The Law and Lady Justice
by Ana Leigh
(Silh. Int. Mom. #1230, $4.75, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-27300-2
***
The Law and Lady Justice is a nicely written, competently plotted romance, with a likeable pair of lovers and an interesting secondary plot. If it didn’t have that spark that took it beyond the ordinary, well, it still gave me several hours of pleasant reading and an increased appreciation for the city of Milwaukee.

Jessica Kirkland is a judge of the circuit court in Milwaukee, and she has just had to throw out a murder case because of an illegal search. She is not happy about that, but the detective on the case, Doug McGuire, is furious. When Detective McGuire vents, on air, to a local newsie, Jessica is so infuriated that she takes him on then and there, much to the reporter’s delight. The Law of Unintended Consequences kicks in almost immediately when one of the observers of the encounter decides to help the judge out by administering the justice that Jessica could not. That evening the defendant, LeRoy Gilbert, is fished out of the Milwaukee River, swimming with a plastic bag over his head.

Doug and Jessica have had no relationship out of court, and their courtroom encounters have been argumentative. Nevertheless, Doug’s immediate reaction to Gilbert’s murder is to tell Jessica himself. He tracks her down at the restaurant where she is about to have dinner with her father, steals her away, and takes her to dinner at a local cop bar. Over hamburgers and beers, they talk about the Gilbert case, why they chose the jobs they do, old movies, jazz, and more; the evening ends with a steamy kiss in the parking lot. That kiss communicates Doug’s admiration of Jess’ legs, and Jessica’s opinion that Doug has the best buns she’s ever seen.

All of Ana Leigh’s pieces are now in play, and she maneuvers them skillfully, using scenes at the Hotel Pfister and Milwaukee’s Summerfest to provide local color. Her interweaving of Doug and Jess’ romance with the continuing mystery of who is killing the killers is even-handed, preventing either element from overwhelming the other. Why, then, didn’t I find her story more involving?

For one thing, we are privy to the thoughts of the serial killer while his or her identity is withheld. I can think of half a dozen romances, off-hand, that use this device. It is hardly novel. Furthermore, I am usually easy to fool, but this time I figured out who was doing the killing about halfway through the book. (Think Star Trek and the crewman who hasn’t been on any other episode and has no vital function, and you’ll guess, too.)

When a couple in their thirties fall in love, it is probably inevitable that they bring baggage to the new relationship. (The odds increase exponentially in a romance novel.) Doug’s baggage has the same been-there, done-that feeling that the serial killer had. His father is the police chief in a northern Illinois town, and Doug grew up seeing his mother suffer, worrying about his father. He’s not going to do that to a woman, never mind how the woman feels about it. Despite Jessica’s assurances that she understands what she’s getting into, he remains unconvinced, triggering several breaches in their relationship. Unfortunately for the story, when it was Jess’ turn to break off with Doug, I was even less impressed with what set her off.

You may have noticed that a high percentage of romance novels end up with the lovers in each other’s arms. I doubt that I’m giving away a vital plot element by saying that The Law and Lady Justice ends in just that way. However, in this case, the last little plot twist revealed in this scene annoyed me tremendously. It didn’t spoil the book for me - I can ignore it or rewrite the scene mentally - but it left me wanting to shake someone and tell them to get a grip!

The Law and Lady Justice is truly a book where YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary). Depending on how sensitive you are to formulaic plotting, you may find yourself more caught up in Doug and Jess’s romance than I was. You may also, like me, come away with a greater appreciation for the city of Milwaukee…which alone may make reading The Law and Lady Justice worth your time.

--Nancy J. Silberstein


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