Today at Berkeley Lab

CSO Writer is Author of Award-Winning Mystery Series

By Sabin Russell

What can you do with a UC Berkeley degree in Physics and English Literature? CSO’s Ann Parker has solved that one. At Berkeley Lab, she writes about the future, explaining next-generation particle accelerators. At night, she’s living in 19th century Leadville, Colorado, thinking about murder.

Parker is the acclaimed author of the Silver Rush mystery series, including “Silver Lies,” picked as a “best mystery of the year” by Publishers Weekly. The three-book series – with a fourth on the way — is set in the early 1880’s, in the Rocky Mountain boomtown where Parker’s real life great grandfather was a blacksmith. Although Parker never lived there, she found in Leadville’s wild history plenty of inspiration for her crime novels.

Parker’s stories feature strong female characters, like the rebellious young saloon owner Inez Stannert introduced in “Silver Lies.” Stannert is determined to find how why a prominent mine assayer was found trampled to death behind her place of business. Her sleuthing turns up lies, secrets, and the kind of intrigue that is woven into the fabric of a culture where rough men and women aim to “Get in. Get Rich. Get out.”

Stannert is the protagonist in all four Silver Rush novels, the runaway daughter of a wealthy Eastern family. “She has a mysterious past, a complicated present, and an uncertain future,” says Parker. “After her husband disappears, she runs the saloon with her husband’s business partner. She’s a woman in a man’s world.” Stannert is proper but tough. She’s curious enough to get into trouble, smart enough to pack a pistol: a No. 2 Smoot pocket revolver – named after William S. Smoot, a Remington & Sons gun designer.

Like any good science writer, Parker relies on research. She mines the newspapers and historical records of Colorado towns for information. “There were 300 saloons in Leadville,” she says. “Three were run by women.”

What does Inez Stannert have in common with Ann Parker? “Oh, hardly anything,” says the author. “She’s a projection of someone I would like to be. I’m a bit of a wimp. I back down from confrontation. I smooth the waters.”

Parker worked for more than 30 years as a technical and marketing writer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where she became fast friends with Camille Minichino, who has a Ph.D. in physics and has written three mystery novel series under her own name and pen-names Margaret Grace and Ada Madison. “I watch her in fascination,” Parker says of her friend. “She said, ‘I think I’ll write a mystery series with a physics bent to it,’ and she just did it.”

Today at Berkeley Lab, Parker dives into a world of femtoseconds, free electron lasers, and graphene synthesis. But she sets the 21st century and its technology aside when she delves into the mysteries of Leadville. She may throw in a little science to explain how to assay for silver, but she relies on that love of literature when she starts writing her whodunits.

Ann Parker and her mystery-writing friend Camille Minichino will be joined on Saturday by a third female author, Janet Dawson, for “Mysterious Women,” to talk about their books, their craft, and their passion for the genre. The 2 p.m. event at the Oakland Main Library is free to the public. For more, visit oaklandlibrary.org.