It’s All in the Subtext: A Theater Professor Turned Crime Writer

By Camille Chidsey


kathy_pressIf you like a good suspense story with hometown plot twists, consider checking out Kathleen George. Known best for her Pittsburgh-based procedural thriller series, George is no stranger to the intricacies of subtle storytelling and verbal wordplay. Currently a professor in the Theatre Arts Department at the University of Pittsburgh (with a secondary appointment in the English Department teaching Creative Writing), George seamlessly weaves foundations of classical theatre training throughout her mystery novels. She describes theatre and crime writing as having a “natural connection,” theater being traditionally built on suspense and dramatic irony, narrative tactics that coincide well with crime writing. A strong understanding of subterfuge and subtext is notably apparent in George’s award-winning crime series starring Pittsburgh police commander Richard Christie. Starting with Taken (2001) and ending with A Measure of Blood (2014), there are seven novels total, with George currently at work on the eighth installment. All of the novels are notable for their deft understanding of characters’ motivations and use of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods for scene construction. As George explains, there are a lot of “parts” to Pittsburgh, and communities built around class, race, and ethnicity provide opportune settings for tensions to escalate and dramas to unfold.



Another unique twist and powerful marketing technique in George’s crime series are the incorporation of real-life local culinary hotspots. Police, victims, and criminals are often found dining or interacting with other characters in a variety of Pittsburgh restaurants. Each of the restaurants mentioned in the Christie series are businesses that George has personally eaten at and reviewed. Squirrel Hill, much beloved for its variety, appears many times. Featured restaurants include local favorites Mineo’s Pizza, Pamela’s Diner, Murray Avenue Grill, Silky’s Sports Bar & Grill, and the old Gullifty’s location on Murray. For further reading, each restaurant and their connections to individual books can be found on her website at



A throwback to her theatre background, George has described her writing process as one where the writer “acts all parts inside.” Citing the Edgar nominated novel The Odds (2009) as a model, George reveals that the four children in the novel are based on her and her siblings. While she clarified that she grew up with an attentive and often over-protective mother, she still related to the abandonment in the characters’ lives. This example highlights why she finds the outline process cold and constricting, preferring to “write blindly, letting the characters take me where I need to go.” Nonetheless, utilization of emotional resonance as a narrative technique does not undermine the amount of research George puts into her writing. In particular, her Richard Christie procedural thriller series is noteworthy for its allegiance to accuracy. Close relationships with local police, FBI interactions and personal visits to forensics and computer crimes labs add to the legitimacy of setting and subtext necessary for effective crime scene conflict.



Similar to the Christie novels, George relied on continuous research and copious notes to maintain credibility and develop the best story she could for her most recent book. Born and raised in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, George’s latest novel is a non-series work of historical fiction, The Johnstown Girls (2014). This project was a twenty-five-year labor of love and charts the impact of the 1889 Great Flood of Johnstown on twin sisters rediscovering the truth about that day. In one day, twenty million tons of water decimated a town and killed 2,000 people in minutes. Growing up, George’s mother would tell her and her siblings stories from her childhood about the subsequent Johnstown flood of 1936. In 1977, there was another flood that George personally remembers as a traumatic day where she pushed her way into the cordoned off city to try and find her mother who was still living there. Relieved to find her safe, this served as a major impetus to research her hometown and spirit of survival and determination against insurmountable odds woven into the fabric of its residents.



johnstown-pressAlong with numerous scholarly theatrical books and articles, George is also the author of a collection of short stories, The Man in the Buick (1999) and the editor of Pittsburgh Noir (2011) a collaboration of Pittsburgh themed short stories from new and established writers (a story from this collection is discussed on page:) . Currently, she is at work on the next book in the Richard Christie series, a theatre themed project incorporating images taken from her office in the renowned Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh. Kathleen George is also returning to her dramatic storytelling roots in a yet unfinished, but upcoming, stage thriller. If you are anything like me, you are eagerly awaiting her next project. Perhaps the most important takeaway from a lifetime of critical and commercial writing success is George’s advice for future writers: “Read everything and write every day.” As someone in love with dark, suspenseful stories and local color, I plan to do just that.

about SHUC

Preserving, Improving, and Celebrating the Quality of Life in Squirrel Hill

For over fifty years, the Coalition has been an active and important link in the community. It has served as a sounding board for new ideas, as well as a “watchdog” in the areas of public safety, education, residential quality, the business district, and parks and open space. With its focus on the quality of life in the 14th Ward, SHUC continues to monitor activities and future developments in the community through a range of standing committees.


Enter your email address to subscribe to our newsletter and receive notifications of new posts by email.


this is a test


this is a test

© 2024 Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use | Privacy Policy