By Wendy Tyson
DEADLINE FOR MURDER, the new novel by Linda Y. Atkins, is the fourth book in the Hilary Adams Mystery Series. In this latest installment, attorney Hilary Adams returns to the defense side of the law and her new client, a crime columnist for the local newspaper, is accused of double homicide. Fast-paced and tightly written, DEADLINE FOR MURDER is a thrilling glimpse into the Louisville legal system.
As a practicing attorney and former prosecutor, Linda Y. Atkins knows her subject. She brings a fresh perspective and a strong dose of realism to her legal thrillers. Recently, THE BIG THRILL had the chance to catch up with Linda.
Hilary Adams is a criminal defense attorney—a job that often demands quick wits, a strong stomach, and the ability to deal with ambiguity. What inspired you to write legal thrillers?
I began writing in the late 1990’s after defending a woman accused of murdering three of her own family members. Before I became involved in her case, however, she had already been tried and convicted once, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. On re-trial, the prosecution decided to again seek the death penalty. When my law firm was approached about her case, we knew that representing her would be an uphill battle, but since my husband and I were both death qualified lawyers (meaning we were authorized to represent defendants facing the death penalty as a possible punishment) we accepted the case pro bono. What followed was my first introduction to rural Appalachia, and being from “the big city,” as Louisville was described by the local residents in that area, I found the experience both harrowing and hard to shake. So, after it was all over, as a sort of cathartic exercise, I wrote a true crime novel about the struggles we had encountered in events that turned out to be truly stranger than fiction. Though I believed the case and the people involved would provide for riveting reading, unfortunately, the manuscript got no further than the back of a file cabinet in my office. But by that time, I had been bitten hard by the writing bug and decided to try my hand at fiction. And, on a whim one day, while waiting outside a courtroom for a hearing to begin, I started jotting down some thoughts on a legal pad and the main character—criminal defense attorney Hilary Adams—came into being. But even though I draw upon my experiences as an attorney, all of my work is fiction—none of my cases, clients, or fellow lawyers are even remotely re-constructed in my novels.
Can you tell us a little more about Hilary Adams and some of the elements of her past that have made her the woman she is today?
I think what shaped Hilary more than anything was being widowed early in her first marriage. Though overwhelmed by grief for a husband who had also been her law partner, Hilary knew she had no choice—either professionally or personally—she had to move forward and she did that by concentrating on the demands of her career, much to the dismay of several wannabe suitors. With renewed dedication to the law, she became a very tough and savvy criminal defense attorney, but still had a pervasive vulnerability about her that made Hilary endearing to readers. To maintain interest in Hilary, however, since this was a series, her character had to continually grow and develop. Because of that, in the third book, POLITICS CAN BE MURDER, I changed the trajectory of her career path—and Hilary lands on the other side of the criminal justice aisle when elected Commonwealth’s Attorney—a position that gives her character a whole new perspective on life and the law.
DEADLINE FOR MURDER is the fourth book in the Hilary Adams series. Did you set out to write a series when you wrote the first Hilary Adams mystery, ABSENCE OF REASON? If so, why?
When I wrote ABSENCE OF REASON, I hadn’t consciously decided to reprise this character. But when readers kept asking if Hilary would be back in another whodunnit, I began thinking, maybe Hilary does have one, or two, or three more adventures up her sleeve.
Like the other books in the series, DEADLINE FOR MURDER is set in Louisville, Kentucky. Your novels explore the Louisville justice system. What were the challenges of choosing a real-life locale as the backdrop for your books?
I’ve always thought that setting was really important in writing a novel. It grounds the story, providing color and texture. As a fledgling writer, the novel, IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL, greatly influenced me—so much so, that when I thought about the setting for my own novels, without question—there was only one place I wanted to write about—my adopted hometown of Louisville. And with the Hilary Adams Mystery Series, I hope that I’ve managed, in some small measure, to capture Louisville’s unique southern charm and hospitality much like John Berendt was so successful in doing for the city of Savannah.
What can you tell us about DEADLINE FOR MURDER that’s not on the back cover?
I can tell you that there is a big surprise at the very end of the book—a surprise that, for Hilary Adams fans, is well worth waiting for! So don’t peek.
Can you share a little about your writing process?
Surprisingly, I always start with a title, then I sketch out in my mind, a very Spartan concept for a plot. I’ve always been very fortunate to be able to write anytime I can get thirty uninterrupted minutes in front of a computer and let my imagination take over. Once the basics of the storyline are in place, then I go back and painstakingly revise and revise and revise some more. Sometimes, in writing a four hundred page mystery suspense novel, where the plot is intricate with lots of twists and turns, it’s hard to remember what a character did, or said, or knew in chapter five and keep it consistent with the character’s behavior and motivations fifty-five chapters later. So, revising and finding those inconsistencies is critical to my writing process.
How do you balance a busy legal practice and your writing career?
It’s easy because I have the best of both worlds. Each allows creativity, but in very different ways. By necessity, the practice of law is a very regimented discipline with no room for speculation or theories not based on the law and the facts of each case. Certainly, a trial lawyer must be creative when arguing his or her point to a jury, but regardless, it’s still a very structured process. I knew I needed more, and writing fiction filled that void. But most importantly, successfully balancing a law practice with my writing career is due, in large part, to the generosity of my law partner who just happens to be my husband, Tom. Many times he has willingly stepped in to cover for me in court and has always done so without even a whisper of a complaint.
And now for the big question: What’s next? Will fans see more of Hilary?
Definitely. Just wait and see.
Linda Atkins has practiced law in Louisville, Kentucky since 1982. She began her career as a prosecutor in the Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, working her way up through the ranks to become the Director and Chief Prosecutor of the county’s first domestic violence unit. Married with two children (and two cats) she now practices law with her husband, concentrating in medical and legal malpractice claims. And, of course, she uses her extensive knowledge of the law to write the Hilary Adams mystery series, ABSENCE OF REASON, BUT NAMES WILL NEVER HURT ME, POLITICS CAN BE MURDER, and her newest, soon to be released novel, DEADLINE FOR MURDER.
To learn more about Linda, please visit her website.