Minnesota Crime Wave makes a splash

Between the four of them, they’ve killed dozens of people.

In fact, the Minnesota Crime Wave — consisting of local mystery authors William Kent Krueger, Carl Brookins, Ellen Hart and Deborah Woodworth — get away with murder every day. Collectively, they have 37 published books and a full schedule of book signings to prove it.

This month, bookstore shelves will be stocking Brookins’ “The Case of the Greedy Lawyers,” Hart’s “The Iron Girl” and Krueger’s “Mercy Falls,” which are all new releases.

Recently, the Wave embarked on a new project: “The Silence of the Loons,” a Minnesota Crime Wave-produced anthology of stories by Minnesota mystery writers.

“We’ve never been the editors before,” Brookins says.

“We’ve always been the edited,” Krueger adds.

The “Loons” anthology, which was released earlier this month, began as a challenge for 15 local mystery authors. Each author had to write a story under specific guidelines: the story had to be 7,500 words or less, set in Minnesota, and include a murder.

Authors were given eight elements (for example, a headless Barbie doll), and had to use at least four. Two authors dropped out of the challenge, but the other 13, including the Crime Wave members themselves, cranked out the stories that make up the anthology.

Contributing author KJ Erickson reworked a cut chapter from one of her novels to fit the necessary criteria and found the experience difficult. “Never have I worked so hard for so little money,” she joked during a recent book signing.

The stories range in tone from dark to light to funny; in fact, “The Silence of the Loons” sold hundreds of copies in just the first few weeks after its release.

Despite this and many other successes on their own, the Minnesota Crime Wave seems even stronger as a team. They work together like a well-oiled machine. Hart does publicity, Krueger is good at making cold calls, Brookins does the financial business, mailings and travel arrangements, and Woodworth sends thank-you notes.

Pairing up

So how did this murderous quartet meet?

“Drunk tank,” Krueger deadpans. “We all had the same parole officer.”

But seriously, “I realized it would be lonely if I went on book tours alone,” Krueger explains. He decided to bring other authors with him. “Then, when no one shows up at the book signings, no one thinks it’s all my fault,” Krueger says.

Brookins corrects him. “It’s never my fault.”

Krueger, who already hoped to pair up with Brookins and Woodworth, approached Hart while she was teaching at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis and asked if she wanted to join them. That was four years ago.

The rest, as they say, is a mystery.

Recently, the quartet has found crowds of fans at their book signings, with most or all of the inventory being sold before, during and after the event.

Now embarking on their third national tour, the Wave has around 50 appearances planned between now and the rest of the year. They arrive for their signings in full costume. Krueger is the most expressive in his full-garb prison outfit. Brookins wears a dark suit and often totes a machine gun. Hart sports a tie with a black and white crossword puzzle on it, and Woodworth has a long, dark cloak that gives her an air of mystery.

They appear to be a motley crew. But Brookins is quick to note, “We don’t take ourselves seriously, but that doesn’t mean we don’t take writing good books…very seriously.”

The authors make a point of writing each day.

Krueger — who is best known for his award-winning mystery series surrounding Cork O’Connor, former sheriff of Aurora, Minn. — spends every morning at the St. Clair Broiler in St. Paul as he writes his stories longhand in wirebound notebooks. In the afternoon, he finds another coffee shop in which to write.

Hart, who has published 13 books surrounding restaurant owner and amateur super-slueth Jane Lawless and eight books starring food critic Sophie Greenway, says her brain doesn’t engage until closer to lunch time. However, she tries to write a few pages a day, with that number increasing as the book takes on speed.

Brookins, whose new book surrounds diminutive private investigator Sean Sean, sets a goal of writing at least 450-500 words in the morning. In the afternoon, he takes care of the Crime Wave’s business side.

Woodworth, whose Shaker Mystery series is highly acclaimed by the Shakers themselves, has unfortunately had to take a step back from the group because of health issues. Without her, the others joke, they’re simply the Minnesota Crime Ripple.

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