Sarasota lawyer Lilly Cleary has had her share of odd cases. She's defended everyone from a pet psychic to an orange libeler, and she's done so with finesse. But it's another situation entirely when she finds out that her phobic and dysfunctional mother has been accused of murder.
Although she's been estranged from her family for years, Lilly drops everything to return to the little town of Bugfest, Georgia, and steps into more than she bargained for. For one thing, her mother's house is beyond a mess. Important papers are missing, and on the back porch there's a freezer whose contents are very odd. Bugfest itself is under attack by developers who want to turn it into a resort community, a plan that would displace many of the longtime residents.
And then someone tries to murder Lilly's mother with red ants while she's strangely oversedated in the hospital.
Lilly has come to the rescue, but can she get to the root of these mysterious doings in time to save her mother's life?
About the Author
A former appellate attorney and former member of the writing faculty at Florida State University College of Law and the University of Oregon School of Law, Claire Hamner Matturro lives in Georgia.
Read an Excerpt
Your cheating mind will tell on you.
I, Lilly Belle Rose Cleary, attorney-at-law, so thought as I glared at my own client. Not only was this man attempting to defraud the legal system, he was not listening to me, his defense attorney. Thus, I was engaged in a wrangle of wits with an idiot.
And I was not winning.
This is, of course, not that unusual in the larger scheme of things; one has only to look back at some of our recent presidential debates to see other shining examples of battles of the wits won by the witless.
Still, it didn't happen that often to me, and I was irritated, and wondering if I was losing my stomach for my line of work, which was defending doctors, lawyers, and other professionals against the costly and insulting burden of malpractice lawsuits brought by their former patients and clients.
I balanced myself for my next verbal thrust, reducing it to the direct order and not the rationale. "You cannot respond to a motion to produce the relevant medical records by providing the plaintiff's attorney with altered medical records. Absolutely not."
"Why not?" my idiotic and wholly charmless client asked, in his personal quest to ruin what was otherwise, so far, a seemingly pleasant morning in Sarasota, Florida.
"Because it is unethical, it is illegal, and it is a fraud upon the court, which will subject both you and me to sanctions." Then, getting to the real crux of the matter, I said, "You can't get away with it. It's obvious. You changed the information in a blue pen; the original text is in black ink."
"But it won't matter when it isphotocopied," my idiot client replied.
I sighed. Could anyone be that stupid and allowed to live outside an institution? "It will still be obvious. You've scribbled over half the notes. Besides, did it ever occur to you that the plaintiff's attorney might demand a look at the original records?"
Henry Platt, my sweet, pink-cheeked claims adjuster, the very man who had referred this case to me and who was now present to protect his company's interest and offer me moral support, took up the challenge. "Besides, if you use . . . that is, doctor the, er, I mean, alter the . . . I mean, falsify, er . . . engage in a fraud, then we, your malpractice insurance company, can deny coverage."
Excellent point for Henry. I liked this man more and more over the years that we had worked together. "And if Henry's company denies coverage due to your, er, fraud, since they've hired me to represent you pursuant to the terms of your policy, I would no longer be your attorney. The insurer will not pay any of your legal expenses. You will be totally on your own."
"About those original records?" Idiot Client asked.
"Yes," Henry and I said in concert.
"You mean the plaintiff's attorney could look at them? The real ones? I mean, the original ones?"
"A request to review the original records would not be out of line in a medical malpractice case," I said, using my most lawyerlike tone of voice. The one that said I'm in charge, you're not. "Especially in light of the fact you've scribbled over a number of words and written in different ones. In fact, I would consider it legal malpractice on the part of the plaintiff's attorney if she did not inspect the original medical records."
"But . . . these are the original records."
Henry and I rose out of our chairs and glared down at Idiot Client, a chiropractor who had been treating a man he had diagnosed with spinal subluxation. Unfortunately, what the man actually had was a cancerous tumor of the spine, which had not much improved under Idiot Client's spinal manipulation. Only the intervention of the patient's daughter had gotten the patient appropriate medical attention, and led to a malpractice suit against this man, this client, this idiot, this would-be fraud, this chiropractor to whom Henry's liability-insurance company had the grave misfortune of having sold a malpractice policy.
"These are the originals?" I asked. Sometimes stress blocks my ears.
"Yes," Idiot Client said.
"You took a blue pen and changed things on the original records, which were in black ink? And you didn't—what? Think this would be noticed by anyone?" I struggled to keep from yelling. I noticed Henry's cheeks were splotching red.
"I didn't think anybody would look at the originals. Everything photo-copies black and white," he said. "I . . . I panicked."
Henry and I looked at each other across the top of this man's head as we continued standing and the idiot between us remained seated.
"Settle?" Henry said, a little squeak in his voice. "Lilly, can we settle it? Quick?"
"Henry, a word. Outside," I said.
We stepped out into the hallway, out of the earshot of our hopefully soon-to-be Not Client. I paused, waiting for Henry to read my mind as I could not suggest that he take a course of action detrimental to my client, the chiropractor, even if I couldn't as of this minute personally stand that client. "Henry?"
"He clearly, er . . . that is, he committed a fraud, and there's an un-ambiguous provision in our policy for"—Henry paled and gulped air—"denying coverage in that event. My company owes him nothing," Henry said. "Not even a defense."
I nodded, careful not to encourage Henry in the path I would have demanded in a heartbeat if I was not ethically charged, at least for the time being, with protecting my client's interests. "You tell him. You know I'm still his attorney until the court grants my motion to withdraw."
"Could we get Bonita in here to, er, er . . ."
Technically, Bonita, my long-suffering and unnaturally calm legal secretary supreme, widow, mother of five headstrong children, and the object of Henry's great affection and three-year quest to marry, was not needed as a witness and would have been suspect in any event, seeing where her loyalties lay. But I nodded. Henry was always more forceful around Bonita. If he needed his sweetie by his side before he could act boldly, this was fine with me. "Go get her," I said.Sweetheart Deal. Copyright © by Claire Matturro. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Lilly Belle Rose Cleary goes home to Bugfest, Georgia and the Mule Day celebration, in response to an urgent plea from her brother. Their mother is under arrest for murder and being held in a hospital under heavy sedation. Lilly renews friendships and helps clean out her mother home. Willette Cleary is a recluse and hasn¿t been out of her house in years, a fact that is apparent by the clutter she¿s left. A lot of puzzle pieces turn up, but to what puzzle? Lilly learns about a land grab deal, a motorcycle riding, abusive wife of a County Commissioner and who is the man her mother is accused of killing then there¿s an attempt to murder her mother, and burn her house down. Claire Matturro has given us a ¿sweetheart¿ of a novel. A fun read with lots of puzzles and action. Review by Wanda C. Keesey (author Lost In The Mist release May 2008)
Sarasota, Florida attorney Lillian Rose Cleary vowed never to go home, but rushes back when her bipolar abusive mother is accused of murder. Lilly would not have come back to Bugfest, Georgia after two decades away especially to see her mother except to defend her mom in a court of law. For her own peace of mind Lilly needs to believe she would have ignored her mother being in the hospital as the woman abused her (starting with naming her after two flowers) and her brother when they were growing up.----------------- As she mounts a defense for mommy dearest and investigates the homicide, Lilly runs up against her mom¿s home (should be an EPA superfund site), someone trying to kill mom with red ants, avaricious developers and the sale of endangered species as specialty meats sold to expensive restaurants. Still her prime reason is to not battle the environmentally challenged including mom¿s abode it is to get mom free so Lilly can immediately head south and away from this insane termagant who makes DNA cleansing seem politically correct.---------------- The latest funny clearly chick lit legal thriller (see SKINNY DIPPING and BONE VALLEY) is an entertaining tale that affirms the belief you can¿t go home as Lilly learns the hard way that mom still is a lunatic and her efforts to defend her lead to dangerous scenarios for the courageous neurotic attorney. Although in many ways more a neurosis filled amateur sleuth than a legal family drama, readers who appreciate a spunky phobic heroine will enjoy Lilly¿s escapades especially her jocular asides even when they slow down the action.----------------- Harriet Klausner