By Lisa Scottoline
Published by Harper Collins
May 2003; 0060514930; 352 pages
Bennie Rosato had waited for more than a hundred jury verdicts in her career, but the waiting never got easier. The courtroom was empty, the air still. Bennie could hear the clock ticking on the paneled wall, but it could have been her sense of drama. She was sitting next to her client, Ray Finalil, who was gnawing his cuticles. If they lost this trial, Ray's company would have to pay three million dollars in damages. Three million bucks buys a lot of cuticles.
Bennie set aside her own case of nerves to cheer him up. "Yo, Ray. How do you stop a lawyer from drowning?"
"Take your foot off his head."
Ray didn't smile. His gaze remained fixed on the vacant jury box, with its black leather chairs swiveled in different directions. The jury had been charged on the law this morning and they'd been out deliberating all day. That meant Ray and Bennie were entering their sixth hour of small talk. To Bennie, that was as good as married.
"Okay, no more jokes," she said. "Tell me about your son's baseball game. I'll pretend I don't know about the home run or the catch at third base."
Ray's chin dropped to his hand. His brown eyes were bloodshot from three weeks of sleepless nights and his cheeks hollow from the ten pounds he'd shed during the trial, even though he was completely innocent. Being a defendant was no-win; if you lost, you paid the plaintiff, and if you won, you paid your lawyer. This was known as the American Rule. Only Americans tolerate law without justice.
"Look, Ray, we don't have to stay here. I have my cell phone, and the deputy clerk has my number. How about we take a field trip? We can go see the Liberty Bell. It's only a block away."
"This land is your land, Ray. This land is my land."
"Come on, it'll do you good to go out and walk around." Bennie rose, stretched, and took a personal inventory. She thought she was good-looking for a lawyer, even though she stood six feet tall and her proportions were positively Amazonian. Her khaki suit was still pressed and her white Gap shirt fairly clean. Her long, disobedient blond hair had been piled into a twist with a tortoiseshell barrette, but no makeup maximized the blue of her eyes or minimized the crow's-feet at their corners. An old boyfriend had told her that her mouth was generous, but she suspected it was a sneaky way of saying she had a big mouth. At the moment, it was shaped into a sympathetic frown. "You don't wanna take a walk?"
"When do you think they'll come back?" Ray didn't have to explain who "they" were. The jury.
"End of today." Bennie sat back down. At least the stretch had shaken off some of her stress. She couldn't remember the last time she'd exercised. This trial had consumed every available minute for the past two months, but her law firm needed the dough. The slump in the economy had hit lawyers, too, and people had stopped suing each other. Could world peace be far behind?
"I can't take another day of this. You sure they'll come back today?"
"Positive. This is a simple fraud case, in federal court only through the miracle of diversity jurisdiction. And Thursday is a good day for juries to go out. They get it over with if they come back today, then they go home and make it a three-day weekend. They won't go to work on a Friday after jury duty."
"How do you know?"
"Trial wisdom. The elders pass it down in a secret ceremony. We call it the bar exam to fool gringos like you."
"But what are they doing in there for so long?" Ray rubbed his forehead with leftover fingernails. He looked older than his fifty-one years, and oddly, he'd become more nervous as the trial wore on, not less. Ray wasn't a lover or a fighter. He was an accountant.
"A day is nothing. We just had a fifteen-day trial with one hundred twenty-six exhibits and twenty-eight witnesses. You want them back sooner?" Bennie pointed to the empty jury box. "Keep watching those chairs. It works every time."
Suddenly, the paneled door next to the dais opened and the deputy clerk entered. He was tall and fit, and his polyester blazer made an officially swishy sound when he walked. When Bennie realized he was heading for her, she rose. "They back?" she asked, her heart beginning to thump, but the deputy clerk shook his head.
"They got a question. They sent a note. Court's in session in five minutes. Plaintiff still in the attorney's conference room?"
"Yes," Bennie answered, and as soon as the deputy clerk took off down the aisle, Ray jumped up and clutched her sleeve.
"What does he mean, a question? The jury has a question? What question?"
"Relax. Sit down." Bennie unpeeled Ray's fingers and eased him down into his chair. "The judge is coming out to read us the question. Then we -- "
"A question? How typical is that? I don't understand. What does he mean, a question?"
"It happens from time to time. The jury sends the judge a question about the evidence or the law. It's nothing to be -- "
"I mean, what do they have to know?" Ray raked his free hand through his thinning hair. At the beginning of this trial he had looked like a Chia Pet. Okay, maybe that was an exaggeration. "Who said they could ask questions? Why do they get to ask questions?"
"Because this is America. Now stay cool. Curtain's up." Bennie gestured behind him, where the courtroom had come abruptly to life ...
Philadelphia lawyer Bennie Rosato has her eye focused firmly on the bottom line, especially since she has three dedicated young associates and a very pregnant secretary on her payroll, and she takes a professional risk, charging into a class action lawsuit that could make -- or break -- her career. Never mind that she's never handled anything like this before. Having won nearly every civil and criminal case she's ever tried, the brilliant and unconventional Bennie has the guts, and she'll do what it takes to succeed. Even if that means wearing pantyhose and putting herself on a curse diet.
Then her wallet goes missing. And Bennie's life goes crazy.
It's not just that one of her associates has dyed her hair pink. Or that another's old-world Italian mother gives Bennie the evil eye. But someone posing as the outspoken, blue-eyed, blond attorney is wreaking havoc around town, apparently determined to destroy everything Bennie loves. Only one person can pull off this double deception -- Bennie's identical twin sister, Alice Connelly. But as far as Bennie knows, Alice left Philly long ago and never looked back.
When events escalate into murder, the maverick lawyer realizes that the stakes are far greater than she feared. But Bennie Rosato refuses to be anyone's victim. To find the killer, she'll plunge head-first into a life-and-death investigation that will bring her face-to-face with evil darker yet more familiar than anything before.
A riveting legal thriller set against the backdrop of a richly emotional family story, Dead Ringer is this author's most intriguing novel yet.(back to top)
Lisa Scottoline is a New York Times bestselling author and former trial lawyer. She has won the Edgar Award, the highest prize in suspense fiction, and the Distinguished Author Award from the Weinberg Library of the University of Scranton. She has served as the Leo Goodwin Senior Professor of Law and Popular Culture at Nova Southeastern Law School, and her novels are used by associations for the ethical issues they present. Her books are published in more than twenty languages. She lives with her family in the Philadelphia area.