by Allison Leotta
Today’s thriller writers come from an astonishing array of backgrounds. Their books come to life because these cops, doctors, pilots, engineers, spies, bankers, veterinarians, physicists, and the like are intimately familiar with the worlds their characters move in, and in many cases have years of real-life experience to draw upon. Certainly that is the case with novelist Allison Leotta, who has just published Discretion, her second novel featuring Assistant U.S. Attorney Anna Curtis, who prosecutes sex crimes in Washington, D.C. Leotta herself held the very same job for years. As I read the grittier sections of this novel, I found myself thinking, How does this nice writer lady know THIS much about the world of prostitution? Oh. Yeah. It’s the sort of truly in-depth knowledge you can’t get from mere research. It’s the sort of in-depth knowledge that allows a writer to authentically inhabit her characters.
While Sex Crimes is Anna’s beat, as the novel opens, she gets called away from a self-defense class (Can you blame her?) to the scene of an assault at the Capitol. It’s a sex crime, but it’s also a murder. She meets Homicide Chief Jack Bailey at the scene, and that’s how she gets drafted onto another case with him. They worked well together in Leotta’s debut, Law of Attraction. (In fact, the whole team is together again, including the memorable Detective McGee. Plus, there’s a notable new addition in the form of FBI Special Agent Sam(antha) Randazzo.) Anna had been looking for a high-profile case to boost her career, but this may be a little more than she bargained for. A beautiful young woman has been pushed from the balcony adjacent to DC Congressman Emmett Lionel’s hideaway office in the U.S. Capitol building. This murder is as high stakes and as federal as crime gets.
While I don’t believe it’s strictly necessary to have read the prior novel, Law of Attraction first, I think there is a lot to recommend doing so. Anna’s private life is a significant element of this series. Having the backstory on her current relationship will add to a reader’s pleasure. I have to admit, that I was thinking that the blush of first romance makes for more compelling reading than a couple in a committed relationship, but as I got deeper into the book, I realized how invested I’d become in that relationship. It was plenty compelling after all. Leotta is very good about giving characters room to grow and develop, and the relationship between Anna and the challenging Sam was another narrative thread that had a full and satisfying story arc.
One of the pleasures of this series for me is the Washington, DC setting. DC is my hometown, and while it’s great to read about places you know, I think it’s a fascinating location that just about any reader can appreciate. DC is a town like no other, and Ms. Leotta appears to know it inside and out. Seriously, it’s my hometown and I keep learning new things about it from her! Discretion features great wealth, great poverty, and lots of politics—all the things that make DC the unique city it is.
Strong, believable, and interesting characters are important, as is setting, but ultimately, mysteries and thrillers come down to their plotting. The plotting here was both smart and tight. For a long time, readers won’t know who-done-it, but in the course of one page of this novel, without any sort of admission or confession, the author shows a character in a new light, and you just know. This is very deliberate on Ms. Leotta’s part; she makes revelations in her own time, and you’re unlikely to figure things out before she’s ready for you to. She is very much in control of the plot. The pacing was excellent, and I stayed up far too late to finish the last 100 pages, because there was no way I was going to put the book down. And even as the novel was winding down, there was a character revelation that hit me like a ton of bricks. I thought something was up, but never came close to guessing the truth.
Happily for us, there is more Anna on the way, as evidenced by the last sentence of this novel. It will leave readers clamoring for the next book in the series!