Wednesday, July 3, 2013


DEBORAH CROMBIE: In a starred review, Kirkus says of Kevin

Slowly, methodically, excruciatingly, first-timer Egan shows his heroes’ plan spinning out of control in a classic illustration of the law of unintended consequences..."

And according to our own RED Hank Phillippi Ryan:
 "With relentless suspense, cinematic pacing and a twist around every corner,
Kevin Egan creates a brand new genre: legal thriller noir."

So how do you get an idea that garners that kind of praise? Here's Kevin to tell us.


            Ever wish your boss dropped dead? You know, the boss who just denied your raise for the second straight year, the boss who forced you to change your vacation plans at the last minute, or the boss who just dumped a pile of work on your desk late Friday afternoon and sashayed out the door. Tempting, huh? Now change the perspective a bit. What if your boss dropped dead and you were the only person who knew? And what if you had a good reason to keep that death a secret, even for a little while?

            I have worked at the New York County Courthouse for over two decades, mostly as a law clerk to a judge. (Even if you’ve never been to New York City, you would recognize the courthouse from the opening credits of Law & Order.) Strange things have happened there, too, like Judge Joseph Crater locking his chambers on a summer night in 1930 and never being seen again.

            My law clerk’s job dovetailed nicely with my passion for fiction writing, which I pursued on every commuter train ride and during countless lunch hours ensconced in quiet offices. By the mid-1990s, that regimen had yielded one science fiction novel and a three book golf mystery series. I avoided writing about my work life because its most intriguing aspect – the complex coexistence of judge, law clerk, and confidential secretary within a judicial chambers – did not lend itself to any drama that I felt I could portray in a way that would be interesting to outsiders.

            Yet one idea persisted in my mind. Each judge’s chambers in the courthouse is a private, self-contained world. The secretary and I could – and often did – fake our judge’s presence in chambers, sometimes for several hours, sometimes for a few days.  So with that in mind, I wondered what would happen if a judge dropped dead and the staff, rather than report the death, continued to run chambers as if the judge were still alive. Why would they do this? How long could the ruse go on? 
            My golf series ended, and I worked for almost four years on a novel with the opaque title of Third Monday in July. The judge dies at his desk after hours, a desperate litigant discovers and steals the body then blackmails the staff into silence while the law clerk rewrites a decision in the litigant’s favor. The book covered a period of almost two weeks, and the tone uneasily combined straight suspense and black humor. The premise and the leisurely pace required the suspension of too much disbelief. It was a mess.

            More years passed, more projects failed. And then my agent had an idea. Why not write another golf mystery series, but with a female protagonist? Why not indeed, I thought. I wrote the book, my agent sold it, and my long stretch of being a dis-published novelist ended.

            Now that I was back in the game, my agent suggested that I raise my profile by writing short stories. I logged onto the MWA website and saw a posting for an anthology that would focus on the police, the courts, and other governmental agencies. The submission deadline of March 15 leaped out at me. I had almost six weeks.

            I began casting about for ideas and remembered the failed Third Monday. I still believed in the premise of a judge’s secret death in chambers and wondered if an implausible novel could be compressed into a plausible short story.

            In re-examining the novel, I made two critical changes. The first was to make the judge’s own staff, rather than a disgruntled litigant, the prime movers in hiding the judge’s death. This was easy. In the New York court system, a judge’s staff are personal appointments. They are paid by the State, but the judge has the sole discretion to hire and fire. If the judge dies, the rule is that the staff  keep their jobs until the end of that calendar year. And so the second change was to set the story on New Year’s Eve. If the judge were to die, the staff would lose their jobs the same day.

            Click. I had it.

            “Midnight” was 21 manuscript pages. The first 20 establish the circumstance and follow the staff as they methodically execute their plan to make it look as if their judge died on January 1, thus guaranteeing their jobs for another year. They seem to succeed until the last page, when the law clerk discovers a secret about the secretary and the plan unwinds.

             The time came to submit to the anthology, but a funny thing happened on the way to the post office. When I checked the MWA website to confirm the mailing address, I saw that the submission deadline had passed one year earlier.

            Not to worry. Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine bought “Midnight” and cleverly planned to feature it on the cover of its January 2010 issue. Still, expanding the short story into a novel was not at the top of my to-do list because I had turned in the second installment of my new golf series and had begun to work on the third. Then, on the day my AHMM contributor’s copies arrived in the mail, the publisher cancelled my series.

            I began writing Midnight that day.

            Deconstruct any event and you see that a knife edge of circumstances separates that particular event from an infinite variety of alternatives. Misreading that MWA posting fooled me into writing the story that permanently changed my approach to writing. I had solved my personal mystery of how to write about my work-day world and I had a blueprint for handling an idea that just wouldn’t die.

DEBS:  What a great premise! And now Kevin has a question for you, readers: "What has happened for you to wish your boss dropped dead?" Do tell!

Kevin will be dropping in to answer comments and questions, and will be giving away a copy of MIDNIGHT to a lucky commenter.



Joan Emerson said...

Wishing for someone to drop dead is a horrible thought, but there are times when things are so frustrating that it’s really tempting . . . once I had a supervisor who was so difficult to work for, who was so unreasonable and so unfair . . . who ended up destroying everything we had accomplished . . . it was tough not to wish the worst on that person . . . .

The story of how “Midnight” came about is quite fascinating and the book is definitely going onto my to-be-read pile . . . .

Gram said...

I don't think I ever wanted the boss to die, I just wanted to change jobs!

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Kevin, I'm laughing, but not really, about the year-old deadline. What a shock that must have been! But the book that came out of it sounds wonderful.

Now you must tell us about the golf mysteries--I wrote five of them before the demand waned:). It's a small club!

Reine said...

Hi Kevin,

Deconstruction is my first love, so you've one me over with your "knife edge of circumstances" approach to slicing off a piece of infinity to expose your story.

As for ever having wished a boss dead… that's a story I'll bite for. One day while commenting here on JRW, I mentioned an something about my work. When I checked my email less than an hour later, I had a message from the very same employer. It reminded me of the contract I signed yearly where I agreed that I would never say anything critical about a colleague there--ever. Really? I did? And this would include writing anything fictional where somebody might be able to figure out who I was really talking about. What? Then I was asked to please go to the website to attach my digital signature to a copy of the contract. Yeah. So I did.

And so… I can't tell you what my thoughts were on anybody I worked with. Well. Except that they were all wonderful. And I loved all of them. Each and every one of them. They were perfect. They spoke with the voices of angels. Thoughtful and generous with praise. Overabundant in their graciousness. Upfront and above board. Kind. Oh so kind. Did I mention how supportive they were? They were the best.

I write murder mysteries. Why would they think I would ever write about them?


Reine said...

Lucy... "It's a small club!" :-)

Sandi said...

Your description of the steps to reaching this novel were engrossing - the novel itself must be fascinating!

As for bosses wished... well, elsewhere, anyway - which one? Not to say I wasn't at all at fault, but there's the one who fired me after 12 years because I commented to another employee on his repeated absences. The HR director helped me pack my office and apologized to me. The company told employees not to talk about me, and most never knew why I was fired. Of course, this is the company whose VP in charge of 75% of the mostly-female staff was caught looking at porn at work - twice - and never fired.

Then there's the one who, for nearly two years, left me alone to manage his office while he jetted off on half a dozen vacations. I told him repeatedly about a serious financial problem we had, and he repeatedly thanked me for telling him and told me to "deal with it." I sank into depression, cried in my office every day, and finally it came to a head and he told me again to deal with it. I turned back to him and told him I could NOT deal with it and he needed to hire a better accountant (the one we had gradually downgraded to only did year end taxes) who could handle the problem. He did, and a week later fired me.

Austin Carr said...

Sounds very interesting, Kevin. Good luck! Personally, I have always been fascinated with Judge Crater and think his story (What happened?) would make a great novel.

Hallie Ephron said...

Terrific premise! When I read it, what came back to me was Nine to Five where Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton imprison their execrable boss Dabney Coleman and run the office without him. Not the same, I know...

The old "where do your ideas come from?" really is a terrific question, and I love your answer. Best of luck with the new book, Kevin!

storytellermary said...

Oh Reine, perfect answer, and yes, every single person I ever worked with was perfect also, and my "NCLB Murder" is pure fiction . . . so I will swear if ever asked in a legal setting (and I didn't ever sign a statement like yours, I don't think).
Between us chickens, though, I will share that there were several offers to help "hide the body" if I were to choose a real rather than fictional murder -- but real murders are so messy, and real jail would not be fun, so instead, I used those colleagues' departments for motive and means of death. It was very cathartic writing . . . terrible encounter at school = another page of the story written at home. ;-)

Deb said...

Reine, really???? That's... well, I'd better not say anything, or I might get an email...

Bosses? First real job out of college. Does anyone actually say "sexist pigs" anymore? Well, I'm saying it. Two guys, and me. They criticized everything I did, made fun of me, wouldn't give me time to go to bathroom (who would answer the phones?) Senior married boss made advances. When rebuffed, they fired me, ostensibly because I was late to work in an ice storm.

Have I killed them off in books? I'm not telling.

Kevin, I absolutely LOVE the premise for this book. I hope there's a bigger market for "legal thriller noir" than there was for golf mysteries:-)

Anonymous said...

I never wished any of them dead because it would make too much work for me.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

YAY Kevin! ANd REds, I cannot tell you how much I loved this book. It is TERRIFIC. ANd very annoying, because I wish I had thought of it.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...


Ah...I am so thrilled with all of you! Thank you so much...and hey, I'll give three ARCs since, you are all so fabulous.

THE WINNERS (chosen by closing eyes and pointing) ARE:
Susan Coster
Jackie Jones
Michelle JAmes

Just send your addresses to me at h ryan at whdh dot com


ANd thank you!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

And now back to Kevin!

Libby Dodd said...

I don't remember wishing any of them dead.
But I DO remember disliking my husband's boss so much orminedu 1001at one point that I told him I was disappointed that the boss' holiday card had no return address. When he asked why, I told him that an address would have made contacting "Vinnie and the boys" much easier for the hit!

Marcia Talley said...

In my fiction I've bumped off a former boss, the bitch who married my father after my mother died, and my husband. Three times. But he's cool with that.

Cheaper than a therapist!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Libby, that's so hilarous!

Lisa Alber said...

Kevin, your initial glimmer of a premise was obviously meant to be a novel. Even the year-late deadline ended up being serendipitous!

The novel sounds great, and I love "legal thriller noir."

My worst experience with bosses had been with female bosses, not male. Interesting now that I think about it. Like the one who lodged a complaint against me to HR because I wasn't reactive enough to her. Sorry, Boss-Lady, I'm not going to bounce off the walls with you every time you get high-strung about something...I didn't last long there. :-) Left before I got fired.

Joan Emerson said...

Congratulations, Hank, for the Macavity Nomination for the Best Mystery Novel for “The Other Woman” . . . .

Lisa Alber said...

Wait, how did I miss that...Congrats on the Macavity nomination, Hank!

Kevin Egan said...

Wow, nice to read all the comments. Thank you, JRWs, for inviting me. Now don't let me interrupt. I'll check back later.


Deb said...

Congrats on your Macavity nom for Best Novel for The Other Woman, Hank!

Reds Rock!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Oh, my goodness, THANK YOU! Yes, I am beyond thrilled!

Deb Romano said...

Hank, congratulations once again! NOBODY is surprised, you know!

Michelle Fidler said...

I used to work for lawyers for seven years as a legal secretary. It's not just bosses, coworkers can be deadly. I've never been the type to complain about my coworkers but I know sometimes they complained about me to the boss. I don't know why, because I wasn't doing anything wrong, but those are always the kind of people who dislike you. Sometimes it makes you want to work at home so you can avoid everybody.

Deb Romano said...


I cannot wait to read your book! I formerly worked as a paralegal, and I enjoy books set in the legal world. Over the years I witnessed a lot of situations that sound too bizarre to be real...but they are.

I've never wished that someone would drop dead, although I was not too unhappy when my cruel eighth grade teacher broke her arm! The sub that we had was so awful that we nearly cheered when a normally very quiet classmate told her "now I know what it means when people say be careul what you wish for"!

Marianne in Maine said...

Oh my, Kevin, your blog entry is fascinating; I can't wait to read the actual book!

I never wished a boss, not really. But there was this one and he should never have been given the position he had. So I often wished he would just slink back to the level of his incompetence. But then I retired!

Reine said...

Hank... Macavity nomination for Best Novel for The Other Woman... Go Hank! xoxo

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Thank you, Reine! Very happy...xoo