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By Don Helin

Between fending off the advances of her parole officer and trying to get by in 1978 San Francisco, private investigator Colleen Hayes struggles to put her life back together so she can reconnect with her runaway teenage daughter. She accepts a case from a wealthy, retired industrialist dying of cancer who is desperate to solve the brutal murder of his own daughter that took place in Golden Gate Park 11 years earlier—during the Summer of Love. Colleen must find the killer so that her client might die in peace.

The investigation turns deadly as Colleen digs in. But there is little to go on.  Until a song on the radio makes her wonder—did the murdered girl leave a clue others may have missed?

The Big Thrill had the opportunity to talk to author Max Tomlinson and ask him a few questions about his latest release, VANISHING IN THE HAIGHT.

Did any event in particular inspire the plot?

Many years ago a homicide cop told me of a murder case he was working that involved local bikers. It was disturbing stuff and I couldn’t let it go, although I couldn’t write about an actual working case. So I wrote a book about the characters as I imagined them, and a grisly crime, adding a distraught parent fresh from prison who comes out to California looking for her runaway teenage daughter. I had an agent, but no sale.

Many years later, I wrote VANISHING IN THE HAIGHT, using the first book as backstory to my protagonist, Colleen Hayes, and was lucky enough to find a buyer. I’m now on my third in the series. Much has changed since that first draft, but it goes to show you, never throw anything away!

What was the biggest challenge this book presented?

The biggest challenge was the research, especially because the ’70s are already becoming ancient history. I also wanted to write about the trope of the PI getting the rich man’s daughter.

What authors or books have influenced your career as a writer, and why?

Elmore Leonard, because he writes third person as if it were first.

Patricia Highsmith is one of the originals for women’s suspense.

Henning Mankell, because his books have dark, unique settings.

When you’re not writing, what are you doing?

I’m pretty strict about writing and do this most days, starting at 9 a.m. I have a geriatric dog named Floyd who gets me out of the house and should really get writing credit as I come up with a lot of my ideas as we stroll at a snail’s pace around my neighborhood in San Francisco. I love to travel and am also a rock music fan and play in a local band with friends. Right now we call ourselves Big Kids, and I think that sums us up.

The book has garnered some amazing advance reviews and blurbs. Please share some of your favorites.

“With a strong, intelligent female sleuth, a colorful location, a tantalizing puzzle, and an abundance of San Francisco lore, this will please a wide variety of mystery readers.” Booklist (*starred review)

“VANISHING IN THE HAIGHT makes for a classic detective tale: a postmodern noir featuring period perfect San Francisco settings that wondrously carve a slice out of time. Max Tomlinson’s new series launch takes us into the waning days of the counterculture where private eye Colleen Hayes picks up the trail of a decade-old murder. As beautifully written as it is expertly crafted, VANISHING IN THE HAIGHT features characters drawn with the touch of a master artist and a story that sizzles even as it scintillates.” Jon Land, USA Today bestselling author.


Born in San Francisco, with its rich literary history and a public transport system teeming with characters suitable for crime novels, the stage was set for Max Tomlinson to become a mystery writer. However, his time abroad has also inspired a variety of flavors in his writing. His published work includes a crime series set in South America, an international espionage series, and now VANISHING IN THE HAIGHT, the first of the Colleen Hayes mystery series, set in his hometown.

To learn more about the author and his work, please visit his website.


Don Helin
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