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The Shyster’s Daughter by Paula Priamos

In reviewing “The Shyster’s Daughter” by Paula Priamos I am going a little off-topic because this is a “detective noir memoir” rather than a mystery novel. The book does read like a novel even though it is an autobiographical account about Priamos and her life with her “shyster” lawyer dad.

A “shyster” is an attorney to servers mostly low-life clients and often takes advantage of clients who are most vulnerable.  Priamos becomes aware during her teenage years that her father is spending more money than he is making.  He pays cash for a house in Tennessee, show horses, fancy cars and other extravagances.  She discovers that her father is milking the accounts of certain wealthy clients he does not think will miss the cash. Priamos never seems to judge her father on his flaws or criminal activity, and yet she often blames her mother for having gotten away from the bad marriage, and having abandoned Paula.

Priamos  hates when the family visits her grandmother and her Uncle Gil.  Gil is a child molester who also secretly fantasizes about having his way with Priamos’ mother.  Gil lives with Yia-Yia, the grandmother.  The extreme menace of Psycho Gil, who keeps an arsenal of weapons in his room, is one reason for Paula’s mother to take her sister and brother to live in Tennessee.  Paula is given a few minutes to decide whether to stay with her dad or go with her mom and siblings; she choses her dad because she  thinks he cannot get along without her.

Priamos witnesses the slow disintegration of her dad’s law practice, the loss of all his possessions, and the eventual loss of his life.  The mystery in the book comes with Priamos’ investigation of whether her father really died of a heart attack in the room he moved in to at Yia-Yia’s house, whether he committed suicide or was murdered.  Her uncles and grandmother cover up the death and hold a funeral quickly.  They call in favors to make sure that an autopsy is not performed.  Are they in a hurry to bury Paul to make sure he can be buried in sanctified ground (which in the Greek orthodox tradition would not have been possible if Paul committed suicide), or to cover up a crime?  Paula includes comments from friends and family from her investigation interspersed throughout the book.

Nothing is ever concluded as far as the cause of Paul’s death.  It was officially listed as a heart attack, but Paul had plenty of reasons to commit suicide, and he had plenty of enemies and psycho relatives perfectly capable of doing him in.  Unlike most mystery novels this “detective noir memoir” does not reach a final conclusion.  Instead, life goes on for the author with her teaching for the California State University system and living with her husband and stepson in Southern California.

This is a well written coming of age and “detective noir” memoir and is a testament to a strong but flawed father-daughter relationship that survives even the father’s wrong-doing and death.

Reviewed from a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols

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