Guest Post: Phillipa Bornikova, author of Box Office Poison, on blending urban fantasy with legal thriller

Please welcome Phillipa Bornikova to the blog today! I kindly asked how she goes about blending urban fantasy and legal thriller elements in her superb Linnet Ellery series (THIS CASE IS GONNA KILL ME and BOX OFFICE POISON), and she kindly obliged! Enjoy!

boxofficepoisonFirst, let me start by saying that anybody who thinks writing an urban fantasy is easy has clearly never tried to write an urban fantasy. You are trying to artfully blend three genres — mystery, a touch of romance and the supernatural in eighty-five thousand words, and it’s damn hard. I then decided to add legal cases on top of that which sometimes makes me doubt my sanity. Or maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment.

I wanted to set an urban fantasy in the world of movers and shakers. People who make law, apply law and use the law in their economic endeavors. Since I had been trained as a lawyer and spent some time in a corporate law firm I thought it would be fun to literalize the metaphor about “blood sucking lawyers”.

As a starting point — where my world diverged from the world as we know it — I used the struggles for equal treatment which occurred in the 1960’s. In my universe at the same time we had the civil rights movement, and women’s movement, and gays began to demand fairer treatment with the Stonewall riots was the time when the supernatural creatures determined the time was right and they “came out”.

What humans discovered was that there had been vampires in law firms, and werewolves on Wall Street, etc. etc. But it wasn’t until these creatures went public that there were actual court cases leading to actual legal precedent about their rights.

Which required that I sit down and think about how a court would interpret “heir” in an era when your progeny could be your natural born children that you’d had with your wife or the werewolf or vampire you had “Made”.

How does the fact that vampires don’t die affect the Rule Against Perpetuities?

When you have elves (called Álfar in my books) who can easily step out of our reality and into their own fairyland where humans cannot follow affect sentencing and punishment? I had to come up with specially designed jails to actually hold an elf.

ThisCase-hc_coverAlso, if you have creatures with meta-human powers working as a policeman can a defendant claim the search or the seizure was illegal? An Álfar cop could want to search a house without a warrant. No need to bash down a door. He or she can walk into Fey at the side of the house, walk three feet into where the house would be and reenter our reality inside the suspect’s home. Same for an Álfar criminal. You might suspect your elf neighbor took your TV, but they’ll be no sign of forced entry.

I took a look at how humans would create new businesses in order to cater to these strangers among us. I have companies that provide “hosts” to restaurants for delectation of their vampire guests. Want highly oxygenated blood? Pick a marathoner. Want something rich and fat filled? Go with someone on the heavier side. Want a quick drunk? Etc. Then of course you will have human diners who will find this disturbing and perhaps sue the restaurant the same way some people object when a woman breast feeds her baby. And there will be civil cases brought by human hosts who became an alcoholic or developed diabetes from being a particular type of host.

I’m sure there are many more possible cases to explore and I haven’t even started to look at the affect of The Powers on politics and Washington D.C. There is no doubt I have given myself a big sandbox, but it hasn’t been easy to think through all the ramifications.


  1. Sounds interesting! I look forward to giving your books a shot.

  2. I just wanted to say that Linnet is one of the best-written female leads I’ve come across in a long time. She is down to earth, with faults and flaws like anybody, and comes across as totally realistic and relatable. I really enjoyed the first two books and would love to know when the next is going to be published. I’m also a big fan of the way she and the other lawyers took down Ryan. And, being a huge horse nut, please keep Linnet and Vento together. You see dogs, cats, etc. being used as partners, familiars, etc., but using a horse is a fresh, new approach. Love the books! When will we see the next? Thanks and I’m a huge fan!

  3. Pingback: Collection of Thriller-Writing Articles | Andreea Daia | Andreea Daia

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