Chuck Greaves’s award-winning novel, HUSH MONEY, is no ordinary mystery. To be sure, it’s got all the usual markings of a bestseller: fast-paced, suspenseful, authentic, beautifully written. But what makes the novel so special is that it also manages to be both touching and hilariously funny.
The story begins when Jack MacTaggart, a new lawyer at an elite white-shoe Pasadena law firm, is assigned to represent a socialite whose champion show horse, Hush Puppy, dies under suspicious circumstances. What starts out as a routine litigation over an insurance claim, turns anything but as MacTaggart uncovers a blackmail scheme that implicates not only his client, but also the upper echelon of his law firm.
MacTaggart seeks help from the only person at his firm he knows he can trust, senior partner Russell Dinsmoor. Dinsmoor is an old-school trial lawyer with an eye for talent who’d convinced his reluctant Ivy League partners to take a chance on MacTaggart, a rough-around-the-edges former public defender.
But then Dinsmoor turns up dead. And an unlikely suspect emerges: MacTaggart himself. As he sets out to prove his innocence, MacTaggart forms unlikely alliances and uncovers secrets old and new. Along the way, he pursues a romance with the beautiful Tara Flynn, helps another client go up against a big insurance company, and offers up hysterical quips and homespun wisdom.
Greaves’s years as a trial lawyer shine through and the book is rich with legal lore and truisms. The author skillfully develops MacTaggart’s character by exploring the two contradictory mentors in MacTaggart’s life: his perennially unemployed, gambling, but lovable Uncle Louis and his esteemed lawyer-mentor Dinsmoor. In attorney Jack MacTaggart, Greaves has created one of the most likeable lawyers in fiction: a man with the talents and ethics of Clarence Darrow combined with the charm and mischief of Jack Sparrow.
From the high-stakes world of professional show-jumping to the inner sanctum of big firm litigation, Greaves takes readers on one hell of a ride. HUSH MONEY is a winner right out of the gate.
Mr. Greaves kindly agreed to answer a few questions:
The SouthWest Writers named HUSH MONEY Best Mystery/ Suspense/ Thriller/ Adventure Novel, and you won SWW’s Storyteller Award. SWW also named your forthcoming novel HARD TWISTED best historical novel. How does it feel to have that level of success so early in your career as a novelist?
It’s funny to think in those terms, because to me those novels represent five years of thankless toil. The contest broke a log-jam of rejections and disappointments that nearly derailed my goal of becoming a published novelist. But like most debut authors, I persevered. Now I’m gratified by all the positive feedback, including the Storyteller Award, the multi-book publishing contracts, and the starred reviews. I’d say, “I knew it all along,” but that wouldn’t be true. The fact is, publishing is a harsh and dispiriting landscape for a newcomer.
HUSH MONEY takes readers into the worlds of big firm litigation and professional equestrian show-jumping. Given your twenty-five years as a well-known trial lawyer, it’s obvious from where the legal aspects of the book came from, but do you have any background in the equestrian world?
I’ve been riding for around twenty years now, first in the hunter/jumper discipline, then in dressage. My wife Lynda is to blame, of course. She grew up on horseback, and then she coaxed me into taking lessons. Next thing I knew, we were joining the Flintridge Riding Club, which is the oldest private riding club west of the Mississippi, and then we were flying to Belgium to buy horses. I told her recently that if I’d known what we were getting into, I’d have encouraged her to take up another, less expensive hobby. Like smoking crack, for instance.
How did you become interested in writing fiction, and how difficult was it to pursue that interest while maintaining your law practice?
I think I’ve always wanted to write, but I couldn’t find the time while still in practice. So on my 50th birthday, I made a decision: Twenty-five years of lawyering was enough. We both quit our practices (Lynda is also a lawyer) and we moved from Pasadena, CA to Santa Fe, NM. The rest you already know.
Were HUSH MONEY and HARD TWISTED your first efforts at fiction?
Pretty much. I wrote one short story, immediately after we arrived in Santa Fe — testing the water, as it were — and I entered it in the Santa Fe New Mexican’s Holiday Writing Contest. It won first prize, and it appeared as the cover story in their Sunday magazine. I guess that convinced me that I could actually do this.
What is your typical writing day like?
Up at 8:00, then breakfast, then I write from 9:00 or so until lunch, then maybe an hour or two after that. By 3:00 I’m beat, and need to get outside, and so I either work in our vineyard or go for a run. Or both.
If you were pitching HUSH MONEY to a Hollywood producer, what would you say?
THE FIRM meets A FISH CALLED WANDA. With horses.
What’s next after HUSH MONEY and HARD TWISTED?
I’ve just finished the first sequel to HUSH MONEY, called GREEN-EYED LADY.
Chuck Greaves spent 25 years as an L.A. trial lawyer before turning his attention to fiction. HUSH MONEY, his debut novel, was honored by South West Writers as the Best Mystery, Suspense, Thriller or Adventure Novel of 2010, and won SWW’s grand-prize Storyteller Award. He lives and writes in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
To learn more about Chuck, please visit his website.
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