A law professor gets caught up in intrigue connected with a campus shooter and Nazi-looted art in this debut novel.
Nell Hatley—a 30-something professor at Coppersmith University Law School, near Cincinnati, in her tenure year—arrives late to a faculty meeting and to mayhem: a gun-wielding woman pushes her way inside and starts firing. Nell heroically tackles the shooter, getting a kick in the head. One professor, Lawrence McIntosh, is shot dead and another, Hardik Gruziet, grazed by Marlyse Revinson, a first-year law student whom Nell vaguely remembers. Disturbingly, a handwritten note in Revinson’s pocket bears three names: McIntosh, Gruziet—and Hatley. The investigation soon starts looking fishy: though failing grades are blamed for Revinson’s breakdown, Nell knows she entered a B grade—which mysteriously became an F. And why was McIntosh brought in as an expert witness on an art theft case, not his specialty? And who is responsible for torpedoing Nell’s tenure chances? At the center of the mystery is a Monet painting, Girl with Egg Basket, once owned by the Rosenthals and stolen by Nazis. Nell investigates with help from her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Luca Giardano, a rising star at a Washington, D.C., law firm, and the Mouse, Luca’s wickedly smart paralegal (and a formidable young woman). As Nell and her allies get closer to the truth, the story builds to a dangerous confrontation. In his thriller, Crane (Antitrust [Aspen Treatise], 2014, etc.), a law professor at the University of Michigan, proves an able storyteller, mixing humor, suspense, and a little romance, plus history, travel, well-explained legal issues, and a fine appreciation for university politics. His characters are well-rounded, and the Mouse—a law school dropout with great resources—is an especially delightful creation, fun to watch as she adopts various personae to winkle out information. Nell’s memories of a childhood friend, in whose tragedy she feels guiltily complicit, gives her compassion for Revinson and drives her determination to uncover the truth. This, along with serious matters of theft and murder, helps balance the book’s often comic tone. Nicely done.
Entertaining, humorous, exhilarating, and featuring impressive characters, this legal thriller turns out to be a winner.