Tucked in among the board games, books, record player, and model cars in Reece Hirsch's bedroom was one exotic item I'd never seen in any other kid's room - a typewriter. In that pre-computer age, the QWERTY keyboard was as alien to most people as Sanskrit, and a typewriter was as out of place in a kids room as a bulldozer. But even at ten Reece knew he wanted to be a writer. So always in his room where we'd hang out playing Stratego or listening to George Harrison 45s was a neat-as-a-pin student desk bearing the small Smith/Corona on which Reece would begin to hone his craft.
I was fortunate enough to have Reece move in next door to me in our Kannapolis, North Carolina neighborhood when we were both ten years old. It's always great to have a next door neighbor your age, and soon we were buddies passing our pre-adolescent days tooling around on our bikes, or playing electric football, or actual football, or any of a million other diversions. Life is pretty great when you're ten.
That Reece was different from the rest of us was immediately obvious. He was scary smart and very self-possessed - especially in contrast to most of the cretins who populated our little corner of Suburbia. He just didn't seem to be driven by the same childish passions and petty feuds that ruled over the other boys (your humble blogger included). He was a nice guy who didn't leave me with a single negative memory. Much to the contrary, I have tons of great memories of hanging out with Reece and also the many times his fantastically nice parents graciously invited me along on outings. (I caught my first big fish at Lake Norman while fishing with Reece and his family.)
Enter the World Wide Web. The with the internet came the possibility of finding friends fairly easily. Just type a name into Google and you very well might reconnect with faces from your past. In this fashion I've successfully tracked down various childhood friends, college buddies, or old work mates, and it's always a thrill when it happens. It was about a year and a half ago that I found Reece again while running random names through the Google hopper.
He turned up, fittingly enough, on a writers forum - CrimeSpace - and as soon as I saw his profile photo I knew I had the right guy. The face there was simply a mature version of the ten year old I'd known. So I wasted no time in contacting him, and soon were were exchanging emails. Another tile from the mosaic of my past replaced..
Reece earned a journalism degree from Northwestern in the early eighties and worked in that field for a few years before shifting gears and pursuing a J.D. from the University of Southern California. He's practiced corporate law in San Francisco since the early 1990s. And, as I learned from his CrimeSpace profile when I first caught up to him, he happened to have his first novel due to be published a little over a year later. He'd always planned to write even after embarking on his legal career, Reece told one interviewer, but it took a bit longer than he'd planned to publish his first work. Well, that year and a half has now passed and, to my delight, his novel, The Insider, was published just a couple of weeks ago.
I've gotten just the biggest kick out of this. I heartily cheer the success of anyone I regard as a friend, and this is quite a success. But to have been a witness to the writer's early aspirations and then by sheer coincidence be around to see the dream become reality is especially gratifying.
I wrote him with my congratulations after the publication and he wrote back: "No matter how many books I ultimately sell, this is going to be one of the best experiences of my life. It's always nice when you know you're having one of those times, and don't have to figure it out in retrospect." How many times in our lives do we get to make a statement like that?
After that set up you'd probably suspect that my review of The Insider would be biased and glowing. But I can say with complete sincerity,my acquaintance with the author aside, that this is a great, great book. The story follows corporate attorney Will Connelly as he unwittingly becomes ensnared with the San Francisco Homicide Division, the Russian Mafia, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Department of Justice and then struggles to extricate himself without ending up in prison or a body bag or both.
The tension builds gradually (well, as gradually as it could with an associate at the firm plummeting to his death within the first five pages!), and I soon found myself carried along with the accelerating momentum and reading compulsively into the early morning hours. And, best of all, I was constantly surprised! I was unable to predict a single plot twist - the hallmark of a good story for this reader. Indeed, I was constantly howling with delight as I was pulled in each new, unexpected direction. Approaching the novels climax I was scarcely able to savor one surprise before Reece was tapping me on the other shoulder with the next. I loved it.
I'm not literary critic (No! I will not say "I don't know a lot about literature, but I know what I like."), but The Insider was easily as good as any crime thriller I've read, and head and shoulders nearly all. Far from being mere "mind candy" as can be said of so many crime stories, The Insider is rare, red meat. I fully expect this to be a big seller and the first of many, many great works from Reece.
So, Reece, Buddy, I'm just as happy for you as could be. This is richly deserved success. And I now eagerly await your next!
You can check out THE INSIDER at Reece's site: http://www.reecehirsch.com/
(The photos above were taken by me about 1971. Sorry about the poor quality, but these very well may have been from the first roll of film I ever shot. The camera was a very old Kodak Brownie my Dad gave me.)
UPDATE November 2010
Reece gave me a nice shout-out in an essay he recently published in California Lawyer. Check it out!