Mark Gimenez is living every novelist's dream: a contract with a top publisher, a large print run and a national advertising campaign. The final triumph will be if his first novel, The Color of Law, being released Tuesday by Doubleday ($24.95 hardcover), is a best-seller.

Doubleday is trumpeting the publication with a full-page ad in The New York Times. "The book has a 100,000-copy first printing, comparisons to John Grisham are abounding and everyone here has fallen in love with the book," according to a Doubleday publicist.

For Gimenez (pronounced Heh-MEN-ez), overnight success has been a while in the making. He grew up poor in Galveston, attended Southwest Texas State and graduated high in his law class at Notre Dame.

"I had never met a lawyer before I went to law school," he said in an interview. But when he was a boy, his mother had held up Atticus Finch, the small-town lawyer in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, as a model. That was Gimenez's goal, being a small-town lawyer who would stand up for the little guy.

Instead, money lured him to Dallas, where he practiced corporate law for 10 years. "I just decided that I wasn't going to spend my life fighting over other people's money. ... That wasn't for me."

He practices law now on a "limited basis" and spends most of his time writing. He worked on this first novel for "a number of years."

The story closely resembles Gimenez's own story, but he says it isn't a thinly disguised autobiography. Main character A. Scott Finney is an aggressive, up-and-coming partner in a major Dallas firm, making big bucks, living in a mansion in exclusive Highland Park and running for president of the State Bar.

Like the author, Finney's mother encouraged him to "do good." Finney starred on Southern Methodist University's football team and finished at the top of his class at SMU Law before joining an elite downtown firm. At 35, he makes $750,000 from millionaire clients, with the promise of millions of his own around the corner.

Then the court appoints him to represent Shawanda Jones, an addict and prostitute charged with killing the playboy son of Mack McCall, a U.S. senator from Texas.

Shawanda Jones shakes up Finney's comfortable life and causes him to reassess his priorities, ethics and future.

The 400-page book starts and stays fast.

Gimenez says that in the days of Atticus Finch, law was black and white, based on race. Today, he says, "I think the color of law is green. Today if you're poor, you're going to jail. If you're rich, you're going home. It's gone from race to class."

Gimenez and his wife, Brigitte, have two sons, ages 15 and 7. He hopes to have another novel out next year.n Contact Glenn Dromgoole at glenndromgoole@cox.net.

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