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SCOTTOLINE TURNS REVENGE ON ITS HEAD

The Vendetta Defense
By Lisa Scottoline
HarperCollins
387 pages, $25

Revenge for a 50-year-old murder is the basis of the eighth novel by Philadelphia trial lawyer-turned-novelist Lisa Scottoline.

The plot, like tomato sauce lovingly prepared according to an old family recipe, has a batch of ingredients, some of which assert themselves more strongly than others.

All the action is in Italian-American South Philly: "Where everybody knows everybody else's habits, their cars, their kids, their problems."

The central character in the cast of confectioner's sugar-coated septuagenarians -- who provide almost operatic-like moments of high comedy -- is Anthony "Pigeon Tony" Lucia, who insists that he killed, but did not murder, his old nemesis from Abruzzo, one-time Fascist Angelo Coluzzi because he was satisfying a vendetta by avenging the death of his wife decades earlier in Italy.

Coluzzi's two sons and their henchmen -- among them dim-witted Jimmy Bello -- wreak havoc on Pigeon Tony and his lawyer while fighting for the family's honor and control of the family construction business.

Setting the dizzying pace in this wonderful tarantella of a tale is the gutsy, sassy lawyer Judy Carrier of Rosato & Associates, who believes in "karma, Krispy Kreme doughnuts and Vincent Van Gogh" and prefers bare legs and yellow clogs to pantyhose and brown pumps.

From the homey kitchens of South Philly to the courtroom, the action is fast and furious with car chases, shootings, bombings, and vicious vandalism. Scottoline mutes the violence with a budding relationship between Judy and Pigeon Tony's hunky grandson, Frank.

Her defense of the 79-year-old immigrant -- who's so gentle he's never culled his flock of prize-winning racing pigeons -- poses a dilemma. Since he did it -- he even takes the stand over Judy's vigorous objections to proclaim his guilt -- it's an uphill battle to mount a defense that will convince jurors that her client's history of suffering justifies his action.

As the Lucia-Coluzzi blood feud -- which includes the killing of Pigeon Tony's son and daughter-in-law -- plays out, it is clear that in the end justice, not necessarily the law will be served.