Man of Mysteries
Lawyer-turned-author Chuck Greaves gets set to spill some Crown City secrets
By Carl Kozlowski 06/25/2014
For 25 years, Chuck Greaves lived in Pasadena and worked as a civil litigation attorney for the renowned firm of Hahn & Hahn.
He loved the city and had plenty of interesting cases, particularly as the attorney for Richard Pryor during a decade-long stretch of the comedian’s life. But it wasn’t until he retired six years ago that Greaves was able to practice his true passion: writing novels. He moved to Santa Fe and began writing full-time, and the results paid off when his debut mystery novel “Hush Money” and his literary fiction debut (as C. Joseph Greaves) “Hard Twisted” took the top two prizes in a field of 680 competitors for the Southwest Writers’ International Writing Competition.
“As soon as that happened I was flooded with offers from agents,” recalls Greaves. “We sold ‘Hush Money’ as a series to St. Martin’s and the other to Bloomsbury. The second book in the series was ‘Green-Eyed Lady’ and the newest, the third called ‘The Last Heir,’ came out June 24 and I’m working on my second novel from Bloomsbury.”
Greaves will be sharing his amazing journey with fans twice this week, as he appears at Vroman’s Bookstore at 5 p.m. Saturday before teaming with fellow Pasadena mystery writer Naomi Hirahara for a discussion at 7 p.m. Monday at the Pasadena Central Library about how Pasadena locations enliven their tales.
A New York native, he first encountered Pasadena as a USC student and returned to the city after earning his law degree at Boston College. His tenure at Hahn & Hahn inspired the lead character of his mystery novels, a wisecracking Pasadena-based junior lawyer named Jack MacTaggart.
“I think Pasadena’s a wonderful community, and for a town of its size it’s well known throughout the country and the world due to the Rose Parade,” says Greaves. “It has a lot of iconic locations with Caltech, JPL, the Colorado Street Bridge and the Pasadena Central Library building. Jack is based in Pasadena in the first book about him, but in the second book he’s moved to Sierra Madre.”
Greaves makes it clear that while he loves the San Gabriel Valley, he utilizes locations across Los Angeles in his novels. When one book had a suicide scene, “it just made sense” that he included the Colorado Street Bridge as the location.
“The plots are completely fictitious, although I sometimes build off cases I handled,” says Greaves. “In the new one there’s a prologue based on a case I worked on. It only appears in one chapter, an intro to the story. I definitely take things I’ve learned and use them. I tell people I had a lot of interesting [clients] as a lawyer.”
In “The Last Heir,” Greaves makes a much bigger stretch, as he sends MacTaggart to solve a murder in Napa Valley’s wine country. The book follows the frantic manipulations of the heirs to a wine dynasty as they fight over the inheritance and spiral into betrayal and murder, all the while MacTaggart is shadowed by a movie star who wants to turn the family shenanigans into his next movie.
“The angle I’m highlighting for ‘The Last Heir’ is that Jack goes to Napa Valley,” explains Greaves, 58, who has been married for over 30 years and has four horses and two dogs in lieu of children. “I’m a wine hobbyist and have a five-acre grape farm. Wine is a big part of my outside interests.”
Growing up, Greaves had an early interest in mystery novels, immersing himself in the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Rex Wolfe. These days, he favors Nelson DeMille and Michael Connelly mysteries, but is currently most fascinated by Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbo, whose novels are set in Oslo.
Despite his fascination with reading mysteries, Greaves never really tried writing them until his retirement. His only formal writing training came from taking a UCLA extension course in screenwriting in the mid -1990s, but he believes it paid off in a big way.
“Screenwriting is a great class to take for any author because it teaches three act structure,” says Greaves. “So when I retired, I thought I might have a knack for it so I thought I’d give it a shot. I was leaving a fairly lucrative job and was going at least a year without income while writing, so we sold our home in Altadena and were able to live off the proceeds of that for a couple years after moving to Santa Fe and until I got my feet under me as an author.”
Chuck Greaves will appear with fellow mystery writer Naomi Hirahara to discuss the use of Pasadena locations in their mysteries at 7 p.m. Monday in the courtyard of the Pasadena Central Library, 285 E. Walnut St., Pasadena. He will also appear by himself at 5 p.m. Saturday at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Visit vromans.com or call (626) 449-5320.