This Lawyer Writes Crime Novels To Find Justice

I didn’t start out writing crime novels. A need for justice in real life sent me in that direction. As some readers know (though I never wrote about it in my novels), in 2007 a drunk driver killed my parents.

Book Cover for The Forgotten Man, A Q.C. Davis Mystery, Lisa M. Lilly

The court proceedings against that driver marked the first time I directly experienced the criminal justice system. I learned about it in law school. But as a lawyer, at that point I’d handled only civil cases. (Meaning cases about recovering money, not prosecuting crimes.)

These experiences changed more in my life that I can cover in one post.

One key change, though, was the fiction I read and wrote. That might sound trivial. But stories are how I — and so many people — deal with and make sense of the world.

Before the crash that took my parents’ lives, probably 70% of my reading fell into the supernatural and horror genres, and that heavily influenced my writing. After was a different story.

Supernatural Switch

From my teenage years on, I loved reading Stephen King and Dean Koontz, both masters of supernatural and horror fiction and of creating engaging characters who fight against evil. One of my favorite books was the early horror classic Rosemary’s Baby. It influenced the first series I published, which is something of a cross between Rosemary’s Baby and the much later best seller The Da Vinci Code.

I confess to skimming the gore in the Stephen King novels. What drew me in was the quietly building horror and the likeable characters who faced seemingly insurmountable challenges.

The wonder, magic, and mysticism of these types of books also appealed to me, as well as the way they explored themes of life, death, and faith.

But after my parents’ deaths, I starting turning away from novels that had horror elements. I didn’t want to immerse myself in darkness, even if the main character prevailed over evil in the end.

I’d always also enjoyed mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels. I began reading more of those. But a specific type of them only.

No Tormented Crime Novels

If you read mysteries, thrillers, or suspense novels, you know that many focus on women as victims, show the action through the eyes of the villain, and/or include scenes where victims are terrorized. (If you don’t read these types of books, I’m not sure why you’re here, but thanks for stopping by.)

As with horror novels, I no longer wanted to read those types of books. And I definitely didn’t want to write them.

I spend months reading and researching as I sort out the plot for a novel. After a fairly fast first draft, I revise it substantially at least two or three times. Now that my legal work falls into the category of very part-time, I spend about a year on each novel. Back when I ran a more-than-full-time law practice, finishing a novel took closer to three years.

That’s a long time in a universe where victims are tormented.

But there is a genre of crime novel where the focus is on solving the crime and, possibly, achieving justice. That’s what I found myself drawn to.

Catching The Killer

For decades, along with horror, I read and loved the crime novels of Sara Paretsky. Her Chicago-based female private eye V.I. Warshawski pursues evildoers, protects the powerless, and strives to right all types of wrongs.

During the years after the crash, I started seeking out more authors that fit in that category. Getting lost in the books of Louise Penny, John Sandford, Jonathan Kellerman, and Elly Griffiths made me feel there was order in the universe. Their detectives reminded me that there are people out there who care deeply about justice, protecting others, and doing what’s right.

Admittedly, what’s “right” varies from detective to detective, but I loved that as well. There are few bright lines in life, and the books explored complex characters and moral questions along with the crimes.

I know the protagonists and the allies and friends who surround them are fictional. But the authors who created them are real. And I couldn’t help but feel comforted that they, too, must share some part of my vision of what the world ought to be.

So perhaps it’s no surprise, with all of the above, that I’d eventually begin writing my own series of crime novels. My detective, a woman lawyer who moonlights solving crimes, is driven by her own need for peace and justice. Named after a sister who was murdered before she was born, Quille works hard at finding justice for others.

In the latest book, The Forgotten Man (A Q.C. Davis Mystery), Quille at last turns to her sister’s cold case. It was a challenging book to write. In it, Quille grapples not only with two decades-old murders but with the effect that had on her entire family.

While my life is very different from Quille’s, as was my family’s loss, it’s a story I felt compelled to write.