Bernhardt, William 1960-

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Bernhardt, William 1960-


Born January 4, 1960, in Oklahoma City, OK; son of William Gene (a physician) and Theta Juan (a teacher) Bernhardt; married Kirsten Ingrid Tucker (an attorney), May 31, 1986; children: William Harrison, Alice Ingrid, Ralph Elliot. Education: University of Oklahoma, B.A., 1982, J.D., 1986; attended University of Toronto, 1983-84, and Oxford University, 1985. Religion: Episcopalian. Hobbies and other interests: Music (playing piano, writing songs, producing CDs), history and biography, board games (playing and creating), creating crossword puzzles.


Home—Tulsa, OK. Office—HAWK Publishing Group, 6420 South Richmond Ave., Tulsa, OK 74136. Agent—Robert Gottlieb, Trident Media Group, Carnegie Hall Tower, 152 W. 57th St., 16th Fl., New York, NY 10019. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer, lawyer, and publisher. Admitted to the Bar of Oklahoma, U.S. District Court, and U.S. Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, 1986; Hall, Estill, Hardwick, Gable, Golden & Nelson (law firm), Tulsa, OK, trial lawyer, 1986-95; Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa, member of board of directors, 1994—; Peggy V. Helmerich Literary Award selection committee, chairman, 1994—; Oklahoma Art Institute, writers advisory board, 1995—; University of Tulsa, Tulsa, OK, visiting committee for McFarlin Library fellows, 1996—; HAWK Publishing Group, Tulsa, OK, founder and publisher, 1999—.


Authors Guild, Novelists, Inc. (president, 1985), American Bar Association, Trial Lawyers of America, Oklahoma Bar Association, Tulsa County Bar Association, Phi Delta Phi.


Member of University of Oklahoma College of Law national championship Moot Court team, 1985; named one of the top twenty young lawyers in the nation, Barrister (magazine of the American Bar Association), 1994; Oklahoma Book Award for best fiction, 1995, for Perfect Justice and 1999, for Dark Justice; inducted into Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame, 1997; career achievement award, Book-lovers Convention, Houston, TX, and Oklahoma Writer of the Year Award, University of Oklahoma, both 2000; H. Louise Cobb Distinguished Author award, 2000; special award, Oklahoma Bar Association, for outstanding service to the public.



Primary Justice, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1992.

Blind Justice, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1992.

Deadly Justice, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1993.

Perfect Justice, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1994.

Double Jeopardy, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1995.

Cruel Justice, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1996.

Naked Justice, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1997.

Extreme Justice, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1998.

Dark Justice, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1999.

Silent Justice, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Murder One, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Final Round, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Bad Faith, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Criminal Intent, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Death Row, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Hate Crime, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2004.

Capitol Murder, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2006.

Capitol Threat, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2007.

Capitol Conspiracy, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2008.


The Code of Buddyhood (novel), Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1993.

(Editor and contributor) Legal Briefs: Stories by Today's Best Legal Thriller Writers, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1998.

The Midnight before Christmas (novel), Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1998.

(Editor and contributor) Natural Suspect (anthology), Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Dark Eye (novel), Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2005.

(With Kim Henry) Equal Justice: The Courage of Ada Sipuel, Hawk Publishing Group (Tulsa, OK), 2006.

Strip Search (novel), Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor of stories to publications, including Oklahoma Today, Oklahoma Bar Journal, and Verdict. Creator of crossword puzzles that have been published in magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times. Books have been published in more than two dozen countries. Author of blog.


Works adapted for audio include Naked Justice and Legal Briefs, Simon & Schuster Audio, 1998.


William Bernhardt is an attorney who became a successful author with his "Ben Kincaid" series, as well as a publisher with his growing HAWK Publishing Group, which he founded after leaving the practice of law to become a full-time writer. Bernhardt has published both new and previously out-of-print books by PBS newsman Jim Lehrer, Waltons creator Earl Hamner, and others.

The fictional Ben Kincaid, like Bernhardt, is a Tulsa attorney. In Dark Justice he becomes involved with a conservationist group after one of its members is accused of murder. Booklist reviewer Brad Hooper called the book a "superb legal thriller." In the next installment, Silent Justice, Ben is caught up in a lawsuit against a company charged with dumping toxic chemicals into the water supply of a small Oklahoma town, while at the same time a number of vicious murders are committed. Library Journal contributor Nancy McNicol noted that the story is inspired by a 1981 lawsuit brought by Woburn, Massachusetts, families when a similar activity resulted in residents developing leukemia. The account was published as Jonathan Harr's A Civil Action. McNicol wrote that Bernhardt enlightens readers "about the relationship between big business and the legal system." A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that "in spite of Bernhardt's clear homage to Harr's book and the film, this novel does offer some fresh, often witty dialogue, but is overall a derivative effort from a talented writer."

In Murder One, Ben "teeters on the edge of the ethical divide," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Ben defends nineteen-year-old Keri Dalcanton, who is accused of murdering her married police-sergeant lover after he decides to end the affair. Joe McNaughton's naked and brutalized body is found tied to a fountain in a Tulsa plaza, and Keri's apartment is filled with incriminating evidence. When Ben gets her off on a technicality, he is targeted by other members of the police department who are enraged by his vigorous defense, and who conspire against him and Keri, to whom Ben is becoming attracted. Ben's former legal assistant, Christina McCall, comes to his aid, now as a partner, also putting herself in danger. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote: "Ben and especially Christina—who's intelligent, crafty and engaging—are easy characters to root for." "This fast-paced thriller pitting cops against lawyers and courts has enough surprising plot twists to maintain suspense to the very end," wrote Vanessa Bush in Booklist.

Death Row finds Ben trying to get a stay of execution for a convicted mass murderer. When people come forward who may prove the man's innocence, they begin turning up dead. Web site contributor Harriet Klausner commented that the author "is at his marvelous best with this delightful mystery." In Hate Crime, Ben is cajoled by his partner, Christina McCall, into joining her in defending a seventeen-year-old accused of killing a man because he was a homosexual. The accused, John Christensen, admits to beating the man but swears that he was alive when he left him. In a review of Hate Crime on the Web site, Harriet Klausner noted: "William Bernhardt is one of the best writers of legal thrillers in today's competitive sub-genre." Web site contributor Joe Hartlaub wrote: "This is by far Bernhardt's most ambitious effort to date, and his best."

Capitol Murder finds Ben in Washington, DC, after he is summoned there by an old law school classmate, Senator Todd Glancey. Ben is hired to help Glancey prepare for a potential sexual-harassment lawsuit but soon is defending the senator for the murder of a woman who appeared in a videotape of the senator having sex. "As the novel unfolds, Bernhardt takes his readers inside a Washington that most people never see—and into the inner workings of Government that most people know little or nothing about," wrote Rob Holden on the Readers Room Web site. Commenting on the character of Senator Glancey, Web site contributor Joe Hartlaub noted: "Bernhardt, who is always good at creating reprehensible characters for Kincaid to represent, has truly outdone himself in his latest effort."

The action remains in Washington, DC, for the next series installment, titled Capitol Threat. Appointed to fill a congressional vacancy, Ben finds himself representing a Supreme Court justice nominee at a congressional confirmation hearing after the judge has admitted to being gay. Furthermore, he defends the judge's former law partner, who has been accused of killing a women he has had an affair with for seventeen years. In a review of Capitol Threat on the Web site, Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum wrote: "The architecture of this novel is constructed with every detail fitting together like a lock and key. Bernhardt's keen eye for characterizations makes his players more than cardboard cutouts and more available to readers."

The author leaves Ben behind for his novel Dark Eye. Instead he focuses on a new protagonist, Susan Pulaski, a Las Vegas police psychologist who loses her job because of alcoholism. However, she is soon called back into action to help profile a serial killer of young girls. To solve the case, she enlists an autistic savant named Darby to help break the cryptic codes the killer leaves behind. Once again writing on the Web site, Joe Hartlaub commented: "Bernhardt, who already has a winning protagonist going with Kincaid, has hit the bull's-eye once again."

In addition to the "Ben Kincaid" series, Bernhardt has written The Midnight before Christmas, featuring priest-turned-lawyer Megan McGee in a story of domestic violence involving the wife of a policeman. Megan finds there is more to the situation than abuse, and that both Bonnie and Carl, who kidnaps their son, are manipulative and ill-intentioned. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the novel "a new twist in holiday fare."

Bernhardt also collected eleven stories written by authors known for their law-related writing and published them as Legal Briefs: Stories by Today's Best Legal Thriller Writers. Authors include John Grisham, Lisa Scottoline, Richard North Patterson, Steve Martini, Grif Stockley, Michael A. Kahn, Phillip Margolin, Philip Friedman, Jay Brandon, and Bernhardt.

Bernhardt once told CA: "After writing The Code of Buddyhood, a literary coming-of-age novel focusing on the ‘university experience,’ I decided to try to do something with the ‘law school/law firm’ experience. I remembered many of my fellow law students who had enrolled with idealistic, save-the-world aspirations, only to see those dreams knocked out from under them when they made the difficult transition to real life. This was the genesis of Ben Kincaid, the protagonist for many of my legal-themed novels, starting with Primary Justice. Of course, I never dreamed that the book would be so successful, or that there would still be interest in that character all these years later.

"It was my editor at Ballantine, Joe Blades, who suggested that Primary Justice should be the first book in a series. It was a brilliant insight from which I have benefited ever since.

"Perfect Justice resulted from my involvement with KlanWatch, a division of the Southern Poverty Law Center. KlanWatch uses civil lawsuits as a means of attacking militia and white supremacy groups that are often beyond the reach of traditional criminal prosecution. In Perfect Justice, Ben Kincaid travels to the backwoods of Arkansas and becomes involved with a hate group harassing a nearby Vietnamese settlement.

The novel gave me an opportunity to explore this bizarre cultural phenomenon and to try to reach some understanding of who these people are and where they come from. Similarly, in Dark Justice, I addressed environmental issues, focusing on a conflict between lumberjacks and eco-warriors in a Washington State forest. These are probably my two most controversial books, but also, I think, two of my best.

"My goal is to write books that people will want to read, that will captivate them and carry them to places they have never been before, or make them consider ideas they have not considered before. I want my readers to enjoy my books enough to come back for the next one. Then, time and again, we can share the magic of the literary experience.

"People frequently ask me if I feel trapped by the success of the ‘Ben Kincaid’ series. My answer is a resounding no. Where's the trap? I love the series and the characters, and I look forward to revisiting them every year or so and seeing how they're coming along. Far from being stagnant, Ben and his friends have constantly grown and matured over the course of the series. The experienced, capable (if somewhat neurotic) Ben Kincaid of Murder One (2001) is very different from the native tyro of Primary Justice—but who among us is the same person we were ten years ago? The great fun of a series like this is that it gives me a much broader canvas on which to paint my characters than I would ever have in a single novel, no matter how complex it might be. And judging by Murder One's performance on the New York Times best-seller list, my readers are still interested in these characters, too.

"Moreover, I've had no problem writing (and getting published) work outside the series, including literary fiction such as The Code of Buddyhood, a collection of short stories, a Christmas book, plays, even humor. Consequently, my portfolio contains diverse and flattering reviews from classy literary journals, the Library Journal calling me the ‘master of courtroom drama’ and the Vancouver Sun comparing me to P.G. Wodehouse. I know I've been blessed; not every writer has been given the opportunity to show that they can write in a variety of modes and levels.

"The Midnight before Christmas was my attempt to write a Christmas story in the true Dickensian sense—in other words, not just a book that happens to be set at Christmas, but a book that is of and about the Christmas spirit. It's one of my favorites of my work. I'm also very proud of the anthologies I've assembled and edited—Legal Briefs and Natural Suspect. Legal Briefs raised money for the Children's Defense Fund, and all of the eleven best-selling contributors to Natural Suspect (including me) donated all of their author royalties to the Nature Conservancy. The end result was that I got to work with some of the top fiction writers of our time, managed to raise significant sums of money for worthy causes, and midwifed some fascinating fiction that otherwise would not have existed.

"Of all the honors and awards I have been fortunate to receive, the one I am most proud of is the H. Louise Cobb Distinguished Writer Award, in part because it was given not by my alma mater but my alma mater's great rival, OSU, and in part because of the fabulous list of past recipients, including Kurt Vonnegut, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Oliver Sacks. The award was given not for a single book, but ‘in recognition of an outstanding body of work that has profoundly influenced the way in which we understand ourselves and American society at large.’ What an honor—and what a responsibility. The plaque now hangs in my office behind my desk; it's a great cure for writer's block."



Armchair Detective, spring, 1996, review of Cruel Justice, p. 245; spring, 1997, reviews of Deadly Justice, Perfect Justice, Double Jeopardy, and Cruel Justice, p. 207; summer, 1997, review of Naked Justice, p. 372.

Booklist, January, 1997, review of Naked Justice, p. 778; June 1, 1998, review of Legal Briefs: Stories by Today's Best Legal Thriller Writers, p. 1725; October 1, 1998, Brad Hooper, review of Dark Justice, p. 276; February 1, 2001, Vanessa Bush, review of Murder One, p. 1019, Ted Hipple, review of Dark Justice, p. 1064; December 1, 2001, Bill Ott, review of Final Round, p. 606.

Entertainment Weekly, July 18, 1997, review of Blind Justice, p. 75.

Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1996, review of Naked Justice, p. 1686; May 1, 1998, review of Legal Briefs, p. 620; September 15, 1998, review of The Midnight before Christmas, p. 1329; November 15, 1998, review of Dark Justice, p. 1612; December 1, 1999, review of Silent Justice, p. 1826; February 1, 2001, review of Murder One, p. 123 September 15, 2001, review of Natural Suspect, p. 1310; December 15, 2001, review of Final Round, p. 1722; June 15, 2002, review of Criminal Intent, p. 839; April 15, 2003, review of Death Row, p. 549; December 1, 2003, review of Hate Crime, p. 1382; November 15, 2004, review of Dark Eye, p. 1070; November 15, 2005, review of Capitol Murder, p. 1212; January 15, 2007, review of Capitol Threat, p. 52.

Library Journal, January, 1997, review of Naked Justice, p. 142; June 15, 1998, review of Legal Briefs, p. 123; December, 1999, Nancy McNicol, review of Silent Justice, p. 181; November 15, 2004, Nancy McNicol, review of Dark Eye, p. 49.

New York Law Journal, March 10, 1994, Alan Mass, review of Perfect Justice, p. 2.

Publishers Weekly, November 18, 1996, review of Naked Justice, p. 60; May 11, 1998, review of Legal Briefs, p. 52; September 14, 1998, review of The Midnight before Christmas, p. 50; October 26, 1998, review of Dark Justice, p. 40; December 6, 1999, review of Silent Justice, p. 53; March 27, 2000, Judy Quinn, "Oklahoma, Okay!," p. 31; March 19, 2001, review of Murder One, p. 77; September 10, 2001, review of Natural Suspect, p. 57; June 16, 2003, review of Death Row, p. 49; November 29, 2004, review of Dark Eye, p. 22; November 27, 2006, review of Capitol Threat, p. 32; June 18, 2007, review of Strip Search, p. 36.

School Library Journal, June, 1997, review of Naked Justice, p. 151.

Wall Street Journal, December 7, 1998, Tom Nolan, review of The Midnight before Christmas, p. A28.

Washington Post Book World, July 12, 1998, review of Extreme Justice, p. 8.

ONLINE, (September 6, 2007), Harriet Klausner, reviews of Dark Eye, Death Row, Hate Crime, and Final Round.

Blogcritics, (February 22, 2006), W.E. Wallo, review of Capitol Murder., (September 6, 2007), Joe Hartlaub, reviews of Dark Eye, Criminal Intent, Death Row, Hate Crime, Capitol Murder, and Final Round; Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum, review of Capitol Threat.

HAWK Publishing Group, (November 4, 2001).

New Mystery Reader Magazine, (September 6, 2007), "William Bernhardt Interview."

Readers Room, (March 15, 2006), Rob Holden, review of Capitol Murder.

William Bernhardt Home Page, (November 4, 2001).