grogan

David Grogan holds up a copy of his latest novel, 'The Hidden Key,' on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, in The News-Gazette's offices in downtown Champaign.

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Just like any author, David Grogan doesn’t like to give away the details, particularly intimate ones, involving the characters and plot lines of his novels.

So if you ask him if Steve Stillwell — Grogan’s continuing hero — will get back together with his estranged wife, he feigns ignorance.

“I don’t know,” he replies.

Left unstated is that readers will have to pick up a copy of “The Hidden Key” and find out for themselves.

“I just want readers to read it, like it and come back for more,” said Grogan, a retired Navy captain and lawyer who works a day job at the University of Illinois.

On nights and weekends, he pursues another vocation as an author who builds mysterious international adventures around the fictional Stillwell, whom Grogan describes as “the lawyer I wanted to be.”

A former military lawyer who stumbled into fiction writing, Grogan has just completed his third Stillwell novel.

“The Hidden Key,” published by Seattle-based Camel Press, is scheduled to be released in mid-April. It’s available for pre-ordering from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

“I’m not John Grisham. But I enjoy writing,” he said.

Parents of three adult children, Grogan and his wife, Sharon, live in Savoy. They moved here from Virginia in 2014 after he wrapped up a 27-year military career and took a job as the UI’s associate director of compliance.

Grogan brings a well-rounded background to his novels. During his military career, he lived in Cuba, Japan and Bahrain, served on the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise, helped negotiate military agreement with foreign nations and both prosecuted and defended court-martial cases.

One place Grogan never made it to is Vietnam. That’s why he felt compelled to visit that country to do research for his second Stillwell novel, “Sapphire Pavilion.”

Unlike many authors, Grogan wasn’t born to write. It wasn’t until he was getting a master’s degree in law at George Washington University and took a class in human rights that he was bitten by the writing bug.

“That’s what gave me the idea” for “The Siegel Dispositions,” he said.

“The Siegel Dispositions” is a murder mystery that develops after Stillwell, a retired military officer who runs a small-town law practice, is hired “to update the will of a 70-year-old Auschwitz survivor, Professor Felix Siegel.”

“Accompanying the professor is his beautiful but surly adopted daughter, Michelle. Michelle will inherit, but there’s a catch. The first $1.5 million of Siegel’s fortune goes to three wartime friends ... if they survive him,” a plot description states.

Book two — “Sapphire Pavilion” — focused on events emanating from the search for an Air Force transport plane that disappeared in 1968 and whose ramifications continue to be felt decades later.

“The Hidden Key” builds on events in Iraq, where Seabees constructing a military base in 2004 unearth a mysterious tablet that features a map that Grogan says leads to “something of value.”

“That’s part of the quest,” he said.

Grogan’s quest is a bit different than Stillwell’s search for a hidden fortune or a place of splendor. He’s searching for readers, and that involves doing much of the marketing — actually selling — himself.

He appears at bookstores and actually tours the country to meet potential readers and persuade them to give Grogan and Stillwell a chance.

“Where I actually have a lot of success is on military installations, Because I’m a veteran, they’ll talk to me,” he said.

Grogan said he enjoys the feeling of being a published author, but that he hasn’t built his reputation up quite as much as he would like. He said his neighbors will sometimes ask what’s forthcoming, “but when I’m walking down the street, my anonymity is still assured.”

That’s quite unlike Steve Stillwell. He became the subject of worldwide publicity after his Vietnam-related caper. It seems a billionaire businessman read about him and decided to hire him to do some legal work, a process that was interrupted by the businessman’s sudden and untimely death.

Mystery abounds, of course. Like what? Grogan isn’t saying.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at 217-351-5369 or jdey@news-gazette.com or

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.

Opinions Editor

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.