David Hosp's Dark Harbor

Lots of lawyers dream about writing a novel one day. This guy did it, and it’s getting worldwide distribution

Published in 2005 Massachusetts Rising Stars magazine

By Jim Kaplan on April 26, 2005


David Hosp’s late-winter day begins like many others, except that this morning he is clearly worried. An intellectual-property lawyer for Goodwin Procter, Hosp drives his BMW station wagon from his Cohasset home to the ferry slip in Hingham. While the ferry winds its way through Boston Harbor during the next 35 minutes, Hosp never looks up to see Deer Island, Castle Island or any of the other historical sights. With his attorney’s ability to compartmentalize, he’s concentrating on the fiction he is writing in a collegesized notebook, even forgetting for the moment the worrisome task he has ahead of him.

Disembarking at Rowes Wharf, Hosp begins the 10-minute walk to Goodwin Procter, a firm with some 650 attorneys in Boston, New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. After arriving at the firm and taking the elevator to his 16th-floor office, Hosp realizes he can’t put off for much longer what is preoccupying him. Still, it isn’t until mid-afternoon that he acts.

He needs that long to get a free moment with senior partner John Englander, a good friend, neighbor, mentor and golfing buddy — soon to become the co-chair of Goodwin’s trial department. They meet in Englander’s office.

“You have a minute?” Hosp asks.

“Sure,” Englander says, smiling. When Hosp closes the door behind him, Englander’s smile fades. Closed doors often signal trouble.

Hosp takes a breath. “This is going to sound weird,” he says slowly. “I write — as a hobby. I just finished my first novel.”

“That’s cool,” Englander says. “Are you going to try to have it published?”

“That’s the weird thing, it is going to be published. I wanted to talk to you to make sure that it wouldn’t cause me any problems here at work.”

Englander is relieved. “It’s a pretty innocuous hobby. I wouldn’t see why anyone here would care. Who’s publishing it? Are you going through one of those companies that publish online?”

“No. Actually, it’s going to be published by Warner Books,” Hosp says.

Englander raises his eyebrows. “I’ve heard of them,” he says, leaning back in his chair. “Wow, that’s pretty impressive.”

“They own the North American publication rights — Simon & Schuster’s publishing it in places like Great Britain and Ireland and Australia.”

Englander laughs. “You’re kidding, right?” Hosp shakes his head. “OK, so when you say it’s being published, you mean it’s being published.”

Hosp nods. “Still think it’s not a problem?”

Englander reflects for a few seconds, his eyes drifting toward the ceiling. “Still not a problem,” he says. “There are a lot of people here who have interests outside of the law that they take very seriously and have great passion for. It’s one of the great things about this place.”

David Hosp’s debut novel, Dark Harbor, a murder mystery using the ever-more-popular Boston motif, will be released by Warner Books in June. Complete with terrorism, mobsters, conspiracy, romance, legal issues and ingenious plot twists, the story revolves around a lawyer suspected of murdering his former lover. Dark Harbor has been chosen as Warner’s “reps’ pick” for the spring/summer season, meaning that company sales reps will be pushing the book to beat the band. In addition to Simon & Schuster’s purchase of United Kingdom/British Commonwealth rights, Random House bought German-language rights, and Sony bought Japanese-language rights. Hosp’s second novel, set in Washington, D.C., with a law student as one of its protagonists, is due to the publisher in spring/summer of 2006. Recorded Books will tape both novels, and the two books will earn Hosp six figures before a single copy has been sold.

After his chat with Englander, Hosp returns to his own office. Despite its green industrial rug, oversized dark-wood desk and luscious view of Boston Harbor all the way to Cohasset, the place is a study in regular guy and American pie. Hosp surrounds himself with personal mementos: a framed and signed photo of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team; model racing cars that Hosp used as evidence while representing champion driver Carroll Shelby; a map of the United States with dozens of pins stuck in cities where his department has scheduled depositions; and six prints of the Statue of Liberty an artist gave to Hosp’s parents.

Hosp sits down and looks out the window. “I wonder where this ride will take me?” he remembers thinking.

In retrospect, the novel, a happy marriage of intellectual property and creative output, seems predictable. It may have even been genetic.

Hosp’s father, Richard, is a retired account rep at the ad firm Young & Rubicam. His mother, Martha, still practices law out of their home in south Rhode Island. His brother Ted is an Alabama lawyer.

For his part, David grew up in Manhattan; Wilmette, Illinois; and Rye, New York. An all-section defender for the Rye Country Day School lacrosse team, he expected to play at Dartmouth, but he lost 45 pounds to hepatitis during his freshman year and finally quit the sport as a sophomore when cartilage cracked and calcium formed in his knees. Moving forward, he acted in a couple of school productions, spent a happy semester at the London School of Economics and graduated cum laude in 1990 with a major in history and several courses in government under his belt. He wrote poetry and read plays on the side.

When he decided to go to law school, he figured specializing in intellectual property would be a good way to ensure his continued proximity to creative people. After spending a postgraduate year building houses and learning the guitar, he enrolled at the George Washington University Law Center, known for its first-class I.P. department. Hosp sang blues and rock for a band called Slow Children at Play and helped start a literary magazine for law students while making law review and graduating cum laude in 1994.

He was hired by the New York firm Winthrop Stimson (now Pillsbury Winthrop). After a few years Hosp found himself squished sideways, trying to maneuver between customers and racks at a grocery store, when he had an epiphany. “What am I doing in New York City?” he remembers thinking. The difficulty of having a car, the major production involved in leaving town for a weekend, the long commute if he moved to a suburb, all diminished the city’s attractiveness for him.

So he moved to Boston and Goodwin Procter, where he was made partner in 2002.

As with novel writing, intellectual property work demands storytelling in a simple but persuasive style. In December 2004, Hosp (aided by associates Mark Puzella and Chris Nee) won a dismissal order in Brilliance Audio Inc. v. Haights Cross Communications Inc. against a company that accused his client, Haights Cross, of copyright and trademark infringement and trademark dilution. Using words no more complicated than “seminal” or “counter-intuitive,” he clarified complicated legal issues. The judge’s decision adopted Hosp’s reasoning wholesale and at times even repackaged his writing.

“He was very professional and gentlemanly,” says opposing counsel Terence J. Linn. “He’s a clear and straightforward writer.” Haights Cross, the owner of Recorded Books, must have agreed, because it’s the company that signed up Hosp and his novels.

“Legal writing has made me a better fiction writer,” Hosp says. “You learn how to tell a story and distill it into what’s important. If you asked judges in their heart of hearts, I think they usually decide more on the presentation of papers than oral arguments.”

Scribbling while commuting and polishing text on his wellused Dell, Hosp completed Dark Harbor in 15 months, at 2 a.m. on a weeknight in September 2003. He was satisfied just to have lengthened what began as a story into his first novel. “Maybe I’ll take it down to the copy center and get 100 volumes bound for friends,” he remembers thinking.

Instead, Hosp’s father referred him to a friend and neighbor, Aaron Priest, whose agency represents such stellar clients as Frank McCourt, Sue Grafton and David Baldacci. Priest assumed he’d read a few pages and stop, but he kept going and was hooked. “You should see this,” he told his associate, Lisa Vance, who read it and had the same reaction. Priest called Hosp and agreed to represent him.

When Priest sent out the manuscript, the feedback he initially heard from editors was “we like it, but we don’t know what to do with it.” Translation: They didn’t know if they could sell it to their sales reps. But Rick Horgan, then an in-house editor for Warner, “really pumped for it,” in Priest’s words, and Horgan’s superior, Maureen Egen, president of the Time Warner Book Group, fell in love with it. The two of them — “the right people at the right time,” Hosp says — helped him shape the final product.

Egen loves the parts of Hosp’s second book that she’s read and is relieved to discover he’s not a one-book wonder. “When you see a second book and it’s accomplished, you’ve got a real talent.”

Dark Harbor runs more than 400 pages, but even a slow reader can finish it inside 24 hours. Hosp never stretches to make Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations nor slows the flow with awkward wording. He knows his Machiavelli and Dylan Thomas. Showing a historian’s touch, he writes of Boston, “Despite the façade of liberal politics that covered the city, its heart was still ruled by racial and ethnic divisions as old as the Freedom Trail.” And Hosp’s knowledge of government helps him limn the displacement and tension that urban renewal has wreaked on blue-collar Bostonians: gentrification driving prices and taxes up, yuppies moving to the city limits, old-timers driven off the grid altogether.

Over lunch at Faneuil Hall’s Plaza III Steakhouse, site of a scene in Dark Harbor, Hosp, 36, is asked how his workplace chums will view the passage that reads, “Law firms had all gone the way of big business.” Not to mention this one: “In the macho world of big-firm litigation, lawyers took pride in not allowing minor inconveniences like illness, or childbirth, or holidays to affect their work schedule.”

Hosp looks up from his filet mignon. “It’s pure fiction, but there’s no question that law has moved toward the ways of business. Firms are growing more national and international, and practices have been using business strategies that lawyers didn’t think about 15 or 20 years ago. That requires more corporate structure, which is a reality of survival in today’s market.

“In some ways I think adopting the business model has improved working conditions. Firms take into account human resources issues businesses have been dealing with. You see more flexibility about family leave. I just returned from a one-month paternity leave in which I worked, but from home and just on emergency stuff.”

Hosp, who is married to Joanie McCormick Hosp, a member of the Vincent Club — a fund-raising group for Mass General Hospital — keeps busy with 3-year-old son Reid, and 6-monthold daughter Samantha. While life is hectic, he manages to keep writing on the ferry, after late-night feedings and through occasional trips to the library.

Despite the book’s realism, readers should resist the temptation to view Dark Harbor as autobiography. David Hosp is nothing like his protagonist, Scott Finn, despite their shared Irish blood and nine-letter names. Nor has Hosp ever experienced the horrors his rough-cut city boys do. But one imagines that this moderate, open-minded, friendly and unthreatening guy — words like “folks” and “awesome” pepper his speech — had little trouble gathering mise en scène from friends in Charlestown, South Boston and Revere.

The inevitable question beckons: How has writing success affected his life? “I love practicing law and I’m not about to quit,” he says. “If it’s another Da Vinci Code, who knows what will happen?”

Come now: Surely the experience has changed him. A pause follows, while Hosp tries to help his questioner. “Well,” he finally says, “I’ve been in a very good mood for a year.”

Smiling, Hosp offers his hand, palm up, for a good-bye shake. And to think, the fun is just beginning.

Jim Kaplan is the author of 16 books, the son of a judge and the father of a lawyer.

An excerpt from “Dark Harbor”

“‘Mr. Finn?’ Detective Flaherty said. She was smiling, but her voice contained a strange lilt that sounded almost like sympathy. It unnerved Finn. ‘My name is Lieutenant Linda Flaherty with the Boston Police Department. This is my partner, Detective Tom Kozlowski. We’d like to take a moment of your time, if that’s all right?’

‘Yes. Please, sit down.’ Finn gestured toward the two small wooden armchairs that were crammed together in the tiny space opposite his desk. They were nondescript, functional units massproduced for hundreds of thousands of similar small offices around the country. Still an associate, Finn was rarely called on to host clients in his office, so only the bare necessities were provided. Flaherty took the chair closest to the wall. The hulk she was with squeezed himself into the chair next to the door. He looked almost comical, and the absurdity made Finn feel more at ease.

‘What can I do for you?’ he asked, smiling at the brunette.

‘We’d like to ask you a few questions,’ she said, somewhat gently.

‘Yes, my secretary told me. I can assure you that, whatever it is, I didn’t do it. I’ve got witnesses.’ Finn hoped his joke would help lighten the mood. It didn’t. Flaherty’s smile was indulgent at best, and Kozlowski just kept staring straight through the back of Finn’s head.

‘Mr. Finn,’ she began again.

‘Please, it’s just Finn. Nobody calls me Mister.’

‘Mr. Finn, we need to ask you some questions about Natalie Caldwell.’

That got Finn’s attention. He’d been craned forward over his desk, trying to draw the officers in and establish some rapport. He immediately leaned back in his chair when he heard Natalie’s name. He was protective by nature, and he didn’t like the idea of police asking him questions about a friend.

His change in attitude must have been apparent, because he noticed his visitors exchange a look. The chess game had begun. He smiled again, forcing himself this time.

‘What do you want to know about Nat?’ He’d learned long ago that it was always better to be the one asking questions, and he’d developed a reflex of going on the offensive when confronted with an interrogation. He wondered what Natalie had done wrong. Most likely, she’d pissed off somebody down at City Hall, he thought. She had an aggressive personality, and most men hated dealing with assertive women. As a consequence, she often made enemies. She must have really stepped on somebody’s toes this time for them to send two cops out asking questions. The thought amused him, and he suddenly felt better-equipped to deal with the meeting.

‘Well, let’s start with when you last saw her?’

Finn regarded the attractive brunette and silently counted to five. It was another technique he’d learned over the years; always control the pace of the questioning — it throws people off. He didn’t change his expression or look away. He simply looked straight at her until he reached five.

‘Why would you want to know when I last saw her?’

‘We’re conducting an investigation that involves her. Mr. Holland, the head of your firm, indicated you’ve been her closest colleague, so we thought we should start with you.’

‘Really? An investigation involving her? Could you be a little more specific? Maybe that would help.’ He was toying with her now, and enjoying it. God, she was pretty.

‘Well, we’d really like to start out by determining when it was you saw her last.’

Just then the buzzer sounded. Right on time. ‘Yes, Nancy?’ he said into the receiver. He paused as though getting some important news. ‘Oh, that’s right, thank you for reminding me.’ He hung up the phone and looked at the officers. ‘I’m going to have to run to a meeting in a moment. Look, if it’s an investigation involving Natalie, maybe you should start by talking to her. Her office is right around the corner. Have you stopped by to see if she’s in there?’ It was time to get rid of these two. As much as he was enjoying the joust with this good-looking cop, he had work to do and didn’t want to say anything that might put Natalie in a jam.

‘No, we haven’t. We’re pretty sure she’s not in there.’

‘How would you know if you haven’t looked?’ Finn flashed them his most condescending smartass lawyer smile. This ought to get rid of them.

It was Kozlowski who finally answered. It was the first time he’d spoken. ‘Because we found her body floating in Boston Harbor last night.’”

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