Monday, March 8, 2021

The Dog Takes a Turn on Stage in First Degree by David Rosenfelt

Flush with a twenty-two million dollar inheritance, attorney Andy Carpenter seemingly has it made. Well, except for suffering from what he calls "lawyer's block," an affliction in which he's taken zero clients in the time since he inherited the money from his deceased father and won the big Willie Miller case in which he got an innocent man off death row. He's not necessarily upset about it, but he knows he has to get back in the courtroom soon. With his divorce final, he is now openly in a relationship with the love of his life, Laurie Collins, who happens also to be his one and only investigator. And he's got the love and adoration of Tara, his golden retriever. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, this being First Degree, the second novel in the Andy Carpenter series, plenty. A body is discovered, burned and decapitated. When the identification is made, it's linked to Laurie from her time on the local New Jersey police force. It also connected to the strange man who shows up at Andy's office, gets the protection of lawyer/client privilege, and promptly confesses to the murder. Andy's in a quandary.

Ethically, he can't break the bond he has with the mystery man, so he takes up the case for the man arrested for the murder. Even though that man is innocent--and has history with Laurie from when she was a cop which complicates things--Andy is struggling to find a way to represent him when news arrives that makes Andy's case much easier: the man was released from prison. Naturally Andy asks why. The lawyer from the DA's office is only too happy to comply: it's because Laurie herself has been arrested and charged with murder.

First Degree is my third Andy Carpenter novel since I discovered him back in December 2020 (see my review for Open and Shut) and a nice, comfortable pattern has emerged. Andy gets a case that looks hopeless and he has to figure it out to save his client. It's the stuff of novels from as far back and the pulp days of Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason to the recent novels of Michael Connelly and John Grisham. Granted, having read the 20th book in the series first, I knew the ending of the second book before it even started. Then again, I think pretty much everybody can guess the ending of this book, but it's how Rosenfelt takes Andy through the case that is so darn entertaining. And Tara gets a lot more screen time in this one.

Rosenfelt's novel is part of my 2021 education into traditional and cozy mysteries. It's a genre I'm barely familiar with but one I want to read more of. While some might categorize Rosenfelt's books as cozy, I prefer to think of it as traditional. Not sure there's a distinction, but I think there is. When I see dogs on the cover and cutesy titles with puns (not one here but they show up soon in the series), I expect canine intervention at the most crucial time possible. We actually get one scene of that in this book, so Tara has her moment on stage.

But this is still not the kind of book I expected. Hold on: let me rephrase. It's not the kind of book I expected when I thought of cozy mysteries before 2021. Now that I've read three of these charming novels featuring Andy Carpenter, I know what to expect: the kind of story you might find on network television.  No on-screen violence, barely a swear word, and the hero solving the crime without resorting to violence and borderline legal territory. At this time in my life, it is exactly what I want to read.

Narrator Grover Gardner is rapidly growing on me with this series. I'm used to him reading history books, one of my favorites of his being Master of the Senate by Robert Caro. That book was over 56 hours and Gardner's voice was the calm guide through the entire thing. Here, Gardner gets to expand his vocal reptertoire, and it's great. Even when I read the books, I heard Gardner's voice as Andy Carpenter.

Astute readers might recognize that my review of Open and Shut was published two weeks ago today. I haven't read multiple books by a single author this quick in a long time. I have Reading ADHD where I can sometimes get distracted by other books very easily. It's why my To Be Read stack is so high. I can't say that I'll keep up this reading pace of an Andy Carpenter story every two weeks because there are other books I want to read. But I can say that I've already downloaded the third book in the series, Bury the Lead, from the library via the incredibly awesome Libby app. ;-)

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