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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Weekly Question

Every week, I will be posting a question about "Burning Questions." Then I will try to answer it without spoiling the story for readers. If you have one, please don't hesitate to add it to the list.

Here's the first one:

Q: You have a very detailed coroner's report in the book, along with other forensic materials. "Did the autopsy report concluding that the victim of a shooting was a teenage suicide come from one of your actual cases?

A: Over twenty years ago a woman came to me with a stack of materials concerning the death of her son. He was found shot to death in a manner very similar to the description of Kenny's homicide in Burning Questions. She thought her son had been murdered and had been fighting with the police about their having written it off as just another teenage suicide. She told me a lot of facts that raised reasonable doubts about the police conclusion and wanted someone who could convince them to re-open the file. One of the problems she was having was that her son had recently been arrested by the same police officer who also was the investigating officer on the homicide. She claimed that her son knew that this cop was involved in some illegal activities and that he had a motive to kill the teenager. It seemed obvious to her that the police were involved in covering up the truth. I took a look at the documents and concluded that there wasn't very much that I could do, short of launching an independent investigation with PI's, a medical examiner, a court order to get the body exhumed, and who knows what else. I didn't want to take this woman's money on such a long-shot, meanwhile ruffling the feathers of a small-town police department. But I kept a copy of the paperwork in my files all these years. It seemed like a good story. I especially was interested in the way the local authorities besmirched the kid's reputation to discourage any investigation. Of course, I have changed just about every fact other than the forensics of the actual shooting. I read statistics about teenage suicide before writing Burning Questions. Some of the reasons kids kill themselves are incorporated into the story: drugs, alcohol, sexual orientation, parental abuse. It's a really good jumping off place for a discussion of the problem and also for a mystery.

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