My Secret Mentor Has Also Passed Away

Well this is truly a horrible blow. Just yesterday I was musing about the late Elmore Leonard…now I learn that “Jacqueline Kirby” has also taken her seat among the Angels. ‘Jake’ was the brainchild of author Barbara Mertz who passed away earlier this month, quietly and with little fanfare.  She wrote under the pseudonyms Barbara Michaels and Elizabeth Peters and it is the latter’s books that I became engrossed with as a youngster.


Her heroine,  Jacqueline, (Jake) was a wealthy, independent, gorgeous librarian/romance novelist whose unique talent for research always led her into peculiar mysteries.  Take away the librarian part and that description pretty much sums up Lydia Surreault, the protagonist in my upcoming bestseller (a bit of hubris never hurts!)  Reckless Harvest.

I loved the author’s clever wit but it was her dialog that I believe influenced me most.  These examples are stolen from her website:

  • “…do you know why the detective doesn’t tell until the last chapter? So he won’t make a fool of himself in case he’s wrong.” Jacqueline –The Murders of Richard III, p. 174
  • “The real reason Holmes never told Watson what he was thinking is because he didn’t have the solution figured out yet.” Jacqueline –Die for Love, p. 161

Her books are full of dialog like that…sexy, bitchy, smart, seductive. But always with a distinctly feminine flair.  Here’s one more:

“You don’t sound like a librarian,” she said.  “I’m on vacation.” Jacqueline laughed. -The Seventh Sinner, p. 34.

I didn’t dip into Mertz’s other characters but have learned now that she lived an extraordinary life, earning a doctorate in archaeology at age 23 and traveling the world with her children and husband, an Egyptologist. Her life permeated her fiction and we are poorer with her passing.  One more quote to bring this melancholy to a close:

“Heaven, Jacqueline thought, is a place where you can smoke and not get lung cancer.” – Naked Once More  

I hope Barbara Mertz is lying back on a cloud right now, enjoying a cigarette and watching the smoke thread lazily through the universe.


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