a county coroner investigates:
an interview with author paul austin ardoin

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You'd expect a mystery series featuring a county coroner to be written by a medical person, right? But author Paul Austin Ardoin's story turns out to be much different!

Let's get to know him ...

Paul Austin Ardoin is the author of the Fenway Stevenson Mysteries. A California native with a degree in creative writing from UC Santa Barbara, Ardoin has also published short fiction and humorous essays in Bottomfish and Sweet Fancy Moses. His non-fiction articles about computer security have appeared in California Computer News and European Communications. He lives in the Sacramento area with his wife, two teenagers, and a menagerie of animals.

how did you get into writing mystery?

My degree is in creative writing. My creative writing professors at UC Santa Barbara focused primarily on literary fiction. I wanted to be the next Paul Auster or Don DeLillo back then.

One professor spent much of a class session ripping Sue Grafton's works. It was only a few years ago that I picked up A Is for Alibi and realized that professor had no idea what he was talking about — and I felt cheated for assuming that Grafton was as poor of a writer as he said.

I feel like I learned much more about how to write a good story from the creative writing classes I took at community college, where "genre fiction" wasn't a dirty word, than I did while completing my B.A.

tell us about your series

Fenway Stevenson is a nurse practitioner who's forced to return to her idyllic central California coastal birthplace after her mother loses her battle with cancer. She's thrust into the county coroner post by her rich, estranged father, who owns the oil refinery and is by far the most influential person in the county. Ominously, the first case she and her team investigate is the death of her predecessor, whose body was found on a dark road the night before Fenway arrived in town.

Other authors have called the tone of the books "soft-boiled." They're definitely not cozy mysteries, but neither are they the blood-and-guts thrillers sometimes common in these genres. My fan base includes a lot of cozy readers who like something a little edgier.

Each of the books take place within five or six days — except the new release, The Courtroom Coroner, which chronicles several hours when thirteen people — including County Coroner Fenway and the unknown murderer — are on lockdown in a courtroom after the defendant has been shot and killed.

The books are best read in series. Each of them has a standalone mystery, but there's an overarching crime plot (especially between books three and five) and, of course, the interpersonal relationships shift and grow over time. The coastal California town in Fenway's world is reminiscent of California's Central Coast, where I went to college — but with a lot less murder. Sue Grafton fans might notice similarities between some of the fictional coastal towns in her novels and the fictional towns in mine.

Why is your main character a county coroner? Why not a policeman or private eye?

About a decade ago, my wife was considering going into a nursing program, and she reviewed all of the careers that a nurse could take on. I was surprised to learn that there are several U.S. states (including California) where the county coroner does not require an M.D.

I started thinking about a nurse that would become a county coroner, and what her backstory might be. The estranged, rich father who was a huge Boston Red Sox fan and the daughter who he constantly underestimated cemented in my mind way back then — but it took eight years for me to write that first book!

I also liked the idea of someone who had one foot in the civilian world and one foot in the law enforcement world.

Does your wife help with the medical aspects of your series?

My wife is fantastic at that (which makes us a formidable trivia couple). I do have an author friend who is an M.D., and she's part of my early reader team. For many of the procedures and processes I've had in my books, I certainly couldn't have written them without Google!

you also write articles on computer security. Is that a hobby, or your day job?

I've always been drawn to people and characters who save the world by fighting crime, and cyber-crime is one of the fastest-evolving, most lucrative ($2 trillion!) criminal enterprises.

I've been working in cybersecurity for the better part of two decades. I'm on the marketing side of things, so writing articles, giving presentations, and creating "thought leadership" papers have been my meal ticket for the last twenty years. I like that I get to work with the "good guys" while still being creative.

Do you plan to write fiction about cybersecurity in the future?

Cybersecurity will probably play a role in most of the fiction I'll write, but I don’t think it will take a front-and-center role in any of my future novels. One of my novels has already centered around a cyber-crime as the motive for the murder, and I've got a supporting character who's a genius at tracking the footprints left by financial transactions, geolocation data, and other cyber information that leads to the unmasking of the killer.

But the more interesting topics, to me, are the emotions and motives at the heart of the crimes — cybersecurity (or the circumvention of it) is simply a means to an end.

What real-life mystery lies in your past?

Nothing newsworthy. I didn't know a lot about my father's past before he met my mother. He was married before, which I didn't learn until I was nine or ten. And he never talked about it, either. I always assumed it was too painful for him.

That kind of energy feeds into the lack of relationship that Fenway has with her father: he's remarried, but Fenway feels disconnected from him because he just doesn't communicate.

Where can we buy your books?

My books are in almost all major online retailers — Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Apple Books all carry the Fenway Stevenson series. You can also buy them on my author store at paulaustinardoin.com, where you can get some automatic discounts for buying multiple books.

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