- - Thursday, December 18, 2014

It gets off to a rousing Rosenfelt start with a murder in a house otherwise occupied by an 8-year-old boy called Ricky and a basset hound called Sebastian.

The victim is the boy’s father, and his stepmother either doesn’t want him or is dead. There is usually a predictable mix to David Rosenfelt’s mysteries from cynical dialogue to his contact with homicidal but helpful mobsters, and always, always, dogs. Mr. Rosenfelt lives with 25 rescued golden retrievers, so you can expect a dog on the cover of his book and more than once between the covers. A golden retriever called Tara in the nature of a guru is in his cast of characters, and it’s a pity she can’t talk while she walks with him.

This time around, Tara’s fictional owner is the rich and tough but softhearted lawyer Andy Carpenter, who finds himself in a situation that is reminiscent of the 1950s television series “Leave It to Beaver,” set in the days when the American family appeared to believe that Mother and Father know best. Unfortunately, Andy Carpenter and his tough and glamorous girlfriend, Laurie, never would have been a fit on that show, or even in that era. They are living happily without benefit of matrimony, for one thing. Carpenter interrupts a loosely woven plot to acknowledge this in an early warning that of what the reader may suspect is a change in lifestyle from tough talking, laid-back lawyer to cartoon-watching father-in-waiting. You tend to wonder what Tara thinks about it. When Carpenter isn’t trying to prove the innocence of his detective friend on a murder charge, he is worrying about little Ricky. Sebastian the basset sleeps a lot, so he doesn’t figure much in the plot. What is unfortunate is that Laurie, who is usually a lively character in the Carpenter chronicles, is relegated too often to making pancakes and hamburgers for little Ricky, whom she is contemplating adopting. In this situation, Laurie does not have enough to do except play a rather unlikely mom.

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Violence still strikes occasionally and a friendly mobster brightens things up, as does Marcus, a monster, who is massive and watches Carpenter’s back and casually demolishes any threats to the friend who obviously needs help.

The courtroom scenes are well done, as usual, but that’s about as far as it goes for tension. The reader might feel another murder or two might have been acceptable simply to make Carpenter work harder.

As it is, the ghost of the Cleaver family from the TV series seems to float around, even though it seems Carpenter would be bored silly as the paternal Ward Cleaver. Carpenter is unmarried, although spoken for, as you might say, and he steadily becomes more enamored of little Ricky.

If you suspect the end of the Carpenter unconventional world is at hand, and that traditional romance is in the air, you might be right. Which probably means that only Tara will survive as an original Carpenter cast member, and she may revert to being an adorable dog that listens well.

The inevitable wedding is pretty Beaverish, but it isn’t Carpenterish, and there isn’t a mobster in sight. However, Carpenter seems to be moving into domesticity, and it will be interesting to see what impact this will have on his future adventures. Between adorable dogs and an orphan, there is the possibility that Carpenter will become a father. Yet even now, whoever thought anyone would call him “Dad”?

Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and The Baltimore Sun.

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