a copyrighted excerpt from WILDCAT WINE
All rights protected
I wasn't at all sure I had a real life anymore.
Here it was, a perfectly fine Friday night in February and instead of being out having fun,
I was about the last person inside the Smith, O'Leary and Stanley law firm.
Reviewing paper. Looking through stacks and stacks of paper for just the right words in
all of the words in all of the paper in all of the files for something that might save my butt, I
mean, that is, technically, my client's butt.
Sometimes being a lawyer sucks.
Nursing a cup of lukewarm green tea and a bad attitude, I riffled through my files,
seeking inspiration. I sighed, rubbed my eyes, and read on.
My office windows were opened so I could breathe real oxygen, not the stale refrigerated
air of the law firm. The humidity of a Sarasota night drifted in, dispersing a subtle scent of orange blossoms, car fumes and fishy low-tide throughout my office. The classic bouquet of late-winter on the gulf-coast of Florida.
But I had barely settled into rereading my client's deposition when my door banged open,
and critically over-chilled air rushed in. I had my mouth prepared to say something rude to
whoever dared intrude when I saw Jackson Winchester Smith, the firm's founding and controlling partner, my mentor, the living, breathing reincarnation of Stonewall Jackson, standing there in my doorway, big as a mad grizzly.
"You got everything under control here? Cases all right?"
"Yes, thank you. Everything is under control."
That was a whopper, but I held my eyes steady on Jackson and nothing in my body
language gave me away.
I waited in the pause for the real reason for Jackson's visit.
"Man bought a Hummer and now he's demanding a bonus to pay it off."
Okay, nothing to do with me and I had work to do. I blinked twice hoping that would
make Jackson go away.
"That son of a bitch. A Hummer. A yellow one, color of a legal pad. Piss ugly."
"Who got a Hummer?" Not that I really cared, but if I ignored him, Jackson would just
Well, of course, the only partner in the firm vapid and pretentious enough to pay twice the
average salary of the secretaries at the firm for a large, yellow box with wheels and an ad
campaign that appealed equally to the insecure and the show-off.
Having hexed my first year at the firm, Kenneth was the one partner I studiously
avoided and hoped, frankly, he would one day drop into the Gulf of Mexico, get eaten by an
octopus, run over by a backhoe, or implode from too much inherent dishonesty in one life time,
and leave the rest of us to the honorable task of defending hapless doctors, hospitals, and lawyers sued by their disgruntled clients.
"Kenneth is demanding that the executive committee vote him a mid-year bonus, then
follow up with a larger Christmas bonus."
"Just say no," I said. "It worked for Nancy Reagan."
"He's our top biller, you know." Jackson paused to glare at me as if I should be the
partner in the firm that billed the most hours. "Son of a bitch's threatening to pull out of the firm
and take his clients if we don't give him a bigger cut of the pie."
"I'm sure you'll figure out how to handle him," I said, and dusted off my pert smile and
fluffed my hair. So okay, Gloria Steinem I was not where Jackson was concerned.
"He's got that damn sailboat and that mansion out in the sticks and now that Hummer. So
we're supposed to vote him a special performance bonus at the mid-year meeting to pay for all
that, or he takes his clients and starts his own firm."
What I wanted to say was, let the bastard leave the firm. We all hate him, he leads a
profligate lifestyle and rubs our noses in it, and buying a Hummer proved that at least. But I
suddenly focused on the finances. If Kenneth went and took his clients, all the income he brought into the firm--and that was a lot--went with him. This wasn't a matter of Jackson's control, it was a matter of money.
At a fundamental level I understood that the trick was to get rid of Kenneth and keep his
clients. So, okay, how hard could that be?
"Let's start a rumor he's on drugs," I said, inspired by the fact one of our partners was
currently detoxing in a swanky rehab center in L.A. "Maybe tell his clients he's shipping out to a rehab program. I can call his biggest clients, say I'm his partner, and explain we are transferring his files to ...me." Then I could be the top biller.
Jackson glowered at me and I was quick to see my error. Baby partners like me didn't get
"Transferring Kenneth's files to you, and, eh, Fred, and some, a few, to me," I corrected.
Jackson nodded. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a lemon and reached in his
other pocket and brought out a pocket knife, and he cut a wedge out of the lemon and ate the
pulp down to the rind. "Want a slice?'
"No, thank you."
While Jackson ate his lemon and pondered, I pondered too. Maybe we could actually send
Kenneth to a detox center. How hard was it to Baker Act somebody? I'd put one of the law clerks into looking into what it took to involuntarily commit someone under that act.
"You might have something there." Jackson's voice vibrated off my walls. Then he stroked
his beard and pitched the lemon peel into the bottom of my potted peace lily. Then he saluted me and said, "Could've used a good trench fighter like you in Nam. You think on that plan some
more, bring me the pros and cons, the mechanics." And he slammed my door on the way out.
Mierda. He thought of me as a trench fighter. Hardly the image I had in mind.
A trench fighter in a black slip with equally black, lacy bikini panties, and Jackson in a gray
uniform with gold braided trim, wearing a broad-rimmed hat with a plume, and ....
Needless to say, I didn't get very far in delving into my vats of paper and verbiage, though
I did perfect the fantasy.
Book Review: Wild Cat Wine, Copyright 2006
By Donna Decker, Apalachee Tortoise
Lilly Belle Rosemary Cleary is a pistol in my book. And, it's not only because she and my dog share the same first two names, complete with double Ls.
No, Lilly Cleary shoots live ones because she's a believable oxymoron. She's a lawyer who argues appellate cases. However, she has her charkas adjusted before an oral arugment, she dines out only at vegan restaurants, and buys organic cedar chip dog beds--"which cost [her] not much less than tuition at [her] first community college" --for her Rottweiler, Bearess.
She's six feet tall and has raven hair, styled like Lauren Bacall. And she is the protagonist of Claire Matturro's Wildcat Wine, which is the second book in her series of mystery novels set in Sarasota, Florida and surrounding areas.
Lilly is a hoot, and every page contains at least one zinger. For instance, when she describes two women with perms as looking like "wet poodles on crystal meth." The cast of characters with whom she regularly interacts are the blue-haired grandmother next door, who is the "hall monitor of the universe"; Farmer Dave, a former lover, now caretaker of her one hundred and eighty acre apple orchard in North Georgia; and her boss and mentor, Jackson Winchester Smith, who believes he is the living reincarnation of Stonewall Jackson and is largely featured in Lilly's fantasy life.
Matturro's expertise as a former appellate attorney and member of the writing faculty of Florida State University College of Law richly informs this book. Wildcat Wine's prose is smooth and moves quickly, always with witty vibrancy. The dialogue is fresh and realistic. Lilly is a master of one-liners that hit their mark and show her to be a perceptive and compassionate protagonist, even though she is known for her ambition and often has her eye on billable hours.
The rest of this novel's characters are also quirky, extreme, and endearing. Most of them are good guys with sensitive souls who are trying to do their best while screwing up royally. How can you not have sympathy for a born-again guru by the new name of Gandhi Singh who wears a yellow Nehru jacket over his khakis and tries to be of service by counseling alien abductees and psychically locating lost cats? These characters are vulnerable, loony, and most definitely likeable.
The plot revolves around three murders, a truckload of stolen muscadine wine grown in a local vineyard, and tracking the elusive jaguarundis--the wild South American cat that defied domestication in the and, as legend has it, fled to the swamps of Myakka State Park . However, subplots abound, as do rich themes.
Matturro seamlessly balances an impressive array of subject matter. Wildcat Wine draws the reader into the areas of single-motherhood, obsessive-compulsive disorders and germ phobias, Mexican immigrants who are recruited by businesses, product liability, improvements on grape harvesters, organic wine-making, and how to respond to a diamondback rattler, among others. Additionally, she takes gentle potshots on the day-to-day minutiae on the lives of appellate lawyers and faculty who get hired to teach at law schools.
It is a joy to read a book that is this funny and steeped in authenticity. It is also refreshing to read a mystery novel set in the artistic and culturally hip city of Sarasota . Wildcat Wine 's Gulf coast Sarasota is a city that Lilly loves and for which she mourns. In a poignant passage, she laments the passing of Florida habitats like orange groves due to development. Bone Valley , Matturro's third book in the series that is forthcoming in September, explores environmental issues even more keenly. In Bone Valley , Lilly takes on the phosphate mining industry for its destructive impacts on Central Florida waters, particularly the Peace River . We see this issue foreshadowed in Wildcat Wine when we hear Lilly say,
"[I] looked about me at the gray gouged-out pathos of these holes, these ruined scrublands, desolate even before the miners were done, pockmarked with holes and studded with earthen dams full of radioactive phosphate-gypsum slime, slime that leached its poisons into the meager remaining groundwaters.
Yeah, definitely, God gave up on Florida and left."
It's clear that Lilly Cleary has not given up on Florida and neither has Claire Matturro. However, they are calling us to wake up and protect our Sunshine State . What better way to do it than through smart, sharp, witty writing like that of Wildcat Wine?
Now, if you know where to find a case of that organic muscadine, give me a holler.
WHAT THE REVIEWS SAID:
"A SMART LEGAL MYSTERY" --New York Times Book Review
"As she did in last year's debut, Skinny-Dipping, author Claire Matturro continues to enliven the legal thriller with the perfect blend of humor and drama. Never once do Lilly's witty banter and humorous asides override the seriousness of Wildcat Wine's plot. Matturro views the absurdities and the somber aspects of life with the same energy." Oline H. Cogdill, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
'Wildcat Wine' will intoxicate readers..."
"A circus of neurotic characters and cheating lawyers who meet over a murder. Funny stuff."
"As she did in her debut novel Skinny-dipping, Matturro devises a unique and complex plot with a lot of high-energy juice. She is a welcome addition to the growing list of notable crime writing novelists inspired by the beauty and insanity of Florida.
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Coming in September:
TROUBLE in TALLAHASSEE, a Familiar Legacy book,
published by KaliOka Press.
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Cover photograph by Becky Lindsey Shaw, used with permission.
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