By Rick Reed
OPEN THE DOOR is Diana Deverell’s fifth novel in her latest thriller series. Nora Dockson is an ex-con who pulled herself out of the gutter and became a lawyer dedicated to rescuing innocent women trapped by the flawed process that put them behind bars.
OPEN THE DOOR draws Nora into new legal territory. Her first cases were for men convicted of sexual assault and murder where she relied on advances in DNA testing to build their appeals. Nora found women typically are convicted of crimes where DNA evidence is irrelevant. Nora’s been doggedly looking for other ways to free her innocent sisters.
Nora is asked to drop all of her cases to represent a private client convicted of poisoning her husband. The motive for this murder is a big insurance payoff. Nora politely refuses. She has a full caseload of women desperate for help. Most of these women are impoverished mothers jailed for murdering their children. In contrast, the reckless and privileged new client, Hunter Logan, can well afford to hire the best appeals lawyer in the state of Washington. Hunter doesn’t need Nora. But when Nora learns more, she realizes Hunter’s legal battle is one she’s spent her whole life getting ready to fight.
Diana Deverell grew up in Oregon, received a BA from Stanford, but instead of going on to law school, she hit the road as a long-haul trucker. She earned enough to buy a farm in Maine where she raised Black Angus beef and worked with disadvantaged youth. She continued her schooling and earned a Masters in Public Administration that led to a job with the U.S. Foreign Service. In 1982 she volunteered to serve at the U.S. embassy in San Salvador for eighteen months in the midst of their civil war. Her next stint at the Warsaw embassy is where she discovered that the spy thrillers by John le Carré and Len Deighton were stories that mirrored her day-to-day life in Cold War Poland.
Her Foreign Service career ended when she fell in love with a dashing assistant defense attaché from the Danish Embassy, married, and started a family. When their kids were ten, twelve, and fourteen, they moved to Copenhagen. Diana and her husband now live in rural Denmark.
What will readers take away from this book?
Writing OPEN THE DOOR, I learned about arsenic poisoning and cadaver labs. I also got to know Nora better as she flashes back on her trailer-park roots and the tough teenage years living with her awful mother. Readers will come away with a better understanding of the faltering justice system, arsenic, and Nora.
When did you discover you were a writer?
I turned down a place at Harvard Law to drive trucks; dropped my Foreign Service career to have babies; sold two books and after Harper Collins declined my proposals for new novels, fled the country instead of proposing more. I doubted I’d ever sell another book, yet I had more stories I had to write. In 2011, I began indie-publishing my backlist and unpublished works as ebooks. I’ve gone on to write and publish new stuff. I took the scenic route but I can see now that fulltime writer was the job I was heading toward for the whole trip.
Do you use the same characters in your series?
I write each book from three or more points of view, including Nora, her lover, her best friend, and her worst enemy. Each has a separate plot line. Nora fights the battle with the highest stakes and has the most chapters. Her lover, Washington State Trooper Kent Harper, deals with a different crime in each book—in the latest he’s working armed robbery of a state-licensed outdoor marijuana growing operation, a big reversal for a cop used to busting pot growers. Marianne Freemantle, nicknamed the Law Beast, made trouble for Nora in two earlier books. Now, in January 2017, the Beast’s in D.C. waiting for inauguration day and the start of her presidential appointment to the Justice Department. I had a lot of fun hearing the Beast’s opinions of her new bosses.
Do you find it necessary to write a bio, or create a history for each character?
I tried interviewing a character and writing a job application for another. I wasn’t happy with the results. Now, I let my characters reveal their personal and emotional histories to me slowly as they move through settings and react to them. I leave that process to my subconscious and let the characters talk/think about what they see. I hear their opinions and come to understand their hopes and heartaches. In a similar vein, I tried writing a story set on Nora’s sixteenth birthday. I got a slice of her messed-up early life and the vignette didn’t work as story. But it did provide her with memories that became the flashbacks I used in Open the Door.
You have currently written five legal thriller novels, of which OPEN THE DOOR is the most recent in the series. How difficult, or easy, do you find it to keep coming up with plots, characters, and endings?
The justice system is so badly broken, coming up with a plot is not difficult. I snoop around until a detail sparks my interest. The first book was based loosely on a Death Row appeals case described by Raymond Bonner in Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong. He wrote about a real-life appeals lawyer who shares a first name with me. I was amazed that the other Diana had spent two years in prison before going to law school. To explore how that unusual background could help someone be a better lawyer, I created Nora. By the third book, I was ready to move Nora away from DNA evidence and defending underdogs. For inspiration, I drew on the Justice Department prosecution of New Orleans police officers for shooting civilians in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I forced Nora to mount an appeal for an imprisoned cop.
You live in Denmark now. Have any of your novels been translated and available in other countries?
My agent sold foreign rights to my first two international thrillers to publishers in Japan, Belgium, and Estonia. The rights reverted to me and when I was studying Danish in 2001 my “student project” required me to approach editors at three Danish publishers and flog my books. I struggled through interviews in Danish and met some kind women but made no sales.
Diana was born in Oregon when it was not a trendy place. She fled at age eighteen and earned her living as a long-haul trucker, beef farmer, youth worker, beer taster, and hot/cold war diplomat. Those adventures took place in 48 states, two Canadian provinces, El Salvador, and Poland.
After she gathered enough novel material, she moved to Denmark to write fulltime. She is best known for her legal thrillers which are set in Spokane and her spy thrillers which are not.
Diana lives in the Danish countryside with her husband Mogens Pedersen. She’s also written and published many short stories. “Con Artist in Copenhagen” is the newest.