How To Plan a Murder in Washington, D.C.

I had the honor of speaking at the Smithsonian last night, leading a seminar called “How to Plan a Murder in DC.” I didn’t actually teach any deadly moves, but talked about how DC serves as a great setting for thrilling stories in novels and TV. As part of the seminar, the audience helped plot a murder using people, places and motives that are uniquely DC. We took suggestions and voted – winners got copies of my books (of course). The winning plot – and their creators –  are listed here:

Setting:   The Library of Congress (Janice McLean)
Killer:   The Director of the FBI (Charles Leven)
Victims:   The Nationals Relief Pitcher (Charles Cowan) and the CIA Director (Cathy Wiley)
Method:   With a baseball bat (Lisa King)
Motive:   The pitcher is a spy, and the CIA director was covering it up (Jennifer Skidmore)

This was a mishmash of ideas, but all together, I actually think this could be a decent novel. :)

Incidentally, Cathy Wiley, the woman who suggested the CIA director as a victim, was at the seminar with three other women… who were celebrating her bridal shower! I asked if Cathy’s husband-to-be knew that she was having her bachelorette party at a “How to Plan a Murder” seminar, and she said he wasn’t worried.  At least she has an alibi for last night. Congratulations, Cathy, and thanks for making my seminar your last hurrah as a single lady.

While we’re plotting murders in DC, here are a few more suggestions, from friends who helped me brainstorm this on Facebook:

Tim Hepp: “With a fountain pen in the Politics & Prose fiction room.”

Ed Uthman: “Murder in the Ford Theater, then posing the body in the diorama in the Natural History Meusum, leaving the clue, ‘Sic semper Tyrannosaurus.'”

Professor Ross Emmett: “Federal sex crimes prosecutor found dead in the sand at the base of the Smithsonian’s Foucault pendulum.”  (Yikes!)

Kathleen Teller-Stamis: “Someone takes out Boehner in his office, makes it look like over-tanning combined with lung cancer.”

Suzanne Libby: “An associate’s office at any law firm downtown – they’ve been snuffing out people’s souls for years.”

And my favorite, from the brilliant thriller writer Patrick Lee:

“The Supreme Court justices are stealing the Hope Diamond from the National Museum of Natural History. A janitor catches them. They tie him up, then decide 5 to 4 to kill him.”

Read on…

Here are a few articles that I wrote recently for other sites.  Readers of this blog might enjoy them, so I’m posting the links below.

I think we need to recalibrate our understanding of sexual assault: specifically, our understanding of who poses a danger to us and our kids.  More often than not, it’s the devil you know.  To find out why, read The Monster in the Three-Button Suit on Above the Law.

TV crime fans may appreciate the guest post I contributed to  Joyce Lamb’s Happily Ever After column on USA Today: The Top 5 Things TV Crime Dramas Get Wrong.

And, of course, I’d love for you to stop by Simon & Schuster’s website and read the first chapter of my latest novel, A GOOD KILLING.  Romance Reviews Today gave it their highest rating, a “Perfect 10.”

I hope you’ll like it, too!

My next book launch!

My fourth book, A GOOD KILLING, comes out May 12th!  I’m so excited to share it with you.

This is my best book yet. Anna goes home to Michigan to defend her sister against a murder charge. The story is about the bond between sisters, corruption in a small town, and the very different choices two women make to try to save the people they love.

I’ve been thrilled to hear some early reviews.

AGoodKilling-cvrLibrary Journal gave A GOOD KILLING a starred review, saying, “Leotta spins a delicious tale of suspense that will have readers hurrying to find out what happens but at the same time wanting to savor each page. This highly entertaining thriller shouldn’t be missed.”
Linda Fairstein said, “Leotta is one of the very best crime writers today. If you haven’t read her powerful series yet, start here.”

Please pre-order A GOOD KILLING today:

And I would love to see you at a book signing.  Check out my Events page to find a signing near you.
Thanks for your support, and happy reading!

Happy New Year!

Happy new year!  I hope you had a great time celebrating, hanging with friends, watching the ball drop on TV, or doing whatever makes you happiest.  Every New Year’s Eve, my husband and I sit down and recall our favorite moments of the year.  I won’t bore you with tales of the cute things my kids said, but here are a few of my favorite professional moments of 2014.

In August, I was a featured speaker at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in Boston.  It was a wonderful honor, but what made it even better was that my father — also a former federal prosecutor — flew into town for the event.  I got to publicly  thank him for inspiring me with his work, his love, and his ideals.

2014 ABA Annual Meeting Speakers, Allison Leotta

Sure, Justice Roberts gave an inspiring speech. But did he make his dad cry?

On the way to Boston, my family and I stopped by Martha’s Vineyard to attend a book signing hosted by the terrific Linda Fairstein.  Linda was Chief of the Sex Crimes Unit of the Manhattan DA’s Office for decades and now writes thrillers drawing on her experience.  As a prosecutor, she’s a personal hero of mine.  As a writer, she rocks.  I was thrilled to appear with Linda and Joseph Finder at the lovely Edgartown Books mystery brunch. My husband, Mike, deserves great credit for somehow making our kids appear to be polite and well-bred citizens of the world during these events.  The kiddos themselves had a blast in Massachusetts, not only practicing how to sit quietly during speeches, but also beachcombing, swimming and learning how to eat lobster.

Edgartown Books manager Susan Mercier, Linda Fairstein, Joseph Finder, Allison Leotta

Edgartown Books manager Susan Mercier, Linda Fairstein, Joseph Finder, yours truly

Cary Elwes and Allison Leotta

With apologies to Princess Buttercup.


In May, my publisher, Simon & Schuster, celebrated its 90th anniversary with a party at the beautiful Highline Hotel.  I feel so fortunate to be part of this incredible publishing tradition, working with some of the best editors and business people in the the country.  That night, I met Cary Elwes — yes, Wesley of The Princess Bride! — who recently published a book about making the movie.  He graciously told all the ladies “As you wish,” which elicited more than a few shrieks. He kissed my hand and said it was a pleasure to meet me, and I displayed great dignity by not swooning.



A Good Killing: A Novel

Best of all: I finished my fourth novel!    I’m so excited about this book — it’s my best one so far.  This is the fourth outing for my series heroine, Anna Curtis.  She goes home to Michigan to defend her sister Jody against a murder charge.  The story tackles issues like the rape-kit backlog, public corruption, and Detroit’s attempt at a comeback.  It’s also the most personal case for Anna yet.  I can’t wait for you to be able to read it.  A GOOD KILLING will come out this May, 2015 (you can pre-order it now).


Meanwhile, I hope you’re enjoying the first days of 2015, and that the new year brings you much luck, good health, happiness, success, and love!




I have a book recommendation for you! It’s David Lat’s SUPREME AMBITIONS. You probably know Lat as the founder of Above the Law, the website where young lawyers go for their legal news and gossip. Before founding that company, Lat was a Yale Law student, Ninth Circuit law clerk, and federal prosecutor – so he knows what he’s talking about in his debut novel. [Read more…]

Oscar Pistorius Verdict

In light of today’s verdict, where the “Blade Runner” was acquitted of murdering his girfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, many people have asked me what I think of the trial. Here, in bullet-points, are a few quick initial thoughts.

*Pistorius was found not guilty of murder, but is still on the hook for negligence. The judge may find Pistorius guilty of a lesser charge, “culpable homicide,” aka manslaughter.  That charge can carry anything from a suspended sentence to a long jail term. The judge will announce her decision on the culpable homicide issue tomorrow.

* She will apply the test of what a “reasonable man” with Pistorius’s disabilities should have done. She tipped her hand, saying she was “not persuaded that a reasonable person with the accused’s disabilities would have fired four shots” into the bathroom. Pistorius could have called security or went to the balcony and yelled for help.

* South Africa itself has been on trial, especially the police and criminal justice system. The police bungling of this high profile case makes you question what kind of mistakes happen under the radar in everyday cases. The case showed the worst of the police: mishandling of evidence, even evidence of the police stealing Pistorius’s watches. [Read more…]

How could she marry him? Why Janay Rice and so many domestic-violence victims stand by their man.

Of all the figures in the Ray Rice scandal, his wife Janay is the most mysterious.  Ray himself?  An irredeemable villain.  NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who initially gave Ray a paltry two-game suspension?  A coldhearted businessman protecting his bottom line.  But what about Janay Rice, the woman who said “I do” to the running back a few weeks after he beat her into unconsciousness?  Inexplicable.

In fact, 80% of domestic violence victims are back together with their abusers by the time of trial, and don’t want charges brought.  As a DV prosecutor, I saw this over and over.  I’d meet a woman the day of her attack. She’d be bloody and bruised and ready to send her assailant to jail. Two months later, on the day of trial, she’d be cuddling her abuser in the back of the courtroom. “Please, Ms. Leotta,” she’d say. “I don’t want him to go to jail. I love him. Drop the charges.”

If Janay Rice had been mugged by a stranger, she’d wanted him arrested.  But being beaten by a man you love is a very different thing. [Read more…]

Lessons from a Sex-Crimes Prosecutor — by Heide Herrmann

My friend, Heide Herrmann, is a sex-crimes prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia (the same job I held before becoming an author).  She has handled some of the office’s most high-profile sex-crime cases, but is known for bringing incredible diligence, compassion, and good judgement to every case that crosses her desk. Heide is leaving the USAO to work for DOJ’s Consumer Protection Branch.  Her recent Facebook post about the lessons she learned from the job really resonated with me.  In a few lines, she captured a lot of what the job is about.  Her post is reprinted below. Good luck with the new job, Heide, and thanks for making the city a better place: one day  and one person, at a time. — Allison

As I embark upon my last week as an Assistant United States Attorney, below is a list, in no particular order, of a few of the lessons I’ve learned over the last six years or so. Some more trite than others.

1.  You gotta fake it ’til you make it.

2.  Everything about being a prosecutor is scary as hell. And it’s how I now know how brave I am capable of being.

3.  When a person tells you that you can’t possibly understand how she feels, she’s right. But you should still try.

4.  I can’t fix all of the problems for all of the people I meet. But every day, there is at least one thing I can do to make one person’s life a little easier, safer or better.

5.  No means no. Unconscious means no. So drunk that she can’t walk or talk means no. If that seems obvious to you, good. Teach it to your sons anyway, because apparently it’s not obvious to everyone.

6.  If a car runs you down in the middle of a crosswalk, it’s the driver’s fault, not yours. But you still look both ways before crossing. Young women — please think about how much you drink, and whether you’ll still be safe if you have another, and another, and another. If a man assaults you it’s his fault, not yours, but I’d rather you never find yourself in that situation.

7.  Hug your children. Tell them how important they are. Talk to them, listen to them, love them, protect and appreciate them. If you already do that, good. Do it more. You’d be surprised how many children have no one who gives them the most basic care and kindness. I don’t want to tell you more, because then it’ll hurt you, the way it hurts me.

8.  There is no group of people more concerned about doing justice, protecting the vulnerable, and maintaining the highest level of ethical and professional standards than the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. I will always be proud to have practiced alongside these heroic prosecutors, and to have served the citizens of the District of Columbia.