Author Lisa Scottoline tackles thorny insurance issue
For her new novel, “Exposed,” Lisa Scottoline became an expert on cubicles. That's not slang for an arcane legal concept, but the nondescript dividers that demarcate office spaces.
“I actually had a source that didn't want to be identified,” says Scottoline, who appears Aug. 17 at the Oakmont Carnegie Library as a guest of Mystery Lovers Bookshop. “You wouldn't believe who I have talked to. I've got sensitive information. Apparently (the cubicle industry) is pretty cutthroat.”
“Exposed,” Scottoline's 29th novel, features attorney Mary DiNunzio and her large and boisterous Italian family from Philadelphia, and Bennie Rosato, Mary's law partner. The two women come from different backgrounds and have different temperaments. But a case involving a cubicle salesman, Simon Pensiera, who is part of Mary's extended family, threatens their partnership and friendship when a conflict of interest arises.
“I've been doing it for so long, and I would like to say it's all planned and conscious, but really it isn't,” Scottoline says. “It's what story has occurred to me. And I don't know why this one occurred to me.”
When Simon is fired from his company — his boss says it's because of performance, but he suspects it's because health care costs have gone up for his cancer-stricken little girl — Scottoline tapped into her former career as a lawyer. But she also tried to balance the legal issues with human concerns.
“I thought this is the kind of stuff employers go through and parents go through,” she says. “It sort of forms the subplot for this kind of battle between these two women lawyers, who have their own stresses and strains. Even though Bennie is so cool and Mary looks up to her, Mary starts to come into her own and has become a problem for Bennie. So there's a couple of emotional journeys.”
The tension between Mary and Bennie has never been more delineated in the series, now in its fifth book. Scottoline's research included conflict of interest issues for law firms — “I actually thought there would be a very cut-and-dried answer to that” — and the aforementioned foray into cubicles.
“I felt very lucky in that all these thorny legal questions and ethical questions and emotional questions blended into one,” she says.
While both characters undergo drastic changes by the end of the novel, Scottoline says it is too early to determine if “Exposed” heralds a shift in the series, notably in Bennie's personality and demeanor. Her characters are affected by events in different ways, but Scottoline refuses to manipulate them for the sake of manipulation.
Nevertheless, Bennie and Mary may be on the verge of significant life changes.
“I think that might be happening,” Scottoline says. “I try not to plan it too far in advance because you really want it to be organic, and you really want to proceed from events. Not everybody is affected by events in the same way. But I think (Bennie) is changing, and Mary is changing.
“That's the cool thing about a series versus a standalone. I like to do both, but it's sort of interesting to see how time and events change people.”
Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.