02/15/2013 09:46 am ET Updated Apr 17, 2013

Series on Series: A Different Tune for Extreme Justice

Ben Kincaid was on a roll. I was proud of both of the previous books in the series, Cruel Justice and Naked Justice, and sales of the Naked Justice paperback set a new record for the Kincaid novels. What would I do for an encore? First, I needed a contract. Happily, the strong sales of Naked got me one, with considerably more digits than they'd had in the past. What would the story be about? I had two considerations going in: 1) Ben appeared to give up his law practice at the end of Naked, and 2) I did not want to do another murder trial novel so soon after the previous ones.

Fortunately, the two considerations complemented one another. Since Ben wasn't practicing law, a big trial was out of the question. Instead, I had him pursue his only other known marketable skill: music. I'd established that Ben was an accomplished musician in the first book, Primary Justice. He'd played small clubs and pizza parlors to earn money during college. Like so many Ben bits, this was a page right out of my biography. (I still play the piano and compose a bit here and there.) Ben's fondness for Harry Chapin's story songs reflected my own. I brought in the Tulsa/Greenwood jazz scene with the character of an old blues man Ben befriends, giving the book a flavor distinctive from the previous entries.

Of course, the fact that I didn't want a big trial didn't mean there couldn't be a murder.

I was and still am extremely proud of the "big twist" in this book. Since you might not have read the book yet, I won't spoil it. But it's fabulous, trust me. So far as I know, it was completely new and although astonishing and outrageous, legally accurate. So I grinned and congratulated myself on my cleverness and in time forgot about it. Years later, I saw a new thriller called Double Jeopardy with Ashley Judd. It used the title of one of my books, dialogue keenly reminiscent of another, and the plot twist from this one. Why didn't I get a check?

I was also fond of the last chapters of Extreme Justice, an uncharacteristically spiritual denouement. Well, this was supposed to be a change-of-pace novel. And I do believe in angels. I thought my mother summed it up nicely when she called this novel "an interesting mixed bag, part ridiculous and part sublime."

Extreme Justice won the Southern Writers Guild's Gold Medal Award, probably the highest honor any of my books has ever received. I'm not sure if that was for the ridiculous parts or the sublime. But it proved Ben didn't have to be in the courtroom to be interesting. You probably won't be surprised to hear that by the end of the book, Ben has reopened his law practice, never to shut it down again.

This time, however, Ben's assistant, Christina, was going to take some precautions.