By Adam Stone
There’s a fresh corpse in an office building, and now someone’s got to get rid of it — discreetly. Naturally, hijinks ensue.
“There’s a lot of duct tape and trash bags, stumbling over the office chair and how to avoid getting blood on the clothing,” says Paul Rieger, J.D. ’88, who as J.P Rieger has published the darkly comedic detective novel Clonk!
And he’s not the only one who has leveraged his law school experience to branch out in literary directions. In fiction and non-fiction, UBalt Law alumni are finding success in the publishing world.
With books like Scavenger: A Mystery (Three Rooms Press: 2020) and Standalone (Three Rooms Press: 2022), Christopher Chambers, J.D. ’90, gives us a detective series starring Dickie Cornish, a Washington, D.C., homeless man turned investigator. Cornish is “drugged out and on the street, and he’s using some of those survival skills to do what he has to do to find the truth,” Chambers says.
The idea for the series ignited when Chambers talked to best-selling crime novelist George Pelecanos, also D.C.-based, about the difficulty in telling a gritty story about a capital city that’s increasingly gentrified. “He said: Well, you’re going to have to dig really low. And I said: How low?” Chambers recalls. “So I used the homeless man as a hook, and that’s how I got into the Dickie Cornish novels.”
With tough, realistic language, “Chambers makes the smell and harrowing vibe of the mean streets of the nation’s capital come alive,” according to a Publishers Weekly review.
In addition to serving as vice president and counsel for Student Housing of America, Chambers is also a communications and culture professor at Georgetown University, currently on sabbatical. He said his legal training prepared him well for the rigors of the writing life.
As a lawyer, “you don’t mind other people going over your work and editing it,” he says. “A lot of people really take it personally when somebody takes a red pen to their stuff, but as a lawyer, you’re used to that.”
As an active-duty military lawyer, a professor teaching the law of armed conflict at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, and a serious American-whiskey drinker, John C. Tramazzo, J.D. ’10, noticed a funny thing: Soldiers and whiskey tend to keep close company.
That led him to write Bourbon and Bullets: True Stories of Whiskey, War, and Military Service (Potomac Books: 2018). The book dives into the relationship between military service and some of the nation’s most notable distillers of the amber liquid.
“The most sought-after whiskeys — the most expensive, super-premium, single-barrel American whiskeys — are all either named for a combat veteran, or were developed by men who served in the U.S. military,” Tramazzo says.
“There’s a bourbon named for William LaRue Weller,” who served in the Louisville Brigade in the 1840s, he says. “Those bottles can go for $6,000 to $7,000 — if you can find them.”
At UBalt Law, the professors helped set him up for success, he says. There were several who “gave me a great deal of confidence in my ability to write,” he adds. “They really pushed me to refine my writing and helped launch me into a career in the JAG Corps, where writing is valued.”
A ‘very Baltimore’ book
Rieger worked for years as in-house counsel to a title insurance company and is now in solo practice. His legal background helped bring to life the darkly comical characters and situations that populate his new novel Clonk! (Apprentice House: 2023).
“It’s a very Baltimore-based book,” he says. “A big chunk of the story is based on property flipping that went on in Baltimore in the mid-’90s. Fraudsters came in and bought up property very cheaply, and then induced lenders to lend way more money than these homes were worth, leaving the consumers and banks in the lurch.”
In the book, our protagonist recognizes the lawyers who are representing the crooks. “He’s thinking back to their gleaming white veneers and orange tanning-salon tans, staring back at him from various transit-bus placards,” Rieger says. “So there’s a lot of legal stuff.”
Adam Stone is a writer based in Annapolis.