Not too many years ago, an influential editor told me that the “legal thriller was dead.” Readers were bored. They wanted to read about “real people,” not a bunch of lawyers.
Well, since then, readers have proven that editor wrong. They have fallen in love with Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller, watching the defense attorney struggle to redeem himself in the eyes of a daughter who does not understand how her father can put dangerous people back on the streets. They could not put their books down as William Landay told the masterful story of Defending Jacob, about a prosecutor who comes to fear that his own son committed a grisly murder.
I often joke that the term “legal thriller” is an oxymoron. Most of my time in a courtroom was spent waiting around, the New York Times crossword puzzle tucked discreetly into my case file. “Objection!” and “Hearsay!” do not make for good dialogue. So why do we keep following stories about lawyers?
Lawyers are investigators. Their job is to ask the right questions and let the answers lead them to the next step. They think critically and analytically. They know—and are supposed to keep—our darkest secrets: our family situations, our finances, our worst sins. They owe duties of loyalty to clients, even when they don’t want to, and despite the demands of their own moral compass and those of the people they care about.
The work and lives of lawyers remain fascinating. To highlight that fact through fiction, the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University sponsored a mystery short story contest, calling for submissions of stories featuring lawyers. The only rules were that submissions had to be original, previously unpublished short works of fiction (under 3,500 words) featuring a lawyer as a main character. I was honored to serve as a judge, along with Lee Child, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Jack Reacher series (and a law school graduate!), and Marcia Clark, the former OJ Simpson prosecutor who has written a highly-praised series of novels featuring a Los Angeles prosecutor named Rachel Knight.
We received 137 submissions from around the world, depicting the legal profession from perhaps every conceivable angle. We were impressed by the quality of storytelling and the depth of knowledge about the lives of lawyers. Choosing the winners was not an easy job.
The Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University is happy to announce the three finalists of our writing contest.
“The Best Defense” by Bev Vincent. Bev Vincent is the author of The Road to the Dark Tower, the Bram Stoker Award nominated companion to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and The Stephen King Illustrated Companion, which was nominated for a 2010 Edgar® Award and a 2009 Bram Stoker Award.
“Reasonable Doubt” by Andrew Italia. Andrew Italia attended the University of Maryland School of Law and works as a trial lawyer in Rockville, Maryland, specializing in family law, criminal law, and assisting victims of domestic violence. In his spare time he enjoys writing, martial arts, scuba diving, traveling, and the pursuit of the immovable spirit. He currently lives with his family and Great Dane Theodore Roosevelt in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.
And the winning story is “A Prisoner of Time” by Lucian Dervan. Lucian E. Dervan is a law professor at Southern Illinois University School of Law, where his research and teaching center on domestic and international criminal law. He also enjoys writing legal fiction and is completing work on his first novel.
The law school is grateful to all of the writers who submitted their stories for consideration and to Mulholland Books for both publicizing the contest and publishing Professor Dervan’s story here. I hope readers enjoy it as much as we did.
Alafair Burke is the bestselling author of ten novels, including the thrillers Long Gone, If You Were Here, and the latest in the Ellie Hatcher series, All Day and a Night. A former prosecutor, she also teaches criminal law and procedure at Hofstra Law School. Her co-authored novel with Mary Higgins Clark, The Cinderella Murder, will be published on November 18th. www.alafairburke.com