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    Review of DIRTY BLONDE Lisa Scottoline (see her website)

    HarperCollins, March 2006

    Judge Cate Fante hates the case she's forced to rule on as a Federal Court Judge. It's obvious that the Hollywood producer of a hit TV series stole the idea from a local lawyer--who's suing to capture a share of the profits. Under California law, Richard Marz would be entitled to damages, but Pennsylvania law is very clear--without a written contract, Richard gets nothing. Cate may hate it, but she has to follow the law. What she doesn't expect is that Marz would go nuts, physically attacking the producer who stole his idea in the middle of the courtroom.

    Things only get worse when the Hollywood producer is murdered, then Marz's body is discovered--an apparent suicide. During the investigation, a cop with an agenda releases a secret that could end Cate's career--the Hollywood producer was having her trailed--and has the dirty evidence of the multitude of sexual encounters Cate indulged in. The reaction, from both the publlic and from the other judges is damning and Cate is hounded from her office and asked to resign. But the rogue cop is still after her and he's definitely not satisfied with destroying her career. He holds her responsible for his friend Marz's death.

    Author Lisa Scottoline (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by Scottoline) serves up a strong mix of courtroom drama and action thriller. Cate is an interesting, psychologically damaged character who can't understand her compulsion to seek out the worst bars in Philadelphia or to engage in sex with some of the most dangerous and disgusting males in town. Scottoline balances Cate's unsympathetic sexual addiction by giving her a best friend with an autistic child for whom Cate babysits several times a week.

    Perhaps the strongest part of the story comes when Cate flees Philadelphia and returns to her childhood home--a place that no longer exists. In Centalia, where a coal fire still rages out of control decades after it was ignited, Cate learns the secrets that made her the person she became--with both its positive and negative characteristics. She resolves to fight, and to discover who really killed the Hollywood producer.

    After an extremely strong opening and middle, however, DIRTY BLONDE sort of peters out at the end. I found the resolution to the mystery to be weak. First, we'd never been given the clues we needed to have a chance to solve the mystery ourselves. Second, Cate's own investigation was really not responsible for finding the killer either. Instead, Scottoline resorted to the old 'I thought you'd figured out I'd done it' ploy.

    Scottoline's writing, her sense of place, her intimate familiarity with the legal process, and her sense of story makes DIRTY BLONDE compelling reading despite these flaws. It's a hard book to put down and definitely enjoyable. With just a little more work on the ending, I would have been happy to give this my highest rating.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 3/23/06

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