Married couple Joe and Lisa Stone are partners in a small law firm in Virginia. Married for twenty years, they have no children but dote on their pooch Brownie. Most of the law firm's work is routine with the big exception of Lettie VanSandt.
Lettie is an ill-tempered, eccentric woman with a small income; a bunch of tattoos; a large, gold, front tooth; various piercings; frazzled hair; an assortment of thrift-store clothes; a home full of cats and dogs; and a penchant for inventing useless things. Joe has a soft spot for Lettie however, and acts as her (largely unpaid) attorney as she sues everyone in sight, constantly changes her will, files patent applications, and sets up loopy trusts she can't fund.
As the story opens, Lisa is vaguely dissatisfied with her marriage and embarks on a liaison with Brett Brooks, a handsome, suave, fellow attorney. This includes an illicit trip to the Bahamas which proves to have troublesome consequences later on.
Meanwhile, shortly after making a will that gives the bulk of her assets to her son Neal, Lettie's body is found in an exploded meth lab. Before she died Lettie changed her will once more, and a handwritten version is found that leaves her estate to Joe Stone. The police believe Lettie was a druggie who died as the result of an accident, but Joe can't believe Lettie used meth. In any case, Joe's a nice guy and renounces his claim to Lettie's assets (which he believes are minimal), giving everything to Neal.
A few days later Dr. Stephen Downs - a brilliant but unstable scientist who was fired from Benecorp Pharmaceutical Company - shows up in Joe's office. His story: Lettie invented a skin healing cream called Wound Velvet (WV) and sent it to Benecorp for evaluation. The cream didn't heal anything but Benecorp discovered it was valuable for something else and was determined to acquire it. To get it, Benecorp apparently made a deal with Lettie's son Neal.
This sets up the rest of the story. Joe and Lisa - convinced that Benecorp tried to take advantage of Lettie and maybe even killed her - attempt to wrest WV from the firm's unsavory clutches. The pharmaceutical company, however, has a crafty, manipulative director who will do anything to retain control of WV - including lying, inventing evidence, manipulating the system, harassing Dr. Downs, and crushing the Stone's law firm.
As part of its legal proceedings, Benecorp claims that Lisa and Joe extorted money from them. Part of their 'evidence' includes photos that apparently show Lisa collecting a pay-off from a Bahamian bank when she visited the island. So, to add to her other troubles, Lisa fears that Joe will learn of her dalliance with Brett.
The legal shenanigans in the story, as Benecorp tries to ruin Joe and Lisa, are fascinating and infuriating. They're also plausible, which is no surprise since the book's author is a judge.
The tale is full of interesting characters including: M.J. - Lisa's loyal friend who collects inappropriate boyfriends and comes through in a pinch; Neal - Lettie's nervous, timid son who's craftier than he seems; Seth Garrison - Benecorp's rich but nasty president; lawyers on both sides of the aisle; Brownie - a sweet dog; and of course Lettie. I had to laugh when Lettie tried to sue her neighbors for coaxing songbirds away from her yard by buying birdseed - which she couldn't afford. I had to wonder if the author (in his job as a judge) had actually seen cases like this.
I enjoyed the book but feel like it had a very slow start. For me, the first part of the book concentrated too much on Joe's annoying habits, Lisa's affair, how Lisa came to know M.J., Lisa and Joe's farm, and so on. Once the action got started, however, the story was a compelling page turner with plenty of drama.
I'd recommend this book to fans of mystery/legal thrillers.
Rating: 3.5 stars