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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.