During my senior year of high school in Billings, Montana, I gave a ride to a new girl, dropping her off at a motel on the edge of downtown where she lived with her grandmother and her little sister. I never saw her again.
Every few years in the decades since, I wondered who she was and why she was there. Our Catholic high school was small. Many of us had known each other since grade school. A “new kid” senior year was highly unusual.
And where had she gone? I knew I would never have an answer, unless I wrote one myself. Clearly, though, it was not one of my cozies, written under my real name Leslie Budewitz, but a suspense novel written as Alicia Beckman. The title that came as soon as I began to write aptly describes my process of discovering the story: Blind Faith.
(About six weeks into the first draft, it occurred to me that her grandmother may simply have lacked the $300 tuition and she’d transferred to public school. But I’m a crime writer, and that train had left the station.)
Psychologists describe creativity as a function of three main factors: plasticity, or mental flexibility; divergence, or associative thinking; and convergence, the ability to pull ideas together and make them tenable. All three are at play when writers connect one idea or image to another and another, and bend them into story.
And that’s what happened as I began to write about lawyer Lindsay Keller, who discovers a piece of evidence connected to the cold case murder of Father Michael Leary, one of her favorite high school teachers. She’s convinced it’s connected to Carrie West, the “new girl” who came to town senior year, and to an incident that occurred when Lindsay walked home with Carrie after school to meet her little sister and her grandmother, the priests’ new housekeeper. An incident shoved into the corners of her mind by another tragedy, so she barely noticed that Carrie never returned to school.
But what was that incident? I read a newspaper account of the murder of a priest in a small town in western Montana, not far from where I live. Days after the man disappeared, a pile of clothes stained with his blood was found at a highway turnout. A week later, his car was discovered miles away, along with his cash-stuffed wallet. His body has never been found. The case is still unsolved, nearly 40 years later, though the theory remains revenge for child molestation—a horror I wanted to stay a million miles away from. What other deadly secrets might a priest hold? Who would kill to keep him quiet?
And what did it have to do with two sisters and their widowed grandmother, and a lawyer who lets imperfect justice derail her passion for justice?
I hope you’ll read Blind Faith, and find out.
As Alicia Beckman, Leslie Budewitz writes moody suspense. She is also the author of two light-hearted mystery series: the Spice Shop Mysteries, set in Seattle, and the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in northwest Montana. Budewitz is a three-time Agatha Award winner and has been recognized for Spur, Derringer, Anthony, and Macavity awards. Leslie loves to cook, eat, hike, travel, garden, and paint—not necessarily in that order. She lives in northwest Montana with her husband, Don Beans, a singer-songwriter and doctor of natural medicine, and their gray tuxedo, officially named Squirt but affectionately called Mr. Kitten.