Andy Siegel. Nelly’s Case. New York: Rockwell P, 2018. Print. A Tug Wyler Mystery.
People of a certain age may recall the popular television show Perry Mason. Raymond Burr played a canny lawyer whose clients were always accused of a crime they did not commit. Mason had to overcome a lot of incriminating evidence, but he always discovered who really committed the crime at the show’s end. Part of the fun was trying to see if we could figure out who really did it before Mason. Sometimes we felt a little sorry for the D.A. Hamilton Burger who seems to have never won a case in his life.
This TV show was based on a series of novels by the very prolific Erle Stanley Gardner. Each episode, like each novel, began with the words The Case of, as in The Case of the Perjured Parrot. Lawyer Andy Siegel seems to be doing something similar with his titles. Each is simply “So and So’s” Case. In this case, that means Nelly.
Nelly sounds like she truly is a victim of malpractice. Like many people, she fears the dentist, so she visits a dentist who claims to be “the painless dentist.” The reason that he is a painless dentist is that he anesthetizes his patients to knock them out, more than a local shot of Novocaine. Unfortunately, when he sets up Nelly on the intravenous anesthetic, he leaves for a few minutes asking her half-sister Jessie to keep an eye on her. During that time, Nelly stops breathing. They have to call 911. She is revived, but suffers brain damage.
As we follow attorney Tug Wyler, a specialist in medical malpractice, we see him actually juggling several cases at a time. If one thinks about it, that would be more typical of a lawyer’s job. For example, we also get a lot of details about the case of Adora, who was born normal, but suffered brain damage before she left the hospital after she was born.
Adora’s case is complicated because the statute of limitations is almost over when her parents are convinced they need legal help. They are getting older and realize she will probably outlive them and will need constant care.
Part of the fun of Tug Wyler is that he is the narrator and is very frank with the readers. We know what he is thinking. He favorite expression to us is “At least I admit it.” He’s not going to perjure himself.
Wyler connects with a number of interesting characters. His partner Henry seems to bring trouble to him, but most of the time cleverly knows what he is doing. Trace is an ex-convict who seems to have connections everywhere. When Tug needs to find some information but may not be able to get it legally, Trace is his man.
He consults Roscoe, an specialist in legal ethics. Roscoe tells him what he should do as a lawyer; he is direct and clear but is concerned primarily for the lawyer—his client—rather than the well-being of the lawyer’s clients. There is also Trudy, a meticulous and highly motivated insurance investigator.
Trudy says that her insurance company used to sell life insurance policies where the customers simply checked off boxes on a medical questionnaire. There was no physical. It was very easy for the customer. In nearly all the cases, the insurance company would later be able to prove that the customer lied on the form, so they did not have to pay out.
We learn, for example, that Nelly’s mother had a terminal illness, but since both her and her husband’s bodies were burned, there was no evidence of misrepresentation, so Nelly got the insurance payout. It seems as though Jessie has some control over Nelly and has been able to get Nelly to give her much of the money.
Nelly was trapped in a room in the house on the night of the fire but managed to be rescued. She remembers nothing of that night. However, when the second brain trauma occurs from the anesthetic, she starts to remember bits and pieces of that night, but she confuses them with what she recalls about the dentist’s office.
Even Tug’s clients are complicated. Adora’s mother is a great Italian cook, but does not want her husband to know that both she and Adora were diagnosed with herpes. That diagnosis is why the hospital is reluctant to claim any responsibility.
Nelly’s family life is, uh, nontraditional. She and Jessie have the same father, but he married Nelly’s mother and Nelly lived with them. Jessie is a few years older (both are in their twenties) and lives with her single mother. However, a few years ago, when Nelly was a teen, she lost both her parents in a house fire of suspicious origin. She thinks Jessie may have set the fire, but she has nowhere else to turn but to her sister and her sister’s mother.
Nelly’s Case is delightfully complicated. There are multiple mysteries concerning both Nelly and Adora. There are complex relationships. What will happen if Adora’s father learns his wife and daughter have herpes? Is Jessie out to get Nelly? Do either Adora or Nelly have a case? Can Tug Wyler find the truth and stay within the law? And Dr. Grad, the dentist, is so very helpful. Why cause him more misery since the state is now coming after his license?
Like the Perry Mason stories, Nelly’s Case is more of a mystery than anything else, but people who enjoy legal thrillers will like it, too. Wyler turns out to be quite clever. And maybe also a bit lucky.
This book might not be for everyone. There is some sexually frank language, though because our narrator Mr. Wyler is happily married, he does not exploit the sexual material.