Barnes, Linda J.

views updated

BARNES, Linda J.

Born 6 June 1949, Detroit, Michigan

Daughter of Irving and Hilda Grodman Appleblatt; married Richard Allen Barnes, 1970; children: Samuel

Best known for her mystery series featuring Carlotta Carlyle, Linda Barnes also wrote a previous series of four mystery novels starring Michael Spraggue. Her first Spraggue novel, Blood Will Have Blood, was published in 1982 (written under Linda J. Barnes). It introduced readers to the independently wealthy actor and amateur detective. Three more Spraggue books followed: Bitter Finish (1983), Dead Act, (1984) and Cities of the Dead (1986). Barnes ended the series because Spraggue was getting too depressing: since he was an amateur sleuth, and the only way to legitimately get him involved in a murder mystery was for the victim to be someone he knew. To keep him supplied with cases, everyone around him would eventually have to die. In addition, as the series continued, his involvement in the various cases was becoming more unbelievable. But the character was popular enough to spawn a made-for-television movie in 1984 loosely based on Blood Will Have Blood.

Barnes calls the Spraggue novels her apprentice work. She always wanted to write a detective novel with a female lead, but the powers that be in publishing, who said such a semitough character would never sell, deterred her. But Barnes was determined, and between the second and third Spraggue novels she created Carlotta Carlyle. The six-foot-one, redheaded ex-cop, who is a part-time Boston cab driver and licensed private detective, came to life in "Lucky Penny" (1985). Written in 1983, Barnes sold the short story to several magazines that folded before ever publishing her piece, which means she was never paid. After "Lucky Penny" was finally published in the New Black Mask (which folded after five issues), it immediately earned critical acclaim. Nominated for all the major mystery honors, it won the 1986 Anthony award. This success proved to Barnes and her editor that a female character wasn't such a bad idea after all.

A Trouble of Fools (1987), the first Carlotta novel, enjoyed the same success as its short-story predecessor. It was nominated for the Edgar and Shamus awards and won the 1988 American Mystery award. The Snake Tattoo (1989), Barnes' second outing with Carlotta, was named outstanding book of 1990 by the London Times.

Critics praise Carlotta's character for her sense of humor and wry outlook on life. While Barnes' plots are strong and intriguing, the true strength of the successful series is Carlotta, who has been described as memorable, and her strong supporting cast. The secondary characters in the novels are as interesting in their own right: Carlotta's tenant, Roz, an eccentric artist; Carlotta's sometimes boyfriend, Sam Gianelli, son of the local mob leader; and Paolina, her young sister (through the Big Sisters organization). It is Carlotta's strong emotional relationship with Paolina that stands out in the series and has led to a frequent underlying theme in the books of a concern for children.

Barnes was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. Her father was a mechanical engineer and her mother was a teacher and homemaker. When she was seventeen, Barnes won the National Council of Teachers of English Writing Award. She soon gave up writing, believing that something so easily mastered at such an age must not be worth much, so she decided to pursue acting. Barnes graduated from Boston University's School of Fine and Applied Arts in 1971 with degrees in acting, English, and theater education. But when it came time to pursue her acting career, she opted to teach high school drama rather than starve in New York. While at Chelmsford High School in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, Barnes got back into writing when she penned a one-act play for the Massachusetts High School Drama Festival. This play, Wings, (1973) is still performed around the country. She wrote one other play, Prometheus, in 1974.

Again unwilling to starve in New York, this time as a playwright, Barnes began writing mystery novels, never imagining they would be a series. Cold Case, her seventh novel in the Carlotta Carlyle series, was published in 1997. She says there will be at least one more because she tends to view the novels in sets of four and she intends to reevaluate the series after the eighth book. If she still has an interest in the character and feels she can make Carlotta grow, she'll continue the series. Barnes currently resides near Boston with her husband and son.

Other Works:

Coyote (1990) Steel Guitar (1991) Snapshot (1993) Hardware (1995) Flashpoint (1999)


Book Review Digest 1996 (1997). CA (1997). Heising, W., Detecting Women 2 (1996). Swanson, J., and D. James, By A Woman's Hand (1994).


About this article

Barnes, Linda J.

Updated About content Print Article