Oleksiw, Susan 1945–

views updated

Oleksiw, Susan 1945–

(Susan Prince Oleksiw)


Surname is pronounced "oh-lek-see"; born July 7, 1945, in Southbury, CT; daughter of Edward (a securities analyst) and Charlotte (a writer) Ryan; married Michael N. Oleksiw II (an arts administrator), August 19, 1967. Education: St. Lawrence University, B.A., 1967; University of Pennsylvania, Ph.D., 1977.


Agent—Laura Langlie, 275 President St., Apt. 3, Brooklyn, NY 11231. E-mail—[email protected]


Writer and editor. Larcom Press, editor and cofounder, 1998-2003; Level Best Books, editor and cofounder, 2003—. Part-time teacher at colleges in and around Boston, MA.


Authors Guild, Mystery Writers of America, National Writers Union, Sisters in Crime, Five Star Authors, Level Best Books Web Ring.


A Reader's Guide to the Classic British Mystery, G.K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1988.

(Editor, with Skye Alexander and Kate Flor) Undertow: Crime Stories by New England Writers, Level Best Books (Prides Crossing, MA), 2003.

(Editor, with Skye Alexander and Kate Flor) Riptide: Crime Stories by New England Writers, Level Best Books (Prides Crossing, MA), 2004.

(Editor, with Kate Flora and Ruth McCarty) Seasmoke: Crime Stories by New England Writers, Level Best Books (Prides Crossing, MA), 2006.


Murder in Mellingham, Scribner (New York, NY), 1993.

Double Take, Scribner (New York, NY), 1994.

Family Album, Scribner (New York, NY), 1995.

Friends and Enemies, Five Star (Unity, ME), 2001.

A Murderous Innocence, Five Star (Waterville, ME), 2006.

Contributor to the short-story collection Windchill, Level Best Books, 2005; contributor of stories and articles to periodicals. Consulting editor, Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1999.


Susan Oleksiw's "Mellingham" mystery series features a former big city cop who has moved to the quiet New England town of Mellingham to serve as chief of police. In the first book in the series, Murder in Mellingham, readers are introduced to Joe Silva, the town's chief of police. Although Mellingham may seem quiet, Chief Silva soon finds himself investigating the murder of a woman visiting from New York who was trying to gain control of a trust fund her older brother established for her. "Oleksiw perceptively examines the social classes of a small New England town in this leisurely, sly debut," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor.

The second book in the series, Double Take, finds Chief Silva on the case of a murdered student at Massasoit College of Art, leading him to suspect the wife of the painting department's chairman as well as a school secretary. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the author "recreates an authentic small-town atmosphere." In Family Album, the mystery revolves around who murdered George Frome after he indicated that someone was stealing antiques from the Arbella Historical Society's Arbella House. "Secrets and unprecedented actions abound," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor.

Friends and Enemies has Chief Silva investigating the disappearance of the wife of Vic Rabelard, who is found in a coma. "Oleksiw's dark, lyrical prose adds texture to the novel," wrote Jenny McLarin in Booklist. In a review on the Mystery Reader Web site, Judith Flavell called Friends and Enemies "a solid whodunit." Two dead friends, one from a drug overdose and another who seemingly fell out of a window, are at the heart of the mystery in A Murderous Innocence. In addition to investigating these two deaths, Chief Silva is trying to help his girlfriend with her son, who is hanging out with "druggies." McLarin, once again writing in Booklist, noted that "readers will luxuriate in Oleksiw's lush, evocative prose." A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that "you can't help feeling for the sympathetically drawn characters."

Oleksiw once told CA: "I cannot recall a time when I was not trying to tell a story, to arrange a sentence or a scene, in my imagination. At the age of fourteen I was convinced I would be an essayist, as absurd as that sounds, perhaps because I gravitated at that age to writing that seemed more serious than what I could achieve in a diary. A supportive professor in my freshman year in college suggested I try fiction. Over the years I have scratched out work in almost every genre—short story, novel, drama, criticism, personal essay, reviews, and scholarly articles, as well as commercial work such as newsletters, proposals, fundraising materials, and official reports. This seems perfectly natural to me: a writer writes, and turns her pen or keyboard to whatever task comes to her desk.

"Among my projects are a series of short stories featuring the Hindu-American photographer and accidental sleuth Anita Ray; several have appeared in various publications and more are in the pipeline. Writing about Anita offers me a freedom that my other protagonists do not: she scandalizes her family with her unconventional behavior, especially when she throws herself into murder investigations. But she also has a core of unyielding principles that I admire. Most of the stories about her write themselves—I never feel I have to work at getting things to happen; mostly I work to keep up with Anita, with where I see her going and what she is doing. Whoever she is, she knows herself truly, and I strive to capture that.

"I have been working on a noncriminous novel for several years that has stymied me repeatedly. After putting it aside for a number of months, it dawned on me what the problem was. For me, a story has a predetermined form or shape and trajectory. Trying to force it, and the characters, to move in a way that isn't right will surely kill it. Once I realized what was wrong with the novel—the wrong character was telling the story—I started to rewrite it. The opening paragraphs told me at once that I was on the right path. The novel draws on my experience living in India as a young scholar in the mid-1970s and again in the early 1980s, and my strong feelings that Westerners are convinced that their way is the best way, and impatiently wait for the natives to adopt this new way of thinking. Such blindness inevitably leads to disaster for someone, usually not the Westerner.

"Such social and political views inform all my fiction, but I don't make them the focus of the story; they are the fragrance in the air, an underlying tone. I don't want my books to be seen as polemics, but as records of how people live and think and behave because of their beliefs. The most important part of any story is the individual whose life opens before us, a man or woman whose passions are so alive that we forget we are sitting in an uncomfortable chair, that the train whistle is blowing, that we are late for an appointment. I want the characters to be more important than anything else that happens in a story. Because of this quiet presentation of my social and political views, these views and certain aspects of characters' lives are overlooked by reviewers, though less so by readers. In Murder in Mellingham, for example, two women exemplify the historical changes in class and the resulting views of women who serve as housekeepers. Class has been called the ‘dirty little secret’ of American life, and I try to dramatize its effects in large and small ways.

"The ‘Mellingham’ series was originally an effort to record the life of a small New England town before this particular distinctive subculture of the United States disappeared. Crime fiction is not, despite its name, about crime; it's about what happens after a crime is committed, about how people who think of themselves as ordinary cope with the extraordinary, with the careless or casual slip that leads to violence and a sea change in one's life. Even though much of crime fiction ends with the formal restoration of order, a requirement of the comedic form, each person touched by the crime is changed. The new order is no more stable or fixed than the old one."



Booklist, April 15, 1999, Richard Bleiler, review of A Reader's Guide to the Classic British Mystery, p. 1465; December 15, 2000, Jenny McLarin, review of Friends and Enemies, p. 792; February 1, 2006, Jenny McLarin, review of A Murderous Innocence, p. 34.

Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2006, review of A Murderous Innocence, p. 66.

Publishers Weekly, January 4, 1993, review of Murder in Mellingham, p. 62; December 6, 1993, review of Double Take, p. 59; December 5, 1994, review of Family Album, p. 69.


Mystery Reader,http://www.themysteryreader.com/ (July 12, 2007), Judith Flavell, review of Friends and Enemies.

Susan Oleksiw Web site,http://www.susanoleksiw.com (December 31, 2004).