by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of Drowning Barbie, the latest mystery by Frederick Ramsay. We also have an interview with Frederick, and at the end of this post are details on how to enter to win a copy of Drowning Barbie.
Drowning Barbie By Frederick Ramsay
It’s only fitting that the marriage between the unlikely couple of former CIA agent and Sheriff Ike Schwartz and university president Dr. Ruth Harris would occur after a drunken night of revelry in Vegas. While the two do not regret their unconventional nuptials, breaking the news to the nosy friends and family is definitely unpleasant. Luckily, Ike has several murder investigations to keep both himself and the townspeople occupied.
Back in the Shenandoah Valley town of Picketsville, Virginia, the remains of Ethyl Smut are discovered and no one is able to get too worked up about it. The aptly named woman was a drug addict, prostitute, thief, and suspected of abusing her daughter. That missing daughter, now a teenager, have the Picketsville Sheriff’s Department concerned for her safety, especially considering that a recently released convict with ties to Ethyl is headed towards the town bent on revenge and Darla Smut could be a possible casualty in his path. Considering that Ike also has to contend with a lazy, but now suspiciously energized, deputy left over from the previous corrupt department, the Picketsville Sheriff has more than enough to keep his mind busy while he figures out how to plan a fake Picketsville wedding for the Vegas marriage that has already taken place.
Ramsay skillfully blends wry humor, witty dialogue, and engaging characters with a dark plot that tackles some of society’s most unsolvable and tragic faults. In this ninth book of the Ike Schwartz series Ramsay takes jabs at bureaucrats, small town mentalities, celebrity fashion fads, academics, and politicians. Perhaps, though, it is one of the most unlikely of townspeople who will exasperate him the most and be his downfall, as Ike laments:
“Librarians were good at surveillance in the stacks, shushing loud whisperers, and apprehending booknabbers, but staked out at a biker bar and watching a known killer? Lord love us.”
The joy in reading this series comes almost entirely from Ike Schwartz, a politically incorrect, incorruptible, highly moral sheriff who has little respect for hypocrites and has absolutely no inhibitions about sharing his opinions. This makes his relationship – and now marriage – with the liberal, left-wing, tree-hugging university president all the more improbable and hilarious to observe. Ike’s acerbic and dry-as-sandpaper wit never ceases to puncture Ruth’s high-minded and lofty presumptions, and it was been refreshing to see her slowly soften and lose her brittle edge. The new direction their lives may be taking will be a pleasure to watch even as it completely upends and disrupts their already unusual but somehow compatible relationship.
Interview with Frederick Ramsay:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Frederick: I have been at this, off and on, for a very long time. That said, the early efforts were more in the line of me messing around. I have been doing this seriously since I retired (2000) and publishing for ten years.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? And can you tell us a little about it?
Frederick:The first was Artscape. It became the first of a series that now extends to nine and it introduced the characters that people seem to like to follow. It got nice reviews–not wonderful, but nice and triggered what followed.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Frederick:Always mysteries. Even Judas, The Gospel of Betrayal, though not strictly a mystery, reads like one.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Please tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Frederick:The setting came from an experience years ago–this is a long story, are you sure you want to hear it? A bunch of years ago, my wife and I had a commuter marriage. She may have wondered about me and what I was up to in her absence, I don’t know. Anyway, she asked me what I wanted to do with my time and I said (glibly) that I would like to write a book. (It was at least 60% B.S. but you know how it is) So she asked what it was about and I told her the rough outline of Artscape. She asked why I didn’t do it and I gave her all the excuses I could think of because I really had no intention of writing anything. Shot-long she said she’d type it if I wrote it. (No computers back then) So, rather than look the fool I was, I wrote a very bad book with a fountain pen on yellow legal pads–she typed it, we shared it around and after some queries here and there, another shot at fame and fortune (another story) I packed it in. After I retired, I tried again. And this time it worked.
Anyway, when I was in my salad days, I dated a woman from (then) Randolph-Macon College in Lynchburg VA. On their back lot they had a storage facility which held at the time one-half of the Mellon art collection. The facility looked like a bomb shelter (It was the fifties after all) and the possibility of stealing it and the motives to do so always intrigued me–thus–Artscape.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Frederick:I write when and if I feel like it. Lately not much.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Frederick:I don’t outline. I make notes and generally botch up the first draft and then fix it.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Frederick:Yes, doesn’t everybody? (Don’t answer that)
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Frederick:I don’t think so. You get them, cry a little and resubmit.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Frederick:As little as possible
KRL: What do you read?
Frederick:Pretty much anything that catches my interest. Lately I have been trying to keep up with my Poisoned Pen colleagues.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Frederick:Most English Mystery/cop series, NCIS, Blue bloods. NFL Football and (oddly) those shows where guys with lots of tattoos fix up old wrecked cars and sell them off.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Frederick:I am really not as good looking as they say
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
Frederick:I have one: frederickramsay.com. I (for my sins) do Facebook and feel guilt for the time I waste there.
KRL: Ike Schwartz is unapologetic in his views, much to the entertainment of readers. Have you ever felt the need to change his views with the change in presidential administrations? Has the reception of Ike’s rather right-wing leanings changed with the new president?
Frederick: No. Ike is neither right nor left. He is annoyed at the knee jerk obeisance we pay to the tyranny of political correctness. His world view is dim from experience with governmental idiocy (form both side s of the aisle. Not alone in that. If there ever come a time when we elect a President who can rally the nation around a vision not dictated by party hacks, he will embrace it. Until then, he will continue to gripe.
KRL: Ike and Ruth, through a most unorthodox method, finally progressed in their relationship. Did you see this happening when you first began the series?
Frederick:I thought that eventually one of two things had to happen: they would split and he would move on to other partners and maintain his cynical bachelor persona, or they would have to get hitched. My editor vetoed the former, thus the latter.
KRL: What authors have influenced you the most in your writing and in your life in general?
Frederick:Well. Remember, I am 78 years old. That is a lot of books. I grew up with my aunt’s leftover “Mystery Book Club of the Month” read everything I had to (my school in the grades 5-11 required weekly book reports and I couldn’t afford Classic Comics). In college I took every comparative literature course I could (I was a science major) and have continued to read eclectically since. I can’t think of any one or any group. I will say that if one aspires to write, you need to read— everything. You will never develop a distinctive voice (one of your own) if you don’t sample many, many others.
KRL: How has being a minister affected Ike and the other characters in your novels? The moral compasses of many characters seem to have been formed by their economic status as much as their families.
Frederick:I am afraid more than it should. If you are a teacher and/or a preacher, it is hard to resist climbing into a pulpit when one is offered. A readership, even a small one is too good to resist.
The characters reflect the author, as you must know. I would be a hypocrite if I presumed to portray a culture or lifestyle not authentic to me. I have overseen too may read-and-critiques of would-be authors to not see the dangers there. What is the rule? “Write what you know.” Picketsville is what I know.
KRL: You are able to blend dark humor with acts of human horror wonderfully. How are you able to balance this without losing the effect of either?
Frederick:I have no idea. As the folks are want to say, “It’s how I roll.”
KRL: What are your upcoming plans for Ike? It looks as though he has a very interesting family life ahead for him.
Frederick:Honestly, I don’t know. You can see from the latest that he and Ruth are at a turning point. Shall they become responsible adults, raise a damaged child? Stay in Picketsville or leave? What’s left for them to do? Should he return to the CIA as a consultant doing the domestic stuff that agency is barred by law from doing? Maybe this should the last in the series and I should write a pre-quel about when Ike arrived in the town and why he became sheriff. I don’t know.
KRL: How did you decide to write your historical Jerusalem mystery novels? Do you have a different method of writing them, as opposed to the Ike Schwartz mysteries?
Frederick:The method is very different, I think. Gamaliel and Loukas are First Century Sherlock and Watson. The constraints of historical reality mean they can only do so mush—no forensics so every thing has to be reasoned out. Gamaliel is (was) a real person. I can’t stray too far from who and what he was.
The series grew, in part from the Judas book, in part from my desire to write an historical, and in part because I wanted to tell the gospel story through the eyes of someone who had no interest or part in it. In a sense, it is a teaching exercise. Also, the time and place, Jesus notwithstanding, is fascinating.
KRL: Ike has a CIA background. Do you find yourself following international news closely in order to incorporate them into your novels?
Frederick:Only sort of. You live long enough you realize only the uniforms change–the game remains essentially the same.
The nice thing about writing CIA stories is that they cannot not deny anything you claim they do. They can tap your phone and have you disappear, I suppose, but then so can the guy next door!
To enter to win a copy of Drowning Barbie, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Barbie,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 1, 2014. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.