I couldn't wait to get my hands on Lisa Scottoline's latest, "Dirty Blonde." The author, one of my favorites when it comes to legal mystery thrillers, disappoints this time - Big Time! What ticks me off is that she has all the components here to make a really great read...but she takes the easy road and thus her protagonist and her storyline are not at all credible.
Thirty-nine year-old Cate Fante, a newly appointed federal judge, seems to have it all - smarts, looks, health, money (she was a successful member of a topnotch Philadelphia law firm before her career change), a wonderful boyfriend and great girlfriends. What more could anyone desire? Well, she also has a terrible secret, one that no one would want...ever! Cate has a dark side that compels her to pick up strange men, dangerous men, some are even convicted felons, in sleazy bars and have down and dirty sex with them before walking out to resume business and life as usual. So far so good.
Cate presides over a breach-of-contract lawsuit involving an extremely popular TV show, "a cable blockbuster," Attorneys@Law. Plaintiff Richard Marz, claims that a successful producer and former friend, Art Simone, stole his idea for the series. Cate rules reluctantly in favor of the defendant, but not before blasting him from the bench. "You may have made a fortune, Mr. Simone, but as far as I am concerned, you stole every penny of it." That same evening, Marz apparently murders Simone and then takes his own life.
When a former detective with a grudge finds a tape featuring Cate in compromising positions and the judge's private life is made very public, front page news, the ensuing scandal puts her job at risk as well as her life. Still good.
Now our judge, who thinks there is more to the murder/suicide than meets the eye, becomes an effective sleuth, determined to solve what she believes to be a double murder and even more determined to get her life back on track. Was it ever on track?
So what could be wrong with this seemingly unputdownable novel? Well, psychologically Cate Fante has serious problems, problems that weekly visits with a therapist won't solve....unless she saw her therapist for one hundred years! Give me a break! That's like expecting an alcoholic, or a compulsive gambler, or someone with an eating disorder to turn their lives around, (let alone modify behavior), with a few sessions of therapy. I really take issue with the cavalier manner in which Ms. Scottoline deals with Judge Fante's severe neuroses in order to further her plot. Cate says I will never do this again...and stops her exploits into life's seamier side. I don't want to spoil the plot, but there's even a new love interest who never questions her behavior. Cate, who could have been an extraordinary three-dimensional character, thus comes across as flat as cardboard.
So everything winds up hunky dory, girlfriends giggle about new boyfriends and all is well with the world.
Along the way, our protagonist visits her hometown, Centralia, the Northeastern Pennsylvania town destroyed by a persistent mine fire. The events surrounding this real life town, its former inhabitants and the results of the fire are true and quite fascinating. Also of interest is the legal take on whether (and how much) the private life of a public official, a federal judge appointed for life, should impinge on the public career of same official.
I have read glowing reviews of "Dirty Blonde," so it appears I am a lone voice with my thumbs down critique. I just believe that Lisa Scottoline is way too talented to give her readers this super-lite kind of fiction.