John Dobbyn: Law Professor Turned Mystery Novelist

The Villanova University professor and Valley Forge resident applies what he knows from teaching to a trio of legal thrillers (Neon Dragon, Frame Up and Black Diamond).

Photo by Jared CastaldiA Villanova University law professor by day and a mystery novelist by night (and most summers), Valley Forge’s John Dobbyn mixes work and pleasure in a trio of legal thrillers centered around two trial lawyers embroiled in Boston’s organized crime circuits. Dobbyn’s latest book, Black Diamond (Oceanview Publishing), was released last month, and his first, Neon Dragon, may just find its way onto the big screen. Want to know what happens next? We found out.

MLT: Which came first: an interest in law or your love of writing?
I have a passion for the law, but I didn’t grow up wanting to be a lawyer. By age 3, I knew I just wanted to be a cowboy. Ten years after completing law school, I had no inkling of wanting to write until I took a course in creative writing at Main Line School Night, where I wrote a short story about a blind criminal defender. The instructor recommended I submit it to Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. They accepted it, and I was hooked after that.

MLT: Tell us about your legal-thriller series.
Neon Dragon, the first in the series, is told by a young trial lawyer named Michael Knight, who’s half Irish and half Puerto Rican. He’s paired up with Lex Devlin, an old curmudgeonly criminal trial lawyer. Both are responsible for handling a murder case in Boston’s Chinatown, where a web of organized crime lays just below the community’s surface. The second book, Frame Up, involves the same two characters in the middle of the Russian and Italian Mafias’ dealings in art fraud and loan-sharking.

- Advertisement -
Continued on page 2 …

MLT: What’s next for Knight and Devlin?
Black Diamond sees the two involved in something that’s always fascinated me: horseracing. The plot involves the murder of a jockey in the midst of the races at Suffolk Downs, the site of a scheme that pits members of the Irish Republican Army against the Irish Mafia in South Boston.

MLT: And Neon Dragon might make it to Hollywood?
That’s true. My editors have been in contact with Ileen Maisel, who was a big producer with New Line Cinema and now has her own company, Amber Entertainment. She read my books and fell in love with the two characters. She originally thought we could do a television series, but after she read Neon Dragon again, she opted for a movie based on that. The project will be in the works after she wraps up a shoot in Italy.

MLT: Are your novels based on your legal experience?
They say that you should write what you know, and that’s bunk. If I only wrote what I knew, it would just be a bunch of short stories. If you turn it around to know what you write, you can learn about anything and go from there. I started with my knowledge of the court system, evidence and tactical tricks, and incorporated the plot elements from there.

Continued on page 3 …

MLT: How do you find the time to both teach and write?
By staying awake a lot of hours. Teaching is intense for two 14-week terms, but that leaves a fair amount of time during the summer to get as far into a book as I can.

MLT: Who are some of your favorite writers?
James Lee Burke is one, for sure. His mysteries and thrillers are poetry in prose.

- Partner Content -

To learn more, visit

» More Interviews With Local Leaders and Celebrities

Our Best of the Main Line Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!