Michelle Newby is contributing editor at Lone Star Literary Life, reviewer for Foreword Reviews, freelance writer, member of the National Book Critics Circle, and blogger at www.TexasBookLover.com. Her reviews appear or are forthcoming in Pleiades Magazine, Rain Taxi, World Literature Today, South85 Journal, The Review Review, Concho River Review, Monkeybicycle, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Atticus Review, and The Collagist.

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Manning Wolfe

Dollar Signs: Texas Lady Lawyer vs Boots King

Starpath Books, LLC

Ebook, 978-1-944225-00-1, 257 pgs., $7.99

February 18, 2016

When Tarantella Estevez set fire to the billboard looming over his tire shop he didn’t consider all of the junked vehicles parked on the lot beneath it. And how could he know that a homeless man was sleeping in one of those cars? So when the billboard buckles and falls flaming onto the vehicles below, and the gasoline in their tanks ignites, a simple charge of vandalism becomes manslaughter and Austin lawyer Merit Bridges, the Estevez brothers’ real estate attorney for a case involving the aforementioned, now incinerated, billboard, is cast into unfamiliar criminal waters. Boots King (“slippery as snail snot”) is an ethically challenged leasing agent employed by the owner of the billboard company to con trusting property owners into outdoor advertising contracts with some highly suspicious language buried in the small print. Boots isn’t averse to getting his hands dirty in a little wet work when called upon by his boss.

Dollar Signs: Texas Lady Lawyer vs Boots King is a legal thriller by Manning Wolfe, the winner of a Writers’ League of Texas manuscript contest, and the first in a planned series. Manning brings her legal education and years of experience practicing law in Austin to bear on this promising debut. She even manages to make the minutiae of contracts and real estate law and procedure interesting (seriously — y’all stop laughing).

Steeped in the sometimes self-conscious weirdness of Austin, Dollar Signs has a distinctly Texas feel. All of the familiar landmarks and a few new ones are here, from Fonda San Miguel to Amy’s Ice Creams. This tale is peopled with a diverse and quirky cast of characters, as befits Austin. Merit Bridges is a Texas original, and Wolf provides her with a complex and interesting backstory. The relationship between Bridges and her dyslexic teenage son provides a sweet respite from all the scheming and darkness of her current case. The only missteps in Dollar Signs involve the aforementioned self-conscious weirdness of Austin. Not everyone in the capital city is auditioning for their own reality show. Wolfe makes you care about her characters, and a lighter touch will keep them out of stereotype territory.

Wolfe grabs our attention with the first sentence as the PETA billboard begins to burn and the “smiling head of Greg Lee Wood burst into flames. Each animal surrounding him caught fire and burned. Two dogs, three cats, a sheep, and two goats all went in a giant ball of fire.” She keeps our attention with an original plot, fast pace, plenty of action, and an exciting conclusion.

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