In Dollinger’s debut novel, an ethical lawyer tries to balance career and family while handling a busy caseload.
Ian Elkins, an attorney specializing in landlord/tenant disputes, takes on three additional cases outside of his bailiwick. The first case features a brother and sister who clash over the sizable estate of their deceased mother. In the second case, three children contest their mother’s will, possibly signed under duress, which left everything to their abusive, alcoholic father. Finally, the brother-in-law of Ian’s boss is a loan shark caught between the authorities and the mob; Ian sees what he can do to help as a favor to his boss, Mark Rooney. With a huge cast of characters, some perhaps superfluous, it can be difficult keeping them straight. For example, there are two Herbs with similar last names and two Charlies, plus a Cohen and a Cohan (both lawyers). The author centers the action in the Bronx and establishes two narrative devices—Ian’s Friday-night dinners with extended family and his occasional lunch meetings with Mark—that allow for frequent updates on the principal cases, rendering the exposition in more dynamic, interactive passages. Throughout the novel, Dollinger is curiously attentive to descriptions of food and drink. (Don’t read this book on an empty stomach or while craving an adult beverage.) In fact, by doing so, he establishes an amusing contrast between Ian’s salads and Mark’s unhealthy fare. Dollinger also has an eye for office decor (windows and views—if any—plus furniture, artwork and cleanliness) and what these furnishings imply about the people who own them. In a telling passage, he analyzes one attorney’s choice of a windowless office with fluorescent lighting: “Many of the neighborhood lawyers who occupied stores for their offices used the store front for their desks, since it offered both light and visibility for potential clients. Not Mike: Neither criminal, landlord and tenant, nor personal injury practitioner, he was an estates lawyer; the dignity of his calling would not permit him to expose himself in a window, like an Amsterdam prostitute.” Though this book may not offer the thrills, as its subtitle proclaims, it certainly provides an engaging narrative with a healthy dose of legal intrigue and local color.
A lot of intrigue and a lot of characters, which could use some sorting out.