MSU graduate sets her fourth novel in Michigan

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.

Leotta, who lives outside Washington, D.C. with her husband and two children, graduated from Michigan State University with her undergrad degree in international studies and earned her J.D.  from Harvard.

A former assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., 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 after the events of “Speak of the Devil.” On the heels of breaking off her engagement to prosecutor Jack Bailey, Anna learns her younger sister Jody has been charged with murdering Owen Fowler, a legendary football coach in the fictional town of Holly Grove, outside Flint.

Anna heads to Michigan, where it turns out Jody was not only having an affair with Fowler, a married man, but was 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 locals when it comes to light Fowler was a sex predator.

According to Leotta, the sex scandal at Penn State University where former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of 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.

Anna finds an ally and love interest in Cooper Bolden, a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who lost his leg in Afghanistan.

“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, a double-amputee Army veteran  who lost 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 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 go back to D.C., and if she will stay with Cooper or wreturn 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 she didn’t want to rehash why Anna and Jack broke up.

“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.


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