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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Discovering Lisa

Did you know that humans are the only animals that can actually blow their nose? As far as I know, this is true. I've seen my hound sneeze, my cat wheeze, but no matter how hard I've tried to teach them, they just don't have the ability to blow snot and effluvia out of their nostrils. And horses, while snorting in an action that seems to simulate blowing, are actually expressing an opinion. They, by the way, are the only animals besides humans that have a fulcrum, those two lines that form a slight indention on our upper lip.

I thought of these arcane factoids this morning while trying to come up with a lead-in to Lisa Scottoline's Daddy's Girl  (2008 Harper and Row, New York). For whatever reasons, I just couldn't think of anything appropriately poignant or pertinent. But that should not detract from the fact that I thorough enjoyed this book.
I admit that even though Scottoline has been around for a number of years as a member of the elite group of New York Times Best Selling Authors, and, despite many recommendations from friends and acquaintances to read her mysteries, most of which are about those in the legal profession and are set in and around the greater Philadelphia area, I've never really taken the time nor made the effort to do so. However, I do admire her witty writing style, faithfully reading her "Chick Wit" column every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Besides the comics and Merl Reagan’s crossword puzzle, it's the only reason I subscribe to the paper. Getting my "Scottoline Fix" every weekend had, in the past, satiated my desire to read any of her books, of which there are a prodigious number. She is, I am discovering, quite a prolific and popular author whose genres range from thrilling edge-of-your-seat mysteries to comedy that is replete with humorous essays about Scottoline family life. However, last Friday at the library I rented, on a whim, an abridged audio CD of Daddy's Girl , produced by Recorded Books, LLC and read by Kate Burton who is, incidentally, the daughter of the late Richard Burton, as well as being a successful actor in her own right. 

While I spend most evenings reading when I'm not on my Wii or watching vintage movies, I tend to retire early most nights, wandering up to bed after Frankie's last venture "out" to drift off to sleep listening to CDs of classic Radio Shows (Jack Benny is one my favorite comediennes, along with George Burns and Gracie Allen). The past three nights, however, I've been kept awake by the adventures of Natalie "Nat" Greco, a young law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who finds herself caught up in the murder of a correctional officer during a prison riot at the Chester County Correctional facility. She is with him as he gasps his last words, "Tell my wife...it's under the floor," sparking off her adventurous forays into the underworld of crime and deception. 

The title comes from the influence her father has over her and rest of her family; her mother and three brothers, as well as her erstwhile boyfriend. Nat, a studious sort, is an "outsider" to the sports-minded family, although they seek to protect and control her at every turn of her life, even though she is twenty-four. She feels that she is also an ignored "comic-relief" member of the faculty of the law school, where she teaches a course in Justice and Law that is considered a marginal part of the major curriculum and is sparsely attended. However, it is here in these hallowed halls that she meets the, er, her major love interest, Angus Holt, the director of the law school's prison outreach program. And, as they say, the plot thickens...

Scottoline's writes, as she does in her column, with a fresh, witty, crisp boldness. She uses simple, concise sentences and hammers her themes and plot lines home with a lively patois. This is made more evident by the audio rendition of the novel by Kate Burton, who manages with great skill and vocal dexterity to portray each of the characters with his/her own unique voice—her delightful reading of the prison inmates' dialogue is exceptionally true-to-form. While most books, of course, are meant to be read, there are some, like this one, that beg to be listened to; those whose writing is more suited to being acted out rather than absorbed into one's mind by the "mere" reading of words on paper. I suspect, even while this is an abridged version, Scottoline's novel, as well as most of her others, would make a great movie. Any screenwriter worth his/her salt would find it a breeze converting the plot line and dialogue into a script. Scottoline has done an excellent job of doing most of the work herself—the action came to life on the screen of my mind as I listened to its words.

This is my first Scottoline novel; although I have read a few of her essays in her collection, Why My Third Husband Will Be A Dog: The Amazing Adventures of an Ordinary Woman, and have found her to be, as I've said, spot-on witty, fresh, funny—actually down-right appealing. I did not expect her novel, however, to be just as fresh and vibrant, considering the darker side of the subject matter, which includes a bit more than a modicum of violence and, to be honest, some very, very nasty people.

Scottoline certainly knows her subject matter, weaving us expertly in and out of the world of law school, lawyers, police departments, and prison life. Prior to picking up her writing pen, she was a trial lawyer in the Philadelphia area, where she continues to reside and is a part-time professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s law school. Sterling credentials, indeed. Couple these with her true-to-life characterizations and you have a winning read. Her heroine, heroes, villains, and ancillary protagonists are true-to-life. Their dialogue is untainted; not stilted nor hackneyed. Listening to Burton portray them, I found myself swept away not to sleep to this CD, but escaping to the environs of the Chester County countryside outside my window, to the streets of downtown Philadelphia and beyond in this face-paced novel of mystery and suspense.

If Daddy's Girl  is any indication of the rest of Lisa Scottoline's fictional works, then I am sure I will be reading many more of them in the years to come.

And that is nothing to sneeze at.

12:55 pm est          Comments

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June J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is an author, poet, and librettist. Her currently published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations, two volumes of poetry, stories for children (of all ages) and a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:
Miss Elmira's Secret Treasure: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
Colonial Theatre: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Roarin' 20s 
Phoenix Hose, Hook & Ladder: A Novel of Phoenixville during World War I
Columbia Hotel: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
the Schuylkill Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville during World War II
Rainbow in the Sky
Meditations for New Members

Adventures of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Spinach Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A Collection of More Spiritual Poems

We Three Kings

Beauty and the Beast


Noah's Rainbow

Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding Hood



Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She is currently working on her sixth novel.

June's novels can be purchased at amazon.com, through Barnes and Noble,
at the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area,
the Gateway Pharmacy in Phoenixvile, PA

For more information about her musicals, which are also available on amazon.com,