Rosato & DiNunzio, Book #4
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People Magazine Book Pick as Best New Book
Named Best Book of 2016 by Amazon
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“Scottoline writes riveting thrillers that keep me up all night, with plots that twist and turn.” –Harlan Coben
Ten-year-old Patrick O’Brien is a natural target at school. Shy, dyslexic, and small for his age, he tries to hide his first-grade reading level from everyone: from his classmates, from the grandfather who cares for him, and from the teachers who are supposed to help him. But the real trouble begins when Patrick is accused of attacking a school aide. The aide promptly quits and sues the boy, his family, and the school district. Patrick’s grandfather turns to the law firm of Rosato & DiNunzio for help, and Mary DiNunzio becomes Patrick’s true champion and his only hope for security and justice. But there is more to the story than meets the eye and Patrick might be more troubled than he seems. With twists at every turn and secrets about the family coming to light, Mary DiNunzio might have found the case that can make her a true protector, or break her heart…?
With Lisa Scottoline’s trademark emotional depth and fast-paced action, Damaged will have readers riveted to the last page as they root for the beloved characters and their fight for justice.
“Outstanding…Tensions mount until the story concludes with a satisfying, unexpected twist.” –Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Damaged
“Scottoline expertly stokes the boiler to the bursting point, and readers will stay up long past their bedtimes.”
– Publishers Weekly
“Scottoline’s merging of the themes of her family-driven stand-alone thrillers with her ongoing legal series continues to work splendidly.”
“Outstanding. Tensions mount until the story concludes with a satisfying, unexpected twist.”
– Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“With Damaged, Lisa Scottoline once again masterfully delivers a top-notch thriller guaranteed to to grab you from the opening page and not let go. Scottoline tackles a tough subject matter head-on with heart and unflinching honesty.”
– Heather Gudenkauf ~ New York Times bestselling author
“Plot twists aplenty!”
– People Magazine
By Lisa Scottoline
Mary DiNunzio hurried down the pavement, late to work because she’d had to stop by their new caterer and try crabmeat dumplings with Asian pears. Her stomach grumbled, unaccustomed to shellfish for breakfast, much less pears of any ethnicity. Her wedding was only two weeks away, and their first caterer had gone bankrupt, keeping their deposit and requiring her to pick a new menu. She had approved the mediocre crabmeat dumplings, proof that her standards for her wedding had started at Everything Must Be Perfect, declined to Good Enough, and ended at Whatever, I Do.
It was early October in Philly, unjustifiably humid, and everyone sweated as they hustled to work. Businesspeople flowed around her, plugged into earbuds and reading their phone screens, but Mary didn’t need an electronic device to be distracted, she had her regrets. She’d made some stupid decisions in her life, but by far the stupidest was not using a wedding planner. She earned enough money to hire one, but she’d thought she could do it herself. She’d figured it wasn’t rocket science and she had a law degree, which should count for more than the ability to sue the first caterer for free.
Mary didn’t know what she’d been thinking. She was a partner at Rosato & DiNunzio, so she was already working too hard to take a honeymoon, plus it was a second job to manage her wacky family in full-blown premarital frenzy. Her fiancé Anthony was away, leaving her to deal with her soon-to-be mother-in-law Elvira, or El Virus. Meanwhile, tonight was the final fitting for her dress and tomorrow night was her hair-and-makeup trial. She was beginning to think of her entire wedding as a trial, a notion she hated despite the fact that she was a trial lawyer. Maybe she needed a new job, too.
Mary kicked herself as she walked along, a skill not easily performed by anyone but a Guilt Professional. She had no idea why she always thought she should do everything herself. She only ended up stressed-out, every time. She was forever trying to prove something, but she didn’t know what or to whom. She felt like she’d been in a constant state of performance since the day she was born, and she didn’t know when the show would be over. Maybe when she was married. Or dead.
She reached her office building, went through the revolving door, and crossed the air-conditioned lobby, smiling for the security guard. The elevator was standing open and empty, so she climbed inside, pushed the UP button, and put on her game face. She was running fifteen minutes late for her first client, which only added to her burden of guilt, since she hated to be late for anything or anyone.
Mary’s friends knew that if she was fifteen minutes late, she must have been abducted.
She checked her appearance in the stainless-steel doors, like a corporate mirror. Her reflection was blurry, but she could see the worry lines in her forehead, and her dark blonde hair was swept back into a low ponytail because she didn’t have time to blow it dry. Her contacts were glued to her eyes since she’d spent the night emailing wedding guests who hadn’t RSVP’d, which was almost everyone. She had on a fitted navy dress and she was even wearing pantyhose, which qualified as dressed up at Rosato & DiNunzio.
Mary watched impatiently as the floor numbers changed. Her legal practice was general, which meant she handled a variety of cases, mostly state-court matters for low damages, and her client base came from the middle-class families and small businesses of South Philly, where she’d grown up. She wasn’t one of those lawyers who got their self-esteem from handling big, federal-court cases for Fortune 500 clients. Not that she got her self-esteem from within.
Mary was the Neighborhood Girl Who Made Good, so she got her self-esteem from being universally beloved, which was why she was never, ever late. Until now.
“Hi, Marshall!” Mary called out to the receptionist, as soon as the elevator doors opened. She glanced around the waiting room, which was empty, and hurried to the reception desk. Marshall Trow was more the firm’s Earth Goddess than its receptionist, dressing the part in her flowing boho dress, long brown braid, and pretty, wholesome features, devoid of makeup. Marshall’s demeanor was straight-up Namaste, which was probably a job requirement for working for lawyers.
“Good morning.” Marshall smiled as Mary approached. “Where’s O’Brien? Is he here already? Did you get my text?” “Yes, and don’t worry. I put him in conference room C with fresh coffee and muffins.”
“Thank you so much.” Mary breathed a relieved sigh.
“I chatted with him briefly. He found you from our website, you know. He’s an older man, maybe in his seventies. He seems very nice. Quiet.”
“Good. I don’t even know what the case is about. He didn’t want to talk about it over the phone.”
Marshall lifted an eyebrow. “Then you don’t know who your opposing counsel is?”
“No, who?” Mary was just about to leave the desk, but stopped. “Nick Machiavelli.”
“Machiavelli! The Dark Prince of South Philly.” Mary felt her competitive juices flowing. “I always wanted a case against him.” “Machiavelli can’t be his real name, can it? That has to be fake.” “Yes, it’s his real name, I know him from high school. His family claims to be direct descendants of the real Machiavelli. That’s the part that’s fake. His father owns a body shop.” Mary thought back. “I went to Goretti, a girl’s school, and he went to Neumann, our brother school. We didn’t have classes with the boys, but I remember him from the dances. He was so slick, a BS artist, even then.”
“Is he a good lawyer?” Marshall handed Mary a few phone messages and a stack of morning mail.
“Honestly, yes.” Mary had watched Machiavelli build a booming practice the same way she had, drawing from South Philly. The stories about his legal prowess were legendary, though they were exaggerated by his public relations firm. In high school, he had been voted Class President, Prom King, and Most Likely to Succeed because he was cunning, handsome, and basically, Machiavellian.
“Thanks.” Mary took off down the hallway, with one stop to make before her office. Her gut churned, but it could have been the dumplings. The real Niccolo Machiavelli had thought it was better to be feared than loved, and his alleged descendant followed suit. Nick Machiavelli was feared, not loved, and on the other hand, Mary was loved, but not feared. She always knew that one day they would meet in a battle, and that when they did, it would be a fight between good and evil, with billable hours.
Mary reached her best friend Judy’s office, where she ducked inside and set down a foam container of leftover dumplings amid the happy clutter on the desk. Judy Carrier was one of those people who could eat constantly and never gain weight, like a mythical beast or maybe a girl unicorn.
“Good morning!” Judy looked up from her laptop with a broad grin. She had a space between her two front teeth that she made look adorable. Her cheery face was as round as the sun, with punky blonde hair framing her pretty face, with large blue eyes and a turned-up nose. Judy was the firm’s legal genius, though she dressed artsy, like today she had on a boxy hot pink T-shirt with yellow shorts and orange Crocs covered by stuck-on multicolored daisies.
“Please tell me that you’re not going to court dressed like that.”
“I’m not, but I think I look cute.” Judy reached for the container. “What did you bring me? Spring rolls? Spanakopita?”
“Guess what, I have a new case—against Nick Machiavelli.”
“Ha! That name cracks me up every time I hear it. What a fraud.” Judy’s blue eyes lit up as she opened the lid of the container.
“I’m finally going up against him.”
“You’ll kick his ass.” Judy opened the drawer that contained her secret stash of plastic forks.
“Don’t underestimate him.”
“I’m not, but you’re better.” Judy got a fork and shut the drawer. “What kind of case is it?”
“I don’t know yet. The client’s in the conference room.”
“Meanwhile, I thought you were going vegetarian.” Judy frowned at the dumplings. “This smells like crabmeat. Crabmeat isn’t vegetarian.”
“It’s vegetarian enough,” Mary said on her way out. “I gotta go.” “There’s no such thing as vegetarian enough!”
Mary hurried to her office, dumped her purse, mail, and messenger bag inside, grabbed her laptop, and hustled to conference room C.
Questions for Book Clubs
- The title Damaged is appropriate for this book on many levels. In what ways do you relate the title to the different aspects of the story?
- While Damaged is set within the Philadelphia School District, so many school systems across America are are equally as stretched and struggling. What do you think should be done to improve our nation’s schools? Besides additional funding, what other ways can we support our teachers?
- Mary has a strong and surprising reaction to John, the first, and only, male lawyer in the firm, when he offers to help. What do you think caused her to act so out of character? Do you think her response would have been the same if it were one of the female lawyers offering help? Why, or why not?
- Patrick has a learning disability what has led to severe anxiety. More and more children are being diagnosed with issues such as ADHD, anxiety, and learning problems and much has been speculated in regard to the causes. Why do you think there is such a rise in the number of children with these disorders? Do you think there is any validity to the idea that we are just doing a better job at diagnosing children, not necessarily that so many more children have problems? In what ways do you think the system is helping these children, and in what ways are they letting them down?
- Mary (like Lisa) loves with all her heart, and attaches easily. Were you surprised by Mary’s decision in regard to Patrick? How would you have reacted if you were Anthony? What did you think of Anthony’s surprise for Mary? What did you think of her reaction? How do you juggle your obligations to your birth family versus your created family? Who do you think should come first, and are there any times when that priority can, or should, shift?
- Being a working, single mom, Lisa was fortunate to have her parents’ help with Francesca after school, which created an incredible relationship between Francesca and her grandparents. Patrick is being raised by his grandfather, which has now become a very common situation in America. What are your thoughts about this? Do you think it is the grandparent’s responsibility to step in and raise a child when the parents are unable? In what ways are grandparents better equipped to raise a grandchild, and in what ways are they disadvantaged? How does the grandparent becoming the parent hurt or enhance the typically special grandchild/grandparent bond? What kind of relationship did you, or do you, have with your grandparents?
- Although Mary is a now partners with Bennie and bills more than she, Mary is still is deferential to Bennie. Since Bennie started the firm, do you think it is appropriate that Mary concedes to her? Why, or why not? The women at Rosato & DiNunzio are very protective and supportive of each other, but that is not always the case in the corporate world. Why do you think this is? Do you think the camaraderie amongst the women is so strong because there were no men in the firm until recently? In what ways can women be more supportive to other women, and why is it so important?
- Lisa always has terrific secondary characters, and Machiavelli is a true original. What did you think of him as a character? What about as a lawyer? Would you want him representing you on a tough case? Why, or why not? Do you think he crossed the line with his legal strategies, or was he just pulling out all the stops for his client?
- Lisa has always known and promoted the importance of reading, but she learned a lot while researching the book, including how fundamental reading is to self esteem. In what ways do you think reading is important? Do you have creative ideas on how we can get children to read? What was your favorite book as a child? What is your child’s favorite book? How have your reading habits changed over the years?
- For fun, let’s talk wedding! What kind of dress did you imagine Mary would wear on her wedding day? What about the bridesmaids’ dresses? Who do you think will cry the most at Mary’s wedding? Who will make the biggest scene? Who will be the craziest dancer? Who will catch the bouquet? When they eventually go on a honeymoon, where do you think Mary and Anthony will go?