Monday, September 10, 2012
Moment of Truth by Lisa Scottoline: A review
This represents a bit of a twist on the usual plot of legal thrillers, in that an innocent man sets out to frame himself for the murder of his wife. I confess this is the first Lisa Scottoline novel that I've read so I don't know if unusual plot twists are a trademark of her work, but, for the most part, I think she pulls it off.
A Philadelphia civil law attorney named Jack Newlin arrives home for dinner and finds his wife murdered in their kitchen. Their teenage daughter was supposed to join them for dinner on the night of the murder and Newlin immediately jumps to the conclusion that the daughter Paige, who is absent from the house, must have killed her mother. He determines to protect the daughter at all costs by confessing to the murder himself. He sets the scene to make it appear that he was the murderer and then calls 911.
After being arrested, Newlin makes a statement to the police and is videotaped confessing to the murder, but in mid-confession, he realizes he is making it too easy and that a real murderer wouldn't behave this way. He stops his statement and demands to see a lawyer, but his plan is to find the most incompetent lawyer he can and hire that person for his defense.
He reaches Mary DiNunzio, a rookie lawyer at the firm of Rosato & Associates, who has only ever tried one murder case. He counts on her inexperience to seal his fate, but he doesn't count on Mary's lawyerly instincts and her ethics. She is determined to give her reluctant client the very best defense possible, and soon she becomes convinced that Jack is, in fact, innocent and is trying to protect someone. She will do everything in her power to prove her client's innocence, with or without his cooperation.
Soon, we learn that the Newlins were a very dysfunctional family and that the daughter may have been being emotionally, and perhaps even physically, abused by the mother. This may be the source of Jack's feelings of guilt - the fact that he didn't do more to protect the girl.
Meantime, Paige, who is a model living on her own, has become involved with a boyfriend who seems to be a real jerk and who may be a criminal besides. Is it possible that he was involved in his girlfriend's mother's death?
There are lots of twists and turns in the plot, plenty of red herrings thrown in to confuse the issue. Also, Mary is strongly attracted to her client and it isn't clear that she is able to separate her personal feelings from her professional responsibilities.
Mary DiNunzio is a very appealing character and while she may be short on experience, she is long on persistence and completely determined to reach that "moment of truth" when all is revealed and her client will be exonerated.
I found Scottoline's plotting of the story very brisk. She kept things moving. Moreover, her descriptions of her characters' appearances and her setting of the scenes was exceptionally sharp, I thought. I had no trouble at all envisioning the various characters and the various places where they found themselves. It was all laid out for me.
It seems that there are a number of books in this series about the Rosato & Associates law firm in Philadelphia. I gather that each one features different lawyers within the firm. That is an interesting concept on which to base a series. Evidently, it has proved successful for Scottoline and if this book is a fair example, I can see why.