'Female John Grisham' to promote latest novel in five Michigan cities

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By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

Allison Leotta, alias the “female John Grisham,” knew she had to bring her protagonist Anna Curtis, a sex crimes prosecutor based in Washington, D.C., back to her native Michigan in her fourth novel, “A Good Killing.”

“I really wanted Anna to go back home. I think there’s a lot of fascinating things happening in Michigan and in Detroit. I started to think what could happen to bring her home. What would happen in my life to bring me home would be something happening with my family, especially with my sisters, so that’s where it started,” said Leotta, who will be signing “A Good Killing” (Touchstone $25) – debuting Tuesday, May 12 – in Gaylord, Ann Arbor, Traverse City, Okemos, and Novi (see below).

A Michigan native, Leotta lives just outside Washington, D.C. with her husband and two children. A 1991 alumna of Groves High School in Birmingham, Leotta graduated from Michigan State University in 1995 with her undergraduate degree in international studies. She earned her juris doctorate from Harvard University Law School in 1998.

A former assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C. – where she prosecuted sex crimes and domestic violence cases – Leotta has penned three previous novels featuring Anna and also provided legal commentary for CNN, PBS, Reuters TV, and MSNBC.

“A Good Killing” picks up the morning after the events of “Speak of the Devil.” On the heels of breaking off her engagement to fellow prosecutor Jack Bailey, Anna learns her younger sister Jody has been charged with murdering hometown hero Owen Fowler, a legendary football coach in the fictional town of Holly Grove, located outside the Flint area.

Anna immediately heads to Michigan, where things only get worse for Jody. It turns out Jody was not only having an affair with Fowler, a married man, but was also the last person to see him alive. Utilizing an obscure Department of Justice loophole, Anna becomes Jody’s attorney. As the case deepens, both sisters are hated and hounded by the townspeople when it comes to light that Fowler was a sex predator.

According to Leotta, the sex scandal at Pennsylvania State University involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky – who was convicted in 2012 of numerous sex crimes – served as the impetus for this book.

“It reminded me of a lot of cases that I handled myself as a sex-crimes prosecutor. The scariest part of those cases is how the monster doesn’t look like a monster; he looks like a nice, normal guy you’d invite into your house. That’s the scarier monster to me... you need to be scared of the monsters who look like pillars of the community and take advantage of that,” explained Leotta.

Along the way, Anna finds an ally and love interest in Cooper Bolden, a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who lost his leg in Afghanistan. Cooper recently returned to his home in Detroit.

“In Washington D.C., a lot of wounded warriors who come back are treated at Walter Reed (Army Medical Center). I see them jogging where I live. You see these young men and women with prosthetic legs running,” said Leotta. “This got me thinking about these young men and women who gave of themselves in the most significant way. How do they heal when they come home? I wanted to incorporate that into one of my characters.”

Leotta interviewed Gemma D’eustachio, who babysits for Leotta’s children, and her boyfriend Johnathon Mullen. Mullen is a double-amputee veteran of the U.S. Army who lost both his legs in Afghanistan.

“As I got to know (D’eustachio), I asked her, ‘Can I talk to you and your boyfriend about how you guys met? What your life is like being his girlfriend?’ They were very open to that and very generous,” said Leotta.

“(Mullen) spent a lot of time talking to me about what his life was like in Afghanistan and what it was like once he came home and recovering after he lost both his legs. He eventually took the author photo that’s on my book.”

Leotta also delved into the rebirth of Detroit in “A Good Killing.”

“There’s so much going on there right now; it’s the best and worst. There’s this amazing backdrop. It’s the Paris of the West; it was this shining example of a great American city and now it’s an example of the worst of what could happen to a city. What’s inspiring is how many people found hope in the ashes and the ruins. How many people are finding ways to bring meaning to it. It’s hit bottom and has nowhere to go but up. I find that fascinating and tried to bring that out in Cooper,” she explained.

Jack has a small role in this book, but Leotta stated it was more of Cooper’s story than Jack’s. In the end, it’s unclear if Anna will remain in Michigan or will go back to D.C. It’s also unclear if she will stay with Cooper or will return to Jack.

“One thing I’ve learned when writing a series is that you can’t tie everything up neatly with a bow at the end,” she said. “There will be some unanswered questions to keep it going.”

Leotta stated that she didn’t want to rehash the reason why Anna and Jack broke up. Readers need to read “Speak of the Devil” to find out why.

“That was difficult to for me to reveal in book four about book three. I didn’t want to give away (the events of book three) because a lot of times what happens is someone reads your latest book, then goes back and reads your last one. How do you give enough information that there’s context so the readers understand what’s going on in this book without spoiling the fun for them when they go back and read the last one?

I tried to balance that right. I hope I hit it. I work really hard for each book to be a standalone. So I want anyone who hasn’t read me before to jump right in and just thoroughly enjoy it without having read anything else before. I hope I gave enough (what occurred in the third book without giving it all away),” explained Leotta.

That was the case for Robin Agnew, co-owner of Aunt Agatha’s in Ann Arbor. Agnew was curious about Anna and Jack’s relationship. She read “A Good Killing” first and has gone back to the beginning with “Law of Attraction,” which is the first appearance of Anna and Jack.

“I thought (‘A Good Killing’) was an excellent book,” said Agnew. “I loved the Detroit setting. I always like the book that’s about the main character’s backstory.”

Currently, Leotta’s putting the finishing touches on her untitled fifth novel, which is about sexual assault on a college campus. Asked if she’ll write a novel without Anna, Leotta has no plans to do so at the moment. For now, she’s looking forward to the book tour – her favorite part of the job.

“For the rest of the year, I’m cooped up in my little room with me, my computer, and my imaginary friends, so it’s great to get out and see people, see their reactions to the stories, connect with readers, friends, and family,” said Leotta. “I’m really excited so far. I think it’s my best book. With each one, my skills are a little bit stronger. I just hit a stride. I reread it and was happy with the result.”

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‘A Good Killing’ tour dates

• Thursday, May 14, from 6-7:30 p.m.: Saturn Booksellers, located at 133 W. Main St., Gaylord. For further information, call 989-732-8899.

• Friday, May 15, from 7-8:30 p.m.: Aunt Agatha’s at the Ann Arbor District Library, located at 343 South Fifth Avenue, Ann Arbor. For further information, call 734-769-1114.

• Saturday, May 16, from 4-5:30 p.m.: Horizon Books, located at 243 E. Front St., Traverse City. For further information, call 231-946-7290.

• Sunday, May 17, from 2-3:30 p.m.: The Derby Room in Fox Run Village, located at 41000 Fox Run Rd., Novi. For further information, call 248-507-4674.

• Monday, May 18, from 7-8:30 p.m.: Schuler Books & Music at the Meridian Mall, located at 1982 E. Grand River Ave., Okemos. For further information, call 517-349-8840.

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