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First Degree


First Degree

America's love affair with the law is sweeping and pervasive. Next
to war, the news talk shows find crime and the legal process to be
their greatest source of material. Across America, daytime
television features numerous judges conducting video trials on
countless cable stations. Our fascination with the law extends to
our reading behavior. A cursory look at any bestseller list will
generally yield several courtroom-related efforts on both the
fiction and nonfiction lists.

FIRST DEGREE by David Rosenfelt marks the second appearance of Andy
Carpenter, a New Jersey attorney whose personal history portends
many future cases and clients. In order for a writer to have the
luxury of a continuing character, there needs to be a hook upon
which to hang succeeding novels. For Carpenter, Rosenfelt has
chosen as his hook something easily understood by lawyers and
non-lawyers alike: money. Andy Carpenter is wealthy, having
inherited 22 million dollars from his father. This nest egg allows
Carpenter the luxury of picking and choosing clients based upon a
simple premise: whether the case and the client interest him.

Before securing his eventual client in FIRST DEGREE, Carpenter must
survive two false starts. Alex Dorsey, a local police officer of
shady reputation, has been found murdered, his body decapitated and
burned. Geoffrey Stynes appears at Carpenter's office seeking to
hire him as his attorney. Stynes assures Andy that he will shortly
be arrested for Dorsey's murder. That evening, a man named Oscar
Garcia is arrested for the murder and Carpenter discovers to his
amazement that Geoffrey Stynes does not really exist. An imaginary
man has confessed to an actual killing for which another man is
charged. By itself, this plot could be an outstanding mystery but
Rosenfelt has a few more ingredients to add to the stew. As
additional evidence is discovered, Garcia turns out to be the wrong
man and charges against him are dropped. Suspicion now turns to
private investigator Laurie Collins, a former colleague of Dorsey.
Collins also happens to be Carpenter's love interest. Of course
Andy will represent her, and the stage is now set for the trial
that serves as the major portion of FIRST DEGREE.

While David Rosenfelt has woven an intuitive and intricate plot,
when his characters enter the courtroom to do battle in a criminal
trial, they lose some of their appeal. Rosenfelt is not an
attorney; he is a screenwriter and former president of a marketing
company, which perhaps explains why his courtroom scenes sound more
like talk show confrontations than legal encounters. Andy Carpenter
as an advocate is just a touch too insulting to opposing counsel
and acerbic in his demeanor to be believable as a trial lawyer. He
is to the practice of law what Judge Judy is to actual judges. They
just do not, and should not, behave as they do in their fictional

This is however a minor criticism of a wonderful, well-paced
mystery that keeps the reader guessing as to who actually killed
Alex Dorsey. Andy Carpenter is an interesting character who will
certainly have his share of intriguing cases in the future. A
little humility in the courtroom, along with a touch more respect
for the law, will make him a very readable character.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 22, 2011

First Degree
by David Rosenfelt

  • Publication Date: June 1, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 044661386X
  • ISBN-13: 9780446613866