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Rouch Justice by Lisa Scottoline

Warning: If you like legal thrillers, do not pick up a book by Lisa Scottoline when you have anything else important to do. Like eating or sleeping. Those tasks will be neglected as you read, "just a little further" to see what these characters do next. It's 5:45 a.m., and I just finished Scottoline's Rough Justice. I'm still smiling.

I first encountered Scottoline's work when I picked up a copy of Everywhere That Mary Went some years after it's 1993 publication in paperback. The author's exceptional writing skill was immediately evident, as I instantly fell in love with lead character, Mary DiNunzio.

I felt fortunate I'd missed this author for so long, because that meant several new novels were already on the shelves, rather than my having to wait for them year by year. I quickly obtained her next book, and enjoyed it enormously--but no Mary DiNunzio. I e-mailed my compliments to the author and begged for more DiNunzio. "Never fear," was the response. "She turns up again in Rough Justice." Rather than rush right out and grab up that one, I patiently made my way chronologically through Scottoline's work, suffering delayed gratification like a good Catholic girl. DiNunzio would have been proud.

Finally, last night was Rough Justice night.

I'm a voracious reader, and all I require of an author is one of two things: Interesting characters or a good story. When I get both, I'm delighted; when I get both done with the extreme skill and nearly overwhelming talent of Lisa Scottoline, I'm thrilled.

In Rough Justice, she has outdone herself, coupling a wonderful yarn with many likeable and all memorable characters who are rounded and real. The characters have a wide range of emotions, and behave as inconsistently as real people do. They respond realistically to events. In too many "murder mysteries," death is a nice, clean plot device; in Scottoline's work, it's a trauma. As in life, her characters who encounter death have trouble breathing. Their hands shake. They feel dizzy and their heads hurt. They need time to recover.

In some popular "thrillers," it's hard to keep the characters straight, they seem so much alike. The very popular Patricia Cornwell is a prime offender in this regard, with all her female characters seemingly capable of only two emotions: Control and fury.

This is never a problem with Scottoline. In Rough Justice, one could not confuse Judy with Mary, or Marta with Bennie (all females) because each is complete, interesting and unique. All have their separate ways of dealing with the central dilemma-after a trial has gone to the jury, facts emerge which indicate that the client defended by the lead characters may be monstrously guilty. The attorneys set out to find the truth-in the midst of the worst blizzard in decades-spurred on by noble motives like a quest for justice, and petty motives like jealousy and embarrassment. Hey-is this just like life or what?

The plot rolls out, taking us from one phase of the adventure to next, nearly compelling the reader to take in, "just a little more." The actual resolution (the meaning of the clues) I saw way before the sharp lawyers in the story, which seems unlikely, but that is barely a glitch in what is in toto a rare and wonderful reading experience.

Mary DiNunzio does reappear here, and her self-deprecating, dry humor is much appreciated. I was even delighted to meet my old friend, Tom Moran, sitting at the prosecutors' table with his curmudgeonly boss, District Attorney William Masterson. I met them both three months in the future-judging by the age of Moran's new twin daughters-in Carrying Concealed, Scottoline's contribution to a collection of short stories called Legal Briefs, edited by William Bernhardt. Carrying Concealed is one of two pieces of Scottoline's writing so perfect that when I encountered it, I had to phone up my writer friend and share it.

All in all, I found Rough Justice more than worthy of one lost night's sleep, and recommend it without hesitation to all who enjoy this genre.

Note to Scottoline: We still need a whole novel with Mary DiNunzio at the heart of it. Now if she could be sitting across the table from Tom Moran…

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