Adios, supergranny: Local author makes murder in townsville

Bev Van Hook has been in the mystery writing business for over 15 years, but it wasn't till she turned her attention to an adult audience that she resorted to murder.

"I'm writing a murder mystery– there is violence," she concedes with the air of someone who's soul-searched over this one. She quickly adds that violence can't be much of an emphasis "when the murder weapon is a flooded field."

The aversion to gore comes from a long and comfortable relationship with "Supergranny," a world-traveling senior citizen in a red Ferrari who foils no-goods and bakes snickerdoodles. Supergranny's quarry tended towards museum thieves and inheritance bandits, criminals evoking the villains of Scooby Doo ensnared by what Van Hook terms "wit and daring."

Now, after seven adventures and 100,000 copies in print, Supergranny is back in retirement; the Ferrari has been garaged, and Van Hook has welcomed the specters of pathology, forensics, and even sexual deception.

Van Hook's new protagonists are Liza and Dutch Randolph, amateur sleuthing spouses from Quad Cities, Iowa, who unravel the mysterious "death of a perfect woman" in Juliet's Ghost (Holderby & Bierce, October 2003). Van Hook, a veteran journalist, admits that she's most comfortable basing her characters in fact, which means that Dutch (like Van Hook's husband) is a retired John Deere executive while Liza is a lot like Mary Tyler Moore on the police beat.

"She's younger, richer, and better looking than I am," says Van Hook, acknowledging the obvious parallels. She's also about to make the trip her creator made a decade ago.

"I think Dutch and Liza are moving to Charlottesville," says Van Hook coquettishly.

But how will two long-time residents of Middle America fare in the Old Dominion? More importantly, can the county handle more fictional detectives snooping around the hills and dales?

Rita Mae Brown, resident expert on amateur detective series, says there's always room for more.

"Pretty much everyone you see around here is a novel, so you can't go wrong," says Brown.

Brown, who's written a dozen mysteries set in the area and makes big use of inquisitive animals tracking down the perps, was glad to hear that the Randolphs keep a bichon frise (small lapdog) named Jeeves, who can be expected to make enormous contributions in cases to come.

In fact, with Jeeves in tow, Dutch and Liza may well become Charlottesville's own Nick and Nora Charles, merrily confronting cold-blooded murder with a case of beer, an order of Big Jim's, plenty of witty banter, and occasional double vision.

Van Hook, meanwhile, says she's going to seek more fun out of life know, cards and tennis and walks with her real-life Jeeves. There's a lot of supergranny in this Dashiell Hammett.

Bev Van Hook