A lawyer and a professor. A likely duo in an unlikely mess.

The two protagonists in Robert Steven Goldstein’s Enemy Queen (SparkPress) are reminiscent of those intelligent and respected pairs in entertainment who bumble their way through dubious decisions and actions.

One can only imagine Enemy Queen was as much fun for Goldstein to write as it is for readers to read.

“Fun to write from beginning to end,” says Goldstein. “I wrote it without an outline, and with no idea how the murder mystery would be resolved. So each new scene surprised me as much as it would a reader.”

A SURPRISING MURDER MYSTERY

Consider the storyline: When Stanley Berman, a Jewish New York attorney, is appointed Chief Counsel at a North Carolina university, he decides to share a house with his good friend, Thomas McClellan, a professor in the school’s English Department. Normal enough.

The men have a nightly ritual, spending their evenings drinking wine, playing chess and lamenting their ineptitude with women. No crazy themes or schemes yet.

Then the professor, a Southern good old boy, former high school football lineman and avid hunter, concocts a plan to bring a young woman into the house, insisting that as a creative writing teacher, such women find him alluringly subversive and artistic. If that were the case, of course, why would he be lamenting his ineptitude?

Stanley, predictably, is skeptical at first, but after much persuasion comes around to the idea — much to his detriment.

The pair finds themselves outwitted at every turn by Victoria, a young woman who is clever, inscrutable and superb at finishing what she starts. She initiates passionate sexual encounters with the men, but as time goes on, what she demands in return becomes untenable. 

When she goes missing, the county sheriff — and the Thomas’s lifelong friend — feels compelled to open a murder investigation.

FROM THE STAGE TO THE PAGE

The story for Enemy Queen initially was conceived as a play. Goldstein recalls, “A friend was looking to produce a new play. I offered to write it. To lower his costs, I kept it to three characters: two middle-aged men whom he and I could play, and a young woman. So I came up with characters and a high-level suggestion of a plot to fit those parameters. When my friend dropped his plan, I added more characters, fleshed out the plot and wrote it as a novel.”

Goldstein has an engaging writing style. Consider this excerpt, as the two men settle into their evening routine:

“It is a nightly ritual for the professor and me. We select a bottle of wine from a recent shipment and drink it while we play a game of chess before dinner.

Our chess protocol was never explicitly negotiated; it evolved more through playful coercion. By nature, I would have opted for competitive games played in silence, which is how I approached it at first. But the professor has prevailed. Our nightly chess matches are now more of a social affair. The wine contributes to that, but from the beginning, the professor insisted on sharing with me his musings on the advantages one move posed over another, and kibitzed ceaselessly on the nature of the strategy and tactics we each sought to prosecute.

Playing chess this way was contrary to every instinct I possess. For me, confrontation is innate; I am an attorney. Admittedly, I rarely appear in court. As chief counsel for the university, I deal mostly in contracts and correspondence. But the essence of the work is still adversarial. The intellectual athleticism inherent in adversarial logic is how I instinctively approach life.

Or how I approached it before.

I fear the professor has changed me more than I care to acknowledge.”

A MOTLEY BUNCH IN A LIGHT-HEARTED ROMP

What can readers expect to take away from Enemy Queen?

“It’s mostly a light-hearted romp,” the author says. “But if it has a lesson to impart, it would be this: The novel’s characters are a motley bunch — northerners and southerners, Christians and Jews, whites and blacks, liberals and conservatives. Each character is comically dysfunctional in his or her own way. Yet somehow, not so much because they want to but because they have to, they all eventually find a way to work and live together with at least a modicum of tolerance and trust.

“Especially in these difficult times, when people are fearful, isolated in their homes and prevented from seeing friends and loved ones, we all need periods when we can escape from that dark reality. Enemy Queen offers readers the opportunity to submerge themselves in a jamboree of roguish humor, bizarre sex, endearingly dysfunctional characters and a compelling murder mystery.”

Buy this book!

Robert Steven Goldstein retired from his job as a healthcare information executive at age 56 and has been writing novels ever since. Enemy Queen is his third novel, following The Swami Deheftner and Cat’s Whisker. Goldstein has practiced yoga, meditation and vegetarianism for over 50 years. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now lives in San Francisco with his wife and two rambunctious dogs.