The Sirens of Suspense

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For twelve years, Allison Leotta was a federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., where she specialized in prosecuting sex crimes, domestic violence, and crimes against children. She was dubbed “the female John Grisham” for her first book, LAW OF ATTRACTION, which The Washington Post called “a racy legal thriller … taking on a still-taboo subject.” Suspense magazine named it one of the best books of 2010, and Library Journal gave it a starred review, describing it as “riveting.” Her sequel DISCRETION was hailed as a “first-rate thriller” by David Baldacci and critically acclaimed.


Allison also reality-checks TV crime shows for what they get right and wrong, from her perspective as a real sex-crimes prosecutor. Her blog, The Prime-Time Crime Review, was named one of the best “For Fun” legal blogs in America for two years in a row by the American Bar Association.


Find Allison on Facebook and Twitter


You prosecuted some of the most emotionally difficult cases, like sex crimes. What made you decide to tackle these difficult issues on the page? And why a series character rather than stand-alones?

Every day, I saw terrible heartbreak and tragedy, but also moments of real courage, love, and healing. I could never leave the job at the office, and kept coming home saying “someone should write a book about this.” I was inspired by the people—victims who had the courage to come forward, police officers devoted to helping their community, prosecutors working late into the night to try to make a difference. It’s satisfying when I write a scene and feel like I’ve captured that.

I only meant to write one book. But when Touchstone bought my debut, LAW OF ATTRACTION they thought it was the beginning of a series starring my fictional sex-crimes prosecutor, Anna Curtis. I was delighted by the interest in the character. Being asked to keep writing was a dream come true.


You write a blog for Huffington Post where you fact-check legal dramas. What one mistake would you say is the most frequently made?

The bad guy will never confess with his lawyer sitting right there. You know the scene. In a dingy jailhouse meeting room, the prosecutor badgers the defendant until he sobbingly confesses: "OK, I killed her! I had no choice!" Meanwhile, the defense attorney sits there looking mildly constipated. A real defense attorney is as likely to let his client be questioned by the prosecutors as a lobster is to throw himself into a pot of boiling water. Defense attorneys know the vast majority of their clients are guilty — and any time a defendant opens his mouth, he risks revealing that. As a writer, I understand why this scene is so popular: The prosecutor hero needs to find out what really happened, and only the killer can say for sure. But it's pure fiction. 


As a former lawyer, there’s a lot of things I wish I had learned before I went into practice. What’s the one thing you wish you had known?

I wish I’d kept a journal. I saw so many fascinating things in the courthouse every day, but I never took notes, so many of them are now lost to memory.


How much of your writing is inspired by real-life cases? Is there one case you were involved with (or knew about) that was so unbelievable everyone would think it was fiction?

I try to take the most interesting parts of my real cases and make them elements of my stories. Some of the most implausible plot twists are things that actually happened in D.C. Superior Court! I have a personal rule that I can only use implausible twists, if they’ve happened at least one in my courthouse.

Recently, the most “unbelievable” true sex crimes are those allegedly perpetrated by Bill Cosby. His victims tried to get the world to believe them for decades -- and no one would.


Can you tell us a little bit about your latest, and what’s coming next for you?

My latest book is A GOOD KILLING, and it’s my favorite so far. It’s about the bonds between sisters. I have two sisters myself, so it’s a close subject. The book is also about the handsome monster next door, which to me is far scarier than the proverbial monster hiding in the bushes. When our guard is down, we don’t know to run away.

My next book, THE LAST GOOD GIRL, will come out next year, and is about sex assaults on college campuses.




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Book she wishes shecould read again for the first time: MISERY by Stephen King, now that I'm a writer myself.

Writing ambience: Coffeeshop, with earbuds playing Silver Sun Pickups.

Outline or no outline: Detailed outline, which I tend to ignore if I think of something better.

What she's reading now: ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr.

Book or eReader: Omnivore.

Period in history she'd most like to visit: Tomorrow. For the winning lottery numbers.

Favorite independent bookstore: Politics & Prose in D.C. and Saturn Booksellers in Michigan.

Favorite online resource: Dr. D.P. Lyle's blog. He answers novelists' random medical questions like, "How can I kill someone using only squid ink?"

If she could have one superpower: The ability to give myself more superpowers.