Ridiculous Rayna 

Someone needs to inject the lead character of 'Chasing Rayna' with a dose of intelligence

I too am chasing Rayna--into the arms of Gloria Steinem, who just might be able to slap some feminism into the sophomoric prosecutor at the center of Phoenix-based Sylvia Nobel's latest work.

Perhaps even Oprah or Dr. Phil could school the 35-year-old girl in the ways of Simone de Beauvoir or, at the very least, The Rules. Anything to keep this so-called smart cookie from continuing to act so stupid.

Nobel's purported courtroom drama, Chasing Rayna, starts out well enough. The attractive and buxom Pima County deputy prosecutor, after losing her first big case, lands the latest litigation sure to save her bulldog reputation. Criminal defenders, Nobel quickly portrays, quiver in their boots when they find they have to go up against the petite South Carolinian now living in Tucson.

And Rayna's latest trial is nothing if not high-octane, sure to set the media and her career afire, as she attempts to indict an 18-year-old drunk driver who mowed down a young mother and her toddler near Oracle Road and Sunrise Drive. There's a witness to the hit-and-run--a middle-aged woman sure to evoke sincerity with the jury--but no Breathalyzer evidence to prove intoxication beyond a reasonable doubt. What's more, the victims are the sister and niece of Tucson's mayor.

Nobel wastes no time showcasing her talented heroine, who has a winning streak in the courtroom even if she doesn't in the bedroom, and Rayna shines during the preliminary hearing. There's no doubt she's prepared to pounce on the defense in the name of the victims. And, fortuitously, a win in her column would also mend her standing with defense attorney Sheldon Freestone, still gloating from the Stratton case Rayna lost on a technicality.

And that's where the story ends. The legal story, anyway. In the midst of the only court scene in the entire book, Rayna discovers that the teenager she's prosecuting is the son of her first love, Tyler Brockwell, a Southern beau she met when she was 16 and he was 20.

She tries desperately to avoid the reunion--not for any true ethical reasons, but because she's still in love with the past--but Brockwell won't relent until their history is dragged out and amended.

Now, any dedicated professional in this situation would have marched back to the boss' office and recused herself for the sake of the trial and her career. Particularly today, such a steamy conflict of interest would guarantee major media hoopla.

But not Rayna. No, she converses with Brockwell in the courthouse, in the cafeteria, at her home, at the zoo and at her friend's antique shop. She has dinner with him twice, splits a bottle of wine, accepts a ride home and allows him to photograph her. Though careful not to discuss the case, she manages to rekindle old flames with her old flame and even kiss him before deciding to recuse herself.

Only problem is, her boss is out of town. So she decides to wait until he gets back, but Freestone--who's gotten wind of the compromising position Rayna has put herself in--beats her to the punch.

Chasing Rayna is a silly story. Nobel ignores what could be intriguing plot points: Nothing is ever made of the mayor's connections to the victims; Rayna spends all of 10 minutes engaging in actual legal work; and this supposedly ambitious businesswoman--now recommitted to Brockwell--solves the case after eavesdropping on his son for five minutes. Conveniently, she happens to be crouching beneath the kid's window just as he spills it all.

Nobel doesn't even exploit the typical attention-getters of a legal drama. Readers aren't privy to the dressing-down Rayna endures from her boss: It all happens behind closed doors, after which the able attorney cries and runs away to Mexico. And by narrating the tale omnisciently, though Rayna thinks Brockwell ratted her out and used her affections to his son's advantage, Nobel lets her audience know this isn't the case. There's no toiling over whether Brockwell is the swell guy Rayna thinks he is, and her reactions just seem out of control. Maybe there's something to that "hysterical uterus" theory after all.

In Rayna's defense, she isn't alone in her immaturity. Brockwell is an absent father, a philandering husband, but a darned good-looking guy. But instead of brooding about Brockwell not marrying her at 16, she should be thanking her lucky stars. She's earned a GED, graduated from law school, developed good friends and built a promising career.

What can Brockwell offer her other than--as it turns out--unbridled, marathon sex? But Rayna chooses him anyway.

Don't expect a legal thriller in the vein of Scott Turow or Stephanie Kane. Chasing Rayna is a romance novel that espouses the kind of love and sex that only exists in the fantasies of little girls.

More by Leigh Rich

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    • Aug 19, 2004
  • From the Heart

    A memoir from an anthropologist who found acceptance in the street life of 1960s Guaymas, Mexico.
    • Feb 5, 2004
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