Tierney, Ronald 1944-
Tierney, Ronald 1944-
PERSONAL: Born December 12, 1944, in Indianapolis, IN; son of J. Gregory (in restaurant business) and Frances Ruth (in restaurant business; maiden name, Laughner) Tierney. Education: Attended Indiana University, 1963–76.
CAREER: Writer. Worked in family restaurants in Indiana; worked in construction in Fort Wayne, IN; foreman on factory assembly line in South Bend, IN; worked for a bank in Indianapolis, IN, became officer, 1969–76; co-owner of a frame shop in Bloomington, IN, 1977–78; affiliated with Levi Strauss & Co., 1978–82; Ernest Players, San Francisco, CA, cofounder and playwright, 1978–82; Nob Hill Gazette, San Francisco, editor, 1982–83; worked as copywriter and advertising manager in Indianapolis, 1984–89; founding editor of NUVO Newsweekly (an alternative weekly newspaper) in Indianapolis, 1989–90; Fort Mason Foundation, San Francisco, CA, 2002–. Military service: U.S. Army, 1966–68, served in Vietnam; became specialist 5 in information; received Army Commendation Medal.
MEMBER: Mystery Writers of America, Private Eye Writers of America.
AWARDS, HONORS: Shamus Award nomination for best first novel, Private Eye Writers of America, 1990, for The Stone Veil.
The Stone Veil, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1990.
The Steel Web, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1991.
The Iron Glove, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1992.
Eclipse of the Heart, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1993.
The Concrete Pillow, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1995.
Nickel-Plated Soul, Severn House (Brooklyn, NY), 2005.
Platinum Canary, Severn House (Brooklyn, NY), 2005.
Glass Chameleon, Severn House (Brooklyn, NY), 2006.
Author of plays, including Death in Bloom.
SIDELIGHTS: Ronald Tierney once told CA: "I am most comfortable writing about ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances. My 'Shanahan' private eye series is about a sixty-nine-year-old, semi-retired detective living in Indianapolis. It's not a glamorous setting, and 'Deets' is not a glamorous guy. His wife left him thirty years earlier, taking with her Shanahan's then ten-year-old son. Since that time, he has contented himself with Cubs games, his backyard garden, the camaraderie of his Army buddy, Harry, and the generally small-time investigations nobody else wants.
"What I wanted to do was show that even nearing seventy, a person's life need not be over. So while each Shanahan book is a complete whodunit, the main character evolves as he would in a conventional novel. As the series progresses, Shanahan—through more elaborate and dangerous cases—is increasingly thrust into life. At the same time a more human story unfolds as he begins to confront his past and construct a future. There are common threads that run through this series. One is that life is never over until the last breath is taken. The other is abuse of power—physical, financial, and political—because it is the feeling of powerless-ness that defeats us.
"My own career could be described at best as 'checkered.' As far as education goes, I didn't complete college. I never could make up my mind. I switched majors from theatre to journalism to religion and back again. I'd like to think I've made up for my less-than-stunning academic credentials by living a kind of itinerant life. Many jobs, many places—from busing dishes and working a construction site to banking and editing a society newspaper. If a writer's fiction is molded by the life he or she has lived, then I can write with at least some degree of realism about pretty much everybody.
"My first few attempts at a novel were pretty bad. My biggest problem was structure. In the past my writing had tended to meander—the story was merely a series of tangents. By 1990 I had completed three worthless novels and several unpublishable short stories. I noticed a contest asking for entries in St. Martin's annual private eye competition. Mysteries? Was there a better way to learn the craft of writing and to reign in a wandering plot? They also provided a minimum word count and a real deadline.
"The result was The Stone Veil, a finalist in St. Martin's competition and a Shamus nomination for best first novel by the Private Eye Writers of America. The book was syndicated in a Hungarian magazine and briefly optioned for movie rights. This introduced Shanahan, and I discovered there was a whole lot more I wanted to say about this man. And while the book didn't shatter any sales records, the reviews were encouraging. The second book, The Steel Web, also met with good reviews from the critics, and St. Martin's Press decided they would publish another.
"After The Iron Glove, the third modestly successful book in the Shanahan series, I am venturing beyond the sixty-nine-year-old detective as subject. Eclipse of the Heart is about a middle-aged San Franciscan caught in circumstances that force him from his comfortable life and bring him face to face with what it means to be alive. The main character, a rather passionless man who makes his living writing cookbooks, is asked during the idle chatter of a dinner party what he would kill for. The answer the reclusive gay author gives his host is not the same answer he discovers during what was supposed to be a harmless holiday in Mexico.
"Though I will continue the [Shanahan] detective series, I am working on another San Francisco-based novel. If it has to be categorized, the current work is probably more suspense than mystery, but I hope it is more novel than either. Power and powerlessness play the key roles as several lives converge because of a tragic series of brutal murders. It has as much to do with the effect of the brutal slayings on the characters' lives as it has with who committed them.
"I believe I am an Indiana writer, no matter where I set my stories. Though I'll always be a Midwesterner, there is a constant sense of wanting to do something else and of wanting to be somewhere else. If all goes well, the Shanahan series will continue to be my link to Indiana and to the mystery genre. But I need to move on too—writing other types of books and living in other places. What I suspect won't change is what I want my work to do. In all my writing, my goal is to create characters with as much dimension as possible. None are perfectly evil or perfectly good. I want the lives and the situations to be easily understood and believable. I want the story to yield insight. And in the end, I hope there is for the reader—after the humor and the tragedy—some value for having read it beyond a few hours of escape."
Tierney more recently told CA: "I used to write plays (or skits) in elementary and high school. The idea of writing books came later. When I left the US Army, I rented a small studio apartment in Indianapolis, which was next to the city's beautiful Central Library. I think I was inspired to write by the library and all of the books back in the stacks—Robert Musil, Herman Hesse, Thomas Mann. I spent the next several months—until my money ran out—trying to write a novel."
Tierney's highly praised debut, The Stone Veil, presents Deets as wanting to retire but instead taking a job hunting a rich woman's missing husband. Deets finds the man dead and sets out to track down the perpetrator. "With this admirable start, Tierney firmly established himself as a writer of note," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor.
In his next book, The Steel Web, Deets sets out to prove that two boys accused of killing a policeman are guilty of only robbing the body. Time, however, is of the essence as a prosecutor up for re-election wants to use the case to showcase his toughness on crime. A Publishers Weekly contributor remarked favorably upon the author's "smooth narrative style, vivid local color and sharply drawn characters."
Deets tries to discover who killed Senator Holland's wife and dumped her body in a river in the novel The Iron Glove. The suspects include the womanizing senator and the dead woman's brother, who is interested in alternative adult entertainment. In a review of The Iron Glove, a Publishers Weekly critic thought the book fit well "in a series packed with new angles and delights."
Tierney leaves Deets behind for his novel Eclipse of the Heart. This time the story revolves around Zachary Grayson, a food critic who befriends the young Bernard Manning and soon becomes the object of rumors concerning his sexuality. Manning appears to be a plant from an anonymous source and may be involved in the hunt for an electronic chip in Mexico. When Manny disappears in Puerto Vallarta, Grayson finds himself involved in a dangerous adventure. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the novel "an emotive story of spiritual rebirth and a sensitive addition to the annals of gay crime fiction."
Deets returns in The Concrete Pillow to become involved with a family of quadruplets who were once high school basketball stars but have fallen on hard times. One of the brothers, a heroin addict, believes he is a marked man and hires Deets to protect him. The aging private investigator, however, soon learns much more about the troubled Lindstrom family. Wes Lukowsky, writing in Booklist, commented that the novel is really "a serious examination of family relationships."
Nickle-Plated Soul finds Deets involved in political and high-financial intrigue. This time he tackles the case of a one-time slick political mover who, after serving thirty-five years in jail for murdering his wife, insists that she is still alive. Booklist contributor Emily Melton wrote that the author "concocts a meaty plot and complements it perfectly with rat-a-tat dialogue." In a review in the Library Journal, Rex E. Klett noted that the author provides "easy prose, a fast-moving narrative, and a laconically likable protagonist."
Deets tries to determine whether a woman's boyfriend is responsible for her disappearance in the mystery Platinum Canary. Booklist contributor Melton thought the novel's "clever humor … [and] original plot … make for yet another winning entry in this popular series."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 15, 1995, Wes Lukowsky, review of The Concrete Pillow, p. 1483; November 15, 2004, Emily Melton, review of Nickle-Plated Soul, p. 566; June 1, 2005, Emily Melton, review of Platinum Canary, p. 1762.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2004, review of Nickle-Plated Soul, p. 1170.
Library Journal, February 1, 2005, Rex E. Klett, review of Nickel-Plated Soul, p. 57.
Publishers Weekly, January 26, 1990, review of The Stone Vail, p. 406; September 27, 1991, review of The Steel Web, p. 46; October 26, 1992, review of The Iron Glove, p. 58; August 16, 1993, review of Eclipse of the Heart, p. 90.
Ronald Tierny Home Page, http://www.ronaldtierney.com (March 1, 2006).