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Scientist, lawyer team up to write a mystery

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``Remains Silent'' by Michael Baden and Linda Kenney; Alfred A. Knopf ($22.95)


NEW YORK - They met in a morgue.

Michael Baden and Linda Kenney are grinning. They know their story isn't exactly the stuff of romance novels, where love blooms on a cruise or in some exotic locale.

Nope, for them, amour was born in a morgue.

In New Jersey.

During an autopsy.

"I had a client who was shot in the back by police officers in New Jersey," says Kenney, who is a lawyer. She also had concerns over the medical examiner's impartiality and wanted a second autopsy; an acquaintance recommended an ace New York forensic scientist named Michael Baden.

"So I called him up, and he said he was busy; he couldn't do it. I said, `You have to do it.''' He still said no.

Determined, she phoned him back with a time-saving offer: She would have him taken by helicopter to the morgue. He said yes.

It was the first of many yeses they would say to each other. Married for five years in November, they are now co-authors of a new mystery novel, ``Remains Silent,'' published by Alfred A. Knopf. They're already famous, Kenney as a legal expert/commentator on Court TV and CNN, and Baden as host of HBO's "Autopsy" documentary series.

And they couldn't resist writing their morgue romance into the new book: The two lead characters in ``Remains Silent'' are medical examiner Jake Rosen and lawyer Philomena "Manny" Manfreda. Like their creators, they meet in a morgue. But in the fictionalized version, they're not sure at first that they even like each other. Hey, nothing helps a novel like a little sexual tension and buildup.

In real life, though, Baden knew as soon as he got off that chopper that he found Kenney interesting.

"I was taken with Linda initially because there she was in high red heels and fancy jewelry" (he didn't expect her to be so well-dressed). "And when I went to the autopsy room in the hospital to do the autopsy, she insisted on being there, in her high heels. It was ... there was a little contrast there."

After the autopsy, though, they really had no professional reason to see each other again. Not to worry; their acquaintances were talking. One of them finally called Baden and told him Kenney had found him intriguing, too. Shades of seventh grade!

An interview with them is peppered with the frequent looks and smiles they exchange. But the session produces far more quotes from Baden than from Kenney. Maybe giving them joint control of the handheld tape recorder wasn't a good idea; Baden keeps wresting the machine out of Kenney's hands even though she hunches her shoulders, trying to keep him at bay.

While they're competitive, though, they're good-natured about it. The same was true during the writing of the book-for the most part.

Kenney says people have asked them if co-authoring `Remains Silent'' brought them closer. Her response: "In reality, sometime around October of last year, I was thinking,If he changes it one more time I'm going to kill him.' "

He promptly steals the tape recorder back from her.

"It takes some learning," Baden says, "but we each have our strengths. Linda's a great writer; I'm a great copy editor. ... I did a lot of copy editing at my college newspapers and other things, which I enjoyed very much. And I never saw anything that couldn't be changed: `Four score and seven years ago?' What is that? Eighty-seven years ago!"

They began the book by discussing the plot outline. Kenney did the first draft, including all the legal stuff, but left space for Baden to insert the forensic details. He did so, then rewrote a lot of her stuff in the second draft. She, in turn, took the third draft and rewrote him ... and so on, until that point where his changes began inspiring her murderous thoughts.

Kenney did make one thing taboo for Baden: He was forbidden to write a word about the characters' clothing or accessories.

He readily confesses he knows nothing about fashion, though he has learned that many women covet Manolo Blahnik footwear. He also admits Kenney dresses him. He looks dapper in a charcoal pinstripe suit, but his ensemble was all Kenney's doing, "even down to my Bruno Magli shoes."

Kenney, 51, grew up a Jersey girl while Baden, 70, was born in the Bronx. These days they have a vacation home on Martha's Vineyard, but their primary residence is Manhattan. She makes TV appearances but doesn't do much actual lawyering these days, preferring to focus on writing. Baden still works as chief forensic pathologist for the New York State Police and does his HBO gig (see for a schedule of "Autopsy" showings in August and early September).

Their romance isn't the only life experience they draw on. They are sticklers for realism; thus readers of ``Remains Silent'' will not see the melodramatic courtroom grandstanding of certain TV shows. Rather than actual trial scenes, Kenney has infused the book with motions and other legal procedures that juries rarely see.

And yes, Baden has insisted on his own brand of realism, but his graceful touch keeps the book from being overly graphic.

Knopf is betting that such realism will help ``Remains Silent'' make a loud noise in the marketplace. The first printing is a generous 250,000 copies. To put that in perspective, first editions of books by Knopf's big literary lion, John Updike, usually run 60,000 copies.

The quarter-million figure is probably realistic, given Baden's and Kenney's fame and the popularity of crime fiction and shows like "CSI" and the many permutations of "Law & Order." 

Kenney thinks the public interest in such things is so high because "it's a chance for everybody to be a detective, to do something hard, to try to solve a puzzle." She starts to say more, but oops, her hubby has the tape recorder again; my, what quick hands.

"Also," he says, "it seems to me that once the death penalty was reinstituted in this country, murder investigations became even more important" because of the consequences. That has helped fuel public interest in criminal justice, both on the fact and fiction sides.

So has the controversy the reinstated death statutes have created.

"I don't have any personal upset at the death penalty as an abstraction," Baden says. "What I do realize is how many mistakes can be made with the way things are being done now."

One of his recommendations for a better criminal justice system: better autopsies. Half of all the nation's death investigations, he says, still involve a coroner, an elected official who is not required to have any real medical training. Many coroners are funeral directors, and Baden is blunt about this: He believes only trained forensic experts should be doing autopsies.

"There'll be 50 murders today in the United States. And 20 percent of them will not be solved. One of the reasons is our ability to do autopsies is still so poor."

Death, murder, corpses, autopsies: It all prompts another question. Has Baden, over the years, experienced a lot of negative reactions when telling people about his job? Yes, he says ... but he offers some perspective.

"People confuse death with the act of dying. When we investigate a death, do an autopsy, that person is out of their misery. Their pain and suffering is over. We gather information that will allow the family to bring some closure, and allow society to pursue a bad guy, if a bad guy has caused the death."

Even with her background in criminal law, Kenney says, Baden's work took a little getting used to. Now, though, "I don't find anything unusual in it ... except when he comes home and we can't get the clothes into the washing machine fast enough."

In ``Remains Silent,'' the female lawyer does tease the male medical examiner a bit, using a term Kenney came up with for the novel. In real life, Baden says, his wife has been a bit gentler.

"She has called me Dr. Death," he says, "but not Dr. Rigor Mortis."


(c) 2005, The Kansas City Star. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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