Fictional Crimes, Real Places

Author James L. Thane’s books are a study in the North Valley

By Madeleine Williamson

North Scottsdale crime novelist James L. Thane brings fiction and reality together into his books by creating settings using Valley landmarks.

Eddie V’s, Mastro’s and Pinnacle Peak all make cameos in his three books, “No Place to Die,” “Until Death” and his recent offering, “Fatal Blow.”

“I just simply enjoy the area so much,” he says. Plus, by using authentic places, readers can connect with the story.

“As a reader, I like reading books where I can recognize landmarks and references, so as a writer, I like to do the same thing.”

There’s a trick to that, though: writers must realistically describe the locations and ensure the actions could happen.

“You want to tie it as closely as you can to reality,” he says.

To ensure that, Thane carefully peruses the area.

“I’ll be at a certain plot point when I’m writing the book and as I’m walking out the door, I’ll say to my wife, ‘OK, I’m going to try and find a place where I can dump a body.’ She’ll say, without even looking, ‘OK, good luck!’”

Born and raised in western Montana, Thane has always been an avid reader. His father and mother, who were fans of Stanley Gardner and Agatha Christie, introduced him to the crime fiction genre.

When he graduated high school, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Montana, and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Iowa. His primary area of study the history of the American West.

While working as an historian, Thane wrote one nonfiction book and a number of magazine and journal articles. He also wrote and produced two TV series for PBS affiliate, WQPT. His first novel, “No Place to Die,” was published in 2010. His second was 2013’s “Until Death.”

Thane discovered the Sonoran Desert when he traveled here for vacation. The beauty overwhelmed him, and he relocated here in 2011.

“The more time I spent in Arizona, the more I learned to love this side of the country. I hope this shines through in the book,” he says.

Although Thane’s books include real-life places, he does, occasionally, create his own spots. He says he wouldn’t deface a business or company, so he reserves his imagination spots for intense scenes.

Thane is expecting to schedule book signings in the winter, particularly for “Fatal Blow,” which tells the story of Becky Miller, who discovers her husband, Walter, is having an affair with a cocktail waitress. While slyly reading their emails, Becky notices the woman is pressuring Walter to leave her. Murder is mentioned and Becky realizes she needs to act fast.

Thane’s target audience is virtually anyone who enjoys crime fiction, but the books are ideal for those who live locally or want to learn about Arizona.

“I’m teaching myself about the area and helping other people learn about it,” he says. “But I hope readers enjoyed reading a book that’s set in a place they recognize.”


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