Retired journalist Gerrie Ferris Finger won the St. Martin’s Minotaur/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery novel for The End Game. It was the first in the Moriah Dru/Richard Lake series. The second, The Last Temptation, was a finalist in the St. Martin’s/Best Private Investigator contest and was released in August, 2012. After spending twenty years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a reporter, editor, and columnist, she moved to coastal Georgia with her husband, Alan, and standard poodle, Bogey.
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Maybe it’s because I’ve traveled a lot as a journalist that I find a location inspires me to create a story. Readers often ask: “Where do your ideas come from?” For me, in a word, place. I begin to see characters that belong to a particular place, hear them speak and take on their roles. Their own sense of place defines them. In that sense, location is another character.
Could William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily have been set anywhere but Mississippi—a place with a unique history, demographics, culture, attitudes, social values and dialect? I think not, but others might disagree.
The first book in my Moriah Dru/Richard Lake series, The End Game, is set in Atlanta. I’ve lived in Atlanta for so long, I’m almost a native. Other cities have railroad communities like Cabbagetown, the location of the story. Other cities have old converted-into-lofts warehouses and venerated old cemeteries like Oakland Cemetery, but they don’t have what William Tecumseh Sherman did to the city during the Civil War (or War Between the States, as Southerners like to call that conflict). Dru and Lake are Southerners, anchored by their Atlanta roots. If you took them out of the region and the city, they would still be who they are.
The Last Temptation is the second in the series. The location or principle setting is Palm Springs, California. When I visited Palm Springs, several characters sprang to life. Palm Springs is glitzy and full of show business personalities. Streets are named for celebrities, Frank Sinatra and Jack Benny to name a two, but everyone I met seemed to believe himself or herself to be special. The air is light out there.
Dru is a former policewoman who left Atlanta Police Department to start her specialty private investigative agency, Child Trace. Lake, her lover, is still with the APD, which is convenient in obtaining information on her cases.
The case for Child Trace opens when Eileen Cameron and her daughter Kinley Whitney vanish from Eileen’s Palm Springs home during a parental visit. Kinley’s custodial father, Bradley Whitney, lives in Atlanta. Eileen and Bradley are locked in a battle for the girl, and Bradley believes Eileen has taken Kinley to hide with the Indians in the desert. The juvenile court hires Moriah Dru to find and bring Kinley home. The judge assesses the fees and expenses to Whitney, making him a de facto client.
Bradley has good academic credentials, but he’s rich and involved with the secretive Cloisters, a tony men’s club in Atlanta. Dru and Lake investigate Bradley’s past. At the same time Lake is investigating the Atlanta Suburban Girl murders.
The case takes Dru to Palm Springs where she meets a host of oddballs, including Dartagnan LeRoi, a cop on the case who doubles as an actor in B movies.
Arlo Cameron, Eileen’s B movie director husband, seems more concerned with Heidi, his widowed neighbor. But he does give a few hints about Eileen’s desire to get custody of Kinley, suggesting that the girl was uneasy around her father. He tells Dru Eileen is off drugs and alcohol.
Eileen’s hairdresser, a cross-dresser named Theodosia gives a few caustic hints as does Zing, a donut maker friend of Eileen’s.
“Indian princess” Contessa (Tess) Rosovo offers to help find Eileen and Kinley if they’ve gone into hiding in the desert. The Rosovoes own several casinos in and around the desert.
To help find Eileen and Kinley, Tess takes Dru to the high desert for a Moon Maiden ceremony. Dru spots a young girl in a wig that doesn’t quite fit. Before she can ask questions, Dru passes out then comes to in an ancient mud brick maze of apartments, abandoned except for drug and sex parties.
Tess rescues Dru from her captors, but both women are attacked. Tess seems to know who these men are and diverts the attackers while Dru crawls into the desert scrub. A monsoon sweeps in and she’s swept over a rock waterfall to certain death.
It’s a miracle that she survives, and when her memory frees itself from Datura, she sets out to find who poisoned her and what happened to the girl in the wig. Tess denies Dru’s account of the Moon Maiden ceremony and the subsequent events of that night. Tess is believed, Dru is not. Cooperation by the protective citizens, including Dartagnan, ends. She returns to Atlanta.
Meanwhile Whitney thinks he’s not getting his money’s worth and fires Dru. She continues working with the court as Lake gathers information on Bradley Whitney and the Cloisters. As a fearless defender of those she’s hired to protect and of herself, failure angers her. She’s at a dead end when a private investigator from Birmingham contacts her. Eileen had hired him some time before her disappearance to dig up dirt on ex-husband Whitney. His startling information sends the investigation spinning into another orbit and takes Dru and Lake back to Palm Springs.
It’s my story, of course, but it is so The Springs.
Thanks Lelia, it’s been a pleasure.
The Ghost Ship
The Laura Kate Plantation Series: When Serpents Die, Honored Daughters, Wagon Dogs
Merciless and Heartless, novellas.
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