Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Visit With William Doonan

Greetings, friends. This week we have a guest blogger, William Doonan. Bill Doonan is an anthropology professor in Sacramento, California. He has spent years working as an archaeologiest, and years lecturing on cruise ships. Meanwhile, he's a writer of mystery fiction. His two novels are Grave Passage (2009) and Mediterranean Grave (2011). Both books recount the adventures of Henry Grave, an octogenarian detective who solves crimes on cruise ships.

Mediterranean Grave was just awarded a Finalist medal for Best Mystery by the National Independent Press Excellence Awards, and Marc Filippelli of the San Francisco Book Review called it "the best combination of murder mystery and humor that I have ever read."

 Bill, welcome to my blog, THE JOY OF STORY. I'll now turn the mike over to you.

Thanks for the guest-blogging opportunity.  I'm an anthropology professor here in California, and for the last twelve summers, I've had the opportunity to lecture aboard cruise ships.  It's been a lot of fun, heading out to Venice with the family for another romp through the Greek islands.  But in the process, I've learned a lot about cruise culture, and that led to my Henry Grave mystery series.  Henry is an eighty-four year-old detective who solves crimes at sea.

12 million people take a cruise each year.
Most have fun.
Some die.
Henry Grave investigates.

Henry is based on several people I've run into at sea.  Cruising is primarily an older person's game, and I've had the pleasure of meeting plenty of fascinating characters, some well into their nineties.  And they’re often willing to share tales about their lives. One day I was sitting up on deck with my sons, and an old German guy sat down and started telling us about his own sons, and how he forbade them to go into the army as he had.  Then he started talking about what it was like to be a German soldier during World War II. 

So Henry Grave is a World War II veteran who spent the tail end of 1944 in a Nazi POW camp, nearly starving to death.  This defining moment of his life is something that centers him, brings him back to a point when his senses were sharp, his imagination crystal clear, and his determination profound.  As senior investigator for an organization that responds to crimes aboard cruise ships, Henry draws on decades of experience to flush out his prey.  And at eighty-four years of age, he fits right in with his fellow passengers.

As Mediterranean Grave opens, the cruising yacht Vesper is anchored off the Greek island of Thera, in the caldera of an ancient volcano when Henry comes aboard. An Egyptian federal agent was onboard to guard a valuable Minoan cup, but the agent was murdered and the cup, stolen. With the help of a Nicaraguan soap opera star, a New Age spiritualist, and a blind pickpocket, Henry draws on skills honed in a Nazi prison camp to track down a killer who might have his own reasons for taking this particular cruise, reasons unrelated to the sumptuous meals, delightful shipboard activities, and exciting ports of call.

I guess you could say what makes Henry Grave unique, is that he is still vibrant and effective at the age of eighty-four.  Back in 2009, when I was looking for a publisher for the first book, Grave Passage, my agent cautioned me to make him a little younger, in his seventies, so he’d be believable.  I didn’t, and I’m glad I didn’t.  I’ve given readings at senior centers, and received dozens of letters from people who say they appreciate that someone at least recognizes that not everyone in their eighties is infirm.  Henry’s passions include drink, good food, and flirting with women.  His flaws?  Too much drink, good food, and flirting with women.

If you’d like to learn more, check out my website at

Both Mediterranean Grave and Grave Passage are available on

Thanks for stopping by, Bill. So what’s next in your writing career?

In my next book, American Caliphate, I'll be revisiting my archaeological investigations, specifically some excavations I worked on in Peru, to explore a centuries old mystery.  What happened when Spanish Moors illegally sailed to sixteenth-century colonial Peru?  You need to know, because it's about to change the world.  American Caliphate is scheduled for a December release.


  1. Drat, another addition to my TBR list. But the premise sounds great. I've known some codgers like Henry Grave. They can be inspiring and intimidating at the same time.

  2. John, I love this format. William Doonan's voice is fantastic. Wow what rich firsthand knowledge. I'm looking forward to following the escapades of Henry Graves (Bill,thanks for keeping Henry's age at 84, it works) Augie

  3. Well, as I move into the third book, Grave Indulgence, Henry is getting a year older. I'm getting to know him better too, and hopefully that's making him more complex! But I hope he's not intimidating.

    William Doonan

  4. I have to read these books. I'd like to meet this old guy. As an old broad, I'd probably like him a lot. Thanks for the interview and I'm going to check out this book. Hope it's available on Kindle.

  5. Thanks for commenting, folks. I'll pass your remarks on to Bill Doonan. I'm sure he'll appreciate your support.

  6. Hi Velda,

    Mediterranean Grave is available on Kindle. If you get a chance to read it, let me know what you think. Henry is sort of a composite of several great people I've met over the years.


  7. The Posse is killing me. I just added another author to read. This story is an amazing concept. I'll be buying this one for myself and my parents.

  8. That's great to hear, Kat! If you read my book, drop me a line and let me know what you think. I'm working on Henry Grave's third mystery right now.

  9. Bill,
    I'm so glad that you didn't agree to change the age of your main character. I know people who are well into their eighties and even nineties who have sharp minds and tons of energy. My own mother is a perfect example. I can only hope that I inherited that trait. Good luck with your novel!

  10. Great hearing you stick to your guns. I love this character from your descriptions alone. Sounds like I have to add more books to my reading pile....

  11. Thanks Patricia and Bill. I hope you like the story. Some years back I was on a cruise ship docked in Skagway, Alaska, and I was giving a lecture on the gold rush. And I think some of the guys in the audience were actually there in 1848! OK, maybe they weren't that old, but I think what I got from that was a a sense that it was OK to get old. Hey, it beats the alternative. And that getting old didn't mean the end of fun or love or adventure.