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One mystery, many sleuths and $10,000

By Davina Willett
Court TV


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(Court TV) -- Former disco queen Tiffany Jones was making a comeback. British tabloid hound Mariana Blair was about to crack the biggest case in her young career. Following the success of his megahit "Booty Power," rapper Shaywan "Cheeno" Anderson had tried his hand at acting and the critics were raving. And Dave Hamlin was a first-term congressman the president had personally hailed.

Why, wonders former NYPD detective Kim Carlyle, were they all murdered and is there a connection?

These fictional, fast-living characters are among many who are brutally and mysteriously murdered in the novel, "Who Killed Tiffany Jones?" by Mavis Kaye.  But unlike other mystery novels, this one won't provide a solution. It's up to readers to solve the crime. And the reward will be more than the simple satisfaction familiar to any amateur sleuth. It's $10,000.

The concept of an interactive book that offers a reward is not entirely new. One of the co-creators of "Tiffany Jones," author and literary agent Bill Adler, had huge success with a 1983 book he co-created, titled "Who Killed the Robins Family?" That mystery also offered a $10,000 reward.

For "Tiffany Jones" Adler teamed up with author and former New York Times Book Review editor Mel Watkins. Watkins was working at The Times when Adler's "Robins Family" came out and he recalls the negative reaction of his colleagues.

"Traditionalists frown upon [books] like this. They think it's a gimmick. Kind of like how documentary filmmakers look at reality show producers," he said. "'It's destroying what literature should be' was the attitude at The Times."

But Watkins disagreed. He accepted the invitation to co-create "Tiffany Jones" without hesitation. "Reality has become a part of our lives. It makes perfect sense to do [a book] like this. It's a commercial novel that is supposed to be fun," he said.

Watkins and Adler met in the 1970s when Watkins was editor of the Quarterly Black Review of Books, and Adler was already working in publishing. They saw each other at professional functions over the years and sporadically discussed collaborating on something. Eventually, Adler suggested they do another interactive murder mystery.

"I had the idea, we made a deal. I contributed nothing but the concept," Adler said.

The book's author, like its characters, is fictional. "Mavis Kaye" is the pseudonym for a team of writers. Watkins masterminded the plot structure, then brainstormed the characters and their stories with the other writers.

"I took their material and edited it so [the story] flowed. So I wrote about 40% of it and edited the rest," he said. 

The identity of the other authors remains a mystery for now. "They are all published authors. I will reveal that the M in "Mavis Kaye" is the only reference to me," he said. There are no prizes for guessing the names of the authors involved however, so save your energy, sleuths.

A detective with a wardrobe

One of the few characters not murdered in the novel is sassy, wise-cracking entertainment agent Kim Carlyle. Forced out of the NYPD after posing for Playboy, Carlyle makes it her business to solve the string of high-profile murders -- while wearing the latest Donna Karan.

Her prominent client, flashy chanteuse Tiffany Jones, is found dead in her dressing room moments after a curtain call at the renowned Apollo Theatre in Harlem. Noting that her expensive jewelry is still in place and there are no signs of a struggle or apparent wounds, Carlyle doesn't immediately suspect foul play. It's not until a rapper client of hers is killed and another narrowly escapes an attempted murder that she suspects Jones' death may have been a hit.

When she receives a call from tabloid reporter Mariana Blair a few weeks -- and deaths --later and Blair shares her cryptic theory on how the murders are connected, Carlyle throws skepticism aside. The two women are in momentary transatlantic cohorts until ... well, you'll have to find out for yourself.

According to Watkins, "There is no one [hint] that gives the whole thing away," but he noted that the final chapters are the most revealing.

Cajoled into providing more clues, he added, "The key is to figure out who is responsible for [the deaths]."   Pressed further, he said mysteriously, "Who is Sally? She is real. That is the mystery." 

At least that's more than the book jacket tells you.

The competition ends March 1, and Watkins is the only person who knows the answer;   even his co-authors don't know. That day, he will send the solution to Martin-Kane, the company running the competition, and they will judge the entries and make the final decision. Contestants must answer a series of questions in the back of the book, and will be judged on accuracy and creativity, among other criteria.

Then in November HarperCollins will publish the book in paperback with three additional chapters revealing the solution.

And readers who enjoyed the spirited Kim Carlyle will be pleased to know that Watkins and his co-authors plan to release another novel in 2004 with the entertainment agent as its central heroine.

"You got that right," the Chanel-clad Carlyle might say.


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