Tales from the Missing and Endangered Trail–The Tucson Festival of Books

First the good news. No, wait—make that the excellent news. All of my early-and-often book reading fans turned up the spin cycle for that long ago Creative Writing professor as well as my first husband. Missing and Endangered debuted at #10 on the NY Times Bestseller Hardback last and #6 on The NY Times Combined hardback and e-book list. Yay!!! Thank you so very much. I really appreciate it.

And thank you to those who wrote to me expressing their condolences after last week’s tribute to Rusty and Kathy Miller. By now those of you who have finished the book have met my fictionalized version of Rusty in Missing and Endangered.

And now it’s time to turn our attention to the Tucson Festival of Books. No, I’m not in Tucson where, I have it on good authority, it’s sunny, dry, and warm, as opposed to Seattle where it’s dreary, damp, overcast, and cold. In Tucson by now, there are probably hints of orange blossoms in the air. At the moment, nothing at all is blooming here in the Pacific Northwest. So yes, I’m missing Tucson right now—a lot, and the festival is all virtual this time around.

I’m scheduled to do two TFOB sessions, one with Joe Kenda on Saturday and another with Lisa Gardner on Sunday. Since the blog doesn’t go out until Friday morning, it may be that some sessions will already be completely booked. Not to worry. I’ve been told that an hour or so after live events are over, they should be viewable to those interested by using the same links.

Links to TFOB sessions:

Murder in Fact and Fiction: Saturday March 6, 1-2 pm (MST)

Strong Female Protagonists: Sunday March 7, 11:00 – 12:00 pm (MST)

And now for a little background. It wasn’t until I was writing the third Beaumont book, Trial by Fury, that someone from New York mentioned that I was writing police procedurals. This was big news for me. Right up to that moment I thought I’d been writing books! The words “police procedural” were very scary. After all, I had never been in law enforcement. I had been a school librarian. As such, I had learned a lot about doing research, and in writing my books, I relied on that skill to sort out as much as I could about … well … police procedures.

Over time, part of that research included watching a good deal of what’s called “crime TV,” starting with endless episodes of Forensic Files. Later, when ID-Discovery came along, I began watching programs on that as well. Those often allowed me to view tapes of real detective/offender jailhouse interviews as well as reenactments of the accompanying homicides. By watching those, I learned how cops go about narrowing down the list of suspects—starting from the inside out; how they use surveillance video to identify suspects; how they track electronic devices to sort out locations of both victims and suspects; and how DNA can be used decades later to solve long cold cases. Note to possible crooks: Do NOT go to Walmart either before or after committing a crime. Their video surveillance systems capture criminals every day. In one case, a murder victim’s Fitbit revealed exactly when she died and, as a result, blew her killer husband’s alibi out of the water.

And it was in watching those programs that I became aware of Joe Kenda’s Homicide Hunter. Joe worked homicide for the Colorado Springs police department for twenty years and solved over 300 homicides. His show, still in reruns on ID-Discovery, ran for nine seasons. It’s a reenactment show with someone else playing his character on screen while Joe does the narration with his plain-spoken dry wit providing valuable insight into what’s going on. He now has a new show, American Detective streaming on Discovery+. He’s also written two books—I Will Find You and his new one, Killer Triggers.

With all that being said, here’s how the Joe Kenda/J.A. Jance panel at the Tucson Festival of Books came into existence.

More than two years ago, with Bill recovering from surgery, I did a solo excursion to do an event in Newport News, Virginia. The mic check was over and I was sitting on stage when a woman with short white hair came up to me carrying a paperback copy of Proof of Life. “You put my husband’s name in this book,” she said.

I was on the far side of the country from where I lived. I had no idea who she was or who her husband was either, for that matter. “I did?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, “my husband, Joe Kenda.”

I was utterly astonished. It was true, of course. I had put her husband’s name in the book. In the aftermath of the shuttering of the Special Homicide Investigation Team, one of Beau’s former coworkers asked him with more than a bit of sarcasm, “What do you think you’ll be, the next Joe Kenda?”

When I finally found my voice, I said, “You’re married to Joe Kenda?!!!”

“Yes,” she said, pointing, “he’s right over there.”

And with my eyes bugging out of my head I replied. “Joe Kenda is HERE?”

Yes, he was. We had brief introduction and a photo op. After the event, he stopped by for a moment and said, “You’re quite a storyteller.” Well, it takes one to know one.

Since then we’ve become friends. While on their way to an Alaskan cruise, he and his wife, Kathy, stayed with Bill and me here in Seattle for several days. We all hit it off. It was great fun. When he was invited to come to the TFOB this year, I imagined the four of us would be in Tucson together, having fun in the sun and sniffing just a hint of orange blossoms on the evening air.

We all know THAT didn’t happen! Like so many other things, Covid blew that idea out of the water. Instead of being together, we’ll be doing our panel from opposite ends of the country, but it will be two friends chatting together. I expect it will be fun for Joe and me, and I hope it’ll be fun for everyone else as well.