By George Ebey
This summer, Ann Simas brings us TAKEN TO DIE, the fifth installment in her exciting Grace Gabbiano mystery series.
Crop circles, animal mutilations, unidentified flying objects—Sgt. Grace Gabbiano is determined to find out what’s going on in Coburg, Oregon. What she doesn’t know is that the threat to her life is much more sinister than little green men.
The Big Thrill recently checked in with Simas to learn more about her series and what it has in store for readers.
For the uninitiated, can you give a little background into what your series is about?
The idea for my Grace Gabbiano mystery series came to me when I was taking a forensics class at the local community college. I decided to set the series in Coburg, Oregon, which then had a population of 1,000. I knew the Coburg PD police chief at the time, and he provided a wealth of information concerning some of the obstacles his small-town police department faced, along with what it was like policing in a city environment (he’d been a detective in the county sheriff’s department before that).
I decided my main character (Grace Gabbiano) would come from a large Italian family, and other characters would include a new police chief (Aidan Cruz), several patrol officers, numerous reservists, office personnel, Grace’s family members, some quirky and not-so-quirky local residents and business owners, and the medical examiner and his diener (a morgue worker responsible for handling, moving, and cleaning the corpse).
Coburg is a small town with small town problems, but since this was a mystery series, I needed some dead bodies. The first one showed up in a mint field—a man dressed in a woman’s evening gown, high-heeled sandals, and a wig. That was Dressed to Die. Then came Sliced to Die, which involved a kidney thief seducing men for their kidneys (Grace had to go undercover as a streetwalker for that investigation). Buried to Die involved a body farm in the middle of a filbert orchard (some call them hazelnuts) and a serial killer. In Quilted to Die, Grace came face-to-face with her former boyfriend who betrayed her, but now needed her help (he turns up dead, wrapped in the raffle quilt at the annual quilt show). Crop circles in a Coburg farmer’s field first appeared in that book, and they take center stage in TAKEN TO DIE, along with UFOs and animal mutilations, and a brilliant beacon of light from the sky.
Living in Coburg, Oregon is anything but boring.
Tell us about your main character, Sgt. Grace Gabbiano. What has her journey been like up until now?
Grace was a patrol officer for Seattle PD, but a relationship-gone-wrong between her and her lieutenant boyfriend resulted in complications that affected not only her job, but also threatened her life. She quit and returned to her hometown of Coburg, Oregon, where she hired on as sergeant at Coburg PD. She lives in a small renovated house on property her parents own. Her father’s state-certified forensic lab is attached to the house. Having Grace be part of a large Italian family lets me share my heritage and the foods Italians love, which is fun.
Grace knows a lot of people in Coburg, which helps when it comes time to access sources and interview witnesses. Her experience at SPD exposed her to the worst-of-the-worst, but the murders that occur in Coburg are not of the everyday variety, either. She has a fine mind and she’s analytical in terms of processing the information and clues she’s gathered, which is not to say doesn’t think outside the box, because she does. Her first autopsy is no picnic, but she does forge a relationship with the ME, Doug Hacker, and his diener. During autopsies, Hacker loves to regale her with his progress on the book he’s writing about her and the unusual cases she handles.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Grace Gabbiano is part of a large Italian family. They have their quirks, but they share a love of Italian food and deep familial ties—and then there’s Grace’s mother, who’s persistent in her attempts to hook Grace up with the police chief. As part of a large Italian family myself, it’s fun being able to bring my heritage to a book series. TAKEN TO DIE is a slight deviation from the first four books in the series. No one dies immediately and otherworldly things are happening. Beam me up, Scotty!
How does this book make a contribution to the genre?
Anyone who watches the news these days knows about pilots, both military and otherwise, who’ve spotted UFOs and have film footage to back up their claims. Governments and military around the world have been more forthcoming about UFOs and the interactions that occur between our aircraft and what are termed “flying saucers.” Books like The Day After Roswell, which some have challenged, talk about the advances made from the downed spacecraft recovered in New Mexico in 1947—lasers, Kevlar, fiber optics, meals-ready-to-eat, to name a few. You may or may not believe in UFOs and alien beings, but if you are a disbeliever, maybe after you read TAKEN TO DIE, you won’t be, or at least, you’ll be a little more open to the possibility of their existence.
Was there anything new you discovered, or that surprised you, as you wrote this book?
I learned that the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) doesn’t investigate animal mutilations. I also discovered that it’s very difficult to get a marine biologist or shark expert to answer questions about sharks and salt water, and no, I won’t say more, because that would be a spoiler. I also didn’t know before that the term “flying saucer” was coined by a headline writer in Pendleton, Oregon. Appropriate, don’t you think?
No spoilers, but what can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?
Coburg Police Department is real, but I gave them a brand new building across the street from the fire department, and a larger staff, primarily in the way of Reservists. As far as I know, they’ve never had a murder in Coburg, and I’m sure they’d like to keep it that way. The reason I chose this little town, just eight miles north of where I live, is because it’s only about a mile off I-5, which makes it a convenient stop-off point for criminals traveling the Interstate. Not that drive-by criminals fuel my stories, but that’s one of the reasons I chose Coburg. The other is that I like the small-town ambience it offers. Disclaimer: none of the characters or businesses in the books exist (except for McDonald’s, Safeway, and Toshi’s). By the way, I grew up in Colorado at a time when hundreds of cattle mutilations were occurring. All I can say about that is, it was strange.
Ann Simas lives in Oregon, but she is a Colorado girl at heart, having grown up in the Rocky Mountains. She has been an avid reader since childhood and penned her first fiction “book” in high school. She particularly likes to write mystery-thriller-suspense with a love story and paranormal or supernatural elements. She is the author of 27 novels, 1 short-story collection, and 1 novella.
An award-winning watercolorist and a budding photographer, Ann enjoys needlework and gardening in her spare time. She is her family’s “genealogist” and has been blessed with the opportunity to conduct first-hand research in Italy for both her writing and her family tree. The genealogy research from decades old documents in Italian, she says, has been a supreme but gratifying challenge.
To learn more about Ann and her work, please visit her website.