When a young fashion model is strangled in her Boston apartment, apparently the result of a burglary gone bad, private eye John Francis Cuddy is hired to investigate on behalf of a life insurance company.
But it is not long before he is dragooned by the model's father, a Boston mobster, into finding her killer so that the "family" can exact its own form of justice.
If this on-the-edge-of-your-seat murder scenario sounds familiar, you are most likely a fan of the John Francis Cudy P.I. Novel series and have read "Shallow Graves" by Jeremiah Healy.
Healy, 66, joins a host of murder mystery writers in town today for the inaugural Mystery Writers Key West Fest at the Double Tree Grand Marquee, 3990 S. Roosevelt Blvd. The public is invited to attend a half-day or full-day workshop, which runs 8:30 a.m. through 6 p.m. The cost is $30 for the morning or afternoon session, $40 with lunch, or $98 for the entire day with lunch, which includes keynote speaker WEB Griffin talking about how he concocts his "can't-put-'em-down" thrillers.
"This entertaining seminar is for mystery fans, aspiring mystery writers and people who want to hear interesting discussions ranging from 'Why Women Write Mystery' to 'What are Today's Publishing Opportunities' to 'True Tales of Crime in the Keys,'" Shirrel Rhoades, co-founder of the Mystery Writers Fest, said. "We have a lineup of high-profile writers and some well-known names in town for the (mystery writers) workshops."
Healy, a trial lawyer, law professor and mystery novel writer for some 30 years, likes his subject matter to be about cases that have "fallen through the cracks," according to his website.
"As a law professor, I had the summers off so I could write my books," he said during a Friday interview.
In all, he has penned 18 novels -- John Francis Cuddy, a series about a private investigator, and the Mairead O'Clare Legal Thrillers, under the pseudonym Terry Devane -- as well as 60 short stories, many of which are award-winning. Several of his books have been optioned for movies, and are translated into French, Spanish, German, Italian and Japanese.
During his three-decade tenure in the publishing world, Healy said he has seen many changes: More crime novels are making the New York Times Best Selling list; more woman are moving from the editor's position at publishing houses to published authors; and the number of publishing houses have dwindled from 37 to five, making it harder to get published.
"Everyone thought that mom and pop book stores would be killed off by Barnes and Noble and Borders Books, but in fact, they were being killed by the bigger stores such as Sam's Club buying large numbers of books but fewer names," he said. It makes it tougher for new authors to navigate the industry, he added.
Healy is joined on the stage by his fiance, Sandra Balzo, who is also a mystery writer. She recently released "Murder on the Orient Espresso," a book about "Wisconsin coffeehouse owner Maggy Thorsen, who accompanies her main squeeze, Sheriff Jake Pavlik, to South Florida, where he's been asked to speak at a mystery-writers' conference. Maggy is anticipating a romantic arrival in their hotel suite, but when the opening night event turns out to be a re-enactment of Agatha Christie's classic 'Murder on the Orient Express,' the couple reluctantly sets off on a night train into the Everglades.
"The idea is to solve the 'crime' and return, but the troupe soon finds itself embroiled in a real-life murder mystery as creepy and baffling as any work of fiction."
The book has been optioned for a T.V. film or cable T.V., Healy said.
If this weekend has only sparked your appetite for mystery, murder and mayhem, Healy encourages those interested in the genre to go to www.sleuthfest.com for information about the upcoming February 2015 Mystery Writers of America's event in Deerfield.
"But Key West is the center of the Mystery Writers workshop this weekend," Healy said. "Shirrell Rhoades and Michael Haskins have done a great job in putting this together."
For a list of sessions and authors, go to www.mysterywriterskeywest.com.