It seems unlikely, but Lisa Scottoline has written a gripping thriller about, essentially, health insurance.
Her latest novel, “Exposed,” centers on Simon Pensiera, a young widower fired from his job at a cubicle manufacturer ironically named OpenSpaces. Simon’s boss says he was let go because of his low productivity; Simon believes it’s because the company is tired of shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance premiums for Simon’s 4-year-old daughter, Rachel, who has leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant estimated to cost a million dollars.
Now without health insurance (or Obamacare) Simon turns to the one person he believes can help him – his longtime friend Mary DiNunzio, the Philadelphia attorney whose exploits with her partner, Bennie Rosato, have made Lisa Scottoline a grand champion of the legal thriller genre. Scottoline introduced us to Rosato and DiNunzio in 1993’s “Everywhere That Mary Went.” Since then the indomitable attorneys have starred in more than a dozen novels.
This time it seems like a cut-and-dried case for Mary to win. But there’s one insurmountable obstacle — Bennie. It turns out that she already handles the legal work for OpenSpace’s parent company, creating a conflict and jeopardizing Mary’s professional and personal relationship with her friend and colleague. This trouble between the two women would be more than enough to carry the novel — like so many Scottoline novels, the relationships among Mary’s family and her friends, many from the Philadelphia working-class neighborhood where she grew up, are rich and emotionally engaging.
But here the Bennie versus Mary standoff merely sets the stage for an even bigger story. When Simon’s former boss turns up dead, the beleaguered Simon is the prime suspect. Is it possible that the murder and Simon’s firing have nothing to do with insurance payments?
Mary and Bennie have been fighting for justice for a quarter of a century, but unlike the rest of us, they haven’t aged in real time. They still do their sleuthing the old-fashioned way, banging on doors and visiting crime scenes, even if in recent years they’ve been chasing clues via the Internet. This gives the novel a techno-thriller aspect that lends the digitally savvy partners a more cutting-edge approach to crime-solving.
Their methods may have changed somewhat, but their pure-hearted motives haven’t. After one particularly heinous discovery, Scottoline writes: “Mary hated cancer, but working on Simon’s case had brought her to the epiphany that cancer came in many forms — and even in allegedly healthy people. Murderers had a form of cancer, too. It was hate beneath the surface, waiting for its chance to strike and kill. And it had to be stopped.”
If you’re one of Scottoline’s legions of fans you know what I’m talking about when I say she employs a “kitchen sink” approach to her novels’ grand finales. I can see her sitting at her desk throwing every imaginable twist-and-turn into this novel’s big-bang conclusion. “Exposed” wraps up with a demolition-derby doozy of an ending that will leave you shaken.
Carol Memmott is a freelance writer who lives in Northern Virginia.
By Lisa Scottoline
St. Martin’s. 352 pp. $27.99