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VOL. 36 | NO. 5 | Friday, February 3, 2012

Detective books move from shelf to classroom

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In the last two weeks’ columns, I’ve let it be known that I am reading the novels of David Rosenfelt in order. I’ve provided teaser-type blurbs for the first five: Open and Shut, First Degree, Bury the Lead, Sudden Death, and Dead Center. Since last week’s column, I’ve read no. 6, Play Dead (2007), and started New Tricks (2009).

Play Dead starts with lawyer Andy Carpenter’s taking a dog of a case. Andy learns that a golden retriever named Yogi is scheduled to be “put down” for biting its owner. But it seems that the owner has been abusive to the dog. With that knowledge, Andy pushes envelopes to have Yogi’s sentence commuted by a no-nonsense judge who’d just as soon not have the case.

Andy then discovers Yogi’s real name is Reggie and that he belongs to a prison inmate convicted five years earlier of murder. Reggie was thought to have been killed along with the inmate’s fiancée, thrown into a story sea. Grab the book to see where it goes from there, but be prepared for a rough ride involving deception, intrigue, organized crime and a seeming governmental cover-up.

I wanted to use the first 21 pages of Play Dead in the law class that I teach, so, I emailed the author: “I am thinking about using the first few chapters in the Law & Literature Seminar I teach. It will involve photocopying 21 pages. That’s probably forbidden on your copyright page, but it’s probably legit under the fair-use doctrine of the copyright law. Please don’t make me call my son-in-law, who is an intellectual property lawyer.”

Rosenfelt replied: “First of all, my work isn’t intellectual enough to be considered ‘intellectual property.’ You’d have to go to a ‘schlock property’ attorney to get an informed opinion. In any event, use anything you want.”

Have I mentioned that Andy, as the first person, present-tense narrator of Rosenfelt’s books, is witty and sarcastic, that Rosenfelt regales his audience refreshingly with about three one-liners per page?

In my note to him, I also wrote, “You know Edna? Andy’s administrative assistant who is addicted to crosswords? The person about whom Andy says there ought to be a competition for her to show her skills? Doesn’t he also say in book four that there should be a movie about her abilities?

“Well, there is (and has been since 1978) the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. For 30 years, it was held in Stamford, Conn., and for the last four years has been held in Brooklyn. In 2006, there was a documentary about the crossword industry, Wordplay, which became the 24th highest grossing doc of all time.”

To which Rosenfelt replied, “I had no idea about the crossword puzzle tournament or movie, probably because I do about eight minutes of research for each book. Unfortunately, I just finished the ‘Andy’ for this summer, but I’ll put Edna in a tournament in the book after that. And I’ll mention the tournament and movie when I do.”

The book due out this summer is called One Dog Night. Next week: a blurb on New Tricks.

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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