The female John Grisham.
An entertaining, giddily paced legal thriller that readers will enjoy. . .a very clever novel.
A whip-smart protagonist. . .A nasty villain. . .A breathless pace.
Detroit Free Press
Fascinating. . . Thrilling. . . Nail-Biting.
An entertaining, giddily paced legal thriller that readers will enjoy. . . Not since Ben Franklin launched his kite has Philadelphia been the site of such electrifying suspense.
Scottoline clinches her title as the distaff Grisham with this gorgeously plotted novel based on a trial lawyer's worst nightmare.
Minutes after her brilliantly successful homicide defense of Philadelphia slumlord Elliot Steere goes to the jury, Marta Richter hears from her client's own lips that he's guilty. He didn't shoot knife-wielding Heb Darnton in self-defense during a carjacking; instead, he killed him in cold blood, and everything he's told Martaand Marta's persuaded the juryis a lie. How can Marta get evidence against her own client before the jury comes in with the surefire acquittal? For one thing, she has to dig up a motive for wealthy, powerful Steere to kill a homeless nonentity, and to find the damning evidence against Steere before his mysterious girlfriend can destroy it. She has to dodge bullets from Steere's errand boy, Bobby Bogosian, during the worst blizzard in the city's history. She has to neutralize the jury, most of whom want to vote not guilty, and the judge, who's counting on the acquittal to leapfrog him into the state Supreme Court. And since she's a hired gun from outside the city, she has to do all this without awakening the suspicions of her local affiliates, Rosato & Associates ("Girls R' Us"), whose managing partner, Benedetta Rosato (Legal Tender, 1996), is so dedicated to the principle of client loyalty that she'll turn away arguments about Steere's guilt by asking, "What happens to the legal system if each lawyer makes his own judgments about a client's morality?" It's a good question, and if Scottoline doesn't exactly address it with the moral seriousness of Scott Turow, she provides nonstop thrills for Richter and Rosato & Associates as they race the clock, their client's goons, and each other to torpedo their own case.
A hook as sturdy and a story as fleet as Grishamexcept that Scottoline's a lot funnier than Grisham. Expect this to be her breakout book.
Read an ExcerptChapter One It started with a slip of the tongue. At first, Marta Richter thought she'd misunderstood him. She felt exhausted after the two-month murder trial and couldn't always hear her client through the thick bulletproof window. "You mean you struggled in his grasp," Marta corrected.
Elliot Steere didn't reply, but brushed ash from his chair on the defendant's side of the window. In his charcoal Brioni suit and a white shirt with a cutaway collar, Steere looked incongruous but not uncomfortable in the jailhouse setting. The businessman's cool was the stuff of tabloid legend. The tabs reported that on the night Steere had been arrested for murder, he'd demanded only one phone call. To his stockbroker. "That's what I said," Steere answered after a moment. "I struggled in his grasp."
"No, you said he struggled in your grasp. It was self-defense, not murder. You were struggling, not him."
A faint smile flickered across Steere's strong mouth. He had a finely boned nose, flat brown eyes, and suspiciously few crow's feet for a real estate developer. In magazine photos Steere looked attractive, but the fluorescent lights of the interview room hollowed his cheeks and dulled his sandy hair. "What's the point? The trial's over, the jury's out. It doesn't matter anymore who was struggling with who. Whom."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Marta asked. She didn't want him to play word games, she wanted him to praise her brilliant defense. It was the case of her career, and Steere's acquittal was in the bag. "Of course it matters."
"Why? What if it wasn't self-defense? What if I murdered him like the D.A. said? So what?"
Marta blinked, irritated. "Butthat's not the way it happened. He was trying to hijack your car. He attacked you with a knife. He threatened to kill you. You shot him in self-defense."
"In the back of the head?"
"There was a struggle. You had your gun and you fired." Without realizing it, Marta was repeating the words of her closing argument. The jury had adjourned to deliberate only minutes earlier. "You panicked, in fear of your life."
"You really bought that?" Steere crossed one long leg over the other and a triangle of tailored pant flopped over with a fine, pressed crease. "'In fear of my life?' I stole that line from a cop show, the one where everybody smokes. You know the show?"
Marta's mouth went dry. She didn't watch TV even when she was on, another television lawyer with wide-set blue eyes and chin-length hair highlighted blond. A hardness around her eyes and a softness under her chin told the viewers she wasn't thirty anymore. Still Marta looked good on the tube and knew how to handle herself; explain the defense in a sound bite and bicker with the prosecutor. Wrap it up with wit. Smile for the beauty shot. "What is this, a joke? What's TV have to do with anything?"
"Everything. My story, my defense, was fiction. Rich white guy carjacked by poor black guy. White guy has registered Glock for protection. Black guy has X-Acto knife. Not a good match." Steere eased back into his chair. "The jury bought it because it was what they expected, what they see on TV."
Marta's lips parted in disbelief. The news struck like an assault, stunning and violent. Her mind reeled. Her face felt hot. She braced her manicured fingers against the cold aluminum ledge and fought for her bearings. "What are you saying?"
"I'm guilty as sin, dear." Steere's gaze was point-blank and his voice tinny as it passed through a thin metal grate under the bulletproof window. The cinder-block walls of the interview room, lacquered calcium white, seemed suddenly to be closing in on Marta.
"But he slashed your cheek with the knife," she said, uncomprehending.
"He was dead at the time. I held his hand, with the knife in it."
"They found fibers from your tux on his hands and clothes."
"There was a struggle. He put up a fight. Mostly begging, boohooing like a little girl."
Marta's stomach turned over. "Tell me the whole story. The truth."
"What's to tell? A bum came at me when I stopped at the red light. He was waving a knife, drunk, screaming I should give up the car. Like I would. A new SL600 convertible. Wet dream of a car." Steere shook his head in momentary admiration. "So I grabbed my gun, got out of the car, and shot him in the head. I called the cops from the cell phone."
Marta crossed her arms across her chest. You could call it a hug but that wasn't how she thought of it. She'd heard confessions like this from other clients, and though Steere didn't look like them, he sounded like them. They all had the urge to brag, to prove how smart they were and what they could get away with. Marta had known Steere was tough-minded; she hadn't guessed he was inhuman. "You're a murderer," she said.
"No, I'm a problem-solver. I saw some garbage and took it out. The man was a derelict, worthless. He didn't work, he didn't produce. He didn't own anything. Fuck, he didn't even live anywhere. This time he picked the wrong guy. End of story."
"Just like that?"
"Come on, Marta. The man was useless. He didn't even know how to handle the fucking knife." Steere chuckled. "You did it better during the demonstration, when you held it under your chin. Did you see the jury? The front row almost fainted." Rough Justice. Copyright © by Lisa Scottoline. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.