Feared by Lisa Scottoline (Mystery/Law Novel, 2018).

The latest in a substantial series of fast-moving legal/mystery/thrillers from this best-selling, Edgar Award-winning author, this one finds the law form of Rosato & DiNunzio being sued for reverse discrimination. Three young lawyers claim they weren’t hired simply because they were men. Additionally, John Foxman, the firm’s only male lawyer, feels there is at least some truth to the claim–even if the female-favoritism is unconscious.

Worst of all, the infamous Nick Machiavelli is the plaintiff’s lawyer. As ruthless in his way as his reputed ancestor–the guy who, among other things, claimed it was “better to be feared than loved”–Machiavelli is from the same Italian-dominated old Philadelphia  neighborhood as Mary DiNunzio. He’s had a frustrated, love-lorn thing for Mary forever and he’s already lost in court to her. As a result, he’s out for revenge. He’s determined to win the case and drive the firm into bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, Mary is late in a pregnancy that has her feeling some ambivalence. And the firm’s situation is further worsened by the fact that her husband, a would-be author, has yet to sell his book. If the firm fails, financial ruin likely awaits.

And then there’s the (seemingly) unconnected case of corrupt wrongdoing Rosato & DiNunzio have taken on. It’s a David vs Goliath sort of thing, with two big companies trying to strangle an upstart competitor. They, of course, are supporting the underdog and the case seems very winnable, if the smaller outfit can survive their bigger rivals’ delay tactics.

The book takes a deadly turn, along with twists involving a secret office romance, the mentally challenged brother of one lawyer who may be suffering neglect at his nursing home residence, a stiff-necked homicide detective doggedly pursuing the wrong suspect, and hidden connections between the various ongoing cases. Oh, and there’s Mary’s extended family and neighborhood friends (many come close to being old school Italian-American stereotypes, but still manage to be fun and even kind of touching).

So is it better to be feared or loved?

This novel comes down firmly on the expected side and concludes in pleasing fashion. Right triumphs over greed and might, and even nasty Nick proves (if not a good guy) at least not a purely evil SOB.

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