Beck, K(athrine) K(ristine) 1950–
BECK, K(athrine) K(ristine) 1950– (Marie Oliver)
PERSONAL: Born September 22, 1950, in Seattle, WA; daughter of Rolf Bjarne Beck (an engineer) and Jean Marie (Weltzien) Beck (a social worker); married Ernest Marris, 1974 (divorced, 1990); married Michael Dibdin (a mystery author); children: Emma, Andrew, Alexander. Education: San Francisco State University, B.A. Politics: "Middle-of-the-road Democrat." Religion: "Middling high Episcopalian." Hobbies and other interests: Travel, languages, books, gardens, movies, music, babies.
ADDRESSES: Home—Seattle, WA. Office—c/o Author Mail, Walker and Company, 720 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10019. Agent—Molly Friedrich, Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency, Inc., 708 Third Ave., 23rd Floor, New York, NY 10017.
CAREER: Writer. Worked as a radio time salesperson, advertising copywriter, and trade magazine editor, 1974–92.
Death in a Deck Chair, Walker (New York, NY), 1984.
(Under pseudonym Marie Oliver) Death of a Prom Queen, Paperjacks (Ontario, Canada), 1984.
Murder in a Mummy Case, Walker (New York, NY), 1986.
The Body in the Volvo, Walker (New York, NY), 1987.
Young Mrs. Cavendish and the Kaiser's Men, Walker (New York, NY), 1987.
Unwanted Attentions, Walker (New York, NY), 1988.
Without a Trace, Jove (New York, NY), 1988.
Peril under the Palms, Walker (New York, NY), 1989.
A Hopeless Case, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1992.
The Body in the Cornflakes, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1992.
Amateur Night, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1993.
Electric City, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1994.
Cold Smoked, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1995.
We Interrupt This Broadcast, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1997.
The Revenge of Kali-Ra, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Opal: A Life of Enchantment, Mystery, and Madness, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.
Bad Neighbors, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1996.
Fake (young adult novel), Scholastic Press (New York, NY), 2002.
The Telltale Tattoo, and Other Stories, Five Star (Waterville, ME), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: While K. K. Beck is best known as a mystery writer, she has also published well-received mainstream and young adult fiction. Critics have praised Beck's characterization of Jane de Silva, a former lounge singer turned super-sleuth featured in many of Beck's later mysteries. Booklist's Emily Melton described de Silva as "daring, determined, clever, and spirited," and a Kirkus Reviews critic concluded that among mystery writers "Beck is as funny and ingenious as anyone out there."
Readers meet chief sleuth Iris Cooper and her sidekick Jack Clancy in Beck's first mystery, Death in a Deck Chair, which deals with murder on a transatlantic cruise in the 1920s. The victim is Mr. Twist, a professor's aide whose corpse is found in a deck chair. The principal sleuth is Iris Cooper, a college student who endeavors to solve the crime; that is, when she is not romancing the ship's appealing pianist. Likewise determined to identify the killer is Jack Clancy, a savvy American reporter who energetically tracks the ship's more suspicious passengers, including various aristocrats, anarchists, and espionage agents. It is the less overtly persistent Iris, though, who finally uncovers the identity of the murderer. A Kirkus Reviews critic termed Death in a Deck Chair "good clean fun, in the most old-fashioned mystery vein—but written without a hint of camp or pretension."
Murder in a Mummy Case, Beck's 1986 mystery, also features Iris Cooper and Jack Clancy. In this novel, Iris is staying with her prospective in-laws when a ladies' maid is found dead in a mummy casket stored in the work room of Iris's fiancé, an aspiring Egyptologist. Soon Clancy is on the scene as well, and together the two sleuths work to expose the killer. A Publishers Weekly reviewer described Murder in a Mummy Case as a "charming mystery," noting that "its lovely period color and gentle wit are great fun."
In Beck's The Body in the Volvo, a sociology professor becomes the prime suspect in a murder. The teacher, Charles Carstairs, begins managing his uncle's automotive repair business after failing to achieve tenure at a nearby university; an influential colleague has suspected that his wife is having an affair with Carstairs. When the colleague is found dead at the auto shop, Carstairs becomes the likeliest suspect. Undaunted, Carstairs soon teams with his fetching accountant, and together they endeavor to capture the actual murderer. Newgate Callendar, in his regular appraisal of crime fiction in the New York Times Book Review, commented that The Body in the Volvo's "story is imaginative, the presentation lighthearted, the characters believable."
Unwanted Attentions concerns a professor who is suspected of murdering a man who had been harassing her for fifteen years. The professor, Rebecca Kendall, plans to marry, and when her nemesis, Benjamin, threatens her husband-to-be, she decides to obtain a restraining order. She hires a private investigator, Caruso, to find Benjamin, but when Caruso arrives at Benjamin's home he finds only blood. More blood—of the same type—is found in Rebecca's car. And as Benjamin is missing, Rebecca is apprehended by authorities and charged with murder. A court case eventually results in the real killer's apprehension. Kathleen Maio praised Unwanted Attentions in Wilson Library Bulletin, deeming the book "a courtroom mystery-turned-thriller with a marvelous sense of pace and plot."
Beck revisits Iris Cooper and Jack Clancy for Peril under the Palms, in which the two crime-solvers uncover homicide in Hawaii. Iris has arrived there on vacation with a relative. Before she can relax, though, Iris is engaged by a friend, sugarcane heiress Antoinette Caulfield, who hopes to find her mother. The missing mother has long been presumed dead, but Iris nonetheless accepts the case. Then a murder occurs, and Jack Clancy arrives to aid Iris in her sleuthing. In the course of their investigation, Iris and Jack discover unsettling secrets of the Caulfield family. They also discover the perpetrator of the various foul deeds. In a review of Peril under the Palms, a Publishers Weekly critic noted that Beck's stories have "the flavor and pacing of the best 1930s movie mysteries. They are a joy to read." Beck later included Peril under the Palms, along with several short stories, in a collection titled The Telltale Tattoo, and Other Stories.
Beck published A Hopeless Case, another tale of murder and deceit, this time featuring the humorous heroine Jane da Silva. Jane is a middle-aged widow who is barely managing a livelihood in Europe when she receives a bizarre offer: She can realize a substantial inheritance from her late uncle if she agrees to assume his occupation as problem-solver to desperate individuals. Jane accepts the proposal and settles in her hometown, Seattle. There she soon meets a young woman who hopes to continue her musical studies by recovering funds donated by her late mother to a religious cult. Jane agrees to help the musician but soon finds herself the target of violent encounters. With the help of a like-minded attorney, though, Jane manages to survive and even provide satisfaction for her musician client. In a Publishers Weekly assessment of A Hopeless Case, a reviewer called Beck "a good, clean writer with an eye for apt description." And in a Booklist review of the book, Peter Robertson remarked that "Beck never once falters."
Beck continued her "Jane da Silva" series with Amateur Night, Electric City, and Cold Smoked. In Electric City, Jane investigates the disappearance of a woman named Irene March at the request of the woman's friends and coworkers. As Jane searches for clues to find the missing woman, she finds that Irene March was not the quiet, loner everyone thought, but was actually a clever blackmailer. After Jane discovers Irene's body at the bottom of a ravine, she tracks the killer to Electric City. While a Publishers Weekly critic claimed the novel was "underpowered," Booklist reviewer Emily Melton noted that "the novel's cleverly inventive, suspenseful plot is filled with odd twists and turns that will keep readers off balance." "There's plenty of humor and more than one unexpected surprise as Jane, in her usual no-nonsense manner, gets to the bottom of things," noted Melton in a review of Cold Smoked. In this mystery, Jane poses as a writer for a leading fish journal to investigate the murder of a young woman hired to play hostess at a Seattle seafood convention.
Beck once again displayed her flair for humor in Bad Neighbors, her first mainstream novel. The book spins the tale of Anita, a wife and mother whose world is turned upside-down when perfect homemaker Sue Heffernan moves in next door and begins moving in on Anita's family. As Sue attempts to nab David, Anita's husband, for herself, Anita must figure out a way to hang on to her family. Nikki Amdur of Entertainment Weekly called Bad Neighbors a "surreal tale of marriage in the 90s," with an "elegantly evil climax."
We Interrupt This Broadcast is Beck's mystery novel about a tiny classical radio station in Seattle. The book features Alice Jordan, a newly divorced woman recently hired to work at the station. Alice stumbles into a mystery when she discovers the reason for the job opening she filled—someone murdered her predecessor and stuffed him into the studio's sofa bed. Alice encounters a crazy cast of characters as she attempts to solve the mysterious murder. Beck "offers up a pleasingly antic finale in the KLEG studio," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
Beck's The Revenge of Kali-Ra is "a zany parody of 1920s exotic adventure fiction," according to a Publishers Weekly critic. Beck tells the story of an actress named Nadia Wentworth who reads the book The Wrath of Kali-Ra by Valerian Ricardo and decides that she must do a movie based on the book. When she sets out to obtain the rights to the forgotten novel, a cast of eccentric characters arrive at her mansion to get in on the action. It is up to Nadia's assistant, Melanie Oakley, to sort through the mass confusion. "Mistaken identity, accidents, fights, a stabbing, and an abduction proceed apace," noted the Publishers Weekly critic. The reviewer continued, "readers will still be chuckling at this dead-on send-up of Hollywood and pulp fiction."
Beck's Fake is a young adult novel about a teenager named Danny who is sent by his stepfather to a camp for delinquent boys. Danny and his new partner-in-crime Keith leave the camp and set out on a journey to find Danny's real father in Seattle, Washington. The boys leave behind a trail of thefts and crimes as they make their way to Seattle. Kit Spring, on the Guardian Unlimited Web site, called Fake "a great thriller" and said that it provided "subtle and empathetic insights, not just into the teen characters but also into the befuddled grown-ups."
In Opal: A Life of Enchantment, Mystery, and Madness, Beck recounts a real-life mystery by examining the life of Opal Whiteley (1897–1992) whose diary was published in the Atlantic Monthly. The diary, which established Opal as a spiritual child prodigy, was supposedly written during her childhood in Oregon. However, many people discounted this theory, and said that Opal fabricated the entire thing to get published. As Opal's fame increased, her mental health diminished. Opal thought she was a French princess and searched for many years to prove that she had descended from royalty. Attempting to uncover the truth behind Opal Whiteley, Beck delved into the mystery, interviewing everyone she could find who knew Opal. She read original documents and did exhaustive research on the mysterious woman. According to Booklist critic Margaret Flanagan, "Beck's diligent research pays off as she delivers a mesmerizing account of a twentieth-century enigma whose astounding life rivals that of most fictional heroines."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Detecting Women: A Reader's Guide and Checklist for Mystery Series Written by Women, 2nd edition, Purple Moon Press (Dearborn, MI), 1996–97; 3rd edition, Purple Moon Press (Dearborn, MI), 1999.
St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Twentieth-Century Crime and Mystery Writers, 3rd edition, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1991.
Armchair Detective, spring, 1994, review of Amateur Night, p. 249.
Belles Lettres, spring, 1995, review of Electric City, p. 60; winter, 1996, review of Cold Smoked, p. 16.
Booklist, February 15, 1992, p. 1090; August, 1994, Emily Melton, review of Electric City, p. 2026; August, 1994, review of Electric City, p. 2034; July, 1995, Emily Melton, review of Cold Smoked, p. 1862; September 1, 1996, p. 60; October 1, 1997, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of We Interrupt This Broadcast, p. 309; January 1, 1999, Jenny McLarin, review of The Revenge of Kali-Ra, p. 837; October 1, 2002, Sue O'Brien, review of The Telltale Tattoo, and Other Stories, p. 303; November 15, 2003, Margaret Flanagan, review of Opal: A Life of Enchantment, Mystery, and Madness, p. 563.
Bookwatch, July, 1999, review of The Revenge of Kali-Ra, p. 8.
Entertainment Weekly, November 22, 1996, Nikki Amdur, review of Bad Neighbors, p. 131.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 1984, p. 933; June 15, 1994, review of Electric City, p. 805; May 1, 1995, review of Cold Smoked, p. 589; August 15, 1996, p. 1167; October 15, 1997, review of We Interrupt This Broadcast, p. 1556; January 15, 1999, review of The Revenge of Kali-Ra, p. 105; September 15, 2002, review of The Telltale Tattoo, and Other Stories, p. 1351; September 1, 2003, review of Opal: A Life of Enchantment, Mystery, and Madness, p. 1107.
Library Journal, November 1, 1987; June 1, 1989, p. 151; August, 1994, Rex E. Klett, review of Electric City, pp. 137-138; May 1, 1995, Rex E. Klett, review of Cold Smoked, p. 136; September 1, 1996, Lori Dunn, review of Bad Neighbors, p. 207; November 1, 1997, Rex E. Klett, review of We Interrupt This Broadcast, p. 120; March 1, 1999, Rex E. Klett, review of The Revenge of Kali-Ra, p. 113.
New York Times Book Review, December 6, 1987, p. 79; November 3, 1996, p. 19.
Publishers Weekly, October 17, 1986, p. 61; October 28, 1988, p. 65; June 9, 1989, pp. 55-56; January 6, 1992, p. 51; September 7, 1992, p. 82; July 4, 1994, review of Electric City, pp. 54-55; April 24, 1995, review of Cold Smoked, pp. 62-63; June 19, 1995, review of Electric City, p. 56; August 12, 1996, review of Bad Neighbors, p. 64; August 25, 1997, review of We Interrupt This Broadcast, p. 48; February 8, 1999, review of The Revenge of Kali-Ra, p. 198.
Rapport: The Modern Guide to Books, Music, and More, May, 1999, review of We Interrupt This Broadcast, p. 32.
School Library Journal, December, 1989, p. 128.
Washington Post Book World, March 20, 1988, p. 8.
Wilson Library Bulletin, April, 1989, pp. 98-99.
Curled Up with a Good Book Web site, http://www.curledup.com/ (February 2, 2004), Barbara Bamberger Scott, review of Opal: A Life of Enchantment, Mystery, and Madness.
Guardian Unlimited, http://observer.guardian.co.uk/ (June 2, 2002), Kit Spring, "Falling Pants and Other Worries, Round up of Fiction for Boys," review of Fake.
Time Warner Bookmark Web site, http://www.twbookmark.com/ (February 26, 2003), descriptions of Electric City, The Revenge of Kali-Ra, and Cold Smoked.