Comedians have very difficult jobs. They build up expectations of being funny, and are judged on how well they meet the bar. David Rosenfelt repeatedly proves equal to the challenge with his ongoing series about Andy Carpenter, a very successful “semi-retired” criminal defense attorney in Paterson, New Jersey.
This series has been slotted in the “cozy mystery” category because it is so amusing, but there is nothing amusing about the crimes that occupy Andy’s time. Usually they involve vicious murdering gangs who are heavily invested in the drug trade (at best), or in this book, who are involved in even more nefarious activities.
As the story opens in this 23rd installment, Andy and his wife Laurie, an ex-cop, are out walking their dogs when they see a man down the street kicking his dog. Laurie runs over to intervene, but another passerby gets there first, and knocks out the dog owner. Alas, the police come and arrest the good samaritan as well as the dog abuser. Andy gives the intervener his card in case the guy, whose name is Matt Jantzen, needs a lawyer.
Much to Andy’s chagrin (since he prefers to the “retired” part of “semi-retired”), Matt does in fact need a lawyer; it turns out he is wanted for a double murder in Maine. Matt promptly gets extradited there, and Andy reluctantly concludes he has to go to Maine and at least help Matt – who told Andy he has no money – get local counsel. As Laurie notes, “We may be defending a double murderer. [But] he saved a dog. Isn’t that the bottom line?” Indeed, for Andy, it is.
The trip for Andy is not all bad, as Andy discovers lobster rolls in Maine, as well as a friendly local attorney, Charlie Tilton, who is as funny as Andy.
The case gets complicated, and pretty soon much of Andy’s team is up in Maine helping him out, including Laurie, Corey Douglas – a retired policeman who now works with Laurie on private investigations, Marcus Clark, who acts as their muscle, and Sam Willis, their electronics expert. In addition, all the dogs in this extended group have come to stay.
Andy pays for all of it out of his own pocket, as usual. (At one point, Charlie asks Andy if he can hire a DNA expert. Andy responds: “Yes.” Charlie observes, “You don’t shy away from spending money; I’ll give you that. Can I have a raise?” Andy: “No.” Charlie: “What are you running, a sweatshop?”)
The case goes to trial, although, as in previous books, Andy still has no idea what really happened and how to save his client. The outcome is dependent on whether the team can get a break in solving what had really happened and who did it. Andy’s acting skills play a role as well. He often assumes a “fake put-upon frown” in considering evidence he would like the jury to be skeptical of. The prosecutor tries it too during Andy’s defense, but Andy contends, “compared to me he’s a fake-frown amateur.”
Evaluation: Andy is funny, smart, sarcastic, and self-deprecating, and I never fail to laugh out loud while reading these books. Nevertheless, the plot involves plenty of greed and violence in spite of all the humor, and is sufficiently complicated to hold the reader’s attention. This is one of the better books in the series.
Published by Minotaur Books, a member of the St. Martin’s Publishing Group, 2021