It all began when I was a young boy of 10. I was seated before a roaring log fire in a lakeside cottage on a miserable rainy day, feeling sorry for myself that I could not be playing on the beach. Somebody had left an early Ellery Queen novel on a table beside the couch, and having nothing better to do I picked it up and started to read. Within five minutes I was hooked, and I have been a dedicated fan of the mystery genre ever since. Back then it was authors like Queen, Christie, and Sayers. Today it is Rendell, Block, James, and others too numerous and too varied to mention.
When I retired from my career as a professor of international politics, one of the first things I did was write an essay for a mystery magazine in which I compared Tony Hillerman’s treatment of the relationship between Navajos and Anglos in the American southwest to problems of intercultural relations in the larger world. Within a year, that first tentative step into the realm of detective story fiction had become a new way of life. I was writing a murder mystery novel, and I had chosen to set it on that same lake where I had first discovered the joys of fictional murder and mayhem.
Creating believable characters and writing realistic dialogue proved to be a challenging task, and occasionally I found that I had unwittingly written myself into a plot cul-de-sac. But it was fun, so much so that there were days when I could hardly tear myself away from my computer. Finally, in the spring of 2006, I wrapped up A Death on Crooked Lake. I was no Ellery Queen, but I had proved to myself that I could do something that was much more satisfying than what I had been doing in my professional life: I could write about fictional violence and bring the perpetrator to justice, something that too often does not happen in world politics.
Writing a Local / Regional Mystery Series
I chose to write what might be called a regional mystery, one set in a special place, a place I had known well as a growing boy and one where my family now has a summer vacation cottage. That place is the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, an area of beautiful lakes, small towns, and many wineries. Without much careful thought as to just why, I had made my victim an arrogant owner of a winery, my sleuth a young woman sheriff, and, among the suspects, a vacationing professor of music on whose dock the victim’s body is discovered in the first chapter. Needless to say, one thing led to another, and the professor became the sheriff’s partner in solving the crime. Therein was born the series of Crooked Lake Mysteries.
When I started to write A Death on Crooked Lake, all I had planned to do was put my love of Crooked Lake and the mystery genre into a book. It would be my homage to a place that had been an important part of my life, presented in a form that had given me much pleasure over the years. But within weeks after publication of the book, I knew I had to write another local mystery. It would once again be set on that lake, and once again the principal characters would be the sheriff and the professor. Which meant that their relationship would be almost as critical to the book as the crime they would have to solve. Now, five years later, Crooked Lake has become the setting for several more murders, the relationship between the sheriff and the professor has had its ups and downs, and I find myself happily trapped in the on-going saga of love and violence in this normally tranquil corner of America.