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First Degree    by David Rosenfelt order for
First Degree
by David Rosenfelt
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2003 (2003)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

David Rosenfelt sets a playful tone by opening his legal mystery on the opening day for 'New Jersey's first-ever dog park' (which he also describes as a canine singles bar) and he continues with a light touch throughout. The first Andy Carpenter novel, Open and Shut, left the wiseass lawyer a multi-millionaire in a 'committed' relationship with his chief investigator, Laurie Collins. Now he spends his days looking for a charitable cause to call his own and coping with 'lawyer's block'.

Laurie interrupts Andy's dog park love-in to tell him that corrupt police lieutenant Alex Dorsey is dead. Some time before, Dorsey's awareness of skeletons in headquarters closets protected him from prosecution, which led to Laurie's disenchantment with a police career, and to her opening her own PI agency. Since then, more evidence surfaced and Dorsey was on the run when he was murdered. Soon after the revelation of Dorsey's death by decapitation, Andy meets the (according to his own admission) murderer, but attorney-client privilege prevents him from telling the police.

When small-time drug dealer Oscar Garcia is accused of killing Dorsey, Andy's knowledge of his innocence obliges him to take on the defense. Despite Laurie's objections, she helps with the investigation, and then the unthinkable happens - Garcia is released and Laurie herself is accused of the murder. Andy immediately marshals all the support he can get, starting with his 'Lawdromat' associate Kevin Randall. What follows is a game of musical identities involving both murderer and victim and interspersed with courtroom scenes, freshly viewed through Andy's irreverent eyes. There's another murder, a mysterious FBI connection with links to Vietnam Special Forces, and an exciting ending in which Andy finally finds the ideal (canine of course) charity and saves the love of his life from spending her life in jail.

If you enjoy legal thrillers but often find them ponderous, then dive into First Degree. With a take on the law that's tongue mostly in cheek, it's light, witty and very amusing, with quirky characters that one looks forward to meeting again.

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