"Loot the Moon" by Mark Arsenault
Minotaur, 276 pp., $24.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James
Take some Harlan Coben and throw in some John Grisham, and you have a taste of Mark Arsenault's "Loot the Moon," a sequel to his "Gravewriter."
The novel features deadbeat (literally-- he's got the "dead" [obits composing] beat at the Providence, Rhode Island, newspaper) reporter Billy Povich, who has inherited full-time custody of his young son from his ex-[pired] wife.
Billy has also received custody of his ailing, deadbeat (as in, he split from his family when Billy was a kid) dad-- from no one in particular.
Call it "One and a Half Men Plus a Half-Dead Man." Underscoring all these "dead" references is the trio's residence over a funeral home.
In order to pick up some much-needed extra moolah-- he has a tendency to make bad bets-- Billy hires on as a part-time investigator for an unconventional lawyer who would fit in better at an ashram than in Providence, although the ([Grateful] Deadhead) impression created by Martin Smothers, esq., owes in large part to his militantly vegan wife.
Martin is one of those rare birds who didn't leave the ideals of the 1960s revolution behind in some mud puddle at Woodstock. Rather, he is a staunch advocate for the least desirable defendants, those who have fallen 20,000 leagues beneath the cracks of the judicial system.
The "cause du roman" here is Martin's (read: Billy's) investigation into the murder of an attorney-turned-state-senator-turned-judge-and-author, the highly esteemed Gilbert Harmony.
Who shot Gil Harmony-- Martin's first law partner, the one he deserted for his unconventional career defending the crack fallers?
All signs point to a gangster who publicly threatened Judge Harmony after he threw the book at the ruthless crime lord's older son.
The more Billy digs, the more he almost literally shovels himself into his own grave. In spite of Judge Harmony's sterling reputation, there are tarnished secrets to be uncovered.
Author Arsenault's finely honed sarcasm and sometimes-morbid sense of humor keep the melodramatic elements of the plot at bay. He raises many ethical questions pertaining to parent/child relationships and to pragmatic applications of personal moral codes vis a vis The Law.
In Arsenault's novel, The Law often exists as an obstacle course to be maneuvered by characters seeking their individual notions of justice. Even the most by-the-book attorneys bend when they believe their moral principles supersede those embedded in The Code.
Such matters of ethics add depth to a well-plotted novel with plenty of momentum, one that should please readers of Coben and/or Grisham.
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