Category Archives: Debut Novels

Dead in the Water

 

 

 

I’ve lived across the Golden Gate from San Francisco for almost seven decades, and I’ve never ceased to be intrigued  by the sight of people swimming in the bay. As a child visiting The City, I always notice the chilly-looking old men in bathing trunks and swim caps headed down the beach toward the water then wriggle around on my seat in the car to watch them smash into the water as my family motored into the Marina or out along Ocean Beach. Even in the winter. Brrrrr!

Of course I learned early on about the San Francisco Dolphin Club founded in 1877 by two German brothers and limited to only a handful of members. Over the years, the club grew and the first Golden Gate open swim was organized in 1917, but it wasn’t until 1960 the first organized Alcatraz swim took place. It was big news for this ten-year-old, swimmer. Everyone remembers how Jack Lalanne towed a rowboat from Alcatraz to S.F., swimming with his hands shackled, in less than ninety minutes. But by 1974, when the club admitted women, I’d confined my swimming to tropical beaches and heated swimming pools.

Although I’d swum and waterskied in The Bay in my teens, five years in the Rockies thinned my skin. I never participated in a Big Swim or an open water competition, something I have in common with Trisha Carson, protagonist of Dead in the Water. Trisha is the sister of thirty eight year old Lena, a successful graphic designer, and an avid open water swimmer. That’s why Trisha is relaxing in the sun on the shore of Lake Joe when she observes a contestant die in the water. It must be an accident—wasn’t it? When another swimmer drives her car off a cliff into the Pacific Ocean after another swim, she starts to think maybe these weren’t so accidental and starts asking questions.

Trisha hasn’t much else to do. She’d been the happily married wife of a software engineer in Colorado until Brad disappeared. He left for work and never came home, a situation too similar to her father’s leaving the family when she was a child. Devastated, Trisha moves back to California and her sister, and soon takes a part-time, temporary job in the offices Nor Cal Swimming Association, which pulls her into the world of open water swimming and gives her access to people and businesses connected to the sport. And Trisha, naive and relentless, asks too many people too many questions. Soon she finds herself over her head.

Although her sister and friends dismiss her  suspicions, her curiosity leads her into grave danger. “I let go of the rail and plummeted toward the black water twenty-five feet below. The gun exploded behind me. . . . I tumbled into the water with a loud splash. Cold, so cold. I felt my lungs collapse. I couldn’t breath. I tried to grab bites of air, but nothing was coming in. No air. I sank below into the darkness. . . “

Even if it weren’t open season on open water swimmers in this fast-paced thriller set mostly in San Francisco, author Glenda  Carroll‘s deep knowledge of the open water swimming community would satisfy. Dead in the Water is reputed to be the first open water detective novel and captures what it’s like to race in open water. Carroll has a background in both sports journalism and Masters swimming. Her detail of the industry is a character in its own right, but the true brilliance of the book is in Carroll’s plotting and pacing. While Trisha’s motivations for pursuing the investigation are alluded to, I wasn’t always clear why she risked so much when everyone tried to stop her, including her boss, who fired her. I’m hoping we learn more about Trisha’s inner workings in future books. Despite not warming up to Trisha right away (and hence, not quite believing she would push herself on folks out of curiosity and suspicion), I could not put this book down and will read and review the next of the series, Drop Dead Red, soon.

These books will make perfect summer reading for any sports enthusiast, swimmer or poolside lounger.

Glenda Carroll

Excerpted from Women’s National Book Association

Written by Catharine Bramkamp 

Glenda Carroll is a writer and outdoor enthusiast. Her favorite pursuit is open water swimming. She talks with us about swimming in deep water and swimming in words.

GC: Open water swimming means coming home. My dad taught me to swim in a lake in Pennsylvania. I loved the water. About twenty-five years ago, I heard of a two mile swim at Lake Berryessa. I decided to train to swim it. When the day of the swim came and I stepped into the water, I knew why I was there. It felt, looked and tasted like the lake I learned to swim in.

Dead in the Water was inspired by an organized open water swim in Whiskeytown Lake in Redding. There were two swims that day: a one mile and a two mile. I had finished the one mile swim, was sitting on the beach, waiting for the start of the next swim when people ran by me to a swimmer who was being pulled out of the water at the side of the course. Watching the EMTs try and resuscitate him and seeing his wife helpless beside him never left me. I went over to the finish line and watched swimmers as they finished. One man came through the finish chute, bent over and said ‘I think I’m having a heart attack.’ He was. Both men died. They were the first deaths in the thirty years that Pacific Masters had been sponsoring open water swims. I turned the trauma of that day into my inspiration for Dead in the Water.

I have been a writer of one kind or another my whole life, beginning with writing a gossip column in my middle school newspaper. I learned to sail in my 30s, sailed to Hawaii from San Francisco and raced sailboats for about ten years on the SF Bay. I also headed up an organization called Yacht Racing Association of SF Bay for seven years. I didn’t join a masters swim team until I was in my 40s. I was in my 50s when I learned to surf. So I am a late blooming water woman, but the underpinnings were always there. And luckily, I am blessed with a certain amount of athletic ability (well, maybe more determination than ability). I never wrote about swimming. I didn’t want to. And I didn’t know I was going to write a mystery until one day I sat down and started. Dead in the Water was as big a surprise to me as it was to everyone else.

Writing the novel was not easy. Often I found myself wondering what the next sentence, paragraph, chapter, should be. I would get up from the computer go outside and cut the grass. I had, at that time, an old push lawnmower; I cut the grass a lot. In fact, I must have had the shortest grass in my neighborhood.

I attended the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference a few years back when I started Dead in the Water. It was extremely helpful. I met with an agent who took a look at the first twenty pages of my manuscript. I wondered if she would say, ‘don’t give up your day job.’ She didn’t. She was encouraging and I kept going.

CB: And speaking of outdoor sports – Glenda also works in Guest Services for the Giants.

GC: I do everything from scan tickets, to take care of a section of the ballpark, answer questions or run an elevator.  . . .during that first season, the team won the World Series and I got to be in the World Series parade. What a way to start a job!

CB: Her website is http://www.glendacarroll.com

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Debut Novels, Reviews

If you thought college was killer, well—it just might be!

As an author of recent debut novel, I’m always interested to read others’ debut novels.  I met author Kelly Brakenhoff through my Sisters in Crime, Guppies listserv and after a  couple of emails, I was thrilled to be invited to read and review her first mystery. I’ve been enjoying meeting debut authors on the page and sometimes in person, I’ve decided to make reviewing debut novels a regular feature of Building a Better Story. Blame it all on Kelly Brakenhoff!

Kelly Brakenhoff author of the new Cassandra Sato series. Just released: Death by Dissertation.

The ink is barely dry on Death by Dissertation, released on Earth Day.

Two months into her dream job as Student Affairs Administrator at prestigious Morton College located in Nebraska’s farming country, intrepid Dr. Cassandra Sato wonders if she’s walked into a nightmare instead. She knew before leaving her Honolulu home, she’d have to contend with the cold, but she hadn’t realized how stifled living landlocked could be. And now a deaf student has died suspiciously right before Homecoming and her boss, Dr. Nielson, not only has left her in charge, but wants the investigation to be quick and quiet. The research lab where the deceased worked is coming up for funding and Dr. Nielson doesn’t want to jeopardize it. But as Cassandra, Meg, Cassandra’s friend and the campus ASL interpreter, and campus security, Andy Summers, work with local authorities, the mystery deepens. Cassandra feels responsible for protecting the students caught in the tangled web surrounding the death. She’s still on probation and must prove  she’s worthy of her “dream” job, even as she’s the victim of racial slurs and vandalism.  As the details of the investigation leak into the media and the school is thrown into a public relations disaster, it’s her job on the line.

 

I’m a lover of campus mysteries. As a college instructor, I feel right at home with the endless committee meetings, the rules and traditions, and the expectation that I have nothing else to do but be at the call of the Dean. Cassandra knew this part before signing on. She’s spent most of her 28 years in school and is the youngest PhD ever to graduate from the University of Hawaii.

Brakenhoff gives readers a detailed look at the culture on a campus of higher education as she richly develops the characters. Cassandra Sato is sharp, thoughtful, witty and persistent. She’s also compassionate, forgiving and imperfect. She’s a good friend to Meg and a woman anyone would want on their side.

Brakenhoff knows how to craft a clear, meaning packed sentence. She doesn’t waste words or rely on frivolous detail. Her prose is serious, succinct and packed with exactly what we need when we need it. I’ve really enjoyed working out the clues with Cassandra and colleagues as their investigation progressed through the surprises and revelations. And more, I’ve come to like Cassandra and her allies deeply.

Brakenhoff doesn’t rush. Cassandra has the full scope of student life on campus to contend with and the extra burden of Homecoming planning and minding, as well as a death to solve. If you’re looking for fast-paced action, this book isn’t going to appeal. But if you are looking to get to know a place and the people who inhabit that place with a good dose of murder mystery investigation thrown in, you can’t go wrong with Death by Dissertation.

And if you thought college was killer, well, it just might be.

 

Chin chin!

My hearty congratulations to Kelly Brakenhoff on her debut. I’m tipping my wine glass to a successful series.

Enter to win Kelly’s giveaway!

AM: How did you come to write this book?

KB: As an American Sign Language Interpreter with more than twenty years of experience, I’ve worked in college classrooms for fifteen different majors. My job has also involved traipsing across muddy farm fields, stomach churning medical procedures, and stage interpreting for famous figures. I love the academic world, but strange things happen there that even a fiction writer could not make up. It seemed like the perfect setting for a mystery series.

AM: Is it going to be a series?

 

KB: Yes, I have at least four books planned for the series. Readers will get to know Cassandra’s co-workers and hilarious friends better in each story.

 

AM: Will Cassandra live through the freezing winter?

 

KB: Let’s hope that Cassandra’s winter is better than the six-month long slog we had this winter in Nebraska. As if snowstorms in October weren’t bad enough, we ended with a Biblical flood in March that completely altered the terrain and wrecked small towns and family farms. Cassandra would surely have packed her bags and moved back to Paradise if she’d seen dead cattle floating down the Main Street of her rural Nebraska town.

 

AM: What is your background that allows you to write about both Hawaii and Nebraska?

 

KB: Six weeks after my husband and I got married we moved to Hawai’i for five years where he started his first job out of college building a golf course. We both fell in love with the culture and special people we met there, but eventually we moved back to Nebraska. Between those experiences and my interpreting career, I’ve seen first-hand many of the things I write about in my books.

 

AM: What do you think of families buying their kids into top schools?

 

KB: This is a great question for someone who works part-time at the state university where I graduated from and where my own children attended. Deep down I think many of us know that very wealthy people have privileges and access to opportunities that most of us don’t have. The recent indictments give us proof, but students I’ve heard talking about it were not surprised at all and neither am I. I’d argue that one doesn’t have to attend an Ivy League school to get a good education, but that shows my bias for state school systems.

Kelly Brakenhoff is an American Sign Language Interpreter whose motivation for learning ASL began in high school when she wanted to converse with her deaf friends. Death by Dissertation (April, 2019) is her first novel.

3 Comments

Filed under Debut Novels, Reviews