Brace Ruben novel “Pitfall” raises the standard crime-story to a forensic-excellence level

"Pitfall" Bruce Raben's second novel. Cover photo courtesy of Dartfrog Books (2021)

Writing under the nom de plume of Brace Ruben, pathologist and post-mortem examiner Bruce Keopp has published his second novel, “Pitfall.” Released earlier this year, “Pitfall” is set in Northern Minnesota, a place very familiar to Keopp.

Perhaps it might be said that the reason why Keopp has such a command of storytelling of a murder/mystery sort is because of a certain kind of familiarity. Even his audience can sense this as “Pitfall” has been getting rave reviews, in the five-star range.

“He describes things in such a visual way, says one reader, that you can picture it in your head, or smell the campfire or light streaming through a window. The people are multi-layered, she added. When you think you know the person another layer is peeled.”

No doubt his experience in the field of forensic science has the reader-audience transfixed. For as one reader noted “ I read it in a day and a half because I just couldn’t put it down.”

Meeting Keopp in person is enjoyable because he is very much like the down-to-earth Minnesota/Midwest upbringing he is, stable, reliable, affable and neighborly. His easygoing demeanor gives no clue about his writing or his profession as a forensic pathologist.

Forensic pathologist turned crime novel writer is Brace Ruben, alias Bruce Keopp. Originally from Minnesota, Keopp has been living in Sonoma, California for the past 40 years. Photo by Jonathan Farrell (2021)

That’s until you chat with him about his writing, of which this reporter had the rare opportunity and privilege to do. I bumped into him at the local Somoma Market. And we picked up our acquaintanceship where it had left off (due to COVID-19) as members of a monthly writer’s group in town called “The Write Stuff.” 

Detailed and articulate, Keopp doesn’t overlook anything. Being among friends and fellow writers, Keopp will tell you why despite the affinity he has for Minnesota he left it to venture off to other places.

“Each time I make my annual trip he said, after visiting with relatives for a day or two, I am reminded of why I left.” Famous for it’s lakes and forests, the outdoors is plentiful.  Yet with towns in Northern Minnesota being at most a population of under 5,000 people, social life and diversity, along with career opportunities is limited.

Just because the Midwest is part of “The Heartland” and is associated with traditional wholesomeness doesn’t exclude Minnesota from its share of drama and local intrigue. The shadows within human nature can lurk anywhere.

And, who better to uncover the subtle mystery hidden in plain sight amid the banal and everyday Minnesota small town than a pathologist. Crime novels have been in existence for more than a century. Think of Agatha Christie’s novels or that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s, Sherlock Holmes.

Yet as fellow ‘The Write Stuff’ group alum and neighbor Ellen Shepherd noted. “Forensic science is central to the investigation in the novel these days,” she said. “There are so many stories that have a coroner as the main character. Take Patricia Cornwell’s novels for example, that are among my favorites. The lead character in all of her crime novels is medical examiner Kay Scarpetta.”

Advances in technology have only helped to make crime stories more detailed and compelling. Keopp’s direct work in pathology makes for more accuracy and credibility.

“Over the past decade, there has been an increasing fascination with the field of forensic science around the globe, said researcher Heather Stankiewicz of  Salve Regina University, Rhode Island. In her dissertation from 2007, she noted. “Forensic science is undergoing a global expansion and becoming increasingly important, both as an area of study and to the criminal justice system. The police, courts and juries are also increasingly demanding more objective scientific evidence.”

This is something Keopp has experienced living and working in Sonoma for 40 years, since transplanting from Minnesota. He is both fascinated and overwhelmed to see the advancements and changes in a relatively short span of time.

“I hope to get a copy of his new book soon, said Shepherd. And, it was an honor to have him share bits and pieces of the work in process when meeting at the writers’ group.”

Now retired from the field, Keopp can devote more time to writing, especially storytelling. He hopes to churn out another novel, spurred on by the increasing popularity of forensic science. And no doubt his first-hand professional experience will be challenging the likes of screenwriters for popular forensic-themed TV shows like CSI, NCIS and The Mentalist.

“We have ‘Pitfall’ in stock, said Rosie Lee-Parks manager at Sonoma’s beloved Readers’ Books near the Plaza at the heart of town. And, we keep it displayed in our local author section,” she added. Available in paperback and in ebook format, “Pitfall” published by Dartfrog Books can be purchased at Readers’ Books in Sonoma or through Amazon.