Author Janet LaPierre passed away peacefully early this morning. She suffered a stroke two weeks ago, and although everyone hoped she would recover, it was not meant to be. She was my best friend. The sadness and shock is still with me, but Pierre asked that I make her passing public.
I first met Janet LaPierre almost 40 years ago when she responded to an ad in the local Berkeley paper about a mystery ‘class’ I was teaching at my home in the Berkeley flats. She joined the group and was a regular weekly attendee for over 10 years.
In spite of the age difference, we quickly became fast friends as we often enjoyed wine and chatted after “group”. She was writing a mystery, and I got to share in the joy and launch of the publication of her first book, Unquiet Grave (1987), and all the others that followed: Children’s Games (1989), The Cruel Mother (1990), Grandmother’s House (1991), Old Enemies (1993). These were the Early Port Silva Mysteries. Port Silva, a character in itself, was a fictitious town, modeled loosely on Ft Bragg on the Mendocino (CA) Coast…with the addition of a University. The later Port Silva mysteries include Baby Mine (1999), Keepers (2001), Death Duties (2004), and Family Business (2006). What is so unique in these books, besides the characters and setting—well, because of really, is that the Port Silva mysteries feature different residents taking center stage as detective, heroine, hero, or another role. Meg Halloran (school teacher sleuth), Vince Gutierrez (Chief of Police), Patience and Verity Mackellar (private investigative team) and other characters populate the books, making large or small appearances or none at all. Run a Crooked Mile (2009) introduced a new location and characters—the small town of Weaverville in Trinity County (CA). Janet spent a lot of time in both Ft Bragg and Weaverville doing research, as well as enjoying the landscape, reading, and walking with the dogs. There were also numerous short stories in different anthologies and magazines. Unquiet Grave was a Finalist for the Macavity Award for Best First Novel. Old Enemies was a finalist for the Macavity and Anthony Awards for Best Novel. Keepers was a Finalist for the Shamus Award for Best Paperback.
During our early friendship, we went to writers’ conferences and mystery conventions, frequently rooming together, often taking trips to conferences in other states or areas.
Over the years Janet LaPierre and I attended each other’s family affairs - weddings and funerals, dinners, and parties. We met for lunch frequently, and over wine, we shared stories about our families, dogs, writing, and books. Mostly books. We traded books and titles. I could always depend on her for recommendations, and she from me. We shared similar tastes in literature—mysteries and beyond the genre. Even now, I have a stack of books set aside for her.
As I mentioned, food played an important role in our 40-year relationship. Crab season in the Bay Area was toasted with champagne and her husband Pierre’s crab cakes—a yearly ritual. We also gathered in Bodega Bay with dogs and fish and chips and walks on the beach. We celebrated Fourth of July together for many years. I used to have a large Independence Day party with over 200 people—family, friends and mystery folks, and although we provided chicken and burgers, Pierre always brought ribs. Janet was never a lover of big crowds, but she always came, even if she didn’t stay for long. I discontinued the party about 10 years ago, but Janet and Pierre always joined us for a small Independence Day celebration since then. So even with only 4-6 people in attendance, Pierre brought ribs! Enough to feed an army. Thanks, Pierre. There was always good conversation about politics and books.
Over the past 13 years, Janet and I developed another ritual. Instead of going out for lunch, we had lunch in my garden. Roast beef sandwiches from Andronico’s, chardonnay, and chocolate. Living in California, this was an all year event. And, we discussed family and friends and books and, lately, health. The things that old and aging friends talk about.
We didn’t always agree and as in any 40-year relationship, there were ups and downs, but there was always a special bond. She was always there for me, and I for her. Without reservation. Janet La Pierre was my best friend. I will miss her and our times together. I plan to reread her novels over the holidays. She’s left a wonderful legacy and a hole in my heart.