Flawed but appealing: a mystery debut set at a Silicon Valley law firm, with amusingly precise glimpses of attorney gamesmanship and a mostly endearing (somewhat overdrawn) nebbish-hero. Howard Rickover, cultured but nerdy and disheveled, is the new associate at Tweed-more & Slyde in San Mateo, at sea in a sudden flood of depositions, wills, interrogatories, and other mystifying labors. Even more disturbing: flashy partner Leo Slyde, a legal shark ("sharpest teeth in the ocean"), is murdered while seated at his desk—impaled, with surgical precision, on a message spindle. Whodunit? Was it one of the lawyers or secretaries who'd been abused by nasty Leo? Or was it his wife's lover, who might stand to share Mrs. Slyde's inheritance? Or what about the woman-lawyer—rumored to be Leo's paramour—who is also mentioned in the dead man's tricky will? The investigation of Inspector Sarah Nelson, who chooses Howard to be her inside informant/spy, focuses on assorted scandals, cover-ups, and feuds in the law firm's past. And, meanwhile, an offbeat sort of quasi-romance develops between down-to-earth Sarah and gourmet-cook Howard. The legal fine-points on display here—stock dealings, probate, malpractice—may leave some readers a bit befuddled. Others maybe a bit put off by the insistence on Howard's insecurities, quirkiness, and refinement. (There's a painfully precious sequence wherein he prepares a gourmet meal while listening to the cast-album of Sunday in the Park with George.) And the plot, which starts nicely and finishes decently, takes a snooze for much of the middle. Still: likable, witty, and promising entertainment—especially for those who want even more nitty-gritty lawyering details (and a lot less glamour) than they get from L.A. Law.
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