Brian Selfon and cover of new book
Brian Selfon (left) and cover of his new book, "The Nightwalkers" (right). (Headshot courtesy of Laura Utrata)

The storyline, which introduces a makeshift family laundering money and connected to a murder victim lured into becoming a “nightworker,” has brought enviable reviews within two months of the book’s release by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Passages appearing from cover to cover in a new crime novel, The Nightworkers, reflect author Brian Selfon’s reactions to his actual employment involving light undercover work — first for Brooklyn prosecutors and later for Seattle public defenders.

Selfon, aiming for a career as a novelist since pre-college years in Southfield, supported his goal with workaday jobs that included deskwork as a chief investigative analyst. Not anticipating occasional assignments to monitor wiretaps or take on false identities for civil rights inquiries, he found his responses to those experiences triggered imaginings filling his first sold manuscript.

The storyline, which introduces a makeshift family laundering money and connected to a murder victim lured into becoming a “nightworker,” has brought enviable reviews within two months of the book’s release by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

NPR described “a great novel.” The Seattle Times commented about a “stunning debut” and a “favorite for 2020.” The New York Post listed a “best new book to read.”

Already writing a follow-up novel, not a sequel but with overlapping characters, Selfon is beginning to get — and enjoy — unanticipated digital speaking engagements filled with intriguing reader questions.

“The connection between the story and my work in part has to do with feelings I got from listening to wiretaps or prison calls,” said Selfon, whose plot deviates from actual money laundering activities. “I got the sense that [those being investigated] are not just the thing they’re being investigated for. They’re whole persons with families and personalities.

“Even though I don’t condone what they were being investigated for, very often I had sympathy for them. Some were funny or just interesting people, and I think that [impression] made its way into the book. That’s kind of why none of the main characters is sort of a cookie-cutter bad guy.

“They have interests outside of what they’re being investigated for. People were predominantly calling family, and that was some of the tragedy. People would be bringing their families into the business and possibly putting them in danger or incriminating them.”

Giving the storyline credibility is the authentic sense of dialogue, which often exceeds narration. Selfon said conversational language came from simply “being awake in New York” and working in law enforcement.

The author, 42, who went to Groves High School and had religious instruction at Congregation Shaarey Zedek supplemented by Camp Tamarack summers, attended the University of Michigan and graduated from Brown University in Providence, R.I., as a Russian language and literature major, a direction based on his admiration for works by Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.

“I got a job after college working for a book publishing company because I thought being close to the company might be a way to make a living while learning to write better,” said Selfon, who found that it did not bring all he had hoped.

“I began looking for any sort of odd job that might help me pay my rent but also give me story ideas, and the one that I happened to get was working for the New York state attorney general’s office.”

Selfon occasionally was required to be a courtroom witness, and that added to his thinking about investigations on behalf of defendants, another element in coming up with plot perspectives.

“In a lot of cases, [defendants’ attorneys] were asking me questions, and I was wondering why they weren’t asking me about [something else],” Selfon explained. “It occurred to me that these defense attorneys didn’t have somebody [in a position like mine].

“That opened up the possibility that I might want to shift to working for a public defender. I realized that somebody who has been presumed innocent can be in jail for years before trial.”

Employment on the defense side became available when Selfon and his wife decided to move to Seattle, where family lived, where she had job opportunities in computer work and where housing was more affordable. With relatives and friends still in Michigan, the family visited the state regularly before the pandemic.

“My next book is going to be a mystery that’s about a family on an emotional journey beyond the whodunit,” said Selfon, still intent on introducing complete characters that reveal traits outside the criminal or enforcement spheres. “I write whenever I can squeeze in time.”