Skip to main content

An Honest Living

Review

An Honest Living

AN HONEST LIVING easily could be considered somewhat autobiographical. Dwyer Murphy practiced law at the New York City firm of Debevoise & Plimpton before leaving to become editor-in-chief of CrimeReads, one of the most popular websites for devotees of crime, mystery and detective works. The lead character in Murphy’s narrative is also an attorney, who left a large law firm to go it alone in the mid-2000s. He practices law in Brooklyn, working with a variety of unique and eccentric clients whose experiences provide readers with an entertaining journey through the environs of the Big Apple.

"Reading the book is almost like having the author sitting next to you in a bar and after some opening conversation telling you about his work. It is quite a story."

The unnamed attorney remarks at one point, “All lawyers tend to have a condition. They suffer from it like a disease, and it has to do with believing they can fix things or get to the bottom of them simply by talking to a lot of people.” He wanders through New York meeting a large cast of characters, including hustlers, writers, politicians and real-estate developers, all walking the fine line between honesty and crime. Reading the book is almost like having the author sitting next to you in a bar and after some opening conversation telling you about his work. It is quite a story.

Murphy’s maiden novel begins with a reminder that lawyers often repeat when advising clients: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” The attorney meets a woman named Anna Reddick, who seeks to retain his professional services to do some investigative work. Reddick is experiencing difficulties in her marriage. She believes that her husband is attempting to hide or dispose of marital assets, in this case some rare legal books. If the attorney can ferret out the plan, he will be paid a bonus in addition to the large retainer she is willing to pay. He successfully completes his work and receives the bonus, only to be met several days later by a different woman --- the real Anna Reddick. She wants to know how and why someone posed as her, deceiving not only the attorney but also her husband and herself.

In an interview prior to the book’s release, Murphy acknowledged that no one takes a more cynical view of lawyers than they themselves do. For his part, Murphy admits to being slightly more jaundiced than the book’s narrator. He is not the Atticus Finch type, but more like Paul Newman’s character in The Verdict or Saul Goodman from “Better Call Saul.” For these fictional lawyers, professional cynicism is prevalent. Still, many of the cases that the main character handles in AN HONEST LIVING are based on Murphy’s actual work as a lawyer, including my favorite --- a dispute between two major financial institutions that want to own the rights to the color black.

Sprinkled throughout are mentions of recognized works of literature, film and a few cameo appearances of well-known New Yorkers. Sometimes the references meld into the plot, and other times they just appear to add to the New York noir of the novel. Regardless of the reasons for their inclusion, they are clever and smoothly written.

Reading a debut always raises questions for readers. What about sequels? Murphy tells us that one is in the works. It will be set in Miami, with characters “running around talking about books and movies and dancing and occasionally somebody is killed or badly hurt and all of them dream of obscure lawsuits.” I hope that some members of the supporting cast will stick around for the follow-up. It also would be nice if Murphy’s attorney had a name; it would make reading and writing about him that much more enjoyable if he did.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on July 29, 2022

An Honest Living
by Dwyer Murphy

  • Publication Date: July 26, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Noir
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Viking
  • ISBN-10: 0593489241
  • ISBN-13: 9780593489246