Cooper, Susan Rogers 1947–
COOPER, Susan Rogers 1947–
PERSONAL: Born April 6, 1947, in Crystal Falls, MI; daughter of George Thomas (a marine officer and business executive) and Edythe (a homemaker and artist; maiden name, Donley) Rogers; married Donald C. Cooper (an electrical designer), October 14, 1972; children: Evin Emeline (daughter). Education: Attended East Texas State University, 1965–67, and El Centro Junior College, 1967–68. Politics: "Liberal democrat." Religion: "Lukewarm Methodist."
CAREER: Mystery writer. Held secretarial and office management positions, c. 1967–82. Volunteer and trainer of new volunteers for various groups, including Crisis Hotline, Houston, TX, 1972–76, Inlet Drug Abuse Clinic, Houston, TX, 1973–75, and Austin's Center for Battered Women, Austin, TX, 1984–85.
MEMBER: National Organization for Women (publicity director, Kingwood chapter, 1982–84), Mystery Writers of America, Austin Writers League.
"MILT KOVAK SERIES"
The Man in the Green Chevy (mystery), St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1988.
Houston in the Rearview Mirror (mystery), St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1990.
Other People's Houses (mystery), St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1990.
Chasing Away the Devil (mystery), St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1991.
Dead Moon on the Rise, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1994.
Doctors and Lawyers and Such, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1995.
Lying Wonders, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2003.
"E. J. PUGH SERIES"
One, Two, What Did Daddy Do?, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1992.
Hickory Dickory Stalk, Avon (New York, NY), 1996.
Home Again, Home Again, Avon (New York, NY), 1997.
There Was a Little Girl, Avon (New York, NY), 1998.
A Crooked Little House, Avon (New York, NY), 1999.
Not in My Backyard, Avon (New York, NY), 1999.
Don't Drink the Water, Avon (New York, NY), 2000.
"KIMMEY KRUSE SERIES"
Funny as a Dead Comic, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1993.
Funny as a Dead Relative, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1994.
SIDELIGHTS: With the publication of her first novel, The Man in the Green Chevy, Susan Rogers Cooper realized her dream of becoming a successful writer. She told CA: "At the age of thirty-five, after fifteen years of secretarial and office management positions, I decided to 'retire' to write professionally after suffering an internal mid-life crisis." Beginning her new career writing mysteries, Cooper wrote four tales concerning the work of Deputy Sheriff Milton Kovak, the homicide department head in fictional Prophesy County, Oklahoma.
The Man in the Green Chevy follows Kovak as he searches for a madman who is raping and murdering elderly women in Prophesy County. As his investigation intensifies, so does his personal life. Emotionally drained due to his recent divorce, Kovak disregards his personal and professional ethics and finds solace in the arms of Laura Johnson, a married mother of three and witness to one of the murders. Despite this conflict of interest, Kovak strives to uncover the murderer's identity and restore peace to the county.
Some critics praised Cooper for her effective and interesting use of first-person narration through the persona of Kovak. Others acknowledged her work for its down-to-earth and detailed characterizations. Susan L. Clark, in a review for the Houston Chronicle, speculated on the complexity of Kovak: "It is almost as if the solving of crime comes to affirm the tough, wisecracking man who cannot make sense of his own relationships and thus displaces his concerns to things that have gone wrong in others' lives."
In Houston in the Rearview Mirror Kovak goes to Houston to investigate a family crisis. His estranged sister, now in a coma, is accused of murdering her roving husband and then attempting suicide. Kovak teams with his sister's shapely best friend, Honey, and attempts to clear the family name. Evading several attempts on his life in the metropolis, he manages to look after his sister's children and gain perspective on the real killer. "Houston in the Rearview Mirror is a hoot," noted Kathye S. Bergin in the Houston Chronicle. "Milt Kovak tells his story with a voice that's as comforting as a rocking chair and as salty as a fisherman."
Dead Moon on the Rise finds Kovak newly married and running for local sheriff. When his electoral opponent turns up dead, Kovak finds himself the prime suspect. "If what y'all are lookin' for is a good ole mystery with a real fine plot and plenty of down-home humor," wrote Emily Melton in Booklist, "this is it…. Devilishly funny humor, a clever plot, and enough warmth, charm, and down-home ambience to knock the socks off a snake." The critic for Publishers Weekly notes that "the sassy approach exerts an increasing appeal, making this an entertaining farce."
When readers see Kovak in Lying Wonders, the seventh book in the series, he has settled into his position as sheriff, and into family life with his wife and toddler son. Life is good until Kovak receives a phone call from ex-lover Laura, whose teenage son Trent and his girlfriend Amanda are missing after a trip to a religious retreat. Laura asks Kovak to investigate the religious group, which is located near his home. When Kovak reaches the compound of the Seven Trumpets, he finds that its leaders are not talking, and neither is a slew of pregnant followers. Kovak performs an investigation of the compound's grounds and finds Amanda's body along its outskirts. The search for Trent continues, and Kovak struggles to find concrete evidence that will uncover the teen girl's murderer and reveal Trent's whereabouts. Kovak's psychologist wife attempts a psychological assessment of the group's founder, while his niece prowls the grounds under the watchful eyes of the Seven Trumpets, who want to recruit her. Kovak must sift through sex crimes, drugs, and prostitution to get to the heart of this complex mystery.
In a review posted on the Books 'n' Bytes Web site, Harriet Klausner praised Cooper for creating "an exciting police procedural" and "delightful who-done-it." Klausner pointed out the author's "clever interweaving of the overflow of Milt's past personal life into the murder investigation," which, she predicted, is sure to please readers. A Kirkus Reviews contributor observed "So many cases are bound to leave a few loose or ragged ends, but veteran Cooper's unobtrusive mastery of her little patch of Oklahoma makes other, longer whodunits look bloated." Wes Lukowsky, writing in Booklist, felt that the book was "carefully plotted and cleverly resolved," commenting that "the series' success rests squarely on the shoulders of Kovak, who understands the criminal mind far better than he understands the women in his life." In his review, Lukowsky directed readers to "settle in and enjoy."
Cooper's next amateur sleuth is Kimmey Kruse, a stand-up comedian who infuses her mysteries with a humorous tone. Kruse finds her first mystery in Funny as a Dead Comic, when she travels to a Chicago comedy club opening where a former one-night stand, Cab Neusberg, is the headlining act. When he is later found dead in her hotel room, Kruse meets Detective Sal Pucci, who takes to Kruse, despite the fact that she is the main murder suspect in Pucci's investigation. The two characters reappear in the second book of the series, Funny as a Dead Relative. Kruse's mother begs her to come to Port Arthur, Texas, to take care of her sick grandfather. Kruse obliges and is reunited with her cousin Will, the son of her grandmother's estranged sister Leticia, who soon turns up dead. While it seems as though Leticia has died from wasp stings, Kruse suspects murder, and another comic plot unfolds as Sal Pucci travels from Chicago to Texas to help her solve the mystery.
Cooper has also written several mysteries featuring E. J. Pugh, a romance writer who repeatedly stumbles upon criminal activities in her personal life. Pugh's adventures revolve around her hot-tempered redheaded family, who live in a Texas community. In the first book of the E. J. Pugh series, One, Two, What Did Daddy Do?, Pugh gets her first taste of sleuthing when her neighbor is accused of murdering his wife and three of his children. Unconvinced of his guilt, Pugh begins an investigation of the first of many murder mysteries that literally fall at her doorstep. As a critic for Publishers Weekly explained, Pugh's "sardonic wit and guts will endear her to readers." Speaking of the novel There Was a Little Girl, another critic for Publishers Weekly found that "Cooper, who spikes her first-person narrative with humor, witty wordplay and the occasional philosophical insight, produces not just a smart, fast-paced mystery, but a thoughtful, touching tale as well."
In Not in My Backyard, Cooper tackles a loaded subject when a convicted child molester moves into Pugh's neighborhood. Concern for her children and human compassion—especially for the man's tormented wife and child—battle in Pugh's mind as she tries to decide whether to join the neighbors' public alienation and protest of the man's place in their neighborhood. When he is found murdered, Pugh is the only person who is outraged by the act, which makes it hard for her to determine which of her neighbors is the ex-criminal's killer. "Cooper's characters are three-dimensional, and she deals with a touchy subject without becoming heavy-handed about it," K.W. Becker wrote in a review of Not in My Backyard on the Mystery Reader Web site. "E.J.'s conversations with her children and spouse are so lively and so believable you'd think the author had eavesdropped in your own home." Patricia White, in a review for the Crescent Blues Book Views Web site, called the book "a great and entertaining read," commenting on its "fast-paced, first-person narrative" and "intricately woven, unpredictable plot" which "pulls in diverse and unrelated elements to make a seamless whole."
In the seventh book of the E.J. Pugh series, Don't Drink the Water, Pugh, her three sisters, and their significant others rent a Caribbean vacation home in an attempt to reconcile family hostilities. The sisters begin arguing as soon as they arrive, and their vacation is set further adrift when a corpse floats up from the ocean in front of their beach house. When the corpse is identified as a former employee of sister Liz's husband, local authorities surmise that the killer is among Pugh's family. Pugh and her husband Willis abandon their vacation and search for the killer while trying to keep themselves and the rest of Pugh's family out of jail. "The main attraction in the series is the obvious strong bond between E.J. and her husband, frequently displayed through the generous use of sarcasm and the occasional foul word," wrote Becker. "If the author had left out the murder completely, I would have still enjoyed the book for its sumptuous scenery and food descriptions, the tart conversations, and the changing interpersonal relationships."
Toby Bromberg, in a review for the Romantic Times Book Club online magazine wrote that Don't Drink the Water "overflows with humor and suspense" and admitted that "the mystery is a baffler." A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted Cooper's ability to surprise her readers. "Cooper's characters rarely stray from the predictable, and it's easy to anticipate much of the plot," the reviewer wrote. The reviewer did conclude that, overall, Don't Drink the Water is "an entertaining light mystery." Maria Y. Lima, in a review of the book in Crescent Blues Book Views Web site, thought there was nothing light about the novel. "Cooper rises above the 'amateur-sleuth-stumbles-across-another-dead-body' standard to pen a darker side of amateur sleuthing," Lima wrote. "My only complaint: I want more!"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Crime & Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Booklist, April 15, 1994, p. 1517; October 1, 1994, p. 241; October 1, 1995, p. 253; December 1, 2002, Wes Lukowsky, review of Lying Wonders, p. 648.
Houston Chronicle, July 23, 1989, p. 22; February 11, 1990.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2002, review of Lying Wonders, p. 1568.
New York Times Book Review, November 24, 1991.
Publishers Weekly, October 4, 1993, p. 66; March 7, 1994, p. 57; October 3, 1994, p. 55; September 25, 1995, p. 47; August 26, 1996, p. 92; February 9, 1998, p. 93; May 29, 2000, review of Don't Drink the Water.
Books 'n' Bytes Web site, http://www.booksnbytes.com/ (March 25, 2004), "Susan Rogers Cooper" and Harriet Klausner, review of Lying Wonders.
Crescent Blues Book Views Web site, http://www.crescentblues.com/ (March 25, 2004), Patricia White, review of Not in My Backyard, and Maria Y. Lima, review of Don't Drink the Water.
Femmes Fatales Web site, http://www.femmesfatalesauthors.com/ (March 25, 2004), "Susan Rogers Cooper."
Mystery Net Web site, http://www.mysterynet.com/ (April 10, 2003), description of Not in My Backyard.
Mystery Reader Web site, http://www.mysteryreader.com/ (March 25, 2004), K.W. Becker, reviews of Not in My Backyard and Don't Drink the Water.
Romantic Times Book Club Web site, http://www.romantictimes.com/ (March 25, 2004), Toby Bromberg, review of Don't Drink the Water.