Before Don’t Know Jack, before Agents Otto and Gaspar began their Hunt for Reacher, another story nagged to be written. A story and a cast I really hope you’re going to love. Especially Jess Kimball. Let me introduce you to them now and the book we’re launching tomorrow.
I was writing Florida crime fiction and seeking a new story. Jess was coming into focus, but she wasn’t quite whole. I knew she was going to be special, though I didn’t know how much I’d like her until later. To begin, a good crime story requires a villain worthy of its hero. An unusual villain, then. But who?
A local trial caught my imagination; the crime and the criminals were surprising. A group of teens had stolen traffic signs along a rural road as a prank. One missing stop sign set the stage for a fatal crash. The teens were charged with manslaughter and the story filled local news for months. They had not intended to kill anyone and they denied stealing the missing sign that caused the crash. The entire situation was a terrible tragedy. Parents were devastated. The community mourned. And the teens were acquitted. Why? The jury believed they had not stolen the one stop sign that mattered. The case was never solved.
But someone did take the sign. What kind of person would kill in such a calculating, devious way? And why? And how would he get away with it? What if ….
The Fatal Distraction killer is a charismatic guy with an enthusiastic following. He’s guilty and completely without remorse for the dead bodies left in his wake. In fact, he believes killing them was justified for the greater good. What could Jess possibly do to such a man? How many times will he get away with murder before Jess finds a way to stop him?
Bit by bit, Jess Kimball revealed herself. Jess is no giant. Her physical self-defense skills are lacking. No one would look to her for rescue. What equipped Jess to win this battle?
As her story grew, I came to realize that although they operate in completely different worlds, and they are very different people, Jess and Jack Reacher might have more in common than first meets the eye. Both are on a journey. While Reacher waits until trouble finds him, and then he does whatever it takes, Jess relentlessly pursues her impossible mission. They both encounter trouble too often and make sure that trouble is resolved before they move on to the next town.
Let’s not get fatally distracted ourselves, okay? The similarities pretty much ended there.
Until fate delivered the rest of the story in a most unusual way …
Have you ever taken on a task you felt was Mission Impossible? Even as you agreed to do the job, were you wearing a target on your back? What if you could do it over again, only different? Use it to create a crime novel? Change the outcome, maybe?
A few years ago, when Jess Kimball’s story was barely a glimmer in my heart, I was persuaded to create a trial for a ThrillerFest featured event. I knew I could do the job because I’d done it many times before.
As a lawyer, I’d conducted hundreds of trials and mock trials for clients and I’d taught law school for five years devising mock trial programs for lawyer training. Creating the program and acting as the judge was doable. I even had the costume! (And isn’t it flattering? yiyiyiyi!)
Exceedingly competent dream team performers were enthusiastically on board. Each of them could be counted on to do an amazing job, too. Prosecutor, witness, defense attorney, bailiff. All excellent and well qualified. Perhaps you recognize them? Here are their, er, mug shots.
The jury was our friendly reading audience, including journalists who loved our work. Here’s a few of them. Totally non-threatening, right?
The defendant was a multiple killer, guilty as hell. No question. He admitted it, even.
What the hell was I worried about? Sounds like a slam dunk winner for me, doesn’t it? Um, not so much.
This particular guy had to get away with murder. As the judge, I had to make sure that happened. If he didn’t go free, there’d have been no more Jack Reacher books and I’d have hell to pay. Reacher fans might literally have killed me! Hell, I’m a Reacher fan — maybe I’d have killed me! What? Me, worry? Maybe I wouldn’t have been quite so concerned if I’d seen this picture of one of our jurors colluding with the defendant before the verdict:
How’d it go? Exactly as we planned it, of course. Reacher offered no false remorse; he’d killed for specific, good reasons he said. Hell, the rest of us thought so, too!
And, thanks to the judge (that is, me) he got away with it.
Walked free as a bird right out of the courtroom and he’s walking around to this day (somewhere). So everything worked out exactly as it should have.
But the experience started me thinking about Jess’s story. Our justice system spends so much time making sure no innocent man is imprisoned (and rightly so). What about the truly guilty man who walks free? What would the victim’s family do? What if Jess Kimball was on the victim’s side? What if ….
From there, after a few more interventions by the whimsy of the writing gods, Fatal Distraction’s plot seemed to complete itself.
There’s only one significant difference between the Fatal Distraction killer and our mock trial. What do you think it is? After you read Fatal Distraction, let me know. I’ll think up a suitable prize for the first one to answer the question correctly. Wonder what it’ll be?