Dawson, Janet 1949-
DAWSON, Janet 1949-
PERSONAL: Born October 31, 1949, in Purcell, OK; daughter of Donald E. and Thelma Louise (Metcalf) Dawson. Education: University of Colorado—Boulder, B.S.; California State University—Hayward, M.A. Hobbies and other interests: Cats, gardening, theater.
ADDRESSES: Agent—Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency, 65 Bleecker St., 12th Fl., New York, NY 10012.
CAREER: Writer of mystery novels. Also worked as a newspaper reporter. Military service: U.S. Navy, served as a journalist; became officer.
MEMBER: Mystery Readers International, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Private Eye Writers of America, American Crime Writers League, Authors Guild, Authors League of America.
AWARDS, HONORS: St. Martin's Press/Private Eye Writer's Association Award for best first private eye novel, 1990, for Kindred Crimes.
NOVELS; EXCEPT AS NOTED
Kindred Crimes, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1990.
Till the Old Men Die, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1993.
Take a Number, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1993.
Don't Turn Your Back on the Ocean, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1994.
Nobody's Child, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1995.
A Credible Threat, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1996.
Witness to Evil, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1997.
Where the Bodies Are Buried, Fawcett Columbine (New York, NY), 1998.
A Killing at the Track: A Jeri Howard Mystery, Fawcett (New York, NY), 2000.
Scam and Eggs (short stories), Five Star (Waterville, ME), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Crime novelist Janet Dawson began her career in the genre with the 1990 novel Kindred Crimes, which won a contest sponsored by St. Martin's Press for best first private eye novel. Kindred Crimes introduces Dawson's signature heroine, private eye Jerusha "Jeri" Howard, an operative working out of the Oakland-Berkeley region of northern California. Beginning with her debut novel, Dawson demonstrates her fascination with plots and characters that center around family relationships, often involving long-held secrets.
Kindred Crimes begins as Jeri Howard takes on a seemingly straightforward case—tracing a missing wife and her money—but finds it growing to involve a fifteen-year-old domestic homicide. Although some reviewers commented that the identity of the culprit became obvious before the end of the novel, none seemed to regard this as a crippling flaw in Dawson's work. A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that "Dawson keeps suspense and interest at high pitch" even for readers who had guessed the villain. New York Times contributor Marilyn Stasio wrote that "there is still something very compelling about the detective's sympathetic examination of the psychic injuries sustained by so-called survivors of family violence. . . . [Jeri Howard] has a streak of decency that makes her a welcome addition to this tough genre." Armchair Detective critic Marvin Lachman found Kindred Crimes "compelling reading."
After the publication of her first novel, Dawson began to produce an average of a novel per year. In Take a Number, missing persons and money are again the motif in a complicated mystery yarn that a Kirkus Reviews critic dubbed "too much of a good thing." In Don't Turn Your Back on the Ocean, Dawson takes as her setting Monterey, California—Steinbeck country—dotting the landscape with a sequence of crimes that include the mutilation of pelicans as well as a series of sabotage actions at a local restaurant. Armchair Detective contributor Liz Currie, comparing Dawson's descriptions of the Monterey peninsula to those of novelist John Steinbeck, liked the way the younger writer used the mystery format to educate readers about the endangered environment. Stated Currie, "The complex story features multidimensional characters who grapple with life-sized issues facing real people and Dawson's level of writing and environmental conscience raise this series above most others." Similarly, Wilson Library Bulletin writer Gail Pool praised Don't Turn Your Back on the Ocean as "a long, complex, and satisfying mystery that brings to life this stretch of California coast." Emphasizing the novel's solid workmanship rather than its setting, a Kirkus Reviews contributor remarked that "despite some rough carpentry in the villains' motivations, Dawson . . . pulls her mysteries together with a logically convincing flourish. . . . The breathless multiple plots . . . for once don't reduce the scurrying characters to ciphers."
In Nobody's Child, the action takes place during the Christmas season, although the mood is bleak as protagonist Howard bemoans her loneliness and her impending middle age. Hired to unravel the mystery behind a charred female corpse found at a construction site, she discovers that the victim had recently given birth to a child and was HIV-positive. Howard's search for answers takes her through a variety of socioeconomic groups in the San Francisco Bay Area. What emerges, reported Emily Melton of Booklist, is "an entertaining and well-written mystery with a spunky, caring heroine," as well as a story that is "thought provoking and sobering." A Kirkus Reviews contributor added that Nobody's Child is "a bracingly heartfelt tour of the Bay Area's lowest depths." Maureen Corrigan compared Dawson's view of Christmas with Dickens's A Christmas Carol in her Washington Post Book World review: "Like Dickens, Dawson manages to blend her social criticism into a rich plum pudding of a story sprinkled throughout with memorable characters."
In A Credible Threat, Jeri Howard investigates a series of pranks—which escalate from harmless to sinister—at a Berkeley rooming house for female students. A Kirkus Reviews commentator especially liked the early part of Jeri's investigation, feeling that issues were raised that extended the intellectual boundaries of the mystery genre; although later, the reviewer suggested, "a pair of culpable coincidences" kicked in, "feminists should cheer Jeri's fighting instincts." Similarly, a Publishers Weekly critic pointed out the introduction of a long-hidden second mystery that added "a sprinkle of coincidence"; what that reviewer liked best in the novel was Jeri's "doubting stance" and her "deliciously suspicion-saturated interest in everyone around." A positive review came from Booklist contributor Emily Melton, who called A Credible Threat "thoroughly satisfying," declaring that, "as usual, Dawson offers a well-constructed plot and smoothly polished writing."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Armchair Detective, spring, 1993, p. 57; winter, 1995, Liz Currie, review of Don't Turn Your Back on the Ocean, p. 105.
Booklist, October 1, 1995, Emily Melton, review of Nobody's Child, p. 253; November 1, 1996, Emily Melton, review of A Credible Threat, p. 483; September 1, 1997, David Pitt, review of Witness to Evil, p. 63; November 15, 1998, Emily Melton, review of Where the Bodies Are Buried, p. 659.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1993, review of Take a Number, p. 1029; September 1, 1994, review of Don't Turn Your Back on the Ocean, p. 1168; September 1, 1995, review of Nobody's Child, p. 1222; September 1, 1996, review of A Credible Threat, p. 1274; September 15, 1998, review of Where the Bodies Are Buried, p. 1334.
Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, January, 1999, review of Witness to Evil, p. 12.
Library Journal, October 1, 1994, Rex E. Klett, review of Don't Turn Your Back on the Ocean, p. 118; August, 1995, Rex E. Klett, review of Nobody's Child, p. 123.
New York Times Book Review, September 9, 1990, Marilyn Stasio, review of Kindred Crimes, p. 39.
Publishers Weekly, June 15, 1990, review of Kindred Crimes, p. 58; August 30, 1993, review of Take a Number, p. 79; September 12, 1994, review of Don't Turn Your Back on the Ocean, p. 84; July 24, 1995, review of Nobody's Child, p. 49; September 9, 1996, review of A Credible Threat, pp. 67-68; July 21, 1997, review of Witness to Evil, p. 187; September 14, 1998, review of Where the Bodies Are Buried, p. 53.
School Library Journal, April, 1996, Penny Stevens, review of Nobody's Child, p. 166.
Washington Post Book World, December 24, 1995, Maureen Corrigan, review of Nobody's Child, p. 4; December 20, 1998, review of Where the Bodies Are Buried, p. 4.
Wilson Library Bulletin, January, 1995, Gail Pool, review of Don't Turn Your Back on the Ocean, p. 95.*