Lachlan Smith's debut thriller Bear Is Broken introduces fledgling attorney Leo Maxwell, who is thrust into the crime-solving business when his brother is shot right in front of him. Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney loves how it "reads as if the writer has toiled at his craft for ages."
BookPage welcomed Smith to the mystery genre with a few questions about writing and favorite authors.
Describe your book in one sentence.
Bear Is Broken is a detective novel, a coming-of-age novel and a legal thriller all in one, featuring a young San Francisco lawyer, Leo Maxwell, who seeks the truth behind his brother's shooting but doubts whether truth can lead to justice; many, including the police, seem to think that in the shooting of Teddy Maxwell, one of San Francisco's most successful and notorious criminal defense attorneys, justice may already have been served.
Leo's not your typical mystery hero. What do you think readers will like most about him?
What Leo lacks in judgment he makes up for in perseverence and loyalty, qualities that I hope readers find admirable. Also, no matter how cynical he may become once he begins to shed his naivete, he never stops seeking the best approximation of justice he can achieve in a murky and uncertain world.
Would you make a good amateur detective?
Alas, no. Imagination, helpful as it is in writing fiction, tends to be a handicap in the real-life mysteries I occasionally encounter as a lawyer. In my legal career, I learned early on that it's best to stick with what can be proved from established facts.
What books or authors have most influenced your writing?
Robert Traver's Anatomy of a Murder and Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent are my favorite courtroom novels. As a budding series writer, I've tried to learn from John D. MacDonald, Michael Connelly and Lawrence Block. Daniel Woodrell and Elmore Leonard are writers I turn to whenever I need to remember what fiction is all about.
This is one complex plot, with lots of characters all with complicated, often secretive motivations. What were your favorite parts to write?
The beginning, because in an hour of writing I knew I had a novel and a series. The momentum of my excitement for that scene carried me through the first half of the book. After the beginning, my next favorite scenes to write were the courtroom scenes.
What's the best writing advice you've received?
John L'Heureux, my teacher at Stanford, taught me that if you write 500 words a day, every day, you can aspire to write a novel in a year.
Lion Plays Rough, the second novel in the Leo Maxwell series, comes out in February 2014. It takes place in Oakland and, in addition to further developing the relationship between Leo and his brother, finds Leo uncovering scandal in the Oakland Police Department. Right now I'm working on the third book in the series, in which Leo's father is released from prison and promptly becomes the chief suspect in the murder of a former cellmate.