I happened to pick up Lisa Scottoline’s “Lady Killer” as a bit of a lark and discovered it to be of the one of my favorite types of fiction: a murder mystery with a sense of humor in the mold of Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard and their brethren. Only cleaner, but without overdoing the chick-lit thing.
Scottoline’s protagonist is Mary DiNunzio, a daughter of South Philly in every sense of the word. Mary has made good and become an attorney but hasn’t forgotten the old neighborhood, which is why she finds herself negotiating a settlement between bitterly warring fan clubs of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.
And then Trish “Trash” Gambone re-enter’s Mary’s life. Trish was the ringleader of the Mean Girls that tortured Mary in high school, but now she’s the one who needs a friend. Trish’s boyfriend is beating her, it seems, and she can’t just walk out. He’s “connected,” and in the same way he can’t quit the mob, Trish can’t quit him. And so, while juggling an out-of-control caseload, an unsympathetic boss, a budding romance and an entire neighborhood that changes its opinion of her from savior to traitor and back again at a moment’s notice, Mary finds herself trying to help Trish and solve a murder.
The South Philly angle is intrinsic to the story and so are the Italian-American stereotypes it perpetuates (then again, they wouldn’t be stereotypes if there wasn’t at least a grain of truth there). The story itself and elements of suspense are sufficient to transcend a lack of familiarity with related cultural issues, but if you’re part of an Italian-American family or have ever loved one, you’ll enjoy it even more.