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Scottoline’s ‘Devil’s Corner’ well-plotted legal thriller

Oline H. Cogdill South Florida Sun-Sentinel

A visit to Devil’s Corner in the heart of Philadelphia will mean a plunge into violence, betrayal and lies for a young prosecutor. As painful as these lessons are, Vicki Allegretti also will learn that a quest for justice cannot be stopped because it’s inconvenient.

In her first stand-alone novel in a decade, Lisa Scottoline delivers a well-plotted, briskly paced legal thriller that looks at a rampant drug trade, a neighborhood trying to reclaim itself and legal ethics.

Scottoline’s trademark of hard-hitting plots softened around the edges with appropriately placed humor and realistic characters works well in “Devil’s Corner,” her 12th book. This approach doesn’t weaken the plot but it makes it more palatable for readers who recoil from overly violent, profanity-laced novels.

Missing from “Devil’s Corner” is Scottoline’s usual all-women law firm in which a different attorney took center stage in each novel. But the young and often naive Vicki would make a fine junior partner for that perennial firm. Although she is a fairly new prosecutor and often wide-eyed about the vagaries of the job and her co-workers, she also is tenacious, dedicated and intelligent.

Vicki is launched into Devil’s Corner when the ATF agent she often is paired with is killed during what should have been a routine visit to a confidential informant. The pair’s investigation into a minor firearms charge pulled them into a conspiracy and lucrative drug trade.

To find out who murdered the agent and why, Vicki will team up with a most unlikely ally: Reheema Bristow, a woman who has spent a year in jail on a guns charge.

Their relationship sets the perfect tone for “Devil’s Corner.” At first, the two hate each other but slowly they learn to respect each other and discover the power of trust and friendship. The women must find solid ground between them if they are to help clean up Devil’s Corner, the nickname for Reheema’s neighborhood, which has been taken over by drug dealers.

Scottoline keeps “Devil’s Corner” on a fast track as the plot careens around every logical twist and turn. Vicki’s youth and enthusiasm become an advantage because she is able to see the legal system with fresh eyes. Scottoline also makes her immensely human. Vicki makes mistakes – many mistakes, even dumb mistakes – but this is in keeping with the character’s development.

The only false note is her platonic relationship with a fellow attorney; at first this friendship adds a welcome levity and balance to the story, but it becomes cloying as their bond deepens.

Philadelphia continues to propel the action of Scottoline’s novels. The setting – from Center City to the suburbs – affects each of the characters as to who they are and who they become.

Devil’s Corner is Reheema’s home, but decades ago this same area was where Vicki’s father grew up. Her personal investment in the neighborhood adds lucrative dividends to the story.

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