Interview with Paul Levine, Author of Early Grave

26 Jan 2023

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write Early Grave?

Real world issues inspire me. In “Cheater’s Game” in 2020, I took on the college admissions scandal, which is still going on in federal court in Boston. While that will eventually end, I’m afraid the loss of life from the NFL’s “industrial disease,” chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is just beginning. That’s the subject that has fired me up these days.

Some background: Jake Lassiter, the protagonist of the series that dates back to “To Speak for the Dead” in 1990, is a former Miami Dolphins linebacker turned night-school lawyer. Now it’s 2023, and he’s aging, and with that, come physical ailments. (Just ask my knees!) In the last few books (“Bum Luck” et al), Lassiter shows symptoms of CTE, the fatal brain disease caused by repetitive head injuries. Six members of the Miami Dolphins undefeated 1972 team have already died of CTE. “Perfect season, my ass,” Lassiter says. The high risks of pro football were there for all to see in Damar Hamlin’s frightening cardiac arrest just a few weeks ago. I also want high school football to be made safer. Combining those two issues, we have Lassiter’s godson Rodrigo Pittman, a high school senior, suffer a catastrophic football injury that might have been his coach’s fault. The lawsuit is a novelist’s way of exploring those issues. Adding to Lassiter’s problems, his relationship with fiancée Dr. Melissa Gold has hit a rocky patch, and they’re in couples therapy.

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of Early Grave, what would they be?

“I’m Your Man,” written and performed by Leonard Cohen. A haunting, love-at-all-costs song: If you want a boxer… I will step into the ring for you. And if you want a doctor… I’ll examine every inch of you. If you want a driver, climb inside. Or if you want to take me for a ride… You know you can. I’m your man.

What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

I don’t think in terms of genre, so I’ll just tell you what I’ve enjoyed reading recently. “Razorblade Tears” by S.A. Cosby. “Five Decembers” by James Kestrel. “Mercury Pictures Presents” by Anthony Marra. “Dream Town” by David Baldacci. And I re-read John D. MacDonald’s “Travis McGee” series from time to time.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

“Everybody Knows” by Jordan Harper. “The Poison Artist” by Jonathan Moore. “Murder Book” by Thomas Perry. “Swamp Story” by Dave Barry (May 2023).

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

I love writing courtroom scenes that are fresh, fast-paced, and offbeat. In “Early Grave,” Lassiter battles a mammoth New York City law firm (Wickerham and Snoot) that has him outmanned, outgunned, and outspent. Sandra (Sunny) Day is his brilliant and devious opposing counsel, and she’s joined by Schooner Wickerham IV, the 92-year-old (and possibly senile) chairman emeritus of the firm who’s given to using words like “poppycock” and “balderdash.” The results are, shall we say, uproarious. But it’s hand-to-hand combat in court. Or, as Lassister says, “Buckle your chin strap. Law is a contact sport.”

Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)

I have a Post-It on my monitor: “Keep your butt in the chair.” It’s intended to keep me away from the refrigerator and ESPN.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

Do you remember the line from “The Godfather?” One lawyer with a briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns.” I’ve twisted that a bit. One lawyer with a just cause can defeat a hundred mouthpieces of the rich and powerful.

If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

To quote Jake Lassiter: “If your cause is just, no case is impossible.”


Paul Levine is the author of the new book Early Grave

Connect with Paul Levine

Author Site



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