Interview: Elka Ray

Let’s get to know Elka Ray, author of Divorce is Murder!

What’s your idea of a perfect day?

A double espresso in the garden. A swim in the warm ocean. And a lot of quiet time writing.

What made you interested in writing this particular story? 

At its core, Divorce Is Murder is about love and family – the people who help us overcome trauma. The main character, Toby Wong, moves home to the small town where she was bullied as a teen. I was never bullied, which kind of amazes me since I was a huge dork and moved around a lot, so I was always the new kid. I was cute and blonde, which helped. I looked the part of a popular kid, even when I wasn’t. My kids are half Asian. I think about race and identity a lot – and that’s part of Toby’s story.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing? 

Anxiety is a big one, as is the sense of not belonging. In this case, Toby has good reason to be anxious – someone is out to kill her. But she beats herself up about a lot of little things too, as do most women. We need to stop this useless striving for perfection.

Tell us about your main character. / Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

Toby Wong is a divorce lawyer. She’s smart, accomplished, and her own worst enemy, still buffeted by the trauma she endured twenty years ago. Her anxiety doesn’t quench her innate curiosity or stop her from helping others. Think Wreck It Ralph, a grown-up Veronica Mars, and a shorter, Asian Hermione Granger.

Tell us a bit about yourself. / Where do you see yourself in five years – this is the time to dream big!

I’m Canadian and live on the beach in Central Vietnam. It’s been home for decades. I love it. In five years I hope to be doing exactly what I do now: writing suspense, spending time with my husband and kids as they grow up (yes – we’re all still growing up!), and getting new books out.


Elka Ray is the Canadian author of Divorce is Murder.

Born in the UK and raised in Canada, Elka has two previous novels, Saigon Dark and Hanoi Jane; a short-story collection, What You Don’t Know; and a series of children’s picture books about Vietnam, where she currently lives with her family.

Elka grew up in Victoria, B.C. Canada, the setting for her latest mystery. The she’s not writing, drawing, or reading, Elka is in the ocean.


Interview: TC LoTempio

Lets get to know TC LoTempio, author of The Time for Murder is Meow!

What’s your idea of a perfect day?

A bright sunny afternoon where I can relax on my patio with my cats, laptop on my lap, communing with nature as I plot out my next book.

What made you interested in writing this particular story? 

The cat came before anything else. My friend Barbara wanted me to write a story featuring a one-eyed white Persian cat.  The heroine, Shell, went through many different professions before I finally settled on her owning a pet shop.  I became totally invested in the characters, particularly the main ones of Shell and her ex-co star Gary, and couldn’t wait to tell their adventures. One thing remained constant through every incarnation:  They were both actors who’d co-starred on a popular spy series, sort of a homage to a favorite series of mine, “The Scarecrow and Mrs. King.”

  What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing? 

Cats!  Cats are featured prominently in every one of my series:  Nick the tubby tuxedo in the Nick and Nora series, and Toby the gold tabby from the Cat Rescue series are modeled after my own cats, ROCCO and Maxx.  Purrday was the brainstorm of one of my friends.  I am a big animal lover, always have been, so animals are always a large part of my stories.

Tell us about your main character. / Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

Wow, well, I’d describe Shell as sort of a combination of the original Charlie’s Angels!  She’s got the looks of Jill (Farrah Fawcett), the charm of Kelly (Jacklyn Smith) and the brains and flair for detection of Sabrina (Kate Jackson).  She’s also got a little bit of Amanda King in her (another Kate Jackson character).  Shell’s an ex-actress who’s actually a bit relieved to be done with the profession (much to the dismay of her mother, a Shakespearean actress) and eager to start her new life as the proprietor of her late aunt’s pet shop.  Shell might hate the limelight, but her sleuthing abilities thrust her back into it pretty quickly, albeit in a different role.    Shell has a good deal of patience as evidenced by her relationship with Gary, her ex-costar.  Gary plays a very prominent role in her life, as well as her current flame, Detective Joshua.  Will there be a battle between the two for Shell’s affections?  One never knows!

Tell us a bit about yourself. / Where do you see yourself in five years – this is the time to dream big!

I was born in New York City and moved to New Jersey at the age of thirteen.  I was married and then divorced, and moved back in with my parents to take care of them. After they passed, I was encouraged by a friend to get back into writing.  16 years later, I sold my first series, The Nick and Nora mysteries, to Penguin.  That was followed by the Cat Rescue series to Crooked Lane and then the Pet Shop Mysteries.  I enjoy reading and I’m also a closet chef!  I love experimenting in the kitchen and watching cooking reality shows! 

Five years from now I’d like to be in my condo in Arizona, working with animals in some way, maybe a rescue group.  Career wise, I’d like to have at least two successful series, and I’d definitely like to have a book on the New York Times bestseller list – maybe a thriller!

If you’d like to keep up with my latest news, visit either ROCCO’s blog at or my website, www.tclotempio.netWhere you can sign up for my quarterly newsletter!  I’m also on twitter @RoccoBlogger and Facebook!


T.C. LoTempio is the national bestselling author of the Nick and Nora mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime. Her cat, Rocco, provides the inspiration of the character of Nick the cat. She also writes the Cat Rescue series from Crooked Lane. While the author does not commit — or solve — murders in real life, she has no trouble doing it on paper.

Her lifelong love of mysteries began early on when she was introduced to her first Nancy Drew mystery at the age of 10 — The Secret in the Old Attic. LoTempio lives in Clifton New Jersey, just twenty minutes from the Big Apple with her two cats Rocco and Maxx.

Interview: Ann Aguirre

Let’s get to know Ann Aguirre, author of The Third Mrs. Durst.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?

I have no work to do. In the morning, I order breakfast from Le Pain Quotidien and get their special scramble, which includes eggs, bacon, tomato, peppers, and onions. It’s served with sourdough toast. I have a chai latte and then I decide what book I’m going to read while lounging in the sun on the terrace. I’ll either finish the book or end up napping. Either one is a good outcome. My pets will come and snuggle with me at some point (two cats and a mini dachshund). When it gets too warm outside, I’ll come in and have lunch, something simple that I can just pull out of the fridge. Then I feed the pets their lunch.

In the afternoon, I play video games. Hopefully Bioware has something new out. And at night, I’ll be watching an amazing Korean drama with my family. Then I’ll take a long, romantic bath with my husband, and then… well. I think I can fade to black here. Perfect day!

What made you interested in writing this particular story? 

The current political situation, primarily. I think we’re all tired of seeing people victimized. The Third Mrs. Durst is a revenge fantasy, written for every survivor who never got justice, let alone revenge. Plus, we’re all tired of seeing evidence that rich, cis white men can get always with almost anything. In this book, I flip the script and it was so satisfying to walk on the dark side and let myself punish all the rich, terrible men who hurt people and get away with it and who start to believe they’re above any reprisal. Not in this story, pal.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing? 

Found family is definitely a theme I come back to. While people can’t choose their biological families, they can choose who they bond with and who they surround themselves with throughout their daily lives. In my stories, characters may often be estranged from their actual families due to ideological differences or sometimes their families are dead. But I tend not to write lone wolves, so there will be others occupying mentor roles or standing in for siblings. Friends say a lot about who you are, and I like to explore the bonds that we determine for ourselves, who we love and why, and what keeps us loyal, no matter what.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

Oooh, this is fun. Marlena is like…Cinderella mixed with Machiavelli. Add a touch of Imperator Furiosa, and you have Marlena. She’s got the rags to riches mystique, she’s cunning and careful and she plots against her enemies like Machiavelli. (This is one of my favorite quotes by the way and it’s so apropos: “A man who has a small injury will want revenge, yet a man who is dead will not.” The longer version of the quote, paraphrased, is that it’s best to crush your enemies so badly that they can never rise against you. And that’s Marlena to the bone. Furiosa represents Marlena’s willingness to fight all the way to the wall, even putting her own life on the line, if necessary. I hope readers love following her story to the conclusion!

Tell us a bit about yourself. / Where do you see yourself in five years – this is the time to dream big!

This is something I haven’t talked about, but I’ve always dreamed of writing games as well as fiction. In five years, I hope I’ll still be writing stories that people enjoy, but by then, I would like to have diversified to create more interactive entertainment as well. I do have some irons in the fire in that regard so we’ll see how well I do at spinning these dreams into reality, like Rumpelstiltskin with his straw and gold. Thanks so much for inviting me! It’s been a pleasure.


This wife is no trophy.

Marlena Altizer Durst lives in her husband’s shadow. He controls her every move—what she wears, the food she eats, and the friends she’s allowed to make. If she disobeys, there are…consequences. And he has all the power.

To outsiders, it seems that she leads a fairy-tale life. But nobody ever wonders if Cinderella was happy after she married the prince. Marlena has traded freedom and safety for luxurious imprisonment, and most days, that seems like a bad bargain. Death may be the only exit she’s allowed. Just like his first wife. And his second. Unless she flips the script.

Some people just need killing.


Ann Aguirre is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling
author and RITA winner with a degree in English Literature.
She writes all kinds of genre fiction for adults and teens,
and has published forty-two novels and novellas with
Penguin, Macmillan, Harlequin and others.

Before she began writing full time, she was a clown, a clerk, a voice actress, and a savior of stray kittens, not necessarily in that order. She grew up in a yellow house across from a cornfield, but now she lives in sunny Mexico with her husband, children, and various pets. She likes books, emo music, and action movies.

Connect with Ann online


Facebook: /ann.aguirre

Goodreads: /Ann-Aguirre


Twitter: @MsAnnAguirre

Guest Post: Jean Rabe

Welcome back Jean Rabe on her tour for Dead of Summer!

Author Pieces

When I read George R.R. Martin’s Fevre Dream (marvelous book about vampires on a river boat) I was certain that there were pieces of George in the Abner Marsh character. Abner felt too real. Maybe he was instead based on someone George knew. Abner had a realness to him, so much so that I figured I could invite him over for dinner … provided I cooked seven courses.

Ever since then I’ve guessed at the “real” factor in fiction books. Were the events something that happened to the author and he or she translated them into the tale? Were the fictional places based on real settings the author visited or lived in? Sure, authors have a great imagination and can employ serious description prowess. But sometimes a line gets crossed and a setting or incident or character smacks you in the face as too-real-to-not-be-real.

My friend Donald J. Bingle writes spy thrillers. I spot the “pieces” in it; he uses places he’s been to, nature trails he’s walked, airports he’s scrutinized. Another author buddy puts her cats in her stories. Another feeds her characters dishes she’s learned to make and dresses them in her favorite outfits. I dress far too casually to put characters in my clothes … though maybe Zeke could sport one of my nerdy t-shirts.

I set my Piper Blackwell books in Spencer County, Indiana … which I’ve been to. But I fictionalize all the pieces of it, and the people I sprinkle in the stories. Piper has pieces of me in her, in that she has critters, lives in a ranch-style house, has a basement filled with books, and likes to watch lightning bugs and read Harry Bosch. There are pieces of me in Oren, Piper’s chief deputy. Oren’s closer to my age and he recalls things from his childhood that I pulled from my own—reading comic books, putting baseball cards in the spokes of bike wheels so they’d click-clack, fishing with friends. Oren doesn’t like cell phones and doesn’t text. Wonder where he got that from? There are a few pieces of me in the goth-loving dispatcher who dresses a bit like Morticia Addams and fuses glass jewelry in her spare time. And there are certainly pieces of me in Zeke the Geek, Piper’s recent hire. Oddly, I based the serial killer in Piper’s first outing on me. Yeah. I’d never kill a person. I rescue bees and flies out of the doggie swimming pool. But the killer’s motivation mirrored something festering in my soul.

I’ve found some pieces from my past that I’m going to twist into the plot of Piper #4. I’m digging through the corners of my brain to pull out the times I spent getting lost in Kentucky and in the woods behind the 4-H grounds. I met some scary, sicko dudes when I covered crime for Scripps-Howard. I’m going to take pieces from two of them and stir until one awful villain emerges.

It’s about the pieces.

I started out writing fantasy—dragons, dwarves, and the like, and I return to the genre from time to time. I didn’t put pieces of me in those books, though maybe I should have. Well, I did write a goblin trilogy where the main characters were based on dogs I’d had through the years. I’ve a book with dinosaurs and swashbucklers outlined. There is a piece or two of me that I could wedge into that mix if I want to. But maybe I’ll keep the real pieces for my real-world modern-day stuff.

And the next piece of the puzzle I have to figure out … what do I call Piper #4? The Dead of … what? There’s gotta be dead in the title, eh?


Excerpt from The Dead of Summer

Piper sped out of the lot and onto the street, pressed the accelerator and breathed in relief when she caught the green light at the first intersection.

“Zeke,” she said into the radio. “I’m joining in on this.” Then she radioed Jake and Diego, who were patrolling somewhere in the county. “We need to stop this car,” she told them. “The men are armed and certainly dangerous. And somehow they’re involved in the Silver case.” She hadn’t really needed to add the armed and dangerous part; Piper had been thorough in her BOLO. Oren was either in Evansville or Owensboro and would be no help. Basil was still at the courthouse; she’d catch them up later. Right now, she focused on the street and drove faster. The few cars on the street pulled over.

She took Main to Fifth, expecting to see the gray Mazda coming in her direction. The parked and stopped cars were a blur of color separated by the asphalt gaps of empty spaces; it seemed like there were always places to park in the small town. Pedestrians were limited, and they stayed on the sidewalks against the old brick buildings, heads swiveling and cell phones in hand as Piper sped out of the business district and into a residential stretch.

The chatter on the radio guided her, and she jinked left onto Washington, then right onto North Seventh, catching sight of the bouncing lights of a Rockport police car ahead. She kept her speed steady, resisting the urge to press the pedal harder. A sedan pulled away from the curb, the driver oblivious to her lights, and she almost struck it. She leaned on the horn and swerved around. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a woman come out onto her front porch, cell phone up and likely videoing; then she was past the house and closing on the Rockport squad, which made a quick turn onto Vine.

There were kids in a wide front yard playing croquet. They’d stopped their game to watch. Near them a big brown dog barked loudly. This wasn’t the place for a chase, too many variables—children, pets, unwary motorists. Piper had to absorb the surroundings and process it all immediately. She turned on her siren.

Diego radioed that he was back in Rockport, on Lincoln.

“Straight north,” she said. “Head up to Vine.”

She couldn’t see around the Rockport squad until it veered to avoid a car edging out into the intersection. The squad turned on its siren, too. The lights and racket bounced off clapboard houses. Piper stuck her head out the window, hoping to see beyond the squad and catch a glimpse of the Mazda. There!

“Cutting through the alley,” someone in the squad car reported. “One in the car, won’t pull over. Can’t force it over here. No room.”

There were more kids in yards and cars parked against the curb; forcing the Mazda over along this stretch could be disastrous.

Zeke and Aggie had claimed there were two men when they’d seen the car before behind Sam’s, and two when they had tried to grab Aggie. Maybe one was hunkered down. Piper saw only one.

The chase continued east onto Sycamore, and Diego radioed in that he spotted Piper’s Explorer. The street was wider, and a little busier, cars that had been traveling on it pulled over, respecting the lights and sirens.

Piper navigated through them and was two car lengths back from the Rockport squad. The radio chatter continued:

“Fast for an old car,” someone in the squad reported. “Driver’s crazy or good. If he takes it out on to 66, we’ll have room to force him off.”

As if to accommodate them, a moment later the gray car swung left onto 66 and gunned it, opening up the distance. It shot well ahead of the Rockport squad and increased its lead.

“Sonofabitch,” Piper cursed. “You’re not getting away.”


I WRITE…A LOT. And I write with dogs wrapped around my feet. I get to wear sandals or bedroom slippers to work, and old, comfortable clothes. When the weather is fine I get to write on my back porch. I love summer. I am working on promotions for The Dead of Summer right now, the third in my Piper Blackwell series. It has a nifty cover … which fits where the story kicks off. The first two books in the series are The Dead of Winter and The Dead of Night. Yeah, someone ends up dead in each book. Gotta have a death to make it a murder mystery. and I put a good amount of death in this latest book

I started getting published when I was 12, studied journalism at Northern Illinois University, then went to work as a news reporter…eventually for Scripps Howard, where I managed their Western Kentucky bureau. Getting itchy feet, I moved to Wisconsin and went to work for TSR, Inc., the then-producers of the Dungeons & Dragons game. I dipped my itchy feet into the fiction pool and wrote Dragonlance novels for several years.

I’ve written forty SF, fantasy, mystery, and adventure novels (including a couple of ghosted projects), more short stories than I care to count, and I’ve edited magazines and anthologies.

Right now it’s all about mysteries…thrillers, suspense and uncozy-cozies. I had to change genres from SF and fantasy ’cause my feet were itching again and I needed to do something different. I attend game conventions–as I am a geek about boardgames and rpgs, work as a mentor for graduate-level writing students, and toss tennis balls for my cadre of dogs

The Dead of Summer:

Amazon author page

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Guest Post: Susan Spann

Please welcome back Susan Spann, author of the fabulous Hiro Hattori Shinobi Mysteries. Sometimes you need to push outside your comfort zone…even if that means believing in ghosts.

Ghostly Writing . . . Outside the Comfort Zone by Susan Spann

As a writer of series fiction, I normally spend my writing days in the company of characters I know inside and out. My novels, which are set in 16th century Japan, take place in a complex but familiar world. However, it’s easy for a series to grow stale if authors don’t continue to push themselves, and their characters, outside the safety of that “comfort zone.”

Sometimes, we push ourselves—for example, by exploring new themes or letting our characters travel to new places in a series world. But sometimes, the best “push” of all comes from a friend, or an experience—or both—that inspires us to take our characters to places we would not have thought to take them on our own.

Case in point: the upcoming seventh installment in my Hiro Hattori mystery series, Ghost of the Bamboo Road (Seventh Street Books, November 2019).

Neither my ninja detective, Hiro, nor his Jesuit sidekick Father Mateo believes in ghosts. Many 16th century people did, especially in Japan, but since my mysteries don’t cross over into paranormal fiction, my characters have never worried about scary things that go bump in the night.

At a writers’ conference in 2016, my friend (and fellow author) Kerry Schafer asked me what Hiro would do if he saw a ghost.

“That’s easy,” I replied. “He wouldn’t see one, because he knows that they don’t exist.”

The conversation ended there, but some questions (just like ghosts) do not die easily. 

In 2017, while promoting the release of the fifth Hiro Hattori novel, Betrayal at Iga, I attended a joint bookstore event with Kerry Schafer (whose second Shadow Valley Manor mystery, World Tree Girl, had just released) and Lisa Alber (who was similarly celebrating the release of Path Into Darkness, her third County Clare Mystery). During the event, we were asked what our protagonists would do when faced with a paranormal mystery.
This time, I took the question seriously—in part because, in the intervening year, I’d had an experience I could not explain. 

In the autumn of 2016, I went to Japan on a research trip. During my travels, I visited Koyasan, a sacred mountain in Wakayama Prefecture, south of Kyoto. In addition to its 1,300 year history as a holy site, Koyasan is home to Japan’s largest cemetery, Okunoin, which measures more than a kilometer in diameter and is home to more than 200,000 graves. During my visit, I took a nighttime tour of the cemetery led by a Buddhist priest. At the end of the tour, as the other participants left to walk back through the cemetery, I remained behind to ask the priest about the history of Okunoin. 

When we finished our conversation, I thanked the priest and began the long walk across the cemetery on my own. The wide stone path was straight and well illuminated, and I stopped several times to photograph the monuments and graves. At one such stop, I heard the distinctive clopping sound of a Buddhist priest’s traditional wooden sandals behind me on the path. As the footsteps reached my position, I lowered my camera and turned to bow and say “good evening” as he passed.

But as I turned, the footsteps ceased … and no one was there.

The path stretched out before me, completely empty for more than twenty yards in both directions. I hadn’t imagined the approaching footsteps, but I also had no reasonable explanation for the empty path, so I did what any self-respecting mystery writer would do. 

I panicked and ran away.

According to Japanese legend, a ghost by the name of Beto-Beto frightens travelers by making the sound of wooden clogs behind them in the dark. Did I meet him on that path? I still don’t know. I have no explanation for what happened in the ancient cemetery that November night. However, the experience made me less inclined to dismiss Kerry’s question a second time. 

The truth was, I didn’t know what Hiro and Father Mateo would do if confronted with a ghost (though I suspected, unlike me, they wouldn’t run). The fact that I wasn’t certain how they would react intrigued me, and I set out to learn the answer. The result of that inquiry is Ghost of the Bamboo Road—a novel that not only required my protagonists to confront, and re-examine, their preconceptions about a legendary Japanese spirit, but pushed my writing far outside my usual comfort zone.


Susan Spann is the author of the bestselling Hiro Hattori mystery series, as well as Climb (Prometheus Books, 2020), an upcoming nonfiction book about her quest to climb 100 Japanese mountains in a single year.

She was the 2015 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year, and currently lives in Tokyo where, when not writing or editing, she enjoys hiking, photography, and sharing photographs from her travels across Japan. You can find her online at, on Instagram (@SusanSpann_author), and on Facebook(/SusanSpannAuthor). 

Interview: Jennifer Kincheloe

Let’s get to know Jennifer Kincheloe, author of The Body in Griffith Park, and see how she answers our Mysteristas questions!

What’s your idea of a perfect day?

Can it be really long? Writing would be part of my perfect day. Travel too. I’d probably be in Paris or Mexico City for the museums and the food. Maybe I’d hit the opera house. But I also want to walk on a wild beach, so I’d probably need a helicopter. My husband would be there, my kids, my mom, my sisters, my cousins. At night, I’d have a book release party for the French (or Spanish) translations of the Anna Blanc mystery series.

What made you interested in writing this particular story? 

I was inspired by heroic women. Alice Stebbins Wells became the first female cop in Los Angeles in 1910. That took guts to be the only woman among hundreds of male cops. Also, Fanny Bixby, who was a lot like Anna Blanc. Fanny was young, pretty, single, and the daughter of one of the richest men in California. She became a special constable in 1908, carrying handcuffs and a gun. Like Anna Blanc, her family and society didn’t think much of her police work.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing? 

Sexism. Racism. Social issues that touch Anna’s jail like mental illness, poverty, substance use, and the exploitation of women. All of these issues are still problems today. They’ll probably keep popping up in my writing until we solve them.

Tell us about your main character. / Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

Scarlett O’Hara, Lucille Ball, and Sherlock Holmes. Anna Blanc is as glamourous, clueless, and pragmatic as Scarlett. Like Scarlett, she doesn’t always know her own heart. She can be as goofy, mischievous, and self-absorbed as Lucy. Although frilly on the outside, Anna has a razor-sharp mind, like Sherlock.

Tell us a bit about yourself. / Where do you see yourself in five years – this is the time to dream big!

I used to be a research scientist on the faculty of UCLA. I took time off to write and be with my kids. It’s hard to get back into academia once you’ve stepped out of it. Academia is all about your last publication, and Anna Blanc mysteries don’t count.

Dreaming big, in five years, I’ve combined my careers. I have a successful Anna Blanc TV series, and they let me be a writer on the show. And since we’re dreaming, I play Madame Lulu and I’m fabulous (This part is a stretch. I have no acting experience or training.) Meanwhile, I’m cranking out new Anna Blanc mystery novels, while doing criminal justice policy research part-time at a major think tank. My novels are translated into every language on earth.


About A Body in Griffith Park

Los Angeles, 1908. Anna Blanc is a former so-so socialite, a flailing police matron, and a killer detective.

Ex-heiress, Anna Blanc, is precariously employed by the Los Angeles Police Department, reforming delinquent children and minding lady jailbirds. What she really wants is to hunt criminals and be alone with Detective Joe Singer–both no-nos that could get her fired. On a lover’s tryst in Griffith Park, Anna and Joe discover the body of a young gambler. Anna can’t resist. She’s on the case. With a murder to solve and her police matron duties piling up, a young girl shows up at Central Station claiming to have been raped by a man from Mars. The men at the station scoff, but Anna is willing to investigate. Meanwhile, Anna begins getting strange floral arrangements from an unknown admirer. Following the petals leads her to another crime–one close to home. Suddenly pitted against Joe, Anna must examine her loyalties and solve the crimes, even if it means losing the man she loves.


Jennifer Kincheloe is a research scientist and writer of historical mysteries. Her novels take place in 1900s Los Angeles among the police matrons of the LAPD and combine, mystery, history, humor, and romance. The Woman in the Camphor Trunk was released in November, 2017 and was nominated for a prestigious Lefty Award.

Her debut novel, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc was a finalist in the Lefty Awards for Best Historical Mystery, The Colorado Author’s League Award for Best Genre Fiction, the Macavity Sue Feder Award for Historical Mystery, and is the WINNER of the Mystery & Mayhem Award for Historical Mystery and the Colorado Gold for Best Mystery.

Jennifer grew up in Southern California, but has traveled to such places as Greenland, Nicaragua, Ethiopia, and Papua New Guinea. She’s been a block layer, a nurse’s aid, a fragrance model, and on the research faculty at UCLA, where she spent 11 years conducting studies to inform health policy. Jennifer currently lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband and two teenagers, two dogs, and a cat. There she conducts research on the jails.

Interview: Robert McCaw

Let’s get to know Robert McCaw, author of Off the Grid.

Tell us about your main character.

Koa Kāne, the Chief of Detectives in Hilo, Hawaii, and protagonist of Off the Grid, cannot escape the shadows of his past. Growing up poor on the northern coast of the Big Island, he watched the plantation managers and overseers suck the life out of his father, a lowly sugar worker, who died in a premeditated mill accident. As a teenager in a rage filled outburst, Koa attacked and inadvertently killed the sugar mill manager who had harassed and arranged the “accident” that struck down Koa’s father. Koa camouflaged the manager’s death as a suicide and, although  shocked at the consequences of his violence, escaped society’s punishment. Yet, his guilt drove him into the military where the death of his dearest friend, a future police recruit, prompted Koa to become a cop in his friend’s honor. Koa, you see, seeks redemption in the pursuit of justice.

As a killer turned cop who evaded the police, Koa knows human foibles and harbors suspicions of all he encounters. He is paranoid that he will be deceived as he himself once deceived. At the same time, he retains an unusual empathy for victims, peering deeply into their lives, passions, and faults in order to apprehend killers and others who cross the law.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?

People are not who they seem to be. All of us harbor secrets. Many deceptions are small and insignificant, yet we still guard them jealously. Often though, there is at the core of a person a hidden dark place that fundamentally differentiates who they are from the superficial persona they exhibit. Koa Kāne, my police chief detective protagonist, is such a person, and my novels are filled with similar characters. Off the Grid, for example, is all about two loners living in rural Hawaii who are anything but what they appear.

Another of my favorite themes is our insignificance. When my characters stand under the night sky or next to the awesome gaping maw of the Kilauea volcano, they glimpse the speck of their lifespan in the context of the eons of our universe. It sucks the arrogance out of them.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

If Off the Grid, my latest mystery/thriller, were chocolate, it would be a dark chocolate Matryoshka doll (also known as a Russian nesting doll) and inside would be a grand progression of ever smaller dolls, each one of richer and deeper chocolate, until finally at the very center would be the tastiest chocolate truffle you have ever eaten. In that way, the evolving nature of the chocolate would mirror the panoply of characters and events that unfold throughout my books.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

In am going to take this question in a direction the interrogator may not have considered. I would include those people who have probed and pondered the deepest mysteries of space, time, and the human mind. My guests would be: Albert Einstein, Leo Tolstoy, Robert J. Oppenheimer, Sigmund Freud, Stephen Hawking, and Simone de Beauvoir.

What’s next for you?

I’ve been lucky. Mel Parker, my wonderful agent, and Oceanview Publishing, a terrific high-quality mystery/thriller publisher, have arranged to release my third book, Fire and Vengeance, in 2020. I’m hard at work on a fourth book (as yet untitled) in the Koa Kāne mystery series, one that will delve even more deeply into the chief detective’s sordid history. After that, time will tell.

Robert McCaw grew up in a military family traveling the world. After graduating from Georgetown University, he served as a lieutenant in the US Army before earning his law degree from the University of Virginia. Thereafter he practiced as a partner in a major international law firm in Washington, DC, and New York City—and maintained a home on the Big Island of Hawai’i. McCaw brings a unique authenticity to his Koa Kāne Hawaiian mystery novels in both his law enforcement expertise and his ability to portray the richness of Hawai’i’s history, culture, and people. McCaw lives in New York City and La Jolla, California, with his wife, Calli.