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Judge Becomes Bestselling Crime Novelist

David Ellis, who released his crime novel ‘Look Closer’ in July, says he owes his legal and writing success to his Northwestern law school experience.

CU David Ellis
David EllisImage: Getty Images / Tribune News Service

By Paulina Freedman
Fall 2022

Illinois Appellate Court judge and bestselling crime novelist David Ellis ’93 JD finds that similar principles guide both his legal writing and his fiction writing. “It’s just a slightly different audience,” he says, “and [writing] is all about the audience.” 

Ellis released his latest crime novel, Look Closer, in July. The novel focuses on a seemingly perfect suburban couple whose shocking secrets begin to unravel after the mysterious death of a socialite in a neighboring town. Ellis wanted this book to have the escapism of a beach read with the plot twists of an M. Night Shyamalan film. “I became enamored with the idea, especially during COVID, of having more fun than I’ve ever had with a book,” he says. 

Ellis, whose debut novel, Line of Vision, won the 2002 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel by an American Author, has published 17 other novels, including eight that were co-written with frequent collaborator James Patterson. 

Specializing in commercial litigation and constitutional law, Ellis began his legal career in private practice. He then served as chief counsel to the speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives and was the prosecuting attorney in the impeachment trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich ’79. In 2014 Ellis was sworn in as the youngest-serving justice on the Illinois Appellate Court. 

Ellis says he owes his legal and writing success to his experience at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. “Northwestern taught me how to think,” he says, comparing law school to being part of a debate team. It was where he learned to defend a point with both logic and passion and to see both sides of any argument. “You learn so much about how the world works [in law school], how it all interacts.” 

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