04/05/2012 04:43 pm ET Updated Jun 05, 2012

Writing a Muscular Mystery

I write an academic mystery series and because other books of mine have been taught around the country, I've done a lot of readings and talks at universities in the U.S. and even abroad. At almost every school I've visited, Ivy League or community college, someone tells me about a scandal, feud, or vendetta worthy of Monty Python or Joseph Heller.

The ideas and stories people offer me compete with the ones already swirling through my head. I've always been making up stories about people I see, whether in restaurants, malls, parks, theaters, wherever. It's a habit my parents noted when I was very young. That's just how I see the world, or the many worlds within this world.

One of those is the enormous health club that I've belonged to for 20 years. It's a great mix of old and young, student and professional, single and married, real athletes and wannabes--and ethnically diverse. It's a place where strangers will talk to each other and friends might not, because they're too into their workout. It's also a place where people change themselves by undressing and putting on a costume -- and attempt to change themselves by their exercise routines. But are they really different? And what do they reveal at each stage?

My latest mystery Hot Rocks is set at health club where my sleuth Nick Hoffman likes swimming and working out because he can escape the problems in his twisted academic department, a place the New York Times Book Review said the Borgias would feel at home in. Unfortunately, trouble stalks him even at the gym. Nick finds out that underneath the gleaming surface of this gorgeous, upscale health club, there's plenty of simmering lust and rage. The beautiful people have some ugly things to hide. Despite himself, he's drawn into unraveling sexual secrets and much more than he could have imagined in a world of pecs, passion and Pilates.