ABOUT THE BOOK
Meet Erica Coleman—a gifted and quirky private investigator with an OCD-like passion for neatness and symmetry, a penchant for cooking, (ten terrific recipes are included), and a weakness for chocolate.
In A Death in the Family, the second in the Erica Coleman series, private eye Erica Coleman and her family happily anticipate Grandma Blanche’s eighty-first birthday celebration in the picturesque town of Florence, Oregon. But when the feisty matriarch, a savvy businesswoman, suspects wrongdoing and asks Erica to investigate her company, things get sticky.
Before the investigation can even begin, Blanche’s unexpected death leaves Erica with more questions than answers—and it is soon clear Grandma’s passing was anything but natural: she was murdered. When another relative becomes the next victim of someone with a taste for homicide, Erica uses her flair for cooking to butter up local law enforcement and gather clues.
Erica’s OCD either helps or hinders her—depending on who you talk to—but it’s those same obsessive and compulsive traits than enable Erica to see clues that others miss. When she narrowly escapes becoming the third victim, Erica is more determined than ever to solve the case.
Available at Deseret Book, Seagull Book, and wherever LDS books are sold.
Marlene Bateman Sullivan was born in Salt Lake City, Utah and graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She is married to Kelly R. Sullivan and they are the parents of seven children.
Her hobbies are gardening, camping, and reading. Marlene has been published extensively in magazines and newspapers and has written a number of non-fiction books, including: Latter-day Saint Heroes and Heroines, And There Were Angels Among Them, Visit’s From Beyond the Veil, By the Ministering of Angels, Brigham’s Boys, and Heroes of Faith. Her latest book is Gaze Into Heaven, a fascinating collection of over 50 documented near-death experiences in early church history.
Marlene’s first novel was the best-selling Light on Fire Island. Her next novel was Motive for Murder, which is the first in a mystery series that features the quirky private eye with OCD, Erica Coleman.
I find I quite enjoy this type of mystery. The characters are appealing and likable, but not perfect. The plot is intricate and interesting to follow and the excitement builds to the often surprising climax. I confess, I did not expect the story to take the turns that it did, but I was glad that things worked out the way they did. In a family story like this the relationships always complicate things and that is certainly the case here. Erica faces the uncertain prospect of trying to figure out who murdered her husband's grandmother and why. And everything points to issues regarding her grandmother's will and concerns about the family business. Investigating can be awkward to begin with, add family to that mix and things get very murky indeed. While the characters are LDS (Mormon) and that effects the feelings and actions of the characters, it does not in any way overwhelm the story and the focus on the murders. Well-written and enjoyable, I can easily recommend this to those who enjoy clean mysteries with plenty of tension.
How did you learn to write?
Learning how to write is an ongoing process. I started in elementary school, did more writing in junior high, and so on. I’ve spent countless hours on manuscripts that were never published, but I don’t count that as a loss, since it helped me improve my writing. I have a bookshelf full of books on writing and every weekday morning, I try to read 2-4 pages. I underline important parts, then type them up, which hopefully, sets the ideas in my brain. When I’m done with the book, I print out up my notes and save them in a master binder so I can look them over now and then.
Another thing that helps me is that I try to pay attention when I read. If I don’t like something, I try to figure out why and then not do that in my own writing! And when I read something I like, I try to think about why it worked so I can use that same technique in my own writing. I also attend a yearly writer’s conference and the wonderful workshops help me learn more about the craft of writing. Anyone can write—as long as they are willing to practice and study.
What made you always want to be a writer, and what was the plot of the first story you ever wrote?
I think a large part of wanting to be a writer came from reading so much. As a child, I was a voracious reader. For three years in a row in elementary school, I won the award for reading the most books. And the prize was: A book! I was delighted, of course. Sometimes I wonder if writers are born, because I’ve certainly always wanted to write. I think one of my earliest stories was about my brother’s blue car, which he parked in the back yard when he went on his mission. I was about ten, and wrote about how sad the car was to be alone, and how birds came and sat on it, and so on. My mother thought it was so “precious” that she shared it with other people, which embarrassed me to death.
Do you write as you go or do you have the book all planned out from page 1?
Since I write mysteries, I have to know how the book is going to end before I can start the first chapter. I write a rough draft of the last chapter, then the first chapter, and go on from there. I have to plot very carefully to keep up the tension and so that all the clues are in place at the right time. Plotting can be hard, but its very important and actually saves time in the end, since you don’t have to rewrite and add important information that should have been there in the first place. Once you get your storyline laid out, you have a structure to follow. A contractor would never begin building a house without plans, and to my way of thinking, a mystery writer would never write without having a basic plot down on paper.
What makes your mysteries standout from the crowd?
I think there are a few different things. First, if you’re considering books on the national level, my books stand out because they are ‘clean’ books, which means no swearing and no gratuitous sex or violence. Second, I like to keep the reader guessing. My novels are ‘whodunit’ mysteries that keep readers trying to figure out who the killer is. Many current TV shows focus on high tech prowess to solve the crime. I focus more on the psychological aspects—why this person did that, why that person didn’t do this. I try to delve into the killer’s psyche and show the psychological aspects that drive their behavior. I like to have a lot of fun and interesting characters. Third, I like to incorporate humor, because everyone likes to laugh now and then. Fourth, and the final standout point, is that I include plenty of intriguing plot twists and turns to keep readers turning the page. Each ending of every book has a surprising, final twist.
Any other books in the works?
I have two books that have been accepted and are awaiting publication. The first is Crooked House but my publisher always changes the titles so I don’t know what they will call it! Here is a short summary:
Someone is trying to kill Liz Johnson, and it is up to quirky private investigator, Erica Coleman, to find out who it is. With an authentic setting in Dover, Delaware and against a background of NASCAR racing, Erica works to stop the killer who has already survived two murder attempts. Then, the murderer kills an innocent bystander. It’s up to Erica to pinpoint the killer before he can succeed on his fourth try. Crooked House is a thrilling mystery that will keep you on the edge until the last page. As always, ten delicious recipes are included.
My second book that is awaiting publication is called, A Home for Christmas. Here is a short summary of it:
Kenzie has big plans—the only problem is she hasn’t told anyone about them. One of them is to buy the house she grew up in—the home her brother, Tom, recently put up for sale. When she arrives in Lake Forest for Christmas vacation, Kenzie is shocked to find that her brother has accepted an offer on the house she desperately wants to buy. Unwilling to give up her plans, Kenzie tries over and over to wrest the house from the man who made the offer, a handsome widower named Jared Phillips. Although they find themselves attracted to each other, it’s impossible for Kenzie to even think about a relationship with the man who is taking away the house she desperately wants. Jared is also drawn to Kenzie, but is cool and suspicious because of what he considers her underhanded tricks. Then, a surprising revelation works a Christmas miracle. As a special bonus, seven delicious cookie recipes are included.
I’m also working on another Erica Coleman mystery, called, Murder in the Black Hills. I’d also like to do a sequel for my latest non-fiction book, which came out last year— Gaze Into Heaven—Near Death Experiences in Early Church History.
“It’s hard to believe she’s gone,” Kristen said dolefully. “When I moved here, I thought I’d have years with Grandma. She was always so active—I thought she’d keep going for years.”
“And all the time, her heart was getting weaker,” Trent said glumly.
Walter commented, “The last time I saw her, Blanche said the doctor told her she had the constitution of a mule.”
There were a few smiles at this, but Martha’s brow furrowed in confusion. “But Mom’s death didn’t have anything to do with how healthy she was.”
“What are you talking about?” Trent’s impatient voice billowed out and filled the small room.
Martha squirmed but fluttered on, “Well, after what Mom said when she came to visit me, you know—about how something wrong was going on in the company—I worried that something might happen.”
Her response reverberated around the room. Everyone went very still—as if they were holding their breath.
Martha’s eyes went from one to another. “I didn’t mean—oh, I shouldn’t have said anything,” she stammered. Her voice was pure distress. “It’s just that . . . well, we’re all family here, so it’s okay, isn’t it? I mean, no one else knows.”
“No one else knows what?” Trent said brusquely.
Visibly flustered, Martha’s hands twisted in her lap. “And . . . and Mother was very old and—and the police haven’t even come, have they?”
Erica wondered what Martha could be getting at. Everyone darted quizzical looks at each other, trying to make sense out of Martha’s confused chirruping.
After meeting blank looks all around, Martha blurted, “I mean, that’s good . . . isn’t it? For the family?”
The room remained deadly silent as Martha’s cheeks flamed red.
There was a rumble as Walter cleared his throat. “Why would the police come?”
“Why, to arrest someone.” Martha sounded surprised—as if he had asked something that was completely and absolutely self-evident. She stared at Walter, as if he and he alone could straighten everything out. “Isn’t that why they’re doing an autopsy? I mean, don’t they always do an autopsy when someone has been murdered?”
Thanks to the publisher and author I have one copy to giveaway!