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Murder Mystery and
A Helpful Ghost

by Philip K. Jason

JACKIE FULLERTON, who splits her time between Fort Myers and Westerville, Ohio, is an attorney and businesswoman who has launched an engaging mystery series featuring Anne Marshall, a young law student working as a court reporter when circumstances lure her into detective work.

Readers first met her in Fullerton’s 2009 novel Piercing the Veil. Anne is aided by the members of her law school study team, but some of the study partners, who also happen to be police officers, worry about her either getting into danger or interfering with their cases — or both. Her most able and dedicated partner turns out to be the ghost of her father, the late James Marshall, who reveals himself only to Anne — suggesting the deep connection the two had when he was alive. This paranormal element gives Fullerton’s stories an unusual twist, and Fullerton exploits it for a kind of comic relief in the novel, often puncturing or punctuating the suspense.

The second novel in the series, the recently published Revenge Served Cold (Thomas House Publishing), finds Anne drawn to the aid of Kathy Spence, the wife of deceased law professor Elliott Spence, from whom Anne had been taking a course. Those who have known the Spences, including Shirley (Anne’s courthouse supervisor) and the ghost-dad, are sure that Kathy could not possibly be guilty of the hit and run murder of her husband. She would seem to have no motive. However, that’s the way the evidence is pointing. At Shirley’s urging, Anne gets involved.

Readers learn that Professor Spence and his wife had each been visited, separately, by a former close friend from their college days. This man, Ross, was smitten by Kathy during college, and he became mightily disturbed when she fell in love with Elliott. We also discover that there is a woman in town who has longed to have Ross for herself, and thus has been extremely resentful of Kathy’s unintended hold over him.

Jackie Fullerton skillfully moves the reader back and forth through the thoughts of these and other characters, keeping the suspense taut as Anne and her father’s ghost put the pieces together. Every now and then, we catch a whiff of James Marshall’s pipe tobacco.

Philip K. Jason: What inspired you to turn author?

JACKIE FULLERTON: I love writing and storytelling. As a child I wrote stories about a gang of woodland creatures who got into all sorts of antics. Their leader was Sarah Skunk.

Do you have a particular method for developing your novels?

I start with a murder and then develop a motive. The murder sets the story in motion and the cast of characters seem to naturally fall into place. The entire story is in my head. I don’t do a story outline like some authors. As I write, the story develops itself. In this book, I woke up in the middle of the night and realized the originally planned murderer would have never committed the crime. It was someone else. So I went back and rewrote to fit the new murderer. It just made so much more sense. I do keep an Excel spreadsheet with all the characters as they come into the story and a time line.

How did you hit upon the idea of the law school study team as a way of exploring the possibilities in Anne’s investigation?

Anne needed a support group, other than her father. An amateur protagonist needs lots of help — people she could count on and call upon. Of course, they had to have talents and access that would be helpful — especially Maria, a homicide detective.

I assume that the study group idea, as well as other elements in your fiction, grows out of your own experience in law school and after.

I was a night law student and had a study group I depended on for the full four years. We became close and would do anything for each other. The group in the book takes many of the characters of my own study group and others in my class. We actually had a homicide detective, a coroner, and several FBI agents. I had lots to draw upon.

How did you get the idea of linking your protagonist up with a ghost-partner?

I have always loved stories involving the paranormal, going all the way back to the old TV shows, Topper and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. The idea of ghost “helpers” adds a little “super hero” aspect. When I developed my protagonist, Anne Marshall, I wondered how she could find out some of the things she does and how she could be protected once she finds herself involved with a murderer. Being an amateur, she needed something out of the ordinary. A ghost seemed the most logical choice. But the ghost had to be someone she knew and trusted and had had a relationship with. What better person than her own father?

How do you hope readers will respond to the ghost of Anne’s father being involved in her investigations?

I hope they get a sense of the deep relationship between the two and possibly relate it to their relationships with their own parents. They had a bond that even death could not end. Once Anne was involved, who else could she turn to? They are still a part of each other’s lives, in whatever way they can be.

Do you have any plans for moving Anne Marshall away from that small Midwestern college town to a Southwest Florida town at some point?

The book I am working on now takes place in Estero. She and Jason (her fiancé and an assistant district attorney) are visiting Jason’s parents over Thanksgiving and, of course, there is a murder. Also, Anne is nearing graduation and is thinking about where she will practice law. Maybe Florida. •

from the July-August 2010 issue

"In this book, I woke up
in the middle of the night
and realized the originally
planned murderer would have
never committed the crime."
"The book I am working on
now takes place in Estero.
Anne and her fiancee are
visiting his parents and,
of course, there is murder."