I can't tell you where the idea for this one came from, because I don't know. I do know I started off with a solution to murder, which is, in effect, a revelation of the motive. Then I worked out the situation, the characters, the setting, etc. that would make such a motive not only possible but also feasible. I didn't write the book backwards, but I did think it through from back to front. Never did that before.
In-Laws and Outlaws is the story of Gillian Decker, who is estranged from her late husband's family. She reads in an obituary column of the death of the Decker clan patriarch. A phone call to the new widow reveals there have been other recent deaths in the family as well: three teenagers were lost to a series of bizarre accidents, which the widow thinks were not accidents at all. She pleads with Gillian to come back.
So after an absence of ten years, Gillian rejoins the Deckers first in Boston and then on Martha's Vineyard. As she learns more about what's happened to the family in the past decade, she becomes increasingly convinced that someone is out to kill off the entire Decker clan -- which Gillian herself has now rejoined.
I made at least half the conflict in this story one between Gillian and the Deckers -- who are a powerful family, venture capitalists, politically connected. Gillian fled them originally because she felt her own identity slipping away as she became more and more submerged in Decker-ness. It's a problem that did not disappear with the years.
In-Laws and Outlaws is unique among my books in that it contains no humor whatsoever; it's dead serious right from page one to the last. That's the result of what was undoubtedly an overreaction on my part to seeing myself referred to in print just one time too often as a comic writer. Well, I do write comic mysteries, but not exclusively; I resented the pigeonholing. So I printed "Hold the jokes!" on a yellow stickie and put it up right where I'd see it every time I turned on the computer.
My original title for this book was Death Elsewhere -- which is the heading of the obituary column Gillian reads in the first scene. I thought that nicely underscored her apartness from what was happening in Boston. But by the time I finished the manuscript, I was beginning to suspect I needed something a little snappier. Death Elsewhere has no image or wordplay or anything else to help readers remember it.
So I changed it to In-Laws and Outlaws and felt much happier with that. But when the English publishers bought reprint rights, they didn't like "outlaws" -- it made them think of cowboys. They said, "Say, how about using Death Elsewhere as the title? You know, from the obituary column?" So in the end I wound up with both titles.
N.Y.: Scribner, 1990, 0-684-19263-2
N.Y.: Mysterious Book Club (BMOC), 1990
N.Y.: Detective Book Club, 1991
London: Piatkus [as Death Elsewhere], 1991
Boston: G. K. Hall, 1991
N.Y.: WorldWide, 1992, ISBN 0-373-26132-6
München: R. Piper Verlag [as Im engsten Familienkreis], 1992, ISBN 3-492-03536-1
Bucharest: Neurira [as Singe si rude de singe], 1994, ISBN 973-9144-00-4
Anstey, Leicester: F. A. Thorpe, 1994, ISBN 0-7089-3098-0