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Barely out of law school, Washington novelist BRAD MELTZER is being pushed as the next John Grisham. But is he that thrilling? Story: Teddy Jamieson
Travellers racking up the airmilcs in coming years could well be seeing a lot of Brad Meltxer. Not in person you understand — but the 27-year-old law graduate's widow‘s peak and stern gaze is going to be staring out at them from every airport bookstall. from Prestwick to Pittsburgh.
At least that‘s what his publishers are hoping. That is why they‘ve given the Washington-based novelist a six-figure advance before he‘s had anything in print.
Meltzer. whose debut novel The Tenth Justice is published by l-lodder and Stoughton. is this year‘s ‘boy most likely to‘. He is being groomed as the new John Grisham or Scott 'l‘urow. American reviewers have already made those comparisons. and gone even further. Bret Easton Ellis and F. Scott Fitzgerald have also been mentioned.
‘Is that enough pressure. do you think'." Meltzer asks.
Despite his ‘Mr Serious' cover pose. in person he is charm incarnate and the first to admit that comparisons between The Tenth Justice and The Great Gatsby are probably rather rash. What he has written is an effective page-turner with an original plot and setting. coloured with an entertaining insight into the lives and ambitions of Washington‘s young elite.
The Tenth Justice takes its readers behind the scenes at the American Supreme Court where the clerks of the nine justices. fresh out of law school. are thrown into the deep end of American law. When the ambitious Ben Addison inadvertently leaks information on an impending Court decision. he
'The money's terrific, but I'm in this because I enjoy writing. Someone once said the trick is to find something you love doing and find someone to pay you for doing it.’
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Brad Meltzer: the law student made good. billed as the next John Grisham
quickly realises he has been duped. Blackmail and an
industrial case of paranoia follow hard on the heels of
his error and he soon finds his career and ultimately his life in jeopardy.
Like any self-respecting legal thriller the whole thing hums along at great speed. though at points Melt/er has the tendency to take a rather wide curve on some of the plot twists. What really guns the novel’s engine is Melt/.er's obvious preference for personality over plot. Ben‘s interaction with his Ilatmate's friends and legal colleague Lisa starts off as TV-slick banter (Friends meets The Firm is an obvious media-byte description). before going on to explore the conflicting needs of friendship and ambition.
‘The beauty of a novel is watching the characters develop.‘ Melt/er suggests. ‘Watching the characters make mistakes and learn. and thrilling to their adventures emotionally as well as physically.‘
Ben the clerk is good at making mistakes. In fact it is rare to find such a mainstream novel expecting the reader to cheer on such a flawed individual.
‘80 many legal thrillers today have superheroes.’ Melt/er says in Ben‘s defence. "They have square jaws. big broad shoulders and can win over evil every time. I don‘t think that’s realistic.‘
The Tenth Justice. Meltzer‘s second novel following on from an unpublished campus novel. was conceived and written as the writer studied for a law degree at Columbia Law School. He has since qualified and could. if he so desired. practise. But with a second book on the cards - he is ‘contractually obliged’ not to tell the plot — and film contracts on the go. his earning potential from writing would have Johnny Cochrane drooling.
‘Listen. the money’s terrific. but I’m in this because I enjoy writing.‘ he says. ‘Someone once said the trick is to find something you love doing and find someone to pay you for doing it.’
That is just what he has done. Brad Meltzer - novelist and magician. it seems.
The Tenth Justice by Brad Meltzer is published by Hodder and Stoughton at £16.99.
preview BOOKS THE WRITE STUFF
Crime writers Jonathan and Fay Kellerman are not only internationally successful - they are also married. Jonathan reveals their vital statistics.
NAMES: Jonathan and Fay Kellerman.
AGES: Jonathan, 47 and Fay, 44.
PREVIOUS JOBS: I worked as a clinical child psychologist for years while writing novels. I’m still a medical school professor though I write full time. Fay has a doctorate in dentistry of all things, but she never practised. After dental school she had a couple of kids and turned to writing.
ROUTE TO BECOMING A WRITER: At university I worked as a journalist. cartoonist and editor. Then I won a writing award and just kept working on my fiction. Fay came from a scientific background. She'd watched me struggle for many years as a rejected writer and thought she’d try her hand at it.
DAILY ROUTINE: We have four children aged four to eighteen. Now they're all in school we try to do our writing in the morning. We don't write quickly, we just have a good work ethic - we don't get distracted and do a lot of preparatory work.
INFLUENCES: The classic southern Californian hard boiled novels of Ross Macdonald, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain. I like the classic stories of Robert Louis Stevenson, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells.
AMBITIONS Just to keep going the way it is. I've had twelve consecutive best sellers. I'm just thrilled people love my books and everything Fay writes gets published. A TV movie made by NBC in 1987 of my first novel When The Bough Breaks ended up being their third highest rated movie ever. Currently I'm in a three-book movie deal with Francis Ford Coppola for the ABC network.
FEARS: Being Jewish American and having lost a lot of family in the Holocaust, I'm very taken with injustice. I’m one of those guys who takes the world extremely seriously so I try to deal with issues of life, death and crime in my novels.
INCOME: I don't want to get into such specifics — we're very comfortable. (Deirdre Molloy)
I The Clinic by Jonathan Kellerman is published by Little, Brown at f 14. 99. Prayers For The Dead is published by Headline at £5. 99. The authors will be at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Thurs 27 Feb, 6pm.
21 Feb—6 Mar 1997 TllEUSI’ 01