Late one August night, attorney Jessie Martin, seven months pregnant, receives a phone call from her mentor/confidante, popular high school teacher Terrence Butterfield. A frantic Butterfield confesses he’s killed someone and pleads for Jessie’s help.
Out of loyalty, Jessie rushes to his aid. She’s shocked to learn the identity of the victim—someone whose death dredges up dark, buried memories.
As the legal proceedings against Butterfield unfold, Jessie finds that her faith in the legal system and the people she trusted is shaken. Ultimately, Jessie’s decision to answer the midnight call places at great peril her love, her career, and her own life and that of her unborn child.
Author Jode Millman spent some time with The Big Thrill talking about her compelling debut, THE MIDNIGHT CALL, and her approach to writing.
In THE MIDNIGHT CALL, attorney Jessie Martin, seven months pregnant, receives a telephone call from her mentor and confidante, Terrence Butterfield. Terrence asks for Jessie’s help. Her response puts at risk almost everything she holds dear. Are any of the incidents in the book based on fact?
The murder was inspired by a brutal homicide that occurred in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1979. Similar to THE MIDNIGHT CALL, the true crime was committed by a popular teacher who brutally maimed and butchered a student who was randomly trespassing through his yard late one night. The actual incident is personal to me because I had been one of the real killer’s students. Also, I knew the victim’s family, the judges, and the attorneys involved. To this day, our community still remains in shock over this tragedy.
Jessie is at a crossroads in her life—she’s an up-and-coming associate at a prominent law firm, engaged to be married, and about to become a mother. What motivates her to risk everything to help a friend?
For Jessie, Terrence Butterfield was her high school teacher, the person who encouraged her to become an attorney, her father’s best friend, and the keeper of her darkest secrets. The combination of Jessie’s deep emotional attachment to Terrence and her duty as an attorney propel her to act, without question, to help save Terrence’s life.
THE MIDNIGHT CALL is your debut. Please describe your path to writing fiction.
Like the Beatles’ song, I traveled a long and winding road to writing fiction. THE MIDNIGHT CALL rattled around in my brain and on scraps of paper long before I put my fingers on the keyboard. Additionally, writing three editions of the SEATS theater guides and obtaining a Masters in English Literature waylaid me, but were stepping stones along the path. Finally, in 2010, I jumped in and haven’t stopped writing.
Your novel also features defense attorney Jeremy Kaplan and assistant district attorney, Hal Samuels. Please tell us about these characters.
Jeremy Kaplan and Hal Samuels are two sides of the same legal coin. Jeremy is desperate, egotistical, and willing to do anything to protect his client. Conversely, Hal is ethical, kind, honorable, and dedicated to public service to the detriment of his marriage. Jessie is their common denominator, and they must ultimately face betraying her in order to vanquish the other.
Putting Jessie aside, who’s your favorite character in THE MIDNIGHT CALL, and why?
Mo Esposito, Jeremy’s secretary, has achieved that honor. She is totally unfiltered, unconditionally committed to her boss, and gets the job done with flair.
You’re also the author of the nonfiction bestseller Seats: New York guide. Do you find writing fiction more challenging than writing nonfiction? The other way around?
Non-fiction writing is a piece of cake compared to fiction writing. My theatre guides are composed of research, graphic art, photography, fact checking, and editing. There’s no deep POV, at all.
While THE MIDNIGHT CALL is certainly a thriller, it also contains elements of romance and suspense. Did you encounter any difficulties in blending genres?
Blending genres is terrific fun and is a tradition in the mystery/suspense/thriller genre. For example, in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, the main conflict that leads to murder is a love triangle. Like Christie, I believe that a mash-up of genres creates three-dimensional characters that are living true lives. The fact that the protagonist’s life is in danger doesn’t preclude them from falling in love, dealing with an ex, having medical problems, suffering over a friend’s death or having a baby. Life is messy.
Please describe your writing process. How, if at all, has your background as an attorney influenced your approach to writing?
The practice of law has provided me with four essential craft skills that I’ve been able to incorporate into my writing: discipline, vocabulary, plotting and research. Unfortunately, attorneys are not trained to be “brief” and over-writing is a difficult habit to break. However, my insider access to the judicial and criminal justice systems is at the heart of my novels.
Can we expect a sequel featuring any of the characters in THE MIDNIGHT CALL?
Yes. In the sequel, Hooker Avenue, Jessie Martin, Esq. and Detective Ebony Jones are at odds, but ultimately join forces to investigate the mysterious disappearances of eight prostitutes before another vanishes. I intend to keep the series going because there are so many delicious, truth-is-stranger-than-fiction stories to be told. I can’t wait to weave my characters into them and take my readers along for the ride.
Jodé Millman is the author of the best-selling SEATS: NEW YORK guide. Her debut thriller, THE MIDNIGHT CALL, was short-listed for the Clue Award and was named “Best Police Procedural” by Chantireviews.com and is being released by Immortal Works in June 2019.
She’s an attorney, professor, podcast producer (Backstage with the Bardavon), and writes for InSinC Quarterly.
To learn more, please visit her website.