Two years ago, on the first morning of Bouchercon here in Seattle, my husband and I learned that friends of ours had been hit by a drunk driver while vacationing in Oregon. The wife died that day. This couple had been blessed with a fairytale marriage. Theirs was a true case of love at first sight. From the time of their marriage until that fatal accident some twenty years later, they never spent a single night apart.
Not surprisingly, the widowed husband was devastated. Having been widowed ourselves, my husband and I understood what he was going through. At first we listened to his hurt and grief. Later, we heard his sorrow turn to anger as he battled with a ponderous and unresponsive judicial system to see that his beloved wife's killer, the drunk driver, didn't go unpunished.
Unfortunately, this was an old and altogether too familiar story. The drunk had no driver's license, no insurance, several previous drunk driving and drug dealing convictions as well as a history of domestic violence. Nontheless, there were all kinds of folks willing to jump to his defense. Not only that, small town politics came into play when a lame duck prosecutor seemed determined to let the case slide into a world of bureaucraic oblivion.
Had our friend not been a deeply religious man, he might have considered taking the law into his own hands, but he did not. After months of determinedly uncaring bureaucrats and a morass of paperwork, he finally had the satisfaction of seeing that his wife's killer was convicted in a court of law. The sentence wasn't much as sentences go--a few paltry months in jail, three years of probation, and the loss of an already non-existent driver's license. To me, none of those hand-slapping punishments seemed adequate, not considering that the man had taken the life of a totally innocent victim.
Fortunately, as a writer of crime fiction, I have a few options for taking care of "bad guys" that aren't necessarily available to the public at large. Most of these options have nothing to do with law and order. Consider the fate of the dead dentist on the first page of my fifth book, Improbable Cause. When I wrote the dead dentist scene, I finally managed to wreak personal revenge on a sadistic dentist who had haunted a whole generation of kids in my home town by practicing novocaine-free dentistry. Not surprisingly, the murder weapon in my book was one of the sharper tools of the dentistry trade.
After watching this drunk driving story play itself our, there was no question in my mind about the beginning of my next Johanna Brady book, Dead to Rights, [Avon, Fall 1995?]. It starts with a man standing outside a veterinarian's office handing out leaflets for Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. The picketer turns out to be the widowed husband of a woman killed by the vet in a D.W.I. incident in Phoenix the year before. When the vet is found murdered a few hours later, naturally the grieving husband is the prime suspect.
It did my heart good to know that the drunk had gotten his just reward for a change. And as for the husband--did he do it or not?
That would be telling, now, wouldn't it?