By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
Introducing "The Professor" — a legal thriller by Robert Bailey. It will have you asking, “John, who?” Move over, John Grisham, there’s a new kid in town and he’s come well armed — armed with a book that grips readers from the first page until the last and leaves them wanting more.
Huntsville attorney, Robert Bailey (who is, coincidentally, married to the former Dixie Davis, youngest daughter of Cullman’s own Dr. Jim Davis) is the author of "The Professor", a superbly crafted legal thriller set in Alabama, with certain "infamous" parts of Tennessee thrown in for good measure.
Dixie Davis Bailey attended Samford, earning a degree as a registered dietitian. She interned at Oakwood College in Huntsville, and later worked at Huntsville Hospital. She was introduced to Bailey via her sister, Christi, and brother-in-law, Davis League, who is also an attorney in Huntsville. “For me, it was love at first sight,” he says.
Dixie and Bob married in 2001. The couple has three children, ages nine, eight and three. Bob started his book about eight years ago. Dixie could often be found reading his latest chapters late into the night while cuddling a baby in her arms.
Bailey wrote the book at their dining room table. An early riser, he would work on his book from 4 a.m. until time for the children to get up, then go to his office. “I think that my experience as a trial lawyer has made me a better writer, and writing this book has made me a better lawyer. Both professions involving telling a story.”
He says that he often relied on his wife’s suggestions or opinions about how the female characters would have dressed, expressed themselves or reacted in certain situations.
Dixie says that she fell in love with the characters. She sees her mother-in-law, Beth Bailey, in Ruth Ann Wilcox, whose family is killed by a speeding truck. The plot of "The Professor" is based upon the ensuing trial.
The book begins in a familiar spot to most people in this state. The Waysider in Tuscaloosa has long been a local landmark, a fact which Bailey, who graduated from the University of Alabama in 1999, drew on heavily to pull the reader in.
The main character, Professor Tom McMurtrie, is a living legend around the University of Alabama, and throughout the state, if not the entire legal profession. His meeting with legendary Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant sets the stage for reader’s right from the beginning.
As you become familiar with Bailey’s fictional leading character, Professor McMurtrie, you might begin to think you are reading the story of local politian and attorney, Tom Drake. In fact, the use of several names in the Drake/Powell family are scattered throughout the book. However, although Bailey once tried a case with Drake and his partner/wife, Christine Drake, the author says any similarity is purely coincidental.
Several of the other characters in the book might also seem very familiar to Cullman residents. Dr. Jim Davis has a cameo role as the leading character’s urologist, Dr. Bill Davis. The "real" Dr. Davis, who is enjoying his recent retirement, says that he was surprised and pleased when he read the first draft of the book. An avid reader, Dr. Davis was ready to wade through a tiresome manuscript by someone else who "thought" he could write a book. “I didn’t even realize that he was writing a book,” laughed Dr. Davis. “In the back of my mind, I was thinking ‘Uh-oh,’ but when I picked it up a couple of weeks later and started reading it I was hooked within the first two chapters.”
“I couldn’t believe that Bob could write like that!” he exclaimed. “I liken him to John Grisham, in fact, if someone had given me this book and I had to guess who wrote it, I would have said Grisham.”
After reluctantly closing the last page of "The Professor", Dr. Davis advised his son-in-law that he should pursue publication —with an eye toward a possible movie deal. “His opinion was a big confidence — builder for me,” said Bailey.
Not only did Bailey draw upon his father-in-law for inspiration, but you’ll find glimpses of his wife, Dixie, in the character of Dawn Murphy, a figure central to the plot. That plot will keep you sitting on the edge of your seat while you turn page after page in anticipation of what happens next.
He even drew upon his knowledge of English bulldogs, which his parents raised for years, as inspiration for McMurtrie’s faithful dog, Musso. Other names, locations and descriptions will have you feeling as if this is story is practically unfolding right in your own backyard.
“Growing up in the South (Bailey graduated from Huntsville High School in 1992, and the couple still live there) I would always pay attention to the accents, I was drawn to different dialects,” he said. “It was important to me to get the dialog just right.”
Bailey often heard his dad, Randy Bailey, refer to Coach Bryant as, "The Man". Throughout the narrative you will often find that reference used in terms of reverence.
Bailey says that he is fortunate to have known several strong Southern women — his mother in particular. “Both my mother and the character of Ruth Ann Wilcox have kind of a Steele Magnolia personality,” he reflected. “I can imagine Susan Sarandon playing the part of Ruth Ann.”
Everyone seems to agree that Channing Tatum might be in the running for the part of Rick Drake, the prosecuting attorney in "The Professor". It’s fun to speculate the future of this book. “‘The Professor’ certainly has the potential,” said Dr. Davis.
You’ll get a chance to meet the inspiration for some of the characters, as well as the author, at the Cullman Books-A-Million on Saturday, March 1, from 2 to 4 p.m.
Robert Bailey will also speak to the AP English classes at Cullman High School on Friday, April 28. The instructor is his sister-in-law, Denise Burroughs.