Martin Clark’s latest novel is a legal thriller, but it’s far richer than the usual sort of book you think of when you see that description. There’s an intriguing mystery at the heart of The Jezebel Remedy, as well as shady shenanigans, corporate conspiracy, thinly veiled and not-so-thinly veiled threats and assorted untimely demises. But though Clark propels you swiftly through the book with his delightfully wry prose, he doesn’t rely solely on cheap thrills to hold your attention. Instead, he creates characters so warm, real and unpredictably flawed that you can’t help but follow their misadventures.
Also the author of The Legal Limit, The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living and Plain Heathen Mischief — the two latter titles are as good as titles get — Clark sets his action in rural Virginia, where husband-and-wife team Lisa and Joe Stone have practiced at their tiny law firm for almost 20 years. The Stones seem to have the sort of marriage everybody longs for but few truly experience. They live in relative comfort financially, in a nice house on a bit of land. They share custody of a sweet black dog ironically named Brownie. There’s plenty of legal work — small claims, small cases — to keep them busy.
But, as Clark writes. But. Lisa has grown restless, “a bit stuck, preoccupied with the flat patches in her life, mulling and noodling, flummoxed by how she seemed to have wandered across an insidious boundary and been shanghaied into a dull land of earth tones, Scrabble games, paint-by-number vacations, Cinemax replays of A Star is Born, monthly potlucks, Lean Cuisines, cobwebs, dust bunnies, marital conversations retarded by a mumbled “Huh?” or a distracted “What, sweetie?” She has grown impatient with Joe, the ridiculous scooter he rides around town and his repeated catchphrases (“Great googly moogly”) and is considering starting up an ill-advised affair with another man.
She’s also irritated with Joe’s patience in dealing with their craziest client, Lettie VanSant, a paranoid, overly tattooed 40-something who lives in a trailer with way too many stray animals. Lettie is meth addict-skinny and rattles on like a lunatic, demanding patent protections for useless inventions and changing her will as often as most people change their pants.
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Then there’s an explosion at Lettie’s trailer — presumably a meth brewing gone awry — and her body is found in the ruins. A new will pops up, leaving everything to Joe, who’s a good guy and signs everything over to Lettie’s oddly nervous son. But wait. What if Lettie actually invented something revolutionary? How far would an unscrupulous company go to acquire the rights to it? And how much will the Stones risk to find out?
Clark invests us in the Stones’ personal dramas, and his regional cadences are a refreshing change in this crowded genre (Joe rides a horse and hunts in his free time — imagine!). Original, smart and breezily amusing, The Jezebel Remedy could be the start of a wonderful series. But it doesn’t have to be. It’s damned good on its own.
Connie Ogle is the Miami Herald’s book editor.