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Why do people turn to violence against each other? What effects does violence have on survivors? How can we respond helpfully? These questions intrigued me as a psychologist and as a writer when I was working on the Maggie Ryan mysteries, and they continue to haunt me today as I see wounded veterans or traumatized survivors of school shootings attempting to rebuild their lives.
The Maggie Ryan books are set in the Vietnam era, and the war and the social upheaval of the times loom over the characters in the series. Civil rights marches, peace marches, riots, the universal draft,showed angry divisions between Americans who believed in the causes and those who were opposed. Even people in supposedly peaceful academic settings, such as AUDITION FOR MURDER (set in 1967), MURDER IS ACADEMIC (1968), MURDER IS PATHOLOGICAL (1969)–– had to deal with the war and the shifting social situation.
In MURDER IS ACADEMIC, Maggie is running from bad memories, immersing herself in her graduate studies. But the chaos of the times forces itself into the ivory tower. In 1968, many academics believed the Vietnam war harmed US interests more than it helped them. As time went on everyone became more and more frustrated–– supporters of the war because the US was not winning, anti-war marchers because the war still went on.
Women had a new frustration, too. They began to notice that, whether they supported the war or protested it, in both camps they were treated as less than equal. In the military they couldn’t officially be front-line soldiers, so they were denied the promotions open to men who served. Even in the peace movement, they weren’t supposed to be the leaders, just the coffee-fetchers for the leaders. Soon women too began to organize for their rights.
Besides the devastation in Vietnam and the clashes at peace marches and civil rights demonstrations, there were assassinations. President Kennedy had been assassinated in 1963; in 1968, when MURDER IS ACADEMIC is set, his brother Bobby Kennedy was assassinated too, and Martin Luther King Jr.
And of course the everyday non-political crimes continued. Whether there are wars and social upheavals or not, crimes are committed by people who fear losing jobs or money or prestige or loved ones, or by people who have not dealt with trauma in healthy ways. In MURDER IS ACADEMIC, a serial killer is raping and murdering women on the highways near Maggie’s university–– including a fellow student. She and a group of women ask a woman psychology professor for help:
“Professor Freeman, can’t we do anything?” Terry Poole was vivacious, black, intelligent, usually smiling but today very grim.
“You mean for a memorial?”
“Hell, no!” said Maggie. “We want to find out how to stop guys like that. Why do they do it? How can we fight back?”
“Right!” agreed Terry. “This is just the last straw. Vietnam and assassinations and riots, maybe we can’t do anything about those. But why the hell can’t we stop just one flaky dude?”
They form a group called Women Against Rape to study the psychology of rapists and the police and court responses to rape. They begin to study self-defense, practising with each other. Maggie asks her brawny actor friend Nick O’Connor to play the villain for a few moments. Despite the lessons and her determination and athleticism, he’s able to win the first rounds, and she wants explanations. Nick says:
“You can try a feint to the eyes or the throat first to distract him, then grab. But don’t just stand back and kick. You can be flipped back off balance.”
“Yeah, I know, you just demonstrated.” Maggie looked at him resentfully. “Where did my sweet, pacific Uncle Nick learn all these dirty tricks?”
“Contact sports. Army. Stage combat lessons. Working as bouncer in a bar.”
“All the things women aren’t supposed to do. Because we might get hurt.”
“All right, then.” Maggie bounced to her feet resolutely. “Private Ryan reporting to Parris Island, sarge. What’s lesson three?”
As I wrote these mysteries, I didn’t find out how to abolish violence. But as I investigated how good people attempt to deal with it, facing it to increase their understanding and skills, my hope and admiration for human resilience grew.
In the book, Maggie and her friends don’t stop the war, or assassinations, or riots. But they do figure out how to stop one flaky dude.
An Anthony Award nominee
Vietnam, assassinations and riots. In the spring semester of 1968, a series of brutal attacks draws campus women together to study self-defense and the psychology of rape. Graduate student Mary Beth Nelson struggles to keep the Lords of Death at bay by immersing herself in researching Mayan languages. Her new housemate, Maggie Ryan, has her own secrets. When murder strikes close to home, Maggie investigates with a little help from her friends.
About the Author:
Author Website: http://www.pmcarlson.net
Publisher Website: http://www.crumcreekpress.com/carlson
Buy the book at the publisher(print, Kindle, Nook, other e-books).
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