Noir’s The Time
ABA Jumps Into the Fiction Book Market With a Murder Mystery
Posted Dec 21, 2004 3:48 AM CDT
By Mark Hansen
It was the criminal defense attorney’s version of a midlife crisis.
After years as a prosecutor followed by private practice, Milton Hirsch says he hit his wall in 1997.
“I had come to question my own faith in the existence of the edifice of justice and in my ability to add my grain of sand to that edifice,” says the 52-year-old Miami attorney, a partner in the three-lawyer firm of Hirsch & Markus.
Hirsch considered buying a Ferrari or going into therapy. But Ferraris and therapy are very expensive, he says.
Instead, Hirsch started going into the office early every day and writing. Nearly a year later, he had cranked out a novel. “Writing a novel is as therapeutic as a Ferrari or therapy and far more cost-effective,” he says.
Hirsch says he had no intention of trying to get the manuscript published. When he was finished, he tossed it into a drawer and forgot about it.
And there the manuscript languished until three years later, when Hirsch heard through the grapevine that the ABA Section of Criminal Justice was interested in publishing fictional works by attorneys. He gave a copy of his manuscript to Paul Rashkind, an assistant federal public defender in Miami who then chaired the section’s book publication committee.
“To my surprise and delight, he really liked it,” Hirsch says. So, ultimately, did the rest of the committee.
As a result, Hirsch’s novel, The Shadow of Justice, in September became the first work of fiction published by the ABA in its 126-year history.
But it won’t be the last.
The Criminal Justice Section is sponsoring “Great Stories by Great Lawyers,” a series that will feature at least one new novel a year, says Tim Brandhorst, an executive editor at ABA Publishing, the association’s publications arm. Contract negotiations are under way with a second author, and the section’s book publishing committee is reviewing about a dozen other manuscripts, he says.
Brandhorst acknowledges that the fiction market is highly competitive—especially the legal mystery genre dominated by such giants as John Grisham and Scott Turow. But he says he thinks The Shadow of Justice and the books that follow it in the ABA series will stand out from the pack for their realism.
The Shadow of Justice tells the tale of a horrific murder and a seemingly unrelated drug trial through the eyes of its narrator, a fictional Miami trial court judge named Clark Addison. (And yes, Chicago Cubs fans, the name is borrowed from the address of Wrigley Field; Hirsch grew up in the city.)
The story is more than a conventional whodunit; it’s also a “whydunit,” says Hirsch. “By the end of the book, I hope the reader has some insights into the ‘why’ questions I had about the criminal justice system.”
The Big Push
The ABA , whose publishing efforts focus primarily on practical handbooks for legal practitioners, has engaged in an energetic marketing campaign for The Shadow of Justice. Hirsch’s novel was promoted in June at a major booksellers’ convention in Chicago. The ABA also held a publication party for the book Oct. 6 in Miami. The ABA retained a publicist to book the author for radio and television appearances, sent out news releases to more than 1,000 media outlets nationwide, created a Web site (www.shadowofjustice.com), and distributed review copies and press kits to every print outlet in Florida.
“Because Hirsch is a prominent Miami attorney and the story takes place in Miami, we plan to focus our initial efforts on South Florida and hope to generate enough buzz and sales there to market the book nationwide,” Brandhorst says.
(In addition to being available at retail outlets, the book may be ordered through the Web site or by calling the ABA at 800-285-2221—refer to product number 5090097.) Hirsch is working on a second novel, and he says writing fiction has given him a renewed appreciation for his “day job.”
“If I weren’t a criminal defense lawyer, I certainly wouldn’t have anything to write about,” says Hirsch. “In fact, I wouldn’t exist at all.”