To experience Ron Franscell’s new book, “Deaf Row: A Mystery,” to the fullest, try these steps.
First, read it in the standard method from page one consecutively to the last page.
You’ll meet the mystery’s protagonist, grizzled retired homicide detective Woodrow “Mountain” Bell. He probes the long-unsolved, grisly murder of Cherish Nelson, a high school girl in fictional Midnight, Colorado.
Second, as you read along, be sure to dog-ear the pages bursting with Franscell’s gritty descriptions – a sentence, a paragraph or a page – of the silver-haired people and the gray places of rural Colorado in this raw, wintry crime novel.
Third, pause a day or two and return to those descriptions so that Franscell’s prose can truly ignite your senses. You’ll be glad you took the time.
What kind of descriptions?
Here’s a partial profile of the hoary waitress in the fictional cafe Burgatory in a fictional Purgatory: She “smelled like cigarettes and Aqua Net hair spray. … Her tired eyes were set deep. They looked as if she smeared on blue eye shadow with her thumb and drew on her eyebrows with a Sharpie. A hard life was written all over her face, but she probably made other lives hard, too, Bell thought.”
Her name tag says “Don’t Even Ask,” but her name is Rosemary Midwinter. She’s a returning character whose surname casts a cloud over the story.
Bell is one of the crusty coffee klatchers who gather mornings at Tommyknockers Diner in Midnight. The klatch is called Deaf Row. Father Bert Clancy, Bell’s closest friend, offers his fellow klatchers a daily, humor-injected, blessing such as this one: “Lord, we thank You for the thrill of life. As our knees begin to ache, our fingers lose their dexterity, and our midnight trips to the john increase, we ask that You watch over us, especially in the dark.”
Among the other members of Deaf Row are Cotton Minahan, the old fire chief who “retired” soon after getting a ticket for drunk fire-truck racing; Dan Coogan, retired editor of the town’s weekly newspaper, the “semi-conscious” Midnight Sun; Dr. William Frederick “Bones” Ely, a retired general practitioner who bragged about circumcising every mayor of the town since 1979; and the “annoyingly analytical” Roxy Snipes, who is preoccupied with “a running game of solitaire on his 30-year-old Tandy computer.”
Franscell constantly applies his ample literary skills, as with this description of a long-shuttered, dust-filled building that Bell and Father Clancy cautiously enter: “The abandoned Schattenland Lunatic Asylum rose from the forest like a rotten tooth.”
The former asylum figures prominently in the story that brings up many dead bodies.
Much of the story of “Deaf Row” comes from actual case files that are blended with his imagination, Franscell said in a phone interview from his home in Placitas.
It is Franscell’s fourth fiction novel and 19th book overall, many of them true crime. Of that total, eight are in his Crime Buff’s Guide series, including “Crime Buff’s Guide to Outlaw New Mexico,” published in 2015.
Franscell was a journalist for many years, having worked on newspapers in Wyoming, California, New Mexico and Colorado.
As a senior writer for the Denver Post, he said he was asked to write pieces that were less journalism and more narrative storytelling.
While at the Post, Franscell lived in Idaho Springs, Colorado, the town that was the inspiration for the fictional Midnight, he said, and the central tale in “Deaf Row” is based on the disappearance of a girl in the 1980s in Idaho Springs.
“It was the case of a teenage girl who went missing and to this day has never been found. The disappearance still haunts this town. … Small towns have longer memories than urban centers,” Franscell said.
He said he’s preparing a sequel to “Deaf Row” that is based on a real-life, still-open double murder case in Placitas about half a century ago.
The author’s website is ronfranscell.com.