Lisa Scottoline


"Killer Smile"

(Reviewed by Chuck Barksdale AUG 22, 2004)

Mary scribbled USELESS on a Post-it, stuck it on the letter, and set it in the USELESS stack in front of her. She ignored how tall the USELESS stack was getting because it would be USELESS. Documents surrounded her and sat packed in boxes along the side wall of the conference room. Somewhere in these papers was the file for a man named Amadeo Brandolini. Amadeo had emigrated from Italy to Philadelphia, where he’d married, had a son, and built up a small fishing business. When World War II broke out, he was arrested by the FBI and imprisoned along with ten thousand other Italian-Americans, under an act better known for authorizing the internment of the Japanese. Amadeo had lost everything and eventually committed suicide in the camp. His son’s estate had hired Mary to sue for reparations, and she couldn’t help but mourn him. Very few shows on the History Channel had happy endings, which was why everybody watched Fox.

Killer Smile , Lisa Scottoline’s 11th book, includes a return of Mary DiNunzio to the lead role in a story introduced in Lisa’s last book, Dead Ringer. Frank Cavuto, a lawyer representing the estate of Tony Brandolini, hires Mary to do pro bono work on restitution for Amadeo Brandolini, Tony’s father, who had been interned with over ten thousand Italians, citizens and legal immigrants during World War II. In Killer Smile, Mary’s search leads her to not only gather the critical information for the case, but also to gain maturity and confidence that she begins to show in Dead Ringer.

After spending hours and hours looking over documents retrieved from the National Archives, Mary finds one document that bothers her, a confidential memo concerning a visit by Joseph Giorno to Amadeo while he is interned in Montana. In this visit, Giorno, a lawyer from Amadeo’s hometown of Philadelphia, travels to Montana to tell Amadeo about his wife’s accidental death. One of the strange things that Mary discovers is that Giorno is from the law firm of Girono & Locaro, which is the law firm that became Giorno & Cavuto, the firm representing Amadeo’s son Tony and the firm that has hired Mary. The memo was also odd in that Mary did not know why anyone would be monitoring Amadeo’s conversation.

These two strange items in this note lead Mary in two directions, to meet with Frank Cavuto to learn of the law firm’s original relationship with Amadeo, and to go to Montana to see what more she can find in the town where Amadeo was interned. Mary’s visit with Frank is not all that productive as Frank seems to want to avoid Mary’s questions and shortly after her visit Frank is murdered in an apparent robbery gone bad.

Mary’s visit to Montana, although at first traumatic to the young inexperienced traveler, is much more productive. She gets to visit Amadeo’s grave and meet several people who worked at the internment camp, including Mrs. Nyquist, a woman who actually knew Amadeo. The most significant information concerns Giovanni Saracone, the person who last saw Amadeo alive. Giovanni, who was much younger than Amadeo, is now a rich, but dying Philadelphia area resident. On Mary’s return to Philadelphia, her interactions with Giovanni and his family lead her to finally solve the real cause of Amadeo’s death.

While working on the case, Mary must also deal with varying distractions, including Premenstrual Tom, a crazy, yet frightening, man who calls the office at all hours, an unknown man in a dark-windowed black Escalade who appears to be following Mary, and an often angry boss in Benny Rosato, who is tiring of the amount of time Mary spends on her pro-bono case. Some of these distractions provide some typical Scottoline humorous moments, while many others add to the tension as Mary is following up leads about Amadeo.

As in all of Scottoline’s books, this one is very funny, although at times a bit silly. Some of the funniest moments with Mary are when she is at home, as in the excerpt with her friend Judy and her parents:

“Mrs. D, Mary wouldn’t go out to eat with me and you know why? Because she’s working too hard!”

“Maria,” her mother said, waving a gnarled index finger. “Maria, I tella you, no work so hard! I tella you and Bennie! She no listen? You no listen?”

“I listened, she listened, we all listened.” Mary felt vaguely as if she had just conjugated something. “Don’t start, Ma. It’s for Amadeo Brandolini, and there’s a lot to be done.”

“BUT FIRST WE EAT!” Judy said, hugging her mother again.

I have read all eleven books written by Scottoline and Killer Smile is very good, but probably not her best. (Mistaken Identity is my favorite.) All of Scottoline’s books take place in Philadelphia and most concern the Rosato & Associates law firm, with Rosato or one of the legal associates in the lead third person point of view role. Personally, I find the stories where Bennie is the lead the best since I find her the most believable and interesting of the Scottoline characters. Mary does mature in this book and that is good, but still, she and her best friend Judy, act too silly, and frankly too dumb, for lawyers.

As I mentioned in the review of Dead Ringer, I first started reading Lisa Scottoline because I am a Philadelphia area native who enjoys legal thrillers. Scottoline’s portrayal of the area -- the people, the culture and the sights, is again excellent in this book and seems even more full of Philadelphia references. And this time, I for one, did not find any inaccuracies, not that the occasional inaccuracies in the other books bothered me.

These books, written by a woman, and about smart, sometimes-strong women, obviously appeal to women. However, as a man, I have enjoyed these books and I believe men would enjoy most of these books as well. Certainly, I found Killer Smile enjoyable and would recommend it to both men and women, especially if one wants to learn more about a little known period in American history.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 57 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Killer Smile at MostlyFiction.com

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"Dead Ringer"

(Reviewed by Chuck Barksdale JUN 18, 2003)

Bennie grabbed the escalator to the second floor, and by the time she reached the blue rug of the landing, she had another theory. She'd said it herself earlier, the thought coming out of its own volition: Maybe it was someone who looked like me. Because there was someone who looked like her. It was possible that Alice, her twin, had come back to Philly. They looked identical, but Bennie hadn't seen Alice since the day she'd left town two years ago, and given Alice's lifestyle, Bennie had even wondered if she were still alive. Alice hadn't wanted a twin, and Bennie hadn't either - after she'd met hers. The two women hadn't grown up together, and one had become a lawyer, while the other had become a criminal. It had all come out in court, when Bennie defended Alice on a murder charge. Was Alice back in town? And why would she be in the same Chinese restaurant last night?

Dead Ringer, Lisa Scottoline's 10th book, includes a return of Bennie Rosato to the lead role, the return of her criminal twin sister Alice Connelly last seen in Scottoline's sixth book, Mistaken Identity, and a return to good suspenseful writing after the disappointing Courting Trouble. This book contains all of what one has come to expect from Lisa Scottoline -- legal problems, court battles, suspenseful situations, and crisp dialogue along with the frequent humorous moments.

Read excerptBennie Rosato's law firm, Rosato & Associates, is feeling the economic downturn as her main clients are forced out of business and a successful defense of Ray Finalil does not prevent him from declaring bankruptcy and not paying Bennie her fee. Nonetheless, Bennie is reluctant to accept a class action lawsuit from Robert St. Amien, a French owner of a company with a medical lens manufacturing facility near Philadelphia. St. Amien claims that a national trade association is preventing foreign owners from honest competition and he has suffered millions in lost business. The charming St. Amien and Bennie's insistent associates, and her financial problems finally convince Bennie to take on the case despite Bennie's lack of class action experience, with St. Amien the owner with the most damages.

Shortly after taking the case, Bennie comes under attack in many strange ways. Her wallet is stolen; packages she didn't order are sent to the law firm; and someone alleges she was drunk at a Chinese restaurant. Eventually, Bennie realizes that the attacker is her criminal twin sister, Alice Connelly. While trying to track down Alice, Bennie encounters David Holland, a Navy Seal who saves Bennie's dog Bear when Alice attempts to make him run into traffic after a ball. After Bennie convinces David that she is not Alice, David decides to help Bennie and he becomes a faithful, although somewhat secretive bodyguard.

Bennie and St. Amien find themselves on the same side of the law with two competitors, Ray Linette, a famous class-action lawyer, and Henry Mayer, another foreign lens manufacturer who alleges to have had more damages than St. Amien. Linette attempts to organize the class action suit as the lead negotiator using some unethical methods to obtain clients. Bennie is up to the challenge however and in a strange motion appears to make some progress with the judge to become the lead negotiator herself.

Unfortunately, shortly after her success, Bennie finds out that Robert St. Amien has been murdered. The local police believe this murder is related to another murder of a foreigner, but Bennie is convinced it is intentional and related to the lawsuit in some way. She does have many potential suspects, Henry Mayer, Ray Linette and Alice Connelly; she even begins to wonder about the guarded David Holland. Scottoline keeps the suspense high as Bennie attempts to find the true murderer while staying out of harms way from Alice Connelly and perhaps others.

A separate yet interesting case is brought in and ultimately led by Bennie's associate Mary DiNunzio. She brings Frank Cavuto, a lawyer representing the estate of Tony Brandolini, to see Bennie. Brandolini had been working on restitution for his father who had been interned with over ten thousand Italians, citizens and legal immigrants during World War II. This case though is unlikely to bring in any money and needs to be completed pro bono by Mary. Mary ultimately convinces Bennie to allow her to work on the case:

The associate's dark eyes pleaded with such deep and undistinguished emotion that Bennie realized there was more than just a case at stake. Mary had brought in her first real client and was growing up before her eyes, as a lawyer and as an adult. Bennie felt herself respond, caught by surprise as something wrenched within her chest. Between Murphy's panty hose and Carrier's hair and Mary's puppy, she had lost any and all authority with these girls. The inmates were taking over the asylum, and for some reason, Bennie found herself smiling.

I have read all of the ten books written by Scottoline and Dead Ringer is arguably her best since Mistaken Identity. All of Scottoline's books take place in Philadelphia and most concern the Rosato & Associates law firm, with Bennie or one of the legal associates in the lead third person point of view role. Nonetheless, Scottoline writes them to work as standalones as well. Because of the close association with Mistaken Identity, I would recommend reading it before Dead Ringer, but it is not necessary to enjoy it.

I first started reading Lisa Scottoline since, as a Philadelphia area native and a person who enjoys legal thrillers, I was interested in reading books of these type about the area. Scottoline's portrayal of the area -- the people, the culture and the sights, is excellent, although some purists may find fault with her occasional geographic errors. Only a true Philadelphian would capture all of the references, but she generally portrays the area fairly, with a few warts where they belong.

These books, written by a woman, and about smart, generally strong women, obviously appeal to women. However, as a man, I have enjoyed these books and I believe men would enjoy most of these books as well. These supposedly smart women do really stupid things at times and that has annoyed me, but for the most part (except for Courting Trouble) I have not let that prevent me from enjoying these books.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 43 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Dead Ringer at MostlyFiction.com

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"Courting Trouble"

(Reviewed by Shannon Bloomstran JUN 02, 2002)

My husband and I have a continual disagreement about movies. Take him to any action movie and he'll spend half the time whispering "Oh yea, right. Like that could really happen." For the first 7 years of our marriage, I spent a lot of time explaining the concept of "suspension of disbelief" to him. My point is that everyone knows that Arnold cannot possibly simultaneously disassemble a thermonuclear device, strangle a bad guy, and kiss Jennifer Lopez. You just have to shut down that little part of your brain that deals in reality. He cannot. If you're going to enjoy Courting Trouble by Lisa Scottoline, you'll definitely have to turn off that reality button in your brain.

Read excerptThat said, Courting Trouble is an enjoyable fast-paced read, perfect for a lazy afternoon at the pool or a long plane ride. This latest in a series of novels by Scottoline centers on the all-woman Philadelphia law firm of Rosato and Associates, led by Benedetta (Bennie) Rosato. Scottoline's previous novels revolved around Rosato and her two associates, but this one introduces a new character, Anne Murphy, fresh out of law school. She's brainy, beautiful, and nervy, and oh yes, she had a cleft palate as a child, doesn't speak to her mother, and is being pursued cross-country by a stalker. And that's not even the part where you need to suspend disbelief. Murphy, stressed from working a huge sexual harassment case takes a much-needed weekend getaway, only to come across a newspaper recounting the grisly murder of one Anne Murphy. Same name, same address, same description as our heroine. So of course, it's a case of mistaken identity and of course (here's the suspension of disbelief part) she decides to solve the case herself! Forget the police or FBI, just give this girl a couple of feisty co-workers and she's all over it.

So the girls set out to catch the presumed killer, stalker Kevin Satorno. Has anyone else noticed a preponderance of stalkers these days? CJ on "West Wing" had a stalker and Lindsay on "The Practice" has had three, I think. It's a convenient plot device, but doesn't really catch on here because we don't even see Kevin until the very end of the novel. Scottoline has done her homework, giving us all we'd ever want to know about stalkers, more accurately called erotomaniacs. We do, however, spend a lot of time with Anne and she becomes a likable character, as do the other members of the law firm. Although at first, they definitely hate Anne because she's beautiful, by the novel's end, they're just about ready to give each other pedicures and talk about boys. Although the plot does twist and turn, astute readers will easily predict a twist toward the end. You know what's going to happen, you just don't know who's going to do it.

Do take the time to read the acknowledgments page. Scottoline explains that hereafter, she will dedicate all her books to the readers. "Books connect us, and my reader is always in my mind when I write . . .My readers know that, and return it a thousandfold." It's a refreshing change of pace from many authors who seem to regard readers as a distasteful, if necessary part of writing. Although it lacks the panache and spirit of Scottoline's earlier works, Courting Trouble is a quick read, light enough to qualify as "summer reading," but heavy enough to keep you turning the pages until the end. Just don't count on my husband to read it.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 98 reviews

Read an excerpt from Courting Trouble at MostlyFiction.com



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About the Author:

author photoLisa Scottoline graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania. She earned her B.A. degree in English, with a concentration in the contemporary American novel, and was taught writing by professors such as National Book Award Winner Philip Roth. Lisa attended the University of Pennsylvania Law School, graduating cum laude in 1981, and clerked for a state appellate judge in Pennsylvania. After the clerkship, she was a litigator at the prestigious law firm of Dechert, Price & Rhoads in Philadelphia. Divorced, she gave up law to raise her new daughter and began writing her first novel. It took three years to complete and was accepted by HarpersCollins one week after she took a part-time job clerking for a federal appellate judge. (Her daughter was in school by this time.)

All of Lisa's novels have achieved success. The first novel, Everywhere That Mary Went was nominated for the Edgar Award and her second novel, Final Appeal, won it. Her subsequent novels had starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. Mistaken Identity was Lisa's first New York Times bestseller. In its paperback edition the book went all the way to #5 on the list and Moment of Truth was on the hardcover list at the same time. Named one of "The Ten Best Best Mysteries of the Year" by the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, The Vendetta Defense appeared on all the major national and local bestseller lists. At the same time, the paperback edition of Moment of Truth became an instant New York Times bestseller.

Her books are used by bar associations for the issues of legal ethics they present and she has lectured on the subject at law schools around the country. Her books have been translated into over twenty languages. A native Philadelphian, Lisa is happily remarried and lives with her family in the Philadelphia area.
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