Scottoline, Lisa 1956(?)-
Scottoline, Lisa 1956(?)-
Home—Paoli, PA. E-mail—[email protected].
Writer, educator, and attorney. Worked as a clerk for state appellate judge in Pennsylvania; Dechert, Price & Rhoads, Philadelphia, PA, litigator; worked as a part-time clerk for a federal appellate judge. University of Pennsylvania Law School, instructor.
Mystery Writers of America (member of board), National Italian American Foundation (member of board), Pennsylvania for Modern Courts (member of board).
Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination for best original paperback, Mystery Writers of America, 1993, for Everywhere That Mary Went; Edgar Allan Poe Award, Mystery Writers of America, 1994, for Final Appeal; Alumni Certificate of Merit, University of Pennsylvania Law School; Distinguished Author Award, Scranton University; Paving the Way Award, Women in Business. Recipient of honorary degrees from West Chester University.
Everywhere That Mary Went, Harper (New York, NY), 1993.
Final Appeal, Harper (New York, NY), 1994.
Running from the Law, Harper (New York, NY), 1996.
Legal Tender, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.
Rough Justice, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
Mistaken Identity, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
Moment of Truth, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.
The Vendetta Defense, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
Dead Ringer, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Killer Smile, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
Devil's Corner, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.
Dirty Blonde, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.
Daddy's Girl, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2007.
Also author of an unpublished novel, "Fairy Tale"; works have been translated and published in over twenty languages.
Novelist Lisa Scottoline has joined the ranks of former lawyers who have instead turned to writing fictional thrillers about crime and legal matters. Her particular milieu is the upper crust and underbelly of the legal scene in her hometown, Philadelphia, where her books are set and where they have enjoyed excellent sales since their debut. On a larger scale, Scottoline has won praise for her clever yet sympathetic attorney-heroines. People reviewer Cynthia Sanz called her "the female John Grisham" for her ability to put these protagonists in inadvertent peril, but also first providing them with the wherewithal to extricate themselves and bring events to a satisfying, good-over-evil conclusion.
Scottoline, born in the mid-1950s, grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Bala Cynwyd. She won entry to the prestigious University of Pennsylvania, where literary giant Philip Roth was one of her professors in the upper-level courses she took toward her English degree with a concentration on the contemporary American novel. But Scottoline then decided to pursue a law degree, and graduated from her alma mater's equally well-regarded law school in 1981. She clerked for one of the judges on Pennsylvania's Supreme Court bench, a coveted assignment, and became an attorney in private practice at a Philadelphia firm, where she specialized in employment discrimination cases. She also married, had a daughter in the mid-1980s, and then went through a divorce.
For a time, Scottoline was a single parent, clerking for a judge part-time, and making ends meet by using her credit cards for life's necessities, so she decided to try her hand at another line of work. She began writing a women's novel called Fairy Tale, and sent it to seven agents whose names she gleaned from the annual Writer's Market. Several editors bid for it, but in the end, Scottoline realized that she could write a successful work of fiction, and decided not to publish her novel because she did not want to be restricted to writing women's novels. Instead she turned to her legal career for inspiration: lawyer-centered thrillers had become a popular fiction genre with the rise of Scott Turow and John Grisham in the late 1980s. After signing with an agent, Scottoline began writing her own attorney-in-danger cliffhanger.
Her next manuscript sold within a week of being offered to publishers, and Scottoline signed with the paperback division of HarperCollins. That manuscript became Everywhere That Mary Went, published in the fall of 1993. Its title, based on the nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb," hints at the misfortune that seems to follow protagonist Mary DiNunzio. As it opens, this Philadelphia corporate attorney is defending a hardware store in a discrimination suit filed by its employees. DiNunzio is still somewhat grief stricken over the unsolved death of her husband, who was struck by a car while on his bicycle. Like Turow, Scottoline writes in the present tense, letting the action unfold as DiNunzio's life becomes even more distressing.
Not surprisingly, DiNunzio's blue-chip workplace is a hotbed of intrigue occupying seven floors of pricey Philadelphia high-rise real estate; DiNunzio compares each of the floors to the Seven Deadly Sins—with Sloth at the entry level and Pride at the penthouse. She believes she resides in Envy, partly because she and a good friend, her California-transplant colleague, Judy Carrier, are each slated to be promoted to partner soon. However, another attorney at her firm, Ned Waters, a man DiNunzio once dated in college, is also up for one of the two slots. Against her better judgment, the two begin dating again. Ned is supportive when she starts receiving silent prank phone calls, both at home and work, that coincide with her hectic schedule. DiNunzio also realizes that someone has been snooping around her desk and altering her computer files.
Scottoline created a tough, smart lead character in Everywhere That Mary Went, but also one with working-class Italian-American parents, a twin sister who has become a nun, and a treasured male secretary. When he is fatally struck by the same car that DiNunzio has spot- ted following her, she enlists the help of a police detective to look into the similarities between this death and that of her husband. Soon she begins to believe someone wants her dead, and most clues point to Ned. She also discovers that her new paramour—whose abusive father heads a rival Philly firm—has been prescribed mood-controlling drugs.
A satisfying, though suspenseful, ending was hinted at by most reviewers. "An engaging, quick read, sprinkled with corny humor and melodrama in just the right proportions," opined a critic in Publishers Weekly. "Scottoline knows her milieu and re-creates it flawlessly," declared Alice Joyce in Booklist. A Philadelphia Inquirer reviewer praised the author for creating a likable, smart character with a penchant for very astute one-liners. "Scottoline loves Mary DiNunzio," the review asserted. "Because she does, an alchemy takes place that makes Mary come alive. Once that happens, we all love her and tremble for her when she's put in harm's way."
Everywhere That Mary Went was nominated for an Edgar Award, the top prize in suspense fiction from the Mystery Writers of America, and an outstanding coup for a debut novelist. Scottoline's next book, Final Appeal, would win the award in 1994. For this book, she created another Italian-American legal eagle, Grace Rossi, but like the author herself, Rossi is a Philadelphia single mother who clerks part-time for a judge in the federal appeals court. Like many other women she knows, Rossi harbors a secret crush on Judge Armen Gregorian, but he is apparently happily married. After he requests Rossi's specific assistance on a high-profile case, their first night working together leads to romance.
The next morning Judge Gregorian is dead. On the surface it appears a suicide, but Rossi begins her own investigation. Some of her better leads come from her friendship with a mysterious homeless man. The author, observed a reviewer in Publishers Weekly, "has again pulled together an intriguing cast of characters and a smart mystery to make an exciting, action-packed read." Final Appeal would also be the final of Scottoline's titles to be published in paperback only, as many mass-market mysteries are. As a result of her Edgar Award and strong local sales, HarperCollins issued her next work in hardcover, a prestigious bump upstairs for such a relatively new author. Though Scottoline's first two novels had not set any nationwide sales records, the hardcover strategy signaled that HarperCollins editors and executives felt she had great promise as an author. In Running from the Law, Scottoline again merged a winning combination of sex, unscrupulous legal conduct, and a smart, attractive protagonist who suddenly finds her life in grave danger. Rita Morrone, however, is a more complex character than Scottoline's previous two heroines, exhibiting a decidedly more devious streak than the warmhearted Mary DiNunzio or virtuous Grace Rossi. Morrone is a lawyer who hates to lose a case and is known for her tenacity and ability to manipulate a jury and even a judge on occasion. She is close to her butcher father, who voices his disapproval of the sometimes even bloodier legal world, and has a fiancé, Paul Hamilton, scion of an old-money Philadelphia family.
As Running from the Law begins, Morrone is embroiled in a scandalous local case that involves Paul's father, Fiske Hamilton, a distinguished federal judge accused by his young, attractive secretary of sexual harassment. Soon Morrone, defending the senior Hamilton, finds that there is more to the case than meets the eye, and learns that her fiance has been cheating on her with the plaintiff. Then the secretary is found dead, and Hamilton becomes a suspect in her murder. Morrone begins to delve into the case on the sly, and her relationship with Paul disintegrates. The shooting of her father in a robbery at his store seems connected, but Morrone's good standing at the weekly poker games with her father's friends provide her with the leads that bring her to the true culprit. "The strengths of this book lie in character and dialogue," wrote Eva C. Schegulla of Armchair Detective, who found only Rita's romance with Paul Hamilton implausible. "The witty repartee and down and dirty fighting are sharp and memorable."
In 1996, after the critical success of her first three books, Scottoline won a contract with HarperCollins to publish her next two novels in hardcover as well, and was signed to a seven-figure-deal with the house. Legal Tender was published that same year, her fourth thriller and her fourth Italian-American attorney-heroine. Benedetta "Bennie" Rosato, a partner in a small Philadelphia firm, is blond, tall, and an expert rower who goes out on the Schuykill River in the middle of the night for physical exercise and case-related contemplation. Then her partner—also her ex-boyfriend—tells her he is dissolving the partnership, which effectively puts her out of work. When he is found murdered, Rosato becomes the number-one suspect. Things worsen when the murder weapon turns up at her home, the newspapers track her as a suspect in the salacious case, her clients abandon her, and then she is accused of killing the executive of a pharmaceutical company.
To extricate herself, Rosato dons a series of disguises to uncover the real culprits. Scottoline also creates for her heroine some everyday troubles, such as a recently acquired boyfriend and a mother with psychological problems. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Bennie "a delightful heroine … and, again, Scottoline merits a big round of applause." A critic in Kirkus Reviews found the fourth novel rife with "nonstop action, smart narration, and dozens of helpful tips on going underground in your own hometown." Only an Entertainment Weekly assessment by Gene Lyons was critical, finding "flashes of sardonic wit" but a "cliched situation, shallow characterization, and formulaic plot."
In her fifth book, 1997's Rough Justice, Scottoline brings together several characters from her previous books to form a Philly legal powerhouse. Mary DiNunzio and Judy Carrier, from Everywhere That Mary Went, are lawyers at Bennie Rosato's new firm. Rosato & Associates has been hired on the sly by another Philadelphia lawyer, Marta Richter, a top criminal defender who has been tricked by her client into believing that he was innocent of the murder of a homeless man. After Richter delivers her stunning closing argument and the jury goes into deliberation, slumlord Elliott Steere confesses his guilt to Richter with a certain amount of relish. She is infuriated, but the tenets of attorney-client privilege doesn't automatically mean she can change the outcome of the trial. Instead Richter enlists the legal aid of Rosato & Associates to help overturn the case.
But after Steere goes to jail, temporarily, Carrier and DiNunzio mysteriously disappear and Richter's life is in danger. A massive snowstorm that paralyzes the city is the setting for the book's dramatic conclusion. A New York Times Book Review assessment of Rough Justice found the "run-for-your-life plot," a hallmark of Scottoline's work and common to the legal-thriller genre, a bit overworked—here "recycled for a blizzard that has two lawyers skiing for their lives," Marilyn Stasio noted. Other reviewers were more positive. Scottoline, wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor, "skillfully depicts personal quirks that give her characters dimension … and her skill as a novelist makes her plot sizzle with cliffhanger intensity." The author planned Rough Justice as the first in a series set at Rosato & Associates, and Sanz, reviewing it for People, found great promise in the idea. She termed the book "a wonderfully engrossing, sometimes hilarious thriller that will delight courtroom junkies and cement her standing."
In early 1999, Scottoline offered an intriguing proposition to her cyber-fans: on her Web site she published a draft of the first chapter of her book Mistaken Identity, and invited fans to edit it themselves and send it back. She told Scott Kirsner of the Industry Standard, an online news source, that the several hundred emails she received from fans often provided her with very good suggestions: "It's the best kind of editor … they have great ideas, but no power."
In Mistaken Identity, Bennie Rosato defends Alice Connolly, who claims to be Bennie's long-lost twin, on a murder charge. Alice does, in fact, look remarkably like Bennie. She also claims to have been framed by the Philadelphia police for the murder of her detective boyfriend. Bennie's investigation soon reveals extensive corruption in the police department, as well as in the Philadelphia court system. Bennie also learns, according to Molly Gorman in Library Journal, that "family is about love, not blood, and the poignant and powerful relationships that render her vulnerable boost this mystery well above the norm." Kathleen Hughes in Booklist called Mistaken Identity "an intense and enjoyable read," while the critic for Publishers Weekly called the book "a maelstrom of legal, ethical and familial conundrums, culminating in an intricate, dramatic, and intense courtroom finale."
In Scottoline's Moment of Truth Philadelphia lawyer Jack Newlin frames himself for the murder of his wife in order to save his teenaged daughter, whom he believes is the guilty party. Newlin thinks he has the perfect frame when he doctors the murder scene, confesses to the crime, and hires an inexperienced lawyer to defend him. But no one involved in the case believes his story and it begins to unravel. A "twisting, turning plot drives the story," according to the critic for USA Today, who called the novel "an edgy tale, full of surprises." Maggie Haberman, reviewing the book for the New York Post, found that "Scottoline's thriller is a carefully crafted tale of immorality, dark secrets and family values gone awry." It is "a book you pick up and find you can't go to bed until it's finished," wrote the reviewer for the San Francisco Examiner. "Moment of Truth truly is a thriller that delivers." Comparing Moment of Truth with Scottoline's earlier novels, Julia MacDonnell of the Philadelphia Inquirer found that "it's leaner, it's also sleeker and more shapely, the prose crackling with tart observation…. Moment of Truth demonstrates that Scottoline is developing and refining her craft, earning her place beside the Big Boys (Grisham, Leonard, et al.) and perhaps gathering momentum to surpass them."
Devil's Corner, Scottoline's twelfth novel, is a standalone thriller based on a real-life trial centering on crack cocaine trafficking by a member of one of Philadelphia's most violent street gangs. U.S. Attorney Vicki Alegretti is small in physical stature but is a tough, dedicated lawyer and crusader for justice. Among her best friends is Dan Molloy, a senior colleague with whom she has had a longtime platonic relationship. Not that Vicki would not like more; Molloy, however, is happily married, and Vicki remains content with a friends-only situation. The novel's action begins with an ill-fated meeting between Vicki and an informant. What was supposed to be a routine matter turned lethal, leaving Vicki's partner Bob Morton and the pregnant informant dead. Determined to locate the killer, Vicki defies her bosses and starts her own investigation. Her efforts bring her into contact with Reheema Bristow, an African American woman accused of buying handguns for resale to criminals. Initially, the relationship between the two women is strongly adversarial, even violent. Their vastly different backgrounds—Vicki a Caucasian women of privilege and elite education, Reheema an African American from the poverty and crime-ridden Devil's Corner area—leads to distrust. As the story progresses, however, the two women learn that they have a great deal to learn from each other, and their relationship evolves into one of mutual respect, even affection. "The interplay between the two women shows Scottoline at her best—chatty but intelligent, biting but respectful," noted Mary Frances Wilkens in Booklist. As Vicki searches for Morton's murderer, Reheema tries to find the person who killed her mother. Matters are further complicated with Dan Molloy's marriage dissolves and he and Vicki's relationship quickly escalates from platonic to passionate. Even after a suspect is arrested, the case is still not solved as troubles for the protagonists continue. Scottoline "has a gift for vivid character portrayal and for fast-paced writing," commented reviewer Ina R. Bort in the Recorder. "She never allows the momentum to slacken even as the facts become increasingly convoluted and the connections among her characters decreasingly credible." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Scottoline's novel "compelling entertainment."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Armchair Detective, winter, 1994, p. 87; winter, 1996, Eva C. Schegulla, review of Running from the Law, pp. 105-106.
Booklist, September 1, 1993, Alice Joyce, review of Everywhere That Mary Went; February 15, 1999, Kathleen Hughes, review of Mistaken Identity, p. 1004; May 1, 2005, Mary Frances Wilkens, review of Devil's Corner, p. 1536.
Bookseller, July 14, 2005, review of Devil's Corner, p. 10.
Entertainment Weekly, November 8, 1996, Gene Lyons, review of Legal Tender, p. 62.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 1996, review of Legal Tender, pp. 1278-1279; February 1, 1999, review of Mistaken Identity; April 1, 2005, review of Devil's Corner, p. 383.
Library Journal, October 1, 1995, Susan Clifford, review of Running from the Law, p. 121; August, 1997, Shirley Gibson Coleman, review of Rough Justice, p. 135; April 15, 1999, Molly Gorman, review of Mistaken Identity, p. 146.
New York Post, March 5, 2000, Maggie Haberman, review of Moment of Truth.
New York Times Book Review, November 5, 1995, Marilyn Stasio, review of Running from the Law, p. 27; September 7, 1997, Marilyn Stasio, review of Rough Justice, p. 34.
People, September 8, 1997, Cynthia Sanz, review of Rough Justice, p. 41, April 10, 2000, Ralph Novak, review of Moment of Truth, p. 49.
Philadelphia Inquirer, January 9, 1994, review of Everywhere That Mary Went; April 2, 2000, Julia MacDonnell, review of Moment of Truth.
Publishers Weekly, September 27, 1993, review of Everywhere That Mary Went, p. 59; October 3, 1994, review of Final Appeal, p. 65; August 28, 1995, review of Running from the Law, p. 101; September 9, 1996, review of Legal Tender, p. 62; July 7, 1997, review of Rough Justice, p. 48; February 22, 1999, review of Mistaken Identity; April 26, 1999, James A. Martin, "Spinning a New Web," p. 35; February 21, 2000, review of Moment of Truth, p. 67; March 20, 2000, Daisy Maryles and Dick Donahue, "A Moment-ous Seventh," p. 21; March 28, 2005, review of Devil's Corner, p. 53.
Recorder, August 19, 2005, Ina R. Bort, "Ex-Trial Lawyer's Novel Shows off Perfect Pacing," review of Devil's Corner.
San Francisco Examiner, March 15, 2000, review of Moment of Truth.
USA Today, March 2, 2000, review of Moment of Truth.
Industry Standard,http://www.thestandard.com/ (November 23, 1998).
Lisa Scottoline Home Page,http://www.scottoline.com (January 10, 2007).