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Following in Footsteps of Grisham and Turow

May 25, 2006 By:
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William Lashner
William Lashner had always dreamed of a life in which he didn't have to go to an office every day, and could simply spend his time writing and telling stories.

Now, after making a few proverbial leaps of faith, the 48-year-old Abington native and father of three is living that life; he's published six novels, including the forthcoming Marked Man, as well as Falls the Shadow, which came out in paperback earlier this month.

All of the books focus on the exploits of Victor Carl, a struggling, uncomfortably Jewish attorney with questionable ethics, who nevertheless always seems to solve the crime. All the stories have a distinctly Philadelphia flavor; his latest one touches on everything from the current pay-to-play scandals in City Hall and condo boom in Center City to intrigue at a place that bares a striking resemblance to the Barnes Foundation in Merion Station.

"I write about Philadelphia because it's the one city that I see through time. I see the city as it was 40 years ago, when you used to buy the Evening Bulletin for a dime," said Lashner, who now resides in Wynnewood.

Lashner added that instead of John Grisham - perhaps the most well-known author of law-driven thrillers - he modeled his books on the classic detective stories of Raymond Chandler.

After graduating from Swarthmore College, Lashner - who had his Bar Mitzvah at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park - wanted to do anything but hold down a job. So he took off for Israel, spending a year taking part in the World Union of Jewish Students program in the Negev city of Arad.

Participants were supposed to learn Hebrew for half a year and then work for half a year, but Lashner spent the second six months in Jerusalem, visiting the same used-book shop every day, scribbling away on stories that were never published.

Languishing to Law

Eventually, the man - now a member of Adath Israel in Merion Station - returned home and enrolled in New York University Law School.

After earning his degree, he spent several years clerking for a federal judge in Chicago and working for the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., before returning to Philadelphia to work at his father's firm, all the while trying to create fiction on the side.

"It wasn't right. I was like half a lawyer, half a writer," he recalled. "[Scott] Turow can do it, but I didn't feel like I was doing anything well."

Shortly after getting married in 1989, Lashner and his wife Pam moved to Iowa, where he spent two years at the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop. He recalled that she wasn't crazy about heading to the Midwest, but she nevertheless supported him while he pursued his craft.

"The thing you get at Iowa is you get to play writer, without having earned it," he explained. "Every day you get up and your job is to write fiction, and write as well as you can. You really don't get that opportunity unless you've made money writing."

After that, the couple moved back to Philadelphia and bought a house in Wynnewood.

Lashner returned to working and writing part-time until 1995, when he published the first Victor Carl novel, Hostile Witness. Since then, coming up with ways to get the fictional lawyer in and out of trouble has been his professional life.

In Marked Man, Carl accepts what he's pretty sure are stolen jewels as a retainer to take a case. But as the story unfolds, the protagonist seems to be driven more by a desire to do right by his client than by greed.

"It seems that in every book, [my character] is learning where his lines are," said the author. "What he feels compelled to do, what he finds himself unable to do. He's developing a code of honor which ends up being a pretty righteous code of honor for a shady lawyer."

 

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