LaPierre, Janet 1933-
LaPierre, Janet 1933-
Born December 18, 1933, in Nevada, IA; daughter of John B. and Mildred Kennedy; married Richard LaPierre (an engineer), 1963; children: Jacqueline, Adrienne. Ethnicity: "White-bread American (Scots-German-?)." Education: University of Arizona, Tucson, B.A., 1955; graduate study, 1955-57.
Home and office—Berkeley, CA. E-mail—[email protected]
High school English teacher in Scottsdale, AZ, 1957-61, and Mt. Diablo High School, Concord, CA, 1961-62; freelance writer, 1980—.
Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, American Crime Writers League, Phi Beta Kappa.
"PORT SILVA" SERIES; MYSTERY NOVELS
Unquiet Grave, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1987.
Children's Games, Scribner (New York, NY), 1989.
The Cruel Mother, Scribner (New York, NY), 1990.
Grandmother's House, Scribner (New York, NY), 1991.
Old Enemies, Scribner (New York, NY), 1993.
Baby Mine, Perseverance Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1999.
Keepers, Perseverence Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 2001.
Death Duties, Perseverence Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 2004.
Family Business, Perseverence Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 2006.
Work represented in anthologies. Contributor of short stories to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.
Mystery writer Janet LaPierre grew up in Iowa, attended college in Arizona, and then moved to northern California, which became her home and the setting for her novels in the "Port Silva" mystery series. In LaPierre's first novel, Unquiet Grave, computer science professor Joe Mancuso is accused of killing Ilona, a beautiful student who was found dead after leaving a party hosted by Mancuso. Other suspects include Joe's brother, a hippie musician, and Ilona's own father. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that "although LaPierre has a good ear for dialogue, she is not adept at pacing and plotting." Wes Lukowsky in Booklist, however, noted that LaPierre's debut novel offers "great atmosphere, quirkily believable characters, and a satisfying romance."
A Kirkus Reviews contributor dubbed LaPierre's Children's Games "a huge improvement over the author's debut effort." Meg Halloran, a widowed teacher from Arizona, and her ten-year-old daughter Katy have settled in Port Silva. Newcomer Meg suddenly finds herself a suspect in a murder investigation when Police Chief Vince Gutierrez comes to question her about former student Dave Tucker, recently found shot to death on the beach. Dave, adored son of a prominent local family, had been challenging and harassing Meg, terrorizing Katy, and leaving quotes from scripture in their mailbox. Other characters receive threatening phone calls fashioned from biblical verses, and the number of suspects increases. Marilyn Stasio commented in her New York Times Book Review appraisal that LaPierre "works her formula without affectation—but it's still a formula." Kathleen Maio, reviewing Children's Games for the Wilson Library Bulletin, called LaPierre "a dexterous builder of mystery plots" and added that the author "has an even more skillful hand at character."
Listener reviewer Sara Rance called LaPierre's The Cruel Mother "more than a good read." In this 1990 novel Meg and Vince are heading to Idaho for a camping vacation, but the holiday mood is somewhat hampered by the addition of Vince's rebellious niece, Cass. Vince breaks his collarbone when the trio gets into an automobile accident. The second car involved in the accident is carrying three people, whose story furnishes another intriguing plot twist. The injured Vince returns home by air, while Meg and Cass continue on, only to be abducted by a teenage boy and an unstable Vietnam veteran. Publishers Weekly reviewer Sybil Steinberg cited the novel's "nice details on small town life and police work, the generation gap, and the passions that animated the peace movement." Calling it a "gripping story," a Kirkus Reviews contributor praised The Cruel Mother for its "cunning plot, along with a wide spectrum of offbeat characters and shifting locales to keep things moving."
Grandmother's House finds Charlotte Birdsong, a Port Silva piano teacher and mother of Petey, being pressured by developers to sell Petey's inheritance from his grandmother, a little house on an historic street. The characters include environmental activists, a greedy lawyer, hippies, and policeman Val Kuisma, Charlotte's boarder and possible love interest, who is trying to solve the case of another missing developer. "A jumble of plot lines, characters, and corpses dilutes the thrust of a moderately engrossing puzzle," commented a Kirkus Reviews contributor, while Library Journal contributor Rex E. Klett found Grandmother's House "a mite overlong, but a good treatment of the subject." A Publishers Weekly critic stated that "this seductive tale rapidly engages the reader with the Birdsongs, Val, and a raft of other interesting characters."
In Old Enemies, Meg and Katy drive to Washington State to visit a wolf reserve and Meg's former student, Lauren Cavalier, who lives in northern California. Lauren's photographer husband is away in Alaska, so Meg and Katy stay with Lauren, her children, and an elderly aunt. A town meeting about grazing rights sets the stage for fights, missing persons, and murder. "A good plot is almost buried under domestic trivia, wolf lore, Katy's social life, and other ramblings," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. "Even potentially interesting scenes … seem wooden and clichéd," observed Bettina Birch in Belles Lettres. However, a Publishers Weekly reviewer took a more favorable view, calling Old Enemies "a satisfying blend of domestic and wild life."
In Baby Mine, Meg and Vince have married, and Meg's beating by a gang of teens is in keeping with the increasing violence in their small town. A young Hispanic fertility clinic worker is murdered and her teenage friend disappears; later, a fire at the clinic kills an elderly doctor who had been a mentor to Vince. A Publishers Weekly questioned the novel's large cast of characters and said that figuring them out "can be daunting." The reviewer concluded that the best thing about Baby Mine was "how the novel quickly sneaks behind the picturesque facade of a fictional town … to reveal the hard truths of modern life."
LaPierre once told CA: "My parents were readers, mostly of popular fiction. Among their favorite reads were what they called ‘murder mysteries.’ Writers of such works now call them simply mysteries, or crime novels; but the fact is, they are nearly always about murder.
"Although I have a degree in literature and have taught high school English, I too have often turned to mysteries for entertainment. When I began trying to be a writer perhaps twenty years ago, it seemed logical, natural, to start by writing mystery novels. So I did, and have done: with nine published novels and a fistful of short stories. But every now and then I'm startled by this image of myself as a person with a good education, a pleasant home, and a satisfying family life who spends her time writing about people killing people.
"Sometimes I feel this is a less than honorable activity that I should give up in favor of meditation or good works or writing straight fiction. Or I play with the notion that the mystery novel is really a hyperbolic version of serious fiction in which the usual elements of the straight novel—people in conflict with one another, loving and hating, using or abusing, abandoning or suffocating—are exaggerated for effect. The mystery novel uses the same emotions, but carries them to the ultimate: murder.
"But probably not. Probably the mystery novelist is simply a writer who chooses an easier—lazier?—route to telling a story. All novels must have tension, but in a ‘murder mystery’ the tension is a given; somebody gets killed, and the killer will or will not be discovered, may or may not pay for his crime. I should add that in a good mystery, or the kind I most enjoy, the point of all this is to reveal and perhaps make understandable the qualities of the people involved. ‘Why?’ is always the most interesting question.
"In the end, what good fiction of any kind does is show the reader real, believable people trying to get from here to there in lives ordinary or bizarre. As a writer, I am free to invent people who interest me, and set them in landscapes I love. Murder mysteries, crime novels, or simply novels, the making of them gives me great satisfaction."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Belles Lettres, winter, 1993, Bettina Birch, review of Old Enemies, pp. 53-54.
Booklist, December 15, 1987, Wes Lukowsky, review of Unquiet Grave, p. 677; November 15, 1991, review of Grahdmother's House, pp. 605, 611.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1987, review of The Unquiet Grave, p. 1605; March 15, 1989, review of Children's Games, pp. 420-421; April 15, 1990, review of The Cruel Mother, pp. 536-537; October 1, 1991, review of Grandmother's House, p. 1249; August 15, 1993, review of Old Enemies, p. 1032.
Library Journal, November 1, 1991, Rex E. Klett, review of Grandmother's House, p. 135.
Listener, August 16, 1990, Sara Rance, "Nice Girls Do," p. 36.
New York Times Book Review, June 4, 1989, Marilyn Stasio, review of Children's Games, p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, October 30, 1987, Sybil Steinberg, review of The Unquiet Grave, pp. 57-58; March 16, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of The Cruel Mother, p. 63; October 11, 1991, review of Grandmother's House, p. 51; August 9, 1993, review of Old Enemies, p. 466; September 6, 1999, review of Baby Mine, p. 85.
Rapport: Modern Guide to Books, Music, and More (annual), 1992, review of Grandmother's House, p. 24.
Wilson Library Bulletin, September, 1989, Kathleen Maio, review of Children's Games, pp. 114-115.
Janet LaPierre: Author of the Port Silva Mysteries,http://www.janetlapierre.com (May 19, 2007).