First you need a problem: Whodunit? In laying out the story, you need to really understand the character of the victim and of the perpetrator: You need to understand their lives, their motivations, their strengths and weaknesses. But beyond that, you need to know the culture in which they lived, and a myriad of little details that lend credence to the narrative.
That’s what impressed me when I read Barbara Golder’s novel Dying for Revenge (Full Quiver Publishing, 2016). Barbara is uniquely qualified to tell the story. She is both a medical doctor and an attorney.
Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle, you may recall, was a physician–and he used his knowledge of the human body in positing the most puzzling of cases. Barbara Golder also has a strong medical background–She has served as a hospital pathologist, forensic pathologist, and laboratory director.
And law? Best-selling mystery writer John Grisham, who has sold more than 250 million thrillers world-wide, was an attorney who left the practice of law in order to devote full-time to his writing. And Barbara Golder’s work in forensic pathology inspired her interest in law, so she obtained a law degree. She worked as a malpractice attorney and specialized in medical law.
Those two specialties–law and medicine–laid the groundwork for her craft. Add a keen eye for detail and a command of prose, and Barbara is the consummate storyteller.
But Golder’s most relevant credential, in my estimation, is her Catholic faith. “I wanted to write a mystery,” she said,
“…about people for whom their faith–and the practice of it–informed their everyday life. I wanted to explore some of the great themes of faith lived out because so many these days seem to think that it’s just impossible even to try to live out the teachings of the Catholic Church in real life. In this book, that exploration went from the desire for revenge through the processes of justice and forgiveness, all the way to mercy….”
In Dying for Revenge, Golder does what so many authors do not: She avoids blood and gore, yet tells an interesting story about a romantic relationship between a man and a woman that doesn’t involve extramarital sex. I remembered Dean Koontz’ fry cook, Odd Thomas, professing his love for Stormy Llewellyn but never crossing the line to express his love physically until the end when, after Stormy’s heartbreaking death in Pico Mundo, he gently touches her breast. Koontz defines his own writing as “stealth evangelization”; and Golder’s work continues in that line. It’s well worth your time.