Biography and Other Opinions

I’ve been a busboy, hod carrier, assembly-line foreman, retail clerk, Army sergeant, actor, house painter, ditch digger, shipping clerk, salesman, advertising copywriter, frame shop owner, communications director and bank officer. I was editor of a San Francisco society monthly and founding editor of an Indianapolis alternative weekly.

All of this, of course, suggests that it’s taken an awfully long time to find out what I know how to do and there's some debate about whether a career still eludes me. However, the broad, if not deep, approach to a career isn't totally without redeeming value. Along the way, I’ve met, worked with, and enjoyed the company of people from all walks of life — from fellow ditch diggers and factory workers to politicians and corporate royalty.

After a while, I came to understand that most people, however the public views their status, do what they have to do to get through life; that in the best of us, there’s some bad, and in the worst of us, there’s some good. Hitler loved dogs. And I suspect we could find a little dirt on Mother Theresa if we looked hard enough. Given a specific set of circumstances, any of us could fall victim to greed or jealousy or revenge. Any of us could commit a serious crime, including murder. Ordinary people can find themselves caught up in extraordinary events and find themselves saints or sinners, villains or heroes. That’s what I try to write about.

In the mid-eighties — I was 40 by then — I decided to enter the St. Martin’s Press First Private Eye novel competition. I picked a 69-year-old former Army intelligence sergeant turned private eye as my main character. I thought that having an old detective was original. It wasn't. I thought that not setting the mystery in New York or Los Angeles, but in a smaller city like Indianapolis was original. It wasn’t. There are several older detectives, and the highly respected mystery writer Michael Z. Lewin used an Indianapolis setting before I did. I learned all this after I had committed my misunderstandings to paper. Fortunately, it worked anyway.

My first mystery attempt, The Stone Veil, managed to get the attention of editors at St. Martin’s. And though it didn’t win the competition, after a couple of years languishing on a shelf or drawer, a recently arrived Ruth Cavin wiped off the dust and decided to publish it. I was thrilled. Critics were too for the most part. In a mixed review, The New York Times said “The pragmatic investigator made a good first impression.” All the other reviews were positive. The book went into a second, small printing, and was nominated in 1991 for the Private Eye Writers of America’s Shamus Award for best first novel. I lost to Walter Mosley for his entry Devil in A Blue Dress. Losing to Mosley helped take the sting out of the loss. The fact that I found out I was nominated after the awards were announced might have dulled that particular sting as well, but caused another. I missed the awards ceremony and the chance to meet that year’s other first novel nominees — Jerome Doolittle (Body Scissors) and Janet Dawson (Kindred Crimes), and congratulate the amazingly talented winner.

Under contract with St. Martin's, three others in the Shanahan series were published — The Steel Web, The Iron Glove and The Concrete Pillow —all to favorable reviews but modest sales. I also managed to sneak in an out-of-series mystery novel, Eclipse of the Heart, which followed the pattern of genuinely good reviews, but less than bestseller sales.

St. Martin 's took a pass on book five of the Shanahan series, Nickel-Plated Soul, and the series. I had suffered the fate of many other mid-list mystery writers. We hadn't hit the best seller lists or become brand names, and the situation in publishing had changed. Because huge bookstore chains demanded large quantities of each book — quantities that they could return to the publisher without penalty — mainstream publishers became jittery with their mid-list writers. Big publishers — and they were becoming increasingly large, swallowing up their competitors at a dizzying pace — needed to please the stockholders. Despite a consistent following, I was out on my ear.


I kept writing. I kept submitting various mystery manuscripts. But my sales record preceded me. Rejection letters were almost always flattering, but in the end, the only way I could make it back to the big bookstore bookshelves was to write that “big” book. Mainstream publishers wouldn't take a chance. A decade had gone by before I learned that Otto Penzler was helping Severn House, a London publisher, get a foothold in the American mystery market. I followed up on his recommendation to send Nickel-Plated Soul overseas. Edwin Buckhalter, at Severn House, contacted me almost instantly it seemed, saying the book kept him up all night and he wanted it.

Shanahan emerged from forced retirement at 70. Although ten years had passed, the old detective aged only one year. (If only I could make that work for me.) Nickel-Plated Soul followed in the footsteps of the early books. Good reviews (a starred review from Booklist) and modest sales. Only this time, a smaller publisher could successfully deal with smaller press runs. Libraries and online bookstores didn't need a hundred-thousand book inventory.

With the success of Nickel-Plated Soul, Severn House continued to publish the Shanahan books — Platinum Canary, Glass Chameleon, Asphalt Moon, Bloody Palms and Bullet Beach and the latest, Killing Frost.


Unlike many other mystery writers who credit such pioneers as Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler for their inspiration, I must confess that my love for detective stories stems not so much from having read them as a child, but from seeing them on the big screen. My older brother and I would take the trolley to downtown Indianapolis on Saturdays and Sundays. We would have lunch at Craig's or Wheeler's, or the Seville if he felt flush with cash, and then take in a double feature. The Indiana Theater, Loews, Lyric, Keiths and the Circle were the grand old downtown theaters. We both loved the theaters and the movies. There were times when we saw two double features in one day. And the late night movies. In those days you were likely to see The Thin Man on the tiny screen, rather than David Letterman.

Because the movies were more of an influence for me than the written word in those days, my stories may be more cinematic in nature than some. Each book has a movie-sized chunk of story, where dialogue not only reveals character, but also drives the plot. One reviewer noted that the Shanahan books were tight — no padding. For me, that's a good thing. I try to keep you up at night.

Though I'm working on novels and screenplays that take place in San Francisco, I have never regretted choosing Indianapolis as the Shanahan setting. It is, and always will be, the place I know best. All of my early years were in Indianapolis, the “Crossroads of America.” I attended Broad Ripple and Arlington high schools, worked for Merchants Bank, Melvin Simon & Associates, and for the State of Indiana during the Bayh-O'Bannon administration. I was also the founding editor of NUVO Newsweekly, which, for the first time since the Indianapolis Times died decades earlier, provided a second journalistic voice for the city — an offset to the highly conservative Indianapolis Star.

During my early adult years, I attended Indiana University in Bloomington. I lived for a while in Fort Wayne, doing construction and then in South Bend, where I lived in a pink one-bedroom trailer in the back of Shirley's Motel. I worked as a foreman in a car parts factory that occupied the old Studebaker plant. Then came the draft. I spent part of my Army career in Kansas City, Missouri, and the second half of my Army stint near Saigon.


I returned to San Francisco nearly 20 years ago where I continued to work and write. I was director of communications for two non-profit organizations, first the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and then the Fort Mason Foundation, which managed an historic section of the Golden Gate National Park. Here I also began a second P.I. fiction series set in the City By The Bay, wrote a standalone thriller, Good To The Last Kiss, and decided to try writing mystery novellas. So far, the results of that effort are Mascara, Death in the Tenderloin and Death in the Haight. With the Shanahan series likely complete with Killing Frost, I’m currently working on other fiction projects, including the Peter Strand mystery novellas for Orca Books’ Rapid Reads under the Raven Books imprint. Now, living in Palm Springs, I continue to work on stand alone mysteries and other projects.

    — Ronald Tierney


Latest Releases

The Black Tortoise

Killing Frost, A Deets Shanahan Mystery

A new story from the Peter Strand Mystery Novellas.


Click HERE to purchase The Black Tortoise.

The Blue Dragon

Killing Frost, A Deets Shanahan Mystery

The first in a new series of mystery novellas.


Click HERE to purchase The Blue Dragon.


Killing Frost

Killing Frost, A Deets Shanahan Mystery

The 11th and final Shanahan mystery pits an old and disabled P.I. against overwhelming odds.


CLICK to purchase Killing Frost.


The Early Shanahans

Life Death & Fog Books is bringing the first four Shanahan novels to paperback and a variety of e-book formats. Paperback editions are from Amazon. E-books are available for Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook and from Apple's iBooks bookstore.

CLICK for details and to purchase.


Mascara, Death in the Tenderloin

Mascara, Death in the Tenderloin

Things aren't what they seem in this suspenseful, gender-bending novella.


Click here to purchase.


Death in the Haight

Death in the Haight

A fifteen year old goes missing in San Francisco. Ransom and murder force PI Noah Lang to untangle a twisted tale.


CLICK to purchase Death in the Haight.



Good to the Last Kiss

Good to the Last Kiss

San Francisco Inspector Vincent Gratelli is charged with finding the killer of young women – all murdered in the same way.

CLICK t purchase Good to the Last Kiss.



Bullet Beach

Bullet Beach

Seventy-one-year-old private investigator, Deets Shanahan, takes on the search of a lifetime.



CLICK to learn more and purchase Bullet Beach.


Death in North Beach

Death in North Beach

Sweet William, a handsome, charming and discreet professional companion to the wealthy, needs help.


CLICK to purchase Death in North Beach.