Today we have guest post from Kevin Egan, author of Midnight. Kevin tell us how he got ideas from his former workplace in the New York County Courthouse to set up intrigue in his novel.
The exterior of the iconic New York County Courthouse, with its wide steps and massive columns, is well known from the opening credits of “Law & Order.” Midnight, my current novel, is largely set in a judge’s chambers inside this courthouse, where I worked for many years as a judge’s law clerk. A judge’s chambers is a self-contained world that evolves its own peculiar customs and rules. Our judge was a private person, and if she needed to spend an hour, or an afternoon, or a day away from the courthouse, the secretary and I were not to disclose her absence to anyone. Invariably, something would come up: a phone call, a hand-delivered letter needing the judge’s immediate attention, or an attorney presenting an order to show cause. But through deflection and deception and disingenuity, we routinely faked the judge’s presence in chambers.
As a fiction writer, I wanted to explore an extreme version of our customary ruse. The premise of Midnight is simple: when a judge dies, his staff keep their jobs until the end of that year. So when Judge Alvin Canter quietly expires in chambers on the morning of New Year’s Eve, his clerk, Tom Carroway, and his secretary, Carol Scilingo, find themselves in a difficult predicament. Their jobs will vanish at closing time – unless they can smuggle the judge’s body out of his chambers and make it appear that he died in his apartment after midnight.
Harebrained as the scheme sounds, the remote privacy of a judges’ chambers, coupled with a largely deserted courthouse, lends enough plausibility for the reader to suspend disbelief until the darker parts of the novel kick in.
I based the fictional chambers depicted in Midnight on an actual chambers in the New York County Courthouse. Since few people ever visit a judge’s chambers, here is a peek inside.
Like many chambers in the courthouse, Judge Canter’s is a three-room suite: an anteroom, a middle room, and the judge’s private office. This picture, taken from Tom’s desk, looks directly down the “avenue of doors” that link the three rooms. Along the way there are desks, bookcases, computers, and lots of paper. Carol’s desk is to the left; a corner of the conference table, where Tom drafts motion decisions and peeks out from behind his monitor to look at Carol, is to the right.
The middle room, shown above, separates the anteroom from Judge Canter’s private office. In the book, it is filled with potted plants and file cabinets. This chambers has only one potted plant (obviously not a “lush schefflera”) and only two small file cabinets. The table in the right foreground, however, is similar to the table where Canter drops piles of signed decisions for Carol to process and file.
Judge Canter’s desk, like the desk shown above, is massive and imposing, The book describes it as stretching almost the entire width of the office with an “orange cast accentuated by the light from two Tiffany chandeliers.” Canter signs the decision dismissing Bobby Werkman’s lawsuit here early on the morning of New Year’s Eve. Two days later, working feverishly to save himself and Carol, Tom sits behind this desk and feels Canter’s ghostly presence looking over his shoulder.
I took some liberties with the judge’s office in Midnight, mainly enlarging it and adding furnishings. This picture is the view from the couch where Canter takes his final nap. Not shown, because they exist only on the page, are the other couch, where Tom and Carol discuss the first glimmerings of their plan, and the all-important Oriental rug covering the “bland industrial wall-to-wall carpet.” This view approximates what Judge Canter would have seen as he closed his eyes for the last time.
About Kevin Egan
Kevin Egan graduated with B.A. in English from Cornell University, where he studied creative writing under Dan McCall (Jack the Bear) and Robert Morgan (Gap Creek). He is the author of six novels, most recently Midnight (Forge, 2013), and numerous short stories.
Kevin’s short fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Rosebud, The Westchester Review, and in the Small Crimes and Fedora III mystery anthologies.
He occasionally teaches fiction writing as an adjunct instructor at Westchester Community College in Valhalla, New York, and regularly teaches legal writing as an adjunct professor at Berkeley College in Manhattan.