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Book Author: Lisa Scottoline

ONE PERFECT LIE by Lisa Scottoline: Book Review

I really don’t know how Lisa Scottoline keeps writing one excellent mystery after another, but she does.  Her latest had me completely fooled until the author revealed the secret she’d kept for more than a third of the book.

One Perfect Lie opens with Chris Brennan interviewing for a position at the high school in Central Valley, Pennsylvania.  He’s made it his business to know exactly the type of substitute teacher the school administration wants, and he presents himself accordingly.  He’s observed the male high school staff and is dressed the way they are in what might be termed “school casual”; he’s even had his hair cut locally so that nothing about him will stand out or seem unusual.

His resumé is perfect, and the reasons he gives for the many moves he’s made in his life ring true.  It also helps that the school needs a substitute Government teacher at once, as the regular teacher left suddenly due to a family emergency.  Chris gives the principal, the only member of the school’s administration he hasn’t met previously, all the answers she wants and needs to hear, and so he gets the job.  Then he thinks to himself, “It was time to set (the) plan in motion, commencing with step one.”

Step one is finding out about renting a truck from a local man who’s not too fussy about legalities.  The man assumes the vehicle is needed for a move, but Chris knows that the available twelve footer is the perfect size for transporting an ANFO bomb, an explosive with ingredients that are easy and safe to assemble.

During his first class Chris sets out to win over all the students, especially the boys.  He’s already deciding who are the leaders and who are the followers, and he’s narrowed down the ones he’s interested in to just a handful.  He plans to cull the handful even more until he finds the perfect boy.  Between his teaching assignment and agreeing to be the assistant coach of the school’s baseball team, he expects to find just the right one; he’s in a hurry because the bombing is only six days away.

Lisa Scottoline is a master storyteller.  She brings to life the three teenagers in whom Chris shows the most interest.  There’s Evan Kostis, the handsome, smart student from a wealthy but unhappy family; there’s Raz Samatov, bereft over the recent death of his father; there’s Jordan Larkin, whose single mother is guilty over how much time she needs to work in order to provide for the two of them.  So what exactly does Chris want from the boy he decides to choose?

All of these characters, and many more equally well done and believable, inhabit the pages of One Perfect Lie.  Ms. Scottoline has written one more thriller that will keep you guessing until the end.

You can read more about her at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.



DAMAGED by Lisa Scottoline: Book Review

It’s two weeks before Mary DiNunzio’s wedding, and she hardly has time to breathe.  She needs to approve the wedding menu, go for a fitting on her gown, and meet her mother-in-law for an appointment at the latter’s spa where the stylists want to do major renovations to/for Mary and her mother.  She’s getting truly frantic, and then along comes a case like no other she’s ever had.

Edward O’Brien is her new client, a widower in his seventies who is the guardian of his ten-year-old grandson Patrick.  Edward tells Mary that his grandson has dyslexia, has been bullied in school for years, and that there has been no remedial program for him in his school despite the federal law that mandates an appropriate education for every special needs student.  It also appears that despite the legal requirement that Patrick be tested every three years to chart his reading progress, no evaluation has ever been done after the first one five years earlier.

What brought Edward to Mary’s office is that he has just been served with a lawsuit, claiming that Patrick attacked his teacher with a scissors.  The truth is, Edward tells Mary, that it’s the teacher who slapped Patrick and humiliated him in front of the entire class.  The school’s lawyer is none other than Nick Machiavelli, someone Mary knows from her old neighborhood.  Nick claims that he is descended from Niccolo Machiavelli, the historian and politician known for his cunning and unscrupulous behavior, and Mary is pretty sure she believes him.  It would certainly explain a lot.  She has always wanted to face “The Dark Prince of South Philly,” as Nick is known, and this is her chance.

And there’s Anthony, Mary’s fiancé.  A college adjunct professor, he’s been in California since Mary accepted the O’Brien case, and he and Mary barely have had time to talk in his absence.  Upon his return, there’s another problem to be added to the mix that surrounds Mary.

Mary is now a partner in Rosato and DiNunzio, Philadelphia attorneys.  Readers of this series have followed Mary from her early days as a shy, diffident lawyer to the confident woman she is in Damaged.  Although she’s moved from the South Philadelphia home where she grew up, her heart is still there with her parents and the three Tonys who make up her extended family–Pigeon Tony, Tony-From-Down-The-Block, and Tony Feet.  She knows where she came from and who supported her in every way, and despite an unexpected opportunity that seems perfect on the surface, she’s not about to desert them now.

Lisa Scottline’s most recent mysteries have dealt with some very difficult contemporary subjects.  In Most Wanted it is sperm donation, in Corrupted it is the Pennsylvania juvenile prison system, and in Damaged it is the issue of children with special needs and how the public school system is failing them.  Over and above the excellent plots and characterizations in these mysteries, Ms. Scottoline’s books look deeply and compassionately into our society and its values.

You can read more about Lisa Scottline at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

MOST WANTED by Lisa Scottoline: Book Review

What would you do if you thought that the man who had donated his sperm to you might be a serial killer?  It’s hard to imagine a worse scenario.

Christine and Marcus Nilsson have been trying to have a baby for several years, but without luck.  After various medical tests and procedures, they discover that Marcus does not have viable sperm, a blow to both of them but especially to Marcus and his self-esteem.  After much soul-searching the couple decide to use a donor from the highly reputable Homestead donor bank, a company endorsed by Christine’s doctor.

Then, on the afternoon of her going-away party from the Nutmeg Hill Elementary School where she has been teaching for eight years, Christine sees a CNN news video of a man who has just been arrested; to her he looks exactly like the photo of her sperm donor.  Marcus doesn’t agree and thinks she’s imagining the resemblance, but Christine can’t be reassured.  She watches the video over and over, obsessing over the man’s fine blond hair and round blue eyes that look exactly like those in the photo the donor was required to submit to Homestead.

When contacted, Homestead refuses to tell the couple whether their donor is the man who has been arrested.  It appears that a legally binding non-disclosure agreement was signed by the donor, and the company cannot disclose any additional information about him.  While Marcus gets angrier and angrier at what he sees as a coverup, Christine determines to discover on her own whether Zachary Jeffcoat is in fact her donor, a serial killer, or both.

The title, Most Wanted, is a clever double-play on words.  Its first meaning concerns the unborn baby, Christine and Marcus’ most wanted child.  The second meaning is the possibility that the man now being held for the murder of a nurse in Pennsylvania and suspected by authorities of being the murderer of two other nurses in two different states is most wanted for those deaths.

Emotions run deep throughout the novel.  Christine, who has wanted children as far back as she can remember, has gone from disappointment at not being pregnant to ecstasy at finally becoming pregnant to fear that the baby’s biological father is a criminal.  Marcus has gone from disappointment and shame at being unable to biologically father a child to anger at Christine’s doctor and the sperm bank and finally to anger at Christine.  What should have been the happiest time for them has now become the worst time, putting their marriage in danger from which it may not recover.

As always, Lisa Scottoline has written a novel that will challenge you to look beyond the excellent plot and focus on the issues that this couple is facing.  In spite of all the tests that Homestead has done, there is still the possibility that the mental instability of one of their donors has compromised the pregnancy of a recipient.  Donor banks are barely regulated by states or the federal government, and Most Wanted is a reminder that this may lead to horrific results.  And what happens when each parent has a different thought about what to do if, in fact, Zachary Jeffcoat turns out to be what they most fear?

You can read more about Lisa Scottoline at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.




CORRUPTED by Lisa Scottoline: Book Review

It’s interesting how language changes over time.  Take the words Philadelphia lawyer, a term I read years ago.  I remember it as a compliment, expressing approval of an attorney’s ability.  In fact, that’s how the expression came about, an acknowledgement of the outstanding reputation of lawyers from that Pennsylvania city in the early days of the colonies.

But now it apparently has a pejorative meaning, that of an attorney who uses the technicalities of the legal system to win, ignoring the spirit of the law.

If we stick to the original meaning then Bennie Rosario is definitely a Philadelphia lawyer, which in fact she is.  Head of the small, successful firm of Rosario and DiNunzio, she’s in the office when she receives a call from a man being held for murder at the Philadelphia Police Department, or the Roundhouse as it’s known to locals.

Thirteen years have gone by since Bennie last saw Jason Lefkavick.  He was twelve at the time, and Bennie had been called by Jason’s father to get his son out of jail.  Matthew Lefkavick tells Bennie that Jason was taken out of school after a brief fight in the lunchroom and brought to the town’s holding cell.  The presiding judge, known as Judge Zero Tolerance, sentenced both Jason and the boy he fought with, a bully named Richie Grusini who had been tormenting Jason for years, to prison time.

But due to a variety of circumstances and against her will, Bennie soon is removed from the case by Matthew and forbidden to see the boy again.  She has not forgotten him, and when she sees Jason now, again in jail and again protesting his innocence, she’s determined that this time justice will prevail and she’ll get her client freed.

Jason tells her that he saw Richie again, this time in a neighborhood bar, and how he became upset watching Richie having a good time with a friend while downing a few drinks.  Jason went up to him, the two started to fight and were thrown out of the bar.  Jason followed Richie down an adjacent alley to “have it out with him,” as he admits to Bennie, and the next thing he remembers is passing out and, when he awakes, seeing Grusini lying on the ground, covered in blood.  The police arrived and arrested Jason, who had blood on him and a knife in his hand.  A pretty damaging scene, Bennie thinks.

Corrupted tells the story of Jason, past and present, but also tells the reader the story of the failed juvenile justice system in Pennsylvania from which the novel gets its name.  It’s a moving and extremely upsetting account of how venal judges worked with for-profit prisons; instead of sending juvenile offenders to some sort of rehabilitation, the judges were paid for each youth they sent to jail.  It became known as the “Kids for Cash” scandal, and two sitting state judges were sentenced to lengthy jail terms.

Lisa Scottoline’s excellent novel retells this dramatic story, bringing to life how everyone in the case was impacted.  It also gives readers of Ms. Scottoline’s previous books a closer look into Bennie’s earlier life and the reasons she’s so consumed by her profession.

You can read more about Lisa Scottline at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.






BETRAYED by Lisa Scottoline: Book Review

The new, all-woman Philadelphia law firm of Rosato & DiNuncio is doing well, with an ever-increasing client base.  The two partners, Bennie Rosato and Mary DiNuncio, are excited about the new addition to this list, Bendaflex, but the firm’s associate, Judy Carrier, is less than happy. 

Bendaflex is a firm that manufactures asbestos, and it has just lost a liabilities case involving hundreds of their former workers.  Judy is upset that Bennie has agreed to take on this client, and she’s horrified to learn that she will be the attorney trying the cases, attempting to have Bendaflex pay as little as possible both to the employees who were injured by exposure to the company’s product and to the families of those who died because of it.

In addition, a family medical issue is playing out.  Judy has always been extremely close to her mother’s sister, her Aunt Barb, probably closer than she is to her own mother.  So she is devastated to learn that her aunt has been diagnosed with stage II breast cancer.   Barb has kept her illness from her sister and niece in the hope that chemotherapy would eradicate the cancer cells, but some remain. 

Now she has to tell them that she will undergo a mastectomy in two days.  Barb’s sister Delia, Judy’s mother, wants to stay in Philadelphia to care for her, but Barb has already arranged for a close friend to help her, and she introduces Judy and Delia to Iris Juarez.

Iris entered the United States illegally from Mexico years ago.  The two women met when Iris became the housekeeper when Barb’s husband was ill.  They share a love of gardening, and Barb is confident that having Iris stay with her while she’s recuperating is a win-win for everyone; she will pay Iris, who is in a low-paying job, for her time and she will enjoy having Iris’ company and help. 

Delia is angry that her sister would prefer Iris to her.  Then Iris gets a phone call which obviously upsets her, and she says she needs to leave for work.  Several hours later police arrive at Barb’s house with the devastating news that Iris has been found dead in her car, apparently of a heart attack.

Betrayed covers numerous issues that confront the single, professional woman.  One is the feeling of being torn in so many directions, as Judy wants to spend time with her aunt but feels enormous pressure to be available for her clients.  Second is how to handle the Bendaflex situation, since Bennie is adamant, despite Judy’s protests, about not refusing this work.   Third is Judy’s relationship with Frank, a man she cares for and who loves her.  She is beginning to wonder if their very different outlooks on and approaches to life can ever be reconciled.

Lisa Scottoline has written books about each member of the law firm, and each novel is a portrait of its protagonist.  These women are most definitely not carbon copies of each other; rather, each has a distinctive personality and brings both strengths and weaknesses to the firm and to her own life.  Betrayed is a wonderful addition to Ms. Scottoline’s body of work.

You can read more about Lisa Scottoline at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.



LADY KILLER by Lisa Scottoline: Book Review

Mary DiNunzio is a successful lawyer in an all-women law firm in Philadelphia. She’s smart, compassionate, hasn’t forgotten where she came from, and is the rainmaker of the firm.  So why is she so intimidated by a visit from her high school nemesis, Trish Gambone, who led the Mean Girls and made Mary’s life miserable at St. Maria Goretti High?   But then, don’t we all carry our high school memories with us forever?

Trish is in trouble, big time, which is why she found her way to Mary’s office. She’s been living with Bobby, her high school sweetheart for years, but he’s become more and more abusive toward her.  She’d love to leave him, but he’s “connected” (a low-level member of the Philadelphia mob).  And Trish is afraid that Bobby is going to propose tonight, as it’s her birthday.

She’s come to Mary for help, but she doesn’t like the options that Mary offers:  get a restraining order against Bobby or leave Philly for a while in hopes that Bobby will cool off and forget her.  She storms out of the office, leaving a stunned Mary behind.  What Trish doesn’t know is that Mary and Bobby went out together for a short while in high school, and he was Mary’s first love.  Mary’s upset that Bobby has become a brutal man, upset to find out that she’s still afraid of Trish and the Mean Girls, upset to find that she still harbors feelings for Bobby for a reason that doesn’t become clear until well into the novel.

And that night, the night of her birthday, Trish disappears. The remaining three Mean Girls stomp into Mary’s office the next day, furious at Mary for not helping Trish.  They’d gone to the police, but since Trish was an adult and hadn’t been missing for the required forty-eight hours, they couldn’t do anything yet.  So the Mean Girls want Mary to fix everything.  They refuse to admit that Trish might be dead, they just want her found.

Feeling guilty, Mary agrees to help and enlists the M.G.s in her search. But her involvement means putting off several of her clients from her old neighborhood, and before she knows what’s happened her former neighbors are turning against her.  They’re mad she didn’t help Trish, one of their own, and mad that her search for Trish means she’s putting off their cases.  It doesn’t make sense, but then emotions rarely do.

In addition to looking for Trish, Mary is also involved with a young boy who’s being bullied at school and whom his mother feels has significant learning disabilities.  Mary’s attempts to try to find a psychologist to test him speak to the all-too-real inadequacies and limitations of today’s schools, given the economic times and the number of children who need help.

And then there’s the possibility of a romance with the son of a neighbor. Mary’s husband died several years ago, but she’s not sure she’s ready for another romance in her life.  But Anthony is good looking, smart, and a terrific cook.  What should she do?  And why did he have to come along when Mary is frantic over the possibility that she is partly responsible for Trish’s disappearance and possible death?

Lisa Scottoline is a prolific writer, the author of eighteen novels, many featuring the women of Rosato and Associates, the firm where Mary works. She also writes a weekly column called “Chick Wit” for the Philadelphia Inquirer.   Although her books tackle serious subjects, they’re written with a sense of humor that keeps them somewhat closer to the “cozy” path than the “violent” one.

You can read more about Lisa Scottoline at her web site.