Legal Eagles: Attorneys Writing Fiction (3)

Today on Legal Eagles, I’m featuring a crime author who also happens to be a fellow alumnus from the University of Colorado, School of Law. Manuel Ramos. I had the pleasure of speaking with Manuel recently at the Mysterious Bookshop, at an event to meet and greet the new board members of the Mystery Writers of America. Click here for a blog piece Manuel wrote about his new status on the national board.

As Manuel makes clear in his blog post, he is one of very few published Latino authors of crime fiction. I would venture to guess that he is also one of the few Latino crime writers with the distinction of having a highly successful law career, which included years of award-winning public service for Colorado Legal Services. He is now retired from the law.

At the Mysterious Bookshop, I picked up a copy of his latest novel, My Bad. I’m glad I did.

My Bad, by Manuel Ramos (Arte Publico Press)

My Bad, by Manuel Ramos (Arte Publico Press)

Many reviewers have written of Manuel’s talent for spare and vivid prose, bringing to life Denver’s Chicano culture and changing neighborhoods. I would add to these accolades that his legal background makes a significant contribution to his work. Those of you who’ve read the Dana Hargrove legal thrillers know of my interest in exploring the ethical dilemmas facing attorneys in the field of criminal law. Manuel enhances his work with plenty of them. How’s this one for a doozy? An ex-con employee of a criminal defense lawyer, tailing a client to investigate a civil lawsuit, unwittingly finds himself at the scene of a murder that implicates the client. Should the attorney report it or keep it quiet? What an impossible tug of competing loyalties! A dilemma of choice among the ethical duties owed in multiple capacities: as lawyer, friend, employer, and citizen. I love this stuff!

Subtitled “A Mile High Noir” in a nod to the mile-high Rocky Mountain city, My Bad is just as much a story of the relationship between attorney Luis Móntez and ex-con Gus Corral, as it is a plot-driven crime drama. Gus is adjusting to life on the outside after serving an unspecified number of years in prison for unspecified crimes. Under the watchful eye of his parole officer, Gus is perpetually on edge, second-guessing every step he makes for possible repercussions to his parole status. The legal mess that landed Gus in prison is the subject of a previous novel. Click here to watch a very cool video about the first Gus Corral novel, DesperadoI haven’t read Desperado, but am now driven to read it, to find out more about Gus. Like my Dana Hargrove novels, Manuel’s books are standalone and can be picked up in any order.

My Bad gives a real sense of place and community in its descriptions of city streets and buildings, Mexican food, family gatherings, social events, and references to music, mostly rhythm and blues. The author also sprinkles in a good number of phrases and words in Spanish. Porque lo entiendo un poquito this was not a problem for me, nor would it pose an obstacle for readers who don’t understand the language. The meaning is clear (or close enough to clear) from context, and you’ll enjoy the flavor that the dialog gives to scene and exposition.

In fiction, I appreciate creativity with language, mood, and scene, and you’ll get a lot of that here. The language is terse and, in some places, tough, but not so very tough. I’m a fan of suggestion, innuendo, clever twists, and leaving a lot to the intelligence of the reader—not a fan of graphic violence, blood and guts, or gratuitous cursing. This novel falls in place with these tastes. The characters are human, flawed, a mix of good and bad, their personal challenges relatable. For example, there’s a good deal of angst expressed by Luis Móntez as he prepares to wind down his law practice and retire, reflecting on his professional and personal life, attempting to come to terms. Does this sound familiar to me? Perhaps so. I won’t go into detail.

I enjoyed this novel and look forward to reading more. Check out Manuel’s website for descriptions of all his works.

Legal Eagles: Attorneys Writing Fiction (2)

Re-blogging here an entry from the Kirkus blog by editor Myra Forsberg, entitled “Legal Eagles”!

“Through the ages, the works of playwrights, novelists, and filmmakers, from Shakespeare to Steven Spielberg, have gleefully skewered lawyers. In Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, the first movie in the popular franchise, a discerning dinosaur chomps on a particularly sleazy attorney, delighting fans worldwide. But depictions of heroic lawyers also remain plentiful, particularly on TV, in classic series (Perry Mason) and more recent fare (The Good Wife).

Forsaken Oath“Kirkus recently reviewed three legal thrillers that focus on resourceful attorneys pursuing justice. In V.S. Kemanis’ Forsaken Oath, Manhattan prosecutor Dana Hargrove finds herself embroiled in three cases, including the murder of a fashion designer. In this page-turner, she must uncover the truth and save her career. “The author manages to compellingly depict many distinct areas of the justice system, from the cops on the street to the lawyers on both sides of the courtroom,” our reviewer writes. Jerri Blair’s Black and White, set in 1979,follows Florida public defender J.T. Lockman, who takes the case of an African-American accused of murdering a white car dealer. J.T. believes a Ku Klux Klansman committed the crime but must gather the evidence to prove it. Our critic calls the novel an “energetic tale that’s rife with drama and mystery.” A sinister figure kidnaps teenage girls in Brian Clary’s Amicus Curiae: the daughter of Texas attorney Michelle “Mickey” Grant disappears and the police soon arrest Willie Lee Flynn for one abductee’s murder. Although he’s convicted, Mickey harbors doubts and files an amicus curiae brief, seeking to retry Flynn and discover her daughter’s whereabouts. Our reviewer says, “Fans of crime dramas will find Clary’s suspenseful yarn a welcome addition to the genre.”

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Stay tuned for the third installment of Legal Eagles! I’m currently reading a great legal thriller by attorney Manuel Ramos, soon to be reviewed.

Love and Crime, Stories

I’m pleased to announce that my new story collection will be released May 1, 2017!

Here’s the blurb:

Lovl & c renderes big and small… Crimes forgiven or avenged…

These are the themes that drive the eleven diverse stories in this new collection of psychological suspense from storyteller V.S. Kemanis.

Meet the husband and wife team Rosemary and Reuben, master chefs known to sprinkle a dash of magic into every dish.

Lucille Steadman, a dazed retiree who can’t explain why she’s left her husband, only to discover, too late, the meaning of love and commitment in the most surprising place.

Franklin DeWitt, an esteemed ballet critic who witnesses—or abets?—a bizarre criminal plot to topple a beautiful Soviet ballerina.

Rosalyn Bleinstorter, a washed-up defense attorney whose stubborn belief in her own street savvy leads her unwittingly into a romantic and criminal association with an underworld figure.

These are just a few of the colorful characters you’ll get to know in these pages, where all is fair in love and crime.

While the endings to these tales are not always sweet or predictable, and self-deception is rarely rewarded, the lessons come down hard and are well learned.

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This collection includes stories originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Lynx Eye, The William and Mary Review, and Iconoclast.

Stay tuned for more news on Love and Crime!

 

Reflections on the 75th Anniversary of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine

On a dismal, drizzly afternoon in Manhattan, an array of editors, authors, artists, and crime fiction aficionados jammed a large meeting room at the Butler Library to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.  Appropriate to the occasion were several surprise visits from beyond the grave (an eerie, other-worldly screeching from the HVAC system), and a chilling reading by Joyce Carol Oates from her story “Big Momma,” a creepy tale from The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror.  Shivers!
ellery_queens_mystery_jco

In a publishing environment where magazines and journals of short fiction easily come and go, EQMM can be proud of its longevity. The secret (or mystery) of this success was one of the topics explored during the afternoon of panel discussions by notable authors and editors.  Some shared fascinating personal experiences about working with the founders of the magazine, the cousins Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, who collaborated as Ellery Queen. The distinguished panelists included Otto Penzler (proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop and founder of The Mysterious Press), Sarah Weinman (author, editor, and expert on women crime fiction writers), Jeffrey Marks (biographer of Anthony Boucher, at work on a biography of Dannay and Lee), Russell Atwood (ftomrobertsormer managing editor of EQMM), and award-winning authors Jonathan Santlofer, Joseph Goodrich, Josh Pachter, and Charles Ardai.

Especially fun was the slide show of several EQMM covers from different eras of the magazine, along with interior black-and-white illustrations of the stories. Janet Salter Rosenberg, the daughter of cover designer George Salter, gave insight into her father’s creations. Artists Laurie Harden and Tom Roberts discussed their respective works and their appreciation of the artistic freedom EQMM affords them in bringing their visions of the stories to life. Here is an evocative cover by Roberts from the July 2011 issue. The cover for the very first issue, and a clever story about it by Arthur Vidro, can be found on the EQMM blog, Something is Going to Happen, posted on August 31.

The symposium was capped by our trip up to the sixth floor, enticed by the promise of a glass of wine and (the real inducement) an exhibit of EQMM artifacts displayed in a small alcove of the rare book and manuscript library. Of particular interest to me were the yellowing pages of manuscripts, typed out on an old Remington or some such, with Dannay’s edits marked in pencil. Those of you who know of my life as an editor will guess at my delight in seeing Dannay’s flourishes and variances of the universal copyediting symbols and his spot-on word choices!  The exhibit is on display through December 23.

Why has EQMM endured?  The panelists and current editor Janet Hutchings agreed on a few key ingredients: a commitment to quality and a wide variety of stories of different styles within the mystery genre.  Wait a minute:  I’m going to ban that word “genre”!  It’s thrown around far too often and stirs up preconceptions that limit a reader’s horizons.  As an author who resists a pigeonhole for her own work, I would do the same for EQMM, unless you take the most expansive view of the term “mystery” as an essential element of compelling writing.  As stated on EQMM’s website, when founders Dannay and Lee were “deciding how to orieeqmmallnationsnt their new magazine, there could not have been any question that its outlook would be global. Both men had cosmopolitan tastes and a knowledge of world literature. It has become part of EQMM lore that Dannay, who soon took over the editing of the magazine, aimed to prove, in its pages, that every great writer in history had written at least one story that could be considered a mystery.”

Jeffrey Marks notes in his essay in the September/October issue that EQMM has published such literary luminaries as William Faulkner, Jorge Luis Borges, Mark Twain, and E.M. Forster, as well as several Pulitzer winners.  This year, in the May issue, we were treated to a reprint of Borges’ iconic story exploring alternate realities, “The Garden of Forking Paths,” which was originally published in EQMM in 1948.

Another masterpiece, Stanley Ellin’s “The Specialty of the House,” is reprinted in the current issue. Beyond these prize reprints, the range of writing that appears monthly in EQMM’s pages includes something for everyone, whether light or dark, police procedural or private eye, cozy or locked room. My taste runs to stories of psychological suspense and intellectual challenge, and I can always find them here. Janet Hutchings has maintained Dannay and Lee’s expansive vision for the magazine and the tradition of high quality. I’m grateful that my own writing, which bears absolutely no resemblance to Agatha Christie’s, has been printed in two issues of EQMM eqmm_sept-oct2013and its e-book anthology, The Crooked Road Volume 3.  I’m also fortunate to have been welcomed into this community of amazing authors. As one of the panelists noted, mystery and crime writers are a really nice bunch of people because we’ve transferred every bit of aggression and nastiness to our fictional characters!

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Slightly off-topic, on the subject of anniversaries, I note here that October 26 marks a milestone for me.  A year ago, the print editions of my first two novels, Thursday’s List and Homicide Chart, were released.  To help celebrate, I’m running giveaways for signed copies of the two novels on Goodreads.  Be sure to enter for a chance to win!

Legal Eagles: Attorneys Writing Fiction

We all know that lawyers write some of the best fiction. Okay, so I happen to be a lawyer who writes fiction—but I’m not biased. Really. I have proof!

Here are three fantastic reads by my fellow/fella colleagues at the bar. We’ve all had our days in and out of court tackling tough cases, flaky witnesses, annoying adversaries, and exacting judges. We’ve experienced the thrill of investigative discovery, the tedium of preparation, the surprises and heartbreaks that arise in the midst of trial. Truth is often stranger than fiction, and the criminal courtroom provides fertile ground for moral dilemma and human drama, a launching pad for the imagination of the novelist.

The writing styles and plotlines in these novels differ greatly, but each author touches on a common underlying theme: the life story behind the face might not be what you expect. Each novel features a character who may just end up surprising you. I will attempt to avoid spoilers and give you merely an enticing flavor of each.

A Good Killing, by Allison Leotta a-good-killing-small

Leotta is a former sex crimes prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. A Good Killing features her fictional sex crimes prosecutor, Anna Curtis. In an unexpected twist, family loyalties cause Anna to switch hats for the first time in her career as she takes up the defense of her sister Jody, who finds herself in big trouble with the law, indicted for murder. The victim is a revered high school coach, Owen Fowler.

The storyline will hit home with any woman who can think back to high school days and find, in memory, a teacher, coach, or counselor who was popular, maybe even the subject of a young girl’s dreams, only to realize later, with the maturity of adulthood, that the perception was dangerously skewed. Coach Fowler is just such a character, a man with a nasty secret. Other secrets abound in this novel, as Jody does her utmost to keep Anna in the dark—not a good thing for an attorney representing her sister in the trial of her life. Tensions between the personal and the professional always draw me in, especially when the conflict implicates the ethical obligations of an attorney.

Another interesting aspect of A Good Killing is its structure, written from two points of view in alternating chapters. We hear Jody’s voice, speaking to Anna in first person, alternating with Anna’s point of view, written in third person. The technique is effective in building suspense, as the two tales ultimately merge in a satisfying conclusion.

This is the fourth novel in the Anna Curtis series, but each is a standalone. The fifth is soon to be released. Click here for Allison’s website

The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskens  life-we-bury-small

Eskens is a criminal defense attorney with previous experience on the other side of the courtroom as a prosecutor. His debut novel, The Life We Bury, cannot be pigeonholed. It has characteristics of literary fiction, mystery, and legal thriller. Protagonist Joe Talbert is a college student turned boy sleuth when he undertakes a writing assignment for English class and interviews an unlikely subject for a biographical essay—war hero and convicted murderer Carl Iverson.

This novel draws you in from the start with engaging, unique characters and vivid writing that makes use of all the senses. You can smell the unique odors of the nursing home Hillview Manor, see the “old woman wearing a crooked wig,” and feel the ambience of an archive room, where the “essence” of “millions of souls packed away on microfilm” waits to be “felt, tasted, and inhaled again.” In one of my favorite scenes, you can hear the pro forma litany between judge and attorney during a bail hearing, likened to “a Catholic funeral mass.” The suspenseful and entertaining conclusion of The Life We Bury takes Joe Talbert through harrowing twists and turns that may test the bounds of plausibility—but you’ll be so immersed and on the edge of your seat that the ordeal becomes all too real.

Eskens has published a second novel, and the third is on the way. Click here for Allen’s website

A Conflict of Interest, by Adam Mitzner  conflict-of-interest-small

Mitzner is a partner in the commercial litigation department of a New York City law firm. His expertise in securities litigation finds its way into his debut novel, A Conflict of Interest. Of the three novels under review here, Mitzner’s contains the most courtroom drama and litigation strategy—all of the kind of stuff that fascinates lawyers and law buffs alike!

In this novel, protagonist Alex Miller is a white collar defense attorney representing client Michael Ohlig in a securities fraud prosecution. Mid-trial, Alex learns a secret about Ohlig—a very serious transgression—that profoundly affects Alex’s personal view of his client. Trying not to let his animosity stand in the way of providing a brilliant defense, Alex must also grapple with a client who constantly battles him over issues of trial strategy, right down to the crucial question of whether Ohlig should take the stand in his own defense. The stress level hits a high note as the author depicts, in detail, the high stakes environment, pressure, and politics of a big law firm, and the toll that the environment takes on the lawyer’s home life.

If you want a fast-paced courtroom thriller, A Conflict of Interest is for you. Mitzner has also published two other novels, and a third will be released in April. Click here for Adam’s website

A common lament among mystery/suspense/thriller writers is the lack of time to enjoy the many fine novels of our contemporaries, as we struggle to find every spare minute for our own writing. I’m currently on a break between the third and fourth Dana Hargrove novels and have a bit of time to write a few short stories and to read a few extra novels. Prediction: another installment of Legal Eagles will make its way to this blog! Reading another good one now…

 

Forsaken Oath Now in Preview/Pre-Order!

Once again, Dana Hargrove is caught at the intersection of family and career—a career that happens to involve criminal suspects, judges, attorneys, and officers of the law!  The thematic core to these novels picks up the internal conflict familiar to any career woman with a family: the incessant tug between the professional and the personal.  In my career, both in and out of the courtroom, I have felt that tug keenly.  Over the past few years, in writing these novels, I’ve become very attached to Dana, her family, her colleagues, and her adversaries, and that is my wish for you, the reader.  Pick them up in any order.  Each novel is a standalone, as I take Dana through various stages of her career and life, with several years in between each storyVSKPaperbacks - Copy: Thursday’s List (1988), Homicide Chart (1994), and Forsaken Oath (2001).

Already, in a curl of my mind, I’m starting to envision Dana’s life in 2008…

 

For the e-book, pre-order here on Amazon.

Release date for both paperback and e-book is April 30!

If you are a reviewer or blogger and would like to receive an ARC, please send me a message through my contact page!