Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mystery Monday: Local Author Betsy Thornton

--by Hanje Richards

Betsy Thornton is a contemporary American writer of mystery fiction novels set in the Southwestern United States where she currently resides. She was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, the oldest of four children. Her family traveled extensively, living in Europe for several years, where Thornton attended Lady Eden’s School in London and Cours Ste. Genevieve in Fonteney sur Bois, a suburb of Paris. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a degree in English, married, and lived in New York City, where her son Alex was born. She later moved to Venice, California, where she worked as a story analyst for ABC Pictures, and then moved to Europe with her second husband, the artist Rafe Ropek. They lived in Rome and on a small Greek island, Skopelos.

Eventually, after a stint back in New York City, Thornton moved to Bisbee, Arizona, where she ran Cochise Fine Arts, a community arts center that sponsored, among other things, the Bisbee Poetry Festival.

Thornton was employed for fifteen years with the Cochise County Attorney’s office in Cochise County, Arizona, where she worked as an advocate for crime victims. She has authored seven mystery novels, all but one of which feature her main character, Chloe Newcomb. Newcomb works as a victim advocate, the same position that Thornton herself held.

In 2008, Thornton’s sixth novel, A Song for You, was nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her works have been favorably reviewed in Publishers Weekly, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.

The Cowboy Rides Away (1996) - Chloe Newcomb has traded in her high-speed New York life for the solitude of the Arizona desert, where she makes half a living as an aid to victims -- notifying survivors, acting as an advisor to the shattered. But when she recognizes a man found shot in a lonely cabin as a former friend and lover, Chloe herself could use a shoulder to cry on. Obsessed to discover who killed him and why, she investigates the strange route that brought her lover to the desert and to his violent end.

High Lonesome Road (2001) - Chloe Newcombe swapped her job as a New York investigator for the solitude of the Arizona desert. Now she has a full life and the more rewarding job of helping witnesses and survivors of crimes and accidents. When a bookmobile librarian is found riddled with bullets, Chloe is braced for the worst but not for the shock of actually knowing the victim. Erica Hill was once a good friend of Chloe's late brother, and, driven by guilt for not keeping in touch, Chloe combs the hot Arizona desert for clues. There's a nosy defense lawyer to question as well as Erica's teenage son and her jealous sister. What she discovers is a secret so dark that it threatens to crash and burn everyone who knew Erica... including Chloe.

Ghost Towns (2002) - Victim Advocate or Victim Witness? Chloe Newcomb defines her job in the County Attorney's office as "helping victims of violent crimes through the criminal justice system in any way I can." Actually, there's much more to that than meets the eye. Chloe's current assignment is to notify the family of a local judge, who has disappeared, and whose body is subsequently found at the ruins of a deserted hotel in a ghost town near Dudley. She finds the family to be a living illustration of the description "dysfunctional."

Dead For the Winter (2004) - Chloe Newcombe meets Terry Barnett. But when she finds out he is married, she writes him off and decides to forget about him. Then she goes out one night on assignment and wishes she had listened. Terry has been murdered. And, unbeknownst to her, there has been a witness to each of her encounters with the dead man, and the bulldog sheriff would very much like to hold her as a suspect. Eventually, her involvement with Terry and a problem with one of her cases affects her work, and her boss encourages (in reality, orders) her to take a vacation. With her job and reputation in danger, Chloe plunges herself into finding Terry's killer in order to prove her innocence.

Chloe's investigation leads her on a search for a woman who disappeared twenty years ago -- a woman no one missed until now. As the details of Terry's life reveal his family drama and the unspoken fears leading up to his death, Chloe finds herself entangled in a story of obsession and betrayal.

Whole New Life (2006) - One August evening in a southern Arizona town, a sheriff's deputy comes to Jackson Williams' door to tell him that his wife has died in a car crash. The deputy questions him while the police search his house and confiscate his computer. His amazement turns to disbelief when they arrest him.
He is not without friends, however.

Ruth Norton, his next-door neighbor, convinces a locally famous lawyer to take on his case. Mara, Jackson's grown daughter from a previous marriage, happens upon the crisis unknowingly when she arrives in town to seek out the father she never knew as she was growing up. Finally, there is Tyler, Ruth's eleven-year-old son. The others aren't aware of what he can contribute to finding the real killer -- but is the murderer?

A Song For You (2008) - A heavy storm hits Dudley, Arizona, wreaking havoc. A local woman drowns in a flash flood. A heavy drinker falls into the drainage system and is finally found a few days later. The Barnetts, who moved into town six months ago, are unhappy to learn that a retaining wall on their property will need immediate fixing. And they’re even more dismayed when the workers’ digging unearths a dead body.

The man’s body has obviously been there a long time. When Rachel Macabee reads about it in the local paper, she is convinced that the dead man was a member of the band that her mom sang with when Rachel was a little girl. He had disappeared just a few days before her mother was killed. The band members assumed that he had left in search of a better job, but Rachel had never believed that -- and now she knows she was right.

She doesn’t trust the police -- they were wrong the first time. So she approaches private detective Brian Flynn, a former police officer as well as Chloe Newcombe’s former lover. He agrees to try to discover what really happened. And after all these years, Rachel may finally find her mother’s killer.
Dream Queen (2010) - It’s the 1990s and Chloe Newcombe flies from New York City to Arizona to see her bad-boy brother, Danny, who’s living in the desert town of Dudley. When she arrives in Arizona, things seem a little off. Who is the strange man she sees Danny talking to at the airport? Why is Danny’s high-spirited girlfriend, Kristi, so edgy? Then, when the van starts acting up, they have to stop at a garage in a small town off the freeway to get it fixed. Chloe and Kristi go to a restaurant to wait for Danny. But he never shows up.

The police don’t seem very concerned about Danny’s disappearance. So finally, Chloe arrives in Dudley, where she goes to bed, exhausted and worried about her brother. Things only get worse the next morning, when she wakes up to find Kristi has vanished too. Chloe’s search for her brother takes her to Tucson, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and then back to a mysterious house in Dudley, where she is forced to confront truths about herself and the past that change her life forever.