The father-and-son writing team of Alan Brown, 66, and Brian, 46, consider the Ozarks a beautiful, mysterious place — the perfect locale for their series of dark murder mysteries.
The man at the center of their seven novels is private eye Booger McClain, a fictional former sheriff with an office in Springfield.
OK, question No. 1: Why “Booger”?
“I just like the name ‘Booger,’” says Alan.
His last name “McClain,” is based on John McClane, a New York City Police detective played by Bruce Willis in the “Die Hard” movies.
“I love the ‘Die Hard’ movies,” Alan tells me.
“Booger wears a cowboy hat. He’s a very large man. He drinks a lot, smokes a lot and loves coffee.”
His real first name is “Buford,” but that’s mentioned just once in the seven-book series.
The Browns both live in St. Louis, although Brian grew up here and graduated from Parkview High in 1993.
He worked for LaMar’s Donuts & Coffee on South Campbell Avenue for about 10 years. The business has since closed.
He went back to school and graduated from Missouri State University in 2008 with a degree in print journalism.
From 2010 to 2016, he was a reporter at the Springfield Business Journal.
Booger is based on a private investigator that Alan, the father, met years ago while researching the deaths of two young men whose bodies were found in a shallow man-made lake on the School of the Ozarks campus on Oct. 30, 1973.
(The school, in Point Lookout, later became the College of the Ozarks.)
Alan Brown was a student there at the time and wrote for the school newspaper and occasionally for a local weekly paper.
Bodies found on School of the Ozarks campus
The bodies of Dan Miller Deeds, 20, of Billings, and Michael Frisinger, 20, of Joplin, floated to the surface on Oct. 29, 1973, after a school employee shut down a 75-horsepower pump in what was called Lake Honor. The pump was turned off for maintenance.
Apparently, the pump was holding under water the bodies of the two men, who had last been seen 17 days earlier. The bodies were bloated and decomposing.
Neither was a student at the school at the time; both worked as cave guides at Silver Dollar City.
A coroner’s jury was unable to determine a cause of death.
But as fate would have it, Alan Brown met and interviewed private investigator Jim Winfrey, who suspected foul play.
No one was ever charged in connection with the deaths.
For decades, Brown wanted to write about the case in fiction form.
Father and son work together in Kirkwood for Cana Direct, a small, direct-mail-service company Alan created in 1997.
Alan commenced writing mysteries late in life. He wrote eight from 2016 to 2019 before realizing his main character was going to be Booger McClain, the Springfield private eye.
“I have always been fascinated by the Ozarks,” Alan says. “It’s an incredible area, a beautiful area, a mysterious area, a good place to have mysteries.”
Most of the Booger McClain books involve a real cold case.
In other words, Booger, a fictional character, is placed in the middle of a real situation — such as the two deaths at School of the Ozarks. In Booger Book No. 3, Booger looks into the case of the Three Missing Women of Springfield.
The Three Missing Women is the city’s most infamous unsolved missing persons case. The women were last seen 30 years ago and have never been found; most presume they were abducted and murdered.
On June 7, 1992, friends Suzanne “Suzie” Streeter and Stacy McCall, and Streeter’s mother, Sherrill Levitt, went missing from Levitt’s home in Springfield.
McCall, 18, and Streeter, 19, had just graduated from Kickapoo High School. They attended a party in Battlefield before returning to the central Springfield home of Levitt. That’s the last known place the three women were believed to have been.
Does Booger solve crimes that in real life have not been solved?
No. “Booger never actually solves the case,” Alan says. “ He speculates. He gets close. He goes down the same rabbit holes that the police do.”
The only reason Booger even gets close is because his wife Rose somehow becomes involved — despite Booger’s reluctance to have her do so — and points him in the right direction.
“Rose is always the smartest one in the group,” Brian says. “The police are always a little bit corrupt and fumbling.”
Alan says the relationship between Booger and Rose loosely resembles his relationship with Nancy, his wife of 26 years.
It was 2020 when Brian joined his father in writing the Booger books. They first collaborated on “Lake Honor,” the fictional account of the two 1973 deaths at School of the Ozarks.
When the pandemic hit, people were in quarantine and their business had slowed to a crawl.
Alan thought that his son, having grown up in Springfield, could more securely fix the stories in the Ozarks. He could mention landmarks, for example.
Brian was 8 when his parents divorced. He stayed with his mom in Springfield.
According to Alan, “I write them and I turn them over to Brian and he colors them. He absolutely does make it better. He is an extremely good writer.”
It took them six weeks to write “Lake Honor.”
“He likes to write in a very fast way, stream-of-consciousness style,” Brian says of his dad. “It is really his series. But I feel like the books we have done together, I feel like they are good.
“They have been a big piece of my time and energy and my soul.”
Their top-selling book was about Three Missing Women
The two men don’t make much money from their writing.
Their personal bestseller is “Gone in the Night: the Story of the Springfield Three,” published in September 2020.
Almost 2,000 copies were sold.
No. 2 is “Lake Honor,” which sold about 300 copies.
Janis McCall, mother of Stacy McCall, missing since 1992, says she read the Browns’ fictional account of the three missing women.
She lives in Springfield and is 74.
“I was OK with it,” she says. “I was not overjoyed because they did not ask me first.”
She quickly bought the book and read it thinking she would find numerous factual inaccuracies. She didn’t.
“They were pretty good,” she says.
Perhaps, someday, Brian says, one of the Booger books will catch fire and make the New York Times list of bestsellers. But it’s OK if that never happens.
“It’s been a real honor for me to be involved,” Brian says. “I don’t think there are a whole lot of people out there who get to write a book with their father and I’ve been lucky enough to write four with him.”
This is Pokin Around Column No. 21.