Houston Author, Houston Setting: Rachel Brady's Final Approach

Going from being a biomedical engineer NASA to writing Final Approach, a thriller set in a skydiving camp, wasn't as big a leap for debut author Rachel Brady as you might think. The Pearland resident tells Hair Balls, "After three or four years of reading a lot of mystery and a lot of suspense, it occurred to me that I never figured out, while I was reading the book, who the villains were. I started to pay attention to how [the authors] were doing that. Where are they putting the clues that are getting me off track? Then I though, 'I wonder if I can do that?'"

Over the next four years, Brady crafted a mystery novel, never intending to publish it. But somewhere in the process, she started going to writers' conferences and joined a few writers' groups. There she found the encouragement to submit the work to agents. After just a couple of tries, Final Approach sold.

In the story, Emily, the lead character, is a woman who once helped to recover a missing child, when she saw the boy in a restaurant with a couple other than his parents. Now a private detective has come asking for her help in finding another missing child. While not a trained detective, Emily does have experience as a skydiver and since the suspects are based in a sky diving camp just outside Houston, she has the perfect cover.

"The idea for the story came one day when I was sitting [in a restaurant] having lunch by myself," she says. "I saw a little baby who looked like a baby from my playgroup, but those weren't her parents. So I looked at the baby again, and it wasn't her. I started to think about it, what if that was her? Would I go up to the table, would I call her mom? What would I do?

Like her character Emily, Brady has experience as a skydiver, and those sections of the book ring especially true. Brady also manages to capture the setting -- Houston and the surrounding area -- in fine detail. (At one point, Emily is making a ransom drop. To make sure she isn't followed, the kidnapper has her weave in and out of Galleria traffic during rush hour.)

But, however finely drawn, Houston takes a back seat to the plot. "I don't consider myself a settings writer. I was concerned with the characters' emotions...but when I got the book back from my publisher for revisions, one of the things they asked for was more local color."

Besides the skydiving camp (which is fictional), Brady had action taking place in the Galleria, Bush Intercontinental Airport, and a beach house in Surfside. "I went up to the airport and spent all day there," she says. "I watched people coming in and out of the security check-points; I paid attention to where I was parking and how I had to navigate in and out of Terminal C, to the conversations I overheard. I did the same thing at the Galleria, and the beach."

While Final Approach deals with the very serious issue of missing children, it's still a bright, enjoyable read. Fast-paced and filled with just enough comedy to balance the danger the characters face, it is lively and colorful. That's something Brady was hoping for. "Mainly I just want people to be entertained. There is an underlying question in the book, that is, 'To what lengths would you go to help a child?' But that's not the message of the book. I wrote it to be entertaining. And to be something people can escape into."

Rachel Brady will read from Final Approach during a signing session at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Murder by the Book, 2342 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-524-8597 or visit www.murderbooks.com. Free.

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