After going into Reader’s Books in Sonoma one day, Jonah Raskin asked a bookseller if any murder mystery novels took place in the the town of Sonoma. She told him not really, nothing worth recommending at least.
People told him there wasn’t much crime in Sonoma either.
“Initially I wasn’t sure about that,” Raskin said. “I started really keeping track of crimes. There’s a lot of crime in Sonoma; there are all kinds of crime over there.”
On April 5, Raskin, the author of 15 books, journalist, poet and former professor (and a columnist for this newspaper), released “Dark Day, Dark Night,” his second murder mystery in the Tioga Vignetta series. His detective has her office on the plaza in downtown Sonoma. In his books, Raskin tries to reflect all the wine, weed, food and tourists that make Sonoma County the unusual place it is.
Described as “a marijuana murder mystery,” it’s set in the same universe as his first novel, 2017’s “Dark Land, Dark Mirror,” and features several of its characters.
A lifelong fan of detective fiction, Raskin grew up watching and reading detective stories like “The Maltese Falcon,” which is quoted in his book.
“I taught writing murder mysteries at Sonoma State and wanted to do my own version of it,” Raskin said. “I’ve learned by doing it.”
In “The Maltese Falcon,” there’s a valuable statue everyone is searching for. Raskin was intrigued by this idea and adapted it for something valued in Sonoma County: marijuana.
In Raskin’s novel, Detective Tioga Vignetta and apprentice Camilla Sanchez get involved in the marijuana industry as they try to solve a murder leading to the criminal underworld. The book delves into murders connected to the marijuana business, where crops have been stolen or disappeared.
“There are police raids,” Raskin said. “That’s all there.”
Tioga gets emotionally involved with people she’s investigating, blurring the line between her professional and personal life. Raskin said this helps her solve mysteries and provides a love story tie-in to the overarching plot.
The first chapter is less than a page, starting with two helicopters landing in a marijuana field. Men with machetes come out to harvest the crop and end up killing a woman.
“I think it’s a dramatic way to begin,” Raskin said. “The next chapter there’s another dead woman. If the book has a theme, I would say the theme is disappearance.”
His first book, “Dark Land, Dark Mirror” took longer for Raskin to finish since he was discovering how to write a murder mystery. When he started the second novel, he was very comfortable.
It’s a bit lengthier, has more characters and takes the detective in different directions.
“They’re separate,” Raskin said. “You don’t have to read the first one to know the start of the second one.”
Although those who have read the first novel may be rewarded with certain details, since Raskin said some of the crimes are referenced again.
“People who’ve read this, they would see that there are some links — echoes of the first book,” Raskin said.
“A lot of people are going to be reading it,” Raskin said, “they’re going to be turning pages and saying, ‘Well, who killed this person?’ or, ‘How was this murder solved?’”
Despite it being a murder mystery, Raskin said the book is worth revisiting, even when someone knows the outcome. He hears people often say that they miss things in a movie and want to go see it again. Similar to this, readers might miss details they want more of.
The novel took Raskin about a year to write. He said if people wanted to read it, they will learn a lot about Sonoma County, the marijuana industry and various types of crime.
“I plan to write a third one, the same detective, also set in Sonoma,” Raskin said. “That one will also be in the present day, though it will also take the detective into the past.”
“Dark Day, Dark Night” is available to purchase on Amazon Kindle and in paperback.
The novel is dedicated to Waights Taylor Jr., who owns the publishing company McCaa Books in Santa Rosa. He also writes murder mysteries, set in his Alabama hometown.
“If it wasn’t for him, the book wouldn’t be here,” Raskin said.