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The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Anthropology professor leads double life as mystery writer

Dr. William Doonan, City College Anthropology professor in his office NHN 215. Oct. 6, 2015. (Emily Peterson;
Dr. William Doonan, City College Anthropology professor in his office NHN 215. Oct. 6, 2015. (Emily Peterson; [email protected])

Many of the online customer reviews for Bill Doonan’s books claim the mysteries are “a great read.” They are fast-paced entertainment. The books are “hard to put down,” says one reader.

Doonan, 49, is not only a book author, but a City College anthropology professor as well. For a decade, he has taught legions of students on campus and helped them move on in their education. But for nine summers he has also lectured on art history and anthropology aboard cruise ships.

“The average passenger is pretty old and energetic and active, and very healthy,” he says.

While on one of those cruise ships, Doonan, an “avid reader of mysteries,” says an idea was born.

Doonan decided to write a mystery story himself. Soon afterward, in 2009, armed with a finished manuscript, he published his first novel, “Grave Passage.”

The lead character in all four Doonan mystery novels is Henry Grave. Grave is a detective and an octogenarian at 84 years old.

One Amazon editorial review of the book reads: “An offbeat romp of a murder mystery, provides a terrific bit of escapism. Doonan has a unique voice that combines cozy and travelogue, all told from the perspective of an absent-minded old man (think Peter Falk’s Detective Columbo solving cases in retirement).”

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Grave is a composite of three people that Doonan says he met on cruise ships. One was a physically fit World War II veteran with a German accent, who told Doonan, “The most important thing is to keep the boys out of the army.”

The success of Doonan’s first mys- tery novel led to three more successful mystery books. His latest, “Aleutian Grave,” was published in 2014. Doonan’s novels have entertained millions of readers, including some of his colleagues.

“They are so much fun,” says City College sociology professor Angela Block. “They have good humor in them.”

Doonan says he hopes to lecture on a cruise ship again as a working vacation for him and his family — a wife and two sons, 9 and 7.

For his readers, Doonan uses Detective Henry Grave to bring together the upstairs and downstairs sections of a cruise ship.

“There is the world of the passenger and the world of the crew,” Doonan says. “They live in different worlds.”
Doonan’s work as an archaeologist has also informed his novels. He began doing excavations soon after finishing his graduate work at Tulane University. He worked on archeological digs in Costa Rica for about a decade.

He spent one year digging in Honduras and five summers working in coastal Peru.

Many of these places serve as locations in his novel “American Caliphate,” published in 2012. The book is about Islam in Peru, and the plot involves a long-lost secret that threatens worldwide upheaval should it be unveiled. A snappy promotional statement on “American Caliphate” says, “Nothing decays on the north coast, not even faith.”

Now that he has kids, Doonan says he is “grounded from archeology projects.”

As a family man, a professor and an author, Doonan’s hands are full. He says it
takes him a year to finish a novel.

“I’ve got a job, and I have kids,” he says. “I draft it out in six months, and there is another six months of editing.”

To get to the final product, Doonan says, he relies on four people who review his work and who are “absolutely cruel” in their criticism.

Other published works of Doonan’s include a book of paranormal fiction titled “Nocturnal Submission” — a book filled with empty pages, no writing at all, which invites purchasers to write their own stories. He also wrote a 68-chapter serialized blog project called “Medicineland” in 2012.

For Doonan, “Medicineland” was a tough project, because he says he forced himself to write a fully edited chapter a week.

“Does it work?” asks Doonan of “Medicineland.” “I don’t know. But minimally, it gives readers exposure to my writing and my books.”

“The Mummies of Blogspace9,” published in 2013, is another of Doonan’s archeological thrillers.

“‘Blogspace9’ is a taut, high-stakes thriller about a team of archeologists who inadvertently dig up more than they bar- gained for,” he says.

For Doonan’s readers, digging up intrigue is just what they bargained for.

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