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Snooping Out the Mysterious Case of Multiple Ed Thomases

April 05, 1998|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ed Thomas, longtime bookstore owner, meet Ed Thomas, ex-cop turned bodyguard in "Sand Dollars," a new book by Irvine mystery writer Charles Knief.

Ed Thomas the fictional is "a big man in his late sixties with white hair thinning on top and a white mustache and goatee that make him look like a fit Kentucky colonel."

Says Ed Thomas the real person: "I do not have a goatee, and while I do have white hair and it is thinning, I'm in my mid-60s," then quickly adds: "I guess I shouldn't quibble."

Knief says he named the character after Thomas as thanks for helping celebrate Knief's 1996 literary debut with a book signing.

Thomas owns Book Carnival, a mystery and dark-fantasy bookshop in Orange. Thomas went into the business 18 years ago, in part to fuel his three-book-a-week reading habit.

"I like Ed--Ed's a real gentleman--and I enjoyed my first signing at his shop," Knief says. "It's a fun way to pay somebody back for being nice to you."

Says Thomas: "I feel honored, of course, that he thought enough to do that." Still, he adds, "I think I'll get some razzing from people about my goatee."

"Sand Dollars" (St. Martin's Press; $23.95) is the second by Knief and again features Hawaii-based private eye John Caine, who is hired by a wealthy San Diego woman who believes her dead husband may not have been killed in Mexico after all. When it looks as though his client's life may be in jeopardy, Caine hires Thomas, a retired San Diego police detective, as a bodyguard.

It turns out that "Sand Dollars" isn't the first time Thomas' name has appeared in a book.

In 1989, Dean Koontz dedicated his thriller "Midnight" to Thomas and his wife, Pat. The couple met Koontz in 1981, long before he became a best-selling literary phenomenon.

They later hosted the first-ever book signing by the then-publicity-shy Koontz, a regular customer. Wrote Koontz in the dedication: "To Ed and Pat Thomas of the Book Carnival who are such nice people that sometimes I suspect they're not really human but aliens from another, better world."

In 1996, mystery writer Michael Connelly, another best-selling author friend who has done numerous signings at Thomas' shop, surprised Thomas by naming a minor character in "The Poet" after him. This Ed Thomas: a police homicide detective who's the next target of a serial killer.

In fact, it was Thomas' "appearance" in Connelly's book that prompted Knief to use Thomas' name in "Sand Dollars."

The author and the bookstore owner ran into each other at Bouchercon, the national mystery convention, in St. Paul, Minn., in 1996, not long after Knief's first John Caine mystery, "Diamond Head," was published.

Over drinks in the hotel bar, Thomas happened to mention that Connelly had named a character after him in his latest book. Knief said he had read "The Poet" and recalled that the Ed Thomas character played a minor role and didn't appear until at least two thirds of the way into the book.

"I can do you one better than that," Knief told Thomas. And he did--the Ed Thomas in "Sand Dollars" is a major character.

Knief wrote the first John Caine mystery in 1992. Unable to interest an agent, he entered his "Diamond Head" manuscript in the Best First Private Eye Novel contest, sponsored by St. Martin's Press and the Private Eye Writers of America. He won both the contest and a publishing contract.

Knief, whose next two John Caine mysteries will be out in 1999 and 2000, says there just may be a future for the fictional Ed Thomas.

"I like the character so much I'd like to bring him back," he says. "The character doesn't like Caine too much, but I can see how the two can work together again."

Knief will return to Book Carnival at 1:30 p.m. Saturday for his first "Sand Dollars" signing. He'll be joined by Carol Higgins Clark, who will sign her new mystery, "Twanged."

*

A combination benefit for Bay Area poet Hakim and a salute to other cancer survivors will be held at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Gypsy Den Cafe and Reading Room in The Lab, 2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa.

Poems for survivors--and personal observations about Hakim, who helped establish the poetry scene in Los Angeles and Orange counties--will be provided by poets S.A. Griffin, Linda Neal, G. Murray Thomas, Ritz Mitzner, John Harrell and Lee Mallory, with original songs by Neil Miranda of Reflex Blue.

Also This Week

* Patricia Guiver, author of "Delilah Doolittle and the Motley Mutts," and Dianne Pugh, author of "Foolproof," will sign at 1 p.m. today at Mystery Ink/Upchurch-Brown Booksellers, 384 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach.

* Arthur Geisert, author of the children's book "The Etcher's Studio," will sign at 1 p.m. today at the Old Town Gallery, 150 E. Main St., Tustin. The gallery is exhibiting 21 of Geisert's colored etchings that appear in his book.

* Poets Rick Lupert, Brendan Constantine and June Melby will read at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Alta Coffee House & Roasting Co., 506 31st St., Newport Beach.

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