This mystery writer actually makes business interesting

March 22, 1998
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

I have belatedly discovered Gini Hartzmark, the author of four mysteries featuring Chicago socialite/corporate attorney Kate Millholland.

All four of her novels are available in paperback from Ballantine: "Principal Defense," "Final Option," "Bitter Business" and, this year's, "Fatal Reaction."

Hartzmark has created a character who eschews her family's upper-crust life style in Lake Forest, preferring instead to live in an under-furnished apartment in Hyde Park. Kate is a smart, independent young widow who nonetheless is having a longterm affair with sexy Stephen Anzorini -- a man so good-looking that woman stop and stare at him in public. Kate also is one of the first women partners in a stuffy Chicago law firm.

Well, since I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, worked downtown for a time, and like to visit my best friend in Hyde Park, I was predisposed to like Hartzmark's books. I haven't been disappointed. And since at least half the people in Northern California are from the Chicago area (this may be a conservative estimate), I'm sure Hartzmark is going to find a lot of fans out here.

I recently talked to Hartzmark by phone and found that she wasn't raised in Chicago (try Shaker Heights, Ohio) and doesn't live in the Midwest anymore (try Phoenix, Arizona).

But she did attend the University of Chicago, which is a lovely old campus on the South Side surrounded on three sides by a serious ghetto and on the fourth side by Lake Michigan. The schizophrenic nature of Hyde Park - where you might find Nobel scientists standing in line with crack dealers as they wait for coffee to go at the neighborhood deli - didn't bother Hartzmark at all. She was energized by the mix.

"The first time I drove to Chicago I knew it was my place," she said. "Give me two drinks and I'll tell you I'm from Chicago."

Hartzmark met her future husband, Michael, in high school when she was 17. They decided to apply to the same graduate schools and to attend the school that accepted them both - and that turned out to be the University of Chicago.

While her husband got a Ph.D. in economics, Hartzmark floundered. She did law school for a year and quit. She did business school for a year and quit that, too. What she really wanted to do was write.

"But I grew up in this generation of women who felt both privileged and responsible, who felt like they had to be doctors or lawyers," she said. "I would say 'I would like to write' and people would say, 'Oh, that can be your hobby.' "

It was Hartzmark's husband who convinced her to do what she really wanted. Still, it took 10 years before her first novel, "Principal Defense," was published. Getting the novel written was something she did in between having three children, moving four times, and re-inventing the wheel.

"Just because these books are easy to read doesn't mean they are easy to write," she said. "For me it was like re-inventing the wheel because I never took an English class. It was incredibly difficult."

Her books also require a lot of research. "Principal Defense" is about a company facing a hostile takeover, "Final Option" about the futures market, "Bitter Business" about a chemical plating company. "Fatal Reaction" is about the creation of a new drug and high stakes research in a pharmaceutical company.

Now Hartzmark has hit her stride and is writing a book a year. "Rough Trade," which she is just completing, is about murder and the franchise system in the National Football League.

But for the sake of her husband's business, Hartzmark and her kids moved to Arizona about five years ago.

"I really hate Arizona," she lamented. "Golf courses and beautiful weather aren't important to me." Therefore, all her books take place in Chicago, and all are set in the wintertime.

And what does this business writer think of the publishing industry?

"The industry is incredibly amateurishly run," she said. "Name any other job where you're paid a year and half after delivery of the product. Many writers make less than they'd make working at McDonald's. It's the amateur hour. The business end is discouraging.

"But all I wanted to do was write entertaining commercial books," she said.

Just one critical word: Watch the spelling of those Chicago place names. It's Wilmette, not Willmette. It's the Stevenson expressway, not the Stephenson. It's the Loop, not the loop. Aside from that, keep up the good work.

To inquire about ordering any of the above mentioned books from an independent bookstore,
Bogey's Books [ Click Here ]

To Order "Bitter Business" (Hardcover) from Amazon [ Click Here ] links.
To Order "Bitter Business" (Paperback) from Amazon [ Click Here ] links.
To Order "Fatal Reaction" (paperback) from Amazon [ Click Here ] links.
To Order "Final Option" (Paperback) from Amazon [ Click Here ] links.
To Order "Principal Defense" (paperback) from Amazon [ Click Here ] links.

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