The mysteries continue!

After taking Toni Day out of her comfort zone by sending her on a Caribbean cruise, I thought it would be fun to send her back to her and Hal’s hometown of Long Beach, California in A Deadly Homecoming, the sixth Toni Day Mystery. After all, her mother and stepfather live there, and so do Hal’s parents. So, okay, Toni is out of her comfort zone by virtue of not having the hospital and police connections she has in Twin Falls, but at least she’s in the United States and on dry land.

I also thought it would be fun to have someone actually ask her to get involved in a case. In the first five books, she gets involved against the wishes of her mother, her husband, and the police. In Grievous Bodily Harm, her stepfather-to-be, Nigel, actually scolds Toni for scaring her mother, the woman he’s about to marry, out of ten years growth. “I’m not ready to be done with her yet, thank you very much,” was his take on the situation. Of course, Nigel, as a retired Scotland Yard detective, can’t resist getting involved himself; it’s in his blood.

So, Toni’s mother, Fiona, actually asks Toni to get involved on behalf of her best friend, Doris, whose husband, Dick, has disappeared. I thoroughly enjoyed taking a little walk down memory lane by having one of the homicide detectives be someone Toni knew in high school, the Los Angeles county coroner be someone she knew from her pathology residency and the Long Beach city legal counsel, be her childhood best friend.
In reality, my own British mum and I moved from Maine to Long Beach when I was twelve. I went to Charles Evans Hughes Junior High, and Long Beach Polytechnic High School. Like Toni, I actually was a Polyette, and I did my internship and part of my pathology residency at St. Mary’s. The house in which Toni grew up is based on the house my mother and I lived in while I was in school. And the public library really was 8 blocks away with a Foster’s Freeze right across the street.

I was criticized on one review for giving Long Beach a small-town atmosphere at odds with reality as Long Beach has a population of over 400,000, and even back in 1958 it was over 300,000. Sorry about that. I did mention that Long Beach had five high schools, however.

As a final bit of fun, I put in a haunted house with a secret staircase, a laird’s lug, a malfunctioning dumbwaiter, and a half-empty bottle of white arsenic.
As usual in these mysteries, the murder is only the final event in a string of crimes that require Toni to go back decades to find out what started it, solve the mystery, and then put herself in danger to convince those who doubt her.

A Deadly Homecoming came out October 30, 2018, and is available online from amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and iuniverse.com. It was given the Rising Star designation, which is better than Editor’s Choice, and means it might, just might, show up on some bookstore shelves somewhere, someday, maybe.

Now, I’m working on number 7, with the working title of The Twelve Murders of Christmas. Toni and Hal are back home in Twin Falls, Mum and Nigel come to visit, an old villain returns, and that’s all I’m going to say about it as I’m only 90 pages in. Anything can happen from here.

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Twin Falls

During my last year of residency in Long Beach, my husband John and I agreed that we didn’t want to stay in Southern California anymore. The reasons have faded into the misty past, but in general we felt that it was too crowded. I had visions of either starting my own lab, or at least finding a situation where I could build my pathology department without anybody telling me what I could and could not do. John wanted to manage my lab.

Two situations with potential presented themselves. One was a community hospital in Paso Robles, a lovely medium-sized town in central California surrounded by live oaks and rolling hills. The pathology group in nearby San Luis Obispo was only too happy to offer me whatever coverage I might need. Everyone there was excited about acquiring me, and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Then I found out that the lab was actually owned by the lab manager. That was a deal breaker for me, because I would be responsible for the lab in the eyes of the medical staff and the regulatory agencies to which I would have to answer, but I’d have no authority whatsoever. John wanted me to buy the guy out so that we could run the lab instead, but when I suggested that to the medical staff, they informed me that they were quite happy with the way things were and didn’t want to change anything.

So I turned them down.

Then I got a call from a recruiter about a small doctor-owned hospital in Twin Falls, Idaho that wanted its own pathologist instead of sending everything to the county hospital.  This was the opportunity I’d been waiting for; the opportunity to build my own pathology department.  Back then, in 1977, Twin Falls was predominantly agricultural, with a population of 26,000 and two traffic lights.* It’s high desert, at an altitude of 4100 feet, and not nearly as pretty as Paso Robles. But it did have two hospitals, a brand-new community college and a fairly new suspension bridge over the scenic Snake River Canyon replacing the old toll bridge, and was only 80 miles from Sun Valley. It also had a sugar factory in which sugar beets were converted into White Satin. When we stepped off the plane, the air smelled like manure. It took me back to the way my hometown, Cooper Mills, Maine, always smelled in the summer, and I knew I was home.

The day that John and I left our Long Beach house for the last time was the day Elvis died. It was also the day the hospital in Paso Robles called and said they’d still not found anyone for the pathologist position and would I please reconsider?

I said no.

So over the next 24 years at the Twin Falls Clinic & Hospital as a solo pathologist, I built my department from scratch, and we finally achieved accreditation by the College of American Pathologists in 1997. But it was short-lived.

In 2002, due to increasing unfunded mandates from the federal government, we were forced to sell out to the county hospital, Magic Valley Regional Medical Center, and I joined their pathology group. In 2006, the county hospital was bought out by the St. Luke’s Health System, based in Boise, who built us a beautiful new hospital. St. Luke’s Magic Valley is a 250-bed tertiary care hospital, in contrast to the 40-bed hospital I’d started out in.

John never did get to manage my lab, which ultimately led to our divorce, in 2004.

Twin Falls now has a population over 40,000, which is expected to reach 50,000 in 2020.* There are numerous traffic lights now. We have a mall, a Costco, a Walmart. There are 2 high schools. The scenic Perrine Bridge is now a mecca for countless base jumpers.  Numerous industries other than the sugar factory have made Twin Falls their home, including Chobani Yogurt. But it only has one hospital now.

This is the background for my Toni Day mysteries, and Toni herself is loosely based on me and my own adventures as a solo pathologist in a rural setting. The old hospital, Perrine Memorial, is loosely based on the Twin Falls Clinic & Hospital, and the new one is loosely based on St. Luke’s Magic Valley.

Some of Toni’s adventures have started out as situations that I have actually been in, but none of my adventures have ever included putting my life in danger to track down a murderer. Those are all products of my overheated and lurid imagination. Indeed, my first three books featured villains based on persons in my life that I really wished I could kill. Since I couldn’t do it legally, I did it cathartically by writing about it, and felt much better.

*To find out more information about the population of Twin Falls, Idaho, please visit: http://worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/twin-falls-id-population/