Saturday, October 5, 2013

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: A Celebration of Mystery Writers in Washington State

I truly believe that it should be a well known fact, that just like our apples, Washington makes great mystery writers, better than anywhere else. 

Let me explain: our state already has our specific library shelf's full of truly great authors. Sherman Alexie, champion of Native American youthful voice, through novels like The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, is one of my personal favorites, and currently lives in Seattle. Others, like Frank Herbert, author of (in my personal opinion) the greatest science fiction epic of all time, Dune, hails from my own home city of Tacoma. We already know that some truly great authors are grown right here, in the best part of the PNW.

However, there's a distinct subset within that canon that stands out to me, in the mystery section of the library. Therefore, in an attempt to convince you, here are some of my favorite masters of intrigue, straight from our gorgeously green state!


For starters, let's take it back to T-Town with Erik Hanberg: City of Tacoma Parks Commissioner by day, author of the "Arthur Beautyman" series by night. His novels have followed the titular computer-hacker-slash-detective through three novels already, with The Saints Go Dying released in 2010, The Marinara Murders in 2011, and The Con Before Christmas in 2012; all self-published, and all marked with quick pace, realistic dialogue, character interest, and unpredictable plot turns (check out my review of The Marinara Murders back in January 2012!).

Erik gets bonus points for his other projects, too, including the books The Little Book of Gold and The Little Book of Likes, nonfiction guides involving fundraising and social media (respectively) for small, nonprofit organizations, as well as his newest novel, The Lead Cloak, a science fiction adventure that debuts on October 15th (which is my birthday, in case anyone's forgotten).

**Also, Tacoma's elected officials get a second honorable mention of sorts with Mark Lindquist, City of Tacoma Prosecutor and part-time author, whose book The King of Methlehem (published by Simon and Schuster in 2007) is quite thrilling, but doesn't necessarily qualify as a straight-shot mystery to me. Still, he's got some serious resume: Sad Movies (1987, Atlantic Monthly Press), Carnival Desires (1990, Atlantic Monthly Press), and Never Mind Nirvana (2001, Random House) all did pretty well for themselves.


Yet another Tacoma-born author, Earl Emerson, chose to focus his time, instead, on Seattle, with the Thomas Black mystery seriesThe Rainy City, the first of the series, was published in 1985, while the latest - the thirteenth in the series, Monica's Sister - was published just this past summer. His work features actual Pacific Northwest settings in all their gritty glamour, described on point, and main character - in the first few novels, at the very least - even lives in the University District! Dark and suspenseful, these mysteries are tensely realistic, and are notable for their dedication to the description of their setting.

Mr. Emerson also writes the "Mack Fontana"series, as well as the "Fire Thrillers" series, taken from his time spent as a lieutenant with the Seattle Fire Department.


Mary Daheim, a Seattle-based mystery author, actually got her start in bodice-ripping historical romances. However, after a string of them proved unfulfilling to her writing talent, she started working in her favorite genre, and it's a good thing she did: her very first mystery novel - Just Desserts, from the "Bed and Breakfast series," starring Judith McMonigle - was nominated for an Agatha award! The series has continued onwards with 28 novels in total.

However, those aren't her only claim to mystery fame. Her "Alpine" series - starting with The Alpine Advocate in 1992, starring Emma Lord - has seen a total of 24 novels, set in the small town of Alpine, WA. Here's the catch: as of the time of her writing, the real Alpine no longer existed. She resurrected the town in her novels, and 2008, the old town itself was rediscovered... by a group who called themselves "the Alpine Advocates"! Talk about author loyalty.

She's also a University of Washington alumna, and was one of the first female editors of The Daily (the UW campus daily paper), which makes her one of the coolest people in the entire world, essentially. She was inducted into the UW Department of Communications Alumni Hall of Fame in 2008. Sounds like its time for a campus scavenger hunt, to me...


Finally, we'll finish off the list with one of my absolute favorites: Aaron Elkins, author of one of my favorite mystery series in the whole world, starring Gideon Oliver, the Skeleton Detective, a forensic anthropologist from Washington. Technically, Elkins himself ISN'T from our lovely state, but he lives here now, in Sequim, and that's a good enough reason for me to take a moment to talk about a super awesome author. 

So, how's this for story time: my dad actually was the first in my family to love this series, to the point where out of the thirteen or so copies we own, at least six of them are signed (if I'm remembering correctly, the legend goes that my dad sheepishly approached Elkins at a writer's conference or something or other with a couple of copies expressly purposed for the occasion, and Elkins patiently signed all of them for him). My dad passed on the copies - and the obsession - to me, and now I've got Fellowship of Fear - the first of them, from 1982- sitting on my desk right now, ready for a reread. Don't believe me?
"To Andrew - Here's to a skeleton in every closet. Aaron Elkins" 

Elkins has now retired this hero with the 17th novel in the series, Dying on the Vine, released in 2012. However, that doesn't mean he's done writing: he has also produced the "Chris Nordgren" novels, as well as the "Lee Ofsted" series, and is currently working on the "Alix London" series, as well, which he writes with his wife, Charlotte. He has also produced three stand alone novels, called Loot, Turncoat, and The Worst Thing.

So this October, if you're looking for some murder and mayhem to cozy up to the fire with on a windy day, might I recommend some homemade mysteries, fresh from your own beautiful backyard of Washington state?


  1. Thank you for the mention of the Beautyman series, Savannah!