Courting Suspense

Since the age of 7, Robert Dugoni wanted to be a writer. He was one of 10 children in his family, and according to his biography, the bestselling author often jokes that he expressed himself through writing, because he rarely was able to talk.

He majored in communication at Stanford University and worked as a reporter for The Stanford Daily, which gave him an opportunity to hone his writing skills. Nevertheless, after graduating, he felt the pressure to go to graduate school.

"When you come from a large family, and your brothers and sisters are all overachievers in medical and law school, it's kind of written that you'd go into professional school," Dugoni said. "Then I went to law school. It fit my skills because I could write, then I practiced the law for 13 years. But it wasn't my passion."

In 1999, Dugoni decided to follow his passion. On the fourth anniversary of his wedding, Dugoni moved from the Bay Area to Seattle and started writing.

"I wanted to get back to what I love," he said. "It took a loving wife and my own personal drive to get back into the writing world. After 13 years, I set out to put together these novels."

His first published book was a nonfiction work, The Cyanide Canary, which chronicled an environmental crime in Soda Springs, Idaho. Since then, Robert Dugoni has gone on to publish four novels.

Considering his background in law, it makes sense that Dugoni displays a natural talent for creating detailed stories that often involve a courtroom.

"Absolutely, my background in law helps me, no matter what the novels I write are," he said. "The law teaches you to critically think. And critical thinking is something that you really do need to learn, so (while) putting together a novel where you are trying to engage the reader with twists and turns, and trying to construct a storyline, the law helps a lot. The best lawyers out there are the ones who can tell a story."

His newest book, Bodily Harm, is the third in his series of David Sloane novels.

"Sloane is a lawyer with a conscience," Dugoni said. "I just got a review where the writer calls Sloane 'the Rambo of lawyers.' He makes the right decisions, and he's one of those guys who people want to put their faith in. He has a very tragic background. There is a tremendous amount of pain in this character."

Dugoni said that many critics often ask him whether David Sloane is a reflection of himself.

"Probably in the first book, there was more of me in Sloane, but as he develops, there is less and less of me," Dugoni said. "I have family, a wife and kids, whereas he doesn't, and is constantly beset by tragedy. He's really come along as a fully fledged character."

In Bodily Harm, which was released on May 25 (Touchstone, $25), Sloane wins a case that puts a pediatrician, allegedly responsible for the death of a child, behind bars. However, something about the case does not sit well with Sloane, and his angst is furthered when a representative from a toy manufacturer comes forward to claim responsibility.

"I was looking through TIME magazine and reading an article on the 10 worst cars of all time," he said when asked about his inspiration. "There was an article on the Ford Pinto, a car I had driven. At the same time, there was an article about toys. I knew there was a memo made on the cost-benefit analysis, on how much the cost of a recall would be versus the cost of lawsuits. ... I came up with the scenario: What if this same memo came about, but for toy manufacturers?"

Dugoni has been touring the country to promote the book, but that doesn't mean he's taking it easy on his writing: He said he already has another deadline set for Sept. 28.

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