Monday, January 31, 2011

Scene of the Crime: Elizabeth Gunn

Welcome to the second edition of my new series, Scene of the Crime, where I get to interview my favorite crime fiction authors.

One of the books that made my personal Top Ten list in 2010 was Cool in Tucson written by Elizabeth Gunn. For me it was a book in which everything clicked: plot, setting, pace and characters. I'm thrilled to see that Kissing Arizona, the third in this series is now available because I want to continue getting to know Sarah Burke.

Here's what Booklist has to say about Kissing Arizona:

Feisty Tucson cop Sarah Burke is back in another outing that’s as much a commentary on modern social issues as it is a crime story. While Sarah is juggling three hot cases—a drug bust gone wrong, the murder-suicide of a local couple, and the discovery of a box of human remains—she also struggles with her home life, what with her adopted niece needing a room of her own, Sarah’s mother suffering a stroke, and boyfriend Will Dietz urging Sarah to move in with him. 

Mixing the multifaceted plot lines with reflections on illegal immigrants, prostitution, blended families, work-life balance, working mothers, and the effects of the economic recession, Gunn somehow manages it all with panache. Fans of Muller’s Sharon McCone, Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, and Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski will want to add Gunn’s Sarah Burke to their list of female sleuths to follow.

Elizabeth Gunn
It goes without saying that I can't wait to read this!

One of the things I always do when writing a book review is to check if the author has a website, and Elizabeth Gunn certainly does. Her own life is every bit as interesting as those of her characters. How many people do you know who can be described in this way: "a one-time innkeeper with a taste for adventure, Elizabeth has been a private pilot, sky diver, SCUBA diver, and liveaboard sailor."

Believe it or not, another word that can be used to describe her is "octogenarian", although with her lifestyle and wide-ranging interests, it doesn't seem possible. She writes two mystery series; the second being centered on the character of policeman Jake Hines in southeast Minnesota where she grew up. (Sarah Burke lives and works in the Tucson area, where Gunn now lives.)

If you're someone who's always wanted to be a writer but are enjoying so many other things that life has to offer, don't give up hope on being published. Why? Elizabeth Gunn didn't start her crime fiction career until she was in her seventies.

Let's see what she has to say in her interview!

What was the very first book you remember reading and loving? What makes that book so special?

LITTLE WOMEN.Even when I was nine I knew it was pretty smarmy—I remember laughing with my mother over some of the sanctimonious things Marmy said. But the story compelled me to read it.

Outside of your writing and all associated commitments, what do you like to do in your free time?

Hike in the country around here—watch birds. Read, read, read.

If I were to visit your hometown, where would you recommend that I go? (I like seeing and doing things that aren't in all the guide books.)

If you go to Rochester, Minnesota now, besides the Mayo Clinic I want you to see: the new bioscience industrial park being built at Pine Island, the wind farms going up in several places, and the timeless beat of life on the Mississippi—Eagles and other big raptors, geese, ducks, all manner of songbirds.

You have total control over casting a movie based on your life. Which actor would you cast as you?

Lily Tomlin

Who is your favorite recurring character in crime fiction?

In villains, a close call between Blue Duck in LONESOME DOVE and Hannibal Lecter in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. For heroes, John LeCarre’s Smiley and Robert B. Parker’s Spenser.

Before your very first published mystery, what else had you written (short stories, articles, unpublished manuscripts)?

Travel articles.

What did you do the first time you saw one of your books on a shelf in a bookstore?

It wasn’t in a bookstore—I was swimming in an RV camp’s pool and saw a woman poolside reading TRIPLE PLAY. I came near drowning.

How did you celebrate when you first heard you were to be published?

I was on a boat in the middle of Florida Bay. I guess I went out and yelled at the fish.

I don't know if you've seen it, but I love Parnell Hall's video about book signings. What is the most unusual experience you've had at a book signing or author event?

I once shared a signing with a naturalist who brought along her snake. Nobody heard a word I said—they were all watching the snake.

The way some people talk, the only way to read now or in the future is with some sort of electronic device, like my husband's Nook. What is your opinion of eBooks, and how will they affect you as a published author?

I love having my books on eBooks, since they give me the backlist that print publishers have never been willing to maintain for me. But they are bad news for bookstores, and I do love hanging out in bookstores. So it’s love/hate all the way.

In reading her answers, it's plain to see that Elizabeth Gunn is a woman who doesn't wait for life to come to her. Travel, reading, staying attuned to the natural world, becoming as fine a writer as she can be... this crime fiction writer enjoys each day as it comes.

Don't forget to stop by next Monday when my guest on Scene of the Crime will be the author of the Alafair Tucker mystery series, Donis Casey!


  1. Cathy,

    Thank you for hosting Elizabeth. She's been to my library twice as a guest author. She is fascinating, isn't she? I liked her Jake Hines' mysteries. I read the first in this Arizona series, and it looks as if I have some catching up to do. Thanks for the reminder!


  2. I love that image of Elizabeth swimming and seeing someone reading her book. Wow -- I might have come close to drowning too.

  3. She sounds like someone I would like to know and I will certainly find her books to read. Since I'm 70 and still writing, she gives me hope.

  4. I'm so excited that you have Elizabeth Gunn as the featured author this week. After reading your praises, Cathy, I ordered COOL IN TUCSON from interlibrary loan. For some reason, my library has the 2nd book in this series, but not the first. I got the notice that it is in and I can pick it up. Yea!

    I loved the snake story. I'm afraid I might have been one of the people eyeing the snake, but hopefully listening with one ear. LOL

  5. Lesa-- Yes, she certainly is fascinating, and I'm glad I was able to remind you gently to catch up with her Arizona series. :)

    Beth-- I think I would, too!

    Barbara-- She gives me hope as well!

    Kay-- I'm so glad that you're going to read Cool in Tucson! And I think if I were there wanting to take photos of the author, I would be able to tune out the snake. I think....


Thank you for taking the time to make a comment. I really appreciate it!