Picks and Pans Review: The Vendetta Defense

updated 04/02/2001 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/02/2001 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Lisa Scottoline

Tony Lucia is a slight, 79-year-old Italian immigrant with broken English, a mild temperament and homing pigeons for pets. Guilty of murder? Philadelphia defense lawyer Judy Carrier can't even comprehend how he carried it out, never mind why. But Tony not only admits to killing aging mobster Angelo Coluzzi, he's proud of it. After a lifetime of fear, he has finally concluded a 60-year vendetta. Back in the old country, Angelo killed Tony's wife, angry that she chose to marry Tony, then a poor farmer, over him. Now Tony has his revenge.

Watching Judy, an idealistic young woman who hates lawyer jokes ("The public...didn't understand the nobility of the profession," she says), turn vengeance into a plausible defense is highly entertaining. Not only does she shed some of her own snap judgments, but she grows tougher herself as she employs some sneaky investigative tactics to help her case. Scottoline (author of the bestselling Moment of Truth) is at her strongest, though, in the chapters that revisit Tony's tender youth in Italy, where men drove carts down dirt roads and wooed women with fresh tomatoes. Knowing what Tony has lost makes his crime seem all the more justifiable. (HarperCollins, $25)

Bottom Line: Strong Defense

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