Res Judicata by Vicki Grant. Orca Book Publishers, 9.95 pb

Don’t be daunted by the title of this clever novel for teens/young adults. Res Judicata is a legal term meaning ‘the thing has been judged’; or basically, that you can’t be tried for the same crime again.

This is the second Vicki Grant novel to feature Cyril MacIntyre, the wise and wise-crackin’ son of bad-girl-turned-lawyer Andy MacIntyre. Andy was a teen mother, and she and her son grew up together. When she decided to study to become a lawyer, Cyril trailed along to classes with her, helped her study for exams, and even helped in her office and learned to write documents for her cases. But Cyril isn’t a perfect character, the sort of brainiac who saves the day just in the nick of time every time. He’s sassy to his mother, critical of her shortcomings, moody and introspective. But he’s also able to reach sensible conclusions when things don’t quite add up.

In this story, Andy MacIntyre has taken on yet another bizarre cause/case, choosing to represent a custodian named Chuck Dunkirk who is first heralded as a hero for attempting to save a scientist’s life, and then accused of his murder by the scientist’s widow. Things take an odd turn, however, when Chuck decides he wants to sue the police department for malicious prosecution. Andy also has a new man in her life, a sheriff named Dougie who gets nicknamed Biff by the cynical Cyril, who doesn’t like this new intruder until he realizes that Biff cooks. Real food, unlike his mother, the takeout queen. Biff also does dishes, housework, and adds furniture to Andy’s disheveled dwelling place—until they have a quarrel and breakup over Chuck. From here, things fall apart rapidly, and it’s Cyril who picks up the threads and attempts to weave the solution to the mystery and to Andy’s love life dramatics. The ensuing machinations result in a delectably lively read that readers of any age can revel in.

Quid Pro Quo, Grant’s first novel featuring these characters, won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Juvenile Crime Novel, among other accolades. It’s easy to see why. Grant’s books are fast paced, lively, with dialogue that sounds exactly like what we hear from teenagers and parents. But they also contain intricate and fun mysteries for Cyril and the reader to puzzle over, and give readers a sideways look into law and the legal system. Each chapter begins with a legal term and its definition, a bit of an added bonus but also an insight into Cyril’s clever, convoluted mind.

Vicki Grant originally is from Halifax although she lived in other parts of Canada for some years before returning to her native city. She’s made an intriguing yet understandable evolution from writing copy for advertising to scriptwriting for children’s television and now to writing young adult novels. The first two skills were quite similar, but novel writing brought a new set of skills to bear. The most valuable things I learned from my other careers are discipline—I’m not afraid of deadlines anymore—and story-telling,” she says. “In both advertising and television, you have to tell your story quickly and economically. You also have to understand how the three acts of any plot work to build tension and create a satisfying resolution.”

Grant also acknowledges her interest in writing for young adults had a practical basis at home. Her daughters, now 17 and 14, are huge readers, but her son, now 20, was never particularly interested in books. “I spent many hours during his junior high years trying to find novels that would grab him, at least long enough to finish his book report,” she says. “I began to write books with kids like him in mind—smart ones who just don’t really want to read. I try to write funny, fast, exciting books that can compete with TV, video games, or whatever else is pulling them away. Nothing makes me happier than to think something I wrote turned a kid on to reading.”

The legal series of novels also had its genesis in life. Vicki Grant enjoyed watching legal dramas such as Law & Order, as well as reading legal thrillers, and realized there was nothing out there for kids about the law. She didn’t want to make Cyril a young legal whiz-kid, the legal equivalent of the medical genius on Doogie Howser MD television show from some years ago. While struggling to make her character believable, she says the whole first chapter of Quid Pro Quo popped into her head one day. Andy the difficult mother and Cyril her brightly irascible son were born.

What’s next for Vicki Grant? She’s just finished a novel for ten to 14-year-olds called Nine Doors, which will be published in February or March. She’s also just finished the final draft of Not Suitable for Family-Viewing, which she describes as a chick-lit mystery for teen girls, and will be published this fall by HarperCollins.

Grant is thinking that the next book in the Cyril and Andy saga may have to do with the rights of the mentally ill, but acknowledges that she needs to do some research, and also that she needs both a bit of a breather and a solid plot before she continues with her legal thrillers. Grant is married to a lawyer, so as she gleefully told me, “Most of my research consists of elbowing him just as he’s falling asleep with another legal question.”