Rothenberg, Rebecca 1948-1998

views updated

ROTHENBERG, Rebecca 1948-1998


Born 1948, in NY; died of complications from a brain tumor April 14, 1998, in Burbank, CA; daughter of Herbert and Marjorie Rothenberg. Education: Swarthmore College, degree; University of California, Los Angeles, degree (epidemiology and sociology of medicine), 1982. Hobbies and other interests: Music, botany.


Author, musician, and epidemiologist. University of Southern California School of Medicine, Los Angeles, statistical programmer and data analysis consultant in epidemiology; California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, part-time writer, 1996-98. Spent early career as a singer/songwriter.


California Native Plant Society (former president of San Gabriel Mountain chapter).


The Bulrush Murders: A Botanical Mystery named one of the Top Ten Mysteries of 1992, Los Angeles Times.


The Bulrush Murders: A Botanical Mystery, Carroll & Graf Publishers (New York, NY), 1991.

The Dandelion Murders, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1994.

The Shy Tulip Murders, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1996.

(Completed by Taffy Cannon) The Tumbleweed Murders: A Clair Sharples Botanical Mystery, Perseverance Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 2001.

Contributor to various publications at California Institute of Technology, including Engineering and Science, Caltech News, and On Campus; former newsletter editor, California Native Plant Society, San Gabriel Mountain chapter.


Author Rebecca Rothenberg was an epidemiologist and a musician, but it was her enthusiasm for botany that infused her work as a writer, serving as the thread that links her mystery novels. The series follows the adventures of Dr. Claire Sharples, a microbiologist who moves from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to the San Joaquin Valley in California to pursue a new job at an agricultural field station. Claire is forced to confront male colleagues who refuse to take a woman seriously and the culture shock of a West Coast lifestyle, as well as the requisite murders.

In Rothenberg's first book, The Bulrush Murders: A Botanical Mystery, Claire finds herself investigating the death of a friend when he drives his motorcycle into the reservoir one night after drinking heavily. While the local law enforcement is content to rule the incident an accident, Claire is certain there is more to the story when she discovers iodine weed, not naturally found near the reservoir, caught in the spokes of the bike. Mystery is tempered by romance as Claire becomes acquainted with botanist Sam Cooper. Charles Champlin, in a review for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, wrote that "Rothenberg is a skilled and notably individual new voice in the mystery field," calling her work "tense and unhackneyed." Wilson Library Bulletin contributor Kathleen Maio noted that "Rothenberg gives us plenty of information and local color but never overdoes it. She is equally evenhanded with her characters and mystery plot." The Bulrush Murders was nominated for Anthony and Agatha awards, and was named one of the top ten mysteries of 1992 by the Los Angeles Times.

Claire resumes her sleuthing in The Dandelion Murders, when she discovers a dead journalist in a drainage ditch along with alpine hulsea, a dandelion-like flower native to the High Sierras, but not found in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley. The mystery deepens when the body is linked to two Mexican nationalists who appear to have drowned nearby. Claire investigates, ignoring the jibes of the police chief as well as her own wilting relationship with Sam. Emily Melton, reviewing for Booklist, wrote that "the story doesn't hang together very well, even though Rothenberg gets credit for her lofty ideals," while a Publishers Weekly contributor commented that "although some of the botanical detail slows the pace … Claire struggles quite convincingly with her own personal development." In Kirkus Reviews, a contributor noted that "Rothenberg is knowing and exact about how lovers and other people fight, and her tale is twistier than mile-high blacktop."

In The Shy Tulip Murders Rothenberg takes aim at smug environmentalists while standing up for their cause, providing Claire with a new mystery to solve. The plot involves the Friends of the Redwoods, an organization promoting the protection of sequoias from loggers. Marcy Hobbes initially brings Claire into the group to have her identify the rare Shy Tulip, but the request leads to an attempt on Claire's own life, as well as a number of threats and Marcy's eventual murder. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly stated that "Rothenberg makes this an enjoyable hike through a deftly sketched landscape of issues, personalities and scenery," and Richard Lipez, in a review for the Washington Post Book World, called the book "brainy, opinionated, enjoyable mystery writing, with one of the most believable heroines to show up in years."

At the time of her death in 1998, Rothenberg was planning a fourth "Claire Sharples" mystery. Her friend Taffy Cannon completed the book, The Tumbleweed Murders: A Claire Sharples Botanical Mystery, which was published in 2001.



Booklist, September 15, 1994, Emily Melton, review of The Dandelion Murders, p. 117; May 1, 2001, Merle Jacob, review of The Shy Tulip Murders, p. 1607.

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 1991, review of The Bulrush Murders: A Botanical Mystery, p. 1315; July 15, 1994, review of The Dandelion Murders, pp. 951-952.

Library Journal, May 1, 1996, review of The Shy Tulip Murders, p. 137.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 12, 1992, Charles Champlin, review of The Bulrush Murders, p. 9; September 30, 2001, Dick Lochte, review of The Tumbleweed Murders: A Claire Sharples Botanical Mystery, section E, p. 2.

Publishers Weekly, October 11, 1991, review of The Bulrush Murders, p. 52; August 15, 1994, review of The Dandelion Murders, p. 90; April 1, 1996, review of The Shy Tulip Murders, p. 60; August 27, 2001, review of The Tumbleweed Murders, p. 59.

Washington Post Book World, May 19, 1996, Richard Lipez, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone," p. 8.

Wilson Library Bulletin, February, 1992, Kathleen Maio, "Murder in Print," pp. 88-89.


Rebecca Rothenberg Home Page, (October 5, 2004).

Time Warner Bookmark Web site, (September 23, 2004), "Rebecca Rothenberg."



Los Angeles Times, April 17, 1998, Myrna Oliver, "Rebecca Rothenberg, Writer of Mysteries," p. 28.


California Technical Institue Web site, (April 16, 1998), "Mystery Novelist Rebecca Rothenberg Dies."*

About this article

Rothenberg, Rebecca 1948-1998

Updated About content Print Article