Divorce lawyer Leigh Huyett knows all too well that most second marriages are doomed to fail. But five years in, she and Pete Conley have a perfectly blended family. To celebrate their anniversary, they grab some precious moments of alone time and leave Pete’s son Kip, a high school senior, in charge of Leigh’s 14-year-old daughter Chrissy at their home.
Driving back on a rainy Friday night, their cell phones start ringing. After a raucous party celebrating his college acceptance to Duke and his upcoming birthday, Kip was arrested for drunk driving after his truck crashed into a tree. And he wasn’t alone—Chrissy was with him.
Twelve hours later, Chrissy is dead and Kip is charged with manslaughter.
Kip has always been a notorious troublemaker, but he’s also a star student with a dazzling future ahead of him. At first, Leigh does her best to rally behind Pete and help Kip through his ordeal. Until he changes his story, and claims that he wasn’t driving after all—Chrissy was, and he swears there is a witness.
Leigh is stunned that he would lie about such a thing, while Pete clutches onto the story as the last, best hope to save his son, throwing his energy and money into finding this elusive witness. As they hurtle toward Kip’s trial date, husband and wife are torn between loyalty to their children and to each other, while the mystery of what really happened that night intensifies.
Former trial lawyer-turned-author Bonnie Kistler took a break from writing to speak with The Big Thrill about her latest book, HOUSE ON FIRE:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
So many things! A glimpse into some surprising wrinkles in the law; empathy for blended families and the unique challenges they face; emotional satisfaction at the realistic way those problems are resolved; and most of all, lingering thoughts afterward of (a) What would I have done in that situation? and (b) I need to discuss this with my friends.
How does this book make a contribution to the genre?
HOUSE ON FIRE adds elements of legal drama to the domestic suspense genre. It also differs from most domestic suspense novels in that it’s not told solely from the woman’s perspective. It concerns a whole family, and the voices of the husband and son get equal time.
Was there anything new you discovered, or that surprised you, as you wrote this book?
Many things. One of the main character’s clients is a Qatari woman seeking a divorce from her ambassador husband, so I learned a great deal about Sharia law and the limits of diplomatic immunity. And of course I learned a great deal about vehicular manslaughter cases.
No spoilers, but what can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?
The title comes from an old Turkish proverb: A liar’s house is on fire but no one believes him.
What authors or books have influenced your career as a writer, and why?
On plot, Michael Connelly and John Sandford, who are masters at building suspense, yet do it in diametrically different ways. With Connelly, the big question is who did it; with Sandford, you know who did it, and the big question is how are we going to catch him? Yet in both cases, the tension is palpable.
On matters of characterization and style, I’d have to go with some of my literary favorites: Ian McEwan, Ann Patchett, Kate Atkinson, all the way back to Charles Dickens and Emily Bronte.
As for legal thrillers, I don’t think anyone has ever surpassed Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent. His blending of high-octane courtroom drama with dark family issues had a powerful impact on me.
Bonnie Kistler is a former Philadelphia trial lawyer. She spent her career in private practice with major law firms and successfully tried cases in federal and state courts across the country. She and her husband now live in Florida and the mountains of western North Carolina. They have two daughters.
To learn more about Bonnie, please visit her website.