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The Big Thrill Discusses LAST ONE ALIVE With Jennifer Graeser Dornbush

Book Cover: LAST ONE ALIVEDr. Emily Hartford is back in Chicago, ready to move forward and leave the past behind, until an unexpected request for help sends her deep into an investigation—and into the path of a killer.

Seventeen months after the Parkman case, Dr. Hartford has returned to Chicago to finish her surgical residency. But when she is contacted out of the blue by Solange McClelland, the only survivor of a decade-old triple homicide, Emily is compelled to dig deeper. She doesn’t know the details of the event but remembers it as one of the few cases her deceased father never solved.

On her thirtieth birthday, Solange opens a long-forgotten safe-deposit box and is entirely baffled by what she finds. Inside are not only painful reminders of a once-happy youth but almost four million dollars—enough to pursue and finally solve the mystery of who brutally murdered her family. It’s been over ten years, and Solange has built a new life in Detroit with her husband, Joseph. But there are certain disturbing questions about her past that she is determined to answer. So she reaches out to the only one who might know something about her family’s deaths and their possibly erroneous death certificates—Dr. Hartford, the daughter of Freeport’s former medical examiner.

Finding it impossible to believe that her scrupulous father made a mistake, Emily joins Solange’s pursuit of the truth, and as subzero temperatures blanket snow-covered Michigan, the two women pursue justice in two very different ways. But lurking nearby in the frigid cold is a crafty, unrepentant killer, determined to finish what he started long ago.

Author Photo: Jennifer Graeser Dornbush

Jennifer Graeser Dornbush

Author Jennifer Graeser Dornbush recently spent time with The Big Thrill to discuss LAST ONE ALIVE, book #3 in The Coroners Daughter mystery series.

Was there anything new you discovered, or surprised you, as you wrote this book?

Yes! The first two books in the series read more like straight death detective stories. But something in this story ignited the suspense/thriller writer in me. I found myself leaning more and more into suspense first, and “detective” second. I like trying to rachet up the tension and I hope I’ve achieved a good deal of that in LAST ONE ALIVE.

No spoilers, but what can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?

LAST ONE ALIVE is book 3 in The Coroner’s Daughter mystery series; a series that’s inspired by my own life growing up as a coroner’s daughter in rural northern Michigan. My father was a medical examiner for three counties in western Michigan and the coroner’s office was in our home. I was privy to forensic investigation and crime scene procedure from a very, very young age…maybe too young, some might argue. I did my first case at age eight, helping dad discover “left over” pieces of brain and skull from a twin-engine airplane crash. I always try to write with that spirit in mind…my sisters and I grew up around death, but the focus wasn’t on the morbid and depressing. It had the opposite effect in shaping how I approach life…and I try to bring that out in how Dr. Emily Hartford approaches life…to bring hope, healing, justice and truth to light in the dark recesses of the human experience.

Which took shape first: plot, character, or setting?

The character and setting of LAST ONE ALIVE had already been established in The Coroner and Secret Remains, books 1 and 2 of the series. So, I started reaching out to find the plot and took a deep dive into the real-life homicides of a family of five who were brutally shot to death in Good Hart, Michigan in the 1950s. Their case hasn’t been solved to this day. The haunting horror of their story got me thinking…what if one of them had survived? And that’s all I needed to take the idea and run with it.


Jennifer Dornbush is a screenwriter, author, international speaker, and forensic specialist. Raised as the daughter of a medical examiner whose office was in their home; forensics and crime writing are infused into her DNA. To date, Jennifer penned suspense thriller Hole in the Woods; an historical crime fiction The Locard Principle; a true crime memoir, Raised By The Ice Man; on-going mystery series The Coroner’s Daughter, and contributes to mystery anthologies, She also created the acclaimed crime writer’s guide Forensic Speak. As a screenwriter Jennifer has optioned, sold, developed, and adapted material for film and television. She is a sought-out international teacher, speaker, and mentor.

To learn more about the author, please visit her website.


LAST ONE ALIVE With Jennifer Graeser Dornbush

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