Meg Gardiner

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Meg Gardiner
Meg Gardiner made an appearance at The Bookworm, in Edwards, Colorado, on Feb. 10, 2009.
Born (1957-05-15) May 15, 1957 (age 57)
Oklahoma, United States
Occupation Novelist
Nationality American
Alma mater Stanford University (B.A.) &
Stanford Law School (J.D.)
Period 2002-
Genre Crime Thriller fiction
Notable works Evan Delaney, Jo Beckett series
Spouse Paul Shreve
Children 3 children

Meg Gardiner (born May 15, 1957, in Oklahoma) is an Edgar Award-winning American crime writer, who lives in Austin, Texas. Her best-known books are the Evan Delaney novels. In June 2008, she published the first novel in a new series, featuring forensic psychiatrist Jo Beckett. The second Jo Beckett novel, The Memory Collector, was published in June 2009, the third, The Liar's Lullaby, in June 2010, and the most recent Beckett book, The Nightmare Thief, was published in June 2011. More recently she has published three stand-alone novels: Ransom River (June 2012), The Shadow Tracer (June 2013), and Phantom Instinct (June 2014).

Gardiner's first novel, China Lake, received the 2009 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original novel upon its publication in the United States in 2008.[1] Her first Jo Beckett novel, The Dirty Secrets Club, won the 2009 The Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice award for Best Procedural Novel.[2] Her ninth novel, The Nightmare Thief, won the 2012 Audie Award for Thriller/Suspense Audiobook of the Year.[3]


Gardiner was born in Oklahoma and grew up in Santa Barbara, California. She currently lives with her husband, Paul Shreve, in Austin, Texas.

In describing herself, Gardiner has said quite simply: "I write thrillers," before recently elaborating: "I used to practice law. I taught writing at the University of California. Of course, there's more — and because the Internet can fact-check you, faster than you can type 'Sarah Palin', I'm going to come clean: It's true that I used to be a mime. But only before mimes became annoying. And yes, I did go in costume to the Star Trek exhibition in Hyde Park. But I did not wear the Ferengi ears.[4]

Gardiner is the daughter of English professor Frank C. Gardiner and Sally Love. Gardiner attended Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, a community just north of Santa Barbara, graduating in June 1975.[5]

Following graduation, she attended Stanford University, where she attained her Bachelor's degree in Economics and lettered in track. She went on to graduate from Stanford Law School and to practice law in Los Angeles, before returning to Santa Barbara to teach legal research and writing at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She lived in Surrey, near London, until 2013, when she moved to Austin.

Writing career[edit]

Writing is her "third career," says Gardiner. "In earlier incarnations, I practiced law in Los Angeles and taught writing at the University of California, Santa Barbara. After living in California most of my life, in the early 1990s, I moved with my family to the United Kingdom."

It was during her freedom in those early years in the UK that she wrote her first novel, completing a task she'd set for herself a decade earlier. "I always wanted to write a novel. And it was time to put up or shut up."[6]

Initially, she began documenting her travels in a journal, titled Hitchhiking in Lion Country, or Stupid Things I Have Done in Zambia. Entries include "Damn, That Cliff is Steep" and "With the Kids at the Cobra Petting Zoo." She lacked the insurance to keep this up, however, and so she sought new thrills. Too squeamish to rob convenience stores, she took up crime writing. Her first novel, China Lake, was published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2002. Since then, Gardiner has written full-time and published eleven additional titles. "It's a job I'm immensely lucky to have."[7]

Gardiner says that she writes crime fiction because it "gets to the heart of the human condition. It's about people facing a severe danger, or confronting an evil that has invaded their world. It's also fun. I get to slingshot readers into situations they would hate to face in real life. A kid in danger? Bring it on. Sadistic killers? Here, have another helping. My book gave you nightmares? Thank you, that's wonderful."[8]

She likes thriller fiction "because it grabs readers, takes them on a menacing ride to places they'd hate to go in real life and returns them safely, feeling thrilled. And especially because crime writing is about morality: finding justice, restoring order out of chaos."[9]

As the daughter of an English professor, "I was obviously in a home where books and reading and writing mattered," Gardiner told the Santa Barbara Independent newspaper.[10] At Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, California, she reported for the Charger Account, the school paper, but her father urged caution to his budding writer. "He said I could write novels after college and be another novelist who waits on tables or I could become a lawyer who writes novels." She heeded his warning, but later left the law behind and began writing. "I decided I didn't want to argue for a living," she said. Instead, as the title of her blog "Lying for a Living" implies, she now lies for a living.

Gardiner on Writing[edit]

Gardiner has discussed the craft of writing on multiple occasions. On what she considers the most difficult aspect of writing, Gardiner has said, "The first draft. Sketching ideas — 'Somebody is killing Evan's high school class' — is simple. Turning those ideas into compelling scenes is like pulling my own teeth with pliers: slow, painful and messy."[9]

About getting a story right, Gardiner has said, "It's right when readers say 'Oh my God' at a plot turn they never saw coming. It's right when they laugh out loud on airplanes, can't sleep until they finish the book, and phone at three a.m. to yell at me for killing a favorite character. But those things don't happen till I've jettisoned half my original ideas, mud-wrestled others into submission, and flayed several drafts of the story to shreds."[9]

Gardiner says that she tries, in her writing, "to explore the boundary between morality and wrongdoing. When is it justified to go outside the law to right a wrong? When can you use ruthless violence to defend somebody you love?"[9]

Gardiner considers no subject taboo. "No subject should be off-limits. That road leads to timidity and repression. However, I think certain approaches to subjects are repulsive. Gratuitous, protracted, explicit violence is sometimes offered as a feast, and portrayed with such lurid and eager detail that it becomes almost pornographic. But we should argue about such approaches, not forbid them."[9]

Gardiner credits her training as an attorney as part of the foundation for her writing skills. "The intellectual rigor prepared me for a lot of things. The grounding in legal knowledge has been helpful in practice, in teaching, and in being a writer. I learned not to write in legalese. I learned how to tell a story and take a position."[6]


As of July 2014, Gardiner has written twelve novels, including five in the Evan Delaney series, four in the Jo Beckett series, and three standalone novels.

Evan Delaney novels[edit]

  1. China Lake (2002)
  2. Mission Canyon (2003)
  3. Jericho Point (2004)
  4. Crosscut (2005)
  5. Kill Chain (2006)

Jo Beckett novels[edit]

  1. The Dirty Secrets Club (2008)
  2. The Memory Collector (June 2009)
  3. The Liar's Lullaby (June 2010)
  4. The Nightmare Thief (June 2011)

Other novels[edit]

Ransom River (June 2012)

The Shadow Tracer (June 2013)

Phantom Instinct (2014), (Published in the UK under the title The Burning Mind (2014), as M.G. Gardiner)

Gardiner on Evan Delaney[edit]

The Evan Delaney series features legal themes (the protagonist is a lawyer-turned-journalist whose boyfriend is a trial lawyer) and a great deal of white-knuckle action.

Gardiner describes Delaney as "a smart-aleck freelance journalist dealing with identity theft, religious extremism, a high school reunion killer, and sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll. "[7]

Gardiner has described Evan Delaney as a woman who is "spirited, quick-witted, and fights hard for the people she loves . . . She thinks the world is tragic and so you'd better laugh whenever you can. Pour her a glass of Jack Daniel's and ask her about finding that FBI agent hogtied to her bed, stripped and ranting. Just don't get on her bad side, because she may have a heat-seeking missile stashed in her car."[9]

Asked whether the character is autobiographical, Gardiner has said, "Evan is me with the brakes off. She says and does things I would never have the chutzpah to say or do myself. We share a background as lawyers, Californians, and tomboys. And we share a sense of humor, though hers is darker than mine. However, I live a calm life compared to Evan. I've never had to defend myself with a ferret."[11]

Nancy Freund Fraser of Midpoint Publishing describes the Evan Delaney series as: "A bold, brash, slightly-too-much-gumption-for-her-own-good kind of girl. Harpoon guns, GPS tracking devices, rabid coyotes, airplane crash mementos, the FBI, homemade bombs, explosive Redi-Whip, imposter nuclear warheads, Navy fighter pilots, flirtatious fighter pilots, ladies' lingerie, small dogs, religious megalomaniacs, fires, imprisonment, alcoholic in-laws, has-been rock stars, never-were rock stars, smashed pumpkins, AIDS, broken glass, burning cowboy boots in trash cans—still attached to the feet that wear them—kidnappings to Las Vegas, NCAA swim meets, men in swimsuits, men in wheelchairs, men in Mustangs, margaritas, murder by guitar chord, and efforts (failed efforts, often) at redemption from every angle known to man."[8]

Gardiner on Jo Beckett[edit]

The lead character in Gardiner’s second series, Jo Beckett, MD, is a forensic psychiatrist from San Francisco.

Interviewed by Poe's Deadly Daughters, Gardiner explained Beckett's role in this way: "Jo calls herself a deadshrinker. She analyzes the dead for the police. She's the last resort in baffling cases. When the cops and the medical examiner can't determine the manner of a victim's death, they turn to Jo to perform a psychological autopsy and figure out whether it was accident, suicide, or murder."[12]

"Jo looks at victims' emotional, moral, and psychological lives to figure out why they died. She digs beneath the clinical what and how of the police lab, into the messy, mysterious, and spooky realm of the mind. And that's what fascinated me about her job.

"CSI is great, but I wanted to go beyond it. In the real world, crime lab technology is not an infallible truth-o-meter. Physical evidence is not in fact bulletproof. Real life is murkier—and more fascinating. That's what Jo explores. She goes beyond DNA sequencing and gas chromatography to uncover why a victim has died. And she can come at cases from fresh, atypical angles."

Gardiner has summarized Beckett’s work in this way: "Jo doesn't pick up gory bits of trace evidence with tweezers. She digs into people's passions, obsessions and secrets to find out what killed them. Her territory is the psyche and the human heart."[13]

Book Reviews[edit]

Both of Gardiner's series and all of her stand-alone novels have received positive reviews.

In his Entertainment Weekly column, Stephen King said “I need to tell you about Meg Gardiner, who simply must be part of the Big Plan. And if you love great thrillers, you'll want to listen.”[14] King called the Evan Delaney novels “simply put, the finest crime-suspense series I’ve come across in the last twenty years.”[15]

Reviewing the first Jo Beckett novel, The Dirty Secrets Club, USAToday said the novel had: “Hitchcockian scenes of suspense will rock even the most jaded thriller reader.”[16]

Kirkus Reviews named The Shadow Tracer one of its Best Mysteries and Thrillers of 2013.[17] About Phantom Instinct, the Associated Press wrote: "'Phantom Instinct' is simply a fantastic story, told at breakneck speed. Gardiner is one of the best thriller writers around, and this is arguably her best work of this summer’s best reads."[18]

O, The Oprah Magazine called Phantom Instinct "compulsively readable" and included it as one of the "Summer's Best Thrillers" for 2014.[19]


  1. ^ "Edgar Award Winners Announced - GalleyCat". 2009-05-01. Retrieved 2013-01-03. 
  2. ^ "RT Award Nominees & Winners". RT Book Reviews. Retrieved 2013-01-03. 
  3. ^ "The Audies® - 2012". AudioFile Magazine. Retrieved 2013-01-03. 
  4. ^ "Ecstatic Days » Blog Archive » Good morning from London". 2008-09-01. Retrieved 2012-03-27. 
  5. ^ "Chosen by the King The Santa Barbara Independent". 2008-06-12. Retrieved 2012-03-27. 
  6. ^ a b Leslie Gordon (2008). "Beyond the Law: JDs in All Walks of Life". Stanford Lawyer. Retrieved 2014-07-14. 
  7. ^ a b "About me: Meg Gardiner | lying for a living". Retrieved 2012-03-27. 
  8. ^ a b "Frequently Asked Questions". 
  9. ^ a b c d e f "Meg Gardiner Q&A". Retrieved 2014-07-14. 
  10. ^ "Chosen by the King The Santa Barbara Independent". 2008-06-12. Retrieved 2012-03-27. 
  11. ^ "Oh No, Not the Grammar Police". 2008-04-16. Retrieved 2012-03-27. 
  12. ^ "POE'S DEADLY DAUGHTERS: Meg Gardiner and the Deadshrinker". 2010-06-23. Retrieved 2012-03-27. 
  13. ^ "JO BECKETT: FIGHTING THROUGH CHAOS IN THE REAL WORLD". 2010-07-07. Retrieved 2014-07-03. 
  14. ^ King, Stephen (2007-02-09). "The Secret Gardiner". Retrieved 2014-07-03. 
  15. ^ "Lying for a Living: About Me". 
  16. ^ Carol Memmott (2008-07-30). "Book Roundup: Mysteries/thrillers". USAToday. Retrieved 2014-07-03. 
  17. ^ "Best Mysteries & Thrillers of 2013". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 2014-07-03. 
  18. ^ Michelle Scheraga (2014-06-30). "MEG GARDINER'S LATEST THRILLER IS HER BEST YET". Retrieved 2014-07-03. 
  19. ^ "Killing It: The Summer's Best Thrillers". Retrieved 2014-07-03.