Death by Surprise (Carolyn Hart Classics)

BOOK: Death by Surprise (Carolyn Hart Classics)
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Published 2013 by Seventh Street Books™, an imprint of Prometheus Books

Death by Surprise.
Copyright © 1983 by Carolyn Hart. Introduction copyright © 2013 by Carolyn Hart. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

Cover image © Looking Glass/Media Bakery
Cover design by Jacqueline Nasso Cooke


Inquiries should be addressed to

59 John Glenn Drive

Amherst, New York 14228–2119

VOICE: 716–691–0133 • FAX: 716–691–0137


17 16 15 14 13 • 5 4 3 2 1

The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:

Hart, Carolyn G.

Death by surprise / by Carolyn Hart.

pages cm

ISBN 978-1-61614-869-0 (pbk.)

ISBN 978-1-61614-870-6 (ebook)

1. Mystery fiction. I. Title.


PS3558.A676D445 2013



Printed in the United States of America




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Castle Rock

As a young teenager, I devoured hard-boiled private eye books along with titles by Christie, Tey, Rinehart, Taylor, and Wentworth. I especially remember summer holidays in Long Beach, California. We stayed in a small hotel down by the amusement park and the pier. I walked a few blocks into town to a small second-hand bookstore and bought books by Erle Stanley Gardener, John Creasey, Donald Hamilton, and Jack Iams.

The books were fast-paced, spare, quick.

Death by Surprise
is as near that genre as I have ever come. K.C. Carlisle, the protagonist, is a young woman lawyer who has good reason never to quite trust anyone.

When the book was written, young women were just beginning to establish themselves as a force among lawyers. Then law firms occasionally had a woman lawyer. Now women lawyers often comprise a third of big firms and are equally successful in small firms and as prosecutors and defense attorneys.

K.C. is today’s independent woman and a perfect match for hidden evil in a twisty tale of greed, manipulation, ambiguity, and a client in deadly peril.

Carolyn Hart

I glanced down at the legend, K.C. CARLISLE, Attorney-at-Law, in small neat gold lettering near the bottom of the storefront window. I didn’t stop and look at it. That wouldn’t be cool, would it? My generation is, above all things, cool. But it gave me a thrill. Not that lawyering Carlisles are any kind of oddity, or treat, to La Luz, but it meant a lot to me. I had been among the first wave of women to wash through the nation’s law schools. I was K.C. Carlisle, attorney-at-law, and proud of it, still glorying in it after five years of practice, five years of facing down the lady lawyer stereotype. Perhaps that was part of the reason for the kind of law I practiced. But only part. I took almost anything that walked through the door, domestic relations (God, are divorces depressing!), small-time criminal work, wills, mortgages, bankruptcy (and had they been on the increase!), titles, workman’s comp., even one malpractice suit. That was the case that proved to me that expert witnesses have a lot in common with call girls. (They strive to please.) I learned a little more every day and by the first anniversary of passing the bar exam, I had gained a lot of confidence in myself and a great respect for our system of law. Inequities happen. Uneven justice occurs. But the law, cumbersome, tedious, and slow, moves forward in its ponderous fashion and more than likely, whatever your complaint, there is a remedy.

I liked looking for remedies. I was on the look out for and took the lead whenever possible in cases fighting incompetence, corruption, exploitation, or prejudice.

I represented Elida Mason Eliot when the school board tried to fire her because she was a lesbian despite her excellent reputation as a teacher. I won.

I represented Ted MacGuire, who was coughing his life away, in a suit against Consolidated Coal, accusing the corporation of moral and legal responsibility for black lung. I lost.

I filed a class action suit against the U.S. Army on behalf of James Morrison and all the other soldiers who watched atomic nimbuses over the New Mexican desert and are now suffering from assorted cancers. No jurisdiction.

I filed another class action for the descendants of the Susquehanna tribe which was summarily and arbitrarily removed from tribal lands, contrary to treaty, relocated in a desert and generally ripped off in the 1880s. That’s on appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

I made some enemies. A few old friends of the family studiously looked the other way when we passed on Main Street, but I had a hunch old K.C., for Kenneth Calvin, the first Carlisle to lawyer in La Luz, might have liked my spirit. Kenneth had ridden into town in 1866, a tattered ex-Reb, looking for a new start in the faraway state of California. He hung up a shingle on the second floor of a rickety wooden house at the corner of Main and Mission, and proceeded to represent anybody who asked him. If he had, in the long run, opted more for the railroad and mining interests, you could only say he knew a dollar when he saw one. He had, as a matter of fact, done so well that his offspring still floated at the top of La Luz society, thanks to his acumen.

I unlocked the door and wondered what old K.C. would think if he could see my office. It was as simple as his first had been.

Two straight chairs and my secretary’s desk crowded the entry room. I flicked on the overhead light and followed the narrow short hallway to my office door. In a tiny room to the left was my law library. The equally small bathroom was on the right.

I opened my office door, turned on the light, and sighed when I saw my overflowing ‘in’ box. I looked at the top of the stack. Good. Pat had finished the brief I would file Monday in the Patterson lawsuit, asking damages and a prohibition of further slander of Mabel Patterson’s credit by the Central Credit Bureau which had dropped her rating from good to poor because of her divorce. Pat was a marvel and I would be sorry when he finished night law school. He was an excellent typist, an efficient office manager, and quite a bit brighter than I’d assumed an aging halfback could be. He was still a local hero in La Luz, the aficionados remembering the fall Friday seven years past when Pat had run a kick-off back eighty-six yards for a touchdown against archrival Cordova. I had already invited Pat to practice with me and he had smiled wistfully, or as wistfully as anybody his size could, and shaken his head. He had hopes of landing a clerkship with a federal district judge and thereby making a play, after a year, for one of the blue-chip firms. I couldn’t fault him for that. There are all kinds of law to practice and each is necessary for the whole to function. I don’t have any prejudice against my brethren in the corporate warrens or in the big business firms. I think of us all as worker ants, each carrying his little particle, the end result being the survival of society.

If that seems a little grand, think about it. In
King Richard III,
the conspirators plan first to be rid of all the lawyers. Why? Because they knew their chicanery couldn’t survive the law. It’s the lawyers who hold us together, keep us apart, and maintain civility. If you don’t believe it, imagine for a moment what it would be like without them. It would be back to rule by force and God love you if you’re weak, poor, or have something a bigger guy wants.

So I didn’t mark Pat as a loss because he wanted to be a corporate lawyer and affluent to boot. I just hoped I could find another secretary as capable as he. And maybe as big. His bulk discouraged the hoods and winos who clustered at the Red Dog Tavern down the street. I had been broken into twice before I hired Pat.

BOOK: Death by Surprise (Carolyn Hart Classics)
4.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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