Having recruited ten top veterans of legal suspense for a serial novel, editor Bernhardt (Murder One, p. 123, etc.) lets his distinguished associates write themselves into Cloud-Cuckoo-Land.
The foundation Bernhardt lays in his opening chapter, though not inspired, is certainly functional. A month after announcing for the umpteenth time his intention of cutting his family of parasites—his sozzled wife Julia, his children Marilyn and Morgan, and Morgan’s wife Sissy, an ineffable bimbo—out of his will, self-made oil magnate Arthur Hightower makes his appearance for Thanksgiving dinner when the family checks the deep-freeze for pizza and finds the frozen patriarch instead. Put on trial, Julia asks no-name attorney Devin McGee to defend her, not knowing Devin’s just had a fling with prosecutor Trent Ballard. Meantime, aspiring reporter Patrick Roswell decides to follow a tip that Arthur Hightower was seen frolicking in a hotel room two days after he’s supposed to have been killed. When the pen passes to the first of Bernhardt’s co-conspirators—Leslie Glass, Gini Hartzmark, John Katzenbach, John Lescroart, Bonnie MacDougal, Phillip Margolin, Brad Meltzer, Michael Palmer, Lisa Scottoline, and Laurence Shames, though they decline to sign their individual chapters for obvious reasons—the tale swiftly veers toward lunatic fantasy, and, by Chapter 3, Patrick is being tortured by a giant clown who cuts off his toe. Later episodes combine sexual couplings, unacknowledged children, and murderous conspiracies with such trenchant individual touches as the 20-pound rabbit Ballard walks on a leash and Sissy’s bullet-firing whistle. The collaborators, each of whom read only the preceding chapters before piling on new complications, are obviously having the time of their lives, but comedy, coherence, and legal intrigue are all sacrificed to the relentless flow of whimsy.
The authors have generously donated their proceeds to the Nature Conservancy—by far the best reason to invest in their work. Just make sure to have four or five margaritas before you strap yourself in.