Monday, May 24, 2010

A Visit with Mystery Author Barbara Levenson

I was looking for a good summer mystery and actually found three in one novel - Barbara Levenson legal thriller, Justice in June, which gets released this week. Barbara knows how to cook up Florida criminal cases that will keep you guessing, and I love her protagonist, street smart defense attorney Mary Magruder Katz.

Barbara Levenson has lived in Miami for the past 32 years. A cum laude graduate of the University of Miami Law School, she has been a prosecutor, and run her own law practice focused on criminal defense and civil rights litigation. Barbara was elected to a judgeship in the circuit court of Miami-Dade County where she still serves as a senior judge. On the eve of her second novel’s release I got her to tell us a little about the book and herself.

ASC: What kind of protagonist is Mary Magruder Katz, and why will we like her?

Barbara Levenson: Mary is first and foremost the product of a Miami upbringing. She’s street smart, not afraid to speak her mind, and thoroughly adaptable to every ethnic and racial group. She has a mixed heritage which is the norm for Miamians. Her father is Jewish and her mother is a southern Baptist. Of course, she knows her way around the criminal justice system as a defense attorney. But she is not without flaws. She has an ingrained commitment problem, having had two previous fianc├ęs. Her current boyfriend, hotty Carlos Martin is ready to proceed to a wedding ceremony, but Mary just can’t bring herself to say yes to forever.

Most people can relate to Mary. She is so typical of today’s bright young women with a streak of independence but a love for her own family. I hope readers will feel that they have a new best friend.

ASC: In this book Mary is juggling three different cases. As a writer, how did you keep it all straight?

BL: It’s easy because of my background in the justice system. As a prosecutor, I always had at least fifty open cases and had to be ready on any given week to try two or three of them. As a defense attorney, I had multiple clients. (or I would have starved) This meant being completely familiar with each of their cases. As a judge with a heavy docket, I took many files home to study prior to days of hearing motions. I probably presided over hundreds of cases, so writing about just three wasn’t difficult.

ASC: After a full career in law, what made you decide to write fiction?

BL: I have always loved to write from the time I was a child, entertaining my friends with stories. Writing was always the career I had in mind when I wasn’t involved full time with the law. I also wanted to have a way to communicate what the real Miami is all about. Too many people believe that Miami is only South Beach and the club scene. I wanted to portray the working class of people who fight traffic, work, raise kids, pay taxes, etc. Iit’s just that we do it in good weather!

ASC: Are any of the cases in the book based on real life cases you’ve handled as a lawyer or judge?

BL: To some extent, they are compilations of the themes one sees in court, but none are based on real cases or actual living people. Like all fiction there are exaggerations of time-frames and responses.

ASC: Does Miami’s weather figure into the story, and if so, how? Is this city a big part of the story?

BL: Most definitely. The weather in Fatal February, the first Mary Magruder Katz mystery, told of endless sunshine. February is the most beautiful month, filled with blossoms, street fairs, and outdoor cafes. June, on the other hand is one of the two rainiest months, filled with two showers per day,. Humidity permeates your skin and hair. Temperatures hover in the high eighties. There is a different feel to life in June so the weather plays a huge role in Justice In June. The city of Miami and South Florida in general is as much a character as any of the human characters, because it is part of the psyche of the people.

ASC: What do you consider the most interesting or intriguing part of your novel?

BL: Mary is plagued by someone who is stalking her and threatening her. She is assaulted and battered outside of her office. Her home is broken into and a threatening message left. She gets a threatening call on her brand new cell phone. Because she is involved in three cases, she can only assume which case is subjecting her to these unnerving events , but she doesn’t know for sure and neither does the reader. You didn’t ask, but the most fun I had writing this book is the scene where the two families, Mary’s parents and Carlos’s parents, meet at a planned dinner. I was actually laughing out loud while I wrote those scenes.

ASC: When Bookviews reviewed your first novel, Fatal February, they said, “This novel just rocks from page one until the end. Put this book on your list of novels you must read this year.”“ The title makes it obvious that Justice In June is the next book in a series. How far will it go? What’s next for Mary Magruder Katz?

BL: Mary is exhausted from her law practice and still unsettled about a long term relationship with Carlos. Look for Mary to need some R and R which will take place in a mysterious Vermont village where unsolved murders cry out for Mary’s quick wits, and she may even find a new love influence. But don’t worry, all you females who are in love with Carlos. He has a way of turning up like a bad penny or a bit of a bad boy.

ASC: Barbara, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. I’m sure everyone will enjoy Justice in June and look forward to your next novel.


Kevin R. Tipple said...

Well, now I have yet another book to read. I'd have two but my local library system isn't showing the new book in the online catalog yet. First book is now on the way to my local branch.

Good interview.


Morgan Mandel said...

I do like your character's name. It does sound like a great name for a street smart woman. The right name for a character makes all the difference to me. I've actually put down books without reading them because I didn't care for the main character's name.

Morgan Mandel