William Lashner, Author . Morrow $29.95 (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-072156-5

Payment in advance lures cheerfully selfish criminal defense attorney Victor Carl (who last fought the good fight in 2004's Past Due ) to seek a new trial for François Dubé, a charming French chef convicted of murdering his beautiful wife, in Lashner's fifth legal thriller. Like every case in every courtroom drama, Dubé's is more complicated than it first appears, involving secrets that could humiliate, if not bring down, half of Philadelphia society. Carl, who thinks Dubé did it even as his partner, Beth Derringer, says otherwise, is further distracted by a new pro bono client he's taken on and a throbbing toothache that sends him into the less-than-tender hands of Dr. Bob, a dentist who takes a holistic approach by involving himself in every aspect of his patients' lives. Soon Carl's getting himself a new girlfriend, a new wardrobe, new dental work and a new set of troubles from the cream of Philadelphia high life. Lashner works overtime to amuse the reader, arming his tough-talking characters with jokes to spare, leading to a tone that's somewhere between Raymond Chandler and Chandler Bing. Toning down the relentless wisecracking might have helped sell the more serious parts of the book (would the victim's grieving mother really tease Carl about his missing tooth?), but the well-staged plot twists and Carl's amusingly amoral narration make for good beach reading. Agent, Wendy Sherman. (May)

Reviewed on: 04/18/2005
Release date: 05/01/2005
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