From priest to attorney to mystery novelist–you wouldn’t describe David Walker’s resume as typical. But there is a certain continuity to his vocational history: an interest in language, the study of character, and the truth behind things. Walker mentions one thing that priests and attorneys have in common: both spend their time “dealing with people in trouble.” And both jobs, he says, are “swimming in words.”

For ten years in the late 60s and early 70s Walker was a parish priest serving at Holy Angels and Saint Sabina on the south side. He had always been interested in writing, he says, doing freelance articles for a company that published Sunday church bulletins. When he was in his mid-30s he left the priesthood and began to look for something else to do with his life. He says he was searching for a vocation “coming from the inside instead of somewhere else.” Yet he had no idea what that might be.

Thinking that the law was a “helping profession,” he started taking classes at night. During the day he worked part-time as an investigator for the police department’s Office of Professional Standards.

But once he graduated from law school, Walker found he was still more interested in writing. Today he practices law only part-time, specializing in defending lawyers charged with ethical misconduct. Most of his time is devoted to writing mystery novels that, not surprisingly, contain a full lineup of cops, priests, and lawyers.

Walker’s first book, Fixed in His Folly, was published in 1995 and earned him a nomination for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar award for best first mystery. The book is about Mal Foley, a private investigator hired to find his client’s son, whom she had given up for adoption 30 years earlier. The son turns out to be a troubled priest. Since then Walker has written two more Foley mysteries, Half the Truth and Applaud the Hollow Ghost.

A Ticket to Die For, published last year by St. Martin’s Press, is the first in a new series showcasing Kirsten and Dugan, a husband and wife team who live on the near north side. She’s a licensed PI with an uncommon talent for getting things done. He’s a personal-injury attorney who settles every case out of court. At first Dugan is reluctantly dragged along on Kirsten’s assignments, but soon he becomes as involved and resourceful a snoop as she is.

The couple runs into all sorts of lowlifes, many working directly or indirectly for the “outfit.” Much of the duo’s attention is directed at the goings-on of two businesses, the first a bogus Diversey Avenue art gallery, one of those weird, customerless enterprises that make you wonder how they stay in business. The other is Cousin Freddy’s, an adult bookstore in a “desolate little strip mall” just southwest of the city. Cousin Freddy’s has plenty of business but also has trouble keeping employees–they tend to show up for work dead.

Walker, now married and living in Wilmette, is currently working on the second Kirsten and Dugan mystery. Readers can expect to encounter sympathetic priests and, we would assume, some of those lowlifes who, at the end of A Ticket to Die For, probably didn’t go away for good.

Walker will read from and sign A Ticket to Die For in the Chicago Authors Room in the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State, on Thursday, January 28, at 12:15. Admission is free. Call 312-747-4050 for more.

–Melissa King

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/J.B. Spector.