Local lawyer turns crime novelist

Susan Wolfe releases second Silicon Valley thriller

Susan Wolfe had no plans to become a writer when she began practicing law as a corporate attorney in the heart of Silicon Valley. The Palo Alto resident says she was very focused on developing a career in the burgeoning high tech world while working for the up-and-coming high tech law firm Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich and Rosati.

Throughout her years as a Silicon Valley lawyer, she gained a premier view of the people and the behind-the-scenes workings of the fast-moving tech world, which ultimately became the inspiration for the characters and story lines in her crime novels. Wolfe, now an award-winning author, is set to release her second Silicon Valley thriller, "Escape Velocity" during a special launch party on Tuesday, Oct. 4, at Books Inc. in Palo Alto.

"Escape Velocity" tells the story of Georgia, a woman who moves from Arkansas to Silicon Valley to work as a paralegal at Lumina Software and escape from her family of con artists. She quickly realizes that some of the Lumina staff are crooked and have a death grip on the company. To impress her boss -- and earn enough money to move out of her car -- Georgia decides to adapt her extensive con artist training (just once) to clean up the company. Soon, she finds herself teetering between life as an avid paralegal by day and a masterful con artist by night.

Wolfe's experience and extensive corporate legal knowledge, combined with her ability to seamlessly incorporate real places and quirky details from her daily observations into her story lines, provide readers an insider's glimpse into the local culture and legal maneuverings of the tech industry. She cleverly puts her characters in recognizable hangouts popular among the real-life tech crowd.

Wolfe, who earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a law degree from Stanford University, said she has always had a love of writing.

"Writing has always just seemed to me like the finest thing you could do to populate that little room of creativity outside a person's head," she said.

She didn't consider writing professionally until a friend suggested that they each write a book and get together to discuss them. Wolfe agreed and quickly became enamored with writing her first crime novel, "The Last Billable Hour," which published in 1989 and led her to take a break from her legal career to finish writing it. The best-selling book received the Edgar Award for Best First Novel and earned her a firm following.

Wolfe said the book ended up being much more successful than either she or her publisher had thought it would be. Her publisher later convinced her to write a sequel, but Wolfe found herself unable to write.

"What I like to do is find a character at a key moment in their life. Once I have seen that, I do not know how to carry on," Wolfe said.

She put her writing on hold for 16 years and returned to law as a criminal defense attorney and an in-house lawyer.

Now that Wolfe is retired and has released her second novel, can readers expect more Silicon Valley crime stories?

"Readers may just want another book about Georgia, but I feel that I was following Georgia at a key moment in her life. I have thought about another book showing her 10 years from now, but I do not know if she is going to want to speak,"Wolfe said.


What: "Escape Velocity" book release party

Where: Books Inc. at Town and Country Village, 855 El Camino Real (at Embarcadero), Palo Alto

When: Tuesday, Oct. 4, 5:30 p.m.

Cost: Free

Editorial intern Rachel van Gelder can be e-mailed at rvangelder@paweekly.com.

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