In The Spotlight: David Rosenfelt’s Unleashed

>In The Spotlight: Agatha Christie's 4:50 From PaddingtonHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Attorneys feature in all sorts of crime fiction, from courtroom dramas to whodunits to legal thrillers. It’s a natural match, too, for obvious reasons. Let’s take a look at the way one attorney works today, and turn the spotlight on David Rosenfelt’s Unleashed, the eleventh in his Andy Carpenter series.

Carpenter is a New Jersey lawyer who also owns an animal rescue shelter. One day, his accountant, Sam Willis, comes to him with a strange and unsettling story. Willis’ old high school friend Barry Price has become extremely successful. Not long ago, Price asked Willis if he still works with Carpenter. It seemed that Price might be in need of a good criminal lawyer, but he wouldn’t tell Willis why. He did, though, arrange for Willis to join him on a short trip in his private plane. At the last minute, though, Willis accidentally injured a dog with his car, and had to take the animal to an emergency veterinarian (don’t worry, animal lovers; it’s not spoiling the story to say that the dog makes it through just fine).  But the delay meant that Willis didn’t get to the plane on time. That emergency saved his life, since the plane crashed and Price died.

Matters get even more complicated when it’s shown that Price was poisoned before he boarded the plane. The most likely suspect is his widow Denise, and there’s plenty of evidence against her. She claims to be innocent, and asks Carpenter to defend her; he agrees to do so.

Carpenter won’t be able to deny Denise’s access to the poison, or the sorry state of her marriage, both of which count against her. So does the fortune she’ll inherit. So, he looks for other suspects who might also have had access the poison and a good motive. It soon comes out that Barry Price was in a great deal of trouble. Something had gotten him badly frightened. As Carpenter pursues that lead, he finds that Price could indeed have been in real danger.

Carpenter’s in the middle of planning his legal strategy when Denise implicates Willis in the murder, claiming that she was having an affair with him. She alleges that he killed Price in order to be with her. In exchange for this incriminating information, she’ll be freed. It’s not long before the police find evidence to support Denise’s claim, and Willis is duly arrested.

The stakes are even higher now, since Willis is not just Carpenter’s accountant, but also his friend. Carpenter’s already established that he believes his former client is innocent. If she is, then who did kill Barry Price? As Carpenter gets closer to the truth, he learns that the implications of this case go far beyond just getting his friend out of prison. And someone is willing to kill rather than allow any witnesses to support Carpenter’s case.

Andy Carpenter is an attorney, so the legal aspects of this case are important elements in the story. Readers follow along as Carpenter prepares his case, talks to people who might testify, and so on. There are also several courtroom scenes where Carpenter uses legal strategies to defend his client. Since the story is told from his point of view, we also learn why he chooses the strategies he chooses. Readers also get a look at the way attorneys get information that helps their cases, or find out about information that hurts them. It’s also of note that there are several places where Rosenfelt points out the difference between pre-trial hearings (in which it’s decided whether to hold a suspect over for trial) and actual trials, in US law. There are differences in terms of evidence allowed, among other things, and Rosenfelt shows that.

This novel has a bit of the thriller about it, and that thriller element impacts the pacing of the novel, as well as some of what happens in it. There are dangerous moments, a shadowy enemy, and more. There’s also a bit of suspension of disbelief. Readers who do not like to let their disbelief out of their sight when they read will notice this.

Many thrillers also have their share of violence. This novel, though, isn’t really like that. There is more than one murder, but the murders are, by and large, ‘off stage.’ And those that are depicted are not described in gory detail. Readers who prefer not to have a lot of violence in their novels will appreciate this.

There is plenty of wit in the novel. For example, at one point, Carpenter goes to see the man who maintained Barry Price’s plane, to see whether mechanical failure was involved in the plane crash:

‘Morristown Municipal Airport…was built to serve as a place for planes to go when JFK, LaGuardia, or Newark becomes overcrowded. Since I have never been at those airports when they aren’t overcrowded, I’m surprised that Morristown Airport is so empty…

Mulligan…greets me with a smile and a handshake. His hands aren’t greasy; I don’t think private planes have any grease. Grease is for peasants.’

There are also a few quirky characters.

That said, though, this isn’t a comic caper novel. There are real lives at stake, and Sam Willis’ freedom is at stake as well. Carpenter doesn’t forget that as he works to defend his friend.

I don’t usually do this in my spotlight feature, but in this case, a note is in order about the cover, which depicts a dog. Several other covers in this series do, too. Some readers might draw the conclusion that that means this is a cosy series featuring dogs. It’s not. Dogs feature only in the sense that Carpenter is owned by a dog, and also owns an animal shelter. It’s not the sort of series where a dog, say buries or discovers a critical piece of evidence, or saves an owner.

Unleashed is a whodunit with thriller elements (and some wit) that plays out in a New Jersey courtroom. It features a client who’s caught in a web much bigger than he thought, and an attorney who uses all of his legal skills to defend that client. But what’s your view? Have you read Unleashed? If you have, what elements do you see in it?


Coming Up On In The Spotlight


Monday, 25 July/Tuesday, 26 July – Our Trespasses – Steph Avery

Monday, 1 August/Tuesday, 2 August – Shield of Straw – Kazuhiro Kiuchi

Monday, 8 August/Tuesday, 9 August – State Fair – Earlene Fowler


Filed under David Rosenfelt, Unleashed

32 responses to “In The Spotlight: David Rosenfelt’s Unleashed

  1. Tim

    I have a theory: without ESG’s Perry Mason there would be few if any fictional attorneys in crime fiction. At the same time, I wonder about Perry Mason’s ancestors. Were lawyers successfully featured previously?

    • Interesting question, Tim. There’ve been other fictional attorneys in early detective novels. But as I see it, Perry Mason certainly solidified the notion of attorney-as-sleuth. And I would agree with you that there are plenty of contemporary fictional attorney-detectives who wouldn’t have seen the light of day without him.

  2. I haven’t read UNLEASHED, but it sounds intriguing. It also seems it could be used as a primer for writers needing certain legal information for their own WIP. Very interesting post, Margot, and thanks for introducing me to David Rosenfelt’s work. 🙂

    • Very glad you enjoyed the post, Michael. In my opinion, the series does have some interesting legal information (at least, as far as US law is concerned). Yet, Rosenfelt does that (at least in my opinion) without overburdening the book with too much legal jargon. If you do try some of his work, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  3. Reblogged this on e. michael helms and commented:
    Don’t miss mystery writer/blogger Margot Kinberg’s latest post!

  4. When I think of lawyers and books I always think Perry Mason. 🙂 Enjoyed this spotlight, Margot. Unleashed is one I’ll definitely have to add to my TBR list. It sounds like a book I’d enjoy very much.Thanks!

    • Thanks, Mason – I’m glad you enjoyed the spotlight. And yes, I’d suspect you would think of Perry Mason… 😉 – If you do read this novel, or anything in the Andy Carpenter series, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  5. Keishon

    Enjoyed reading your spotlight post, Margot, even though I’ve never read Finder. Not sure if I will since there are so many other books I own already and legal thrillers are kind of low on the totem pole for me. If you spotlighted his book, I’m sure it’s good (speaking from experience with Confessions that you spotlighted earlier).

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence, Keishon. And I know all too well about piles of books that one wants to get through if possible. I don’t think there will ever be enough time for me to read everything I’d like to read.

  6. Margot: I read Bury the Lead a dozen years ago and found Carpenter charming but not charming enough to read again.

    • To be honest, Bill, when I was writing this post, I thought you might have that sort of reaction to Carpenter if you’d read any of the series. Still, I’m glad you had the chance to ‘meet’ him.

  7. It’s odd because I’ve read very few ‘legal’ thrillers, I think I shunned them because I’d previously decided the thrill was in the chase so to speak but it sounds like this crosses the whodunit with the legal aspects.

    • It does, CLeo. There are definitely legal aspects and legal strategy, etc.. But at the same time, there’s also the element of catching the killer, etc.. If you do read this one, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  8. Like Keishon and Cleo, I don’t read many legal thrillers, perhaps because I’ve become disenchanted with all the legal loopholes and games and tricks they seem to play in the courtroom. But I can see their appeal, and this one does sound interesting. Ah, well, maybe I’ll get to it… just as soon as I’ve finished my TBR pile…. 😉

    • Oh, I know all too well about the never-ending TBR pile, Marina Sofia *sigh.* And yes, it’s easy to become disenchanted with what happens in courtrooms. If you do decide to read this, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  9. Margot, I enjoy reading legal thrillers occasionally though not all of them have gripping and glamourised courtroom scenes. In that context, I think, this is a realistic portrayal of a legal mystery and a lawyer as an investigator. Andy Carpenter sounds like a protagonist readers would like. Thanks for introducing me to David Rosenfelts and his Carpenter series.

    • It’s true, Prashant, that Andy Carpenter isn’t the sort of dramatic courtroom presence that, say, Perry Mason can be. But he’s a smart attorney who works very hard for his client. If you do try some of the Rosenfelt mysteries, I hope you’ll enjoy them.

  10. kathyd

    I haven’t read this one, but I have read a number of books in the Andy Carpenter series. I think they’re a lot of fun. There has always been a golden retriever in the books, and Andy sets up a rescue shelter for lost dogs.
    Yes, in his books dogs are dogs, not talking semi-humans, not detectives, just regular dogs who bark, play, wag their tails and contribute to human existence.
    In real life, Rosenfelt and his spouse set up the Tara Foundation and rescued 4,000 dogs, mostly golden retrievers and found them homes. They kept the elderly and disabled dogs. His photos of the life with a lot of dogs are at his website and some are hilarious. Dogs on the coffee table, five on the floor, three on the couch.
    And they moved to Maine from California with a lot of dogs, vans and volunteers. There are photos of that, too, posted.
    I enjoy it as I enjoy dogs. I just can’t imagine living with 29 of them at once.
    The love of dogs comes through in the books.

    • I don’t think I could live with 29 dogs, either, Kathy, much as I love dogs. Thanks for sharing Rosenfelt’s real-life story. It’s always good to hear about it when people try to do good in the world.

  11. Pingback: If a Picture Paints a Thousand Words* | Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...

  12. Hmm…what’s you view on the covers? Do you think they’re misleading? Could be a lesson for us all.

    • I honestly wouldn’t go as far as calling the cover ‘misleading,’ Sue. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that, at least in my opinion, the cover doesn’t reflect the main features and focus of the book. Cover design can involve some very tricky decisions, I think.

  13. Since the book is written by an attorney, I’m surprised that there are elements that would cause readers to suspend disbelief. I don’t think I would like this book for that reason.

    • That is an unusual aspect of a legal novel, isn’t it, GtL? That’s sort of the ‘thriller’ aspect of the novel, really. And you’re not alone in preferring not to suspend your disbelief.

      • It’s definitely my issue; when it comes to breaking the law or abusing it in some way (which Kelsey is doing), I get very anxious and don’t like the story. And I know most crime detective novels have a character who totally “goes rogue,” so maybe it’s not a genre for me! I’m definitely glad I tried, though 🙂 Thank you for your recommendation.

  14. Col

    Not an author I have previously heard of – thanks for the introduction to him. I do like to read the odd legal mystery/thriller now and again. A maybe…

  15. tracybham

    I do want to read more contemporary. legal fiction. This series, including dogs, sounds interesting.

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