Conspiracy, murder, corruption packed into Eagan author’s new book

Dennis Carstens uses own experiences as defense attorney to add realism to crime novel

Dennis Carstens
Dennis Carstens

Every citizen is entitled to a fair trial, but could rampant corruption, conspiracy and fraud rob someone of this right? Could these actions even cause an innocent man to be framed as a serial killer?

These questions swirl through Eagan author Dennis Carstens’ recently released book, “The Key to Justice.” Carstens tells the story of criminal defense attorney Marc Kadella, who is handed the difficult task of defending a man accused of being a serial killer. Kadella soon discovers a police lieutenant is framing the man to protect the real killer who has murdered women throughout Minneapolis.

The odds are stacked against Kadella, who faces political corruption in the justice system.

Online book reviewer Fran Lewis describes Carstens’ novel as “thought provoking,” and says it has “an ending that will make you wonder about the legal system.”

Unlike many similar crime novels, the story makes it clear Kadella has more cases on his desk than just the accused serial killer. He also battles with the IRS, which has brought a case against his ex-wife – a story based on an actual case Carstens, a former attorney, defended.

“I was barely out of law school and didn’t know much about tax law,” Carstens, 61, recalls.

The client at the time was being pursued for $45,000 in taxes her employer failed to pay. The IRS said she was responsible since she signed the business’s checks.

Though it seemly nearly impossible, Carstens won. The client was responsible for approximately $2,000 in taxes, but the IRS was ordered to pay $11,000 in attorney fees.

Carstens often weaves his experiences as a criminal defense attorney into the book to illustrate the daily grind attorneys face in addition to the lively action in the court room.

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The self-published book is Carstens’ first novel. The St. Paul native didn’t always see himself as a writer. His first loves were business and law. Carstens received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Minnesota, followed by a JD degree from William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul in 1984. He and his family have lived in Eagan since 1982.

From there, he began practicing criminal defense and family law.

Carstens describes the profession as rewarding and challenging but as being far from glamorous.

Carstens gave up law in 2002 to join his son, Eric, in an online business called My Contractor Locator, which helps customers find area contractors.

“I got tired of law,” he said. “The court room was fun but the constant grind was not.”

Carstens spent much of his spare time reading books, especially crime novels, and was – with a few exceptions – often disappointed in the lack of realism.

“John Grisham is at the top of my list,” he said. “I don’t think he’s ever been inside a courtroom.”

In addition to adding realism, Carstens attempts to crush the myth that all lawyers become rich from the profession. His book sheds light on this issue by noting that Kadella isn’t always paid fully.

It was his fascination with crime novels and his own experiences that inspired Carstens to write “The Key to Justice.”

“I think lawyers will read this and think, ‘This guy has done this for a living,” he said.

After trying for a number of years to get the book picked up by various publishing groups, Carstens decided to self-publish it.

To date, he has sold nearly 1,000 books since its release in November. He currently is working on a sequel.

“Key to Justice” is available at Barnes and Noble and at in print and as an e-book. For more information on Carstens and “The Key to Justice,” visit his website at