By Rick Reed
LAY BARE THE LIE is Diana Deverell’s sixth novel in her Nora Dockson legal thriller series, which centers on an ex-con who pulls herself out of the gutter and becomes a lawyer dedicated to rescuing the wrongfully convicted.
LAY BARE THE LIE draws Nora into new legal territory. In her first cases, she represented men convicted of sexual assault and murder, where she relied on advances in DNA testing to build their appeals. Now she finds a jury was misled by the testimony of an expert witness who reconstructed a crime scene based on bloodstain patterns. Nora can prove the so-called expert made leaps of logic incompatible with the latest forensic science. But before she can appeal the case, she is pulled into a family emergency and once again finds herself on the dangerous turf of her childhood. This time she may not escape with her life.
Deverell grew up in Oregon and 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 master’s in public administration that led to a job with the US Foreign Service. In 1982 she volunteered to serve at the US Embassy in San Salvador for 18 months in the midst of the Salvadoran Civil War. Her next stint, at the Warsaw embassy, is where she discovered 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 10, 12, and 14, they moved to Copenhagen. Deverell and her husband now live in rural Denmark.
Deverell recently sat down with The Big Thrill for a talk about plotting, the evolution of the publishing industry, and finding inspiration in the shortcomings of the US justice system.
Have you had more excitement in your career since you and I met in 2017?
My biggest news is that I’m now a Derringer Finalist. “Mercy Find Me,” a short story narrated by Nora Dockson’s former cellmate Winnie Yates, was short-listed for the 2019 Derringer Award from the Short Mystery Fiction Society.
The story dramatizes events that happen off-stage in my first legal thriller. The action takes place at Oregon’s correctional facility for women. My niece has been incarcerated there since 2005. I visit her whenever I’m in the US. Fourteen years into this, I’ve come to hate being in the prison. And I’m inside for only 150 minutes per visit. My niece is not a character in my novels but her experience has given me a unique perspective on the system.
What will readers take away from this book?
I want my readers to feel how a broken justice system harms both inmates and correctional officers. I try to convey the soul-destroying effects of decades-long incarceration on prisoners and the people who have to enforce rules that often appear to me to be heartless.
When I see that system in action, I have to conclude that punishing wrongdoers is the single most important goal of most contemporary US corrections policy. Our resources seem to be dedicated to depriving inmates of their liberty and limiting their options at every moment, every day.
I live in Denmark where prison sentences are rarely more than ten years. Fewer resources go to mass incarceration. More resources are used to provide comprehensive medical care, educational programs beyond GEDs and Adult Basic Education, and training for jobs that exist outside of prison. In both countries, most inmates will eventually return to their communities. Preparing them to succeed outside of prison strikes me as both smart and humane.
What was your first experience with being a published writer? How did that experience influence your future writing?
In 1996, I got incredibly lucky with my third international thriller manuscript. I snagged a New York agent, she swiftly negotiated a six-figure contract with Avon for two books in hard- and softcover, and they were published in 1998 and 1999. Which was when HarperCollins purchased Avon and I was downsized out of any future contracts with them. I tried unsuccessfully to find a new house. For the next dozen years, my only sales were to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.
My book-length writing slowly petered out and I tried to find other amusements. While living in Copenhagen, I joined a fitness center and managed to equal Madeline Albert’s record for the leg press. Later, I moved to rural Denmark and experimented with gardening. Alas, I had no enduring passion for weightlifting or growing fresh produce.
My luck turned again with the invention of ebooks and the advent of indie publishing. I recovered rights to the two thrillers and epublished them plus a prequel and a sequel I’d written earlier. Added a comic mystery I wrote in homage to Ken Kesey. Having an audience again galvanized me to start the Nora Dockson legal thriller series. With last year’s release of Bitch Out of Hell, I’m also one book into what will become a series of political thrillers.
Turns out I love telling stories too much to stop writing them.
Do you develop characters from people you know in real life?
I steal bits of personal history, interesting choices, and behavioral quirks from various folks I meet or read about. The character who results is my invention and not a real person.
In fact, Rick, I’m stealing from you right now!
I think I heard you mention that you’re fond of Scotch and that detail intrigued me. I decided it was time for some hands-on research about Scotch drinkers.
In May, I made a three-day trip along the Speyside Whisky Trail in the Scottish Highlands, stopping at distilleries to sample a wee dram or two of their different libations. I’m not sure if I visited six or seven distilleries. I lost count on the day my group began tasting at nine o’clock in the morning.
This arduous research has found its way into my work-in-progress. My Scotch drinker has developed a keen appreciation for single malts and a personal preference for the smokier ones. I thank you for sending me down this road.
Do you keep a list of people, a character bank, you are planning to use or have used?
I keep a running list of every name that appears in each series to avoid repeating them unintentionally. I like to have Nora run into people she’s met in an earlier book and I’m glad to have the list as a quick reminder of who she knows. Some characters interest me so much, they appear often and may get chapters in their viewpoints.
Do you use an outline before you begin writing a story?
No outline. I write as if I’m driving slowly at night, unable to see beyond my headlights, and constantly checking my guidebooks. I hit the million-words-published market last year and by now when I start a new book, I trust my subconscious to get me to a satisfying conclusion. Often, it’s not one I anticipated when I began.
LAY BARE THE LIE is your sixth legal thriller. Last time we talked, I asked how difficult, or easy, you find it to keep coming up with plots, characters, and endings. Has your answer changed?
No, still easy because the justice system is so badly broken, I have many problems left to explore. By the third book, I’d written as much as I wanted to about sexual assault and related homicides. I was eager to explore convictions where DNA evidence played no role.
This often happens when a woman is accused of murdering a loved one. For plots in books four and five, I was inspired by real cases in which two separate women were wrongfully convicted of arson-murder of a child and lethal arsenic-poisoning of a husband. Researching the science in each case fascinated me.
In the latest book, bloodstain pattern analysis sparked my interest. I found the controversy on that topic equally riveting. My characters are all fictional, but the science involved is as accurate as I can make it.
Her latest release is LAY BARE THE LIE, the sixth book in the Nora Dockson legal thriller series, featuring a woman ex-con turned appeals lawyer. The first five books in order are Help Me Nora, Right the Wrong, Hear My Plea, Judge Me Not, and Open the Door.
Diana debuted as a published writer in 1998 with 12 Drummers Drumming, her first international thriller. The latest thriller in the series is China Box. The four-book series spans seventeen years in the career of her heroine, State Department intelligence analyst Casey Collins.
Diana has also written the political thriller Bitch Out of Hell starring security pro Bella Hinton and told in Bella’s own salty words. Bella is the heroine of “Payback is a Bitch,” a short story appearing in the Fiction River – Pulse Pounders: Countdown, edited by Kevin J. Anderson. Before shining in stories of her own, Bella played a supporting role in several international thrillers taking place from the Cold War to the present.
Diana’s published short fiction includes five stories starring FBI Special Agent Dawna Shepherd. All are available as ebook short stories. Dawna’s past adventures are collected in Run & Gun: A Dozen Tales of Girls with Guns and she plays a supporting role in Bitch Out of Hell and three international thrillers.
To learn more about Diana and her work, please visit her website.