Russell Atkinson was born and raised in California, where he obtained degrees in mathematics and law before joining the FBI. As an FBI agent he worked a wide variety of matters around the country including foreign counterintelligence, violent crime, fugitives, and, eventually, high-tech crime in Silicon Valley, where he lives today with his wife. After retiring from the FBI he worked in corporate security and then practiced law. Since fully retiring he has pursued his hobbies of ciphers, guitar, running, geocaching, and writing. He has a son and a daughter, both married, and is looking forward to the day he has grandchildren to spoil.
Welcome to my blog, Russ. I read your bio and you have lived a very interesting life. That alone would intrigue me to read your books. Please tell us about your novel, The Cryptic Crossword Caper.
is a cozy mystery featuring Mags, a widow living in a small vacation town in the rugged coastal mountains near Big Sur, California, with her dog Raisin. She’s a crossword maven and fan of puzzles of all sorts; she just loves solving things. When a renowned puzzle-maker in town is murdered, the police chief asks for her help as a part-time typist, but her skill solving puzzles becomes more important. She casts an admiring eye at the chief, but he seems more interested in the glamorous FBI agent who blows into town investigating a jewel theft she thinks may be connected to the murder. Fortunately for Mags, her friends in her book club have her back as things get more complicated. A unique feature of this novel is that the puzzles in the book can be worked by the reader either in the book or online; there is a link in the Appendix to the crossword and a Sudoku that provide valuable clues, and a cryptogram is also revealed.
Where did you get your inspiration for this story?
My previous seven books, the Cliff Knowles Mysteries, are all police procedurals, inspired by real FBI cases and all but the first feature Cliff’s hobby of geocaching to varying degrees. Although relatively tame by murder mystery standards, they are a bit on the gritty side. I wanted to broaden my audience and write something of a kinder, gentler nature without the geocaching, so a cozy mystery seemed to fit the bill. My interest in ciphers and puzzles were a logical theme.
What kind of research did you do?
I didn’t research for the book per se. I’m the past president of the American Cryptogram Association and I provide the crosswords for The Grapevine, the magazine for retired FBI agents, so I had long experience with puzzle-making. My life story gave me the knowledge of police and FBI procedure as well as familiarity with the geography of the area.
Tell me about one of the main characters and what you love about him or her?
Rather than focus on Mags, the main character, I’d rather tell you about Rick Moran, the police chief. He’s a small-town boy who became an FBI agent, then left early to return to his home town. He struggles with budget and the mostly boring work, but what he really cares about is keeping the citizens safe. Although I created some tension between Rick and the FBI, they’re able to work together to protect the public, because in the end, that’s what motivates them both. I wanted to show the reader the reality of law enforcement at both local and federal level, not the warring between them that characterizes so many novels and TV shows. Rick personifies real-life police work, the devotion to duty that I saw in my FBI career.
Where is your website so my readers can check out your recent and past books that you have written?
All my books are listed at http://cliffknowles.ackgame.com/.
Thank you so much for this interview, Russ. I hope my readers will check out your books.