PENANCE FOR JERRY KENNEDY by George V. Higgins

PENANCE FOR JERRY KENNEDY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Kennedy for the Defense (1980) introduced Jerry K., Boston's classiest sleazy criminal lawyer, in an amusing, half-satisfying grab-bag of tawdry cases. Here, notwithstanding flashes of mordant Higgins-style humor, the tone is more somber, the entertainment more fitful--as Jerry's narration slowly takes him through a downward spiral of legal/political/personal woes. The central misery for semi-sympathetic Jerry is his failure to keep his old pal, accountant Lou Schwartz, from going to jail for a technical violation of the rules for tax-preparers. (The D.A. actually brought the case in order to force Lou to squeal about some mob-connected dealings--which Lou has steadfastly refused to do.) Furthermore, longtime client Teddy Franklin--that brazen, never-jailed Cadillac thief--now seems destined for prison. . . after punching a cop in the face. So it seems as if maybe Jerry has lost his touch: ""You're starting to act scared,"" says no-nonsense wife Mack--who, along with daughter Heather, is getting fed up with ""all the crap"" that Jerry dishes out. And then the roof really falls in: Jerry, cruelly misled by his old, ill mentor Frank Macdonald (now in Florida), winds up being the only active Boston lawyer to sign a petition opposing the promotion of incompetent Judge Luther Dawes; the media turn the ensuing crunch into an overblown exposÉ; and, thanks to Dawes' influence, Jerry soon finds himself being audited by the IRS. . . just as he discovers that loyal secretary Gretchen has been skipping the Employer's Unemployment Compensation tax payments. As usual, Higgins expands a low-key scenario with great chunks of bravura monologue and dialogue: Jerry's conversations (more like rival laments) with pal Coop; Lou Schwartz's ruminations on ethics in the shady-deal world; rich courtroom speeches, eloquent marital skirmishes, Teddy Franklin's circuitous confidences. This time, however, Kennedy's mid-life ennui seems to carry over into the writing of the novel itself--as fragments of plot and conflict flare, then dim, eventually petering out entirely at the limp conclusion. So, despite fine bits of dialogue and detail, along with a few grand snippets of media satire (Jerry's slimiest crook-client becomes a TV-talk-show regular), this is lesser Higgins--without the energy needed to sustain the talk-heavy format and certainly less readable than Stephen Greenleaf's livelier, more sentimental lawyer-diary, The Ditto List (above).

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Knopf