Will New Science Set a Mother Free After 26 Years in Prison?

I’ve been away for a while, immersed in my next book. But I’m back now, and eager to tell you about Burned, which will be published by Dutton Books in January. 

A few days ago I watched the conclusion to a court hearing on the murder case at the heart of Burned. It was a nail-biter, with the judge’s decision yet to be revealed. Here’s what he’s dealing with:

On an April night in 1989, three small children perished in a Los Angeles apartment fire. Their twenty-three-year-old mother, Jo Ann Parks, escaped unharmed, the sole survivor and only eyewitness. Though they at first believed the fire had been a tragic accident, arson investigators

soon decided that Parks had sabotaged wiring, set several fires herself, and even barricaded her four-year-old son inside a closet to make sure he could not escape the flames. The prosecutor on the case pronounced Parks one of the most monstrous killers in Los Angeles history, motivated by a desire to be free of parental responsibilities and eager to cash in by suing her landlords. Convicted through the power of forensic fire science, Parks remains in prison to this day, sentenced to life without possibility of parole. 

More than a quarter century later, however, there has been a revolution in the science of fire. Much of what was thought to be gospel in 1989 has been revealed to be myth and guesswork disguised as science. Now the Parks case has been reopened and re-investigated, the subject of an intense legal battle stretching over ten months in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Lawyers at the California Innocence Project hope to prove that false assumptions, tunnel vision and outright bias turned a terrible accident into a wrongful murder conviction. Parks, they say, has spent more than half her life in prison for a crime that never happened. 

Will Jo Ann Parks be exonerated? Should she be? Is she “Patient Zero” in an epidemic of wrongful arson convictions waiting to be overturned? Or can prosecutors come up with enough evidence from the ashes to make sure she dies in prison? No matter how this case turns out, someone will be left burned. 

This is my first true crime book in a while. I’m jazzed to be returning to the genre that started my career, with a murder mystery and tale of possible injustice that keeps you guessing until the very end. Stay tuned for more….

Your iPhone's 160,000 Mile Journey to Your Pocket

Did you know your morning coffee travels 30,000 miles to reach your cup— more than enough to circle the globe? 

That the parts of your smartphone journey 160,000 miles just to reach your pocket? 

Or that the average car makes the equivalent of a round trip to the moon before your first test drive? And go ahead, add another 100,000 miles for each tank of gas you buy, an oily cocktail from four states and fourteen foreign countries to a pump near you.

Such complex, meandering journeys lie behind nearly all we buy, eat, wear and touch—millions of miles embedded in every trip we take and every click we make. It’s a modern miracle. And absolute madness. All rolled in one.

Welcome to the world of Door to Door, my transportation detective story, which has just arrived in a new paperback edition. 

With Door to Door, I wanted to explore a vast and seemingly impenetrable story by bringing it home—literally. I simply looked inside my closet and sock drawer, my kitchen and garage, and asked the most basic of questions: How do the things I use every day get here? 

What does it take to a keep a modern American family fed and clothed and on the move? Who are the heroes and villains in our have-it-now economy, what are the techno-wonders that make it happen, and what are the hidden costs behind the global sourcing of… everything? 

The answers blew me away. I’ll never look at my car or my cup of coffee in quite the same way. I’d love to hear what you think.

Come take a ride with me and with Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation. The paperback edition is now available at a variety of booksellers. You can buy a copy of Door to Door at your favorite bookseller here. It's also available as an audiobook—perfect for commuting!

Inside the Door to Door Economy

Door to Door cover.jpg

My new book, Door to Door, digs into the daily miracles and madness behind our have-it-now, same-day-delivery world, revealing just what it takes—and costs—to keep ourselves and our stuff moving.

Door to Door will be available in print, eBook and audiobook from HarperCollins on April 12, and you can pre-order here.  Check back for Door to Door launch details soon. My publicist is  Joanna.pinsker@harpercollins.com.

Read a brief excerpt here.


Murder, Misconduct and Justice Delayed

On his last day of freedom, Scott Dekraai spoke on the phone with his ex-wife. Let’s meet for coffee, he suggested.

Michelle Fournier was shocked. A day earlier they had squared off at yet another court hearing in their acrimonious battle over custody of their eight-year-old son. Things had not gone Dekraai’s way at the hearing, and the argument had continued on the phone, until Dekraai brought his ex-wife up short with his suggestion that they meet in person.

No way, Fournier responded. She did not want to see him. Definitely not. This would prove to be a fateful decision. If he couldn’t have a one-on-one, Dekraai decided after hanging up on Fournier, he’d just have to confront his ex-wife at her workplace instead—one last time. Then he walked out to his garage to survey his well-oiled collection of five pistols, four rifles, and a 12-gauge shotgun.

The violence that followed just a few hours later would make national headlines. It would alter the course of lives and families for years to come. It would drag the peaceful, tight-knit community of Seal Beach into an exclusive club no one wishes to join: the fraternity of towns marred by mass murder. And, finally, the official response to Scott Dekraai’s rampage would expose and shame Orange County authorities who, in their zeal to ensure a win in court, had stopped playing by the rules that ensure justice for all.   

Scott Dekraai, without ever knowing it, had exposed the snitch tank. 

Read more at the Orange County Register or get the eBook here via the Kindle Store—my first true crime book since Mississippi Mud and Mean Justice.