Murder, she wrote

A 20-year stint working at KFBK and Earth Radio 102 provided the inspiration for former Sacramento resident Joyce Krieg to write her unusual debut mystery novel. Not only did the book find its way into print last year in an unusual manner, but it’s also been nominated recently for the prestigious Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Indeed, Murder Off Mike: A Talk Radio Mystery suddenly has made Sacramento’s talk-radio scene a topic of keen interest among readers of mystery novels.

Krieg explains there was never any question in her mind that her sleuth was going to be a radio-talk-show host. “It was definitely ‘write about what you know,’” she explained. After having little luck with an agent in shopping her manuscript around, Krieg entered the St. Martin’s Press Malice Domestic Contest for Best First Traditional Mystery of 2002. The novel took first-place honors and was published by the company the following year.

Murder Off Mike introduces readers to Sacramento radio shock jock Shauna J. Bogart. (Hint: Those who remember the late-night howls of Wolfman Jack will find a kindred soul in Shauna J. Bogart.) Soon, the feisty heroine finds herself in deep trouble when she decides to investigate the apparent suicide of her good friend and professional mentor, Dr. Hipster. Because the dead man had just made a promotional tape stating that he was about to air a political story that would “blow this town sky-high,” Shauna doesn’t buy the officially accepted cause of his death.

Trying to discover the nature of Dr. Hipster’s untold story sets Shauna on a collision course with a gubernatorial candidate, people at her own station and a local political group that calls itself “The Farm Team.” Power politics, a shady land deal and a rigged station cash-giveaway promotion, combined with a struggle for control of the local air waves, factor into the resolution of this complicated mystery.

One of the challenges Krieg faced in using her former occupation as the backdrop for her series was inserting insider information about how a radio station really operates without bringing the action of the novel to a dead stop. “I turned to the time-honored trick of using a sidekick to get this material out to the reader,” she explained. “He’s a college intern working at the station with Shauna. That creates a plausible reason to have someone explain how things operate.”

How close does the fictional talk-show character match her creator? Krieg makes no bones about it. “Shauna J. Bogart is definitely my alter ego. She lives the life I would be living if I were younger, skinnier and bolder,” the author said, laughing.

Much of the concluding action of the novel unfolds—not surprisingly—during Sacramento’s annual Jazz Jubilee. Krieg wanted to get Shauna out in the field as the story reached its climax, and Old Sacramento was the perfect location. “I always enjoyed attending the Jazz Jubilee,” Krieg explained. “It was the natural place to bring the plot strains together, since it worked on so many different levels.”

An attractive, enjoyable protagonist; an unpredictable niche mystery plot; and some witty dialogue—that’s the formula that first got Krieg published and then won over members of the Agatha Award selection committee. With her second novel, Slip Cue, due to be released in July, Krieg is happy just to be a published author, but she admits that the frosting on the cake would be bringing the Agatha back to her Pacific Grove home after the Washington, D.C., awards ceremony in May.