Message From The Author
How Lisa Scottoline's Long-Lost Sister Influenced Her Latest Thriller
By Diane Snyder
Unlike alter ego Bennie Rosato, Lisa Scottoline doesn't have
a twin sister, let alone an evil one who's been charged with murder. But the impetus to give her character one sprung from Scottoline's own late-in-life discovery of her slightly older half-sister, who had been put up for
adoption at birth.
"I had always wanted a sister, so I took it as good news," says Scottoline (whose name is pronounced like "fettuccine"). The author, who also has a younger brother, was amazed by how similar her sister was, even though they shared only their biological father. "But once you get over the initial shock of learning that that person's out there, you start to figure out if you're going to come together or stay apart, if you fit into each other's lives.
And that's what I've been dealing with in the years since I met her."
Bennie discovered long-lost twin Alice in Scottoline's sixth legal thrillerand her first to hit the New York Times bestseller list1999's Mistaken Identity, when the esteemed trial lawyer defended Alice against a murder charge. Now Bennie (short for Benedetta) and Alice are back for Scottoline's 10th novel, DEAD RINGER (HarperCollins, June), by both reader demand and the author's desire to explore the characters.
Resentful that she was put up for adoption while Bennie was raised by their mother, Alice returns to Philadelphia, posing as her twin and hell-bent on ruining Bennie's life and reputation. And that's not the only crisis Bennie's facing. Her all-female law firm, Rosato & Associates, is floundering in the poor economy, forcing the tough criminal defense attorney to take on a class-action suit to avoid bankruptcy. Not to mention the only bedmate Bennie's had for some time has been her golden retriever. It's a pivotal period in her life, professionally and personally.
"It's sort of like art imitating life," quips Scottoline, who is in the midst of her second divorce and spends a lot of time with her four dogs (three golden retrievers and one blind, deaf poodle).
"I wanted to have [Bennie] be tested in lots of ways. I hate this image of professional women charging around with never a doubt and never a bad hair day. I hope these books, DEAD RINGER in particular, are entertaining but also a little inspirational. You may be alone, you may not have great looks or a ton of dough or all the stuff that everyone seems to have on 'Oprah,' but if you look within you'll find strength."
Looking at a photo of the 47-year-old Philadelphia native, it's hard to believe Scottoline has many bad hair days, but she's quick to pass the credit to the magic of photo editing, recounting a story about showing up for a book-signing and having to prove her identity to the staff. "I had my glasses on, I looked the way I normally look and they asked me to produce a driver's license because I didn't match the author photo," she recalls laughing.
Garrulous and with a self-deprecating sense of humor, Scottoline got her undergrad degree from the University of Pennsylvania, then graduated from its law school. She worked as a judicial clerk before practicing law but quit when her daughter was born 17 years ago and she found herself a single parent. Inspired in part by the success of lawyer turned author John Grisham's legal thrillers, Scottoline started writing so that she could stay home with her daughter
"I had always loved books and thought maybe someday I'll write one," she explains, "but it was a really stupid plan. I was basically pretty hungry for about five years, charged everything to live and actually went back to work as a part-time law clerk."
A week after she took the job, however, Scottoline sold her first book, the Edgar Award-nominated Everywhere That Mary Went, published in 1993. But she kept working until her writing career was more secure, winning the Edgar a year later for her second novel, Final Appeal, and soon after was dubbed "the female John Grisham" by People magazine.
While many mystery and suspense novelists have one or two main characters around whom they base their books, Scottoline has created a plethora of lawyer protagonists. Bennie has been the subject of three books, and her three associates have all had their own novels: the smart but shy Mary DiNunzio, free-spirited Judy Carrier and sexy and fashionable Anne Murphy.
"They're really different facets of my personality. I secretly think of Bennie as a good hair day and Mary as a bad hair day," Scottoline says laughing. "Now you will understand how completely superficial I am. When my hair looks decent, which is like once a month, I feel much more confident. The other 29 days I feel like I'm retaining water, my hair looks crappy, I'm breaking out and I feel much more like Mary."
The protagonist of Scottoline's next book, Mary may be the character with whom she most identifies, but it's Bennie that she often strives to be. "One thing after the next happens to her and she survives, and I really like that as a message," Scottoline says. "Bennie is stronger than I am and she's tougher than I am, but we can all channel her when we need to." G
For more about Lisa Scottoline and her books, visit www.scottoline.com.
Excerpt from DEAD RINGER
Bennie held her breath. Ray clenched his fists. The deputy clerk handed the verdict sheet to Judge Delburton, who opened and read it
to himself, his expression impassive. Then he handed it back to the deputy clerk, who puffed out his chest, held
the paper high, and read it aloud:
"Question: Do you find the
defendant is liable to the plaintiff,
and if so, what are his damages? Answer: We find the defendant
Yes! Yes! Yes! Bennie felt like shouting for joy. They had won! She nodded toward the jury in gratitude, as Ray grabbed her hand and squeezed it
hard. She looked over, and he'd burst into a broad grin, which didn't let up even as the jurors were polled by a shocked plaintiff's lawyer, answered "not liable" one by one, then were
dismissed by the judge, who left the room with his staff, closing the door behind them.
"Congratulations!" Bennie shouted, when they were alone again, and Ray leapt into her arms. She gave him a heartfelt hug. She couldn't remember the last time she'd felt so happy. Or so relieved. "We won, Ray! Thank God!"
"I won! I won!" Ray yelled, and when she broke their embrace, his eyes were welling up behind his glasses.
"I won't even say I told you so." Bennie clapped him on the back
and picked up her briefcase and bag. "Come on, let's go celebrate! Drinks
But when Ray removed his hands from his eyes and replaced his glasses, he still looked miserable. His forehead creased with anxiety, his eyes brimmed with tears, and his lower lip trembled.
"Ray, cheer up. We won. It's
"It's not that," Ray cleared his
throat and met her gaze with wet
eyes. "I have something to tell you."
"I can't pay."
Bennie smiled. "I was only kidding, Ray. Drinks on me."
"No, I mean, I can't pay you." Ray squared his narrow shoulders. "What I owe you. Your fee."
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