Lawrence, Martha C.
Martha C. Lawrence
Born March 20, 1956, in Waukegan, IL; daughter of Frank H. (a scientist and corporate executive) and Carroll (a crossword puzzle expert; maiden name, Horton) Driggs; married Wayman C. Lawrence (a lawyer), June 24, 1978 (divorced, 1987); children: Clark Lawrence. Education: University of California at Santa Cruz, B.A. (American studies; cum laude), 1978. Hobbies and other interests: Literature, psychology, history, astrology, comparative religion.
Agent—c/o Gina Maccoby Literary Agency, P.O. Box 60, Chappaqua, NY 10514.
Mystery Writers of America, Private Eye Writers of America, Sisters in Crime.
Murder in Scorpio nominated for Edgar Allan Poe Award, Anthony Award, and Agatha Award for Best First Mystery, all 1996; Shamus Award nomination for Best Hardcover P.I. Novel, 2002, for Ashes of Aries.
Murder in Scorpio, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.
The Cold Heart of Capricorn, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Aquarius Descending, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Pisces Rising, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Ashes of Aries, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Lightship Baskets of Nantucket, Schiffer (West Chester, PA), 1990.
Scrimshaw: The Whaler's Legacy, Schiffer (West Chester, PA), 1993.
Contributor of short stories to magazines, including Family Circle and Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine.
Mystery novelist Martha C. Lawrence has created a unique sleuth-protagonist in Elizabeth Chase, a former psychotherapist who now uses her psychic powers and astrological talent to help the San Diego Police Department solve crimes. Chase's "mistrust of, and slight embarrassment over, her psychic powers endears her to the reader from the start," according to Jenny McLarin in Booklist. Lawrence drew on her own background to create her fictional sleuth; she worked as an astrologer in San Diego for several years and has had psychic experiences of her own.
Raised in a Haunted House
Lawrence's first psychic experiences date back to her childhood in San Diego, California. She has claimed to have felt a ghostly presence at her family's house as a child, but her parents assured her that she was imagining things. It was only when she returned home from college that Lawrence became convinced that there was a ghost living there. She explained to Claire E. White in an interview posted at the Writers Write Web site: "One evening the ghost appeared to me—a beautiful blonde with a 1920s flapper haircut and the biggest, most horrified eyes I'd ever seen. After that the ghost wouldn't leave me alone. I had to leave the house until a ghost buster (for lack of a better term) came and took care of the problem." Further investigation showed that the house had been owned by a brother and sister who lost all their money in the stock market crash of 1929. The despairing couple committed suicide in the house.
Psychic experiences have been a part of Lawrence's life since childhood. She explained to the interviewer for Page One that her abilities are not controllable: "I can't force myself to have a precognitive dream, for example, but that doesn't negate the fact that I've had several of them. I can't always see auras—but at times they appear to me in such vivid color and beauty that I'm hard put to describe them. Sometimes I literally can see people's thoughts—but again, not on command." Lawrence credits her mother with having psychic talent of her own: "She wouldn't let our family get on a plane to Jamaica because she KNEW it was going to crash," Lawrence told an online interviewer for iVillage. "It did, off the coast of Florida, and everyone on board was killed."
Tragedy struck the Lawrence family when Martha was thirteen years old, and her father died. As she told the interviewer for January Online: "I was kneeling at his bedside when he took his last breath and slipped away. . . . Decades later I'm still feeling the emotional shock waves of that event."
After working for some years as an editor with Simon and Schuster and Harcourt Brace, Lawrence was introduced to the world of astrology by a radio program. She heard astrologer Farley Mallorus on a Los Angeles radio show and had a feeling that she
was going to study with him. A few weeks later she ran into Mallorus in a local bookshop. "He took one look at me," Lawrence told White, "and said, 'Oh—I think you're the one who's supposed to study with me.' So he became one of my early teachers." Lawrence made her living as an astrologer for several years before turning to writing.
Creates a Psychic Sleuth
The character of Elizabeth Chase came to Lawrence when she was standing in the mystery section of a bookstore. She realized that, although she had read many mystery novels in her life, "I was hungering to read the adventures of a detective who used the intuitive, right side of her brain as brilliantly as Sherlock Holmes had used his logical, left brain," she explained to the interviewer for Page One. "As I was searching, I had an epiphany: I was the person who must write those books; I was uniquely qualified to do so. The realization was so powerful that it raised goosebumps on my arms." In a statement posted at her official Web site, Lawrence remarked: "I think the Elizabeth Chase mystery series is my way of working out my inner struggle with my psychic gift. Exploring the powers and limitations of my unusual abilities through Elizabeth has been a tremendously eye-opening experience."
Chase first appears in Lawrence's debut novel, Murder in Scorpio. In this book, San Diego police sergeant Tom McGowan is having a difficult time agreeing with the official police report on the death of an old high school flame, Janice Freeman, who along with another driver was killed when their two cars ran off a road. Something strikes Tom as wrong about the story. Though doubtful of her abilities, he turns to Chase, a psychic who has turned to solving crimes, to help him investigate the tragedy. A Publishers Weekly critic found that Chase "picks up clues using a believable blend of investigative technique and psychic information."
Chase returns in Lawrence's second mystery, The Cold Heart of Capricorn, in which she is called upon by the police in a case involving a vicious serial rapist. She had first contacted them when she had a clairvoyant dream about an attack that later came true. Now she is assigned to work with police detectives on the case. Her first step is to hypnotize the victims, but her findings are tainted by the phenomenon known as false memory. Although Chase does have genuine psychic powers, she mostly depends on solid, persistent detective work to achieve results. Emily Melton in Booklist concluded that "Lawrence's unique heroine and mile-a-minute action make her latest astrological mystery a solid acquisition."
The Cold Heart of Capricorn was based in part on Lawrence's own experience of rape. Jane Missett noted in the North County Times that "Lawrence drew on personal, painful memories of that ordeal and its aftermath, uncovering deeper layers of character and emotion than are typically found in the mystery genre." Lawrence told Missett: "I'm really proud of this book." She pointed out that "The fact that I could go through that and come out the other side and be able to write about it—talk about making lemonade from lemons!"
In Aquarius Descending Chase takes on a case close to home when her boyfriend, police officer Tom McGowan, asks her to help him find his missing exfiancée, Jen Shaffer. Jen joined a cult called the Bliss
Project a number of years ago and has not been heard from for some time. When a package containing her Medic Alert bracelet arrives in the mail, Tom and Jen's father both fear the worst. Reluctantly, Chase goes undercover and joins the Bliss Project. A Publishers Weekly critic wrote that "Lawrence writes a gripping, believable story, distinguished by a wise and sensitive narrative voice, that even those skeptical of psychics will enjoy." Dede Anderson, an online reviewer for the Mystery Reader Web site, judged the novel to be "fast-paced and suspenseful right up to the rather disturbing conclusion."
Pisces Rising finds Chase investigating the murder of a Native-American casino owner on the Temecu Indian Reservation. Not only does the psychic sleuth have visions of events that have not yet happened, but she begins seeing the spirit form of a shaman named Sequoia, who guides her throughout the investigation. McLarin concluded that "Lawrence delivers an insightful story with multidimensional characters and unrelenting suspense." In an online review for the Mystery Reader Web site, K. W. Becker called the novel "off-beat enough to be refreshing, but still believable."
In Lawrence's fifth "Elizabeth Chase" mystery, titled Ashes of Aries, Chase's psychic abilities are used to help find the missing four-year-old son of media mogul Frank Fielding. Little Matthew Fielding has gone missing from his parents' Rancho Santa Fe home and Chase is called in as an adjunct to the police investigation. When a wildfire, fanned by the hot, dry Santa Ana winds, sweeps through the wealthy community, her work is halted temporarily, despite her strong belief that the boy is still alive. When another fire breaks out, this time in Frank Fielding's company, it becomes clear that both blazes are the work of an arsonist. Now the question becomes: Is the arsonist also the kidnapper? "Lawrence effectively combines the earthly and the inexplicable in this fascinating page-turner," noted a Publishers Weekly critic. Equally enthusiastic about the novel, Harriet Klausner, in her online review for Bookbrowser.com, found that "the story line is totally absorbing, the plot is fast paced and action-packed while the characters, many of whom have appeared in other works, add dimension to a very deep human drama."
If you enjoy the works of Martha C. Lawrence
If you enjoy the works of Martha C. Lawrence, you may also want to check out the following books:
Mary Willis Walker, All the Dead Lie Down, 1998.
Laurie R. King, A Darker Place, 1999.
Alex Kava, The Soul Catcher, 2002.
In a statement posted at her official Web site, Lawrence explained: "When I created my psychic detective, Elizabeth Chase, my intention was to show psychic phenomena as I've experienced it: Sporadic, unpredictable, subtle—but nonetheless real. I'm hoping that by seeing the world through Elizabeth's eyes, you the reader just might begin to recognize the psychic in yourself. Even if you can't come up with next week's winning lotto numbers."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, January 1, 1997, Emily Melton, review of The Cold Heart of Capricorn, p. 825; January 1, 1999, Jenny McLarin, review of Aquarius Descending, p. 838; February 15, 2000, Jenny McLarin, review of Pisces Rising, p. 1089; August, 2001, Jenny McLarin, review of Ashes of Aries, p. 2097.
Denver Post, April 16, 2000, Candace Horgan, review of Pisces Rising, p. H2.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 1996, p. 1567.
Library Journal, October 1, 1995; January, 1997, Rex E. Klett, review of The Cold Heart of Capricorn, p. 153; January, 1999, Rex E. Klett, review of Aquarius Descending, p. 163; August, 2001, Rex E. Klett, review of Ashes of Aries, p. 170.
North County Times (San Diegeo, CA), January 26, 1997, Jane Missett, "Signs of Mystery."
Publishers Weekly, October 2, 1995, review of Murder in Scorpio, p. 59; November 18, 1996, review of The Cold Heart of Capricorn, p. 65; December 7, 1998, review of Aquarius Descending, p. 54; February 28, 2000, review of Pisces Rising, p. 65; July 23, 2001, review of Ashes of Aries, pp. 52-53.
Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1999, review of Aquarius Descending, p. 115.
Bookbrowser.com,http://www.bookbrowser.com/ (July 25, 2001), Harriet Klausner, review of Ashes of Aries.
Books 'n' Bytes Web site,http://www.booksnbytes.com/ (October 3, 2004), Harriet Klausner, reviews of Aquarius Descending and Pisces Rising.
iVillage,http://www.ivillage.com/ (April 23, 2003), interview with Lawrence.
January Online,http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (April, 2000), interview with Lawrence.
Martha Lawrence's Home Page,http://www.mlawrence.com (September 30, 1998).
Mystery Reader,http://www.themysteryreader.com/ (October 4, 2004), Dede Anderson, review of Aquarius Descending, and K. W. Becker, review of Pisces Rising.
PageOneLit.com,http://www.pageonelit.com/ (May, 2000), interview with Lawrence.
Tangled Web,http://www.twbooks.co.uk/ (October 3, 2004), review of Murder in Scorpio.
WritersWrite.com,http://www.writerswrite.com/ (May, 1999), Claire E. White, "A Conversation with Martha C. Lawrence.*"