Book Review: Santa’s Little Yelpers by David Rosenfelt
In Andy Carpenter’s household, the Christmas season lasts from Halloween to February due to the insistence of his Yuletide-loving wife, Laurie. While Andy grumbles, he mostly doesn’t mind. In fact, he’s downright feeling the holiday spirit as December rolls around and one of the employees at his dog rescue, the Tara Foundation, asks for his help in overturning a former court conviction for manslaughter.
Before the Tara Foundation, Chris Myers had been in prison for two years after being found guilty of accidentally killing a man in a drunken fight. According to witnesses, he’d gotten into an argument with another patron at a bar. They’d gone outside to settle their differences, where a man named Charlie Burgess had seen Chris punch Joey Bonaventure’s lights out. Joey fell, hit his head on the pavement and died.
Chris swears that none of that happened. Sure he’d had a lot to drink that night, but he’d poured himself into a cab and gone home immediately after settling his tab. He doesn’t even recall ever talking to the victim. The witness accounts, however, were more than enough to send him to jail.
Fast-forward some years later and Charlie’s guilty conscience has finally gotten the better of him. He approaches Chris, saying he wants to come clean and recant his testimony but only wants to make his sworn statement once, after which he’s planning on getting out of town as quickly as possible. He’d been put up to testifying against Chris by some very dangerous people, and now wants to do the right thing in the safest way possible.
Which is where Andy comes in. As their area’s most formidable, if reluctant, defense attorney, he seems like a natural fit to help Chris clear his record. Trouble is, Charlie quickly changes his mind about recanting. An irate Chris goes over to Charlie’s to argue with him about this. When an unknown assailant uses their argument as cover to shoot Charlie dead, a terrified Chris takes off, but not before he’s seen by a neighbor. The cops come calling soon after and Chris is charged with actual murder.
Andy believes his client’s story, even before his own investigative team—headed by Laurie, herself an ex-cop—corroborates what Chris has to say. But who, then, would want to kill Charlie? As Andy and his team attempt to unravel the truth, their own lives are put in danger, with unwanted visitors paying them a nighttime call. Luckily, Laurie is prepared for this, quietly telling her husband:
[“]Go into [our son]’s room, close the door, and make sure he does not come out… Stay in there with him… no matter what.”
“What’s going on?”
“Andy, please just do it now. We have visitors.”
So I do it. I know that Laurie is shielding me and Ricky from an obvious danger, but this is no time to argue the point. In our house, unlike on the Titanic, we don’t protect the women and children first. Here it’s the lawyers and children that have the first crack at the lifeboats.
This role reversal is a common theme of the Andy Carpenter series, as our wise-cracking lawyer is definitely more formidable in the courtroom than he is outside it. Fortunately, his team not only keeps him protected but is also willing to help him suss out the truth as they travel far and wide to investigate seemingly obscure leads in their quest to find justice for their clients.
For all that, Andy pretty much stands alone in the courtroom. This time, his case opens with a tricky legal dilemma that is another reversal of his usual preferences, as he files a motion to suppress Chris’ previous manslaughter conviction from the hearing:
But the reason this position is so unusual for me is that I might not want to win. I don’t mean initially; I wouldn’t have filed the motion if I didn’t at this moment think we would be better off prevailing. [Charlie] testifying against Chris at the earlier trial provides a perfect motive, and it would be devastating for the jury to hear it.
But…and it’s a big but… this could change down the road. If we can get enough evidence to introduce […] alternate possible murderers, then the landscape changes entirely. Because the frame-up that we would be alleging spans both crimes.
The legal and investigative maneuverings ring true as always, as Andy and his team uncover a conspiracy that will have them roping in unlikely allies in order to not only exonerate Chris but also solve several other murders, while preventing even more from happening. The plot twists are exciting, the banter witty, and the overall experience deeply satisfying, as I’ve come to expect from all the books in this series. Twenty-six installments in and this continues to be my go-to for excellent legal defense drama in the vein of Erle Stanley Gardner’s classic Perry Mason novels, only with David Rosenfelt’s trademark modern (and dog-loving!) twists.