HEROINES OF THEIR OWN STORY: SCOTT BUTKI INTERVIEW CRISTINA ALGER

I’ve heard much praise for Cristina Alger, mainly due to the success of her novel, The Banker’s Wife, so I had high expectations for her new book, Girls Like Us.

Alger met the hype and them some. With fascinating, deep characters and excellent plots with good twists, I was enthralled with this book.

Girls Like Us Cover ImageThe novel centers on the investigations of three grisly murders on Long Island, inspired by the real-life Gilgo Beach murders.

As the book begins, FBI Agent Nell Flynn has returned home to Suffolk County for the first time in ten years following the death of her father, a local homicide detective, with whom she’s always had a complicated relationship. Her mother was brutally murdered when Nell was just 7.

Intending to spread his ashes and take care of his affairs and leave, Nell instead gets pulled into investigating local murders.  She becomes increasingly convinced that her father, who died in a motorcycle accident, should be the prime suspect and his follow cops were covering his tracks.

Alger worked as a financial analyst and a corporate attorney before becoming a writer. Her other books include The Darlings, and This Was Not the Plan.

She was nice enough to agree to do an email interview with me.

Scott Butki: How did this story come together?

Cristina Alger: I’ve always been a true crime addict, and when the bodies of four young, female sex workers were found on Gilgo Beach in Long Island (a town which happens to be not too far from where I live) I followed the case with obsessive interest. The more research I did, the more questions I had, not just about the killer but about the police officers conducting the investigation. Eventually, all my late-night research blossomed into a novel.

Scott: Which comes first for you, characters or plot?

Cristina: I was a lawyer in my past life, and most of my novels come from true crime stories which pique my interest. If I find myself researching a news story or cold case for long enough, I can’t help but wonder how I can turn it into background for a novel. So I’d say plot comes first, though character goes a long way in refining the details.

Scott: How did you come up with the intriguing premise of a FBI agent realizing the primary suspect in a series of grisly murders might be her recently deceased father, himself a homicide detective? 

Cristina: When I decided to write a book loosely based on the Gilgo Beach murders, I realized the thing that interested me most about the case was a theory that kept cropping up on true-crime web forums (and which I kept considering myself): the killer was actually a member of the Suffolk County Police Department and was actively working to keep the case cold. I used that theory as the springboard for the novel. I’ve always been interested in the relationship between adults and their parents — that theme comes up again and again in my writing — so it added an extra element to have Nell, the protagonist, investigating her own father.

Scott: How did you do research for this book?

Cristina: I had the best stroke of luck when researching this book: a bookseller friend of mine introduced me to her husband, a retired Suffolk County Police Detective. He was an amazing resource for me, and offered up so much background on his career and cop culture generally. After I met him, the book really started to click into place.

Scott: What do you want readers to take away from this book?

Cristina: As a thriller reader myself, I’m tired of reading about women who are crazy or manipulative or in need of saving. The suspense market feels flooded with these stories. I hope readers walk away from my books feeling like an alternative exists: there are thrillers which highlight strong, independent women, women who are the heroines of their own stories.

Scott: What has it been like getting praise from such authors as Lee Child and Nelson DeMille for your books?

Cristina: I mean, dreamy! I can hardly believe it. They are the writers that made me love thrillers in the first place. I’m deeply grateful for their generosity.

Scott: Have you been able to draw on your past work as a financial analyst and corporate attorney when writing these books? If so, how?

Cristina: Law school taught me two things: how to research and how to write in logical, pared-down prose. I lean on those skills every day as a writer. My previous work life taught me discipline. I’m used to long hours and hard work, and that discipline propels me through those rough patches when I’m not feeling inspired.

Scott: I have heard your last book, The Banker’s Wife, is currently in development as a limited TV series by the team behind Homeland. What’s it like having one of your books turned into TV? How much involvement will you have with the project?

Cristina: I’m over the moon about the team developing The Banker’s Wife. The director, writer, producers and lead actors are amazing (and all women!). I’m not intimately involved in the project, though I’ve hung around as a resource — particularly when questions about finance crop up. But for the most part, I try and stay out of the way — this book’s in great hands.

Scott: I understand you love thrillers. Who are some of your favorite current authors of thrillers?

How long do you have? I have so many. I will read anything by Laura Lippman, Meghan Abbott, Karin Slaughter, Gillian Flynn, Alafair Burke, Jane Harper, Flynn Berry, Lee Child, Nelson de Mille, and John Grisham. I also love Nordic Noir: I’m Traveling Alone by Samuel Bjork and Snare by Lilja Sigurdardottir are recent favorites.

Scott: What are you working on next?

Cristina:  Another thriller! And I’m having my third child in a few months, so lots of projects in the works.

SCOTT BUTKI INTERVIEWS MEGAN MIRANDA

I jumped at the chance to interview Megan Miranda, as I’ve heard lots of positive buzz about her best-selling novel All The Missing Girls, which The New York Times Book Review described as “Hitchockian,” and The Perfect Stranger.
The Last House Guest Cover ImageI predict her new book, The Last House Guest, will also land on the best-seller list and have positive buzz.

Her new book is set in Littleport, Maine, which is a town where some, including strong protagonist Avery Greer, live all year round while other wealthy folks, including Sadie Loman and her family, visit only on the summer. Sadie and Avery have a fierce, long friendship.

As the book begins Sadie has been found dead and the police are ruling it a suicide, but Avery can’t shake the feeling people in the community, including Sadie’s family, blame her for the death.

Scott Butki: How did this story come together?

Megan Miranda: I had the characters and the premise from pretty early on, but their story, and how it could best be told, developed over the course of several drafts. When I started The Last House Guest, I knew I wanted to set it in a town where there would be this contrast of insiders (the characters who live in the town year-round) and outsiders (those who visit each summer). Avery and Sadie grew from this idea. But as I worked through earlier drafts, I realized that Avery embodied both sides of that equation—she is someone who grew up as an insider, but now feels like an outsider to her own town.

The friendship between Avery and Sadie—and all that happened because of it—became the heart of the story. Which then gave rise to the structure: At the start of the story, Avery can’t seem to accept or move past Sadie’s death a year earlier. And she keeps circling back to that pivotal night with each new discovery, looking for the things she might’ve missed the first time around.

Scott:  Which comes first for you, the characters or the plot?

Megan: The characters always come first, though they tend to develop alongside the plot. They work in tandem, with plot roadblocks forming character, and character choices informing the story direction. But the characters are always the element I’m most interested in following—both as a reader and a writer. I think this is why I’m not much of an outliner before I start—I need to get to know the characters first, and write my way in to their story.

Scott Butki: Should readers new to you start with this book or one of your earlier ones?

Megan: They can definitely start with this one! Each of the books stands alone, with a new set of characters, and a new setting. They can be read in any order.

Scott: How are you reacting to the popularity of your books?

Writing a book can feel very solitary—but these characters live inside your head for so long, and finishing their story, getting it to where you hope it will be, always means so much. To see it then resonate with others has been such a wonderful experience. I’ve been so grateful that people who have enjoyed these stories have helped spread the word about them.

Scott: Can you talk about the relationship between Sadie Loman, from a wealthy family that visits a vacation town every summer, and Avery Greer, a townie dealing with the grief after her parents die.

Megan: When Avery and Sadie meet as teens, they each find something in the other that fills a void in their lives. Avery had spent the time before meeting Sadie feeling adrift and alone, unable to escape the way others in town see her. And Sadie has a complicated relationship with her own family, never quite living up to expectations. Both of them are able to become someone else through the other’s perspective. But just as with the town itself, their friendship looks different when viewed from the outside versus the inside.

Scott: Why did you decide to begin the book with Sadie’s death?

Megan: There were two reasons I wanted to start the book here. The first went to story: Starting with the end-of-season party from the year earlier introduced each character with their alibi—when and how they were accounted for on the night of Sadie’s death—which is key to unraveling the mystery that follows.

The second reason went to character: For Avery, this is the pivotal event that shatters her world. And this is the night she keeps coming back to in more detail throughout the book as she gains understanding.

Scott: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

Megan: One theme I keep coming back to—in All the Missing Girls, The Perfect Stranger, and The Last House Guest—is this focus on identity, tied tightly to experiences in the past. How people are viewed, and how they view themselves. The one common thing I find at the heart of each main character, despite everything that happens throughout their story, is a sense of resiliency.

Scott: What have you figured out for this, your tenth book, you wish you knew when writing your first?

I wish there was something universal I’ve taken away from the writing process, but the thing I’ve learned the most is that every single book is different. Sometimes the structure and story come together right away. Sometimes they don’t. I guess the one change in my process is that I panic less when a draft doesn’t work at first. I’ve come to accept and appreciate that trial and error is part of my process, and to trust that I’ll get there in the end.

Scott: How did you go about researching this book?

Miranda: When I was writing the first draft, I asked my family if anyone wanted to take a trip up to Maine with me. Which is how I ended up spending a summer vacation in a minivan with my parents, my husband, and my 2 kids. We drove up and down the coast, stopping at so many beautiful towns along the way. We also spent several days in Bar Harbor, which is where we used to spend a week each summer when I was growing up. It made me think a lot about perspective, and how that can shift over time. I had last been there as a teenager, and was now visiting with my own children, hiking the same trails, visiting the same places. I wanted Littleport to feel like a character in and of itself, and a place that can have two different perspectives, both as an insider and an outsider.                     

Scott: The last question is my bonus question: What is a question you wish you would get asked in interviews but never are. Here’s your chance to ask and answer it.

Miranda:  Why are you drawn to small town settings?

I love the dynamic that a small town provides, where characters know everything about one another—or think they do. For me, a small town feels like a living, breathing character. Something that might shift and twist, just as the story does.

The Cozy Mystery as a Light Thriller by S.C. Perkins

If I asked you how you like your morning coffee or tea, would you have a specific strength you always enjoy your day-starting drink that never, ever changes? Or are there times when you mix it up, taking your normally dark-roast coffee with a splash of cream or occasionally skipping the milk and sugar in your English Breakfast for a stronger kick? If so, while it’s still your preferred morning brew at heart, a little change every now and again often makes for a new and enjoyable outlook on the drink you love. I’d like to believe the same can be said for sub-genres within the crime-fiction world, including my personal favorite, the cozy mystery.

Murder Once Removed (Ancestry Detective #1) Cover ImageWhen my own debut cozy, Murder Once Removed, came out this past March, BookPeople’s Scott Montgomery dubbed it a “light thriller,” and I couldn’t have been more delighted. Though I can respect and understand the purist’s stance that a cozy should not deviate from the elements that have traditionally defined the lighter take on mysteries, I have to admit I’m happy to see varying “strengths” of cozy mysteries on the market. And because of this, I think we might be seeing more and more cozies that could be considered light thrillers.

But before I get into why I think cozies might be going for more thrills, let’s look at what generally constitutes a cozy mystery and what aspects might give them a little more of the thriller factor.

It’s no wonder the word “cozy” is used, and it’s a big clue, with the book having traits including:

  • a lighter tone with a slower pacing;

  • while the murder happens, it takes place off the page and the gore level is minimal;

  • the protagonist is an amateur sleuth with an interesting profession and is someone with whom the reader might like to be friends;

  • the charming small town (or fun big city) where the reader wants to visit;

  • there’s usually a little bit of romance, often with a dose of will-they-or-won’t-they banter;

  • and the cast of secondary characters who occasionally fly their oddball flags provide a sounding board for the protagonist, a sense of family and/or the voice of reason, and some comic relief.

Also, the protagonists in cozy mysteries are everyday people just like us who get to do what all of us who love mysteries wish we could:  right wrongs, save a life or two, and do it all without seeing anything too creepy, getting hurt too badly, or having the local law enforcement throwing us in jail for interfering with an investigation! We can only dream, am I right?

Anyway, when a cozy mystery veers toward a light thriller, it’s because it draws more heavily than normal on one or more of the aspects of its darker cousin, including—

  • a faster pace;

  • a mystery that involves potentially higher stakes;

  • the protagonist knowing who the villain is instead of attempting to discover whodunit, and racing against time to stop a tragedy from happening (or from happening again);

  • the threat level from the villain starts high and never seems to ease;

  • stronger language and/or a more sinister climactic event;

  • and a heroine or hero who isn’t just flawed, but also may have physical or emotional challenges that leave them more open to attack.

So, how does Murder Once Removed incorporate some thriller-like aspects? Well, without giving too much away—no spoilers here!—my genealogist protagonist, Lucy Lancaster, finds an old photograph called a daguerreotype and some journals that connects her wealthy client, Gus Halloran, to a U.S. senator. Very quickly, Lucy finds out that someone wants what she’s found and is willing to kill to get it. The threats to Lucy’s life, and those of her friends’ lives, come at a faster rate than your traditional cozy mystery.

Plus, while I chose the setting—Austin, Texas—because it’s a big city with a decidedly small-town feel, its urban status helps to set the stage for a darker feel to the narrative (which I hope is pleasantly offset by Lucy’s positive attitude, slight naivete, and doses of humor sprinkled throughout.)

As to why I think we might be seeing more of these types of lighter mysteries, I believe it’s solidly built on the precarious world we live in today. With so many tragedies and so much negativity around us, we all need some of the many optimistic qualities that the cozy mystery embodies:  good-yet-imperfect people trying to do right, warmth, friends and family, and the notion of how one person with a can-do attitude can really make a difference in the world and bring about a happy ending.

They’re also just so dang fun to read, too. And the writing from cozy authors is as well-crafted and stellar as you’ll read anywhere, making the cozy mystery not just a respite for the world-weary reader, but also a treat to enjoy.

If you happen to like the “light thriller” style of mysteries (or think you might be willing to add a dash of them into your reading lineup), here are just a few of the series I would recommend:

The Sarah Booth Delaney mysteries by Carolyn Haines

The Bibliophile mysteries by Kate Carlisle

The Noodle Shop mysteries by Vivien Chien

The Speakeasy Murders by Susanna Calkins

The White House Chef mysteries by Julie Hyzy

FINDING CHARACTERS IN A PATCH OF DEAD LAWN

Patricia Smiley was kind enough to write a piece for us about creating characters for her books. She’ll join us in the store January 9th for a panel discussion with Matt Coyle & Puja Guha to discuss their various subgenres.

Writers are curious people. We obsess about human behavior and construct theories about what motivates it. Sometimes our stories are personal. Sometimes we use newspaper articles filtered through our own sensibilities. Sometimes we simply make stuff up. That works, too.

The Second Goodbye (Pacific Homicide #3) Cover ImageWriter curiosity is never more important to me than when I create characters on the page. Finding depth and poignancy in each one is important because I want readers to care about the people in my books. Like many writers, I create a biography for all my characters, even the minor ones, which usually includes a sociological and psychological profile, a back-story, descriptions of speech patterns, gait, quirky habits, and a history of successes and failures that drive his/her behavior.

The essences of real people I know often inveigle their way onto the pages of my novels. This is especially true for Davie, her grandmother, and her boss Frank Giordano. The gender or appearance may change, but the core attributes remain. Character inspiration isn’t limited to friends and relatives. Strangers often make an impression, as well. Once long ago I was stopped at a red light on my way to work. I glanced over and noticed a homeless man on a bus bench, dressed in grimy clothing, gently brushing lint from the shoulder of his well-worn coat. That gesture was a poignant lesson I never forgot—that we can maintain our dignity regardless of our circumstances. Years later, that man’s ethos made its way into the character of Rags Foster, a homeless junkie in Pacific Homicide. When I began researching the second novel in the series, I used the war in Vietnam as a plot element. I interviewed former veterans, fictionalizing the pathos of their stories to craft Outside the Wire. I used the same process for The Second Goodbye, the third novel in the series, and had particular fun with a minor character named Gerda Pittman, a comic version of a former boss.

I’m always on the lookout for characters to populate my stories. For example, several times a week, I walk to the grocery store past a few remaining post WWII bungalows dwarfed by flashy new construction. Along the route I often see a wiry older man with slicked-back gray hair, working in his front yard. I’ve never noticed anyone else with him. Even on the hottest days, he wears a tidy wool suit jacket that has seen better days. The jacket is dark blue with wide lapels, outdated padded shoulders, and is paired with mismatched trousers. His dress shirt is buttoned to the neck without benefit of a tie. The ensemble seems from another world, possibly Eastern Europe or the Middle East.

In this Westside L.A. neighborhood, the summer-ocean breezes once cooled the houses. But the days have become hotter, even in winter, so his front windows are often open to catch any random puff of air. The exterior of the house needs paint and repairs but the gutters along the street are clean and tidy. Many days I see him bent over, sweeping away the debris with a battered kitchen dustpan and brush. Later, when I walk home with my bag of groceries, the area is spotless and any residue that may have crept onto his walkway has been swept away. He never looks up from his task to nod or say hello. I accept his terms.

What piques my curiosity is his front lawn, which is a patch of hard-packed soil except on the rare occasion when it rains. He apparently doesn’t like the look of the weeds that sprout in the aftermath, because he plucks each one out by hand until the area is once again a tidy field of brown dirt, raising all kinds of dramatic questions: Was there ever a lawn? Did the high price of water force him to let it die? Nonetheless, the compulsive weeding tells me he has a keen sense of order. I want to know the story behind his dignity and pride: where he’s from and what’s happened in his life that allows him to find purpose in a small patch of dead lawn.

Someday I’ll answer those questions in a book. The character may not be this man. It may be a woman. Her part may be small but she’ll be a metaphor for something important in the book. I’ll give her a happy ending. Maybe after all she’s been through she deserves that much, at least.

Puja Guha on writing spy fiction

Puja Guha has just finished her Ahriman Trilogy that deals with a spy and assassin in love with each other as world events, government plots, and despots not only tear them apart, but often pit them against one another. Puja will be joining private eye writer Matt Coyle and police procedural author Patricia Smiley to discuss their subgenres at BookPeople January 9th at 7pm. Here she discusses what draws her to spy fiction.

Ahriman: The Spirit of Destruction Cover ImageWhen people first learn that I write spy fiction, I get two reactions. The first is surprise, bordering on shock. How could this five-foot-three Indian woman write something like spy novels? Once they get over the fact that I’m a writer, the question that follows is, wouldn’t I be better suited for non-fiction books about economics or international development? That question always makes me chuckle, since the thought of writing a book on that makes my stomach turn.

The second, and more fun one, is from those who know me a little better, or at least know about my travel schedule (especially if they know about my trip to Afghanistan a few years ago). That reaction tends to go something like this—“Oh, you write spy fiction – because you’re secretly a spy!” I have to admit I love that reaction. There’s something about their perception that changes, as if they start to see me as a lot more bad ass. I may not be a spy, but I certainly like to think of myself as someone who could be, at least in terms of the fun portrayal of what that life is like that we see in a lot of movies and books. Obviously, the reality is far from the action sequences of The Bourne Identity but it’s fun to think that there are people like that around the world.

Perceptions aside, I love spy fiction. I grew up reading all sorts of thrillers, devouring the books off my Dad’s bookshelf, including Tom Clancy, Frederick Forsyth, Michael Crichton, Robert Ludlum, and John Grisham. Spy fiction was a sizeable portion of that, offering action and adventure combined with mystery and investigation. Those books also gave me another opportunity to travel and explore nuanced characters, including the cost of deception on an emotional and personal level. I read so many of them I guess it’s no wonder I ended up writing in this genre. Sometimes I use it to explore new places that I haven’t gotten to visit yet, like Iran, in my first book Ahriman: The Spirit of Destruction. More often, writing spy fiction gives me an opportunity to showcase a place that I’ve already been—to bring readers to it, to see the sights and experience the culture, the sound, and the smells, all within a “web of intrigue”. That last phrase makes me smile, I love the twists and turns that greet me when I’m plotting out one of my novels. A lot of it takes me by surprise, when the characters draw me in a direction that I didn’t anticipate. Being able to share that journey with readers is something that I cherish.

In this day and age, I also relish the opportunity to expose bits and pieces of culture from the places I’ve visited and later write about. People have a lot of different ideas when they think of countries they’ve seen in the news like Kuwait, countries they often know very little about like Madagascar, or even places they may have seen a lot in TV or movies like Paris or New York. My parents gave me the travel bug when I was little, and I’ve taken it to a whole new level, having now visited 55 countries and counting. Certainly, a ton is different between each of these places, but at a human level, it’s more incredible how much is the same. I love being able to show that to my readers when I take them somewhere new, or to expose some endearing detail of a place or culture they might not have expected. Putting that into a mystery or an adventure just adds to it, they get to have as much fun reading it as I do writing when they go along for the ride.

That’s enough about me and why I write spy fiction. If you’re a reader in this space, I’d love to hear from you. What draws you to it? What keeps you coming back?

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go to the Corner Mailbox

Guest Blog by Nancy Boyarsky

I’m insatiably curious about people and the things that go on around me. Sometimes I see things on my morning walks, for example, that strike me as odd and pique my interest. Below is an example, but let me preface my tale with a caveat. To the police, our lower Westwood neighborhood is one of the safest in L.A.—although it might sound not so safe to someone living, for example, in a small-town in the Midwest.

Lately, we’ve had been a scattering of home burglaries and a few street robberies. But most criminals working the area have taken to stealing from cars. The latest wrinkle in car-related crime involves night-time theft of auto parts, like tires and airbags, sometimes catalytic converters. For those of us with homes so old that our garages can’t accommodate modern vehicles, cars have to be left in the driveway or on the street. So we lock them up and hope for the best.

But I’m talking about another type of crime. I witnessed it on a day when I set out to mail a letter. Although the mailbox is only a block away, I drove because it was my first stop in a round of errands.

A young man, late teens to early 20s, was at the mailbox. He was wearing a T-shirt and khakis, and he looked clean-cut. Besides, it was mid-day. Broad daylight. No alarm bells went off in my head.

As I drew closer to the mailbox, I noticed something odd. Instead of depositing mail, he was pulling out envelopes, a few at a time. He had a wire that looked as if it had been fashioned from a coat hanger. He was using it to poke in the box and snag mail.

When I realized what was going on, I decided not to stop. Instead, I circled the block and came back, parking a few houses away from the mailbox. I pulled out my cell phone and called 911. After the usual “what-is-your-emergency?” greeting, I explained that I was, at that moment, witnessing a crime. Even as I said this, the young man had stopped rifling in the mailbox. He’d stepped back and was now scanning the street, as if he expected someone to pick him up.

The 911 operator told me that a crime involving mail wasn’t an emergency, but she would transfer me to someone who would know what to do. I went through several connections, each one seemed puzzled by my complaint. Finally, the last person I spoke to said that a mailbox wasn’t within the preview of the LAPD; it was the property of the U.S. Postal Service, and thereby a federal matter. He gave me a phone number so I could report the problem to postal service.

Meanwhile, the young man, apparently giving up on his ride, was looking around, consulting his watch. He didn’t see me, or if he did, he didn’t give any indication.

I dialed the number for the USPS. Ten minutes or more had passed since I’d first spotted the ongoing crime. But the young man was still on the corner, and I’m not one to give up easily.

When I reached the number I’d been given, I realized it was the general information line for the postal service. The automated voice asked me which language I spoke. In some frustration, I pressed “one” for English. Then it asked if I wanted to track a package, get post office information, ask for re delivery. I was encouraged to sign up for more information at myuspc.com. Finally, I was asked to say in a few words what I wanted.

The young man had started to walk away, taking his time, not in any great hurry.

I kept at it, trying to make the automated call system understand that I wanted to report a mailbox break-in. I’d just about exhausted synonyms for “break-in” when a live person came on the line. By now the perpetrator had disappeared. The man at the postal service listened to my story, then asked for the postal box’s location. He said he’d report it to the local supervisor for my area. I realized that he was somewhere else, maybe in Des Moines, or even Washington, D.C.

Later, I contacted my neighborhood association and learned that people had been complaining that they were unable to use their local mailboxes because someone had put a sticky substance in the mailing mechanism, so envelopes got stuck and did not actually drop into the mailbox. Obviously, this was a more sophisticated approach than using a bent coat hanger.

The next issue of the neighborhood association’s newsletter gave a list of sticky mailboxes. Ours was on the list, even though glue had never been the problem.

With that, I decided that my career as a crime fighter was over. At least for me, writing fiction about crime is more rewarding.

Nancy Boyarsky’s latest mystery, Liar Liar, featuring private eye Nicole Graves, can be purchased at BookPeople.

Manning Wolfe on Lawyers, Sex & Golf

Local author Manning Wolfe joins us Sunday, June 24th, at 2pm to talk with Jay Brandon and our Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery about legal thrillers. She wrote a post for us about how her book, Green Fees, came to be.

A few years ago, I read an article about naked women on a golf course serving up sex at each hole to golfers depending on their score (no puns intended). A news crew got wind of the event, flew over the course, and videotaped the action. Ironically, the charity event was for the Make a Wish Foundation. The play-by-play has gone viral on social media and been the basis of many golf jokes over the years.

Green Fees: A Merit Bridges Legal Thriller Cover ImageShortly after that incident, a young golf professional was referred to my law office asking for legal representation. He wanted to extricate himself from a usurious contract with a promoter, who was a de-facto loan shark. Under the agreement he was obligated to pay half of his earnings to the money lender. In addition, the pro’s hands were scarred from a childhood accident, and discomforting to look at. Surprisingly, they functioned well and purportedly enhanced his golf game.

About that same time, I met Barbara Puett, who became my golf instructor. Barbara was a protégé of Harvey Penick, both of Austin. He wrote Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book and she matched it with alittle green book, Golf Etiquette. I don’t know a single golfer who doesn’t own the Penick book, if not both. 

The three concepts, lawyers, sex, and golf merged together somehow in my misguided mind, and a legal thriller, Green Fees, was conceived.

In Green Fees, young golf pro Mark Green borrows money from the wrong guy to keep his PGA tour dreams alive. He finds himself in so deep with Russian loan shark, Browno Zars, that he begs his lover and attorney Merit Bridges for her help.

Meanwhile, uncertainty and fear grip Austin as a murderer, who the press labels The Enforcer, avoids identification and capture.

After Merit uses every legal trick in her book to extricate Mark from Browno’s grip, she becomes a target of Browno. Merit awakens to find herself hanging from a meat hook in an Austin warehouse and staring into the face of evil.

What unfolds is a story of deceit and betrayal as the identity of The Enforcer is revealed. Merit must then outwit the sinister and dangerous adversary to save herself from torture and certain death.

In the tradition of Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links, a Poirot mystery, Harlan Coben’s Back Spin, and Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger, Green Fees takes place around the world of golf, but is not a golf mystery. It’s a legal thriller, an Austin mystery, and a cautionary tale about trust.

This week, I saw a news article about Whataburger serving hamburgers on tortillas because of the delivery of bad buns by suppliers.

I remembered a legal case in my office involving swans that had invaded an apartment swimming pool causing a lawsuit with the next-door neighbors.

I saw a graffiti artist being arrested near the South Lamar railroad tracks, carrying a bag of paint cans.

After a little contemplation, I wonder what my misguided mind might do with all that. Buns, Birds, and Body Bags?

Manning Wolfe, an award-winning author and attorney residing in Austin, Texas, writes cinematic-style, smart, fast-paced thrillers with a salting of Texas bullshit. Her series features Austin Lawyer Merit Bridges. As a graduate of Rice University and the University of Texas School of Law, Manning’s experience has given her a voyeur’s peak into some shady characters’ lives and a front row seat to watch the good people who stand against them.