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J.T. Ellison signs her name to murder at Sherlocks bookstores

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J.T. Ellison exploits Nashville locales to the hilt in her four Taylor Jackson crime thrillers. “Nashville permeates this series as a character unto itself,” she says. Radnor Lake plays a big focus in “The Cold Room,” her latest tome.

Ken Beck/The Wilson Post 

Meet the author

J.T. Ellison will sign copies of her newest book, “The Cold Room” (Mira Books, mass market paperback, $8), as well as previous titles, 1-4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, at Sherlock’s Book Emporium in Lebanon, 200 Maddox-Simpson Parkway. 449-9807. For more info on the writer, go to www.jtellison.com.

Sherlock’s downtown Nashville grand opening

Sherlock’s Book Emporium will hold the grand opening of its downtown Nashville store, 235 Fifth Ave. N., on Saturday, March 6. J.T. Ellison and Jennie Bentley (with her “Do-It-Yourself Home Renovation Mysteries” from Penguin/Putnam) will sign their books 6-9 p.m. that day at Sherlock’s as part of Nashville’s First Saturday Art Crawl, between Fourth and Fifth avenues. Food and beverages will be served. Downtown store hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-10 p.m. the first Saturday of each month in conjunction with the art crawl. Downtown phone: 248-1962. For more information, go to www.sherlocksbooks.com.

By KEN BECKSpecial to The Wilson Post

J.T. Ellison’s favorite place to commit murder is Nashville.

No, she’s not a serial killer, but the Conductor, the villain in her latest crime thriller, The Cold Room, is.

Thus, the action in the fourth book of her homicide detective Taylor Jackson series opens with a grisly scene in a house on Love Circle, one of the first places that Ellison’s hubby took her when he introduced her to Music City in 1998.

“My husband took me to Davis-Kidd, and we drove along to downtown, and he drove me around Love Circle. He told me his dream was to buy a house there. We never bought a house, but I really wanted to use it in a book. I’m so pleased how it turned out,” said Ellison, whose novels have been published in 14 countries.

Other Nashville sites Ellison has selected for death include the entrance to Belle Meade in “All the Pretty Girls,” the Parthenon in “The Judas Kiss” and Bicentennial Mall State Park in “14.”

She hopes to make a killing Saturday at Sherlock’s Bookstore in Lebanon but only in the area of book sales as she signs books 1-4 p.m. The following Saturday, March 6, Ellison will sign at Sherlock’s downtown Nashville store, along with Jennie Bentley, 6-9 p.m. during the First Saturday Art Crawl.

(The first Saturday of the month, downtown Nashville art galleries between Fourth and Fifth avenues hold receptions and art openings 6-9 p.m. More than 1,000 people attend. Many galleries serve free wine and other refreshments.)

In “The Cold Room” Detective Jackson discovers a perverted killer who kidnaps women, starves them to death in a glass coffin and then utilizes the corpses to recreate scenes from famous paintings. Similar ghastly crimes show up in Europe. So Taylor, her fiancé (FBI profiler Dr. John Baldwin) and a New Scotland Yard detective team up to smear out the Conductor's art collection.

Ellison concocted Detective Jackson out of thin Nashville air.

“She literally leapt into my head fully formed while I was driving down I-40. I was thinking about (writer) John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport character who represents Minneapolis-St. Paul. I wanted to develop a character to help Nashville,” Ellison said. “I got to thinking about this woman who is a cop, very strong and independent, and boom, she was there. I had always seen her as Athena, the warrior goddess of Nashville.”

To make her books as realistic as possible, the novice novelist began a front-seat relationship with the men and women in blue of the Metro Police force.

“I wanted to write about a female cop, and my sole experience was watching ‘Law & Order.’ I had to go and do the research and make it as accurate and real a possible,” she said. “The Nashville police were so open with me to help me get it right.”

That openness turned into an invite to do some eight-hour ride-alongs and a bond with one of Nashville’s top cops.

“It was just a fluke. I called homicide to ask about serial killers in Nashville and got Det. David Achord, a font of information. He and I talked, and he invited me to do a ride-along.”

Her first time riding shotgun turned into an unbelievable trip.

“Going out on midnight patrol and seeing a guy die does really change your approach,” she said. “We were called out to a stabbing. We beat the first responders there. I asked the cop I was with what do I do, and he said, ‘Stay on me.’ The guy had been stabbed in the stomach, and it was horrible and very graphic. We caught the killer. We had the murder weapon. We took him (the suspect) to the station and got him into booking, and it was so surreal, a start-to-finish case on my first overnight patrol. It was very intense and scary and sad. I had the guy’s blood on my cowboy boots when I got home.”

Ellison, who lives in Nashville with her husband and a poorly trained cat, grew up in Colorado and Washington, D.C. She quit writing in college due to bad advice but returned with a vengeance in 2004 with her original Taylor Jackson book.  

“I had written in college and thought that I wanted to be a writer, but I had a professor who told me that my stuff was not good enough to be published. So I went the politics route and did some marketing. I moved to Nashville and couldn’t find a job and was going stir crazy. I needed to be outside, so I went to work for a vet for three days,” Ellison said. “Then I picked up a golden retriever and threw my back out and had surgery. I began reading a lot and decided I wanted to try this (writing). So I came back to it.”

(Can her fans thank that dog?)

She is as big a fan of Steve and Patty Guynn, the owners of both Sherlock bookstores, as they are of hers.

“They had me out to do a signing,” she recalled. “Their enthusiasm for the written word and selling books and finding authors they love and want to push epitomizes what you want for an independent bookstore. It’s great to have a bookstore so far behind you.”

Her next Taylor Jackson novel, “The Immortals,” is complete and comes out in October, and she is in the midst of penning the sixth in the series, “The Pretender,” for a March 2011 release.

As for what the letters in her name “J.T.” represent, she says, “That’s my initials and my nickname. I don’t tell what they stand for. If I did I would have to kill you.”

Ken Beck may be contacted at kbtag2@gmail.com.

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