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The dark side of Cedar Cove
While Debbie Macomber’s romanticized Cedar Cove setting has earned her millions of worldwide fans, another local author’s fictional portrayal of Port Orchard is quite different.
“I love Port Orchard,” said Olalla resident Gregg Olsen, who has lived in the area for 15 years. “But I wanted to show a darker side. In the Cedar Cove series it would be difficult to picture a world that contained a serial killer, which is what I have imagined.”
Olsen, 51, has written eight true-crime books, including an account of Mary Kay Letourneau and an upcoming volume about Bainbridge Island minister Nick Hacheney, who led a secret life of murder and adultery. He is best known for “Starvation Heights,” an account of Linda Hazzard and the Olalla sanitarium she ran 100 years ago that literally starved its patients to death.
For now Olsen is promoting “Victim Six,” his fourth novel and the first to be set in a real location—the town of Port Orchard. The rest of the world won’t notice the surroundings, but local readers will recognize many of the landmarks. The story refers to familiar locations such as the Kitsap County Courthouse and the Bremerton ferry terminal. Olsen describes the scenery well enough for an outsider to imagine, while the settings will ring true for local readers.
Olsen admits right away that parts of the book are “over the top” and probably would not happen. “I don’t think you can pick up a hooker on the Bremerton ferry these days,” he said.
The book imagines a pair of serial killers who prey on unsuspecting, vulnerable women. The descriptions are graphic and will be hard to take for some readers, although these accounts are less intense than a police report of such a crime.
Many local landmarks transfer to the book unchanged, such as the Fathoms O’Fun parade while others are revised, like the christening of the Port Orchard Independent as “The Lighthouse.”
Olsen created a first draft from his own experience, then set about to confirm certain details. As part of this he sent a copy of the manuscript to Kitsap County Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Wilson, who returned it with pencil marks in the margin correcting some department procedures and procedural language
“The serial killer plot is a little camp,” Wilson said. “Could it happen here? It probably could. But if we had a real serial killer here we would focus all of our resources on the solving of the case rather than just assigning two detectives. But this is a fictional, Hollywood-type situation, so it works in that respect.”
Olsen also met with Coroner Greg Sandstrom, visiting the small autopsy room used before the opening of the new facility.
“I try to be as accurate as possible,” Olsen said. “But if I write another book in this series I will keep the funky old coroner’s office, instead of moving it to the fancy new building.”
Olsen said it takes him about a year to write and publish a novel, while a true crime takes much longer. He has completed four novels in the time that it took to write and research “A Twisted Faith,” the account of the Hacheney case to be published in April.
When writing a novel he modifies real occurrences, any plot twist has happened somewhere else in some form. For the true crime books he relies on court transcripts and interviews with all available sources, and relies on these facts to construct the story.
Olsen has interviewed the criminal in all his books aside from “Starvation Heights,” as Hazzard died in 1938.
“I usually talk to them after completing all my other research because I might not get another chance,” Olsen said. “When I talk to them they are all innocent. And they talk to me because they want to get their point of view across.”
Olsen said that “Starvation Heights” is in development as a movie, with Natalie Portman lined up for the Hazzard role.
Olsen said he has not read any books in the Cedar Cove series, but has tremendous respect for Macomber.
“Since we have lived here Port Orchard hasn’t been able to get its act together,” Olsen said. “But Debbie has given the town a real boost. I can’t think of another writer who has been able to do that for a community.”
While he expects the Macomber momentum will continue, there will be room for a new generation of local writers.
“Port Orchard is a scrappy small town that can become something big,” he said. “We have everything we need to become a place to be reckoned with.”
Olsen is scheduled for several book signing events to commemorate “Victim Six,” including one at 6 p.m. on Feb. 2 at Bethel Ave. Books in Port Orchard. For more information go to www.greggolsen.com.