December's author of the month: Stephanie Kane, author of the incredible legal series featuring the strong and independent defense attorney, Jackie Flowers!
Review and synopsis of Kane's latest suspense legal thriller: Seeds of Doubt
Seeds of Doubt by Stephanie Kane
Publisher: Scribner ISBN: 0743245571
Denver's Defense Attorney Jackie Flowers has a penchant for defending the underdog, and her new case is no exception. She's hired by Chris Boyd to defend his sister, Rachel, implicated in the death of young Benjamin Sparks who went missing under her watch, and whose body was later found murdered in a snowy field eerily bearing the marks of a case thirty years previously. A case in which another young child was found in the small town of Vivian, and in which Rachel was tried and convicted when she was only twelve. So after serving 30 years for that crime, she's now back in the hot seat, and about to serve 30 more unless Jackie can uncover the truth that connects these two cases.
Jackie's tireless defense includes having the accused stay with her at her own home, but when strange events start occurring, events that trigger the lawyer's terrifying affects of dyslexia, Jackie's confusion and belief in her client's innocence begins to suffer. But of course, nothing is ever as it seems, and the truth will come out, but along with it will be a danger to Jackie and those she cares for.
This is easily one of the better legal thriller series out there today. Jackie, highly engaging, is so wonderfully human that it's difficult not to root for her. And the brisk and perfect plotting of this latest, with its surprising twists and turns, offers an additional reason to read this suspenseful and intelligently drawn tale. Definitely recommended, this is one author who just keeps getting better.
Interview with Stephanie Kane:
1. Your work has been hailed not just for the brilliant legal moves of the indomitable Jackie Flowers, but also for the realistic, sensitive, and informative depiction of Jackie's dyslexia. What inspired you to include this particular disability in Jackie's make-up?
Jackie’s main inspiration was a young relative of mine who has a learning disability. By giving Jackie a challenge and an advantage I never had as a lawyer, I was also trying to break out of the autobiographical trap. Although law is strongly rooted in the written word (and is taught almost exclusively through reading cases), one of the paradoxes of trial practice is that the best trial lawyers use no notes. Taking notes puts them a beat behind the action, where they can’t afford to be. I thought Jackie could be a better lawyer if she was forced to think on her feet.
2. For readers unfamiliar with dyslexia, could you briefly describe how it affects those afflicted, and Jackie in particular?
Dyslexia includes a wide range of symptoms relating to the inability to decode the written word. It has nothing whatsoever to do with intelligence. Many people who have dyslexia learn by listening rather than reading, they think in pictures and not words, and they have an exceptional ability to retain what they hear. In researching Jackie, I interviewed dyslexic architects, engineers, mathematicians, artists, doctors and lawyers. Because our educational system values rote learning over originality, the greatest toll seems to be on self-esteem.
In addition to childhood experiences that shaped her personality, Jackie’s skills equip her to be a dynamite trial lawyer. First, she listens, which enables her to function in the moment. Instead of taking notes she uses diagrams and pictographs to record information and jog her memory. Thinking visually allows her to see patterns many lawyers (who tend to be linear thinkers) would overlook. These patterns are often the key to solving her cases. She questions assumptions, takes tactical risks, and presents novel legal arguments that often work. And on a deeper personal level, dyslexia forms the backbone of Jackie’s character arc: in each book, she takes another step towards coming to terms with and fully accepting her learning disability.
3. Being a lawyer would appear to be one of the more difficult career choices for one with dyslexia, what inspired Jackie to take this route in her life?
Jackie grew up dyslexic in a society that judged her by how well she fit
4. As a situation that almost occurred in one of Jackie's recent courtroom scenes, what do you think would be a realistic consequence if she was unable to fight off a severe attack during a court appearance and it subsequently affected her performance?
Anything can happen in a courtroom. Judges deal with surprises all the
5. In your latest case, you also probe sensitive issues such as crimes committed by children- in particular- murder. Do you feel this is a growing concern in society today? And if so, why?
We’re more and more afraid, what we most fear is each other, and nothing scares us more than kids who seem to act without a conscience. Our fears are reflected in treating them as adults and in the shift of our penal system from rehabilitating to warehousing them. At some point most children who commit crimes will be released and then we’ll really have reason to be afraid.
6. Many criminal acts committed during youth are the type that are simply grown out of, but for those that are not, such as murder, what do you feel are the true chances for redemption with this particular age group?
Like Jackie, I think we’re all capable of being redeemed. The older we get, the more set our personalities may be, but to say that a person at any given age is no longer able to grow and change is to negate that potential in us all.
7. Do you think a child who kills at an early age should be tried and sentenced as an adult, which if so may possibly preclude any chance of redemption?
No, and for exactly that reason: sentencing children as adults virtually precludes any opportunity for them to be redeemed. The juvenile system is designed to deal with children whose personalities are not yet completely formed. Those are the ones we are most likely to reach.
8. What do you feel might be the most appropriate way to deal with children who kill?
First, find out why he or she killed. Then address the factors and thinking that led to the act.
9. Now for some questions regarding your very interesting and inspiring background. What did you think was the hardest part of being a defense attorney?
For me, the hardest part was wanting to know all the facts. Most criminal lawyers discipline themselves to ferret out only what they need to present a credible defense. From an ethical standpoint, there’s such a thing as knowing too much. And truth is never as clear as we think it is. Because we constantly reprocess what occurred even five minutes ago, what “really happened” changes over time. We know from people who have been sent to death row – after confessing! – and later been exonerated by DNA, that memory and eyewitness identifications can be flat out wrong, if not manipulated.
10. In your novels, as certainly as in real life, the clients may not always be the most likable sort, how does one get around this? Perhaps like Jackie? Who tends to overcompensate just a little bit?
Defense lawyers are used to seeing human beings at their worst, not necessarily because of what they’re charged with, but because the very fact that they’ve been charged can bring out the worst in them. And occasionally they bring out the worst in us too! If likeability determined whether you took on a client, most lawyers would starve. Criminal defenders are sustained by their belief in the system.
11. It's readily apparent after reading your bio that you tend to color outside the lines, as does Jackie, how much of yourself did you inject into her character?
One of the rewards of writing fiction is endowing your characters with your own neuroses, and making up for it by giving them strengths you never had. In that way you create an idealized version of yourself. So, how much of Jackie is me? I’m an even worse driver than she is and am petrified of flying insects and heights. But she’s a much better lawyer than I ever dreamed of becoming.
12. And finally, can you divulge any of Jackie's next challenge?
Jackie represents a plastic surgeon accused of destroying his greatest work of art.
I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, the product of public schools and a high school in Greenwich Village whose faculty included teachers expelled from the public school system during the McCarthy era. Their passion for learning and the restlessness of the late 1960's inspired me to strike out on my own. Never having been west of New Jersey and needing to put serious mileage between me and all that was familiar, I arrived in Colorado the day before freshman orientation at CU and didn't look back.
I graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in Italian language and literature. My major had nothing to do with my background or ethnicity - but rather, a love for a language whose every syllable ends in a vowel and is best spoken with the hands. Between college and law school, I owned and operated a karate studio in Boulder. My family thought this an aberration, a bizarre urge to purge before I returned to the fold. When I came home for visits, they looked the other way as I tried to show off my kicks and punches.
When I was awarded my second degree black belt and realized I would not achieve the romantic ideal of failing to reach my twenty-first birthday, I began to think about making a living at something that did not involve breaking boards or toes. I took the LSAT - which in those days didn't require math - and applied to law school. Law school is like being a duck in a shooting gallery: you keep your head low and hope the rack rotates fast enough that you make it to the next round. The only class in which I opened my mouth was criminal law.
I passed the bar in 1981 and was hired by the premier corporate law firm in Denver. Again my family thought I'd taken leave of my senses, a fear confirmed when I specialized in banking law. Shortly after I made partner - around the time Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait - I went on an expedition to eastern Turkey and climbed to the summit of Mount Ararat. Whether it was the air just shy of 17,000 feet or looking down on the clouds, I had an epiphany: stimulating as it was to research lending limits and draft IPO prospectuses, there had to be more to life than corporate law. I stepped off the path of least resistance once again. This time I took leave of both my senses and my law firm and returned to college to fulfill the requirements for applying to medical school.
On a foundation of ninth grade algebra, chemistry and physics were a nightmare. I slogged through my courses with lawyerly cunning and rigor: suffocating sessions in labs where I wheedled my partners into letting me record data while they dealt with the smelly beakers and cantankerous Bunsen burner, six hours a day in the library memorizing organic reactions and mathematical formulae which explained why, in the normal course of events, the kitchen table doesn't crash through the floor. I retained nothing, but the repetition gouged the grooves in my brain necessary to ensure top exam scores. Physics happily remains a grab bag of magic tricks, as mystical and shifty as pulling rabbits out of a hat.
I applied to medical school, made it onto a waiting list at one place and was rejected by the others. None of my interviewers believed I wanted to do anything but get a leg up on suing doctors. Having resigned a lucrative partnership in order to pursue a medical education only to have the door slammed in my face, in retrospect I could understand why they might think that. (Or worry that every lawyer they met wanted to sue them.) My immediate concern, however, was finding a job. In the carnage following the collapse of oil prices and the real estate market, a corporate lawyer without clients is a professional leper. And so, after some dozen years of civil practice, I was hired by a criminal defense lawyer who was obliging enough to let me start at the bottom.
I loved trial work. Unlike corporate law, where you have all the time in the world (at someone else's expense) to vacillate over whether to insert that comma here - or there? - trial lawyers function entirely in the moment. No second guessing or tying yourself in knots over what comes spilling out of your mouth but somehow makes sense to the jury. Criminal work is as close to trial by ambush as our system allows. I was hooked.
After winning an acquittal for a client charged with bank fraud (nothing learned is ever wasted), I was invited to return to the law firm where I had begun. But the consolation prize for the chaos and angst of real change is that it's irreversible - after a short while back, I struck out on my own once more. This time I discovered just how easy it is to kill a solo practice: unless you cultivate clients, all of a sudden there are none. But I had bought a computer and writing was consuming me. My family still thinks I'm nuts.
Some things never change.