Brian Thiem here, writing my first article for our new Murder Books blog. I’m thrilled to be working with talented authors Ben Keller, Roger Johns, and Bruce Coffin.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak to an audience of about a hundred people at Sun City Hilton Head. I spent the better part of an hour reading paragraph excerpts from my latest novel, THRILL KILL, which I followed with a discussion about the real-life incidents that inspired the scenes.
THRILL KILL opens with homicide sergeant Matt Sinclair arriving at a murder scene on a rainy morning. “Silhouetted against a gray sky, the body of a naked woman hung by a rope from an oak tree. The toes of one foot barely touched the ground, while a second length of rope suspended the other foot level with her head, as if someone had posed her in a modern dance move…A piece of burned cloth hung from the victim’s crotch. The skin on her upper legs, abdomen, and lower chest was charred and blistered.”
I didn’t have to make up that grisly scene because the memory was permanently etched in my mind from a murder I handled in 1989 when working homicide in Oakland, California. Sharon Frazier was the real victim who hung from a tree in a city park, and despite months of work and scores of interviews, I never solved her murder.
Other than the initial murder scene, the plot of THRILL KILL and the fictional murder victim, Dawn Gustafson, bears little resemblance to Sharon Frazier and the actual investigation I conducted many years ago. As much as I cared about Sharon Frazier and finding her killer, I knew I was not a gifted enough writer to convince fiction readers to follow a trail into the past of a street prostitute and drug addict that led nowhere.
One of the great thing about writing fiction is I get to determine the ending. I hope readers of this blog don’t view this as a spoiler, but in stories I write, my homicide detective will solve the case by the end of the book. I guess I can’t bear to have another open case sitting on my desk now that I’m retired, and in the fictional world I create, chaos and confusion will reign supreme for 300 pages or so, but the world will be set right in the end.
Unlike the real world, where Sharon Frazier’s homicide case packet (we didn’t call them Murder Books in Oakland) on my desk for the remaining five years I worked homicide, and the thoughts of her unsolved murder stayed with me until I retired sixteen years later, Matt Sinclair solves the case and brings those responsible to justice.
The real-life murder of Sharon Frazier ended up with a happy ending. A few years ago, DNA advances allowed the crime lab to map DNA from the skin cells on the rope from which Sharon Frazier hung and match it to a man who had a history of raping and assaulting prostitutes. The cold case team reopened the case, collected corroborating evidence, and after a trial, Sharon Frazier’s killer was sentenced to life without the possibly of parole. It took a long time to avenge Sharon Frazier’s death, and I have one fewer open case to keep me awake at night.