cover image Women Before the Bench

Women Before the Bench

Various. Berkley Publishing Group, $21.95 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-425-17231-5

""Womanhood is modeled for gentler and better things... than the profession of law,"" wrote Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Edward Ryan in 1875 so begins a collection of 13 short fictional narratives disproving him. New York Times bestselling authors such as Perri O'Shaughnessy, Margaret Maron and Margaret Coel each contribute. The stories feature female protagonists in various positions within the legal system and all are carefully crafted and plotted. In O'Shaughnessy's ""Juggernaut,"" creepy Neal Meurer has hidden his gambling addiction from his trophy wife, Juliette, for years. A minor auto accident nets him enough money to live for the next several months, so he arranges another ""accident"" with the help of Juliette's brother, an insurance agent but things don't turn out as planned, especially when tenacious lawyer Nina Reilly gets involved. Readers will find familiar characters, such as bar investigator Nan Robinson, revived by Taffy Cannon in the simple yet likable ""Restitution""; fans of Carroll Lachnit can accompany law student Hannah Barlow in ""Blind"" as she investigates the details of a drive-by shooting that kills one teenager and leaves the only witness blinded. Jonnie Jacobs contributes ""Built Upon the Sand,"" in which a scheming, spoiled daughter attempts to gain control of her recently deceased father's estate by declaring her stepmother insane. Claire Youmans also thrills with ""Mortmain"" (literally, ""dead hand""), in which the death of an Italian matriarch leaves two grown children finagling themselves into the good graces of the estate executor. Short enough to appeal to a reader on a timetable, but lacking the plot depth of full-length mysteries, these stories are perfect commuter-flight fare. (Mar. 6)