David Rosenfelt made a mid-course career change a couple of years
ago, jumping from his position as marketing president of Tri-Star
Pictures to writing screenplays and novels. It's the latter with
which we are concerned here, of course, and it gives us the
opportunity to discuss Andy Carpenter, Rosenfelt's fictional
creation and the be-all and end-all for his three novels, of which
BURY THE LEAD is the latest. Carpenter is a defense attorney, and
while he is a bit of a wise guy, he is also one of the more
endearing characters in courtroom fiction.
Carpenter is the type of guy who one tends to underestimate. He has
a bunch of quirky friends and spends his weekends watching football
games (and sustaining occasionally heavy gambling losses on them).
His girlfriend, Laurie, is a former police officer, unbelievably
low maintenance, and much, much better than Carpenter deserves
(believe me, I know the feeling). Carpenter is also in a unique
position. While he has an enviable string of acquittals, he is also
the beneficiary of a $22 million bequest, which permits him to be
what I guess one would call a gentleman lawyer, picking and
choosing his cases at will.
His money hasn't gone to his head, however. Carpenter uses his
windfall to fund an animal shelter and continues to live in
Paterson, New Jersey, which, while not as bad as its reputation
might suggest, is more a place where one is from, rather than a
place where one currently resides. Yet the beginning of BURY THE
LEAD, interestingly enough, finds Carpenter somewhat vaguely
dissatisfied with himself. Carpenter, it seems, needs to do some
real work, as in trial work.
Notwithstanding this early mid-life crisis, Carpenter is less than
thrilled when his friend, Vince Sanders, a local newspaper
publisher, hires him to keep Daniel Cummings, Sanders's star
reporter, out of trouble. There's a serial killer operating in the
North Jersey area and he has chosen Cummings to be his public
messenger. When Cummings is found unconscious near the killer's
latest victim, however, things take a turn for the worse. It is
Cummings who is charged with the murder --- and all of the evidence
in the case points directly to him as the killer.
Carpenter suddenly finds himself back in court, trying desperately
to defend a client who appears to be indefensible. Marcus Clark,
the taciturn private investigator with the somewhat unorthodox
methods, is there to help, as is Laurie and Kevin Randall,
Carpenter's somewhat nervous law firm associate. Carpenter needs
these folks, especially when he finds himself on the receiving end
of some death threats. When the case against his client takes an
unexpected turn, Carpenter finds himself involved in a case that is
much, much bigger --- and much more dangerous --- than he ever
could have imagined.
It is to Rosenfelt's great credit that he has with Andy Carpenter
created a character who does not fit neatly into the stereotypical
model of courtroom fiction defense attorneys. While some of
Carpenter's trappings are a bit unusual, his core character is
extremely believable. If you have not acquainted yourself with
Carpenter and Rosenfelt, now is the time to do so, and BURY THE
LEAD is the perfect excuse.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 26, 2010