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A fresh take on the legal eagle

'Moment of Truth' by Lisa Scottoline

March 29, 2000
Web posted at: 3:56 p.m. EST (2056 GMT)

(CNN) -- The legal thriller has meant big business to publishing houses for the past decade. Legal mavens-turned-author like John Grisham and Scott Turow have fueled interest with juicy works like "The Firm" and "Presumed Innocent."

Former corporate attorney Lisa Scottoline brings a female perspective to this male-dominated field with her seventh novel, "Moment of Truth" (HarperCollins).

"Moment of Truth" has all the elements of a page-turner. Scottoline's writing is direct, honest and entertaining and doesn't get bogged down in legalese.

Exposing the seamy side of high society

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The plot paints a fascinating picture of elite life in Philadelphia gone bad.

For reasons that eventually become apparent, Jack Newlin, a successful attorney, frames himself for the murder of his wife, Honor, in their tony Philly home. To make sure his story sticks, Newlin not only confesses to the crime, but also hires inexperienced lawyer Mary DiNunzio to defend him.

The local media latch on to the high-profile case, and the overblown coverage soon turns the City of Brotherly Love against Newlin. Adding to the frenzy, Assistant District Attorney Dwight Davis and the political heavyweights in city government want a conviction to display their law enforcement prowess.

Author Scottoline puts her finger on the sad pulse of urban America, revealing a high society unconcerned about the masses and a complacent city government constantly trying to woo the electorate.

An unconventional hero

The refreshing obstacle to this realistic struggle in "Moment of Truth" is something rarely seen in pop culture, a female hero in the person of Mary DiNunzio.

Mary works to find the truth in a murder scandal that has all the ingredients for a movie of the week: seedy lawyers, complacent cops, and spoiled rich kids. In her quest she uncovers a side of Philadelphia society that thrives on lies and deception.

We learn how Jack Newlin's murdered wife Honor was a controlling, alcoholic mother who pushed her daughter Paige into modeling. As a result, Paige has become a self-absorbed 16-year-old who has abandoned her parents' home to live in a ritzy apartment.

Scottoline doesn't shy away from exposing the unsavory side of lawyering, either. Her observations find a voice in the character of Marc Videon, Honor Newlin's divorce attorney.

"The rich retain power and money. The poor try to get it and lose. You even up the odds, and I keep them out of whack, the way my clients want them," Videon bluntly tells Assistant District Attorney Davis.

Keen observations

Scottoline keeps the plot moving while making these incisive observations. She creates a cast of realistic, three-dimensional characters who jump off the pages.

Scottoline also successfully shows how one woman can tear down the walls of power, greed and corruption with sheer will and determination. She offers a female perspective into the legal world without injecting a stereotypical feminist agenda.

Some of Scottoline's characters hold conservative personal and political views, perhaps inspired by the author's own upbringing.

"Moment of Truth" is an entertaining and refreshing legal thriller. But a question lingers after reading it: Is Mary DiNunzio Scottoline's alter-ego? That, of course, remains a mystery.

Robert Nebel is a video editor at CNN. He is also an Atlanta-based freelance writer who specializes in theater, film and book reviews.



RELATED STORIES:
Publishing industry embracing cyber-frontier as 2000 approaches
December 30, 1999

RELATED SITES:
HarperCollins
Official Lisa Scottoline site

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