There are all manner of real-world characters who escape to Martha’s Vineyard — to start a new life, to get away from their old one or simply to enjoy the Island. Some are accomplished lawyers, some are alcoholics, some are philanderers, some failed husbands. Jake Dellahunt, Vineyard Lawyer, with an office on the Cape, happens to be all of those.
He is as cornball and old-school as the title of A.J. Cushner’s book. And if you’re willing to suspend a certain portion of what you perceive as reality on our Island, Jake Dellahunt will make a good summer read.
The book has more story lines than (as Jake himself might say) an aging Hollywood babe who has lived on the hard side of the movie industry. Speaking of Jake’s ex-wife, she’s an L.A. actress who, unannounced, ships his two sons to live with him on the Vineyard for the summer. The boys — especially the older one — are right out of central casting’s angry adolescent mold. Nevertheless, they eventually come to aid their father in one of his myriad high-profile cases (once Jake arrives on the Island, these seem to happen as often as they do in real-life New York city). This one involves an incident in which the ferry runs aground and injures 50 people and kills one passenger.
The hard-luck but talented attorney also finds himself involved in an attempt to exonerate a German-American who lived on the Vineyard and who, in the 1940s, was convicted and executed for a murder he did not commit. Jake promised his former law partner on his deathbed that he would take over the case for him and try to clear the German man’s name. He made this promise partially because the partner willed Jake the Vineyard home where Jake now resides (not all his luck was hard).
And, oh yes, there’s his struggle to thwart a greedy family from selling its property and construction rights to a Las Vegas developer to build a private toll bridge to the mainland. This, of course, would be the death knell for the Vineyard as we know it, and Jake Dellahunt must deflect the mother of all bribe attempts to stand his ground.
Throw in more than a few more subplots — they’re introduced up to almost the very end of the book — and there’s barely enough time for Jake or anyone else to appreciate the Vineyard itself and reflect on his spectacular failures and shortcomings.
Despite its traffic jam of plotlines, Jake Dellahunt still manages to be endearing, thanks to Mr. Cushner’s success at portraying the main character as an earnest, hard-working lug with his heart in the right place, even if his head may be another story. Speaking of heads, did I mention another of Jake’s clients — a local chicken farmer accused of killing a neighbor’s dog, severing its head and depositing it in the neighbor’s mailbox? Or the fisherman who loses his boat and crew at sea and then returns home to shoot his wife?
All this makes Mr. Dellahunt a very busy man, which means he needs help. With all sort of things. Enter Robert Paul, a very large housekeeper and handyman, who also happens to be a former Wampanoag tribal chief. The image of this distinguished tribal elder turned personal assistant — albeit a wise-cracking, strong-willed one — may not sit too well with the politically correct set and tribal members alike. Yet Mr. Cushner presents the relationship in a disarmingly straightforward way in which the two men alternate being in charge.
Then there’s the final member of the Dellahunt troika, an Italian-American former New Yorker who owns the town’s only cafe and steals sugar, along with change from parking meters, while selling tourists fictional beachfront property and stock in the aforementioned (but still theoretical) bridge.
Mr. Cushner, who used to own a summer home on the Vineyard, draws on his eclectic experience as a lawyer, journalist, mountain guide and ski patrolman to create characters of color, literally and otherwise. This is not his first novel, and one senses his writing is a work in progress that is improving all the time — maybe evolving into books with fewer, albeit riveting, plot threads. And when his sons are ready to take over Jake Dellahunt’s practice, count me in as a reader. And tell me more about how I can get a piece of the action on that bridge.