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Area writer brings light touch to jagged edge

| Sunday, Dec. 23, 2001

There's a reason why one of the continuing characters in Edie Claire's mystery series is a veterinarian.

"It helps justify my education," she says with a laugh. Claire is a licensed veterinarian, but tending to animals never had quite the appeal as writing for the McCandless resident, who began penning mystery novels a few years ago.

Her fourth book, "Never Kissed Goodnight," again features Pittsburgh-based Leigh Koslow, an intrepid advertising writer who has a knack for inserting herself into dangerous situations.

"She is based on me," Claire says. "It's hard to write a character that's not. But she's more neurotic, and her life has been a lot less settled than mine."

In "Never Kissed Goodnight," Claire reintroduces a character from a previous novel, Koslow's cousin Cara. When Cara's husband, Gil, starts acting mysteriously - staying out late, grabbing the mail first, and generally sneaking around - she enlists her cousin to tail the errant spouse.

All, however, is not as it seems. Gil is trying to protect Cara from her past, as the father she never knew comes back to Pittsburgh as a result of a botched counterfeiting deal. Soon, the family is under attack from a dangerous hood who resembles Mick Jagger, causing scenes that range from panic to hilarity:

Leigh took a deep breath. She needed it. "Mrs. Snodgrass," she asked unsteadily," do you know who Mick Jagger is?"

She snorted. "Doesn't everyone• What's some middle-aged rocker got to do with anything?"

"I was wondering if the man you saw looked like him at all."

"Mrs. Snodgrass stared at her a moment, then at the Penguins mug, as if wondering why she'd overdone it. "You think Mick Jagger broke into your aunt's house?" she asked hesitantly.

Leigh laughed, spewing a mouthful of the glorious tea across her jacket. "Of course not," she chuckled. ... "Of course not. It's just that I thought they might have something in common."

Mrs. Snodgrass thought a moment, then looked at her. "Oh, I see. Yeah, I guess the guy did have big lips. Skinny face, big lips. Ugly as sin. That what you mean?"

Claire says that, unlike Koslow, all of the other characters came from her imagination. But she tried to stay true to life by penning them with a variety of quirks and failings.

"You do see books with characters that seem cardboard, that seem too good to be true, and I did want the characters to be that way," she says. "They're the kind of people you might look at and think their life is perfect if you don't know them very well. But obviously, if you get them to know them, it's not true. That's true in real life, and I wanted it to be true for the characters to make them more realistic."

It's Koslow, however, who remains the focal point of Claire's writing - an attractive, bright but impetuous woman who always seems to get into and out of hairy situations. But with five books completed - her next novel, "Never Tease a Siamese," will be released next summer - Claire realizes she's running out of plausible scenarios for Koslow.

"I think it's very hard to keep a character going," she says. "The basic problem is it's an amateur sleuth mystery, and it's impossible to write a realistic amateur sleuth because they don't exist. There simply is no person who goes around solving crimes, side by side with the police, without being on the force. So, naturally, you have to make the character a little bit stupid, a little bit naive, a little bit neurotic, in order to have them get into situations where there is going to be conflict."

Claire's solution to her quandary will be a respite from the Koslow character, at least for one book. She is starting work on a romantic suspense novel, and plans to explore other avenues of fiction.

In the meantime, fans can look forward to at least one more novel featuring Koslow, with her penchant for doughnuts and other pastries. Hmm, could there be a possible tie-in with the new Krispy Kreme outlet in Cranberry•

"Tell them," Claire says quickly, "I'm willing to talk."

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