by Randy Overbeck
GENRE: Amateur sleuth mystery
On a school camping trip, fifth graders experiment with a dangerous new hallucinogen and die in a horrific accident, their deaths shattering the quiet town. Assistant Superintendent Ken Parks, hoping to redeem a fatal mistake from his past, grasps the opportunity to conduct the district investigation of how students are getting the drugs. Almost before he begins, the cops make a stunning arrest. But Parks battles on, convinced the real pusher is still out there, poisoning more kids until he receives an anonymous threat: if he continues, those close to him will pay. Is Parks willing to risk those he loves for a chance at redemption?
Struggling desperately to force her mind to think, Amanda tried to consider her options. It was all happening too quickly. The next treacherous turn came at her fast. She had no way to slow down. White knuckles gripped the steering wheel.
The bend ahead showed a hard curve to the right, not quite as tight as the last one, but steeper. And she felt the car accelerating, though she hadn’t touched the gas pedal. Right before the car hit the curve, Amanda spun the steering wheel. The car lurched around the bend. The driver side of the car lifted up. Halfway through the long bend, Amanda watched the hood tilt in the turn until it was almost vertical. No seat belt on, she was catapulted down the leather seat, crashing into the passenger door.
“Hell!” she cried, reaching to grab her bruised shoulder.
She froze as the two wheels still on the ground shuddered in the gravel, sliding off the small road. Slammed against the side door, she heard the tall weeds and low branches whip against the body. But the car didn’t slow. Blood streamed from a gash on her forehead. For an instant she lay there stretched across the passenger door, holding her breath.
Then she sensed the car teetering. The front tire bumped something hard. Amanda stared, unbelieving, as the car began to flip. As the Regal made the first revolution, she screamed.
“Nonfiction is about reality; fiction is about truth.”
Bestselling mystery author, S. J. Rozan, shared these words at a writing conference a few years ago, and this insight struck me. As an author, I’d argue one important purpose of memorable fiction is to share truths about life, love, and sometimes even death.
I’m not naïve. I realize readers don’t choose a mystery or a thriller or even a romance because they’re searching for insight or revelation. James Patterson is not a bestselling author because of his philosophical outlook on life. Fiction lovers are not browsing bookshelves in bookstores—okay, checking out Amazon or BookBub listings—because they are searching for the meaning of life. They want to be entertained, to be scared to death, to be drawn in and forget their world, or maybe to fall in love inside the pages of their newest discovery. But I wanted more.
All my life I have been committed to making a difference, first as an educator in the lives of children I served, and later as an author, connecting with readers around the world. As a teacher and school leader, I witnessed a great many children struggling to deal with the harsh realities of their lives. As an educator, my responsibility was to provide them with the knowledge, the skills and, if possible, the will to deal with the inevitable challenges of life. After thirty-plus years and state and national awards, I’d like to think I had some success in that arena.
When I turned my attention to writing, I’ve worked to release into the world stories which were captivating and thrilling but which could also make a difference in readers’ understandings and outlooks. Crafting each story, I took great pains to research the issue thoroughly so my story could be poignant as well as entertaining. In my novels, I place the fictional murder to be solved at the nexus of a major social issue, a greater truth, if you will. In Blood on the Chesapeake, my protagonist—a high school teacher named Darrell, by the way—unravels a decades-old mystery of a high school student’s “suicide,” which turns out to have been a lynching covered up by the town. (Yes, it was a common tactic for a town to “bury” the memory of a lynching and replace with a common community story of a suicide or accidental death.) In Crimson at Cape May, Darrell must solve the murder of a young woman, killed on her wedding night, who was marrying into a wealthy shipping family. However, the family business has an additional lucrative stream of income: human trafficking. (Since humans being trafficked travel the same way other goods are moved, the connection between freight shipping and human cargo is all too real.) In my newest work, Cruel Lessons—with another educator as the hero--I tackle one of the greatest challenges of today, drug addiction, especially among the youth. (Even though I set my story almost thirty years earlier, the struggle with drugs, drug addiction and drug dealing today is frighteningly similar to the time of my narrative.)
Because each of my protagonists, my heroes, are educators, they see the world through the lens of what’s best for children and that crystalizes their priorities. It clarifies rights and wrongs. I believe, this allows me to spin a good yarn set in the world of school and give my readers something to think about long after they finish the last page.
That is not to say readers find my work didactic. Hardly. Although I’m sharing critical truths about society, about our culture, about life and death, these truths are cloaked in thrilling mysteries, intricate plots and spine-tingling suspense. Readers and reviewers have been generous with their praise.
“Left me with my jaw hanging open and in tears.”—The Avid Reader
“The plot is so engrossing it had me hooked from the first page.”—Nana’s Reviews
“One of the best thrillers I’ve ever read.”—N N Light BookHeaven
“Anyone searching for a book filled with thrills, this will not disappoint. I’m still trying to catch my breath.”—An Amazon reader
My efforts to combine mystery and meaning are hardly new and, in fact, follow a fine tradition. The best fiction I’ve read and remembered long after I closed the book taught me something, something about the era, something about human nature, some truth about us, our history and our culture. These books opened my eyes to truths I did not see.
I can think of scores of examples. Reading Ken Follett’s remarkable historical series starting with Pillars of the Earth conveyed truths about the lives about our forebears I never learned in any classroom. William Kent Kreuger’s Cork O’Connor series interweaves, within his suspenseful mysteries, sensitive revelations about treatment of and prejudice toward Native Americans in the North Country—truths that are applicable to many parts of the nation. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is far more than the story of a runaway young man on the Mississippi. Even back then, Twain had wrapped his truths about society, prejudice and class within his tale of adventure, and made good money doing it.
If Ms. Rosan is correct and fiction is about truth—and I believe she is—I want to make sure my fiction delivers to readers truths that are significant and thought-provoking.
I hope my writing rises to this aspiration.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Dr. Randy Overbeck is a best-selling author of the award-winning series, The Haunted Shores Mysteries, the three entries earning such national awards as the Gold Award from Literary Titan, Mystery of the Year from ReaderViews, Best Book from Chanticleer and Crowned Heart of Excellence from InD’tale Magazine. He hosts a new podcast, “Great Stories about Great Storytellers,” which reveals the unusual backstories of famous authors, directors and poets. He is also a speaker in much demand, sharing his multi-media presentations, “Thanks Still Go Bump in the Night” and “A Few Favorite Haunts” with audiences all over the country. More info about his novels, programs and podcast can be found at his website www.authorrandyoverbeck.com .
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GIVEAWAY INFORMATION and RAFFLECOPTER CODE:
Overbeck will be awarding a $25 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn
winner via rafflecopter during the tour.