Welcome to the Literary Road Trip and my Spotlight On . . . Jeffrey A. Cohen. Today's featured Pennsylvania author is from the Philadelphia area, and he has been lucky enough to spend a fair amount of time in the heart of the old city. I want to introduce you to Jeffrey, whose debut novel, The Killing of Mindi Quintana, was published just a few weeks ago.
The book introduces us to Freddy Builder, the manager of the china department of a large retail store, who doesn't know how good he has it. When he falls for Mindi, the daughter of an ex-mob, ex-con accountant, he makes a, um, poor decision that finally brings him fame. It also gives him a close look at the Philadelphia legal system.
Jeffrey, a law school graduate, is no stranger to the courtroom; he's been listening to the gavel all his life. Let's take a look at his story.
In answering a recent question about why I set my courtroom novel, The Killing of Mindi Quintana, in Philadelphia, I referenced James Joyce’s famous remark on why he wrote about Dublin. He said that if he could get to the heart of Dublin, he could get to the heart of every city.
As a lifelong Philadelphian who traveled widely before writing my novel, I know Philly to be a city worth getting to the heart of. It has at its core what all great cities have: The fierce love of its inhabitants for its ways and ethnic neighborhoods, for its landmark buildings and unique culture, for the foods for which it is known (soft pretzels and cheesesteaks), and its one-of-a-kind personality. Philadelphia enjoys the pride and loyalty of those born and raised here. Even when life, love, or career takes them away, they always hearken back to Philly.
My father is a lawyer who had an office across the street from our imposing City Hall, built in the "General Grant" style and completed in 1901. As a youngster, it mesmerized me. Some of my favorite memories are of skipping school, taking the train to Reading Terminal—that great old station—and visiting my father at work. In his office, he’d circle trials listed in the Legal Intelligencer, then I’d negotiate Broad Street’s traffic to watch them at City Hall. Sometimes a judge who knew my father would recognize me, and one even asked me to stand while he said something nice about my father from the bench.
It was at City Hall that my love of trials began, my fascination with our adversarial system of justice. My love for the back and forth between Philadelphia lawyers began there and for the judge’s pronouncements and gaveling from the bench. Even the activity and routine of courtroom personnel enthralled me, as did the workings of the press during breaks in the proceedings. My reverence for it all, the old courtrooms themselves with their heavy wooden pews and the grand judge’s bench at the front, began at City Hall.
I know now that what I observed in those City Hall courtrooms, for all of the wonderful Philly color and nuance and idiosyncrasy, is what takes place in all American cities. What I observed was the administration of justice as we Americans do it—not always pretty, certainly imperfect, but always fascinating and something, indeed, to be proud of. This is why Philly is the perfect city for my courtroom novel.
Thanks so much, Jeffrey. I'm embarrassed to say that although my in-laws live in the Philadelphia suburbs and I've lived in central Pennsylvania since the late 1970s, I have not spent much time in Philly proper. Jeffrey's essay on his experiences in City Hall make me want to go to Center City on my next visit. His love for the building, courtrooms, and the trial process is clearly evident. It's no wonder his novel is set right there.
To read reviews of The Killing of Mindi Quintana, check out the TLC tour schedule. To learn more about the book and about Jeffrey, visit his website or facebook page; you can even follow him on Twitter.
The Killing of Mindi Quintana at an Indie
The Killing of Mindi Quintana at Powell's
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Published by Welcome Rain Publishers, 2010
Note: The photo of Philadelphia's City Hall is in the public domain and was downloaded from Wikimedia Commons. Click the photo to enlarge it.
Jeffrey Cohen is a writer, trial attorney, and technology entrepreneur residing in Philadelphia. He has written on legal issues, including short stories and articles such as “The Black-White Disconnect: A Conversation with Author David Bradley,” on the O.J. Simpson trial, and “Eight Days a Week,” on legal ethics. A 1988 graduate of the Law School of the University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Cohen specialized in appellate, class action and mass tort litigation before entering the business world. He now writes full time and is currently at work on his second novel, A Plea for Leniency.
For more posts in the Literary Road Trip project, visit the LRT link page. Thanks to Jenn of Jenn's Bookshelves for hosting this fabulous project.