Tom De Haven
July 18, 1997 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Final Appeal

Current Status
In Season

We gave it a B

Americans are schizoid when it comes to lawyers. We profess to love hating them, yet to judge from the avalanche of legal thrillers clogging bookstores, we have no trouble accepting them as the heroic descendants of cowboys and private eyes. It’s not as though the attorney as champion is a completely new phenomenon: Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason enjoyed a long career, and the courtroom melodrama has been an entertainment staple for decades. But it was the phenomenal success of Scott Turow and John Grisham that revitalized the genre and opened the door for nearly anybody with a law degree, an I-can-do-that attitude, and a catchy title swiped from legalese or trial jargon to place a manuscript with an eager publisher. Here is how the big names in attorneys-at-fiction (other than Turow and Grisham, of course) stack up.

Lisa Scottoline, a graduate of U. Penn law school, writes with some genuine snap, producing smartly structured mystery thrillers that are more akin to Sue Grafton’s work than John Grisham’s. In Final Appeal, attorney Grace Rossi takes a part-time job (she’s a single mom) with a federal appeals court. When her boss and lover, Chief Judge Armen Gregorian, is found dead, Rossi turns amateur snoop. Good, speedy fun, but no courtroom pyrotechnics. Readers looking for an insider’s guide to lawyerland will have to look elsewhere — for instance, to the novels of Philip Friedman and Robert K. Tanenbaum.

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