Early in “The Jezebel Remedy,” lawyer Joe Stone explains to his wife that he liked a particularly obstreperous client, because “The world needs its agitators. Needs a few wasps and yellow jackets to keep things from going stale. As a bonus, you got the unvarnished truth from her – Lettie VanSandt was, if nothing else, a perfectly honest woman.”
Honesty is in short supply all around Joe. There’s Lisa Stone, his wife and law partner for 20 years, who is feeling restless and reckless. At times, lies come a bit too easy for her. There’s Lettie’s son Neal, who may or may not be as dumb as he acts. And there’s the CEO of a giant pharmaceutical company and all his minions, who not only lie but have no qualms about trying to drive a man insane to get their hands on a formula that Lettie has created.
And then there’s Lettie herself, a cranky, tattooed animal lover who calls 911 so often, the sheriff decides to make a “best of” CD.
We find out early that Joe is mostly a pushover who is prone to corny sayings like “great googly-moogly” and “now we’re cooking with gas,” and fond of telling the same stories and the same jokes over and over until Lisa feels as if they will “crucify her last nerve.”
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He’s also a good lawyer, but Lisa might be better. She tells one big-city attorney that she was Virginia Law Review. She’s also drop-dead gorgeous.
Author Martin Clark, a Virginia circuit judge, has given us a legal thriller, but much that thrills is not in the courthouse. The scenes there are a bit too procedural and dry for my taste, but I know at least one lawyer who thinks they’re dead-on accurate. Joe ends up in trouble because his crazy client Lettie has died in what looks to be a meth explosion. Joe is the executor of her will and her heir, but to show what a stand-up guy he is, he cedes everything over to Lettie’s son, and tries to find homes for all her strays. He ends up in trouble anyway as that high-powered drug company is determined to put the Stones out of the lawyering business.
The plot is interesting, but the pacing drags at times. Clark introduces other characters with long back stories that distract rather than drive the drama. (Not to say they’re not interesting – I’d happily read an entire novel about Lisa’s best friend M.J. Gold, whose knack for selling construction equipment, and a nice settlement from her abusive ex-husband’s rich family, set her on a path toward business mogul. She lives in Raleigh and owns a string of heavy equipment franchises, a shopping center, apartment complexes, nine radio stations and a farm back home near the Stones in Virginia, which lets her drop in to help out with her private plane and straight-from-the-hip advice.)
If the courtroom scenes are dry, the scenes dealing with Lisa’s semi-affair are not. There’s booze and the Bahamas and afterward guilt and tears. Clark captures her boredom, the titillation of a flirtation and the remorse that follows quite well. A native of Virginia, who lives in Patrick County, he also captures the region, the dialect and the small-town relationships. There’s humor in his writing that recalls Carl Hiassen, though “The Jezebel Remedy” is nowhere near as over-the-top as anything Hiaasen delivers.
The Stones make a good team, and with Lisa’s apparent marital discord resolved before the book is half over, it will be interesting to see whether Clark gives their mystery-solving prowess another chance as well.
Meet the author
Martin Clark will discuss and sign his books at 7 p.m. Thursday at Quail Ridge Books & Music, Ridgewood Shopping Center, 3522 Wade Ave., Raleigh.
The Jezebel Remedy
Knopf, 400 pages