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Manning Wolfe's Dead By Proxy is a fun, pulpy legal thriller with a New York lawyer taking on the identity of his murdered friend Quinton Bell to practice law. It is very different from her Merit Bridges legal thrillers. We talked with Manning about the change of pace.

Scott Montgomery: What compelled you to start a new series?

Manning Wolfe: In the Proxy Legal Thriller Series, I chose to create a new story line that involved criminal law, as opposed to the Merit Bridges Legal Thriller Series that is set in the world of civil law. Criminal law is an entirely different facet of the legal world filled with a unique set of challenges, courtroom dynamics, and ethical dilemmas. The shift allowed me to attract a new audience of readers who are more particularly intrigued by criminal law. It also allowed me to stretch my storytelling abilities to delve into the intricacies of criminal investigations, courtroom drama, and the pursuit of justice.

SM: You went a bit more hard-boiled with Quinton Bell. What do you enjoy about the change of tone?

MW: I found myself wanting to explore grittier legal oriented material than that of the first series. Most of Merit’s cases involve money and often show up on financial thriller lists, even though Merit is often cast into jeopardy, and there’s plenty of suspense. Quinton is involved with his client’s life and death, incarceration, and revenge. Although Quinton is also in jeopardy, at the core of each book is a criminal case.

SM: Merit Bridges operated in Austin. You move most of the action in the new series to Houston. What is the biggest difference in writing about the cities?

MW: The biggest difference in writing a series set in Austin, versus Houston lies in the cultural, geographical, economic, and social nuances of each city. While Austin has the vibe of a newer hipster town, with a hippie heritage, Houston feels more international, business oriented, and diverse. I grew up in and around Houston and the energy is different, more electric. I’ve spent most of my adult life in Austin, where we have a more laid-back atmosphere with music, the Hill Country, and progressive culture.

When I’m writing the two series, Merit feels more like she is going into Austin and finding danger as almost a by-product. In Houston, Quinton feels like he is being dragged into the danger.

SM: With all the different organized crime groups, how did you pick the gangsters who are after Quinton Bell to be from the Irish mob?

MW: The Irish mob has a rich and complex history that provides special material for storytelling. For one thing, the characters are morally ambiguous. They are often torn between their criminal activities and their sense of loyalty to family and community. For example, in this first Proxy Thriller, Tua Dannon, the head of the NYC Irish mob has to choose between his loyalty to one of his clan, versus protection of his own reputation and the family business.

Also, while other organized crime groups like the Italian Mafia and the Russian mob (which I explored in the fourth Merit book, Green Fees), have been extensively portrayed and explored, the Irish mob has received comparatively less attention. This gives readers a chance to compare another culture.

SM: What do you think draws readers to legal thrillers?

MW: I recently wrote an entire article on this topic for Crime Reads, so a short answer is difficult. Mainly, the stories captivate by blending courtroom drama, complex moral issues, and intellectual puzzles that challenge the reader as they challenge the characters.

The conflicts are also very personal. The dilemmas in a legal thriller have happened to someone, somewhere, and are not at all remote. Therefore, they could happen to any of us, or someone we love. Also, the stakes are high. They’re often life and death, and financially or emotionally crushing in their outcome.

SM: Any way Quinton could team up with Merit down the road?

MW: Absolutely! Merit has a son, Ace, who goes away to school in Houston because he is dyslexic and needs a special learning environment. He’s a teenager and is starting to get into trouble in ways that only young men can. Merit went to Rice for her undergraduate degree, and still has lots of friends in Houston. They will surely hear of Quinton and his successes at trial and recommend him if Merit needs a lawyer for Ace down the road.


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