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By Milton C. Toby

“Write what you know” is advice familiar to every author.  But what if you’re a writer with a wide range of life experiences, a writer knowledgeable about a lot of different things?

David J. Walker has been, at various times before becoming a fulltime writer, a parish priest, an investigator for the Chicago Police Department, and a lawyer.  It’s no surprise, then, that people who do what Walker actually did in real life keep cropping up in his books.

“The lawyer and police jobs—I was in the unit of the Chicago P.D. that investigated charges of ‘excessive force’ against officers—were obviously helpful for a crime writer,” Walker said.  “And the parish priest gig? When I began I really didn’t contemplate writing about priests, but as it turns out they have kept popping up, even when I don’t expect them to. I look on my ‘past lives’ as part of my own well of experience, and when I drop the bucket down it’s not surprising that I would frequently draw up lawyers and priests and cops.”

Walker’s newest book, The Towman’s Daughters, due to be released this month from Severn House, is the most recent installment in the author’s Wild Onion, Ltd., series.  Set in and around Chicago, where Walker and his characters live and work, the series chronicles a female private investigator (Kirsten, no last name) who runs the Wild Onion detective agency with occasional help from her lawyer husband (Dugan, also no last name).  Walker’s first series was the genesis for the Wild Onion novels.  The two series share a Chicago setting and a private investigator protagonist, but that’s where the similarity ends.

“My first series featured a suspended-lawyer-turned-PI named Mal Foley,” Walker explained, “whose stories are told in the first person. Mal’s divorced and something of a loner whose only actual friend, and mentor, is an older British expatriate who is his landlady. The first Foley book was Fixed in His Folly, an Edgar nominee.

“At the end of the fourth Mal Foley book, and the last in that series so far, Mal was in jail. While writing that series, I wanted to try something different.”  The Wild Onion novels, six books and counting (“Chicago” was the Native American word for “wild onion,” Walker explained), were the result.

“These novels feature a woman private eye and are third-person, multiple-point-of-view stories. I quickly decided to give Kirsten a husband, Dugan, and the two enjoyed each other’s company so much that they kept having these happy, rather light-hearted conversations. So the books, while still gritty, took on a lighter tone than I had first expected. Oh . . . and they sell much better!”

The Towman’s Daughters finds Kirsten and Dugan investigating the disappearance of Isobel Cho, a young woman Dugan rescued from an attacker days before she went missing.  Isobel was romantically involved with the son of a prominent United States senator when she disappeared.  It’s a relationship that both Isobel’s thuggish father (owner of Wancho’s Towing and the towman of the book’s title) and the senator want terminated.

“But there are things afoot here beyond a romance between ‘star-cross’d lovers,” Walker said.  “Things like greed and betrayal, politics and murder . . . and how far a father’s love for his daughters will drive him.”

The Wild Onion novels hark back to Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man, or the Hart to Hart and Moonlighting television series.  Walker appreciates the comparisons.

“Those comparisons have to do with, of course, my wife-husband team in the Wild Onion, Ltd., books,” he explained, “and I sure hope they are valid.  I can’t say specifically who influences me, but I also can’t tell you how many times I’ve read The Thin Man, as well as the Mr. & Mrs. North series, starting long before I thought of actually writing a crime novel. And guess what? As a child I couldn’t get enough of The Lone Ranger, whom I consider a classic private eye.”

Although Walker worked through several careers before turning to fiction, he was preparing for a writer’s life from childhood, maybe without even realizing it.

“As a kid I read (and read, and read),” he said.  “Later, in my high school there was a strong emphasis on writing essays and I discovered I loved writing and even found it relatively easy. Then, as a priest, I obviously did lots of preaching, teaching, and writing, including some free-lance writing for a religious publisher

“As I was graduating out of that life I considered writing as a profession, but I was absolutely penniless and took the police department job and went to law school. I should have consulted a career consultant first, because lawyering proved unsuitable for me (or was it vice versa?). Anyway, I quit my lawyer job and started writing private eye novels.”

For aspiring writers, he had this advice:

“Many of the aspiring, or beginning, writers with whom I’ve worked do not appear to have read very many novels, so I would say two things:  First, read, especially in the genre you want to write in; and, second, start writing and don’t stop.  Or is that three things?”


David J. Walker is the author of eleven mystery/suspense novels. His latest, called The Towman’s Daughters, is the sixth book in his “Wild Onion, Ltd.” private eye series, featuring the wife/husband team of Kirsten and Dugan. He is also the author of the acclaimed stand-alone novel, Saving Paulo. Walker has been an Edgar® nominee, and has served on the Board of Directors of Mystery Writers of America. He is a full-time writer and lives just north of Chicago.

To learn more about David, please visit his website.


Milton C. Toby