Journey to Karen Henderson’s first novel, ‘Caribbean Hit: An Eve Wade Mystery,’ an interesting one

Karen Henderson for Podolak column

A review by Janet Podolak for The News Herald.

Those of us who write for a living often are asked when we’ll be writing a novel. Many of us dream of doing just that.

For me, it’s not something I’ll be pursuing. I work best with the deadlines of newspaper work and can’t imagine working for months or years on a novel.

But my friend Karen Henderson has been writing books for much of the three decades I’ve known her. She’s a private person and hasn’t filled me in on their content as she works, but I know that she has a penchant for mysteries and that she’s long sought a publisher.

Henderson and I became friends in the 1970s when she was working for The News-Herald. We shared Chagrin Falls roots and a love of travel. Her dad began the iconic Chagrin Falls Popcorn Shop in the 1940s, and she spent many girlhood days there.

Her career took her to the Painesville Telegraph and then The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. When she retired 15 years ago, she intensified efforts on her novel.

During her long newspaper career, Henderson had exposed corrupt officials, consumer fraud, child molestation and environmental health issues.

She covered the U.S. District Court in Cleveland and was a crack investigative reporter — one of the first in the country to write about pedophila among priests. Her 1987 series not only was entered for Pulitzer Prize consideration, it helped lead to a nonfiction book (1992’s “Lead Us Not Into Temptation” by Jason Berry), a film (2015 Academy Award winner “Spotlight”) and gradual changes in the way the Catholic Church deals with the issue. But in addition to widespread praise, those stories and others also led to hate mail and death threats.

Meanwhile, my friend took refuge in her novel, writing reams of fiction, developing her characters and seeking a publisher. Her story morphed into a series framed around the adventures of Eve Wade, an investigative reporter. Henderson has been able to engage her rich imagination and her keen attention to detail while revealing her investigative processes through Eve.

Upon turning 80 this year, Henderson decided to turn her focus away from from seeking an agent and a publisher and to self-publish her work through Amazon.

“If not now, when?” she asked me.

Unlike many drawn to self-publishing, she had the wisdom and experience to hire an editor.

I finally was able to read Henderson’s first published novel when “Caribbean Hit: An Eve Wade Mystery” became available on Amazon. When I read it on my Kindle, I was delighted to discover she had incorporated various Caribbean islands into the story.

She and I have visited the Caribbean together several times, and her descriptions bring back many memories. She’s a wonderful underwater naturalist, and we’ve become Scuba diving buddies.

As the book gained readers, it was picked up by several libraries — Morley Library in Painesville and Cleveland Public Library included — and independent bookstores as, well as Barnes & Noble. It’s gotten several favorable reviews, including one from New York City-based Kirkus Reviews.

Just as “hits” online are a measure for stories from a news organization, so are online reviews for Amazon books. The numbers determine the algorithm that can boost a title toward the top of the list readers use to choose what they’ll read next.

Henderson, who lives in a restored ancestral home in Leroy Township, lately has been promoting her book with book signings and appearances as a guest at book clubs. It’s quite a departure for my friend, who is a very private person.

She’s also working hard to put finishing touches on the next two books in the Eve Wade series. Publishing her novel has led to a whole new chapter in my old friend’s life.

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