In this dramedy, a legal secretary tackles a friend’s personal injury case, which requires posing as a lawyer—her dead boss.
Gertie Chase and Dorothy “Dot” Swayne have been working for Louise Barbour for nearly two decades when the Texas attorney suddenly dies at her desk. Louise’s indolent son, Clarence, who wants the building to open a vape shop, demands the private practice’s files be farmed out to other lawyers. But one file catches Gertie’s eye: a personal injury case involving her longtime friend Nelda Fay Blatchford. Nelda’s husband, Clifford, had developed cancer, which a doctor determined was from exposure to asbestos at work. As Louise apparently neglected the matter and Clifford has since died, Gertie decides to see the case through, with help from Dot and their co-worker/friend Guadalupe “Lupe” Maria Sylvia-Sotomayor. Gertie will just have to take on the role of Louise, but only until she can reach a settlement. When Clifford’s ex-boss Waite Morrison doesn’t show up to the mediation and his attorney, Alexander Shiras, makes a lowball offer, Gertie and Nelda opt for a trial. Having picked up skills by assisting Louise, Gertie can hold her own in the ensuing courtroom battle, provided no one learns her true identity. Clary (Unfinished Business, 2016, etc.) tactfully deals with serious subjects. Gertie worries about her husband, Jack, who experiences frequent pain from Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam, and Nelda, who’s Creole, is no stranger to racism (likely the reason Louise abandoned her case). But there’s also humor in abundance. An example—and the book’s highlight—is when Gertie, whose car is blocking Shiras’ at the mediation, feigns a prolonged search for her keys. The author’s flair for rapid-fire dialogue leads to bustling courtroom scenes, which monopolize the novel’s latter half. These scenes furthermore distinguish the amiable heroine (small-town Gertie easily connects with prospective jurors) from antagonistic Shiras, who constantly objects and interrupts witnesses he’s questioning on the stand.
A spirited, often comical courtroom tale brimming with genuine characters.