her attorney-husband, Jasper "Jazz" Taylor, the rich, Episcopalian boy next door, joined a prestigious Wall Street firm and Lee reaped her first major triumphs in the courtroom. But Jazz wasn't comfortable as a lawyer, and Lee couldn't help feeling betrayed when he moved her back to their hometown of Shorehaven and became president of her father's ritzy Manhattan fur boutique. Joining the Long Island D.A.'s homicide department, Lee did find some comfort in a friendship with Will Stewart, the super-elegant head of the department, who held her hand as Lee adjusted to the strains of motherhood, cared for Jazz's Down's-syndromeinflicted younger brother, helped her younger sister, Robin, recover from a heroin addiction, and tried to put up with a mother disappointed in Lee's mediocre sense of style. The strain proved too much when Jazz and Robin announced they were in love, wanted to marry, and intended to sue for custody of Lee's and Jazz's child. Now, while representing a con man who seduces lonely women for their money and may have actually murdered one, Lee reviews her own foolish moves in life and takes comfort in the knowledge that her exile from an unloving family and deceitful marriage has left room for a happier, if much more offbeat, life than she ever could have imagined.

As always, Isaacs's strengths lie in her feisty characters, lively pacing, and perfectly tuned comic sense.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.18(w) x 6.75(h) x 1.31(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I was never a virgin.

Okay: In the technical sense, of course I was. But even in my dewy days, I never gazed at the world wide-eyed with wonder. If I wasn't born shrewd, at least I grew up too smart to be naive. So how come in the prime of my life, at the height of my powers, I could not foresee what would happen in the Torkelson case? Was I too street smart? Had I been around the block so many times that I finally lost my sense of direction?

A brief digression: Ages ago, soon after I became a criminal defense lawyer, Fat Mikey LoTriglio hailed me across the vast concrete expanse of the courthouse steps. "Hey, girlie!" His tomato of a face wore an expression that seemed (I squinted) amiable, pretty surprising considering he'd just been sprung from Elmira after doing two and a half years on the three counts of aggravated assault I'd prosecuted him for.

"Come over here," he called out. "Hey, I'm not gonna kill you." In Fat Mikey's world, that was not hyperbole but a promise; he got busy straightening his tie to demonstrate he was not concealing a Walther PPK. "I hear you're not working for the D.A. anymore," he boomed. I strolled over, smiling to show I didn't hold any grudges either, and offered my hand, which he shook in the overly vigorous manner of a man trying to show a professional woman that he's comfortable with professional women. Then I handed him my business card. I was not unaware that Fat Mikey was one of three organized crime figures the cops routinely picked up for questioning on matters of Mob-related mayhem. To have Fat Mikey as a client was to have an annuity.

He glanced down at my card to recall my name."Lee?"

Naturally, I didn't respond "Fat?" And to call him "Mike" after having called him "a vulture feasting on society's entrails" in my summation might seem presumptuous. So I murmured a polite "Mmm?"

"A girl like you from a good family—"

"Are you kidding?" I started to say, but he wouldn't let me.

"I could tell you got class, watching you at the trial," he went on. "You know how? Good posture—and not just in the morning. Plus you say 'whom.' Anyways, you really think you can make a living defending guys like me?" He didn't seem so much sexist as sincerely curious. I nodded encouragingly. "This is what you had in mind when you went to law school?" he inquired.

"No. Back then I was leaning toward Eskimo fishing rights. But this is what I'm good at."

He shook his head at my folly. "When—pardon my French—a guy's ass is in a sling, you think he's gonna hire a girl who says 'whom'?"

"If he's partial to his ass he will."

Fat Mikey's upper lip twitched. For him, that was a smile. Then, almost paternally, he shook a beefy index finger at me. "A girl like you should be more particular about the company she keeps."

Years later, I would learn how wise Fat Mikey was.

Nevertheless, from the beginning I knew there were limits to keeping bad company. I could be sympathetic to my clients without getting emotionally involved: A lot of them had sad childhoods. Many had been victims of grievous social injustice, or of terrible parents (who were themselves victims of terrible parents). Still, I never forgot they were criminals. And while I may have delighted in a bad guy's black humor, or a tough broad's cynicism, I was never one of those attorneys who got naughty thrills socializing with hoods. You'd never catch me inviting a client—let's say Melody Ann Toth, for argument's sake—to go shopping and out for Caesar salads so we could chitchat about old beaux ... or about what she might expect at her upcoming trial for robbing three branches of the Long Island Savings Bank on what might have been an otherwise boring Thursday.

For their part, most of my clients (including Fat Mikey, who retained me two years after that conversation on the courthouse steps) wouldn't think I was exactly a laugh a minute either. Whatever their personal definition of a good time was, I wasn't it. Unlike me, Fat Mikey simply did not get a bang out of crocheting afghans or listening to National Public Radio. With fists the size of rump roasts, Mikey looked like what he was: a man for whom aggravated assault was not just a profession but a pleasure. As for Melody Ann, with her pink-blonde hair that resembled attic insulation, the only reason she'd go shopping at Saks would be to knock off the Est‚e Lauder counter when she ran out of lip liner. My clients had no reason or desire to pass for upper middle class.

For that reason alone, Norman Torkelson was different right from the beginning.

Of course, a con man cannot look like a crook and expect to make a living. If Norman Torkelson had resembled the no-good rat he was, he would have been a sawed-off runt with a skinny mustache like a plucked eyebrow. But then the nine hundred or so women he had proposed marriage to would have told him: Get lost, creepo.

However, he was not sawed off; he was six feet five. Lucky for him, since in America everyone knows a man's character increases in excellence in direct proportion to his height. Not that Norman was content with mere tallness; he was clever enough to trip over his own size-thirteen feet every so often, which made him ... Some of the descriptions in the witnesses' statements taken over the years from victims of his scams were: "sensitive," "tragic, like Abraham Lincoln," and (my personal favorite) "caring." So all those women to whom he proposed said yes—Yes, my love! Yes, Norman! (or Yes, whatever alias he was using)—and got their hearts broken.

I wonder now: What if we hadn't met in the Nassau County Correctional Center? What if he hadn't been wearing the official uniform—pants and shirt in an orange that inevitably leeched the life out of every inmate's face? Would I have wanted to trace with my fingertips the lines of his Mount Rushmore face? No. I would not have.

Still (before I leave the subject of color), even the vicious glow of that orange could not hide the fact that Norman's eyes were such a startling blue they seemed more a Crayola than an eye color: Viking blue, a shade somewhere between royal and turquoise. If not for those eyes, would the hundreds of women thrilled to empty their bank accounts for him have found themselves destitute, suddenly dependent on disgusted relatives or the public dole?

However, let's not go overboard on the blue eyes business. A con man cannot afford to be suspiciously handsome, and Norman Torkelson was not. First of all, he had a too teeny nose. Instead of the cute upward tilt you'd expect from a nose like that, it hooked; in certain lights, you'd swear Norman was half man, half parakeet. So not gorgeous—an asset to a con man because true beauty evokes curiosity. And not slick. At least, he didn't seem slick. Like any professional swindler, he was just convincing enough to persuade a woman who had never met a man from Yale that he had gone to Yale.

Furthermore, a competent con man never overacts. Norman may have listened avidly when a woman spoke, but he never pretended to drown in the depths of her eyes; he didn't shift around in his seat either, crossing his leg to hide an alleged erection. Oh, one more handy imperfection: He had a slight lisp.

I heard his first words as: "I thwear I didn't do it, Mth. White." He lowered his big head and whispered, "Jethuth!"

"It's not me you have to convince, Mr. Torkelson," I told him. "I'm on your side. It's the D.A. who's a problem."

He clutched the top of the white Formica barrier that separates inmates from their visitors. "Please," he begged me, "call me Norman."

Amazing: He threw his entire being behind that request. His forehead furrowed, his shoulders tensed, his Adam's apple bulged, every part of him seemed to yearn: Call me Norman.

A con man's hokey trick? Absolutely. I tried to be cool, glancing around the visitors room, a huge space filled with rows of Formica-topped tables, which resembled a school cafeteria. However, instead of patrolling teachers there were armed guards carrying semiautomatic rifles, and closed-circuit cameras.

Despite the ugly publicness of the place, I felt a private flush of gratification at my client's request: Please, call me Norman. Almost as if he had willed it, I actually eased my attach‚ case off my lap and set it by my feet, then pushed my chair back so he could get a fuller view: I carried on as if I were OD'ing on estrogen. I actually crossed my legs, movie starlet style, and began to inscribe a sexy O with my foot.

Naturally, all this took place within a microsecond. Then I realized I was being manipulated—which only proved to me what I'd already suspected. Norman Torkelson was not a great con artist. Just a fairly competent one.

"I was not—and I quote—conning Bobette out of her money!" he announced in that very instant.

"Norman," I said, uncrossing my legs, "let's get our priorities straight. The fraud by false pretenses charge is the least of your problems right now."

"Bobette and I were friends," he insisted. "She was lending me the money. I told her: 'Have your attorney draw up the proper paperwork, with whatever interest you feel is fair. I'll sign it. I won't have it any other way!'"

Lily White. Copyright © by Susan Isaacs. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Susan Isaacs is the bestselling author of eleven novels, two screenplays, and one work of nonfiction. She lives on Long Island.

Brief Biography

Sands Point, New York
Date of Birth:
December 7, 1943
Place of Birth:
Brooklyn, New York
Honorary Doctorate, Queens College

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Lily White 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
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As I read the reviews for Susan's other books I am amazed at the differences of opinion. More and more I come to the conclusion that you should not be overly influenced by any ONE persons evaluation of a book. (nor of a critic's opinion). Susan puts MEAT into her novels that capture you and keep you reading -- smooth as silk and a MUST read for the serious fiction reader.