The Fire This Time

Stuart Liss's short stories iwll soon appear in The Bedford Citizen - Image (c) JMcCT, 2014THE BOOK:  The Fire This Time.


THE AUTHOR: S. Frederic Liss (

THE EDITOR: Two private editors not affiliated with the publisher: Beverly Swerling (deceased); Ted Gilley.

THE PUBLISHER: Adelaide Books. An independent publisher with offices in New York City and Lisbon, Portugal. (

SUMMARY: Every criminal defense attorney wants justice for his or her client, especially if that client did not commit the heinous crime for which he will stand trial. Maddie Devlin, a public defender, is no different. To obtain justice for her client, she must overcome the ‘Perry Mason Curse.’ Poking holes in the prosecution’s case will not result in an acquittal. Only producing the killer will. To do this, she must put her life on the line without knowing if her gambit will succeed. Even if she survives, she may not be able to produce the killer. This is the dilemma Devlin confronts.

The Fire This Time: A novel by [S. Frederic Liss]Boston, MA, April, 1981. Tensions between its many religious, racial, and ethnic communities are at a fever pitch because of court-ordered busing to desegregate the city’s public schools. A few days before Passover, the body of the young son of Boston’s mayor is found. At the murder site is the skull cap (yarmulke) of a rabbinic student with his name embroidered in it. The rabbinic student is arrested for the murder. Virulent and violent anti-Semitism explodes.
Devlin, whose reputation as a trial attorney is legendary, takes on the defense of the rabbinic student. Having toiled as a legal aid attorney for many years, she lusts for a break-out case that will vault her into the echelon of national go-to criminal defense attorneys. This case, nfortunately, comes with personal conflicts and complications. First, the murder victim is a child. Since the death of her daughter years earlier, she has refused to defend anyone accused of killing a child. Second, the murder victim is the son of her cousin. The two branches of the Devlin family have been estranged since their grandfathers’ generation when Maddie’s grandfather was falsely accused of betraying her cousin’s grandfather to the British prior to the Dublin “Rising” of April, 1916.

With the guidance of an elderly rabbi who is a Holocaust survivor and an elderly Jewish attorney victimized by the anti-Semitism common in Boston’s corporate law firms, Devlin comes to appreciate the dire consequences this case poses to Boston’s Jewish community and Jewish communities throughout the United States whether the rabbinic student is convicted or acquitted, especially if he is a acquitted because she out-lawyered the prosecution. To prove him innocent and quiet the anti-Semitism, she must find the killer together with evidence proving his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The prosecution’s case appears air tight, but the odd behavior of Boston’s police chief triggers Devlin’s instincts that the case has weaknesses the police are covering up. To prove the rabbinic student innocent, she risks her life by venturing into the territory of Boston’s most notorious African-American street gang to gather evidence that the gang’s leader committed the blood libel. Whether Devlin succeeds or fails, whether her innocent client is convicted or acquitted, propels the novel to its unanticipated and unforeseen climax.

THE BACK STORY: This novel is a legal thriller that bears witness to the animosities and tensions between Boston’s religious, ethnic, and racial communities and the porous veneer that suppresses them. It confronts hatred and revenge and the way that a person’s heritage controls current behavior whether the person realizes it or not. As James Baldwin would say of the characters in The Fire This Time, they are “people [who] are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” (James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son: 1955).

This novel went through 22 drafts. The final draft as published resembles the first draft the way a grown adult resembles the new-born infant he or she once was. Why This Title: Fire (and heat) both as metaphor and plot points are integral to the novel. In addition, the title riffs on the Biblical injunction: ‘God gave Noah the rainbow sign; no more water, the fire next time.’ In the novel ‘next time’ is ‘this time.’

WHY READ IT? See The Back Story above and Author Comments below.


“The Fire This Time is a vivid, harrowing portrait of 20th-century Boston in all its brutal tribal schisms, made deadly by old secrets, old lies, and old hatreds . . . a fascinating trip.” — Joseph Finder, The New York Times Best Selling novelist.

“Riveting. Terrific. Kept me up late. Combining the intricate characterizations and settings of Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent with the psychological suspense of William Landay’s Defending Jacob, The Fire This Time is a tightly woven murder mystery, courtroom drama, and nuanced character study set against the backdrop of racial tensions in 1980s Boston. Maddie Devlin is a compelling, complex, and heroic protagonist who is worth rooting for. Deftly plotted and expertly executed, The Fire This Time works on a higher level than most contemporary legal thrillers or courtroom dramas. Highly recommended.” — Sheldon Siegel. The New York Times Best Selling novelist.

“The Fire This Time burns with intensity from page one. Liss skillfully paints the novel’s settings, characters and plot. His language is descriptive and flawless. A legal thriller with characters who stay with you. Maddie Devlin is an attorney who grabs your mind and senses, a protagonist you root for, admire. She stirs your emotions. Clever, believable story, with twists and turns, all at a brisk pace. The dialogue is sharp, characters vividly drawn. Excellent first novel, let’s see more.” — Wayne Avrashow, Esq., award winning novelist.

AUTHOR PROFILE: I am a multiple Pushcart Prize nominee, a nominee for the  South Million Writers Award and a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Prize sponsored by University of Georgia Press, the St. Lawrence Book Award sponsored by Black Lawrence Press, as well as the Bakeless Prize sponsored by Breadloaf Writers’ Conference and Middlebury College. I have published more than 50 short stories. I have received numerous awards and other forms of recognition for individual short stories including The Florida Review Editor’s Award for Fiction; James Still Prize for Short Fiction sponsored by Wind; Midnight Sun Award for Fiction sponsored by Permafrost; Third prize in the Arthur Edelstein Prize for Short Fiction; Finalist for the Raymond Carver Award for Short Fiction sponsored by Carve Magazine; and Honorable Mention in the New Letters Literary Award for Fiction and the Glimmer Train June, 2014 Fiction Open. Below is a list of awards I have received. I have also been published in The Saturday Evening Post, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, The South Dakota Review, The South Carolina Review, Dogwood, The Worcester Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal. A complete list of my short story publications is available on my website.

I earned a BA from Amherst College, Amherst, MA; a JD from Columbia University School of Law, New York, NY; and an MFA from Emerson College, Boston, MA. I was the recipient of a Grant-in-Aid in Literature from the St. Botolph Club Foundation, Boston, MA where I lead a workshop in writing fiction.

On a personal note, my wife and I have been married forever with three children and three grandchildren. My law practice focused on clients who had their own businesses, real estate, estate planning and probate, and litigation. I liked the challenge of being on my feet in the courtroom. Before the pandemic shut down travel, my wife and I traveled internationally from Peru to Tibet to Vietnam and many places in between. We also travel domestically, cities mostly, as diverse as Philadelphia, Charleston, and San Antonio. Our favorite is New York City which
we visit several times a year to enjoy ballet, theater, classical music, and the museums, art, natural history, and others. Artwise, my preferences run to Renaissance and Impressionist art. Contemporary art leaves me cold as does modern atonal music. Baroque composers are more my style though I’m warming to Mahler and Philip Glass. My beverage indulgences are red wine and single malt Scotch. While this may lose me a few sales to New York Yankee fans, I’ve been a Red Sox season ticket holder for many years.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: Although this novel confronts many “larger issues,” I strongly believe that a novel should also be entertaining with compelling characters who are not stereotypes and a plot that turns the pages for the reader. If you read for pleasure, you will be well-rewarded.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: A sample chapter is on my website. Here is the link:

WHERE TO PURCHASE IT: (see website for links) Adelaide Books, Apple Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Smashwords.


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Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

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