Called in at the last minute to pinch-hit for a sodden defense attorney, product-liability expert Max Bramble agrees to defend Courtland Motors' antique-auto restoring division against a claim by the estate of TV executive Stanfield Standish (nÇ Stanley Scheidler) that Courtland is liable for his getting incinerated in his 1930 Duesenberg. Building his defense, Max's secret weapon is Wylie Nolan, a PI specializing in arson. Wylie shortly finds evidence (a telltale ring, a missing set of car keys, a pattern of combustion indicating the fire started in several places at once) that despicable Standish got a boost into Valhalla. For somebody who keeps insisting he's only interested in vindicating his client and couldn't care less who lit the bonfire, Max spends a lot of chapters filling in Standish's family background (weak-willed father, affectionate long-term mistress spurned by the children) and his business dealings (a Ted Turnerish plan to replace the stars of classic films bought with the computerized faces of brain- dead rockers so he can release them for a big new audience). Once the smoke from Max's good-natured, digressions and Wylie's sharp- eyed investigations clears, readers are stranded in a routine whodunit with nothing to wait for but the jury's Not Guilty and the culprit's confession. First of what promises to be a cheeky series with curlicues of preadolescent humor--and not much else on its mind.