The Limits of Justice (Benjamin Justice Series #4)

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Overview

Still trying to come to terms with his HIV+ status, Benjamin Justice is just resurfacing after a six-month-long romance with Cuervo Gold when he is roused from his self-induced torpor by a young woman bearing the offer of work and a handsome monetary reward." "A sleazy star biographer has just written an expose of Charlotte Preston's late father, Rod, an actor known more for his masculine hunkiness than his thespian abilities, claiming the Hollywood he-man was not all that he seemed. Charlotte wants Justice to ...
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The Limits of Justice

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Overview

Still trying to come to terms with his HIV+ status, Benjamin Justice is just resurfacing after a six-month-long romance with Cuervo Gold when he is roused from his self-induced torpor by a young woman bearing the offer of work and a handsome monetary reward." "A sleazy star biographer has just written an expose of Charlotte Preston's late father, Rod, an actor known more for his masculine hunkiness than his thespian abilities, claiming the Hollywood he-man was not all that he seemed. Charlotte wants Justice to write the rebuttal and set the record straight. But before he can even begin, Charlotte is dead, discovered in her bedroom with a needle in her arm by none other than Justice himself." "Curiosity aroused, and with a generous advance already swelling his bank account, the journalist is determined to discover the truth - not only about Rod Preston's life but also about his daughter's death. What Justice finds hidden deep in the desert links an unlikely group of men to a history of twisted perversion and crimes almost too horrible to believe.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
A high-paying offer of work nudges former journalist Benjamin Justice out of a lengthy bout with alcohol and depression triggered by a Pulitzer scandal and positive HIV test results. His client, the daughter of a recently deceased movie-idol father, wants him to ghostwrite a sleazy biography of the opportunistic author whose own sleazy book had "exposed" the father as a pedophile. After the woman's subsequent questionable suicide, Justice seeks the real truth about both men--and himself. Solid, well-worked prose, psychological depth, and the haunting California settings recommend this to all collections. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781602820609
  • Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
  • Publication date: 10/14/2008
  • Series: Benjamin Justice Series , #4
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 989,384
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Read an Excerpt

One

It's never been too difficult bumping into murder in Los Angeles. Not when at least one or two residents get rubbed out every day, and your closest friend is a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times, and your own background is as darkly stained with violent death as a coroner's report printed with cheap ink.

When you've got all that going for you, felony homicide has a way of finding you in the City of Angels — even in neighboring West Hollywood, the cozy little community shaped on the map like a submachine gun that I call home sweet home. Sometimes, another case of murder walks right up and knocks on your door, the way it happened one gray March morning when Charlotte Preston came seeking my services.

"Benjamin Justice?"

She tapped her delicate knuckles three times against the warped wood that framed the dirty screen, a dim figure peering in, trying to find me in the two-room apartment.

"Mr. Justice, your friend Alexandra suggested I contact you. I've left several messages."

"Yes, I know."

She pressed her face closer, squinting, with the fingers of her left hand held across her forehead like a Girl Scout's salute. It was the face of a thirty-something woman, fair in complexion and pretty in a conventional way. The features included a small, pleasant mouth, nicely upturned nose, faint blush to the softly arched cheeks, earnest amber eyes under big lashes that sought me out a little too desperately for my comfort. Over her curling auburn hair, she wore a knit cap of bright chartreuse that tried awfully hard to look jaunty and hip.

"Might I come in for amoment?"

I sat on the bare floor across the messy room, leaning against the wall, in a veil of shadow undisturbed by the gloomy light outside.

"I'm not dressed for visitors. But, then, I rarely am."

"My name's Charlotte Preston. I—"

"Yes, I know."

"Of course; the phone messages."

"Something about a writing job."

I saw her head turn this way and that, as if someone might be listening.

"I'd prefer to speak to you more privately."

"I haven't showered or shaved."

"That's not a problem, Mr. Justice."

"I haven't brushed my teeth for a while."

"Your friend Alexandra warned me that you might be reluctant to see me."

"I stink, Miss Preston."

"She told me you've been out of work for some time."

"The least of my bad habits."

"She said you've been going through a rough period."

"Will you do me a favor, Miss Preston?"

"If I can."

"Go away."

She hesitated, as if she might actually turn and depart, as if simple decency compelled her to honor my request. But simple decency rarely wins out against a burning desire for vengeance, which happened to be in Charlotte Preston's heart that bleak morning.

Her tone became more businesslike.

"I'm prepared to offer you a substantial amount of money."

"Substantial is a relative term. Also rather vague. Always prefer the concrete to the vague, the specific to the general. Strunk and White, Elements of Style."

Esoteric references to literary manuals failed to dissuade her.

"For your work, which I estimate will require less than a year of your time, I'm prepared to offer fifty thousand dollars in cash. Twenty-five thousand immediately as an advance, if you take the job. Twenty-five thousand upon completion of your work. More money later, if things work out."

My body remained slack, wedged like a sack of rotting potatoes in the recessed angle of the wall and floor, but my mind was sitting up and paying attention.

"There are mansions in Malibu that rent for that much in a month."

"We're not in Malibu, are we, Mr. Justice?"

My disheveled blond head stayed put, resting against the wall, while my puffy eyes conducted a quick survey of the room. It was a decent but sparsely furnished single apartment over a garage that cost me five hundred bucks a month, which was a steal in fashionable West Hollywood, but still more than I could come up with at the moment. More to the point, the rent was due at the end of the week, if I had the weeks right, which I sometimes didn't.

"No, Miss Preston, we're not in Malibu."

"You'll talk to me then?"

"Turn your head. I'm in my underwear. Not a pretty sight."

She stepped back in a pivot, facing the green hills that rose above Sunset Boulevard a few blocks north. I got to my feet, found a pair of wrinkled jeans in a corner, pulled them on. I did a sniff check on one of the armpits of a T-shirt that had once been white, then on a sweatshirt that didn't know if it was blue or gray. The sweatshirt won. I slipped into it, pushed down the unruly hair that crowned my bald spot, shoved my feet into a pair of old running shoes I found beneath the bed, straightened the blankets a little.

When I unlatched the screen door, Charlotte Preston spun anxiously at the sound, her eyes bright with optimism.

"I can't tell you how grateful I am that you've accepted my offer."

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves, shall we?"

I pushed open the door and she stepped in, giving me a better look at her. Below the conventionally pretty head was a fashionably slim body in a loose-fitting silk blouse and pleated slacks, standing at above-average height on open-toed, two-inch pumps; a sweater that looked like it might be cashmere was draped over her narrow shoulders and knotted in front, another calculated attempt to look casual. I suspected Charlotte Preston was one of those people who try awfully hard to make things work out the way they want them to, and if she had fifty grand to spare for her efforts, I was willing to listen.

There were chairs at a table in the kitchen so we sat there. I pushed aside a clutter of old magazines whose subscriptions I could no longer afford and one or two half-eaten, molding sandwiches that reminded me how far my life had sunk from a place of heady promise and renewal not much more than a year ago. At least I had caffeine in the cupboard, and I offered her some.

"That would be nice."

"It's instant, I'm afraid."

"Fine."

Everything about Charlotte Preston seemed to be nice and fine. I boiled water in a saucepan on the old gas stove while she talked, waiting for the part that wasn't so nice and so fine. There always is one with someone who works too hard trying to arrange and present their feelings as carefully as their clothes.

"Perhaps you've heard of my father, Rod Preston?"

"The movie star?"

"TV, mostly, in recent years."

"I guess I lost track of him. I've lost track of a lot of things lately."

"But you remember his movies?"

"He was what they call big box office way back when. Nice-looking guy — big shoulders, chiseled face. Yeah, I remember him. Mostly from the late show."

"His film career peaked in the fifties and early sixties, before the movies changed so much."

"Before they stopped being so corny and unrealistic, you mean?"

She barely flinched.

"He was more the old-fashioned kind of matinee idol, I guess. He also starred in a television series that ran for eight years in the seventies, then two more that didn't do as well. After that, mostly guest shots, or low-budget movies made in Europe."

"The Love Boat and spaghetti western circuit."

"You could call it that, I suppose."

She brightened suddenly, as if she'd stumbled on a lucky thought.

"When he was making studio pictures, the theater owners voted him the number-one male star three years in a row."

"Definitely a popular guy."

I dumped coffee crystals into two cups and looked for a clean spoon.

"I imagine you're aware of his passing."

"Not really."

"Oh."

I glanced over as I inspected a spoon for anything too crusty.

"I don't read the papers or watch the news much. Not for a while."

"I see."

"To be quite frank, I've never had much interest in the goings-on of Hollywood, although I realize a lot of people in this town think it's the center of the universe."

This time she looked stung, so I applied some salve.

"I'm sorry to hear about your father's death, though. I imagine a lot of folks turned out for the funeral."

"Hundreds and hundreds. He was buried up at Forest Lawn, near the Great Mausoleum. There are lots of film stars up there from the old days. That's where I want to be placed when my time comes, next to Father. I've already made the arrangements."

"You seem a little young to be thinking about funeral plots."

She smiled painfully.

"Father took care of it, actually. Years ago."

"Nice of him, wanting to keep the family together."

"It's just him and me. Mother has other plans."

When I didn't say anything, she hurried ahead.

"He passed in early November. Lung cancer. He was a smoker. I'd always urged him to quit. He did, for a while, after John Wayne died. Then he started up again."

She stumbled over another of those happy thoughts that caused her to perk up like an actress in a toothpaste commercial.

"He made several pictures with John Wayne back in the fifties. They were good friends."

"In the Hollywood sense, or the real sense?"

"I'm not sure what you mean."

"Never mind then."

I added boiling water to the two cups, stirred it, took the cups to the table.

"No milk, no sugar. Sorry."

She glanced around.

"You live by yourself, I guess."

"You guess correctly."

"Don't get out much?"

"Haven't been feeling too well."

"Nothing serious, I hope."

I pushed one of the cups in her direction.

"What's the job about, Charlotte?"

She picked up her cup, sipped nervously, winced as the coffee scalded her soft, pink lips. When she spoke again, some of the lightness was gone from her voice.

"Are you familiar with a writer named Randall Capri?"

"Doesn't ring a bell."

"He specializes in celebrity biographies." The lower portion of her face puckered with distaste. " 'Celeb bios,' I think they call them."

"Never read one."

"He's written several. They're always on the sordid side, revealing some shocking secret about the subject."

"I guess they have to do that these days."

"Capri only writes about celebrities after they're dead, of course, so they have no opportunity to refute his lurid claims or take him to court. The legal people say you can't libel the dead, but I disagree."

"He's writing a book about your father?"

"It's due out next week. I've had the unpleasant experience of looking through an advance copy. It's in the hands of my lawyer, or I would have brought it along so you could see for yourself just what a vulture this Randall Capri is."

She set her cup down and folded her hands tightly on the table, as if in fervent prayer. Her upper front teeth worked nervously at a ragged section of her lower lip, which didn't go with the rest of her.

"This horrible man who calls himself a writer has created nothing less than a catalog of filthy lies, portraying my father as utterly depraved."

"That covers a lot of ground, Miss Preston."

"For one thing, he claims in his book that my father was secretly homosexual."

"That doesn't necessarily fit the depravity definition. At least not in my dictionary."

She reached out, touching my wrist.

"Of course not. I didn't mean it that way."

I withdrew my hand.

"How did you mean it, Charlotte?"

"You've seen my father's movies. You know that Rod Preston was an extremely virile man."

"So were a few other gay movie icons. More than a few, I imagine, marriage and children notwithstanding."

"Perhaps, but not my father. I knew him, Mr. Justice. I loved him more than anything. If he were that way, I would have seen it."

"He was a skilled actor?"

She lifted her chin resentfully.

"Yes."

"Well, then."

Her eyes flashed.

"I'd hoped when I came here that you might be on my side."

"I'm just raising honest questions, Charlotte."

She studied her coffee cup on the table, then glanced back.

"Yes, of course. You're a reporter, after all."

"Was. Ancient history."

"Not so long ago, really. From what I know about you, you were with the Los Angeles Times through much of the eighties."

"I'm still waiting for the depravity part, Charlotte."

Her eyes shifted away again, and when they came back, they were moist, while the other features of her face seemed twisted by darker emotions. I'd been going through some gargantuan mood swings myself in recent months, and I wondered if she felt as weak and uneasy inside as I did, as if something monstrous and unspeakable lurked just beyond the next thought, just around the next cerebral corner, where things were the darkest.

"In his book, Randall Capri — my God, it's so hard for me to say this."

I sat back, sipping my coffee, waiting her out. Through the window, I saw my landlords' dog, Maggie, in the yard below, squatting on her haunches, taking care of business. She was an old golden retriever who limped a little and slept a lot, left to Fred and Maurice by a nice kid who'd died too young. They'd known a lot of those. We all had, any of us who'd spent much time in and around West Hollywood.

I rested my cup in the crook of my finger and my eyes on Charlotte Preston, while she found the courage to spit out her next words like tiny pieces of poison.

"Capri claims that my father was a pedophile, a practicing pederast."

"Ouch."

She threw up her hands, her voice winding tight.

"Can you imagine? To sell some books, he needs a gimmick — a 'hook,' I think they call it. So he makes the sensational charge that Rod Preston spent the latter half of his life preying sexually on underage boys."

"I suppose it gets you on the talk shows."

Her mood took another swing, softening her voice, pushing her tears to the brink.

"How can he get away with that, Mr. Justice? What right does he have to make up any garbage he pleases and put it between the covers of a book?"

"First amendment?"

I said it matter-of-factly and she burst into tears, which didn't make me feel wonderful. On the other hand, I was dealing with some troubling personal issues of my own, and I didn't have a surplus of sympathy for doling out. Charlotte rose and made her way to the other room, where she sat on the edge of the sagging bed, burying her face in her nicely manicured hands, sobbing like there was no tomorrow. I continued to sip from my cup, staring out at the gray sky, thinking about things. After a minute, she asked if she could use the bathroom. I said she could, if she promised not to expect House Beautiful. I listened to her blow her nose behind the closed door, and when she came back out she was more composed. She apologized for breaking down and I said I was sorry for speaking so coldly. We took our seats again in the tiny kitchen and I tried hard to look sympathetic and kind.


From the Hardcover edition.

Copyright 2000 by John Morgan Wilson
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 7, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Great reading, enjoyed the plot immensely. Easy to get into.

    After reading this book I have decided to read the full Justice series that he author wrote. Looking forward to many more hours of enjoyment and escape.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Enjoyable dark tale

    His Pulitzer Prize winning career ended when his award-winning story proved phony. His health has turned shaky when he learned that he turned HIV-positive. Now as he sinks deeper into the morass of non-living, all Benjamin Justice wants is to be left alone. However, ignoring her calls, not washing, shaving, brushing his teeth, and insulting her fails to deter Charlotte Preston. She wants Benjamin to write a book counter-arguing sleazy celeb-biographer Randall Capri¿s degrading look at Charlotte¿s recently deceased father, TV and movie star Rod Preston. <P>Unable to refuse the $25K advance and $25K follow-up, Benjamin accepts the job. He explains to Charlotte for that amount of money she owns full editorial license to change his words to include whatever the hell that she wants to write. However, before Benjamin can begin his inquiries into the lives of Rod and Randall, someone kills Charlotte. Feeling obligated to continue with the assignment, Benjamin expands his investigation to include discovering Charlotte¿s murderer. <P>THE LIMITS OF JUSTICE is a well-designed Hollywood mystery, but it is also a redemption novel. The story line belongs to Benjamin who in his fourth ¿Justice¿ tale uses Charlotte¿s murder as a rallying cause to regain his own lost humanity. Though one of the major underlying themes is out of an X-rated B horror movie, Edgar winner John Morgan Wilson paints a fresh landscape of Southern California. Anyone who enjoys a private investigation story starring an individual on a personal vendetta to regain his former champion status will find this wondrous novel does that and much more. <P>Harriet Klausner

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