Northfield author Priscilla Paton is celebrating the pending launch of the second book in her mystery-thriller series, work that's proving to be beneficial professionally and personally.
Paton’s book, “Should Grace Fail,” is the second in her detective series “ A Twin Cities Mystery,” and features fictional Twin Cities-based detectives Eric Janson and Deb Metzger. Paton seeks to “very loosely” base the agency the two work for on the state's investigative unit, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
The book touches on the toll that law enforcement work takes on peace officers. The man who was murdered in “Should Grace Fail,” had left the police force after being accused of being drunk on the job and engaging in violence. At the time of the former officer’s murder, he was helping those who were being sexually trafficked.
Metzger, who has a background in investigating domestic violence, also works on addiction, especially opioid dependency. The book also touches on sex trafficking and includes a reference to a fictional elite hotel chain in the Twin Cities. The owner wants to stop sex trafficking but does not know enough to end the issue.
“Should Grace Fail” also includes the fictional account of a mixed-race pianist who became addicted to prescription pain killers after breaking her wrist. She later was aided in recovery by meeting teenagers in recovery who were struggling with other issues.
Paton, who simultaneously writes and researches her work, read memoirs from the children of those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, or face other law enforcement issues, including the perceived “code of silence,” that causes conflicts between law enforcement and the agencies tasked with investigating allegations of police misconduct.
“I looked at unrest and the challenges of being in law enforcement in the current environment,” she noted.
The first book in the series, “Where Privacy Dies,” was released in 2018, introduced the same detectives, and also included crimes against women and children. That book also touched on a public relations coverup and exposes a web of lies.
Paton, who took two years to write “Should Grace Fail," wants to write more books and is participating in NaNoWriMo, a 501(c)(3) seeking to help novelists complete their work. Writers who participate try to compose 50,000 words in one month. She wants the third book in her series to focus on the impacts of a company trying to cut corners on construction and real estate development work.
Paton wants her writing to strike a balance between the darker and thriller-like components of writing with comic relief and the odd twists of human nature. She said she had fun creating the characters, many of whom she deems as having different abilities than she has
She views her work as being similar in some ways to the hit BBC TV series “Sherlock,” a version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective stories. She said her work is also a social comedy and discusses how coworkers get along with each other and connect with crime victims, building relationships in the process.
Paton’s Dec. 8 online book launch comes as COVID-19 has moved traditionally in-person events online. She and many other authors are used to going to book conferences, attending other public events, and selling their books through virtual connections. Paton has still attended online mystery writing events during the pandemic.
“It’s very strange for authors right now,” she noted.
Paton said she understands book promotion more with her second piece and is working with a publicist to publicize “Should Grace Fail.” To her, being in Northfield with well-known writers Ben Percy and Rob Hardy has also helped.
“It’s a very literary town,” she said.
An academic background
A retired academic who taught English, poetry and American literature at Denison University in Ohio and Texas A&M, Paton wrote a children’s book decades ago and was a Robert Frost scholar. She contrasted the writing format of poems with the tightly plotted mysteries she is currently penning and sees her work on mystery books as “coloring outside the lines” from her previous profession. To address her lack of experience in the mystery genre, she has taken several classes at The Loft Literary Center in the Twin Cities. The Loft brought in former county attorneys, FBI agents, medical examiners, other writers and police K-9s to help mystery writers with their work.
“I definitely needed a new view when it came to this kind of writing,” said Paton, who has volunteered with the local United Way board, Hope Center and public schools, helping ground her in the world of the underserved and marginalized.
That’s also perhaps what attracts Paton to mystery writing the most: Entering a diverse world that reflects her own life while symbolizing a reality seemingly a total universe apart. She enjoys the research component of writing books and sees doing so as a way to escape life while processing the problems ailing society.
“It’s my way of not feeling as helpless about these issues,” she noted.