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Bar News - October 19, 2012

Book Review: Winning Formula of Politics, Sex, Drugs - and Murder


Discretion by Alllison Leotta; 288 pgs.;
Touchstone/ Simon & Schuster 2012; ISBN: 9781451644845

Politics, sex, drugs, power and murder – a potentially winning combination for a crime drama. All you need is a fine writer as the catalyst. All these ingredients come together in Discretion, Allison Leotta’s second novel.

When first asked to review the book, I anticipated a sterile perspective on the investigation and prosecution of sex crimes in a major urban center. After all, the author is a former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., where she specialized in the prosecution of sex crimes, domestic violence, and crimes against children. But what she delivers is much more than that. In her own words, when she began writing, she wanted to "create stories that both entertain and teach about the way the criminal justice system works – and doesn’t work." She accomplishes both in this gritty crime drama that has been characterized by other reviewers as "fresh, fast and addictive" and a first-rate thriller that "nails the trifecta of fiction: plot, pace, and character."

The main plot line follows the investigation of the mysterious death of a strikingly beautiful young woman. In the first six pages of the book, she falls to her death from the balcony of a prized office in the Capitol, the sanctuary of Washington D.C.’s sole, long-tenured, and powerful congressman, Emmet Lionel, "the Lion of D.C." All the initial signs point to his guilt – but of what? Philandering? Solicitation? Murder? Amidst all the twists and turns of this drama, Leotta deftly weaves several sub-plots and themes: the inevitable and terrifying spiral of a high-priced escort who plummets into another kind of death as a drug-dependent streetwalker abused and nearly killed by her pimp; the steamy but guarded romance between the book’s protagonist, sex-crimes and domestic violence prosecutor Anna Curtis and her colleague and sometimes supervisor, Jack Bailey, the chief homicide prosecutor; the dynamics of interagency tensions and competition as Anna’s working relationship with Violent Crime Squad FBI agent Samantha "Sammie" Randazzo evolves; the principled madam who protects her clients with her life; the hotly contested primary battle between the congressman and his opponent, aptly named Dylan Youngblood, whose wife Eva is an expert on self-defense for women.

The book illustrates the insidious and secretive nexus between sex and power in all its manifestation and the vulnerability of women generally in their personal and professional lives.

Leotta uses her descriptive powers to create the book’s rich characters and reveal the contexts they inhabit. The reader can feel the posh contours of overstuffed chairs in the powerful congressman’s office. One can visualize the haunting beauty of the first victim, and almost feel the beatings experienced by the prostitute who ironically is positioned to save the congressman from a potentially wrongful conviction. There’s a convincing tension in the relationship between Anna and Jack, due to the strength of the bond between Jack and his daughter, and the palpable rivalry the daughter feels with Anna, the interloper in her small world.

Discretion leaves the reader with the knowledge and perhaps satisfaction that at least two perpetrators have met with their just desserts, one woman’s life may have been saved, and a troubled relationship may have met an inevitable end. However, it also leaves us with the sense that, in the last analysis, everyone has his/her own dirty secrets and no one escapes unscathed. Nothing has fundamentally changed in the world beyond these few victories. Any vacuum in the network that supports prostitution is quickly filled. Politics continues as usual. Women continue to be victimized at all levels and in all contexts. But our heroine Anna is open to new relationships and her professional star promises to rise.

The ground is fertile for more great novels from Allison Leotta!

Mary E. Wilson is admitted to practice in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. She is an adjunct professor of criminology and family law at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill/Lawrence, Mass., where she teaches paralegal students. She is the author of Family Law for the Paralegal: Concepts and Applications, 2nd edition (Pearson Publishing 2013).

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