Killer Plot

Deb Baker swears it's a coincidence that her newest murder mystery, Dolled Up for Murder — her second for Berkley Books — is set in Phoenix. From her home in Wisconsin, the author says she didn't even know there were serial killers here, and insists there's nothing so odd about racing sled dogs or even carrying one in your purse.

Robrt Pela: All these people are being murdered in Phoenix, and all of a sudden you have a book about a murderer on the loose in the Valley.

Deb Baker: People are being murdered in Phoenix?

Pela: You haven't heard about this?

Baker: No. And I promise you, I have nothing to do with it. I set my story in Phoenix because I used to live there and I really love it. Even though the day we moved to Phoenix it was 117 degrees, and the air conditioner was broken.

Pela: Where were you on the night of June 15?

Baker: Seriously, I know nothing about a serial killer in Phoenix. My book is set there, and the murdered woman is discovered on Camelback Mountain, but that's only because I used to go hiking there. My story is set primarily in the doll-collecting world, and it revolves around a very rare French fashion doll. So, yes, it's a murder story set in Phoenix, but that's not a commentary on Phoenix. Just peculiar timing.

Pela: Even more peculiar is this: You're a member of the International Sled Dog Racing Association.

Baker: I am. And for six years I raced the sled dog circuit in Wisconsin and Michigan. Listen, it's an exciting sport. Those dogs come out of the chute at 30 miles per hour. But the first year I lost my team every single time I went out.

Pela: Wait. You're actually driving the team?

Baker: Yes. It's not the dogs that are racing, it's me, on a tiny little dog sled driven by six dogs. I'm standing up in the little sled, and they're in control.

Pela: Yikes!

Baker: I know. I took a couple of nasty falls into crusty snow banks and came up dripping blood. Still, it was wonderful. And sometimes scary.

Pela: What I find scary — scarier even than serial killers — is adult doll collectors.

Baker: Don't be frightened. There are a lot of grown men who collect dolls. I wanted to write about Barbie, but Mattel is very difficult to work with. Use the Barbie name and you'll face legal action. Then my editor got a tip that Berkley, my publisher, was looking for someone to write a doll-collector mystery series. I didn't know that I didn't know enough about dolls to write the series until I started attending doll conventions. I met a doll restoration artist, and that's who Gretchen, the sleuth in my book, is based on.

Pela: I thought it was weird that you write doll-collector mysteries, but then I did some sleuthing of my own and discovered the Betsy Devonshire Needlecraft Mystery series. What's with all this crafting-meets-Sherlock Holmes stuff? What happened to sleuths who don't stop to crochet an afghan while they're tracking a killer?

Baker: Publishing books with hooks is a big thing these days. To have an audience you can draw from other than mystery readers is considered an asset. That's why there are knitting mysteries and bed-and-breakfast mysteries and wine-tasting mysteries . . .

Pela: Stop!

Baker: I'm serious. You should find a niche audience and write mysteries for them. I understand the dog-show community doesn't have a mystery series yet.

Pela: I could write a cranky-fag-journalist-on-a-deadline series. But back to you: One of your characters, Nina, is a purse dog trainer. Is that someone who teaches your poodle to schlep your handbag?

Baker: No. They train your dog to travel inside a purse. You have to teach the dog to duck down and hide inside the purse, so you can take them into places they're not welcome. I don't really know if people have purse dogs in Phoenix.

Pela: Are you kidding? They'd suffocate! Are you sure you're not a serial killer?

Baker: I'm sorry. Maybe you need to interview someone else for your column.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela