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Mystery buffs line up for chance to dissect crime novels on TV

Special to The Journal

October 30, 2004 - Reel Girls Media producer Jennifer Snyder suspected folks were crazy about their mystery novels, TV shows and movies, but now she knows for sure.

It’s little more than an hour into a four-hour open call for Booked! and she’s already interviewed more than 20 potential participants for the upcoming 13-episode reality TV show.

Booked! will let average mystery fans – usually 10 per episode – rub shoulders with professionals such as police officers, coroners and scientists in the analysis of popular crime novels. It begins airing in February 2005 on Book TV, Court TV, ACCESS and Canadian Learning Television.

“We’re expecting well over a hundred people to audition, which really underlines how dedicated these people are,” Snyder says from the basement of Volume II Books. “There are a lot of busy professional people out here this afternoon.”

Anyone who auditions has to be prepared to make a big time commitment that includes quickly reading and then dissecting the books in question, making yourself available for the tapings and also opening up your private life for the short background features that are shot of all the participants.

“Of course, we knew there was a big, big following for the genre with many books reaching cult status, so, why not have a series where you put all these passionate people together: the fans alongside the real-life CSI (crime scene investigators), the people who can help assess just how realistic the works really are given that all these mystery writers pull from real life and do a lot of research,” says Snyder.

Auditioners were numerous and passionate, and also surprisingly diverse, ranging in age from 14 to 67, coming from all walks of life with markedly different ideas of what makes a good mystery.

For example, Stephen Sawchuk, a 14-year-old actor, likes reading page-turners such as Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and watching youth-oriented mysteries on YTV. He’d love to play a TV detective like the big dogs on top-ranked series such as CSI and Law & Order.

Shirley Machan, on the other hand, isn’t all that crazy about most mystery shows on TV, preferring text-based mysteries like Mary Daheim’s Alpine series. “They (popular mystery TV shows) are just too graphic for me and they just don’t go deep enough into the mysteries and rely more on shock


value,” says the 67-year-old bibliophile with a collection of “at least 400” mystery novels.

The show’s appeal for Edmonton Police Service member John McNeilly was the possibility of being able to get together with crime/mystery book fans who’ve read the same books as he has.

“Sometimes I read a book and know it was total b.s. and just wouldn’t have happened like that in real life, but don’t have the opportunity to be able to really talk to anyone about it,” says the soft-spoken former narcotics officer.

As for fictional TV cops, McNeilly says producers would have to balance out every “five minutes of excitement” with 55 minutes of “forms and court appearances” if they wanted real-life veracity.

“There are very strict rules in place for things like collecting evidence. You make just one mistake and it’s over.”

Some of the folks who were auditioning were just as interested in the reality TV aspect of the series as they were looking forward to chatting about the latest works by the Patricia Cornwalls or Ian Rankins.

One of those waiting for her turn, Tamara Klein, already had a reality TV credit under her belt.

A fan of Ann Rule and Cornwall as well as true crime books and the hit TV mystery shows, the former plus-sized-model was featured on the Taking It Off reality series. (The Edmonton-based program spent six months tracking a group of people who were on a serious weight reduction and fitness regime.)

“Reality shows are popular because they’re all about people that the average viewer can relate to,” Klein says.

“Being on Taking It Off was…a really fun experience; you got to connect in an amazing way to people.

“I’ve had women who recognized me from the show come up to me in the gym and talk about eating disorders that they’ve never even been able to talk to their families about.”

Edmonton is the only city where auditions were held.

Those interested in participating in Booked! can go to to download an application.