Alison R. Baumann has led a lot of lives in her six decades on the planet. She’s been an actress, filmmaker, model, and author. She’s also the granddaughter of oil king Huge Roy Cullen, and grew up in River Oaks. She’s seen—and remembers—a lot.
“I wrote two books that I didn’t publish,” she explains. “They were too personal. My family has always been very private. But when I was younger, I was much more of a spitfire and not exactly the most sensitive person. I wanted to write and put this stuff out there, and I thought, God, this is private and my family has always been private, I can’t do this.”
She laughed. “I was sort of a loose cannon. I still am.”
It was her third book, Under a Cloud of Rain, a mystery set in Houston, that made her a published writer. As a teenager, she was morbidly fascinated by the murder trial of Candace Mossler, accused of killing her husband Jacques. It all started in 1964 with the sort of story that blends society bold-print names with a love triangle and a $33 million fortune.
“I was fascinated by that for some reason,” she says, “and ever since, I’ve wanted to write a detective novel set in Houston.”
Her new book, Nick Noelle: Thicker Than Blood, continues the exploits of her main character and is set in New Orleans.
“I love New Orleans,” she says. “I find it mysterious and fascinating. You have all the different cultures—the French, the Spanish. I wrote based on Carlos Marcello and the mob. I had such a lot of fun with it. The voodoo, all that stuff.”
Nick Noelle: Thicker Than Blood (so named because, according to Baumann, “there are about 30 other Thicker Than Bloods out there”) finds the now-retired detective in the Big Easy, where he’s visiting his dying mother, to whom he’s never been close. He discovers, though, that she has a secret past and in reading her journal, he’s drawn into a series of killings of priests and preachers.
“The takeaway is that you can’t put good or bad in a box,” she says. “There’s a blend of everything. So I just think people need to realize there’s that paradox in the world.” She refused to give away the ending, but cautions readers that things are not always what they appear.
Baumann is excited to return to the city of her childhood. She left at 18, giving up her plans to enroll at Carnegie Mellon and study acting to decamp to London to find herself and her voice, becoming an actress and a model. She now lives with her husband in San Francisco, although she comes back to the Bayou City as often as she can.
“It’s an amazing city,” she says of Houston. “Now, it’s another world. It was a cow town 63 years ago. I come so often, I love seeing the changes.”
Baumann said she’s loved writing since she was a child (she wrote and performed a Sartre-esque play while she was attending Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts), and is thrilled to be in print.
“I’m supposed to write a third in this series,” she says. “So, I’ll either do that or something more literary. I don’t know.”
Loose cannon, indeed.
AR Baumann reads Thicker Than Blood on Thursday, Dec. 6 at Murder by the Book. More info at murderbooks.com.