Phyllis Entis

Award-winning mystery writer and food safety microbiologist


How It All Began

Today’s release of the new cover for The Green Pearl Caper represents a milestone in the coming-of-age of the Damien Dickens Mysteries series.

First published in the spring of 2015, The Green Pearl Caper has garnered numerous 4-star and 5-star reviews on Amazon, goodreads and other book retailer sites, and earned Library Journal’s SELF-e Selection award.

I have been asked, from time to time, how Damien Dickens and his world came into being.

I could say that he was the result of long, careful planning, but that would be a lie.

I could say that the entire plot came to me in a dream, but that, too, would be a lie.

In fact, the genesis of The Green Pearl Caper and the entire Damien Dickens series took place during a drop-in writing workshop in La Jolla, California.

The premise of the hour-long workshop, Pen to Paper, was simple. The moderator began each session by giving us a writing prompt, usually consisting of an opening line, a scenario, or a photograph. Our job was to write furiously for approximately 20 minutes, disregarding grammar, syntax, or punctuation. The goal was to get something down on paper. After the 20 minutes had expired, we read our stories aloud to the other members of the group.

On the day Damien was conceived, the prompt we were given was an object. A rope of green plastic beads. Somehow, the beads opened a faucet in my brain, and the following words flowed out.

One a.m. The street lamps cast eerie shadows through the fog that was slowly enveloping the Atlantic City boardwalk. I could hear my heart beating above the muffled sound of the incoming tide. She was late. Or dead.

My name is Damien Dickens, and I am a P.I. You know – a Shamus, a Private Investigator. I hate waiting for a client at one a.m. on a foggy night. But who could refuse Sylvia Sutherland – THE Sylvia Sutherland. You know who I mean – the heiress to Sutherland’s Smokes.

And, let me tell you. Sylvia smokes!

I was in my office, looking through the foot-high stack of overdue bills that Millie had left on my desk, when I heard the sound of clicking pearls swooshing back and forth, back and forth across an amply endowed female chest. The sound hesitated at my office door. And when I looked up, there was Sylvia.

She was dressed for success, completely decked out in poinsettia red, except for her emerald-green, 4-inch high heels, her emerald-studded evening bag, and the longest rope of shiny, one-inch diameter matched pearls I had ever seen – dyed green to match her shoes and bag. Who but Sylvia would think to dye a rope of pearls green? Who but Sylvia could afford to?

Anyway, as I was saying, I looked up at this Christmas-in-July package that was standing in my doorway, and managed a nonchalant, “Yeah? Waddaya want?”

“Oh, please,” she breathed, doing a passable imitation of Marilyn Monroe, “please help me. I’m in such trouble. Please, Mr. Dickens.”

“What’s the problem, Sister?” I didn’t want to seem overly eager. “Waddaya need? Is someone after you?”

She pushed a shock of honey-blond hair away from her face and I caught a glimpse of a green pearl earring. “No,” she said, the leading edge of a string of tears dribbling out of her eyes. “It’s my husband.”

“Playin’ around, is he?” I asked. “Need me to get the goods on him?”

“No, he’s been kidnapped. Here’s the ransom note. Please help me get him back.”

I looked at the note, which read, ‘We have Sethwick. If you cough up the green pearls, we won’t kill him. Don’t tell anyone or we’ll kill you both. Meet us at midnight on the boardwalk by the Steel Pier, near the entry to the diving horse show and we’ll make the swap.’

“So, waddaya want me to do?” I shrugged. “Are you gonna give them the pearls?”

“I can’t.” Sylvia was sobbing now. “If I do…”

The rest of her reply was drowned in salt water that was streaming in cataracts down her cheeks. I never could resist honey-blond tears, especially when they’re dripping onto a priceless pearl rope. So, against my better judgment, I agreed to meet Sylvia on the boardwalk at 11:30pm, one block south of the Steel Pier.

She never showed. But someone else did.


The following month, my husband and I indulged in a beach vacation in French Polynesia. We had no internet; the only piece of electronics that accompanied us was my Kindle, the only writing material a notebook and pen. The characters of Damien Dickens and Sylvia Sutherland were eating at me. Demanding to be fleshed out. By the time we returned, I had written the first couple of chapters of what would become my first novel. Two years later, I released the Kindle edition of The Green Pearl Caper.