Interview and Introduction by MysteryPeople Contributor Scott Butki
Allison Leotta has done it again: she has crafted a fine mystery while also schooling us about the status of campus assault in this country. Leotta puts her former profession into play in her series about Anna Curtis, a federal sex crimes prosecutor.
For this, the fifth book in the series, Leotta wanted to tackle campus rape at a prestigious Michigan university. She drew inspiration from real cases, showing the struggle of Title IX activists fighting for change, the effect of technological change on the area, and the length those in power will go to protect their own and keep from the public the severity of the problem.
While the reader can learn a great deal from Leotta’s latest, information comes across from the page in a way that does not detract from the story, nor its excitement and drama. As always, it’s a great story. I encourage you to check out this or the other stories in her series. You can start with any book.
I was lucky enough to get Allison to agree to another email interview with me. She and I last talked for her previous book, A Good Killing.
“I want my books to be first and foremost page turners – a fascinating place for the reader to spend a few hours. But along with entertaining, I do want to educate. My own favorite learning has always come from good novels. And some of the statistics about campus assaults are jaw-dropping.”
Scott Butki: How did you come up with this story?
Allison Leotta: I was captivated by a news story about a lovely young student who disappeared from a nearby college. She was missing for several days, and I found myself thinking about her all the time — hoping and praying she was okay — and wondering what might’ve happened, who could’ve taken her, was there any way this could have a happy ending? Those thoughts were the first seeds of this novel.
SB: Were you planning from the start to write a book about a sex crime on campus since that is such a hot topic these days?
AL: I’ve been mulling it for a while, tossing around ideas for a couple years. My editor, Lauren Spiegel, thought this was the right time, and I think she nailed it. There’s an important national conversation going on about campus sex assaults – the nature of the problem and the possibility of solutions – and I’m glad to be a small part of it.
SB:The press release that came with your book mentioned things you can discuss like that a disproportionate number of rapes happen in the first week of college; experts call this time “the Red Zone.” Was one of your goals with this book to include some education?
AL: Absolutely. I want my books to be first and foremost page turners – a fascinating place for the reader to spend a few hours. But along with entertaining, I do want to educate. My own favorite learning has always come from good novels. And some of the statistics about campus assaults are jaw-dropping. Did you know that boys who join fraternities are 300% more likely to rape than boys who don’t? Stats like this aren’t just dramatic – they can inform the conversation and resulting solutions.
It’s a damn shame. The Rolling Stone article has done more to set back American sex-crimes prosecutions than much I can think of in recent history. People naturally tend to doubt sex-assault victims.
They think rape survivors are more likely to lie than, say, victims of a mugging – which is untrue. Sex assaults are fabricated at exactly the same rate as any other crime. But that poorly researched article reinforced the unwararanted skepticism toward sex assault survivors, which advocates have been fighting for decades. It was bad reporting with a huge audience — and I suspect it will taint jury pools for years to come.
SB: What do you miss about being an assistant U.S. attorney handling sex crimes, domestic violence and crimes against children?
AL: There’s nothing as rewarding as putting a sexual predator in jail.
SB: When writing your novels do you use fictionalized versions of cases you prosecuted? Is there any fear that the longer it has been since you served in that post – which, if memory serves,you left after your first book’s success – the harder it may get to write these stories in an authentic way?
AL: Nah. Anyone who’s worked in D.C. Superior Court has a lifetime of stories in them – and isn’t afraid of much. I do continue to use the most interesting details from cases I worked. Plus many of my best friends are prosecutors, police officers, and federal agents. They know that every story they tell me could end up in a book!
SB: If memory serves, you offered to include some fans’ names in one of your books – Why did you decide to do that?
AL: It made so many people so happy!
I’ve offered naming rights before for charities, who use that to raise money. But this was free and spur-of- the-moment. As I got to the end of The Last Good Girl, I realized I had a bunch of minor characters who needed names. I often use a baby-name book for that. But this time, I just popped onto Facebook and asked if anyone wanted a character named after them – first come first served. I told people to note if they minded being a bad guy. I got hundreds of responses. I was surprised at how many people WANTED to be a villain. The folks who got their names in the book were so excited – it made me very happy to be able to do that.
SB: When I interviewed you for A Good Killing, I asked you which book to start with in the series, for readers new to you. You said A Good Killing, since it was your favorite. Is that still the case or has that changed, perhaps to your new book?
AL: Ha – Isn’t the book the author is hawking that day always her favorite?
I will admit that A Good Killing remains my favorite of the Anna Curtis series. But I had the most fun writing The Last Good Girl, for whatever that’s worth. I was relaxed, I knew what I was doing, and I just let myself be creative. Some of the most memorable scenes – the highlighter party, the cadavers in the hidden tunnel, the crystal vase to Mr. Shapiro’s skull, the search through the magnificent ruins of the Detroit train station – are scenes I never would have allowed myself to write in earlier books, which stuck more closely to the prosecutor’s viewpoint. This new approach made for a fun process, which I think made it a fun book.
SB: I see that you also write for the Huffington Post, looks like you are doing reviews and recaps of SVU. Did that work come about through your prime-time crime blog? What do you like and dislike about TV recapping, something I have done my share of as well?
AL: Yep, I sometimes blog about what SVU gets right and wrong, from my perspective as a former sex-crimes prosecutor. It’s much more satisfying than throwing popcorn at the TV. The thing that kills me about covering SVU is: sleep. The show ends at 10:00 pm, which means I have to research and write til 1:00 or 2:00 am. My kids are usually up at 6:00, and they don’t care what Olivia and Finn were up to the night before – they want breakfast!
SB: What is next for you and for Anna Curtis?
AL: Poor Anna, I’ve put her through a lot the last few years. I might give her a little break. For myself, I’m interested in writing some non- fiction. Stay tuned.
You can find copies of Allison Leotta’s latest on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.