Novelist paints her first mystery ‘Town Red’
10/6/12 Evanston native and author of "Town Red" Jennifer Moss during a book signing at Prairie Moon on Saturday. Evanston | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
While growing up in Evanston, Jennifer Moss never imagined that one day she might become a novelist, so it was quite a surprise when writing one came naturally.
“It really was sort of like falling in love. I became completely obsessed with the book until it was done,” said Moss,who graduated from Evanston Township High School in 1981 and Northwestern (with a music degree) in 1985.
The murder mystery Town Red isn’t Moss’s first book, but it is her first work of fiction. After graduating from NU, she moved to Los Angeles and parlayed her affinity for computers into a high-tech career, working first as an IT specialist, then launching BabyNames.com, one of the first online parenting sites, in 1996. Moss published her first book, The One-in-a Million Baby Names Book, in 2008.
Writing Town Red, Moss said, was less a matter of branching out as a professional writer than trying her hand at a genre she has always loved as a reader.
“I’m a huge fan of whodunits,” she said. “I’ve always enjoyed solving the puzzles in murder mysteries, so I thought it would be fun to try to write one.”
For her protagonist, Moss created Ryan Doherty, a no-nonsense homicide detective working out of Chicago’s Lincoln Park-area 18th precinct. After his partner is killed and his girlfriend leaves him, Doherty’s career goes on the skids until he’s assigned to investigate the deaths of the husband-and-wife owners of the Town Red advertising agenccy, both of whom apparently died of natural causes on the same night.
The chief suspect is Catherine Lulling, a former Town Red vice-president who has since pursued a career as a New Age psychic. There’s only one problem: When Doherty questions her, romantic sparks begin to fly.
“What I really wanted to do with Town Red was contrast the extremely practical world of the detective, working with hard facts and evidence, with the sort of New Age, metaphysical world of his prime suspect,” said Moss, who researched the police procedural aspect of the plot with the help of a female detective from the 18th precinct, and developed Lulling’s character with details drawn from her own lifelong interest in metaphysics.
Moss has already begun working on a second Ryan Doherty mystery, with publisher Black Opal Books expressing potential interest in a Chicago-based series based on encouraging early sales of Town Red.
So why did Moss decide to set her murder mysteries in Chicago, rather than Los Angeles, where she has lived for the past 20 years?
“I’m a fourth-generation Chicagoan,” she said. “I will always have a place in my heart for the city, its people, the food and the Cubs!”