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Mary Logue’s new mystery throws the book at crime
Mary Logue’s prolific and varied career has taken her from arts journalism and poetry to nonfiction and novels.

Things are very quiet in the Logue-Hautman house. In one room, Mary Logue is working on her mystery novels; in another room, Pete Hautman is writing young-adult fiction.

“We don’t talk to each other very much throughout the day, we don’t each lunch or breakfast together, but we do eat dinner together every night,” says Logue, who met Hauptman a couple decades ago when he took a writing class she was teaching at the Loft. (“I waited till the class was over to ask him out,” she says.)

The class must have been good, too: Hautman went on to write crime capers for adults, and then veered in a new direction to become one of the most popular male writers of young-adult fiction; his book “Godless” won the 2004 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. That makes him a star pupil.

Meanwhile, Logue’s prolific and varied career has taken her from arts journalism and poetry to nonfiction and novels. She has written for young adults and small children, and teaches writing for young readers at Hamline University’s MFA program. Her new picture book is “Sleep Like a Tiger,” which has just been named an honor book for the Charlotte Zolotow award (for the text) and an honor book for the Caldecott award (for the illustrations, by Pamela Zagarenski).  

But Logue is best known as the writer of the Claire Watkins mystery series. In her late 20s, she moved to New York to write for the Village Voice and work for Simon & Shuster, and while she was there she wrote “Red Lake of the Heart,” a standalone mystery set in the Twin Cities.

“I thought I would use the framework of a mystery novel to train myself in plot development,” said Logue, who returned to the Midwest and decided to set a new mystery series in Pepin County after she bought a house in Stockholm, Wis. (She and Hautman also have a place in Golden Valley.)

That was 25 years ago, and she’s become embedded in the colorful Stockholm scene, which includes artists, writers, chefs and farmers. Logue’s small-town deputy, Claire Watkins, explores the dark side of this picturesque town in books that deal with land-use and development disputes, methamphetamine use, and murder.

“The sheriff of Pepin County has given me lots of really interesting information about the area, and I hear great stories from my neighbors, too,” she says, noting that small-town life is anything but boring. But her newest mystery, “Killer Librarian,” written under the pen name Mary Lou Kirwin, is set partly in a library in a suburb of Minneapolis, and partly in London, where a librarian jilted by her boyfriend goes to close the book on the relationship, and ends up running into a dead body.

“I usually write why-did-it-happens — I’m much more interested in the psychology of murder. But this is a much more playful book, a classic who-done-it,” says Logue, who asked her local librarian to vet the book, and sends her heroine on a fantasy tour of the book shelves of Britain. “It’s an homage to the British writers who have played a huge role in my life, and to librarians, who have often given me the right book at the right time,” she says.

Fans of the Claire Watkins series needn’t grieve; Logue expects she’ll return to it when inspiration strikes.

“Maybe I’ll write about frack sands; that’s the latest story down there,” she notes. Never a dull moment in Pepin County. But as Mary Lou Kirwin, Logue is setting out to prove there is drama at the library, too, and not just on the shelves. 

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