Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Last Billable Hour

Rate this book
It's the 1980s, and Tweedmore & Slyde is the hottest law firm in red-hot Silicon Valley, where the computer industry is creating new ways to mint money, and lots of it. Tweedmore's lawyers are masters at carving out their own little slices of that pie?drafting briefs and wills and contracts, and putting in 18-hour days to protect the interests of their staggeringly wealthy clientele. Enter Howard Rickover. Pudgy and perpetually rumpled, Howard is an unlikely addition to the Tweedmore tank of sharply dressed sharks. But when one of the sharks is stabbed to death, the scrappy no-nonsense homicide detective inexplicably selects Howard to run an ?inside job, ? helping her to flush out the murderer. Will wits and chemistry be enough to allow this unlikely duo to find the killer before the killer finds them?

242 pages, Paperback

First published March 1, 1989

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Susan Wolfe

6 books32 followers
Susan Wolfe is a lawyer with a B.A. from the University of Chicago and a law degree from Stanford University. After four years of practicing law full time, she bailed out and wrote the best-selling The Last Billable Hour, which won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. She returned to law for another sixteen years, first as a criminal defense attorney and then as an in-house lawyer for Silicon Valley high-tech companies. Born and raised in San Bernardino, California, she now lives in Palo Alto, California, with her husband, Ralph DeVoe. Her new novel, Escape Velocity, will be published in October of 2016.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
100 (22%)
4 stars
165 (37%)
3 stars
123 (27%)
2 stars
42 (9%)
1 star
11 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 58 reviews
Profile Image for Meggy Chocolate'n'Waffles.
513 reviews97 followers
June 28, 2016
I picked this book thinking nothing could go wrong; it had two of my favorites things: a murder and lawyers. It turns out I need a little more than that to be convinced.

When Howard is hired by Tweedmore and Slyde, he discovers just how little Law school prepare you for the real work. So do we. For the first third of the story, Howard struggles to find a balance and meet deadlines, throwing us Latin quotes and big words like subpoena every couple of page. Any fan of legal drama is in their element witnessing Howard lose sleep and weight as he becomes the partners’ slave. I really enjoyed that part at first, but it soon became repetitive.

This books starts off quite slow and never really manages to build up speed or tension. I really hoped the killing of Mr. Billable would set the wheels in motion, but even as Howard gets hired by the detective to dig around and help with the investigation, the pace remained sluggish.

Throughout the book, I had the feeling the actual plot was Howard’s life as an associate, the murder only being an element for him to work on. Despite a few red herrings thrown at them, neither the police nor Howard needed to dig very deep to find clues and answers which were served to them on a silver plate. I found it hard to believe that seasoned lawyers and secretaries, known for keeping their mouths shut, would ever turn to a first-year associate to spill the beans. There were too many characters and too little to tell them apart, which really confused me until late into the story.

The story between Sarah and Howard fit perfectly into the investigation, although it felt sometimes a little rushed or unnecessary. There are small changes in Howard as he experiences what it really means and what it truly takes to be a lawyer, which added depth to a character that otherwise would have stayed in my mind as the insecure overworked guy who did not have the guts to practice law and would never make it to partnership. I was happy to see his character grow and figure things out for himself.

I am glad I read until the last pages, as I felt the ending was okay and saved the story for me.

Overall, this book was a fast read, but definitely not what I had expected. There were just too many details bothering me to really enjoy the book. I cannot give The Last Billable Hour more than 2 stars, although perhaps someone less picky might give it a 3.

I would like to thank the publisher for sending my a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This review was originally posted on my blog https://chocolatenwafflesblog.wordpre...
Profile Image for Wiseask.
132 reviews12 followers
January 21, 2020
In the crowded field of attorneys-turned-authors of crime fiction and courtroom dramas, dominated by giants like John Grisham and Scott Turow and imitated by dozens of others, it’s not surprising to find one imitator who injects humor into her narrative as her mark of distinction.

Enter author Susan Wolfe, a Stanford Law School graduate, who in The Last Billable Hour has written a lighthearted mystery surrounding the murder of a partner in a California law firm. More mildly amusing than actually funny, her superficial, improbable characters romp through this farce winking at us not to take the story too seriously.

Ms. Wolfe uses the tried and true — and tired — formula perfected by Agatha Christie nearly 100 years ago. Multiple suspects, each with a motive to commit the murder, are grouped together; only instead of them being passengers on the Orient Express, here they are the attorneys and staff of a California law firm. Instead of the investigation being conducted by the immortal Hercule Poirot, here we have to settle for an inexperienced first year associate lawyer and his detective sidekick doubling as his love interest.

On the book’s jacket, a blurb from a professional review states that “Wolfe winds up her story with a scene that explodes a number of myths.” I would agree with that assessment — if the myth is that any law school graduate can write good crime fiction, because based on this book Susan Wolfe clearly can’t.

Assuming, if not for her sake hoping, that Ms. Wolfe is a better lawyer than novelist, the best advice I can give her as a lawyer myself and lover of good writing is not to leave her day job. Or if she no longer practices law as her day job, then to practice her writing. Lots and lots and lots of practice.

She gets no stars for her novel, but three from me for getting into and through Stanford Law. Stanford is a top law school admitting only a small percentage of applicants and educating them to think like lawyers, but evidently offers no courses on how to write more than an amateurish whodunnit.

By the way, one nagging mystery is not resolved at the end of the book. Ms. Wolfe never explains her suspicious connection or debt to Burger King, which she mentions by name no less than eleven times, including a description of its familiar colors (“the cheerful red-and-yellow bags”), and as the favorite if not the only place where her characters go for burgers, fries, a Coke, coffee, to use the telephone and to dispose of evidence.
Profile Image for May Ling.
1,071 reviews287 followers
September 30, 2016
This was a great little mystery novel. In a very short period, Wolfe develops a set of characters that keeps a person engaged.
September 17, 2016
Absolutely loved it! And hated it at the same time. Reading defensively, as a retired workaholic myself who is only now learning how to cook, I found myself skewered with relish! Kebabbed! Or is that ka-bobbed?! Over and over again, with a clever mix of perspicuity and sarcasm applied liberally throughout this battering ramekin of a first book by Susan Wolfe. A lawyer herself, Wolfe gleefully spoofs and spoils the vainglorious world of high-priced attorneys and their hundred-hour work week lives in glitzy glass high-rise buildings.

Should have guessed it would be so! Our young hero, Howard Rickover, is a novice and nervous attorney and single man with aspirations to impress. Early on he affords us a surprisingly detailed lesson in how to approach fine meal preparation given limited time to budget to this task, only to see his hard culinary work teased about on her plate by the often pre-occupied police detective Sarah Nelson. Sarah has come into his life to investigate the death of Leo Slyde, first partner in the premiere Silicon Valley law firm, Tweedmore & Slyde, Howard’s first employer out of law school. (Yes, you read that correctly: Tweedmore & Slyde!)

So better clear your station! The Last Billable Hour is the delightfully intricate staging and execution of a murder mystery that employs the “mise en place”* approach to cooking perfectly tasty meals efficiently. In this case, Wolfe skillfully “puts in place” multiple suspects culled from the world of corporate law, not only to intrigue the palette and receive her whip, but also to raise questions of our own motives, leaven the plot, and apply the heat! Right up until the thankfully fully-baked conclusion! (OK, it’s a stretch, but remember, I’m only now learning how to cook.) Just be warned, this book will leave you satisfied, but hungry for more…

*French culinary term thanks to Ruhlman’s Twenty: 20 Techniques, 100 Recipes, A Cook’s Manifesto. By Michael Ruhlman, c 2011, Chronicle Books LLC.
Profile Image for Mainon.
1,040 reviews48 followers
June 10, 2016
This wasn't as lighthearted as I expected -- it's a mostly serious murder mystery set in a California law firm in the 1980s. It reminded me of early books by John Grisham and Sidney Sheldon, with a classically overworked associate who tries to make up for feeling overwhelmed by working even harder.

It seemed clear to me that the author had actually worked in a law firm -- the details rang as true as the overall architecture of the setting. Of course it's somewhat dated: corded phones, hard copies of treatises, filings that have to be done in person at the courthouse, actual carbon copies. But technology aside, the inner workings of a law firm, and the power struggles therein, still feel very modern. The resolution was satisfying, and the glimmer of a love interest was believeable and un-forced.

I received a copy of this ebook from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
759 reviews4 followers
July 13, 2018
Pretty good

Lots of characters to keep track of. Had some trouble following through the first half. Got a handle on it, but there were still switchbacks that took me some time to figure out. Howard is surprisingly likeable. The ending is okay, a little vague.
Profile Image for Esdaile.
337 reviews52 followers
January 17, 2012
I chanced upon this book in Düsseldorf and bought it for just a euro but I read it in German translation and it is probably even better in English. This work is considerably better than the majority of whodunnits which pour off the press and Susan Wolfe is more accomplished than at least two more famous writers of murder mysteries that I can think of-Ngaio Marsh for instanc or the abysmally overrated Ian Rainkin. She succeeds where they fail, in providing a creidbly plot with credible and subtle and three dimensional characters with not only a profile for the present but with a past that drives them and distorts their judgements. The writer produces a convincing account of the shark pool gambits of American corporate life. There is in addition a world weary undertone, not overdone, questioning the sense of it all. I felt that the murder and quest for the murderer was almost incidental to the plot and I wonder if the novel could not have been written as well or even better without a murder theme at all, but probably Susan Wolfe would not have then found a publisher if she had refrained from introducing at least one corpse. Murder sells and everyone who wants to sell a novel considers writing yet another murder mystery, a genre for which the Western reading public has had an apparently insatiable appetite for about the last hundred years.
This probably accounts for the meladramatic, unrealsitic and television style ending. I suspect the ending was written on the advice of a publisher or agent, or in order to boost sales. Left to her own devices, the writer, I feel sure, would have done better. The strength of this novel lies not so much in its contribution to the whodunnit genre, although the writer writes a whudunnit well enough, but in the depiction of motives and ambitions which drive business activity in an ambitious law firm. I thought the characters and their motivation were very well presented. Susan Wolfe could have been a psychologist had she not decided to become a lawyer and fiction writer. Reading this book has inspired me to create a new category of books for my virtual Goddreads shelf, namely "underrated works".
3 reviews
May 19, 2016
I just re-read this book and it's as good as I remembered. It's several things at once: a murder mystery, a comic novel, a moral tale, and a skillfully drawn depiction of certain high-octane years in a Silicon Valley law firm. And the theme is still current: Howard’s insecurities will resonate with young lawyers struggling to develop their legal skills as they adjust to the directive of the billable hour.
The world of Tweedmore & Slyde is glamorous (and daunting) to its newest associate, Howard Rickover. After Leo Slyde, the “king of the billable hour,” is found stabbed to death, the homicide detective enlists Howard in investigating who might have had a motive to do away with Leo. Howard and Sarah Nelson, the investigator, become our touchstones in this world of nastiness and pretense. Readers will laugh out loud as the two rumpled investigators confront some of the hotshot lawyers and uncover a variety of unsavory facts.
May 18, 2016
If you're thinking of becoming a lawyer, read this book first!! Even if the law firm described seems like a minor version of hell, you will have a lot of fun reading the book. It accurately describes a new lawyer's early years in a high-pressure law firm (I should know - I've been there). The book is laugh out loud funny and you'll really root for the unlikely hero, Howard Rickover. The story advances largely through dialogue which makes for a quick and fun read. It's hard to write good dialogue but Wolfe has mastered the art. These characters are people you know (and sometimes wish you didn't). Though the book is set primarily in a law firm, the work setting - so hard to find in today's books - would transfer over to any high pressure job where new talent is chewed up for the benefit of the partners and founders. I loved this book.
5 reviews1 follower
May 17, 2016
A great read!

What a fun, and funny book. It is engaging and entertaining, with great dialogue and writing. I'm not big on mysteries, but this book is so much more than a whodunit. What hooked me was the characters – – Sarah, the rumpled detective, who doesn't care if no one is impressed, and Howard, the struggling young lawyer, just trying to keep from losing his job, not to mention the array of colorful personalities they encounter. I loved the intelligent and nuanced examination of what in the end really matters in the lives of the very successful and not so successful. I reread the book recently and enjoyed it just as much as the first time – – a keeper. Can't wait for the author's next book!
Profile Image for Martha Conway.
Author 7 books255 followers
May 15, 2016
I read this funny and pointed mystery in just about one sitting. We follow the seemingly hapless Howard from the time he waits for an interview with a prestigious San Francisco law firm, through his beginning weeks at the new job, and as he gets caught up in the firm's shenanigans and a murder (but are they connected??). I'm not an attorney, but the day-to-day functions of this office seemed completely believable, while at the same time kind of ridiculous — in a funny, exposed kind of way. Attorneys and would-be attorneys will especially love this read. It was very well written and I laughed out loud many, many times. I highly recommend it. A fast, good read.
5,200 reviews53 followers
January 1, 2015
"1990 Edgar Award for Best First Novel; Finalist 1990 Anthony Award for Best First Novel; Finalist 1990 Macavity Award for Best First Novel" So far author Wolfe must be regarded as a one book wonder. This fabulous first effort has not been followed up.

Thriller - Howard Rickover is an unassuming new associate at the high-powered firm of Tweedmore & Slyde, attorneys to SVM (Silicon Valley Millionaires). When Leo Slyde is murdered in his office there are a wealth of suspects and homicide detective Sarah Nelson recruits Howard's help in uncovering the secrets within the firm.

Profile Image for Marcia Kemp.
Author 2 books11 followers
May 16, 2016
Susan Wolfe’s first book, The Last Billable Hour, was a classic in its day and remains remarkably relevant to Silicon Valley in the 21st century, taking the reader inside the big law firms that still pull plenty of strings in today’s version of High Tech. Wolfe is a deft storyteller and readers will be drawn to this compelling mystery and its colorful characters, the like of which can still be found scuttling across the green campuses of the social media giants. With summer coming, you couldn’t find a better read for that long airline flight or a long weekend at the beach house.
May 30, 2016
What a great little mystery!
The Last Billable Hour is the story of a young lawyer who finds himself improbably hired at a very hot Silicon Valley law firm in the late '80s, and plunged in over his head in more ways than one. The setting is distinctive, and as a SV local I find it kind of nostalgic, but the real appeal of the book lies in the light hand of the storyteller, giving us charming leading characters with a story that moves steadily along. Never dull, lots of understated humor. And the ending really *works*. With any luck, she'll write another!
7 reviews
May 30, 2016
I can't say that I ever thought I would want to revisit the law firm world in fiction after leaving it, but Susan Wolfe makes it enjoyable! This book is a classic "whodunnit" in the unusual setting of a Silicon Valley law firm. The story is fast-paced and fun to read, with a very likeable protagonist. The book also does a great job of bringing you into the world of Silicon Valley without drowning you in jargon. Although the story is action-focused, I also enjoyed the little reflections on the strange life of lawyers. I would definitely read more!
1 review
June 10, 2016
What a thoroughly enjoyable and fun book! Author Susan Wolfe guides the reader through a maze of clues to finally reveal the killer in this intriguing murder mystery. Her characters are quirky and memorable. One wants to get to know them better. Her descriptions are crisp and vivid. With the knowledge of an insider she reveals the greed and absence of integrity in a successful and highly profitable law firm. This behind the scenes glimpse into a hidden world and the author's delightful sense of humor make The Last Billable Hour a must read.
Profile Image for LJ.
3,156 reviews313 followers
September 26, 2008
Wolfe, Susan - standalone

Rumpled, overweight Howard Rickover, the Silicon Valley firm's newest lawyer--and, therefore, flunky--hits his stride when he helps police detective Sarah Nelson find out who stabbed firm partner Leo Slyde. While not always totally convincing (and never surprising), the plot does provide insight into an intriguing world of legal subterfuge.

This was Wolfe's only book and I could see why. It was okay, but only okay.
Profile Image for Jamie.
61 reviews6 followers
August 4, 2013
Wonderful mystery story set in a large silicon valley law firm in the late 1980's. Ms. Wolfe was a practitioner at such a firm and accurately explains quite a bit about the life those lawyers lead. Won an Edgar for best 1st mystery. I and my Mother--a big mystery buff who loved and gave me this book--were both disappointed Ms. Wolfe did not write a sequel or ten.
956 reviews4 followers
February 3, 2015
Rereading. Very good good characters good plot good analysis of lawyers. Funny without being over the top . Nice. Originally published 1989 (my edition) so pre PC. Sadly appears to be only mystery by this author
Profile Image for L.
818 reviews11 followers
September 19, 2014
Edgar Award winner and it's easy to see why. This book was thoroughly engrossing and frighteningly accurate in its portrayal of life at a big law firm. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Jared Castiglione.
110 reviews1 follower
October 4, 2020
I enjoyed reading this book. I didn’t know anything about it, or the author, when I found it at a Friends of the Library book sale. (It’s been in my shelf for a while since those book sales haven’t happened in months.) The fun part about this book is that it’s very easy to identify with the main character. He’s just as much out of sorts as we the readers are and that helps make this book accessible to more than lawyers or millionaires or Californians in Silicon Valley.
There’s a good story here that feels very real. It’s a genuine mystery with very believable characters. I also enjoyed the chapter titles with their whimsical nature as they further reinforce the story and its characters.
Profile Image for Nina.
1,475 reviews10 followers
April 25, 2018
I was attracted to the title because as a consultant, billable hours were imperative and we had to code our time in 15 minute increments. In this book, newly-minted lawyer Howard goes to work for a law firm where he has to record in 6 minute increments and despite working horrendous hours, is still last in the billing race. Then one of the founding partners is murdered in the office and a cop convinces Howard to work from the inside to help solve the case. The author is a lawyer herself. Intriguing and at times, even amusing.
Profile Image for William.
893 reviews3 followers
October 21, 2017
Much of the story is based on the sad truth about young law associates at high powered law firms. It is a lousy existence particularly if the associate is not personally connected to partners or other high powered people. For the misfits or slightly odd it is impossible. I saw that with my own experiences working with lawyers and testifying at depositions. This book was well done in describing the dismal life of a law associate. A fairly good mystery and a decent one-time read with a funny but chilly view of a big time law practice.
447 reviews3 followers
October 23, 2017
Such a good book. Detective/murder mystery set in a law office. I work in a law office and I assure you Susan Wolfe got it right - including the law. It drives me up a wall when a book about law gets the law wrong, and this one covers a gamut and it is all spot on. The characters are believable, the dialogue is entertaining, and the mystery kept me guessing right up to the very end. The end seemed to wrap up a little quickly for my taste, but that may be because I was enjoying the book so much I wasn't ready for it to end. Well done Ms. Wolfe.
677 reviews1 follower
November 22, 2018
I enjoyed this book and thought it well written. I did have a problem with all the legal terminology (I guess it was easy to tell it was written by a lawyer! but most technical information was extraneous to the story or could have been rewritten to make it more acceptable to the non-lawyer readers. The plot was great in highlighting the difficulty of solving a murder, or any mystery, when you have a lot of suspects. Even though not a primary suspect through most of the book, I was delighted that I had figured out who the murder was.
Profile Image for Scooby Doo.
721 reviews
June 19, 2017
I was completely entertained by this legal thriller that was a mashup of Agatha Christie and Pink Panther. The bumbling lawyer in a firm where everyone has a motive for killing the victim. I thought the author's humor was very clever. I smiled a lot while reading. The author has a narrative trick she uses that doesn't always work but when it does is pretty cute; She'll change topic dramatically in the middle of a paragraph to indicate the protagonist's mind is wandering.
950 reviews4 followers
June 19, 2017
The intrigue of a murder happening to a founding partner of a very successful Silicon Valley law practice. All the secrets of all the attorneys and support staff are revealed in the quest to find the killer. And the newest associate is recruited to help the police solve the crime. Many red herrings later the killer is unmasked. May not encourage anyone to a law career but will intrigue those who love mysteries.
Profile Image for Jim Wicks.
24 reviews
April 20, 2018
Great read

This was an enjoyable, fun read. Especially liked the protagonists, but also liked the depictions of the lawyers, who were intentionally caricatured a bit to give it a slight tongue-in-cheek feel. Faced-paced with snappy dialogue. When I started out in the corporate world, I felt kind of out-of-place and overwhelmed, like a Howard. A lot of sharks out there, everywhere. That kept it real. Yep. Good stuff.
7 reviews
June 20, 2017
I read this book on a flyer - it sounded appealing. It was a hit! Sharp use of language, details of deals that could only be relayed by a lawyer author about top end lawyers. Besides that it was a mystery that kept me guessing with great character development. I just ordered her second novel "Escape Velocity." I'm hoping it follows the same characters, but doubt it. An unexpected gem.
Profile Image for Carol Carmichael.
231 reviews
June 26, 2017
Without a doubt this was the slowest, dullest book beginning I've ever read. The only thing that kept me reading until about 40% of the book was read, is my determination to never not finish a book once begun. It did get more interesting, though not totally believable; but then the ending left me flat. I would never recommend this book to anyone.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 58 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.