How My Career as a Plaintiff’s Attorney & Prosecutor Led Me to Write Crime Fiction
About Injustice and Oppression

By Norman Shabel

 

Q1. Tell us about your childhood experiences growing up in Brownsville, Brooklyn. How did they
influence your decision to pursue a career in law and writing?

Growing up in Brownsville, Brooklyn, was a formative experience for me. It was a neighborhood
filled with immigrants, Jewish families, Italian families and people of color. There was so much
strife and animosity – people were constantly pitted against each other. There were gangs and
bullies and not much anyone could do to stop them.
I witnessed all of this, and as a Jew, I experienced a lot of it firsthand. Antisemitic slurs, threats
from other kids – you name it. I saw people get beat up all the time.
These early experiences instilled in me a deep sense of empathy and a desire to fight against
injustice. They played a significant role in my decision to pursue a career in law, where I could
advocate for those who couldn’t advocate for themselves. Additionally, my upbringing in
Brownsville provided me with rich material for my writing. The people I knew were real characters,
becoming fodder for fictional characters. And some of the situations I witnessed: you can’t make
this stuff up.

Q2. How do you believe your background as a plaintiff’s attorney and criminal prosecutor informs
your approach to crafting crime novels?

Having spent 55 years practicing law, I’ve encountered a myriad of cases and legal situations
and have insider’s knowledge of the complexities of the legal system – and its flaws. This firsthand
experience allows me to create authentic and realistic portrayals of courtroom dynamics, legal
procedures, and the ethical dilemmas faced by attorneys. If you’re not a lawyer, you cannot know
these intricacies; knowing them gave me a much bigger, richer field of experience to tap into in
crafting fiction and allowed me to make it jarringly realistic. Reviewers have commented that only
an attorney could have written some of the multifaceted courtroom scenes featured in my books.

Q3. Your novel God Knows No Heroes draws from a true case involving a Rabbi hiring someone to
murder his wife. Where did you encounter this case, and how is it different from the fictitious story?

During my career I knew a rabbi who was in fact convicted of murdering his wife. That’s where
the inspiration for God Knows No Heroes comes from. But I wasn’t his lawyer and wasn’t involved
in the case. Maybe if I’d been his lawyer he wouldn’t have been convicted. So much in legal cases
comes down to who your lawyer is.
The rabbi’s conviction made me angry. In the book, I wanted justice to be served. So, my character
– the rabbi in God Knows No Heroes – is innocent and is acquitted in the end. That’s one of the
great things about writing fiction: it lets you imagine other, better plot twists and endings than in
real life.

Q4. In the book “Four Women,” you write about women being pushed out of their homes by
builders looking to turn a profit. What inspired you to delve into this topic, and how do you hope
your readers will respond to it?

Over the years I’ve represented numerous women in this predicament. Witnessing firsthand
their struggles and the unfair system perpetuating them deeply affected me and compelled me to
shine a spotlight on this through fiction. By delving into this theme, I wanted to raise awareness
about the injustices faced by marginalized communities at the hands of powerful corporations and
developers. I hope readers will empathize with the characters’ plight and gain a deeper
understanding of the broader social and economic issues surrounding gentrification and
displacement. Ultimately, I hope to spark dialogue and inspire action towards creating a society
where everyone has a voice and a place to call home.

Q5. “The Corporation” delves into the intersection of corporate power and murder. Can you
discuss the real-life cases that inspired this novel and the commentary you aim to provide on
corruption in the corporate world?

In The Corporation, a retired lawyer, his investigator father-in-law and his former mentor are
thrust into a lethal legal puzzle when a major multinational corporation loses a class action suit
brought on by several senior employees for using chemicals that were harmful to the employees’
safety. A billion-dollar merger may be linked to suspicious deaths. Facing a powerful senator and
his CEO son, the lawyer and his team unravel a complex web of deceit reminiscent of Enron and
WorldCom scandals.

This story is especially important to me because I was personally involved in a very similar case and
won. Affirming that I had the power to bring corruption to its knees and help innocent citizens was
the highlight of my career. Of course, this does not happen all the time.
One of the central themes of the novel is the pervasive influence of money and greed within
corporate structures, which can lead to corruption and even violence. Through the narrative, I aim
to shine a light on the ethical dilemmas faced by individuals caught up in the pursuit of profit at any
cost, as well as the systemic issues that allow such behavior to thrive. By drawing attention to these
issues, I hope to provoke critical reflection on the ethical responsibilities of corporations and the
need for greater transparency and accountability in the business world.

Q6. As the inspiration for “The Badger Game” stemmed from a case you prosecuted, can you
elaborate on the prejudices and corruption you encountered in the legal system and how they
shaped the narrative of the novel?

In The Badger Game, the mutilated body of the dean of a small college is found by two young
hunters. It’s frozen and has been slashed viciously with a knife. When the cruel leader of the
violent Catholic White Knights is charged with the murder, his defense attorneys, uncertain of his
guilt, are left to question their own biases.

This novel was based on a true case I was involved in representing the State of New Jersey against
accused murderers. It is meant to show the prejudices, corruption, and thirst for power of the
players, including attorneys on both sides of the aisle and judges. If the judge is prejudiced against
the defendant, or his attorney, or vice versa, much of his decisions are in line with those prejudices.
Through the narrative, I aim to shed light on the systemic biases that exist within the legal system,
from biased judges to unethical attorneys, and the profound impact they can have on the pursuit of
justice.

Q7. You’ve lived through many eras and events where injustice and oppression have been
rampant. How do you feel these compare with our current times?

These days, with the conflicts unfolding overseas and the tensions they’re creating within the
U.S. I’m more worried than ever about injustice and oppression. The rise of fascism, bigotry, antiSemitism and discrimination: these are just a few of the trends that concern me deeply. That’s why
I’m republishing my novels – to amplify their message: and ensure that it lives on. My hope is that
people will read and be moved to do whatever is in their power to push back on these trends and
help make our world a better place

 

ABOUT NORMAN SHABEL

Norman Shabel is the author of eight novels, praised by Judge Andrew P. Napolitano as “terrific, fast-paced reads about the dark side of law enforcement and the judiciary.”  Many of his stories are inspired by his 55-year career as a plaintiff’s attorney and prosecutor, where he witnessed injustice and oppression on a daily basis; others draw on his experiences of Jewish family life and his astute observations of its unique, often hilarious, dynamics.  His novels include The Aleph Bet Conspiracy, Four Women and The Badger Game.  Also a prolific playwright, Shabel has written seven plays, three of which have been produced off-broadway in New York City, Philadelphia and Florida to rave reviews. Among them are A Class ActMarty’s Back in Town, and Are the Lights Still on in Paris?  Born in Brooklyn, NY, Norman is retired from law and splits his time between New Jersey and Florida. He finds much joy spending time with his adult children, and his grandchildren.

 

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