Born near San Francisco, CA; married; children: two sons. Education: University of California, Berkeley, B.A. and law degree; California State University, M.A. (counseling); University of Michigan, M.A. (English).
Mystery writer. Worked as a high school English teacher, a high school counselor, and an attorney for a law firm in San Francisco, CA.
Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America (past member of award committee for Edgar Allan Poe Awards), Novelists Inc.
"KALI O'BRIEN" MYSTERY NOVEL SERIES
Shadow of Doubt, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Evidence of Guilt, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Motion to Dismiss, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Witness for the Defense, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Cold Justice, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Intent to Harm, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 2003.
The Next Victim, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 2007.
"KATE AUSTEN" MYSTERY NOVEL SERIES
Murder among Neighbors, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Murder among Friends, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Murder among Us, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Murder among Strangers, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 2000.
The Only Suspect (mystery novel), Kensington Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Short stories represented in anthologies, including Canine Crimes, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1998; and Women before the Bench, Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 2001.
Jonnie Jacobs writes convivial mystery novels featuring female sleuths. In the "Kate Austen" series of novels, the protagonist's domestic duties and family relationships often compete with the pursuit of clues, while in the "Kali O'Brien" series the lead character is an unmarried female attorney. Though some critics find these works unambitious and tame, others are quick to note Jacobs's apt social commentary aimed at the suburban lives of her Northern California protagonists and their friends.
In Jacobs's first novel, Murder among Neighbors, the author introduces Kate Austen, an unemployed suburban mother whose next-door neighbor is found dead under suspicious circumstances. While Kate's husband takes off for Europe to "find himself," Kate and her best friend begin to gather clues about the suspected murder that call into question the police's theory. In the process, Kate begins to fall for Michael Stone, the officer in charge of the case. A Kirkus Reviews critic found the heroine's unflappably domestic nature to be a bit overdone, noting that despite her adventures, "Kate still chooses dresses and makeup as carefully as ever, and she manages to spot the murderer without seriously disrupting her day care arrangements." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly, however, dubbed Murder among Neighbors an "entertaining debut," concluding that "Jacobs tops off this slice of suburban life with a dollop of romance and a twist of suspense."
Murder among Friends finds Austen again disputing her lover Stone's theory about the death of one of her friends. When Kate finds client Mona Sterling—for whom she works as an art consultant—dead from an apparent suicide, she immediately begins casting about for potential murder suspects. "Kate's always phoning people to ask if they might be the killer," a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted. Jacobs's heroine finds plenty of suspects, however, ranging from Sterling's ex-husband to her most recent lover to the husband of one of her students. "Jacobs's domestic tale takes a few well-aimed jabs at suburban life," noted a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. A contributor to Library Journal stated that Murder among Friends has qualities that make it "an appealing choice for many readers," singling out the book's "minimal violence" as one such trait.
In Murder among Us, Kate handles a mind-boggling array of difficult personal situations, and one of her high school art students mysteriously disappears. When the police are slow to respond (and her police officer boyfriend has temporarily moved out to make room for Kate's soon to be ex-mother-in-law, who is visiting), Kate begins an investigation of her own. In addition to her usually plausible suburban backdrop and likeable but realistic characters, Jacobs was praised by Booklist reviewer John Rowen for "intriguing insights on cybersex and computers in school" and for "effectively [using] Halloween to inject suspense into suburbia."
In Murder among Strangers, Kate herself is put in danger in the opening gambit. On her Web site, Jacobs relayed the true-life story that inspired the fiction: "A friend and I were driving along a lonely country road late at night. A young woman flagged us down. When we stopped to help, several men emerged from the woods behind her and began rushing toward our car. We took off before they reached us, but a writer's mind is full of ‘what ifs.’ When Kate stops to help a young woman with a flat tire, she isn't as lucky as I was." The author was praised for the deftness with which she combines police procedural and courtroom drama in a story that "will delight fans" of this series, according to a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. In addition, "Jacobs provides more than a few breathtaking surprises before wrapping up this heart-pounding story."
In Shadow of Doubt, which reached the best-seller list of the San Francisco Chronicle, Jacobs introduces a new protagonist in the person of San Francisco lawyer Kali O'Brien. When Kali returns to her home town for the funeral of her father, she finds her former best friend accused of murdering her husband. The attorney decides to stay on to help. Kali's inner turmoil, as her assumptions about herself and her life in San Francisco are thrown into doubt in the context of her home town, provides a strong subplot to an otherwise light mystery, some critics noted. "Jacobs spins a merely adequate mystery plot here," observed a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, "but she portrays Kali's return to her home—and the self-revelations the trip engenders—with a sure sense of character."
Kali returns in Evidence of Guilt. She has opened a solo law practice in her home town and finds herself reluctantly agreeing to defend a local man whom everyone believes guilty of murdering a waitress and her daughter. Again, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly found Jacobs's plot to be one of the weaker aspects of this mystery, though her protagonist "is likeable enough."
In Motion to Dismiss, Jacobs ratchets up the suspense when Kali's best friend is diagnosed with cancer, the friend's husband is accused first of rape and then of murder when the victim is found dead, and Kali is teamed up with an old lover to defend him. The result is "a sizzling page-turner jam-packed with tense courtroom drama and nail-biting suspense," according to Emily Melton in Booklist.
O'Brien's adventures continue on a regular basis, and some reviewers anticipate them with pleasure. In Cold Justice, Kali tackles the investigation of an escalating number of serial killings committed in the style of the Bayside Strangler, who was already executed, thanks to her work as a prosecutor. When her co-prosecutor Anne Bailey turns up as one of the new killer's victims, O'Brien's life seems to be in danger, too. In Intent to Harm, O'Brien actually becomes a victim, though she survives the attack and sets out to discover why someone would shoot her and kill her prospective client before the woman could even explain her predicament. The Next Victim involves the apparent suicide of Kali's brother, who was suspected of several murders at the time of his own death. If O'Brien had returned his phone message, she might have at least a clue to follow in her attempt to uncover the truth and clear his name. These novels entertained Jacobs's critics, who called them reliably suspenseful, though sometimes overburdened by false leads. Library Journal contributor Rex E. Klett reported that Cold Justice "will keep readers guessing to the end." Booklist reviewer Mary Frances Wilkens found in Intent to Harm "a thoroughly likable heroine" and a "satisfyingly surprising conclusion." In a Publishers Weekly review of The Next Victim, the reviewer wrote: "Jacobs deftly juggles a large cast and a multi-layered plot."
The Only Suspect stands alone outside Jacobs's popular series. It is the story of Dr. Samuel Russell, who fears that he may have harmed his missing wife in an alcoholic blackout with amnesia for the event. The fact that his first wife was murdered and he had nearly been convicted of the crime adds to the suspense. Hannah Montgomery is the California police detective who must try to investigate the case with an open mind, despite popular sentiment and her own partner's firm opinion that Russell must be guilty. A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote: "Putting people you might meet any day into situations you can barely imagine gives Jacobs's latest tingler some powerful momentum." Booklist contributor Jenny McLarin reported that "Jacobs creates a high level of suspense" that she found "highly entertaining."
Jacobs once told CA: "As wonderful as it is to lose yourself in reading a good book, it's even better (when things are going well) to find yourself immersed in a fictional world of your own creation. I love having the opportunity to be so many different people and to have so many different experiences.
"I see all fiction, including mystery fiction, as a framework on which to hang human drama. It's the personal side of things—relationships, secrets, underlying tensions—that interest me most, and mysteries offer a wonderful opportunity to explore these. That's what crime is about—relationships that have broken down, human nature pushed to the limits. In writing mysteries, my focus is less on the violence of the crime itself than the passions that led up to it."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 1998, John Rowen, review of Murder among Us, p. 1205; December 15, 1998, Emily Melton, review of Motion to Dismiss, p. 728; September 15, 2003, Mary Frances Wilkens, review of Intent to Harm, p. 215; January 1, 2000, John Rowen, review of Murder among Strangers, p. 882; September 1, 2005, Jenny McLarin, review of The Only Suspect, p. 69.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 1994, review of Murder among Neighbors, p. 1027; July 1, 1995, review of Murder among Friends, p. 903; January 15, 1996, review of Shadow of Doubt, p. 102; July 15, 2005, review of The Only Suspect, p. 767; December 15, 2006, review of The Next Victim, p. 1245.
Library Journal, June 1, 1995, Rex E. Klett, review of Murder among Friends, p. 168; February 1, 1996, Rex E. Klett, review of Shadow of Doubt, p. 103; April 1, 1998, Rex E. Klett, review of Murder among Us, p. 129; May 1, 2002, Rex E. Klett, review of Cold Justice, p. 138.
Publishers Weekly, August 29, 1994, review of Murder among Neighbors, p. 64; July 24, 1995, review of Murder among Friends, pp. 50-51; January 29, 1996, review of Shadow of Doubt, p. 87; December 30, 1996, review of Evidence of Guilt, p. 57; February 28, 2000, review of Murder among Strangers, p. 65; June 3, 2002, review of Cold Justice, p. 66; August 25, 2003, review of Intent to Harm, p. 35; December 4, 2006, review of The Next Victim, p. 34.
Mystery File,http://www.mysteryfile.com/ (November, 2005), interview by Pamela Jones.
Nuns, Mothers, and Others: Jonnie Jacobs Home Page,http://www.nmomysteries.com/jonnie (February 22, 2008).