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Jewish Journal

Enthralled by Talk

by Naomi Pfefferman

August 24, 2000 | 8:00 pm

Rochelle Krich

Rochelle Krich

Award-winning mystery writer Rochelle Krich, the "Orthodox Agatha Christie," has a confession: "I became a talk show junkie during the O.J. Simpson trial," sheepishly admits Krich, 52, the author of nine whodunits in as many years. "When the trial was over, I still needed my fix."

So the Beverly-Fairfax resident began flipping her radio dial and discovered a whole new obsession: The microwave-psychology "advice" shows of Laura Schlessinger, Toni Grant et al. Mostly, she listened with jaw dropped.

"I was fascinated by the people who revealed their most intimate problems to millions," confides Krich, who has six children and wears an auburn sheitel. "I was fascinated that people would call, knowing that nine out of 10 times, they'd get verbally spanked. Then I started thinking, what if a caller became enraged by the host's advice and decided to take revenge? ... because while I never heard anyone expressing anger at Dr. Laura, it struck me that somebody had to be angry."

The result is "Dead Air," Krich's fourth novel featuring LAPD homicide Det. Jessie Drake, who is inching toward Orthodox Judaism as she rekindles her friendship with estranged pal Dr. Renee, a smug talk show host whose daughter has been kidnapped by an angry listener.

Renee's advice sounds more than a tad like Dr. Laura's; the fictional host, for example, is a working mother who criticizes other moms for working outside the home.

As research, Krich, who began writing books at age 40, sat in on talk shows and spoke to psychologists about just why callers are willing to risk radio shrinks' abuse. The reason, she learned, is that each caller believes his question is better than those of the others. Callers, moreover, crave contact with the guru-like figure of the host, because it makes them feel special.

Critics of Dr. Laura and company will be amused by Krich's assessment of Dr. Renee. It turns out she suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, "the inability to tolerate criticism, the lack of empathy for others, the patronizing attitude," according to the book's fictional LAPD psychologist. Not that Krich is implying Dr. Laura suffers from NPD.

"It would be ridiculous for me to say that my character doesn't share something with Dr. Laura," the author says. "But I'm not trying to denounce anyone. I'm just trying to explore the phenomenon of talk radio."

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