Higgins produces a novel just about every year whether he's got a great idea for one or not. This is one of the ``not'' years-- a thin reappearance by Boston lawyer Jerry Kennedy (Kennedy for the Defense, Penance for Jerry Kennedy)--but Higgins writes so brilliantly, so juicily, that connoisseurs of ironic anecdotes and flamboyant talk won't be complaining. Kennedy, with his criminal-law business way down and his boozing way up, can't say no when asked (for $100,000 upfront) to take the case of William F. Ryan, the state's Commissioner of the Dept. of Public Works--who's being prosecuted for bribery. A lost cause? So it seems. Old Billy, a veteran ``highwayman, brigand and general grasper,'' certainly did arrange for a four-lane state road to be built through a tiny, swampy backwater town--after making sure that all the surrounding land had been bought up by assorted pals and cronies. And a former state legislator is ready to testify that Billy let him in on the deal early on. But Kennedy plunges in and does his level best--looking for holes in the prosecutor's case, hunting for people who'll sing of Billy's occasional good deeds, and fighting off Billy's meddling offspring (one judge, one general, one unstable politician). The plot here is hardly more than an anecdote--with a flicker or two of courtroom drama, minimal suspense, and an only so-so twist at the end. As Higgins fans might expect, however, the proceedings are nicely filled out with: sardonic lectures on legal strategy and the differences between TV-law and real life; recollections of intriguingly sordid past cases, including Kennedy's own painful divorce from his highly adulterous wife; and grand, rambling conversations (or monologues) on everything from family and friendship to religion, politics, and money. So, though short on Victories-like shape and substance, this is shaggily entertaining--and another distinct, if minor, confirmation of Higgins's unique command of rueful language and rude incident.