Witty “biography” of the creator of America’s favorite lawyer lands a former beauty queen in big legal trouble.
Since leaving her male chauvinist ex (“the world’s second-most-renowned James Fenimore Cooper scholar”), Cece Caruso has made her way in the world by chronicling the lives of famous mystery writers. In the middle of her Erle Stanley Gardner volume, though, Cece hits a brick wall. Not only does she have writer’s block, but her daughter Annie’s marriage to fellow Trekkie Vincent recently foundered when a pre-Annie fling resurfaced with toddler in tow. To jump-start her stalled book, Cece leaves her 1932 West Hollywood bungalow for Ventura, where Gardner established his Court of Last Resort, taking time from his law practice to research the cases of the wrongly convicted. One client captures her attention: Joseph Albacco, currently doing life at Tehachapi for stabbing his wife Jean to death on their first anniversary. Talking with Theresa Flynn, Jean’s sister, and socialite Meredith Allen, Albacco’s lover, convinces Cece that there’s more to the case than meets the eye. And former classmate Elspeth Galloway confirms Cece’s suspicion that Jean may not have been above a little blackmail. But reopening the decades-old case may just add Cece’s name to the growing list of corpses.
The verdict: thumbs up to newcomer Kandel’s series for its snappy dialogue and carefully worked-out plot.