Carmen Amato Interviews Mystery Writer Linda Berry

Carmen Amato writes stylish suspense, and the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series.
image of Linda Berry
 This month I’m thrilled to host Linda Berry, author of the terrific police procedural, PRETTY CORPSE.
The themes of Linda Berry’s novels are murder, suspense, and romance. Her latest follows a gutsy female police officer who hunts a rapist, only to find the tables turned, and she becomes the hunted. Layered into the story are complicated relationships with her daughter, her mother, her partner. For professional reasons, she struggles to resist her maddening attraction to her captain.  Visit to find out more.
1  Carmen Amato: Linda, thanks so much for stopping by. As you know, I write a police series and am always interested in the genre. I was excited to read your new police procedural PRETTY CORPSE. It was excellent! Tell us how you came to write such an authentic yet imaginative novel.
Linda Berry: Thank you so much for reading PRETTY CORPSE, Carmen. I’m thrilled that you enjoyed it. Coming from a seasoned mystery writer, that’s a high compliment.
To write authentically, I do extensive research. That doesn’t mean I let my fingers do the walking. For PRETTY CORPSE, I did dozens of ride-alongs with various female patrol officers in San Francisco. I chose the night shift when the city was rife with criminal activity, and I got to see these courageous women in action. Several of my characters were inspired by the female cops I came to know. Many of the side stories in PRETTY CORPSE are based on actual events relayed to me by police officers.
I lived in the bay area at the time, and happened to meet Officer Nancy Guillory. She had just won the medal of valor, the highest decoration for bravery exhibited by an officer. I asked if I could interview her for a police thriller I was developing. She enthusiastically consented, and that began our journey—real life feeding fiction.
2  CA: How do you create multi-dimensional fictional characters, including your lead character Lauren
Starkley? Her life is very complicated, with a powerful backstory. Yet she’s a character we can all identify with.
LB:  As a life long artist, I’ve learned to be a keen observer. I watch people—their nuances, expessions, body language. I spent a lot of time observing female officers, and I interviewed them extensively. I saw beyond the uniform, to women who LOVED their jobs, and had completely different personas in their personal lives, where they took on the roles of wives and mothers.
Creating multi-dimensional characters comes with years of writing experience. I was a copywriter/art director for 25 years. I now use words as my medium to paint a scene, to give breath to characters. I read great books, of every genre, and I study technique. I take what I learn and put it to practice.
3  CA: You chose San Francisco as your setting and described it so well throughout the book that I could feel the drizzle soaking into my shoes! Why is that city a good setting for a mystery? How do you use setting to create and build suspense?
LB: The story is set in San Francisco because Officer Nancy Guillory worked there, and that’s where I did my ride-alongs. Also, I knew the city well, after living in the Bay area most of my life. It is a very atmospheric city—with the ocean, rolling hills, the mist, rain, and fog, the city smells and activity, and the rich diversity of architecture and people. Wonderful elements for an author to draw from.
PRETTY CORPSE by Linda Berry is one of the best police procedurals I’ve read recently and I read quite a few. All the key ingredients are mixed with a deft hand: a protagonist who could be your next-door neighbor, a setting so real you feel the rain in your face, peppery dialogue, and unseen clues that spool out right under your nose.
San Francisco patrol officer Lauren Starkley and her partner Steve Santos work the night shift. The hours are often grueling but the schedule works for Lauren as a single mom with a rebellious teenaged daughter.
The book begins as their shift is about to end. “It was the witching hour. Prime time for drunks to empty out of the bars.”
But instead of drunks, Lauren and Santos find a young woman laid out in a park and gruesomely painted in white makeup. Her hands are crossed in the classic death pose and clasp a red rose. Her neck shows signs of strangulation, but not with a rope. The body carries an odd floral scent.
To the surprise of both cops, the teenager is not dead.
As Lauren looks around the scene, a shadowy figure shoots at her. The missed shot provides grounds for Lauren to investigate on her own when the detective assigned to the case seems less than motivated. Despite warnings to stay away—after all, she’s just a uniformed patrol cop on the graveyard shift—when more strange crimes against teen girls comes to her own neighborhood, Lauren can’t leave it alone. And the reader doesn’t want her to, either.
Lauren is a character with a terrific backstory. She married young and her firefighter husband died in the line of duty. She’s closer to her mother-in-law, who helps wrangle her daughter, than to her own high society mother. Lauren is also in love with her boss, a relationship they both know is inappropriate. Happily, this is one of the many subplots that will be resolved.
A lot of other things are resolved at the end, including the bewildering clues left at multiple crime scenes. Berry gives us an inventive yet oddly plausible motive. The climax is worthy of all the shoe leather Lauren has worn out investigating on her own.
My only complaint is that this isn’t the first in a new police procedural series, but a standalone novel. But once you read PRETTY CORPSE, you’ll put whatever Linda Berry writes next on your TBR list.
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