Monday, July 7, 2014

EM Kaplan Talks Murder

I ran into EM Kaplan this past June at Printers Row Lit Fest here in Chicago. We were signing books in the same booth, and we got to talking about her latest mystery, The Bride Wore Dead. She told me a story about a murder that happened in her home state, and how that death inspired the plot for her book. I asked her to repeat the tale here on Cicero's Children. Here it is.

The Bride Wore Dead, A Josie Tucker Mystery

To paint a picture of where I got the idea for my first Josie Tucker mystery, The Bride Wore Dead, let me take you to where I grew up in southern Arizona--where the better part of my mystery takes place. Now keep in mind, the Sonoran Desert is a scrub-brush kind of desert, versus the sand-dune, pyramid type, like the Sahara. If you imagine gnarled mesquite trees and saguaro cactus, John Wayne, and la migra (border patrol) you get a good sense of it. 

When we first meet Josie Tucker, she's a bridesmaid at a stuffy, uppercrust Boston wedding, but as soon as she sets foot back on Arizona soil, we can sense she's back on her home turf. She's a desert rat, which means she knows how to survive under adverse conditions, and also how to make due with what she's given. There's a reason why extremists and vigilantes thrive out in the desert--the terrain and the isolation breeds them. The rules for justice and morality differ in the desert.

When I was in grad school in Tucson, I heard a story about a friend of a friend--I'll avoid names to protect the no-so-innocent here, although I'm pretty sure karma has taken care of a few loose ends already. But the story goes that one night, as this friend was sleeping, a man broke into the house. Supposedly, it was a man from another city who had been sent to kill the friend, either for revenge for stealing a woman or money--the usual motivators. The friend jumped out of bed and managed to overpower and disarm the hired killer.

What happened next is not for the morally upstanding. Because at this point, the friend forced the hired killer out into the desert where he made him dig his own shallow grave. The friend then shot the hired killer with his own gun and buried him. When it was done, the friend returned home and went back to bed. 

This hearsay story became the kernel of The Bride Wore Dead. Whether it really happened or not, it stuck with me and germinated until it became a full-fledged mystery. But don't worry, I haven't spoiled it for you. I've just given you the flavor, the undercurrent of violence and lawlessness of Josie Tucker's world. Yet, despite it all, she manages to joke and to maintain her snarky sense of humor. And that quirkiness in the face of a horrific situation is who Josie Tucker is at heart.




  1. I, too, am from Arizona -- the northern part. I saw a bumper sticker that said, "Bullhead City - Chill Factor 110." I thought of that because of your Salt saying. :) Your book sounds great, and there's a lot of desert out there with probably more than one shallow grave. Great post!
    Marja McGraw

  2. Thanks, Marja!

    I have been to Bullhead City -- I was kicked out of a casino in Laughlin, Nevada (across the border) for being underage. :)