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Off-the-Clock: Janet Dawson

Janet Dawson has always liked a good mystery novel. She likes them so much that she gets up at 4:30 a.m. to write her own.

Dawson has produced 11 mystery novels and 16 short stories over the past 20 years, some of them written in the wee hours before she comes to work in the Education Partnerships program.

Her signature character is Jeri Howard, an intrepid Oakland private investigator who makes her living tracking down missing people and solving murders. Inspiration for her plots comes from newspaper stories, conversations with friends – pretty much everywhere. One story centered on California’s anti-stalking laws and involved a group of UC Berkeley students.

“Jeri is something of an alter ego, a younger, resourceful, bolder version of me,” says Dawson.

Dawson’s first Jeri Howard novel, Kindred Crimes, won the St. Martin’s Press-Private Eye Writers of America Contest for Best First Private Eye Novel and was nominated for multiple awards. The New York Times Book Review called it “a welcome addition” to a tough genre.

From mystery reader to ‘whodunit’ writer

“I am compelled to write because the stories are there, like movies in my head, and I have to write them down,” Dawson says.

Dawson has been writing since college, when she majored in journalism. Her first reporting job was at a small-town newspaper, the Lamar Daily News in Colorado.

Since it was a small publication, Dawson got to try her hand at all the beats and sat in on the occasional criminal trial. Other jobs since then have added to her preparation to be a career ‘whodunit’ novelist.

She worked as U.S. Navy journalist, living in Guam and Florida, before being stationed in the San Francisco Bay Area. After leaving the Navy, she took on a job as legal secretary, then joined UC Berkeley in 2000. She came to UCOP in July 2010 to be the assistant to the director of the MESA program.

In her spare time, she does the legwork for her novels. She has combed through government records, shadowed real private detectives, done ride-alongs with police, and interviewed homicide detectives and bomb specialists – all in the name of great storytelling. Her fieldwork has paid off with a reputation for meticulous details and uncanny descriptions.

Lately, Dawson finds herself drawn to historical mysteries. She’s also working on a novel written in the third-person and featuring multiple-viewpoint narration. The structure is a departure for her, and she relishes the challenge. Entitled What You Wish For, the book is set to come out from Perseverance Press in fall 2012.

The tenth novel in Dawson’s Jeri Howard series, Bit Player, is due out from Perseverance Press in April 2011.

“I never lack for story ideas, what I lack is the time to write,” Dawson said. “Story ideas are everywhere – like pollen in the air.”

Visit Janet Dawson’s website at for a list of her works.

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  1. Sally Philbin January 12, 2011 Reply

    Hi Janet,

    You may become my new favorite mystery author. I can’t wait to give your books a read!

    Sally Philb

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