By Wook Kim
Updated February 01, 2006 05:00 AM
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Twenty-five years ago, Bill Merritt, an enterprising attorney just out of law school, took a job with a genteel but shady Portland, Ore., lawyer who shortly afterward expired next to his desk. The hapless young litigator had to juggle a decades-old caseload while dealing with law enforcement officials who suspected his late boss was involved in unsavory activities. In a loping, soft-boiled style, Bill Merritt populates A Fool’s Gold with a memorable rogues’ gallery of misfits (e.g., Grady Jackson, ”the Crazy Man of Neahkahnie Mountain,” who’s convinced that riches lie under a state-owned beach). Merritt’s characters and plot twists sometimes stretch the seams of believability — ”This book isn’t journalism,” he winks in the author’s note — but his comic caper reads like Carl Hiaasen gone Northwest.