My inspiration for the Toni Day Mystery series

It all started with Murder She Wrote.

All doctors think about retirement, whether it’s making enough money to retire early, or whether they can afford to retire at all, or where they want to live when they retire, and all the fun they’ll have after they do retire.

My husband had a dream of selling the house and living in a motor home and traveling all over the country when I retired, never staying long in one place. I didn’t want that, so I decided to keep working until he got over it. That wasn’t our only point of dissension, and in 2004 we divorced, so I didn’t have to worry about that any more.

In my case, I thought about what I would do to pass the time after retirement, because I’ve known too many doctors who retired and then died. Of boredom? Who knows?

But when Murder She Wrote came on TV, I decided I wanted to be Jessica Fletcher when I grew up. My husband gifted me with a word processor for Christmas, and I sat right down and started writing what is now my first Toni Day mystery, Murder Under the Microscope.

In 1985, when I had less than ten years of pathology practice under my belt at a tiny rural hospital, a locum tenens, or temporary, physician was hired to help with weekend call. The first thing she did was pick a fight with me, verbally abuse my lab techs, and circulate derogatory information about how incompetent the lab and pathologist were.

Nothing happened, of course, and she was gone after three weeks, but in the meantime she did a real number on my self-esteem, and I got no visible support from my medical colleagues. That was when the first seed was planted, and I decided that someday I would kill her off in a book.

In 1982, a sleazy lawyer got our entire medical staff ensnared in a leasing company, which was intended to avoid taxes, and worked quite well until1987 and Black Monday. It all fell apart, the IRS swooped in, and the doctors ended up owing hundreds of thousands in back taxes, interest and penalties. Luckily, I hadn’t gotten involved in the first place, but the whole thing adversely affected the hospital’s bottom line, and I think it was ultimately responsible for us having to sell out to the county hospital in 2001.

I killed him off in Too Much Blood.

In 1995, we acquired a new hospital administrator, who, not to mince words, was a pathological liar and treated employees like shit. I killed him off in Grievous Bodily Harm.

My best friend Rhonda and I were at a party where a friend of ours introduced us to one of her daughters. When she told her daughter that I was a pathologist, the daughter exclaimed, “Eww, you do autopsies? On dead people?”

I explained to her that we are limited to dead people because those live ones complain too much, and Rhonda said that it would be death by autopsy. Ever since, Rhonda has been telling me that I had to write a book called Death by Autopsy, so I did.

In 2013, I was on a Caribbean cruise with a gentleman friend, and we were sitting up on the Lido deck one day when it began to rain, and they had to close the roof. As I watched those massive gears closing the roof with a cacophony of creaks and groans, it occurred to me what a dandy way that would be to murder somebody and have it look like an accident. The result was The Body on the Lido Deck.

Throughout all these stories, Toni’s mother, Fiona, had objected to Toni’s getting involved in matters best left to the police and putting herself in danger. I thought it was about time that Fiona actually had to ask Toni to get involved, and consequently Toni and Hal return to their hometown of Long Beach, California, in A Deadly Homecoming.

One of the editors of Murder Under the Microscope commented that it was too bad that “the awful Robbie” had been sentenced to life in prison for attempted murder, because she was hoping he would show up in future books. “I love a good villain,” was what she said. So I’m resurrecting him in my seventh Toni Day Mystery, with the working title The Twelve Murders of Christmas.

Incidentally, I still haven’t retired.

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Boffo reviews from the Big Guys

Boy am I jazzed. Beyond jazzed. Both Murder Under the Microscope and Too Much Blood got RECOMMENDED ratings from the US Review of Books. They’re both listed in the June issue of the USR newsletter. Here they are.

Any authentic work must start an argument between the artist and his audience. -Rebecca West  

Murder Under the Microscope
by Jane Bennett Munro
iUniverse
reviewed by Carol Davala

“‘Nobody is above suspicion in the eyes of the law,’ Elliot said pompously. ‘Sometimes it’s the last freakin’ person you’d suspect.'”

Jane Bennett Munro has taken her 30-plus years experience as a hospital pathologist and her love of mystery novels, and intertwined them into an exciting new career. The result is an engaging whodunit that revolves around Toni Day Shapiro, a smart, inquisitive, and determined pathologist working in the fictional Perrine Memorial Hospital in Twin Falls, Idaho. From the story’s opening line, “There was a dead body in my office. It wasn’t mine, and I didn’t put it there,” Munro’s first person approach and hint of humor draw readers directly into the mystery of Toni’s being framed for the murder of a visiting physician.

Each chapter brings a new dimension to the plot, ultimately to include a stalking ex-boyfriend, a stolen identity, a hit-n-run, kidnapping, rape, bigamy, embezzlement, and suicide. Simultaneously, Munro opens chapters with great little quotes that smartly set the tone for ensuing action.  From Shakespeare to Agatha Christie’s “Every murderer is probably somebody’s old friend,” the words ring true. Characters are prevalent, from hospital staff to lawyers and detectives. Toni’s English “Mum,” with a penchant for making lists, pleasantly helps Toni and readers alike put all the facts in perspective.             

Munro clearly draws upon her personal pathology expertise to finely detail hospital and lab activities and settings. While the crimes within the storyline are often dangerous and/or deadly, the author stylistically refrains from gratuitous explanations of violence, beyond their necessity to the investigation. In true mystery style, the writer keeps us guessing. Munro’s book is well-crafted with steady pacing that keeps readers turning pages, analyzing suspects, and looking for answers, right along with Toni.                             Murder Under the Microscope is an exemplary first novel. Here the author presents a likeable main character and the necessary quality elements that draw readers to  mystery and make it such an enjoyable literary genre.

RECOMMENDED by the USR

James  

Too Much Blood
by Jane Bennett Munro
iUniverse
reviewed by Barbara Deming

“You’ll never guess what just happened?”

Jay Braithwaite Burke, sleazy, ponzi-scammer attorney is on forensic pathologist Toni Day’s autopsy table. He had bilked people out of thousands of dollars, and, when the scheme collapsed, he disappeared. Where has he been? Why did he return to the scene of his crimes only to wind up dead?

The autopsy and lab work shows Burke died of a brain hemorrhage. His local doctor had treated him for a heart problem. Was he given the wrong drug which caused excessive bleeding?  Or did someone give him an overdose? The lack of concrete reasons for accidental or natural cause of death warrants Toni’s conclusion that this is a case of homicide. Complications with the case are almost as worrisome as the verbal skirmishes with her husband, and the anger/fear over her suspicions that Hal is having an affair. But when disaster strikes in mega doses, she temporarily puts her personal angst aside and hits the investigative trail.             

People connected to him and his scheme are Toni’s co-workers. Several homes burn to the ground. Some family members fall ill. It appears Burke has two wills; the first one leaves money to women he had affairs with. But he claimed to be broke, didn’t he? And then a mysterious bleeding illness attacks those people involved with the disgraced attorney. Police cry, “Murder!” As Toni would say, “Christ on a crutch, what is going on here?”                                                        Author Munro, a semi-retired pathologist, has written a can’t-put-down tale of murder and poisoning seen through the eyes of a pathologist bent on solving crimes. Munro’s writing is entertaining, believable, and fast-paced. She takes you into the autopsy room, shows the fragility of the characters, and makes the reader feel they are inside the story. Readers will definitely be looking forward to solving more cases with this character.

RECOMMENDED by the USR

Thank you thank you thank you!!!