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VOL. 36 | NO. 3 | Friday, January 20, 2012

Rosenfelt’s novels worth a read

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Last July I wrote of Robert Harris’s Imperium and Conspirata, novels about the life of Cicero. The third of Harris’s trilogy on the Roman lawyer and consul is slated for release this year.

Meanwhile, from the courts of old Rome to the courts of New Jersey, I’ve come upon the novels of David Rosenfelt. At last count, he’d published 11. I’ve read four since Thanksgiving.

These short novels move along like movies from scene to scene. First-person narrator/protagonist Andy Carpenter practices law in Paterson, N.J., a town that gets no respect. It has its own suburbs full of people who don’t claim it; they’re New Yorker wannabes.

Andy’s sarcastic to a fault. Witty one-liners fill the pages. He’s successful, notwithstanding inadequate preparation. He relies too much on luck generated by the mistakes of others. And yet, I keep reading.

Andy’s rich due to circumstances that cannot be swallowed: When his dad dies in the first novel, he inherits $22 million that no one knew his dad even had! And yet I keep reading.

In Open and Shut (2002), Andy represents a guy who’s been on death row for seven years. Wealth, politics and unethical behavior factor into the issue of whether the defendant was framed. The mystery of Andy’s inheritance looms. Unlike Perry Mason, Andy Carpenter sees his case through a multi-day jury trial with a tough-as-nails judge presiding.

In First Degree (2003), Andy’s lead investigator, Laurie, who’s also his lover, is charged with murdering an unethical police officer with whom she used to work. If Andy doesn’t get her off, she won’t spend the rest of her life with him, will she? But what if she’s guilty?

In Bury the Lead (2004), a journalist covering a serial killer is himself arrested for one of the crimes. At first reluctant to take the case, Andy feels he must do so when he learns the journalist is the estranged son of one of his close friends.

In Sudden Death (2006), Andy is asked to represent a Giants running back who’s charged with killing a Jets receiver. Organized crime, the NFL and all-star high-school egomania converge to challenge Andy’s team in their efforts to score an acquittal. Andy’s distracted throughout by Laurie’s being offered the job of police chief back in her home town in Wisconsin.

Andy hates injustice, loves golden retrievers and has a secretary who’s addicted to crosswords. His wealth lets him take cases without worrying about out of pocket expenses. He establishes a foundation to rescue stray dogs. He has a running game with his accountant in which they try to outdo each other in working song lyrics into their conversations. For example:

“So, you’ve got some travel planned?”

“Yep. I’m leaving on a jet plane. Don’t know when I’ll be back again.”

“I’m gonna miss ya.”

How can I not keep reading?

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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