This eighth and weakest of Rosenberg’s legal suspensers (Buried Evidence, 2000, etc.) once more puts a female lawyer on the hot seat, but never turns up the heat.
Ventura County prosecutor Joanne Kuhlman’s husband ran out on her long ago, but she’s still suffering the aftershocks of his defection. A computer genius with a weakness for gambling, Doug Kuhlman ran through his own money, ransacked his company for more, then skipped town with their children when he realized his wife was on the verge of unmasking him and spent two years hiding Leah and Mike, indulging their every whim and doing his best to turn them against their mother—till Joanne eventually mortgaged her house to hire the shamus who found them. Now their dad is sitting in an LA jail awaiting trial, and they’re sitting in Joanne’s rented house in ritzy, isolated Seacliff Point blaming her for all their problems. Joanne’s own problems mount—or so Rosenberg would have you believe—when she’s handed a robbery case involving Ian Decker, a mentally challenged defendant, whose high-priced lawyer Arnold Dreiser, a cousin who’s working the case pro bono, insists he was an unwitting tool of codefendants Gary and Thomas Rubinsky, small-time losers who look and sound exactly like the sort of guys who’d rob a convenience store and then get caught. (Poor Ian, by contrast, sounds as if his IQ is a lot higher than the 70 he’s credited with.) But Joanne’s fate, despite her cautiously budding romance with Dreiser, has much less to do with Ian than with her scalawag ex and her wayward teenagers. The result is a plot that never thickens, as domestic entanglements consistently upstage the timid little mystery.
Despite the conventionally metaphoric title, there’s no serious conflict of interest either on the surface of this glossy soap or beneath the emperor’s clothes. Betrayed fans may feel that Breach of Contract is more like it.