Take that a little step further: How about two white women from the South writing about a young African-American detective who grew up in the Ann Arbor area, was transplanted to Florida, and is now back working a case in his former hometown?

If you can suspend all these seeming anomalies for a minute, you are in for a treat in the seventh P.J. Parrish mystery, “An Unquiet Grave.”

The two authors, Kristy Montee of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Kelly Nichols of the Memphis, Tenn. area, were both born, raised and college-educated  in Michigan.

Their Michigan roots play a big part in their most recent book, which involves a mental institution and a cemetery near their childhood home in the Detroit area.{mosimage}

As children, said Kristy Montee, the sisters lived one mile away from a Victorian-era mental facility and they used to ride their bikes past it. On the way to visit a publisher more than a year ago, the two sisters decided to make a side trip to their childhood neighborhood. While there they explored the institution's potter's field.

Montee said these childhood memories and the setting were the genesis of the most recent book.

“Sometimes the characters drive the plot, but in this case it was totally the setting,” she said. “We just made it relevant to our character, Louis Kincaid. We involved him personally in the case by having his foster father back in Michigan ask for his help when a casket in a grave he has been visiting for several decades is found filled with stones and not bones.”

Kincaid gets personally involved in finding out what happened to the body, involving himself in a great murder mystery and very chilling connection with a serial killer and mid-century activities at the mental institution.

Montee said some of the books in the series have been difficult to write, but this one just poured out.

“Once the vehicle was there, it was easy to write,” she said.

She said her sister is the natural storyteller and came up with the concept.

According to Montee, the character of Louis Kincaid came partially from her sister's experience in a small Southern town where “change comes slowly” with biracial grandchildren.

“When we decided to write mysteries together, we knew we didn't want to do the stereotypical burned-out middle-aged alcoholic detective,” she said.

Their choice of a young African-American PI with Southern roots, raised in the North by a white foster family, is definitely not stereotypical. Montee said she believes “a good writer can walk in anyone's skin.”

“By using the power of observation, we are able to create believable characters.”

The two writers particularly wanted to feature a young detective (the character of Kincaid was only 25 when the series started) who did not know a lot about life.

Their choice is especially interesting in this book, as several times you want to shout to Kincaid, “Don't do that — Haven't you ever watched a Hitchcock movie?”

Montee said when the sisters first started writing, she carried most of the load as the experienced writer. She began writing more than 25 years ago for the Observer chain of newspapers in southeast Michigan, covering city council meetings and writing obituaries. She later ended up in Fort Lauderdale at the Sun Sentinel. At first, Montee wrote popular romance novels, which she calls contemporary women's fiction or “family sagas with sex scenes.” She said a series of fateful turnarounds in her writing career led her to mysteries, and as her press kit says: “There a lot more ways to kill people than to have sex.” Without counting, trust her expertise.

Publisher's Weekly, the bible for book reviews, gave “An Unquiet Grave” a starred review, which basically means you can't go wrong reading it. This is a beach read, a book to be read in open spaces and not in a big, dark, empty building with secret passages.

The two sisters have recently completed a spin-off story featuring a secondary character from the Louis Kincaid books. The new series features Joe Frye, a female homicide detective from Miami who helped Louis solve a crime in “Killing Rain,” the sixth book in the Kincaid series.

The new series will be out next summer and is set in the Leelanau Peninsula area of northern Michigan where the sisters took family vacations growing up. 

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