How THE FIRM inspired the setting for my third thriller
In the early ‘90s, John Grisham published a novel called The Firm. In it, a shady Memphis law firm routinely flew its attorneys to Grand Cayman for long weekends, putting them up in the firm’s beachside condo and allowing the overworked lawyers some R&R. In reality, the firm was sending its best and brightest to the tropics to launder mob money.
The book’s island scenes were so fabulous that by the time The Firm finished selling seven million copies, Grand Cayman had morphed from a little known island that was a mere sixty-minute flight from Miami, to one of the Caribbean’s most sought after tropical destination. Behind the scenes, Cayman bankers are still cursing Mr. Grisham for shining such a bright spotlight on the dirty business that takes place under the shade of the island’s palm trees.
The Firm, even this many years later, remains one of my favorite suspense novels. As an author, I pick the book up every so often to remind myself how to write great suspense. But despite my scholarly intentions of learning a little something new about fiction writing, every time I open the pages I’m drawn back to the pure joy of the Cayman Island passages—the sunsets, the beach, the Red Stripe beers. I spent my honeymoon in the Caymans because of that book, and have been back twice since. So, when I started my third novel – the story of a true crime filmmaker creating a documentary about a haunting murder that took place ten years earlier – I thought long and hard about where that murder should take place. I decided the Caribbean was the perfect location.
As a place known for blue skies and swaying palm trees, the Caribbean also has its fair share of crime. At least, it did in The Firm. I figured it would work for my story as well.
When Grace Sebold visits the luxurious Sugar Beach Resort in St. Lucia with her boyfriend, Julian, she expects long days lying on the beach, cool dips in the ocean, and romantic nights filled with rum and reggae. But when Julian’s body washes up on Sugar Beach with a devastating head injury the morning after he and Grace have a very public argument, the St. Lucian authorities quickly pin the crime on her.
Ten years later and having spent much of her adult life in prison, Grace reaches out to an old college friend who has become a renowned filmmaker known for helping the wrongfully accused. Grace puts her life into her friend’s hands, and agrees to partake in the filming of a true crime documentary that sets out to find the truth about Julian’s death.
Soon, The Girl of Sugar Beach is drawing millions of viewers who tune in each week to see what new developments will be revealed during the real time serial documentary. As more and more secrets are unlocked about that fateful night in St. Lucia, the audience balloons to record-shattering numbers. But as the documentary gets closer to its closing episodes, the truth begins to emerge like a sunken Caribbean treasure, and everyone involved wonders if the truth is really what they’re all after, or if some treasures are better left buried.
If you like beach vacations, cold drinks, and the warm sun on your shoulders, then Don’t Believe It is right up your alley. Pull up a lounge chair, dip your toes in the sand, and get lost in the pages. Will Don’t Believe It do for St. Lucia what The Firm did for the Cayman Islands? I doubt it. But then again, just like the viewers of the documentary at the heart of the novel, you never know what’s coming next…