A few months ago, I spent a couple hours too many perusing the MWA’s database of former Edgar winners and nominees, and spent even more hours compiling a list of those authors I’d never heard of. After a couple of Googling sessions and further-information gathering, I figured out which ones still had careers, and which ones had been banished to the deep freeze. But one name intrigued me in particular; he’d been granted a healthy six-figure advance for his novel, which was greeted to the kind of rave reviews hardly bestowed upon veterans of the genre. His book was nominated for the Edgar for Best First novel. It didn’t win that year—another worthy author did--but these things happen. What doesn’t happen is that the author disappears off the face of the earth. Six years have gone by and there’s no trace of a followup. What happened to Ira Genberg?
Before I answer the question, I should probably talk a little about Genberg’s debut, RECKLESS HOMICIDE. At the time of its publication in early 1998, it was touted as the kind of book fans of Scott Turow and John Grisham would enjoy, since it was a legal thriller set primarily within the confines of a courtroom. Michael Ashmore is a high-powered Washington lawyer in charge of one of the most successful law firms in the city. He’s an upstanding citizen still mourning the loss of his wife and trying to do right by his daughter while keeping an eye out for his somewhat wayward younger brother Charlie, an airline pilot. Problem is, Charlie’s life is going into the crapper, and he’s developed a drug problem. After failing a drug test, with his job in jeopardy, he turns to Michael for help. And so, the man who prided himself on being scrupulously ethical arranges for a second test—with the appropriate negative results, of course—setting in motion a series of catastrophic events. Charlie pilots a plane that crashes, killing everyone on board. The original drug test failure is revealed, and Michael is duly charged with reckless homicide. As everyone—his partners, underlings, and friends—turn against him, he has to fight for his livelihood and reputation in the courtroom—and for his life outside of it.
As it happens, the critics were right: this book is steeped in legal procedure, but never at the expense of the story, which is a Byzantine tale of family loyalty, ethics, and how far anyone should be willing to go to protect those they love. While RECKLESS HOMICIDE is foremost a suspense thriller—and a very good one at that—there’s a surprising amount of depth. Genberg’s prose, while occasionally overwrought, has some very affecting moments, especially in regards to Michael’s love for Diana, a young lawyer in his firm who sticks by him even during the very worst moments. Genberg also comes up with an eleventh-hour twist that is truly surprising, and so the ending doesn’t feel like a total cheat. Yes, Michael is vindicated, but it’s far more hard-won—and thus more affecting—than what occurs in similar thrillers.
Certainly, I’d gladly read more of Genberg’s work. He’s made the transition from lawyer (as a prominent Atlanta-based litigation attorney) to writer very effectively, and no doubt future efforts would smooth out some clunky phrases, pacing problems and flashes of overwriting. But will there be a followup? Six years is a long time in the publishing world, and if he returns, he’d almost have to start all over again.
Luckily, this is one “whatever happened to” that has an answer. Genberg, who is an active partner with Smith, Gambrell and Russell, wasn’t too hard to track down, and kindly agreed to update me on his whereabouts of late in a short Q&A. Though he gave no indication of when his next novel would be completed or published, he is still writing when time warrants, and does still hear from readers about his first effort, something he finds “very satisfying.”
It's been more than six years since RECKLESS HOMICIDE was published. What have you been doing since then?
During the last six years I have been heavily involved in the practice of law. More specifically, I have been actively litigating and trying cases throughout the United States and Europe. Further, I have been raising a son and a daughter with my wife during these six years.
Are you working on another novel or any other book project? And if so,
what can you say about it at this time?
I am working on a novel, but my time, split between work and family, is severely limited. The novel involves an intense love story with a surprise twist.
Because you are so busy, what spurs you to keep writing? And what is your writing schedule like?
My writing schedule is not as orderly as it once was, as I am devoting more time to my work and family lives. Still, I'm not giving up my writing altogether. I enjoy it too much.
Is the novel you are writing under contract? If so, how understanding
has the publisher been to your work and life demands? (I ask because of the "book a year" expectation that permeates the publishing industry for the last few years, if not more.)
Because, as you point out, publishers expect a "book a year," I would not agree to any time requirements.
RECKLESS HOMICIDE seemed to me a very self-contained story. Would you
revisit Michael, Diana, and/or other characters in a future work?
I would revisit Michael and Diana, though my next novel involves different characters, themes, and locations. Perhaps in my third or fourth novel (I'm optimistic), I will see where they are in their lives.