Alafair Burke

Sep 082014
 

The post Hofstra Law School’s Mystery Short Story Contest appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Hofstra Law School's Mystery Short Story Contest

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 The only rules were that submissions had to be original, previously unpublished short works of fiction (under 3,500 words) featuring a lawyer as a main character.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

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

The post Hofstra Law School’s Mystery Short Story Contest appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Mar 022012
 

family attorneys Los AngelesNot too many years ago, an influential friend in the literary world told me, “Legal thrillers are out.” Having just published my first two novels, both featuring Portland Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid, I desperately needed this death announcement to be premature. The problem, I argued, was an overabundance of bad legal thrillers that had scarred the subgenre’s once-good name. Perhaps trying to replicate the success of groundbreaking novels like Scott Turow’s PRESUMED INNOCENT and John Grisham’s A TIME TO KILL, publishers had overpurchased and overpromoted courtroom-centric novels by lawyers who managed to turn the term “legal thriller” into an oxymoron. Evidentiary objections, jury selection, and cross-examinations might be real goose bump inducers compared to the average lawyer’s workday, but as ingredients for a page-turner? No, thank you.

Well, I’m delighted to report that, despite my friend’s death knell, law-based crime fiction is alive and well thanks to authors who focus not on blue-in-the-face litigators hollering “Objection!” at one another, but on good old fashioned storytelling about characters who just happen to be lawyers. When the industry had all but written off the so-called “legal thriller” in favor of high concept novels in the spirit of THE DA VINCI CODE, Linda Fairstein and Lisa Scottoline continued to dominate bestsellers’ lists because they wrote damn good books. Today, Michael Connelly has put to rest any lingering questions about the viability of the subgenre by bringing Mickey Haller to every medium — #1 in hardback and digital, and $46 million and counting at the box office. What makes these books irresistible aren’t the bells and whistles of the technical ins and outs of the legal system, but memorable characters and solid plotting in the hands of masterful storytellers.

With GUILT BY ASSOCIATION, Marcia Clark joins the ranks of Scottoline, Fairstein, and Connelly. Her debut novel introduces us to Los Angeles prosecutor Rachel Knight, a member of the office’s elite Special Trials Unit. In the opening pages, Knight’s friend and colleague Jake Pahlmeyer is found dead at a seedy motel under even seedier circumstances. She inherits a high-profile rape case from his desk. While the victim’s father exerts political pressure for an arrest, the investigation takes Rachel into LA’s gang world and makes her a target. As if that weren’t enough to keep a gal busy, she can’t help poking around into Jake’s death, despite strict orders to mind her own bees’ wax.

Like the finest books in the legal thriller subgenre, very few pages of GUILT BY ASSOCIATION take place in the courtroom. Instead, we see Rachel’s interactions with cops, contacts, and witnesses. We see the action as it unfolds, not as it is summarized later in the artificially sterile courtroom setting. We see Rachel at home with her friends. We get to know – and like – her.

Much attention will certainly be paid to Clark’s former career as a prosecutor in Los Angeles, most notably as the head prosecutor in OJ Simpson’s criminal trial. That platform will also undoubtedly bring extraordinary attention to a debut novel. But an unfortunate consequence of any emphasis upon her significant legal career might be an inaccurate perception of the book itself. Clark’s expertise about the criminal justice system leaps from the pages of GUILT BY ASSOCIATION, but not because she shows off her knowledge of the law, rules of evidence, or courtroom procedure. Rather, her experience allows her to write with confidence rarely seen in a first novel – about Los Angeles, about Rachel Knight, about the secondary characters who occupy Knight’s world and become a part of ours. GUILT BY ASSOCIATION succeeds because of Clark’s gifts as a writer, not as a lawyer. With those gifts, she has created a true legal thriller – emphasis on the thrill.

ALAFAIR BURKE is the bestselling author of six novels, including 212, Angel’s Tip, and Dead Connection in the Ellie Hatcher series. A former prosecutor, she now teaches criminal Law and lives in Manhattan. Long Gone, her first stand-alone thriller, was published by Harper in June 2011. [Read more about Long Gone in her Conversation with Jen Forbus.] Never Tell, the next Ellie Hatcher thriller, will be published by Harper in June 2012.

GUILT BY ASSOCIATION is now available in paperback in bookstores everywhere.