Robert Dugoni is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous legal thrillers. His latest novel is Your Sister’s Grave. It deals with a Homicide Detective’s investigation into the events surrounding her sister’s murder. Robert met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about his new release and the legal system.
Tell us about Your Sister’s Grave.
My Sister’s Grave is the first novel in the Tracy Crosswhite Series. Seattle Homicide Detective Crosswhit was one of the detectives in Murder One. I’m not sure why or how I conjured her up, but she is a former chemistry teacher who became a cop. So I immediately started to think about her background. Why had she left teaching? Why become a cop? Why wasn’t she married? What was it like being the first female homicide detective in a predominantly male profession? What had she been through? Although that was percolating, I really didn’t have a story for her. So I let it sit a while. Then I was reading the newspaper and I happened upon an article on the removal of the hydro-electric dams in Washington State to restore the spawning grounds of the wild salmon. I read about how lakes above the dam receded and they were finding all kinds of things at the bottom. And I thought, what if they found a buried body, a body of somebody missing just before the dam went on line. Then I thought of Tracy Crosswhite and began to concoct a story around her. Ultimately I decided the body found was a younger sister, Sarah, and Sarah’s disappearance was what motivated Tracy to become a cop, though not without consequences. Now, 20 years later, the forensics in the grave seem to confirm what Tracy believed all along, that the evidence did not add up and that the man convicted of the murder might not be the killer. To find out what happened to her sister, Tracy must get a new trial for a convicted rapist and murderer, but is she opening the door to even darker secrets in her small hometown of Cedar Grove, and greater dangers?
As a former lawyer how do you portray the legal system in your fictions and are your novels redemptive?
Most trials are boring, frankly. There are a lot of rules and attorney’s spend a lot of the time dotting their I’s and crossing their T’s so that they can preserve the record in case of an appeal. There are also a lot of foundational questions that an attorney must ask that are also not very exciting, name, residence, background, credentials. Readers don’t want to go through this monotony. So, as with any scene, I do my best to drop the reader into the trial at high moments of tension or at moments where information that the reader needs is revealed. Then I try to get out at a high point of tension or with a question unanswered.
As to whether my novels are redemptive, I think to an extent almost all novels have some redemptive quality because the character is on a physical and a spiritual quest of some kind. Readers like to see both wrapped up. They like to see the journey completed and they like to see that the journey has changed the character in some way. Now, does this mean that the character is going to have an enormous life change, move to Tibet and become a monk? No. Redemption often is more subtle.
To what extent do you think writers of crime fiction are expected to sanitise crime?
Interesting question. I was watching a true crime show the other day and was just horrified at how horrific violent crimes are. They are so gruesome, so violent. I’m not sure there is any way to capture that in books, or that writer’s should. I know I don’t like to read books that are too dark, or too violent or too graphic. I just don’t want to go there. In a sense, I treat my crime books like the way I write love scenes. The actual act always takes place off camera. I fade to black. I also don’t try to get too descriptive. That’s a personal preference and one I think my readers appreciate. My readers read for the mystery. They want to find out who done it! They want to get into my characters and become a part of the book. Yes, they like to be moved – frightened, saddened etcetera, but no one has ever asked for more violence.
What else is on the cards for you this year?
I’ve signed a deal with Thomas & Mercer for two more books in the Tracy Crosswhite series. I’m finishing up the edits to the sequel, today, on Super Bowl Sunday and I have a start on the plot to the third in the series. Beyond that I am continuing to teach and attend various writing conferences around the country and try to keep fans and students updated on my website at http://www.robertdugoni.com/ and http://novelwritingintensive.com/.
Thank you Robert for a comprehensive and perceptive interview.
Read more about ‘My Sister’s Grave’ here
Click here to learn more about the next Novel Writing Intensive events to be held and how to register.