Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Booksellers Who Love the Written Word...

By Paul

Fun time last Saturday night at the historic Biltmore Hotel in downtown L.A. In the acoustically challenged ballroom that hosted the early Academy Awards Banquets, the Southern California Booksellers Association held its annual “authors’ feast.” No, they didn’t dine on the writers...too acidic for most palates. They toasted the writers.

The SCBA is made up of independent booksellers – the backbone of the industry – plus some publishers and wholesalers. It’s a great group, people who really love the written word.

My congratulations to the winners of the SCBA awards. Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack won the fiction award for their remarkable novel, “Literacy and Longing in L.A.,” a sly and witty debut. Here's the opening:

When I was seven my mother drove the family car off a thirty-foot bridge. My sister and I were in the backseat and after the dive, the sky-blue Cadillac Seville flipped over into the craggy ravine and landed on its roof.

I don't know about you, but I'll keep reading.

Tony Kohan won the non-fiction award for “Mexican Days: Journey Into the Heart of Mexico.” T. Jefferson Parker, the bard of Southern California, won the mystery award for “The Fallen.”

Yep. Jeff bested both naked authors, Jacqueline Winspear’s “Pardonable Lies” and my “Solomon vs. Lord.” Also nominated were Denise Hamilton for “Prisoner of Memory” and Barbara Seranella for “An Unacceptable Death.” Hey, it was an honor to be mentioned with these folks. And it was great to see Barbara, who’s been battling health issues.

It’s great to spend the evening with book lovers. For one thing, you learn that the people who sell books often know a helluva lot more about popular literature than you do.
And, you get interesting comments. One of the employees at Pasadena’s famed Vroman’s store said she sensed that my latest novel, “Kill All the Lawyers,” was based on something real from my life. (In the book, Steve Solomon botches a case, and his client, once out of prison, comes back to haunt him). Well, sure, I’ve botched cases. But no ex-cleint ever stuck a marlin in my front door to threaten me.

Still, the reader was half right. The idea for “Kill All the Lawyers” came from a true story. The murder of a lawyer. Two lawyers, actually.

Let’s go back several decades. In 1970, I was fresh out of Penn State journalism school, covering criminal court for The Miami Herald. I got to know a slick Miami Beach lawyer named Harvey St. Jean. He defended some heavyweight criminals and was a colorful character himself. Harvey lived at the Jockey Club, played golf at La Gorce Country Club, dressed like a swell, and, of course, drove a Cadillac Eldorado.

Flash forward to 1974. Harvey St. Jean was found, shot dead, in the front seat of his Caddy in a department store parking lot on Miami Beach. Never solved, the murder was believed to be the handiwork of a disgruntled client. If you practice criminal law, you have lots of them, mostly in prison. Problem is, when they get out, they can become a nuisance. Or worse.

(Readers with long memories may recall that the murder of Harvey St. Jean inspired the title of Edna Buchanan’s journalistic memoir, “The Corpse Had a Familiar Face.” Inspired me, too, as we shall see).

Flash forward another six years. It’s 1980, and I’m a practicing lawyer in Miami, which is bursting at the seams with crime and swashbuckling defense lawyers. George Gold, a brainy barrister, is working alone at night in his law office.

There’s a knock at the door.

Gold answers.

He’s shot and killed by an unknown assailant. Again, the murder is never solved.

Gold’s clientele included South American drug dealers, and it was widely assumed they were involved in the killing. Soon, investigators learned it was a case of mistaken identity. The hit man intended to kill Gold’s law partner, who later spent six years in prison on racketeering charges.

Yes, lawyers were hip deep into cocaine and money laundering in those days. In fact, it was often hard to distinguish lawyers from their clients. I am reminded of the famous line from Carl Sandburg’s “The People, Yes.”

Have you a criminal lawyer in this burg?

We think so, but we haven’t been able to prove it on him, yet.

For a couple decades, the two murders kept coming back to me, along with this question: just what can a lawyer do to make a client angry enough to kill him?

And that’s the inspiration for “Kill All the Lawyers.”

By Paul


  1. Two NakedAuthors in the same room! It must have been awesome. Congrats again on the noms.

    Interesting story behind the plot of your book. It reminded me of that shocking camera footage of the lawyer being shot by a disgruntled client outside of the Van Nuys courtroom a couple of years ago.

  2. So...

    Hey, Paul. Where do you get your ideas?

    Sorry, couldn't resist.

    Mark Terry