Pittsburgh native Brian Cuban makes fiction debut with ‘The Ambulance Chaser’
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BooksLegal thriller uses Jewish Pittsburgh as backdrop

Pittsburgh native Brian Cuban makes fiction debut with ‘The Ambulance Chaser’

“It has a Jewish flavor because my life has a Jewish flavor,” he said.

Legal thrillers and crime novels have a reputation for being the literary equivalent of a fast-food meal.

Books are churned out quickly to satisfy buyers spinning through titles in an airport convenience store, who are more interested in burning through pages during vacation stopovers than pondering theme, symbolism or style.

Just as McDonald’s doesn’t expect to earn a Michelin star, most writers of the genre don’t expect to be nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature. And yet, like Mickey D’s “more than 99 billion served,” thrillers are hugely popular. The crime/mystery category sold over $728 million in 2020, according to Book Ad Report. John Grisham might not earn a lot of respect in the literary community, but he has stacks of $100 bills to wipe away his tears.

It might be more empty calories, but Pittsburgh thriller fans will find a lot to like in Brian Cuban’s new book, “The Ambulance Chaser.”

The novel takes place against the backdrop of the Steel City. Its main character, Jason Feldman, is a drug addict and Jewish personal injury lawyer. Jewish cultural references and Yiddish words are sprinkled throughout the fast-paced thriller.
Cuban, who now lives in Dallas, said that there was never a question where the novel would be set.

“It’s my home,” Cuban said. “I bleed black and gold. There’s just so much about Pittsburgh that I love. It will always be a part of my DNA.”

“The Ambulance Chaser” begins downtown but quickly winds its way through Oakland, the Hill District, Mt. Washington and Squirrel Hill. Locales include popular sites like the Cathedral of Learning and the Duquesne Incline, and mark a fictionalized past, which allows Cuban to create the Feldman family’s migration from the Hill District to the East End, Squirrel Hill and finally Mt. Lebanon — a journey experienced by many Jewish immigrant families.

The author said it was important to him that the book had a Jewish feel to it.

“It has a Jewish flavor because my life has a Jewish flavor,” he said.

Brian Cuban’s fiction debut is a fast-past legal thriller based in Pittsburgh. Photo by Noah Purdy.

Cuban considers himself “culturally Jewish,” a trait that caused him to go head-to-head with Facebook in 2008. He fought with the social media giant, publicly urging it to remove posts promoting hate speech and Holocaust denial.

“It’s very important to me,” Cuban said, adding that several of his family members were victims of the Holocaust.

While the novel is a work of fiction, Cuban, who is an attorney and outspoken recovering addict, mined his own life when creating his main character.

“Bits and pieces of Jason are taken from my life on multiple levels, for sure,” Cuban said. “Jason struggles with drugs and alcohol, like I did. That’s nothing new — that’s a lawyer trope, right? He struggles with his Jewish faith, which I did early on. Jason has a Holocaust story. That’s part of Jason’s history that I have. I think in any fiction book there are bits and pieces of the writer.”

Cuban candidly discussed his challenges with drugs, alcohol and other mental health issues in his memoir, “The Addicted Lawyer: Tales of the Bar, Booze, Blow and Redemption.” He called the move from non-fiction to fiction a natural progression. And the plot of his novel, he said, began as a recurring nightmare.

“There’s this bonfire and we’re throwing bodies into a bonfire, watching the bodies burn,” Cuban said. “The dream fast-forwards to adulthood and I have this awful feeling in my stomach that there are bodies buried from my childhood and I’m going to be arrested for it. It occurred to me that there are some characters there. There’s a plot. It’s nothing new — dead bodies coming back to the present is nothing new to fiction — but that was the genesis of ‘The Ambulance Chaser.’”

If you think Cuban’s name sounds familiar, you’re right. He is the younger brother of Pittsburgh expat, entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban — a fact, he said, that helps in the promotion of his books, but not their creation.

“It doesn’t make a bit of difference to a literary agent,” Cuban said. “They want to know if it’s well written, period. They don’t care if your brother is the president of the United States. How many books will it sell, that’s what they care about. In terms of getting the word out it helps. [Mark’s] social media following has been a huge help. He’s been incredibly helpful, as has my younger brother, Jeff.”

Cuban isn’t banking on following in the footsteps of John Grisham or Dan Brown, or eying the Hollywood casting of “The Ambulance Chaser” — although he wouldn’t turn it down. For now, he’s thinking about what’s next for Feldman and the world he’s created for his main character.

“If you look at the epilogue, there’s a lot of things unresolved,” Cuban said. “I left it open. There will be a sequel to this.” PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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