Bennie Rosato, Mary DiNunzio, Judy Carrier, and Anne Murphy are back with all cylinders firing in Accused. They’ll face their most challenging and dangerous case ever, which begins with an astonishing request from a thirteen-year-old client, Allegra Gardner. Allegra’s sister Fiona was murdered six years ago in what seemed like an open-and-shut case: the accused, Lonnie Stall, was seen fleeing the scene; his blood was on Fiona and her blood was on him; and most damningly, Lonnie Stall pleaded guilty. But Allegra believes Lonnie is innocent and has been wrongly imprisoned. Taking on the case seems foolhardy to Mary DiNunzio, because Allegra’s parents oppose reopening the case and the Gardner family is one of the richest and most powerful in the country. But the women of Rosato & Associates are suckers for an underdog. It will take a team of unstoppable lawyers, plus one thirteen-year-old genius, to find out if justice was really served all those years ago. Click here to read a New York Times interview with Lisa about Accused!
“Scottoline writes riveting thrillers that keep me up all night, with plots that twist and turn.”
– Harlan Coben
“Scottoline writes with genuine snap, producing smartly structured mystery thrillers.”
– Entertainment Weekly
“Scottoline once again pushes a book beyond any arbitrary genre restrictions.”
– The Connecticut Post
“Scottoline in top form!”
– Time Magazine
By Lisa Scottoline
CONGRATULATIONS! read the banner, but Mary DiNunzio still couldn’t believe she’d made partner, even at her own party. She felt stunned, happy, and hopeful, ready to leave behind her doubts, insecurities, and guilt. Okay, maybe not her guilt. Guilt was like her handbag, occasionally heavy, but something she just felt better carrying around. Same with her insecurities, with which she had grown secure. As for her doubts, she remained doubtful. On second thought, it remained to be seen whether becoming a partner would change Mary DiNunzio at all.
Everyone she loved stood around her smiling, filling the small conference room at Rosato & Associates, and Mary smiled back, trying to find her emotional footing now that she was no longer on the terra firma of associatehood. Bennie Rosato, the superlawyer who was her former boss, had just become her alleged equal, and if that wasn’t confusing enough, her friends Judy Carrier, Anne Murphy, and Marshall Trow also worked at the firm. Mary didn’t know how she’d morph her friends into her employees, or if she could double their salary.
Her boyfriend, Anthony Rotunno, was standing to the right, the proverbial tall, dark, and academic, with thick wavy hair, a gorgeous smile, and eyes the dark brown of a double shot. He was a history professor who had just moved in with her, and they were still working out the closet situation and those little hairs he left in the bathroom sink. He had his arms around her parents, Mariano “Matty” and Vita DiNunzio, who had grown shorter and rounder, resting on either side of him like meatballs on a plate of spaghetti.
Mary’s father was bald and chubby in his white short-sleeved shirt and Bermuda-shorts-with-black-socks-and-sandals combination, dressed-down as usual, since the DiNunzios reserved fancy clothes for weddings or funerals. Her mother was in her best flowery housedress, with her white hair freshly teased into a cumulus cloud meant to hide her growing bald spot. Still her eyes retained their warm brown hue, doubtless the color of fertile Abruzzese soil, and the gray rimming her irises didn’t obscure the love in her gaze. Beside them stood The Three Tonys— her father’s friends “Pigeon” Tony Lucia, Tony “From-Down-The-Block” LoMonaco, and Tony “Two Feet” Pensiera— a trifecta of octogenarians who served as traveling uncles for Mary, occasionally helping on cases and generally clinging to her like cigar smoke.
“DiNunzio?” Bennie frowned, her eyes a concerned blue. She was six feet tall, of Amazonian strength and proportions, and had only gotten fitter since she was rowing again. Her unruly blonde hair was up in its topknot, and she had on her trademark khaki suit, so retro it had become hipster. “You don’t look happy.”
“I am, no, really, very happy.” Mary was still afraid of Bennie, but she expected that would change, in twenty years. “It’s just so overwhelming. I mean, thanks, all of you.”
“Awww ,” Judy, Anne, and Marshall said, smiling in unison. The phone started ringing at the reception desk, and Marshall scooted out to pick it up.
“We love you, Mary!” Anthony winked at her.
“Maria, ti amo.” Her mother’s eyes misted behind her thick glasses, and her father sniffled, wrinkling his largish nose. It was the DiNunzio nose, which guaranteed its wearer more oxygen than anybody in the room.v
“MARE, YOU DESERVE IT!” her father hollered, speaking in capital letters by habit, though his hearing aid sat behind his ear, more an earplug than a help. “WE’RE SO PROUD A YOU!”
The Tonys nodded, being good-natured in general, especially when the cannolis were free.
Bennie raised a styrofoam cup of champagne. “Then let’s toast to DiNunzio. I mean, Mary. And we have to change our letterhead. Here’s to Rosato & DiNunzio.”
“Wait, call me DiNunzio,” Mary blurted out. “I’m used to it, and let’s hold off on the letterhead, for now. I’m not ready yet. Let it sink in.”
“Mare, that’s silly.” Judy looked at her like she was nuts. She had superintelligent blue eyes in a round face, framed by yellow-blonde hair cut short and raggedy, so she looked like the beaming sun in a crayoned picture.
“Mary, really?” Anne frowned in a meaningful way. She was a model-pretty redhead in a dress that fit like Spanx. “Don’t give away your power. Remember your affirmations.”
Mary tried not to laugh. She didn’t have any power to give away, and she always skipped her morning affirmations, since I DESERVE ALL MY SUCCESS AND HAPPINESS made her late for the bus. “Let’s stick with DiNunzio and the old letterhead for now, okay?”
“Congratulations, DiNunzio!” Bennie grinned, and everybody raised their cups and took a sip, then hugged and kissed her, each one in turn, an aromatic blend of flowery perfume, CVS aftershave, and mothballs.
Marshall returned, leaning in the doorway, her face flushed with excitement. “Bennie, the desk just called from downstairs. Allegra Gardner is on the way up, and she’s looking for representation.”
“A Gardner, from the Gardner family?” Bennie’s face lit up, and nobody had to tell Mary the party was over. She was a partner now and knew that money trumped fun. The firm could use new business, and the Gardners were a wealthy family, like the Kennedys with a Philadelphia accent.
“Which one’s Allegra?” Mary asked, setting down her cup.
“I don’t know, she didn’t say, but she’s a real Gardner.” Marshall nodded, excited. “She just interviewed Morgan Lewis, but isn’t hiring them. She wants to see us about a new matter.”
“Great!” Bennie turned to Mary. “DiNunzio, we’d love to get business from that family. Do you mind if we cut your party short?”
“No, I agree,” Mary said, making her first partner-y decision. She wanted to start on the right foot, and agreeing was always good. Even partners sucked up, this being America.
“Good.” Bennie turned back to Marshall. “Set up the big conference room. Make sure there’s laptops, fresh pads, and pencils.”
Anne blinked her lovely green eyes. “I know the Gardners are super-rich, but how did they make their money?”
“It’s so old they forget,” Mary answered. “It’s just there, like oxygen. Or carbohydrates.”
Judy lifted an eyebrow. “Balzac said behind every fortune is a great crime.”
Bennie scoffed. “Balzac didn’t have a payroll to meet, and let’s not prejudge our clients. The Gardner family interests are run by three brothers, and they own banks, reinsurance concerns, and real estate development companies.” She turned to Mary’s parents, Anthony, and The Tonys. “Folks, please excuse us. I know you’re having dinner with Mary to night, and you’re welcome to stay here until the meeting’s over. It won’t take more than an hour.”
“Alla good, Benedetta. We know you gotta work, we wait.” Mary’s mother waddled over and gave Bennie a big hug, except that Bennie was six feet tall and Vita DiNunzio was a foot shorter, so her face landed between Bennie’s breasts. When Bennie released her, she looked vaguely asphyxiated. “Benedetta, take cookies, cannol’, sflogiatelle.”
“SHE’S RIGHT, BENNIE, TAKE THE COOKIES AND PASTRY TO THE MEETING. WE’LL SIT AND HAVE ANOTHER CUPPA COFFEE.” Her father gestured at Pigeon Tony, who was already pouring another round of black. Tony-From-Down-The-Block was settling down with the sports page, and Feet was tugging over a chair to put up his feet, which, oddly, had nothing to do with his nickname.
“Thanks.” Bennie turned to Judy and Anne. “Ladies, we need as many people on our side of the table as she has on hers. Everybody to the big conference room for a dog-and-pony show.”
Judy set down her cake. “I’ll be the dog.”
Anne set down her Diet Coke. “I’ll be the pony.”
“I’ll be the partner.” Mary brought up the rear, because she had to hug and kiss everybody good-bye, as was customary in South Philly, where hugs and kisses were like passports, required for all comings and goings. She hurried to the big conference room, which had one wall completely of glass, with an impressive view of the metallic ziggurat of One Liberty Place, the sharp spike of the Mellon Center, and the quaint figure of William Penn in his Quaker hat, atop City Hall. They all got busy setting up laptops, pads, and coffee, then Mary, Judy, and Anne arranged themselves on one side of the table with Bennie at the head, because it went without saying that she would run the meeting. She wasn’t the only partner anymore, but she was still the Office Mom.
Which, as it turned out, was exactly what Allegra Gardner needed, because Allegra Gardner was only thirteen years old.
©Lisa Scottoline 2013
Questions for Book Clubs
- In Accused, 13-year-old Allegra comes to Rosato & Associates looking for help. How do you feel about Mary taking on the case despite the parents’ objections? Of the four lawyers, why was Mary the right one for Allegra? As a society, do we take teens seriously enough and listen closely enough to what they have to say?
- Mary and Bennie each have a different business style. For Mary, business is personal. How is that both beneficial and detrimental to Mary in her career? Do you relate more to Bennie or Mary’s business philosophy? Who would you rather have as your lawyer?
- Mary is showing signs that she is reluctant to get married. What do you think is holding her back? How much of it can you contribute to pre-wedding jitters, or do you think there is more to it? Do you think it’s a problem when the wife makes more than her husband, or are we past that as a society? is Mary making too much of their power and financial imbalance — or is she making too little of it? Do you think their marriage will happen — and will it succeed? Why or why not?
- Judy and Mary’s friendship gets tested when Mary becomes Judy’s boss. How do you think this changes their relationship? What advice would you give to Mary on how to handle the situation? Have you ever worked for a friend? Is it a good idea, or a bad idea? Why?
- Do you think Lonnie was treated fairly by the justice system? How do you feel about Lonnie pleading guilty on the advice of his lawyer? Do you think it was the right thing for him to do given the facts of the case and the situation he was in? How big a part do you think race and social class played in the case?
- How do you think Fiona’s death affected each family member? Who do you think handled it the best? Who handled it the worst? Do you think Allegra’s parents are still in denial, and in what ways do you think the death of a child changes a family, specifically the dynamics of the family?
- The wedding dress! What do you think Mary should have done about the battle over her wedding dress? How much of a say do you think parents should have in their children’s weddings? Does it make a difference if the parent’s are paying for the wedding? In what ways do you think a bride should cater to her requests of her family, and which things should she do according to her plans, no matter what anyone else wants or thinks?
- Allegra is a 13-year-old genius. Doesn’t everyone want a genius for a child? Why or why not? Children are bullied and ostracized for so many reasons, both good and bad. What message should parents send their children about trying to fit in? How do children balance the fine line between embracing who they are, yet, fitting in with their peers?
- Allegra’s parents took a very strong stand, even though it went against their own daughter. What do you think of them as parents? Did you agree or disagree with them? Why? What do you think motivated them to try and stop Mary from investigating the murder? Did you like them, or dislike them? Why?
- This is Lisa’s first Rosato & Associates book in several years, and she was thrilled that so many readers were anxiously awaiting their return. What do you think it is about the characters that readers relate to? Which of the characters would you like to hear more from?