03/29/2013 06:39 pm ET Updated May 29, 2013

Series on Series: A Second Hand With Dark Justice

I still remember the first Earth Day. And now that I've completely dated myself, let me explain the significance. All the Kincaid novels have involved important societal issues. I had thought many times about writing an environmentally themed novel, but I couldn't come up with a good story. Until I did.

Extreme Justice proved Ben could survive without the courtroom, and could even pick up a few awards and positive reviews in the process. In Extreme, which describes Ben's stint as a jazz pianist while his practice was shut down, I also mentioned that Ben was writing a nonfiction "true crime" book, Katching the Kindergarten Killer (based on the case in Deadly Justice). Turns out Ben got that book published, so Dark Justice opens with Ben at a book signing. By the time I wrote that scene, I had appeared at more than a hundred book signings, so you can imagine how much fun I had writing this.

Ben was on a book tour -- and doesn't that date this novel, in this virtual world where book tours are far more rare and unlikely to be granted a first-time author of a small-press true-crime book? This was my excuse to send Ben to Seattle, one of my favorite cities on earth. While there, after a daring midnight cat rescue (it's too complicated to explain here), Ben finds himself sharing a cell with some so-called eco-terrorists. And I'm probably not spoiling much if I tell you he ends up representing one of them on a murder charge.

If you think this plot seems vaguely familiar -- you're right. If you read the blog I wrote on Perfect Justice, you know that I wrote that book under the gun, with a tight deadline breathing down my neck. Even though the book turned out well, got good notices, and won the Oklahoma Book Award, I always felt I could have done better. Dark Justice was my chance to do better. So I changed the theme from racism to environmentalism and told a more expansive, detailed version of essentially the same story, with far more character detail and extensive research on the logging scene in the Pacific Northwest. (At one point, completely clueless about how to get my characters out of a raging forest fire, I called the Forest Service and got a dozen different possibilities from the rangers on duty.)

So the natural assumption might be that since I had more time to devote to these writerly matters, this book is far better than Perfect Justice. Except I'm not sure that's true. It's definitely longer. But I'm not sure it's better. These two books might be good assigned reading for a classroom study on brevity and efficiency versus indulgence and contemplation. I like Dark Justice, but then, how can I resist a book that has someone running around in a Sasquatch suit trying to get a forest protected status because it shelters an endangered species? (On, Dark Justice is typically one of my lowest rated books -- because a group of loggers perceived it as pro-environment/anti-logging and trashed it.) Dark Justice became my second book to win the Oklahoma Book Award.

Maybe I should forget all my other ideas and just write this plot over and over again...