Reviewer Karen Dahood : Karen lives in Tucson, AZ. After 35 years as a writer for businesses and nonprofits, she has turned to writing mysteries,the subtext of which addresses ageism, unpreparedness for aging, and America's wealth of experience and wisdom. Learn more about eldersleuth Sophie George at the Website Moxie Cosmos; Making Sense of Life Through Writing.
Author: Barbara Levenson
A very clear writer with an engaging protagonist, Barbara Levenson uses her extensive background as an attorney for both prosecution and defense, as well as her experience as a judge, to pack her novels with excitement in the courtroom and behind the scenes. She describes brilliant maneuvers that win tough cases. Levenson’s “Mary McGruder Katz” is a dynamo – young and energetic, but grounded in family and culture. She’ a whiz kid with a heart. Quite honestly, I would give this book to any aspiring student of law.
The main focus of this novel (fourth in a series) is Mary’s defense of a University of Miami football player accused of raping an underage girl. We have seen headline stories about athletes with inflated egos who somehow think anything they want they can have. That stereotype makes it possible for a 15-year-old “hottie” whose father happens to see a nearly nude picture of her on her phone to put the blame on the young jock she has seduced. Jay Lincoln thought Jennifer was a college student when he took advantage of her generous attention in his dorm room. Now his reputation and whole life are at risk. How will Mary manage to get her professional adversaries to see through the twisted facts and change Florida law in the bargain? How can she walk the high wire between justice and betrayal of feminism?
More personal are two cases in her boyfriend’s family. Carlos Martin’s father, a high-powered but naïve businessman from Argentina who likes to take risks, comes to her when he is subpoenaed to answer questions about the newly-minted bank he works for. Will J.C. be held responsible for its apparent money-laundering? If she doesn’t get him out of hot water, will Carlos bring their romance to an abrupt end? Carlos’s cousin Marco, who works in private security, has been dating Mary’s assistant; when Catherine’s ex-husband is found murdered outside her apartment, Marco looks like the culprit. He claims he was on “secret surveillance” during the time of the criminal assault and is reluctant to talk. How does Mary manage to rout out the real killer in the dangerous underworld of gambling, prostitution and drugs?
Levenson artfully teaches us a few ugly things about legal process: Too many investigators and prosecutors lack the will, time, or resources to seek the truth; they will settle for the easy answer. There are frequent conflicts between ethics and the law. Longstanding relationships between lawyers, or between a lawyer and a judge, can prejudice a decision. Witnesses are chosen or not chosen simply to shape the case. The slightest nuances based on always-evolving points of law can produce more -- or less --favorable courtroom outcomes. A lawyer can only win a case if she’s alive.
Neurotic November illustrates these realities as the young defense attorney wrestles with the ins and outs, working overtime, and wondering if her own life can ever accommodate a husband. The Miami setting adds glamour to the plot and demonstrates how wealth, poverty, and crime intersect and sometimes even travel in parallel lines. McGruder’s complicated genealogy adds realism (Florida style) and humor (family style) to this humanistic story. I had never heard of this self-published series, but now I am going back for more.