Sheldon weaves Juneau experience into new book

Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2001

Mystery author Sidney Sheldon writes from experience.

"I will not write about a meal in a restaurant anywhere in the world unless I've had a meal in that restaurant," said Sheldon, a best-selling author and winner of an Oscar, a Tony and an Edgar Allen Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America. "When I write a book, I do a lot of on-hand research."

Sheldon's latest novel, "The Sky Is Falling," is based on his visit to Juneau in September of 1999. The book was recently released in paperback and available for purchase at Costco and Hearthside Books.

The mystery follows an investigation by television journalist Dana Evans, who previously appeared in Sheldon's "The Best Laid Plans." Intrigued by the "accidental" deaths of several members of a prominent Washington family, Evans treks to locations around the world - including Juneau - in an effort to discover what really happened.

"I had heard so much about (Juneau) and I'd heard how beautiful it was and I just decided to take a look at it," Sheldon said.

Evans' visit, which spans pages 206 to 220 in the paperback version of "The Sky," is spurred by a murder at the Eaglecrest Ski Resort. A number of other Juneau businesses and organizations are mentioned, including Bartlett Regional Hospital, the Juneau Police Department, the Prospector, the Juneau Empire and the Hangar on the Wharf, where Sheldon ate lunch on his visit.

Judy and Bruce Bowler, coordinator of the Sea Dogs search and rescue team, joined Sheldon. To their surprise, they were featured in the book, along with their late dog Mayday and their Cozy Log Bed and Breakfast.

"I was totally shocked when I saw my name in print," Judy said. "That wasn't something that I had expected, but I am the innkeeper. He portrays Bruce as an employee of the Alaska State Troopers."

The police department referred Sheldon to Bruce Bowler after the author stopped by the police station with questions about murder investigations. The two met for lunch at the Hangar, and Judy jumped at the chance to join them.

"I'm no dummy," Judy said with a laugh. "I ran in and had lunch with them. What (Sheldon) did not anticipate and had never done any research on is the search dogs. He had no idea that Juneau would use search dogs and that was just so perfect for his book."

After lunch, Judy took Sheldon on a tour of Juneau. They visited Eaglecrest and rode the lift to the top of the mountain, swung by the Mendenhall Glacier and stopped in at the Bowlers' bed and breakfast.

"He liked the name of it," Judy said. "He walked in the door and said, 'Oh perfect. This is where she stayed.'"

Sheldon was also enchanted by the couple's dog, Mayday, who died in April. Though Mayday was never an active search dog, she served as a representative for the program in the community.

"She's the dog that found the body," said Judy of Mayday's role in the book. "She's immortalized."

Sheldon said he didn't originally intend to feature the Bowlers.

"In this case, they were so nice to me that I used them," he said. "I don't usually do that, but they went out of their way to be helpful."

The couple has maintained their friendship with Sheldon, and Judy said she approves of the book's portrayal of Juneau.

"He describes Juneau very invitingly," she said. "He wants it to be a good thing for Juneau. When I ... visited him in his home in Palm Springs his first question was, 'Is it good? Is Juneau liking this?'"

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