Lisa Scottoline never seems to slow down. The bestselling author and former attorney released Someone Knows (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 387 pages) in April. It’s the 32nd novel for the Lower Merion High School alum. In addition to her prolific career as an author, the Chester County resident partners with her daughter, Francesca Serritella, for the Chick Wit column in the Philadelphia Inquirer. And she recently received word that Lionsgate has optioned her Rosato & Associates legal thrillers for a TV series. We caught up with Scottoline to discuss her new book and the fresh wrinkles in her career.
LS: There are a lot of core questions in this novel. What is justice when there’s no punishment? What is justice when the law falls short? Here is the wrong that these kids did, and did they get away with it? [Main character Allie Garvey] can’t rest because she feels guilty. Since she got away with it, she ends up punishing herself her whole life. In a way, she punishes herself more than the law would have. You learn that not everyone has the same level of guilt.
LS: I’m convinced that character matters more than people think for page-turners—it’s not just action. The way the characters feel with the guilt is who they are as people. My goal with each character is to show action—not like firing guns. Characters will often say something but do something else, like people do in real life. Then you have to go look at what they’re doing—and not what they’re saying. Any character in this book probably thinks they’re a good person for their own reasons. But by my standard, they’re not—and by Allie’s standards, they’re not.
LS: You go back to why you became a lawyer in the first place. I think it was because of my interest in justice.
LS: I don’t write with an outline. I do think there’s a serendipity that happens when you’re writing and you start to think about how the character is reacting in the situation, which you don’t know until the situation is happening—just like real life. I don’t know what’s going to happen or how it’s going to turn out. So, in a way, I’m telling the story to myself at the same time I’m telling it to the reader.
LS: Honestly, tons. You’re trying to ground each character with some facet of yourself. You’re always trying to worm your way into something, and that emotional truth of being the outsider kid never leaves you. It served me well for Allie, because that’s her emotional truth.
LS: I always loved books, and I kind of discovered them at Bala Cynwyd Library and Wynnefield Library. I learned to write at Lower Merion. I had terrific English teachers.
LS: I love where I live—it’s a great place to live, go to school and raise a family—and I like it being in the books. It has history and justice issues. The law was born in Philadelphia—let us own that.
LS: I’m working on a book called The Eternal, which is historical fiction. At Penn, I took a course with the great Philip Roth, who introduced us to Primo Levi, an Italian writer who was a fascist. He was captured by the Nazis, went to Auschwitz and survived. The book is about fascism when the laws themselves were unjust. Laws can say it’s legal to take Jews, seize their property, take them to concentration camps and murder them. Nazi Germany has been explored a lot in fiction, but I don’t think fascist Italy has been explored as much. And The Eternal is sort of a love triangle.
LS: I’m super excited. Everyone is going to learn about South Philly and the Main Line. I’m not going to write [the TV screenplay]. I feel lucky every day that I get to write books, and I’m going to keep doing that.
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Illustration by Michele Melcher.
Nobody tells you that you’ll do things when you’re young that are so stupid, so unbelievably stupid, so horrifically stupid that years later you won’t be able to believe it. You’ll be on your laptop, or reading a book, or pumping gas, and you’ll find yourself shaking your head because you’ll be thinking no, no, no, I did not do that, I was not a part of that, that could not have happened.
You’ll tell yourself that you were young, that you were drinking, that good teenagers make bad decisions all the time. But you know that’s not it. You know that when teenagers get together, something dark can take over. Call it peer pressure, call it a collective idiocy, call it something more primal and monstrous, like whatever makes frat boys haze their so-called brothers to death. Writ large, it makes Nazis murder millions and soldiers torch Vietnamese villages. But whatever you call it, it will make you do the worst thing you ever did in your life. And in your darkest moments, you will wonder if it made you do it, or simply allowed you to.
You know this now but you didn’t then, and you’ll shake your head, thinking I can’t believe I did that, I can’t believe I was a part of that, but you were, and not in Nazi Germany, My Lai, or a frat house, but in the safest place you can imagine—in the suburban housing development where you grew up, specifically in a patch of woods mandated by township zoning, confined by fences, and bordered by the Pennsylvania Turnpike. In other words, in a completely civilized location where even Nature herself is domesticated and nothing ever happens.
Except this one night.
You and your friends decide to play Russian Roulette, a game so obviously lethal that you can’t even imagine what you were thinking. Days later, years later, a decade later, it’s still so unspeakable you can’t say a word to anyone, and all the books you read that you should’ve learned something from—Lord of the Flies, A Separate Peace, and Crime and Punishment—teach you absolutely nothing. You read like a fiend, you always have, but you don’t let the books teach you anything. You never apply them to your life because they’re fiction, or even if they seem real, they’re someone else’s life, not your life, except that you and your friends decided to play a prank and someone blew their brains out in front of you.
You won’t be able to remember exactly what happened because of the booze and the horror, the absolute horror, and yet you won’t be able to forget it, though you’ll spend night after night trying. People say something was a night to remember, but this was a night to forget and yet you can’t forget, and then you’ll hear some random playlist and Rihanna singing don’t act like you forgot and you’ll realize you’ve been acting like you forgot your entire adult life, and you’ll feel accused by a song, nailed by a phrase, and don’t act like you forgot is everything, don’t act like you forgot is all, and you’ll pick up the bottle and say to yourself, I’m acting like I forgot but I didn’t, I didn’t forget, and you’ll need to be put out of your own misery, so you’ll drink and drink, trying to drink yourself to death.
But that takes too long. Years too long. Time doesn’t move fast enough. You learned that the hard way.
One night, you’ll lose patience.
CHAPTER 1: ALLIE GARVEY
Allie gripped the wheel, heading to the cemetery. The death was awful enough in someone so young, agonizing because it was a suicide. The family would be anguished, wracking their brains, asking why. But Allie knew why, and she wasn’t the only one. There used to be four of them, and now there were three. They had kept it a secret for twenty years. She didn’t know if she could keep it secret another minute.
Allie drove ahead, her thoughts going back to the summer of ’99. She could hear the gunshot ringing in her ears. She could see the blood. It had happened right in front of her. Her gut twisted. She felt wrung by guilt. She had nightmares and flashbacks. She’d been fifteen years old, and it had been a night of firsts. First time hanging with the cool kids. First time getting drunk. First time being kissed. First time falling in love. And then the gunshot.
Allie clenched the wheel, holding on for dear life, to what she didn’t know. To the present. To reality. To sanity. She had to stay strong. She had to be brave. She had to do what needed to be done. She should have done it twenty years ago. She’d kept the secret all this time. She’d been living a contents-under-pressure life. Now she wanted to explode.
Allie approached the cemetery entrance. She knew the others would be there. A reunion of co-conspirators. She hadn’t spoken to them after what had happened. They’d had no contact since. They’d run away from each other and what they’d done. They’d thought getting caught was the worst that could happen. Allie had learned otherwise. Not getting caught was worse.
They’d grown up in Brandywine Hunt, a development in a corner of Chester County, Pennsylvania, where the horse farms had been razed, the trees cleared, and the grassy hills leveled. Concrete pads had been paved for McMansions, and asphalt rolled for driveways. Thoroughbred Road had been the outermost of the development’s concentric streets, and at its center were the clubhouse, pool, tennis and basketball courts, like the prize for the successful completion of a suburban labyrinth.
Allie always thought of her childhood that way, a series of passages that led her to bump into walls. Her therapist theorized it was because of her older sister, Jill, who’d had an illness that Allie had been too young to understand, at first. It had sounded like sis-something, which had made sense to Allie—her sister had sis. Until one nightmarish race to the hospital, with her father driving like a madman and her mother hysterical in the backseat holding Jill, who was frantically gasping for breath, her face turning blue. Allie had watched, terrified at the realization that sis could kill her sister. And when her sister turned seventeen, it did.
Allie bit her lip, catching sight of the wrought-iron fence. Her sister was buried at the same cemetery, the grave marked by a monument sunk into the manicured grass. Its marble was rosy pink, a color Jill had picked out herself, calling it Dead Barbie Pink. Allie remembered that at Jill’s funeral she had cried so hard she laughed, or laughed so hard she cried, she didn’t know which.
Allie braked, waiting for traffic to pass so she could turn. GARDENS OF PEACE, read the tasteful sign, and it was one of a chain of local cemeteries, fitting for a region of housing developments, as if life could be planned from birth to death.
Her gut tightened again, and she focused on her breathing exercises, in and out, in and out. Yoga and meditation were no match for a guilty conscience. She hadn’t fired the gun, but she was responsible. She replayed the memory at night, tortured with shame. She’d never told anyone, not even her husband. No wonder her marriage was circling the drain.
Allie steered through the cemetery entrance. Pebbled gravel popped beneath the tires of her gray Audi, and she drove toward the black hearse, limos, and parked cars. Mourners were walking to the burial site, and she spotted the other two instantly.
They were walking together, talking, heads down. Gorgeous, privileged, rich. The cool kids, grown up. They didn’t look up or see her. They wouldn’t expect her, since she hadn’t been one of them, not really. They hadn’t followed her life the way she’d followed theirs. She was the one looking at them, never vice versa. That’s how it always is for outsiders.
Allie told herself once more to stay strong. The cool kids believed their secret was going to stay safe forever, but they were wrong.
It was time for forever to end.
From SOMEONE KNOWS by Lisa Scottoline, published by Putnam, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2019 by Smart Blond, LLC.