There’s something to be said about lawyers turned writers who are able to churn out gripping legal thrillers. It’s a feat that well-known authors like Scott Turow and John Grisham have been able to do with aplomb. With the release of A Stirring in the North Fork, Mark Torres might be on that track if his debut novel is any indication. The novice scribe has been general counsel for Local 810 for nearly seven years, a fact that served as a fount of rich source material when he decided to take a stab at writing fiction.
Main character Savoy Graves is a blue collar laborer who decides to enroll in law school later in life (like Torres) and after being wined and dined by a number of white shoe law firms, Graves winds up being offered a job by one of these potential employers. Here, he diligently works before being unceremoniously shown the door at a juncture when billable hours were taking a downturn. As Graves is trying to reassess his life, he stumbles across an unsolved murder featured in an old article he found in a pile of newspapers sitting in his apartment building’s laundry room. With nothing but free time on his hands, the unemployed attorney starts an impromptu investigation into an incident that took place four decades prior.
While Torres never took part in solving a murder, he used aspects of his own back story in terms of being an older law student and coming from a labor background to make it part of Graves’ own personal history. Likewise, the author pulled cultural references from his own Puerto Rican background to inform the makeup of victim Maria Cruz and her own family history. While the book opens with the details of how the killer winds up dispatching of Cruz, there is nothing gratuitous about how Torres sets the stage. In setting the story predominantly in Greenport, the Floral Park scribe is also able to introduce facets of class disparity that are particularly endemic to the East End of Long Island. And while the narrative may jump back and forth between the past and present, Torres does it in a way that is easy to follow.
Clocking in at 190 pages, A Stirring in the North Fork maintains the kind of fast pace that makes it hard to put down. The author not only does a job in fleshing out the backgrounds of people like retired detective John Conte, but as a frequent visitor to the North Fork, Torres’ details about the area ring true and help paint a sharply delineated picture in the reader’s mind. His legal background also buffs up the authenticity of the case’s proceedings once federal jurisdiction and the players affiliated with that part of this homicide probe are introduced into the story.
In the end, A Stirring in the North Fork winds up leaving you wanting more and asking when this labor lawyer turned fiction writer will be back with a follow-up.