How far would you go to save your sister?
Anna Curtis is back in her hometown just outside of Detroit. Newly single after calling off her wedding, Anna isn’t home to lick her wounds. She’s returned to support her sister, Jody, who has been wrongfully accused of murder after their old high school coach, a local hero, dies in a suspicious car crash.
But maybe Jody isn’t so innocent after all. The police are convinced that Jody was having an affair with the married coach and killed him out of jealousy. As Anna investigates with the help of her childhood friend Cooper Bolden, an Afghan War veteran with a secret of his own, she slowly peels back the facade of her all-American town and discovers that no one is telling the truth about the coach, not even the people she thought she knew best. When the town rallies against them, threatening not just Jody’s liberty but both sisters’ lives, Anna resolves to do everything she can to save her sister and defend the only family she has left.
In her best book yet, Leotta, “the female John Grisham” (The Providence Journal), explores the limits of vigilante justice, the bonds of sisterhood, and the price of the truth.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
A Good Killing
When I was fifteen, my favorite place in the world was the high-jump setup at the school track. The bar provided a simple obstacle with a certain solution. You either cleared it or you didn’t. In a world of tangled problems with knotty answers, that was bliss.
I guess it all started out on that field, the summer before my sophomore year. That’s when I fell in love with Owen Fowler. I never could hide how much I wanted that man.
That’s why everyone immediately thought I murdered him. Watch any TV crime show, and the person who says “I couldn’t have killed him—I loved him!” is the one who did it. Nothing fuels hate like love gone wrong. So when the coach went up in flames, people naturally looked to see if I was holding the match. But I swear: I didn’t kill him.
You don’t believe me, Annie, I can see it in your eyes. But I’ll tell you everything, exactly how it went down. You probably won’t agree with what I did. You definitely would’ve done things differently. But by the end, I hope you’ll at least understand.
So—ten years ago. The athletic field was the most beautiful place in Holly Grove. A girl could feel like she was part of something good on that rectangle of perfect grass, surrounded by bleachers shining silver in the sun. Come fall, the football players would own the field, and the stands would hold ten thousand screaming fans. But in July, the stadium was empty, and the kids who went to Coach Fowler’s sports camp got to use the spongy red track that circled the field. The air smelled of fresh-cut grass, the clean sweat of a good workout, and the occasional whiff of Icy Hot. To this day, I still love the smell of Icy Hot.
And I loved the feel of the high jump itself. That moment at the peak, as my back sailed over the bar and I looked straight up at the sky—suspended above the earth, touching nothing but air. Like I could detach from the physical world with all its problems. For a second, at least. I was free. It was my little piece of heaven.
You know what I mean, right? You were a pretty good sprinter yourself. What’d you place in the two hundred meter? Eighth in the state? But track didn’t mean the same to you. You’d found another way out. By the time I turned fifteen, you’d already accepted that scholarship to U of M. That summer, you were just killing time before college, hanging out at the track a lot. You told Mom you went to watch me, but you were really there to flirt with Rob. Don’t fuss, you know it’s true. He was a hottie. And not just because he’d been starting quarterback that year—king of the town! He was objectively hot. Guess he peaked early.
You know why he suddenly got interested your senior year, right? After all those years of not knowing your name? No offense, but. You finally grew some boobs. My own chest didn’t show signs of catching up any time soon. The high jump was the one place where my resemblance to a wall was still an advantage.
I was aiming to break your school record for high jumping. Six feet, one inch. I thought if I broke it, people would finally start calling me “Jody” instead of “Anna Curtis’s little sister.” I remember the day I first believed I could do it: July 15, 2004.
I was trying to figure out why my jump had stalled. I was doing everything right, but it just wasn’t taking. I tried again: stood at my starting place and sprinted toward the bar. I hit my mark and rounded the turn toward the mat: five strides, pivot, jump! I flew backward, arched my spine, and kicked my feet up. But something was off, I knew it even before my butt knocked down the pole. As my back hit the mat, I heard the bar clatter to the ground and Rob laughing in the distance.
I said, “Fuck.”
“Watch your language, young lady.”
Coach Fowler stood next to the mat, which was a surprise. He was the head of the whole camp and mostly stayed with the football team, leaving the lesser athletes to the lesser coaches. The thrill of him noticing me was canceled by the fact that it was when I’d messed up.
I jumped off the mat and fetched the pole. We set it on the risers together. He was tan and tall, with an athletic build and that aura of authority. The sun threw golden glints off his blond hair. He must’ve been forty at that point, but he was way cuter than the teenage boys he coached.
“You’re a good jumper,” Coach said. “You could be great—but you have to really want it. Do you really want it?”
I looked over where you and Rob were sitting. Rob was tugging on the tie of your hoodie. The coach followed my gaze.
“Your sister’s a good runner. Fast, determined, scrappy,” he said. “Jody—you’re better.”
I blinked with surprise. He knew my name. And . . . not many people thought I was better than you at anything. He reached over and pulled my hand away from my cheek. I hadn’t even realized I was touching my scar.
“It’s barely noticeable,” he said. He cleared his throat and pointed to my pink chalk mark on the ground. “The problem is your approach. Your mark is too close. You shot up this spring, so your stride is longer. You need room to stretch out those long legs.”
I tried not to blush at the implication that he’d noticed my legs. Coach took a piece of blue chalk out of his pocket and drew a line on the ground, about three feet behind my pink mark. He also moved back my starting mark. “Try that.”
I trotted to the new starting place, feeling the blue nylon of my team shorts brushing against my glamorously long legs. I looked at the coach’s marks and wasn’t sure I could do it. I glanced at him, and he nodded. You and Rob stopped talking to watch me. I took a deep breath, squinted at the high-jump bar, and sprinted toward it. I reached the coach’s mark and counted off my curve, demanding my legs cover as much ground as they could with each stride: one, two, three, four, five. Pivot. Go!
I jumped. And I flew.
I knew it was perfect the moment I took off. I felt it in my legs, my hips, my spine. I soared back over the pole with inches to spare. Suspended in the air, I looked at the bright blue sky and the soft white clouds and felt a moment of perfection.
I landed on my shoulder blades and let myself somersault backward. A few runners broke out into applause. You yelled, “Go, Jody!”
I jumped on the mat. “Yes!”
“There it is!” Coach yelled. “Good girl! Do that at a meet, and we’ll be putting your name up in the gym.”
I bounced to the edge of the mat, and Coach met me with a high five. Then he held out his hand to help me down. I took it, feeling honored, shy, and electrically happy. His grip was steady and strong. Dad had never held my hand like that. Coach’s fingers tightened around mine as I stepped down, then opened to release me. But I didn’t want to break the connection. I kept holding on to his hand for a few seconds after he let go.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for A Good Killing includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Allison Leotta. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Critically acclaimed author Allison Leotta introduces the next thriller in her Anna Curtis series. When Anna gets a call from her small hometown of Holly Grove, Michigan, she is shocked to discover that her sister, Jody, is in trouble: she is a suspect in the violent death of revered high school football coach Owen Fowler. Anna immediately rushes to her sister’s side. She and Jody may look alike, but their lives couldn’t be more different. A Harvard Law School graduate, Anna has a successful career as federal sex crimes prosecutor in Washington, D.C. Jody, however, never left her small town, and works on the assembly line at GM. Aching from her recent breakup with her fiancé, Anna decides to put her job on the line and work on the other side of the courtroom as Jody’s defense lawyer. However, as Anna investigates the case she can’t shake her suspicion that Jody isn’t telling her the whole story. It’s up to Anna to see through the lies and determine what really happened—and what she finds nearly brings her to her knees.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The book opens with Jody addressing Anna directly, explaining events from her point of view. Why do you think the author chose this kind of opening?
2. Jody loved being on the track-and-field team in high school, and she calls the high-jump setup “my favorite place in the world.” Do you have a similarly positive place, activity, or memory? What made it significant for you? Discuss with your group.
3. Early in the story Jody says, “Nothing fuels hate like love gone wrong.” Do you agree with this idea? How does it apply to Jody’s relationship with Coach Fowler? How does it apply to Anna’s broken engagement?
4. Anna had been “relieved when she’d left [Holly Grove], and she never liked coming back.” Why did she feel this way? Contrast her behavior with that of Jody, who stayed in Holly Grove her entire life. What do you think caused each sister to make the decision to move away or stay?
5. With their mother deceased and their father absent since their childhood, Anna and Jody grew up essentially without parents. How does this affect their relationship with each other?
6. In telling her story about Coach Fowler Jody says, “There’s something about being fifteen that makes everything that happens stay clear and bright.” How does this phenomenon affect her life? Discuss any memories, positive or negative if you are comfortable, from your teenage years that are still particularly vivid for you.
7. In the courtroom Anna has “the disconcerting sense of living on the other side of the looking glass” What does she mean? Before coming to help her sister, how had Anna been sheltered in her own convictions of right and wrong? What factors helped open her eyes?
8. While Anna is being held in jail a fellow inmate tells her, “We all got scars. Some’s just harder to see.” What is the significance of scars in the story? Compare characters in the story who have visible scars to those whose scars are emotional.
9. When pondering Coach Fowler’s behavior Jody wonders, “What makes someone evil?” She concludes, “We're all victims of the victims who came before us.” Do you agree with her opinion? Why or why not?
10. When Coach Fowler pleads for her mercy, Jody wonders, “What is in female DNA that makes us want to fulfill others’ requests? It's amazing how much you can get from us just by asking.” Do you think Jody is correct? Is it the idea of fulfilling requests an intrinsic part of being a woman, or do culture or environment play a part? Is it necessarily a bad thing?
11. Reflect back on the Italian proverb used in the epigraph, “Since the house is on fire, let us warm ourselves.” How does that sentiment apply to Jody’s actions toward coach Fowler? What does fire represent in the story?
12. Were Jody, Wendy, and Kathy justified in what they did to Coach Fowler? Do the ends justify the means?
13. After the book’s conclusion, do you think Anna will decide to stay with Cooper, leaving her life in D.C. behind? If so, how do think she will adjust?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Find out more about Allison online. On her website, www.AllisonLeotta.com, you can read about her other books, read her bio, and find out where she’ll be appearing at upcoming events. Fans of television crime dramas will appreciate her blog, Prime-Time Crime Review, where Allison takes programs such as Law & Order: SVU to task, revealing what aspects of the shows are realistic, and what are completely made up. In addition to her blog, you can also connect with Allison on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.
2. Cooper is a staunch supporter of local and grassroots businesses in economically challenged Detroit. As a group, research locally owned businesses in your area. You can select a local cafe or restaurant as your group’s meeting place, choose regionally sourced foods to serve, or even visit a farmer’s market as a group.
3. The book focuses on a sexual crime committed on a young girl. Research crisis support centers in your area. If possible, consider volunteering time or other resources, or find out if you can help get the word out about the centers to local schools and youth groups.
A Conversation With Allison Leotta
Your character Cooper lives in Detroit, and he is active in helping to revitalize the city. That idea seems to be gaining momentum: the television show Rehab Addict features a woman dedicated to renovating dilapidated houses in Detroit and improving the community. As Cooper says, “Today we’ve got musicians and artists, hipsters and farmers, city planners and community activists, all sorts of creative thinkers figuring out how to find beauty and meaning in the ruins.” Because you feature this aspect of Detroit, do you feel a part of this community? Do you think your book will have a positive impact on the city?
I grew up near Detroit and was fascinated by the city: its beauty and its problems, both of which are world-class. Detroit has been the symbol of the best and the worst that America can be. And right now, it’s at a historic brink, poised between utter ruin and creative people who see an exciting, unprecedented opportunity to try new things. Cooper embodies that optimism, and I love him for that. I hope my book will have a positive impact on the city and get people thinking about the possibilities and creative solutions.
If you’re interested in reading more about Detroit, I’d recommend two terrific non-fiction books: Detroit: An American Autopsy, by Charlie LeDuff, which chronicles the city’s decline in wry, devastating prose, and Detroit City Is The Place to Be, by Mark Binelli, which explores the radical sense of possibility that comes when a city hits rock bottom.
This is your fourth novel. Has the writing process changed for you in any way? Has it gotten easier or more challenging?
The process is definitely not easier! In part, that’s because I’m trying to challenge myself, get better, and push my abilities further with each story.
I feel very lucky that I can concentrate on writing full-time now. When I wrote my first two books, I was still working at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and could only write from 5:00 till 7:00 a.m., before heading in to my day job. Now that I’m a full-time writer, I can sleep a little later! But I also have to be extremely disciplined with how I use my time.
Being a published author is like running a small business out of your house. I generally write in the morning, and use the afternoon for the business side of things. Blogging, social media, public speaking, opining, networking, and generally “building your platform.” That’s one of any modern author’s biggest challenges—balancing the writing of the books with the promotion of them.
Your experience as a federal prosecutor certainly affects your subject matter. How closely do your stories reflect your own experiences with actual cases?
I try to take the most interesting parts of my real cases and make them elements of my stories. Some of the most implausible plot twists are things that actually happened in D.C. Superior Court! I am also pulled by the emotions that come with these incredibly personal cases. There’s terrible heartbreak and tragedy, but also moments of real courage, love, and healing. I was inspired by the people around —victims who had the courage to come forward, police officers devoted to helping their community, prosecutors working late into the night to try to make a difference. It’s very satisfying when I write a scene and feel like I’ve captured that.
In the bio section of your website you say, “I wanted to create stories that would both entertain and teach about the way the criminal justice system works—and doesn't work.” While your career as a prosecutor must have caused you to experience frustrating or dark moments, are there aspects about it that you miss?
I loved being a sex-crimes prosecutor. I think it’s one of the most rewarding legal careers in America. There’s nothing like waking up every day knowing that your job is to put predators in jail, figure out the truth, help make your community safer, and, most of all, do the right thing (a luxury most lawyers don’t have).
Being a writer now is a bit of a dream come true—but it’s very solitary. I miss my friends and colleagues at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. They’re an amazing group of talented and devoted public servants. The bonding that goes on there is a bit like boot camp—many of my best friends are the people with whom I worked there, and I expect they will be for the rest of my life.
Being a lawyer and a writer seem to be vastly different careers. In what ways has your life changed since you chose the latter?
My commute is fantastic! I can work in my pajamas if I want. And, it turns out, I don’t want to work in my pajamas. You feel really gross by 2:00. I treat writing as if it were a nine-to-five job. I get up, get dressed, and keep my butt in my chair, regardless of whether the muse is with me that day.
Being home all day also meant I could finally get a dog (I’d been debating my husband on this for years). We adopted a half-beagle puppy named Maggie. She’s sitting at my feet as I write this.
What books have you found to be particularly inspiring or significant?
As a lawyer: To Kill a Mockingbird, of course, and Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow. In non-fiction, Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond fundamentally changed the way I look at the world.
In upcoming novels, do you plan to keep writing the Anna Curtis series or will you possibly introduce a new protagonist?
The interest in Anna has been a wonderful and unexpected. I never intended to write a series. But as long as readers want to hear more of her story, I’m thrilled to keep writing it. At the same time, I have some ideas for stand-alone books, and I hope to have the chance to make those happen, too.
Describe your writing room.
Funny you should ask. I wrote my first three books at my kitchen table. After I turned in Speak of the Devil, I decided I was a “real” writer who should have her own office. I converted a bedroom into an office: getting new furniture, painting the walls blue because I heard that color inspires creativity, and splurging on a standing desk and ergonomic chair. After all that, it turns out I can only write at . . . my kitchen table.
The topic of sex crimes is an especially somber one. What do you do to balance that—to relax or have fun?
I started writing because it was cheaper than therapy. Seriously, writing about the job did help me process the things I saw as a prosecutor.
I used to have more hobbies—running, playing guitar, and I was a docent at the National Zoo. These days, I’m a mom, and keeping up with my two crazy, terrific little boys is the most fun, wonderful part of my life. But between mommying and writing a book a year, I don’t have time for much else. After they boys are in bed, I read. I’ve always loved getting lost in a good story. Reading is the one thing I always find time for.