PERSONAL: Married James Miles (a journalist and sinologist), 1992; children: three. Education: Leeds University, graduated, 1984; attended Fudan University, Shanghai, China, and Harvard University.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Mysterious Press, 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
CAREER: Writer, educator, and journalist. British Broadcasting Corporation Monitoring Service, London, England, journalist; Times, London, journalist and Beijing correspondent. Taught English on Gulangyu Island in China.
Falling off Air, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Out of Mind, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to periodicals, including Vogue and Economist.
SIDELIGHTS: Novelist, journalist, and freelance writer Catherine Sampson noted in an autobiography on the Time Warner Bookmark Web site: "Most of my adult life has been tied up in journalism and in China." As a nineteen year old studying at Fudan University, she encountered the intense anti-foreign attitudes of the Communist nation, and ultimately witnessed the violent events of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre unfold below her as she watched from a balcony. As a professional journalist, she was the China correspondent for the London Times, and as the wife of journalist and sinologist James Miles, she spent considerable time in Hong Kong and Beijing.
Sampson's first attempt at fiction, a novel set in China, was never published, she said in the Time Warner Bookmark. "I had sworn to myself that if I did not produce something publishable in a year, then I would give up writing fiction," she stated in her essay. "In fact it wouldn't be until eight years later that Falling off Air was accepted for publication."
Falling off Air is a mystery set in London and focuses on Robin Ballantyne. A single mother of twins who was abruptly abandoned by the kids' father, Adam Wills, Ballantyne is a television news producer who finds herself in the middle of one of the country's biggest stories. Long removed from the high-stakes world of broadcast journalism she used to inhabit, Ballantyne is content with domesticity and caring for her infant son and daughter. However, during an evening storm, she sees a neighbor woman fall to her death from a balcony. The woman, Paula Carmichael, was a controversial figure in local politics, a member of Parliament and a liberal activist. The unexplained death prompts Ballantyne to seek her old job back, but BBC Current Affairs/Documentary division head Maeve Tandy offers nothing but the trivial, almost insulting position of ethics editor. Unswayed and undaunted, Ballantyne does an end run around Tandy by securing an invitation to a highbrow awards ceremony, where she will be able to interact with media elites more apt to help her return to journalism. An unexpected encounter with Wills ends with the two making plans to discuss visitation for him and the twins, but before the meeting can take place, Wills is run down by a car—Robin's distinctive red BMW. As the press hungrily descends on one of their own, Ballantyne works to clear herself. She discovers that the deceased Paula Carmichael's had a connection with Adam, who was making a documentary about her social programs. As she searches out the motives behind the crime, Robin must still care for her children and work to re-establish her professional career.
Sampson "manages to weave together succinctly and link inextricably all of these plots," commented Nicole A. Cooke, writing in Library Journal. Ballantyne "makes for an unusual sleuth: how many detectives need to first hire a babysitter before going out to save the world?," commented a Publishers Weekly contributor. The book's plot is "carefully worked out and the ending, though a touch melodramatic, is unexpected," noted reviewer Catherine Hunt in Shots online. Sampson "makes a grand entrance into the mystery genre with this stellar debut novel," concluded Booklist reviewer Mary Frances Wilkens.
Ballantyne returns in Out of Mind, a novel in which kidnapping and murder figure prominently during a trip to Cambodia. For the beleaguered Ballantyne, "going back home to England is no better" as the repercussions continue unabated, noted Library Journal contributor Ann Kim.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 1, 2004, Mary Frances Wilkens, review of Falling off Air, p. 1516.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2004, review of Falling off Air, p. 560.
Library Journal, August, 2004, Nicole A. Cooke, review of Falling off Air, p. 70; April 1, 2005, Ann Kim, review of Out of Mind, p. 76.
Publishers Weekly, July 5, 2004, review of Falling off Air, p. 36.
Allreaders.com, http://www.allreaders.com/ (June 14, 2005), Harriet Klausner, review of Falling off Air.
Murder and Mayhem Bookclub Web site, http://www.murderandmayhembookclub.com/ (June 14, 2005), review of Falling Off Air.
Romantic Times Web site, http://www.romantictimes.com/ (June 14, 2005), Cindy Harrison, review of Falling off Air.
Shots Online, http://www.shotsmag.com/ (June 14, 2005), Catherine Hunt, review of Falling off Air.
Time Warner Bookmark, http://www.twbookmark.com/ (June 14, 2005), "Catherine Sampson."