Todd Merer is the debut author of The Extraditionist. In his thirty years as a criminal attorney, he specialized in the defense of high-ranking cartel chiefs extradited to the United States. Merer gained acquittals in more than 150 trials, and his high-profile cases have been featured in the New York Times, Time magazine, and on 60 Minutes. A “proud son of Brooklyn,” he divides his time between New York City and ports of call along the old Spanish Main, where he is at work on his second novel.
Recently, the author kindly allowed for a debriefing session in which he discussed embellishing fact for fiction, finding parts of himself in clients and characters, balancing entertainment with education, and bringing the story’s backdrop to life.
What inspired you to write The Extraditionist, and how did you adjust to writing fiction after a career in legal language?
Actually, I wasn’t inspired at all. After 35 nonstop years of jail visits, courtroom duels, and shuttling around the old Spanish Main, I suddenly found myself with time on my hands—and a heap of memories of wild times. I decided to store them in my personal time capsule, in a timeline, with characters I knew, and things I’d seen and done—which ultimately became the book.
I didn’t have to adjust to writing fiction because The Extraditionist reflected the way I thought, spoke, and acted as a drug lawyer.
In what ways did your background as an attorney inform this story? Which aspects were of help and which were a hindrance in terms of balancing authenticity with creative license?
Naming names is equivalent to chiseling your own tombstone. Otherwise, The Extraditionist was pre-created—it’s my memoir. I do admit to an occasional embellishment, but I penned them according to what I know Benn would do in the situation(s).
Benn Bluestone is a complex adrenaline junkie who deals in gray areas rather than concrete rights and wrongs. How do these ambiguities mirror the complexities of the criminals he represents, and in what ways did developing his character allow you to play with commonly held perceptions of defense attorneys?
The short answer is that as a defense attorney, I always found ways to see myself in my clients, and Benn feels the same way. The most successful defense attorneys are the ones that are risk-takers. Or thieves.
What do you see as your responsibilities in terms of both entertaining and educating your audience?
The primary goal of any thriller writer is to captivate and entertain readers, which is what I set out to do. But if readers come away with some new insights into the international drug trade, then I would say I’ve killed two birds with one stone.
You spend a portion of your time living along the old Spanish Main, where this book is set. How does backdrop enhance the narrative, and how important is it for you to know the places that you write about intimately?
The Spanish Main is a rich backdrop of many different things that enrich and enhance the narrative. Sheer beauty. Personal and political extremes. A sense of timelessness. Risk, reward, romance. La vida loca…
Leave us with a teaser: What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
Benn’s on the balls of his ass with no practice when his palm begins itching—a too-familiar harbinger of a new case about to come. Like Michael Corleone, he has mixed emotions…
“Just when I thought I was out of the business, they pull me back in.”
When it comes to the Spanish Main, though, Benn’s been there, done that. His natural proclivities (and my own) lead him down a rabbit hole to an entirely different criminal underworld. Paraphrasing Horace Greely, Go east, young man. Which Benn does. Stay tuned for his next story!
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Todd Merer specialized in the defense of high-ranking cartel chiefs extradited to the United States in his thirty years as a criminal attorney. He gained acquittals in more than 150 trials, and his high-profile cases have been featured in the New York Times and Time magazine and on 60 Minutes. A “proud son of Brooklyn,” Merer divides his time between New York City and ports of call along the old Spanish Main. The Extraditionist is his first novel.