Tuesday, November 30, 2010

True Crime in Nashville

by Bente Gallagher

Seeing as this month's optional theme is Author Friends, I'm gonna take the opportunity to introduce one of mine, and another Southern Author. I first met Phyllis Gobbel back in 2007, when she came to talk to our local Sisters in Crime chapter about her new book, An Unfinished Canvas, the Janet March story, written with Michael Glasgow.

We all told her she'd found her niche, that she should be writing true crime, and lo and behold, Phyllis listened. She's back, this time with A Season of Darkness, the story of the Marcia Trimble case, a mystery that kept Nashville enthralled for a lot longer than the decade it took to bring Perry March to trial for his wife's murder.

Without further ado, here's Phyllis:

My advance copies of A Season of Darkness arrived last week, and as all writers know, even when you’ve seen the cover and the page proofs, and you’ve read the manuscript until you can recite it, it’s still a rush to hold that book in your hand. This is not my first book, and, in fact, it’s my second true crime. But this time, something felt different as I flipped through the pages, from one familiar chapter title to another.

“Every Parent’s Nightmare” begins the story of nine-year-old Marcia Trimble who went across the street in February, 1975, to deliver Girl Scout cookies and never returned. Weeks passed before her body was found in her own neighborhood, in spite of search efforts unlike anything Nashville had ever seen, and it took thirty-four years to solve the case and convict her killer.

Doug Jones asked me to work on the story with him just after my first true crime, An Unfinished Canvas, was released. Someone had posed the question: "What’s your next true crime?” My answer was that I had no plans to write another “unless they solve the Marcia Trimble case someday.” I didn’t know that someday was close at hand. The man who would be arrested and convicted was already in the sights of the Cold Case detectives.

An Unfinished Canvas, which I wrote with Mike Glasgow, was based on another Nashville cold case. Janet March, a young artist, wife and mother, disappeared in 1996. Her husband Perry told those closest to them, including Janet’s parents, that after an argument, she just drove away. Though her body was never found, the long, tedious investigation led to the arrest of Perry on the streets of Ajijic, Mexico, where he had forged a new life. A decade after Janet’s disappearance, Perry was convicted of her murder.

Some of the same threads run through all true crime stories. Human behavior often demonstrates that truth really is stranger than fiction. And all true crime is steeped in heartbreak. The discovery of Marcia Trimble’s body on Easter Sunday was heartbreaking, and there was plenty of heartbreak as Janet March’s family had to come to grips with the facts that, first, she was never coming back, and then that they would never have a body to bury. Working on these two stories for five years, I have read a lot of true crime, too, and all of it boils down to the good, the bad, and the ugly. In the end, justice often prevails, but the ordeal takes its toll.

That moment last week, with my new copy of A Season of Darkness in hand, I thought of how Nashville reacted to Marcia Trimble’s murder, how the little girl seemed to belong to the entire city, and how the crime and the investigation changed Nashville. In 1975, Nashville was a city of neighborhoods where children roamed freely, rode bikes in the streets, went in and out of neighbors’ houses, and came home at dark. I remember the night Marcia Trimble disappeared, as do so many Nashvillians. “I helped search,” they'd tell Doug and me, referring to the days after Marcia’s disappearance when as many as a thousand volunteers at a time joined the official searchers from police divisions and rescue squads. “I remember that Easter Sunday when I heard the news,” they say. If you were living in Nashville in 1975, you remember, and you know it’s true what has been said so many times, that with the murder of Marcia Trimble, Nashville lost its innocence.

Doug and I worked hard to make sure we got it right. Still, there was a heavy feeling, holding our new book, knowing that the Marcia Trimble murder case is so much a part of the fabric of Nashville. Not everyone agrees with the police theory. In spite of all the answers we provide, there will still be questions. A lot of emotion is attached to this; certainly, I feel it. Every time I read the part where Virginia Trimble is out by the
streetlight at dusk, calling for Marcia, I am there again, in 1975, in that more innocent time in Nashville, and I yearn for an ending that allows Marcia to grow up, to never have a book written about her.

A Season of Darkness (Berkley) will be released December 7. Phyllis and Doug will sign books at Borders West End, December 8; Mysteries & More, December 11; and Sherlock’s Downtown, December 17. Follow updates on http://www.phyllisgobbell.com/ or join the “A Season of Darkness” group on Facebook.


Jennie Bentley said...

Thanks so much for visiting with us, Phyllis! Can't wait to read A Season of Darkness. Now, how about you say you won't write another true crime book until we figure out what happened to poor little Tabitha Tuders, and maybe we can get that mystery solved, too. It's been long enough.

Phyllis Gobbell said...

Don't we all wish that crime would be solved! Thanks for letting me visit. I'd been having those thoughts, and I appreciate getting to write and share them. Hope to see you at one of the signings.

Anonymous said...

Just want everyone to know we are having a true crime workshop for authors & readers AND giving away a "TC in DC' prize package! See truecrimeworkshop.com