a piece for us not long ago and I wasn't expecting to have her back so quickly but when I read her novel THE ONLY WITNESS I loved it so much I invited her to write about it ASAP. And here she is. I think you will see why this unique idea appealed to me so much. - Robert Lopresti
When the Gorilla Takes Over
by Pamela Beason
When I began to write my novel The Only
Witness, I didn’t plan for it to be a series. Nor did I plan for Neema
the gorilla to be the protagonist of the book.
I was working as a
private investigator at the time, and I’d worked on several cases where
small children testified as witnesses. Now anyone who has worked with
young children, especially in a legal context, knows that they often
have limited understanding of the reality of what is happening to them
or around them, and we also know how easily they can be persuaded to say
the things that the adults want them to say. So, I had done a lot of
thinking about who can be a credible witness.
I digress… Getting back to the point, I’ve read all the books and
articles about teaching apes American sign language so we humans can
communicate in the only language we understand: The Education of Koko
and the films and National Geographic articles about the famous
gorillas, Roger Fouts’ Next of Kin, and some others.
So naturally my investigator brain got together with my animal-loving
side and cooked up the idea of having a gorilla, who supposedly has the
IQ of a five-year-old, be the only witness to a baby’s kidnapping. Cool
idea, right? But I resolved to keep the whole story plausible, so I had
to work with an ape’s limitations. A gorilla is never going to say, “You
know, when we were in town at 3 p.m. yesterday, I saw the most curious
incident when a shaggy-haired man…” So Neema’s clues had to be more
along the line of “Snake arm make baby cry. Give banana now.”
fell in love with Neema the gorilla and wanted more of her. I’m not
sure anyone even remembered my poor detective’s name, nor that of the
scientist (Grace McKenna) who teaches Neema, or even of the teen mom
(Brittany Morgan) whose infant was kidnapped. So then pressure from
readers forced me to write a sequel with gorillas—The Only Clue, in
which Neema, her mate Gumu, and her baby Kanoni all disappear after a
public event. And then, because any author knows that two books do not a
“series” make, I had to rack my brains to come up with a third. But
just how long can an author invent realistic mysteries involving signing
apes? It’s a challenge, let me tell you.
Gorilla mysteries are also a marketing
challenge. When asked for other mysteries that are similar to my Neema
series, my response is generally, “Uh…” Likewise, when asked what the
next Neema mystery will be about, I’m clueless as to whether there could
even be another.
So, if anyone has any ideas on either of those
subjects, please send them to me right away. In the meantime, I’ll be
working on the next novel in my Sam Westin wilderness series. It’s so
much easier to solve crimes on public lands than to determine what the
heck three gorillas might be up to these days.