The problem with finally writing a book you think is not half-bad is that you wonder if you've got anywhere to go next -- other than downhill. And I was determined to not let the Ben Kincaid series go downhill.
After the success of Cruel Justice, I could have let the series end and not felt any sense of incompleteness. But I was still under contract for one more, under the same terms that were negotiated before the series became a big hardcover success. So there was no question about whether Ben would reappear. The only question was how to make the series better.
The answer, I thought, was to "plus" everything. And I do mean everything. The plot for Cruel Justice was more complex than previous entries, but the plot for Naked Justice was ever more layered and textured, weaving Ben's personal dilemmas with the big case. Here, he represents an African-American mayor charged with the murder of his wife and children -- obviously a tense, high-profile situation. But Ben is also receiving threatening messages from an unknown source for reasons initially unclear. Is it about the case? A previous case? Something else? And Ben's past rises up again, as his deceased father's shadow stretches into the present.
Never before had my readers gotten so much insight into Ben Kincaid, who he is, and why he is the way he is. Some of his background had been hinted at literally from the first novel. Primary Justice had a scene toward the end where Ben visited his mother. Details only hinted at there became more important in the sixth volume. And I think it would be fair to say that the murder trial -- and the way it plays out -- is by far the most surprising and controversial case I had written yet.
Complexity and innovation come at a cost: length. This is the longest of the Kincaid novels. I think that's a good thing, as long as the pace doesn't sag and the story doesn't wear out its welcome. But I received stern admonishment from my publisher. Paper is expensive. Printing costs are high. They eventually printed the book as I wrote it, but also let me know that they didn't need to get any longer.
Many people have written to ask about the title. Why Naked Justice? There does not appear to be any nakedness in the book. This title, of course, was suggested by the publisher. They'd been pushing for this title for several books, and I could only resist for so long. Just go with it, they said. It's eye-catching. People see the word "naked" and they pick up the book. This turned out to be correct. Naked Justice sales soared to a new high, especially for the paperback.
One final word about the ending in which Ben, my increasingly popular series lawyer, appears to give up the practice of law: Did I mention that this was the last book of the current contract? This was my equivalent of Conan Doyle tossing Holmes off a waterfall. You want more? Time to renegotiate the terms of my contract. I'm happy to report that we did, and for the first time I start earning advances sufficient that I felt comfortable quitting my day job (as a trial lawyer), which allowed me to stay home with my small children, for which I will always be grateful.
The problem was: Now that I was making real money, how did I earn it? What could I do next to top what had gone before?