Greber, Judith 1939–
GREBER, Judith 1939– (Gillian Roberts)
PERSONAL: Surname is pronounced "Gree-ber"; born July 27, 1939, in Philadelphia, PA; daughter of Martin (a dentist) and Evelyn (a homemaker; maiden name, Cramer) Pearlstein; married Robert Greber (a business executive), December 23, 1962; children: Matthew, Jonathan. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: University of Pennsylvania, B.S., 1961, M.A., 1965, doctoral study, 1965–67. Politics: "Unreconstructed liberal." Hobbies and other interests: Painting, hiking, reading, playing piano, theater, travel.
CAREER: Author. West Philadelphia High School, English teacher, Philadelphia, PA, 1962–65; West Philadelphia Community Mental Health Consortium, Philadelphia, community mental health worker, 1967–68; full-time writer, 1974–77, 1979–; Rambam Institute, Los Angeles, CA, high school English teacher, 1977–79; University of San Francisco, adjunct faculty, M.F.A. Writing Program, 1979–; full-time writer, 1979–.
MEMBER: Mystery Writers of America, American Crime Writers Association, Authors' Guild, Sisters in Crime.
AWARDS, HONORS: Anthony Award, World Mystery Conference, for Caught Dead in Philadelphia.
Easy Answers (novel), Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1982.
The Silent Partner (novel), Crown (New York, NY), 1984.
Mendocino (novel), Crown (New York, NY), 1988.
As Good As It Gets, Crown (New York, NY), 1992.
"AMANDA PEPPER" MYSTERIES; UNDER PSEUDONYM, GILLIAN ROBERTS
Caught Dead in Philadelphia, Scribner (New York, NY), 1987.
Philly Stakes, Scribner (New York, NY), 1989.
I'd Rather Be in Philadelphia, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1992.
With Friends Like These, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1993.
How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1994.
In the Dead of Summer, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1995.
The Mummers' Curse, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1996.
The Bluest Blood, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Adam and Evil, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Helen Hath No Fury, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Claire and Present Danger, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Till the End of Tom, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2004.
A Hole in Juan, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2006.
OTHER; UNDER PSEUDONYM, GILLIAN ROBERTS
Time and Trouble ("Emma Howe" mystery series), Thomas Dunne (New York, NY), 1998.
Where's the Harm?, Five Star (Unity, ME), 1999.
You Can Write a Mystery, Writer's Digest Books (Cincinnati, OH), 1999.
Whatever Doesn't Kill You ("Emma Howe" mystery series), Thomas Dunne (New York, NY), 2001.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Under name Judith Greber, Finding Anica, a contemporary novel involving five hundred years of American history.
SIDELIGHTS: According to Jane Stewart Spitzer's review of The Silent Partner for the Christian Science Monitor, Judith Greber's second novel is "an entertaining, touching, funny, sad, thought-provoking, and ultimately positive portrait of a family and a marriage in crisis. And, as an added bonus, the likeable, sympathetic characters seem to be real people." The Silent Partner is the story of Molly Michaels, her husband, Clay, and their three children as they try to adjust to the lifestyle imposed on them by Clay's employer, a giant food corporation. After having been relocated by the corporation seven times in eighteen years, Clay promises his family that they will settle permanently in Los Angeles, where Molly is happily operating a gourmet food business with two of her friends. But Clay's employer decides to send him to Philadelphia, and he feels he must go, while Molly, not wishing to give up her friends and her business, considers remaining in California. She finally goes to Philadelphia with Clay and the children, but brings her resentment with her. After a period of depression and withdrawal on Molly's part and lack of understanding on Clay's, the couple manages to work out their problems and, according to Spitzer, "what ultimately brings harmony to the home is communication. Molly is transformed from a silent partner into an active partner in her marriage."
Greber wrote several more books under her own name before switching to her pseudonym, Gillian Roberts, under which she writes her "Emma Howe" and popular "Amanda Pepper" series. Emma is a fifty-something California private investigator who is an interesting contrast to her young assistant, Billie August. David Pitt reviewed Time and Trouble in Booklist, noting that neither Emma nor Billie are what you would expect, and that "in fact, the whole novel feels fresh and energetic."
Amanda, the protagonist of the longer-running series, is an English teacher who by In the Dead of Summer is heavily into a relationship with C. K. Mackenzie, a Louisiana transplant to Philadelphia who runs a private investigation service. Amanda is teaching at Philly Prep, where there have been a number of assaults against minority staff and students. A boy is killed in a drive-by, and a favorite student disappears, as Amanda searches for the racist perpetrators. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "Roberts gives Amanda an appealingly dry wit—perfectly suited for taking on bureaucratized political correctness."
In The Mummers' Curse, a marcher in the grand New Year's Day Mummers' Parade is shot dead as Amanda watches. When another Mummer and fellow teacher becomes the prime suspect, he claims that he had been with Amanda all the while. Mackenzie agrees to help Amanda get to the truth, but when a gun is discovered in her purse, she becomes a suspect as well. Booklist's Emily Melton commented on the author's "breezy humor, lighthearted writing style, inventive plot, and likable cast of characters." A Publishers Weekly critic claimed that the series "is notable for how comfort-ably it occupies the space between cozy and city-grit crime fiction."
Crusader Reverend Harry Spiers, head of the book-burning Moral Ecologists, is murdered in The Bluest Blood, in which the bluebloods of the title are Neddy and Tea Roederer, who are benefactors of the school library. Their son and the stepson of the murdered Spiers are best friends, and after Amanda talks to them, her list of suspects grows. Melton observed that "the focus on First Amendment rights and censorship will hit home with librarians and library supporters."
In Adam and Evil, Adam Evans is the bright but unstable student about whom Amanda worries, and who becomes a suspect when a librarian is murdered on a field trip to the Free Library. When Adam disappears, the police, including Mackenzie, are certain that he killed the woman. Amanda enlists the aid of her sister, Beth, who knew the victim, and they come up with a list of suspects that includes the deceased women's former husband, who took everything when they divorced, and the woman's sister, who had borrowed money from her. Jenny McLarin noted in a Booklist review that "book lovers will enjoy Roberts's detours into the pricey hobby of book collecting."
Helen Hath No Fury is dedicated to the author's book group friend who died in a bicycle accident. The story finds Amanda in a book group, a member of which dies from a fall from the rooftop garden of her four-story historic home. Helen's death is ruled a suicide, but Amanda does not agree. She also becomes involved in the disappearance of Petra Yates, a student who had confided in Amanda that she was pregnant, and also that she would be disowned by her family if they should learn of her condition. A Publishers Weekly writer observed that the author "skillfully negotiates some rather tricky emotional waters" in this series "notable for its smooth mix of traditional mystery conventions with the darker underpinnings of modern crime fiction." Booklist's David Pitt called the novel "warm and comfortable: a familiar story peopled by fresh and eminently likable characters."
Joe Hartlaub opened his Bookreporter.com review of Claire and Present Danger by saying "The appearance of a new Amanda Pepper novel is always welcome." Hartlaub also felt that Amanda and Mackenzie are an interesting couple, noting that when conflict results from their differences, "it more often than not results in warmth instead of sparks." In this installment, Mackenzie is hired by Claire Fairchild, an aristocratic member of Philly society who is concerned because the background of her ill son's wife-to-be is cloaked in mystery. Before Mackenzie and Amanda are able to give her their report, the woman dies, not of natural causes as is first thought, but at the hands of someone who did not want the investigation to continue.
Hartlaub praised the novel on a number of fronts, for the balance between Amanda's personal and professional lives, for the narrative, which he felt is "moving," and for the "memorable" plot. "Claire and Present Danger is ultimately a milestone in the Amanda Pepper series," wrote Hartlaub, "and is a must-read not only for readers who have been with the series from the beginning, but also for those who are ready to jump on for future journeys."
Greber also wrote her You Can Write a Mystery under her pseudonym. She covers developing character and plot, working with point of view and setting, and well as guides for revision and submission. Ilene Cooper, who reviewed the volume in Booklist, noted that plot mechanics are often the cause of failed stories, and commented that the author's "basic but too-often-overlooked advice will keep your story on track."
Greber told CA: "For as long as I can remember, I wanted to write. I never questioned why I wanted to, any more than I would question the desire to sing. However, I was too timid and unsure of myself to commit to writing until I was suddenly in my mid-thirties, and I realized two decades had passed while I talked about writing someday. I decided that someday had come. It took me much too long to realize that the kind of stories I enjoy and should therefore write are just honest dramatizations of emotions and experience, and that I (like everyone else) have within me material for a million stories. I only had to listen.
"Writing is a way to better know my characters—and, therefore, my life and my world. No matter where I set these people, or what problem puts them in motion, I am really writing about the connections between them.
"I have only one piece of advice for aspiring writers. Stop aspiring. Start writing. Now."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Booklist, August, 1996, Emily Melton, review of The Mummers' Curse, p. 1888; March 15, 1998, Emily Melton, review of The Bluest Blood, p. 1206; April 15, 1998, Davit Pitt, review of Time and Trouble, p. 1391; May 15, 1999, Jenny McLarin, review of Adam and Evil, p. 1674; August, 1999, Ilene Cooper, review of You Can Write a Mystery, p. 2014; June 1, 2000, David Pitt, review of Helen Hath No Fury, p. 1864; March 15, 2003, David Pitt, review of Claire and Present Danger, p. 49.
Christian Science Monitor, June 27, 1984, Jane Stewart Spitzer, review of The Silent Partner.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2003, review of Claire and Present Danger, p. 350.
Library Journal, April 1, 2003, Rex Klett, review of Claire and Present Danger, p. 134.
Publishers Weekly, June 26, 1995, review of In the Dead of Summer, p. 92; June 24, 1996, review of The Mummers' Curse, p. 47; December 1, 1997, review of The Bluest Blood, p. 47; April 13, 1998, review of Time and Trouble, p. 55; June 14, 1999, review of Adam and Evil, p. 54; May 22, 2000, review of Helen Hath No Fury, p. 77; April 9, 2001, review of Whatever Doesn't Kill You, p. 53; April 7, 2003, review of Claire and Present Danger, p. 49.
Writer, May, 2004, "Everyday Inspiration," p. 10.
Bookreporter.com, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (May 6, 2004), Joe Hartlaub, review of Claire and Present Danger.
Gillian Roberts Home Page, http://www.gillianroberts.com (May 6, 2004).