Everybody loves a good mystery

(10-13-2009)

Just days before Halloween, Janet Dawson, mystery writer, will speak on the Adams State College campus at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29, in the Nielsen Library Second Floor Commons. The event is free and open to the public.

Favorite who-done-it fictional detectives Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Robert Langdon, Adam Dalgliesh, and Jeri Howard unravel, search, and explore as they solve the mystery. Their insight into the human psyche and sharp observation skills are no match for even the cleverest villain.

Mystery readers enter another world and Dawson believes that is part of the appeal. She says real life is messy and disorganized and fiction is not. "In real life crimes are committed and sometimes there is no resolution, no justice, no answer to the question why. Mysteries are morality plays in which the protagonist resolves the crime, provides justice (sometimes, depending on the plot), and answers those questions, providing background and texture."

Dawson has written nine novels featuring Oakland private investigator Jeri Howard. Her first, 'Kindred Crimes', won the St. Martin's Press/Private Eye Writers of America contest for best first private eye novel. It was nominated in the best first category for three mystery awards, the Shamus, the Macavity and the Anthony.

She said each book is different in how the story is created. Some books she has an idea for a crime or a situation and then creates the characters accordingly. "In my third book, 'Take a Number', I created a villain who was also a victim. He's been murdered early in the book. He was such a nasty character that my detective, Jeri Howard, says if you wanted to kill the guy you'd have to take a number and get in line, hence the title." In other books she's had the victim, or the crime, and the book is an attempt to explain that. Her most recent short story, 'Candles on the Corner', involves the hit-and-run death of a 12-year-old girl and the detective's effort to find the guilty driver.

Dawson, now on the staff at the University of California in Berkeley, was a newspaper reporter in Colorado, and served in the U.S. Navy as a journalist took her to Guam and Florida. She is a long-time member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, serving as MWA NorCal president, and more recently, chair of the Edgar Allan Poe awards.

On October 29, Dawson will talk about writing in general and mysteries in particular, how she got into the business, and some of the changes in publishing that have had an effect on writers and mysteries.

By Linda Relyea