Years ago I read a newspaper article about three bright girls, raised in Texas by immigrant families just north of America’s border with Mexico. By all accounts, they were the smartest, most promising kids at their public school. Their parents and teachers told them they could live the American dream as long as they stayed in school and worked hard. All three graduated near the top of their class from high school, and had plans to attend college.
But none of them was able to graduate. One girl got pregnant and quit school. Another had to withdraw from college to care for ailing parents. And the girl who was admitted to the most elite college found herself falling behind peers who had gone to much "better” high schools than her own.
When I started writing ALL DAY AND A NIGHT, my conscious desire was to write about a wrongful conviction case. In the United States, there have been more than 300 exonerations of convicted defendants through exculpatory DNA evidence. I liked the idea of having my series character NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher revisit the evidence against a convicted serial killer, Anthony Amaro, who has served twenty years of a life sentence for murder. This investigation requires her to second-guess the decisions of police officers and prosecutors made decades earlier. It also forces her to ask what is means to be "exonerated:" In the absence of a smoking gun to prove the defendant’s innocence, at what point are doubts about the original evidence sufficient to free someone who might indeed be guilty?
Writing about Anthony Amaro’s alleged crimes meant writing about his victims—young, powerless women who at one point had been promising little girls with big dreams, before poverty, addiction, abuse, and other hurdles made those dreams seem impossible, before they wound up on the streets to be hunted like prey by a killer. Writers can’t fictionalize crime without imagining—and depicting—the reality of the lives lost.
I also imagined what it would be like to be the one girl from the crowd who “made it.” From those threads of thought came Carrie Blank, a young attorney whose half-sister Donna was a stripper, drug addict, and one of Amaro’s alleged victims. Believing that the police convicted the wrong man, she agrees to represent Amaro as a way to find out who really killed her sister. To my surprise, ALL DAY AND NIGHT became a book about both Carrie and Ellie, working the same case from two opposing sides, but ultimately facing the same professional and personal struggles.
As I wrote, I would think back to that newspaper article about the three girls in Texas and wonder what ever became of them.
ALL DAY AND A NIGHT by Alafair Burke is out now, £10.00 ( Faber & Faber)