That golf would
seep into the storytelling was a gimme. Isleib was exploring her own issues
with the game, from the status of women to the pressure of competition. Her
profession, though, was the bedrock: The more she wrote, the more she found
parallels between unraveling a psyche and unraveling a crime. "Both present
puzzles," she says. "In one the symptom might be depression. In the
other it's murder. Both require exploration. In mysteries the loose ends get
tied up and the bad guys get punished. Good therapy can feel like
The trouble was,
her initial attempt wasn't very good and it went unpublished. Other than
introducing a group of layered characters that would ultimately survive, Isleib
acknowledges, it misfired. "I barely had two suspects," she says.
Moreover, Cassie was avoiding testing her own game and, improbably, was
caddying. Isleib's own research should have raised a red flag. She had
persuaded her swing coach, Don Gliha, to let her caddie for him at the 1999
Connecticut Open. "It was strenuous," he says--for him. "I carried
the bag myself the last three holes," Gliha recalls. "At least I didn't
have to carry Roberta too."
book's characters showed enough promise to earn Isleib a three-book deal in
2001--later renewed for two more--from the Berkley Publishing Group.
"Roberta was so good at balancing action with introspection," says
Cindy Hwang, Isleib's editor. Hwang had concerns about the market for a
female-centered golf mystery, but the potential won her over. "Roberta had
a terrific voice, and I could see the complex layers of Cassie's psyche,"
says Hwang. "She was up-front about [Cassie's] issues," which have
included excessive drinking, a complex family, an equally complicated love
life, career conflicts, on-and-off therapy and an inability to let go when she
stumbles onto a murder.
To research A
Buried Lie, Isleib bought a spot in the pro-am before the 2001 ShopRite Classic
and was paired with Lisa Hackney, the 1997 LPGA rookie of the year. Isleib
doesn't remember how they finished but recalls that Hackney was intrigued by
Isleib's project and her main character. For every question Isleib asked
Hackney, the young pro had one about Cassie. What's her game like? Does she
gamble? Where does she stay on the road?
Isleib's books have a following on the LPGA tour. "The golf feels
right," says Donna Andrews, who served as Isleib's resident expert on
Pinehurst for Fairway to Heaven, "and Cassie rings true as a struggling
player, though we try not to get involved in murders."
No one had to
provide inside information for Putt to Death. Isleib set the book at a course
much like Madison and based parts of it on her own sometimes unsettling
experiences as chairperson of the club's greens committee from 2000 through
'04. As greens chair, she attempted to have Madison certified as an
environmentally friendly Audubon course. "I don't mind brown patches,"
she says. "I learned that most people do."
"Roberta thought Audubon would be a slam dunk. She was naive. She simply
couldn't understand [the] opposition."
Chrzanowski, Madison's course superintendent, "A select group of guys made
it clear that a male could do a better job than she could, but Roberta didn't
take any flak from anybody."
don't have to. They always have the last word. "After I got over being so
pissed off," says Isleib, "I channeled my anger in useful ways."
Like literarily killing off a few of her naysayers at the club.
Putt to Death is
filled with dialogue straight from committee meetings, and some of the doomed
characters are recognizable. "When anybody asks, I tell them it's
fiction," Isleib says. Adds Brady, "She could have bashed them worse
than she did, but we have to live in this town. I actually expected more grief
than we got."