A Down-Home Thriller

The Mystery-Writing Mind of J.F. Freedman, Author of A
Killing in the Valley

by Matt Kettmann

Few locales scream storybook more than Santa Barbara County,
where urban sophistication and extravagant wealth smash into
colorful California history and the rural realities of cowboy-land.
So it’s no wonder that the region makes an excellent setting for
novels, the latest of which is J.F. Freedman’s A Killing in the

A whodunit, detective/courtroom thriller, Freedman’s page-turner
begins with, as you might expect, a killing in the Santa Ynez
Valley, where a young Latina high schooler is raped and then
accidentally shot on the ranch of a prominent landowning matron.
Freedman, who lives on Santa Barbara’s Upper Eastside and has set a
couple of his eight previous novels in town, brings back his
popular characters Luke Garrison, a district attorney turned
defense lawyer, and Kate Blanchard, a single mother and private
detective. Both were protagonists in previous books, but this is
the first novel in which each share major roles. Specifically,
Blanchard (whose youngest daughter Sophia also comes into the mix)
works as Garrison’s private investigator, and together they defend
the ranch owner’s grandson, who is the lead suspect in the

Freedman first stumbled upon Santa Barbara when he was writing
and directing a movie produced by Michael Douglas, who lived here
at the time. With his first child on the way, Freedman decided it
would be “a nice place to slow down a bit.” That was 26 years

In addition to the familiar locations, what makes A Killing
in the Valley
engaging is its attention to detail. Freedman
does his research, relying on the true-to-life info from cops,
attorneys — “You can’t live in this town without knowing a lot of
lawyers,” he quipped — and even detectives. (As to the latter,
Blanchard bears a striking resemblance to S.B. PI Lynn McLaren.
Freedman invented Blanchard before ever meeting McLaren, but the
real-life detective is now one of his primary sources.) Freedman
explained, “People tend to be very helpful. They like the idea of
accuracy.” In this novel, for instance, Freedman consulted the
county coroner about body decomposition, Dodge City gun shop
employees about bullet types, and the owner of Rancho San Fernando
Rey for clues on the ranching life. “I try to be as real and as
specific as possible,” said Freedman, adding that readers of crime
novels are especially concerned with realism. “You could make it
up, but someone’s gonna catch it.” As a novelist and television
screenwriter, Freedman’s plate is decidedly full. He’s set aside a
novel set in Los Angeles — “I want to write a real L.A. book,” he
said — to finish a television screenplay about a magazine. The
script was originally requested by a friend in Russian
television — an “exploding” market — but the Muscovites eventually
declined. So now he’s crafting it for American audiences. He’s also
toiling away on his first children’s book, something fanciful along
the line of Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. It won’t be
for any of his three kids, though, since they’re all grown up: One
daughter works for a magazine in New York City, the other daughter
(a loose model for Sophia Blanchard) is attending UC Santa Cruz,
and his son is a cameraman in L.A.

There is, however, a slight catch to obtaining a copy of
Freedman’s latest novel. After releasing his previous books through
Penguin and then Warner Books, Freedman found a new publisher in
Madison Park Press, the imprint that Bookspan — which owns all of
the major book clubs in the country — launched in October 2005.
That means that the only way to buy A Killing in the Valley is to
join one of Bookspan’s 35-plus book clubs, from the
self-explanatory Book-of-the-Month Club (bomc.com) and Doubleday Book Club (doubledaybookclub.com) to zooba.com and the Literary
Guild. (In the future, the book may be released in bookstores as a

Freedman admitted that the new publisher and book-­­ club-only
structure is somewhat of an experiment, and that he enjoys seeing
his work on bookstore shelves — but he’s optimistic. “It’s a good
way to get books cheaper, even cheaper than Amazon. And there’s
millions of subscribers,” he said. At the end of the day, however,
it’s all about getting his novel into the hands of fans. “I want
people to read them,” Freedman said. “As a writer, that’s all you

4·1·1 Freedman will make an appearance at
Borders on State Street, Thursday, August 10. For a copy of A
Killing in the Valley, visit bomc.com or any of the book clubs owned by Bookspan.
For more on Freedman, visit jffreedman.com.


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