Lashner, William 1957–

views updated

Lashner, William 1957–

(Tyler Knox)


Born 1957, in Philadelphia, PA; son of Melvin (an attorney) and Marilyn Lashner; married Pam Ellen Stern, June 11, 1989; children: Nora, Jack, Michael. Education: Swarthmore College, B.A., 1979; New York University Law School, J.D.; graduate of University of Iowa Writer's Program, 1991.


Home—Philadelphia, PA. Agent—Wendy Sherman and Associates, 450 Seventh Ave., Ste. 2307, New York, NY 10123.


Attorney and writer. Law clerk for Honorable James B. Moran, Chicago, IL, 1983-85; U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Washington, DC, trial attorney, 1985-86; Lashner & Lashner, Philadelphia, PA, partner, 1987-95.


Writer's Guild.



Hostile Witness, HarperCollins/Regan Books (New York, NY), 1995.

Veritas, HarperCollins/Regan Books (New York, NY), 1997.

Bitter Truth, HarperTorch (New York, NY), 2003.

Fatal Flaw, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2003.

Past Due, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2004.

Falls the Shadow, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2005.

Marked Man, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2006.

A Killer's Kiss, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2007.


(Under pseudonym Tyler Knox) Kockroach, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2007.

Lashner's work has been translated into nine languages.


Philadelphia native William Lashner draws on his own background as a lawyer to write mystery novels featuring "one of the mystery genre's most compelling, most morally ambiguous characters," according to a Publishers Weekly writer. Like attorneys-turned-authors John Grisham and Scott Turow, Lashner chalked up several years' experience in private practice after graduating from New York University Law School. He also worked for the Justice Department in Washington, DC, before returning to Philadelphia to work for his father's firm. He had penned two unpublished novels, and based on the lack of interest aroused by these more literary-minded works, decided to write a crime thriller. The result was 1995's Hostile Witness.

Hostile Witness's protagonist is Victor Carl, a Philadelphia attorney on a permanent losing streak. His resentful attitude is often targeted at the city's monied class, represented by the venerable and prestigious law firms that are his more successful opponents in the courtroom. "We weren't quite as down-and-out as Victor is," Lashner told a Publishers Weekly reviewer about the similarities between his family's firm and Victor's two-man office. "But we were always going up against big firms that had a dozen lawyers assigned cases while I was running around doing everything myself." As Hostile Witness gets under way, one such blueblood firm asks Victor Carl to serve as outside counsel for a defendant, an African American aide to a scandal-plagued Philadelphia councilman. The two have been charged with extortion, but Carl soon realizes that his 15,000-dollar retainer fee is actually his reward for allowing the aide to get railroaded so that the councilman will walk free. Drug dealers, organized crime, a Hasidic detective, and a love interest all enter the fray. While faulting the book for "a shallow fascination with surfaces and types," Bill Kent in the New York Times Book Review noted that "Lashner's depictions of violence are appropriately nasty and unsettling, and his courtroom scenes achieve an echo of truth." People contributor Joanne Kaufman noted that the debut novel "has a good, gritty feel and a sardonic … protagonist who grows on you." The Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that the book "is suspenseful" and "a promising debut." Resounding praise for the book came from Emily Melton, who wrote in Booklist: "Lashner has written a dark, gut-wrenching thriller…. In the tradition of his highly successful colleagues, Grisham and Turow, Lashner has written an absorbing legal thriller. What sets this one apart, though, is the dark, despairing view it takes of human nature. A superb, disturbing read."

Victor Carl appears again in Lashner's next book, Veritas. In this "appealing noir murder mystery," as a Publishers Weekly writer described it, Carl helps Caroline Shaw, heiress to the Reddman pickle fortune. Caroline's sister Jackie recently died, and though the death appeared to be a suicide, Caroline believes her sister was killed by the Mafia in revenge for their brother's overdue gambling debts. Naturally, she is worried that she might be next. As Victor investigates the case and the Redmann family's history, many layers of nasty business are exposed, and he discovers that their entire fortune may have been built on a dishonest deal. "Energized by crisp and delightfully venal first-person narration, this guided tour through the lifestyles of the rich and nasty teems with clever plot twists and (literally) buried secrets, with greed and revenge running neck and neck as the winning motive of a patient murderer," noted the Publishers Weekly contributor. Booklist contributor Wes Lukowsky compared Lashner to top-notch suspense author Ross Macdonald. Lukowsky wrote that, like Macdonald, "Lashner invents a past that never relinquishes its hold on the present, wreaking havoc in subtle, often deadly fashion." Lukowsky went on to note that, unlike Macdonald's Lew Archer, however, who is an "empathetic hero," Victor Carl is "blind to both present and past in his quest for profound wealth. This unique updating of the Macdonald formula offers extremely entertaining reading."

Lashner has continued to write courtroom thrillers featuring Carl, including Bitter Truth, in which Carl gets mixed up with the mob as he tries to prove that a Philadelphia heiress did not commit suicide but was murdered. In Fatal Flaw, Carl takes on the case of lawyer Guy Forrest, who is accused of murdering his fiancée. The evidence is stacked against Forrest, who is Carl's good friend. Further complicating matters is the fact that Carl also had a relationship with the murdered woman. Nevertheless, Carl is convinced of Forrest's innocence and sets out to find the real killer, which takes him from Las Vegas to West Virginia, where he learns that the dead woman's high school sweetheart was also murdered. "It's the tallest of tall tales … but it's got robust drive," noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor. David Pitt, writing in Booklist, commented: "This startling legal thriller is very, very good."

In Past Due, Carl listens to one of his clients confess to a murder that took place twenty years earlier. When the client later turns up with his throat slashed, Carl sets out to discover who the murder victim really was and who killed him. He soon finds that many of the potential suspects have achieved success in politics and law. "This is an extremely good crime novel, and it vaults Lashner into the upper reaches of the hardboiled universe," wrote Wes Lukowsky in Booklist. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted: "Lashner's writing … gains depth and richness with every installment."

In Falls the Shadow, Carl finds himself defending Francois Dube, a chef, for the murder of his wife, even though Dube has already been convicted and has spent three years in jail for the crime. Although Carl thinks Dube is probably guilty, he takes the case and works with fellow lawyer Beth Derringer as they uncover the chef's unseemly past and try to come to terms with each other and their different views of the law. David Pitt, writing in Booklist, called the book "great fun and a wonderful antidote to the high seriousness of too many legal thrillers." A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that "the well-staged plot twists and Carl's amusingly amoral narration make for good beach reading."

Carl makes his sixth appearance in Marked Man. He has taken the case of a fugitive from the FBI who is using a stolen Rembrandt painting as leverage to negotiate a deal. At the same time, Carl is obsessed by a woman named Chantal Adair, whom he cannot remember but whose name, he discovers one hung-over morning, has been tattooed across his chest. Much rests on Carl's ability to pull off the right kind of deal for his wanted client—and also to discover who Chantal is. While a Kirkus Reviews writer thought the book's plotting to be frustratingly slack, other critics enjoyed the twists and turns that Lashner throws in his protagonist's way. As Ken Bolton commented in the Library Journal, the book's "frenzied plot twists, loveable characters, and … sharp wit" make it a highly entertaining thriller. While ostensibly about crimes and their perpetrators, Lashner's novels, according to a Publishers Weekly contributor, "are really about the protagonist's soul-searching and deep personal involvement in the cases he takes."

In the seventh novel in the series, 2007's A Killer's Kiss, Philadelphia attorney Victor Carl finds himself in trouble soon after his one-time fiancée, Julia Denniston re-enters his life. Her husband has been murdered and almost two million dollars has gone missing; both Julia and Carl soon find themselves the prime suspects in her husband's murder. In order to clear his name, Carl sets out to discover who really committed the crime, and whether Julia had anything to do with it.

A Killer's Kiss was met with much praise by critics. "Victor Carl is such a terrific series character. Since he was introduced in Hostile Witness (1995), he's grown progressively, and in A Killer's Kiss, he discovers truths about himself and his past and his various hang-ups that he couldn't grasp before," noted Cameron Hughes in a January magazine review. "It's hard not to like Victor Carl. He's sarcastic and quick with a verbal comeback but he's also charming and witty…. Better yet, the unexpected final plot twist makes for an apt conclusion to this exceptional book," maintained a Mysterious Review critic. "Lashner is incapable of writing badly, and the way that he has handled Carl's subtle deterioration over the course of several novels has been masterful," mused's Joe Hartlaub. Chuck Barksdale, in his review of the book for Mostly Fiction, noted that A Killer's Kiss "has everything you want and are accustomed to in this enjoyable series—great and believable characters, a good suspenseful story, local Philadelphia color and of course lots of humor." "In a genre that too often makes millionaires out of writers who are willing to churn out soulless junk, factory- like, it's refreshing to know that an author such as Lashner understands that a mystery or thriller isn't worth jack if there's nothing beyond that first layer," said Hughes.

Under the pseudonym Tyler Knox, Lashner wrote the small existential novel Kockroach, about a cockroach that wakes up and discovers he's been transformed into a man. Jerry Blatta, as he calls himself, quickly finds success as a gangster in his new physical form. The story idea plays off of the novella The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, which involves a traveling salesman who wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a cockroach. The book "is crawling with so many clever jokes and allusions to Metamorphosis that for a while you fear the whole thing may be just an extended writing experiment … but Knox quickly scurries away from Kafka's original," noted Ron Charles in his review of the book for the Washington Post Book World. "Kockroach's story is told by three different narrators. First, there's Kockroach…. Then there's Mite, the insecure opportunist who teaches Kockroach to see past the present and whose narration is riddled with slang. Finally, there's Celia, the polio-crippled beauty whom both men love…. Together, the three construct a narrative that goes far beyond pastiche," observed Bookreporter. com's Norah Piehl. "While Kockroach avoids the literary gimmick its very premise seems to hold, Knox's novel, like Blatta, can never quite figure out its identity. The novel's observations of human behavior can be striking, Knox's dialogue crisp and the story decently paced, but Kockroach ultimately leaves us hungry," contended Mark S. Luce of the book in the San Francisco Chronicle. "Though the ending is predictable—Kockroach shares the same ultimate ambition as Don Corleone and many gangsters-cum-businessmen before him—it still works. Nearly everything about this portrait of the cockroach as a young human is artfully executed and signals the emergence of a promising new novelist," remarked Seattle Times critic Mark Lindquist.



Booklist, March 15, 1995, Emily Melton, review of Hostile Witness, p. 1284; December 15, 1996, Wes Lukowsky, review of Veritas, p. 692; March 15, 2003, David Pitt, review of Fatal Flaw, p. 1253; January 1, 2004, Wes Lukowsky, review of Past Due, p. 790; March 15, 2005, David Pitt, review of Falls the Shadow, p. 1247; March 15, 2006, David Pitt, review of Marked Man, p. 6; November 15, 2006, Steve Weinberg, review of Kockroach, p. 29; September 15, 2007, Thomas Gaughan, review of A Killer's Kiss, p. 40.

Entertainment Weekly, April 28, 1995, Mark Harris, review of Hostile Witness, p. 56; December 22, 2006, Whitney Pastorek, review of Kockroach, p. 87.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2003, review of Fatal Flaw, p. 420; February 1, 2004, review of Past Due, p. 102; April 1, 2005, review of Falls the Shadow, p. 376; April 1, 2006, review of Marked Man, p. 326; October 1, 2006, review of Kockroach, p. 980; July 15, 2007, review of A Killer's Kiss.

Library Journal, March 15, 2004, Craig Shufelt, review of Past Due, p. 107; May 1, 2006, Ken Bolton, review of Marked Man, p. 80; November 15, 2006, Joshua Cohen, review of Kockroach, p. 57; September 1, 2007, Teresa L. Jacobsen, review of A Killer's Kiss, p. 128.

New York Times Book Review, August 20, 1995, Bill Kent, review of Hostile Witness, p. 20; December 31, 2006, Matt Weiland, review of Kockroach.

People, May 22, 1995, Joanne Kaufman, review of Hostile Witness, pp. 34-35; June 23, 2003, Arion Berger, review of Fatal Flaw, p. 43; May 10, 2004, Edward Karam, review of Past Due, p. 58.

Publishers Weekly, February 20, 1995, review of Hostile Witness, p. 193; December 9, 1996, review of Veritas, p. 59; March 3, 1997, review of Veritas, p. 30; April 21, 2003, review of Fatal Flaw, p. 37; February 2, 2004, review of Past Due, p. 56; April 18, 2005, review of Falls the Shadow, p. 43; March 20, 2006, review of Marked Man, p. 35; October 9, 2006, review of Kockroach, p. 34; July 16, 2007, review of A Killer's Kiss, p. 145.

San Francisco Chronicle, January 6, 2007, Mark S. Luce, review of Kockroach.

Seattle Times, January 5, 2007, Mark Lindquist, review of Kockroach.

Texas Lawyer, June 6, 2005, Michael P. Maslanka, review of Falls the Shadow.

USA Today, January 4, 2007, review of Kockroach, p. 6.

Washington Post Book World, January 7, 2007, Ron Charles, review of Kockroach, p. BW6.


BookLoons, (July 3, 2008), Mary Ann Smyth, review of A Killer's Kiss., (January 9, 2004), "William Lashner," interview with author; (July 3, 2008), Joe Hartlaub, review of A Killer's Kiss, and Norah Piehl, review of Kockroach.

Curled Up with a Good Book, (July 3, 2008), Doreen Luff, review of A Killer's Kiss.

January, (August 1, 2007), Cameron Hughes, review of A Killer's Kiss.

Kockroach Web site, (July 3, 2008).

Mostly Fiction, (October 19, 2007), Chuck Barksdale, review of A Killer's Kiss.

Mysterious Review, (July 3, 2008), review of A Killer's Kiss.

William Lashner Home Page, (July 3, 2008).