In Murray’s novel, students from Democracy High commit a robbery in which they badly beat up a convenience store owner as a gang activity. Murray says she didn’t want to pin that kind of behavior on Freedom or Liberty High School students.
“It’s got to be tough enough to run a high school these days,” Murray says. “I didn’t want to paint a picture of a specific high school necessarily that actually existed… I didn’t want to have one place that might be pictured in a way that would be perceived as only negative.”
“Forging Justice” is labeled a “restorative justice mystery” and might well be the first one. Murray, 58, got the idea for the story after taking a librarian job with the International Institute for Restorative Practices graduate school, with headquarters on Main Street in Bethlehem. The idea behind “restorative justice” is that those who commit crimes hear from the victims and the community about the impact of their offenses and make efforts to repair the harm they caused.
In Murray’s book, restorative justice practices were not used instead of the punishments meted out by the criminal justice system but rather in addition.
The novel’s heroine, Claire Cassidy, is a Bethlehem police detective who learns about restorative practices from the Democracy High School assistant principal, Daniel Pierce, while she is trying to solve the brutal beating and robbery.
A longtime mystery fan, Murray had written other mysteries and one of her previous manuscripts was a finalist in a St. Martin’s Press contest. But she hadn’t been able to find a publisher for her earlier work.
“At the time I had been writing for a while and trying to get published and the feedback I had been getting from editors was that the writing was OK but that I needed a new idea,” she says.
After taking the librarian job at the institute in 2006 and being immersed in restorative practices, Murray started to imagine that the subject could be the new idea she needed.
“So I tried to figure out what that would look like in structuring a novel,” she says. “What would the characters do? What would be different about this than a traditional mystery?”
Murray joined the Lehigh Valley Writers Group and says members have given her “tremendous support. I was finally getting enough feedback.”
To research the book, Murray interviewed high school counselors, principals and vice-principals, police officers and others in the juvenile justice system. She was able to observe a session of juvenile court in the Northampton County Court.
“I actually saw a teenage girl being unshackled to come in for her hearing and that was something I put directly into the book,” she says. “Because the shock of seeing that, if you were somebody’s parents, would be pretty brutal.”
But the book’s detective, Claire Cassidy, and vice-principal Daniel Pierce are composite, not based on any one person she has met.
“I was really impressed with how many people are out there, day after day, dedicated to trying to make a difference and do something that matters and often really frustrated with the kinds of things they encounter and have to deal with,” she says.
When she finished the manuscript, she gave it to her boss, Ted Wachtel, the president of the institute, to read and he agreed to have a small publishing company he owns, The Piper’s Press, publish it.
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