Between the Pages Past
By Susan McBride


Chassie West Interview Review: Killer Riches

An Interview with Chassie West
By Susan McBride
April 2001

When Chassie West earned her B.A. in Drama from Howard University, she never anticipated that one of her greatest roles would be as an award-winning author.  Acting was her first love, and her talent won her parts in numerous community and regional theatre productions.  But, when the writing bug bit her, it bit hard.  She started out penning young adult novels and had 16 under her belt, including a few Nancy Drews, when she took the leap into writing for adults.  Her romantic suspense, UNFORGIVABLE, was Silhouette’s first to feature African-American protagonists and hit the Waldenbooks’ bestsellers list. 

After winning two Romantic Times Career Achievement Awards, she turned her attention to the mystery market, creating a series with a Washington, D.C., policewoman named Leigh Ann Warren at its heart.  Not only was the debut, SUNRISE, nominated for a prestigious Edgar Award in 1995, but the second, KILLING KIN, was similarly honored.  The latest installment, KILLER RICHES, is an April release from Avon, and it’s got “winner” written all over it.

Susan McBride:  KILLER RICHES, the third in the Leigh Ann Warren series, involves her discovery that her family tree has a few branches she never knew about. What inspired you to write about the mystery of Leigh's past?

Chassie West:  To be honest, I really don't remember.  But so far I've been more inclined to give Leigh Ann problems to solve that involve something in her personal life, as opposed to the more familiar day-to-day crime-solving a law enforcement officer would face.  Another part of the reason is that I'm chicken.  I'm so concerned that if I take the police procedural route, I'll commit some gross error and blast the reader's willing suspension of disbelief to smithereens.  Mystery readers are very sophisticated and knowledgeable, and far less forgiving of blatant errors.  And that presents a challenge to us as writers.  We'd better get stuff right.  So I fudge a little and take Leigh off the beaten path.  As I said, cluck-cluck-cluck. 

SM: The plot in KILLER RICHES involves a long lost father as did its predecessor, KILLING KIN. Was this a conscious thing? Or was it a coincidence?

CW: Pure coincidence.  In fact, I didn't become aware of it until I'd written a quarter of the book.  By that time, I was committed to Leigh and her problem.  I'd put Nunna, her foster mother, in harm's way.  It gave Leigh the motivation to give her all to save Nunna.  So I said, what the hay, might as well keep on keepin' on.  I'm glad I did.  I just hope the readers of KILLER RICHES become as emotionally involved in the reading as I did in the writing. 

SM: Where did Leigh Warren come from? She's such a great character. I love the contrast in the recent books of her bum knee vs. her inner strength. Is she anything like Chassie West?

CW: Like moi?  Are you kidding?  Don't I wish!  I suspect the only thing we have in common is the way we express ourselves.  The eleven years I lived in North Carolina as a teenager had a great influence on my use of language.  I was exposed to a generation of senior citizens whose turns of phrase absolutely captivated me.  Until then, I'd been a Yankee and hadn't heard what I came to call old-fashioned Southernisms.  They stuck.  Since I've given Leigh a similar background, she's been given the same gift.

CW: As for where she came from, idea-wise, all I had in mind was probing the emotional impact a shooting might leave on a big-city policewoman, how she might react to it.  In Leigh's case, she went back to Sunrise in search of a more innocent time, only to discover that big city or small, Eden does not exist.  People are the same, no matter the venue.  Some are good, others not so good.  It brought things into perspective for her and I hope, in the process, engaged readers enough to keep them turning the page.  That's all I ask of anything I write. 

SM: Speaking of backgrounds,  you're a multipublished author in several genres. What sparked your writing career? And how did you progress to mystery novels? 

CW: I've always written, loved English Comp and creative writing, but never thought of it in terms of a career until Joyce Varney Thompson, a creative writing teacher, convinced me that a writer is what I was born to be.  She kept at me until I gave in, figuring I'd give it a stab.  And was hooked immediately.  Still, it was ten years before my first book was published, which only goes to show how stubborn I am.  And I'd written four or five young adult romances before I became aware that I had much more fun when an element of mystery sneaked into the plot.  Considering how much I enjoyed reading mysteries, I still can't figure out why it took me so long to realize that's what I should be writing.  So when I began to write for adults, I started with romantic suspense.  The rest is history.  I mean, mystery. 

SM: How did you end up ghostwriting Nancy Drew mysteries? 

CW: The licensees of the Nancy Drew books had decided to update them, had started a new series in the 1980s and were looking for writers.  Someone – perhaps my agent; it's been long enough ago that I don't remember – sent the editor one of my YA’s and she thought I would be a good addition to their stable.  In the end, I wrote two.  It was hard work but a good lesson in many ways.  I've written 23 books and to this day get more reaction from people when they learn I've written a Nancy Drew than I get from the other 21 books.  That says a great deal about what that one character has meant to generations of readers. 

SM: What does it feel like to have two Edgar nominations under your belt? Is there a sense of validation that comes along with such accolades? 

CW: I'm simply thrilled that Mystery Writers of America felt that, of all the paperback original mysteries read and judged by MWA in the years involved, two I wrote were worthy of a nomination.

SM: Where do your plots come from? Do you snatch them out of thin air? Or do they evolve out of a story you read in the morning paper?

CW: To be honest, they're snatched out of thin air but it only happens if I'm reading a book.  It may or may not be a mystery but in the middle of someone's sentence, my mind seems to go off somewhere and come up with an idea or a "what if?" that's completely unrelated to what I'm reading.  It's nuts and the only way I can explain it is that I assume reading puts my brain in a receptive mode of some sort, one in which my imagination can take wing.  If I sit around and try to dream up a plot under all other circumstances, I get nowhere fast. 

SM: What do you do to relax? Any favorite authors you read?

CW: I read.  There's nothing I enjoy more.  And I won't admit to having any favorite authors and risk hurting someone's feelings.  But I will say I tend to read far more mysteries written by women. 

SM: Are you living your dream? Is being a published author everything you'd imagined? 

CW: I'm living my dream in that I've always wanted to write full-time and I'm finally able to do that.  Is it everything I imagined?  Yes and no.  There's nothing like seeing your words between the covers of a book.  That still bowls me over.  But as someone who finds self-promotion very difficult, that aspect of the job is very difficult for me.  Public appearances give me hives – well, almost.  I'm much more comfortable sitting in front of my computer and stringing words together.  But this is the life I've chosen.  And I wouldn't willingly give it up for the world. 

SM: What's next for Chassie West? 

CW: Leigh Ann Ritch Warren Kennedy book #4.  And a single title, if I can ever focus on an appealing enough "what if?"  Plotting a book can reduce me to tears.  I have yet to find a mechanism that works for me.  Until I do, I'll keep on slogging, start to write any number of books only to discover that I haven't the least interest in completing them.  Then one day, everything will fall into place.  I just hope it'll be something worth reading when I'm done.  Sigh! 

You can visit Chassie’s web site at


KILLER RICHES by Chassie West
Reviewed by Susan McBride
Avon Books - April, 2001
ISBN 0-06-104391-5 - Paperback
304 pp - $5.99 US

Leigh Ann Warren hasn’t had an easy time of it since she injured her knee and left her job as a police officer in Washington, D.C.  Instead of quietly recuperating at home, she’s had to chase down her missing fiancé in KILLING KIN, nominated for an Edgar Award, and now she’s tracking down a battered Silver Star that had belonged to her father in KILLER RICHES.  And it’s not that Leigh wants the medal for sentimental reasons.  She hadn’t even been aware of its existence, considering her father and mother both perished in a fire when she was five-years-old so she knows little about them at all.  Rather the Silver Star is the ransom demanded over the phone by an emphysemic kidnapper who tells her she’s got until Saturday to deliver or her foster mom, Nunna, and Nunna’s new husband, Walter, will die.

Leigh immediately calls the FBI and tells them about the threat, but they don’t seem to believe her.  They think the ransom demand is a hoax and wonder about Leigh Ann herself.  You see, they can’t seem to find any data at all on a Leigh Ann Warren in their computer bank.  No birth certificate, no records that such a person even exists.  To top it off, Walter’s son-in-law tells the FBI he’s recently heard from his father who’s still traveling the backroads with Nunna in a silver Airstream. 

With no one on her side and nothing to back up her claims, it’s up to Leigh Ann to track down her father’s Silver Star in order to free Nunna and Walter.  What she doesn’t realize is that the hunt will take her down a winding path through her own family tree, revealing roots that had been hidden deep for years.

There’s none better than Chassie West at drawing readers into her stories and keeping them turning the pages.  Leigh Ann is a wonderful character, strong inside but limited physically by the bum knee, making her all too human.  The dialogue flows and is peppered with homey Southern dialect that adds flavor to KILLER RICHES like butter to grits.  This is one of those pleasurable reads you don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying.  Just kick back, put your feet up, honey, and dig in! 

2001 Past Columns - Susan McBride


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