Crime Stories and the Power of Loss

ER starred George Clooney, Anthony Edwards, and Julianna Margulies
Real loss outlasts an episode, even a season.
Six years ago I left medicine to live a life of crime.

Many thriller/suspense novels are powered by love in all its permutations: passion, jealousy, revenge, obsession.

But another powerful emotion that resonates because of its universal, primal nature is loss.

Grief in its rawest, purest form makes us all insane . . . It’s how long we cling to that insanity that decides how we go on living.

Loss resulting from sudden violence is especially haunting. There’s no way to prepare for it, no way to build a bulletproof shield to hide behind.

I’ve been a storyteller all my life. It got me into trouble a lot as a kid, those voices in my head, my inability to tell the difference between fact and fiction (or truth and lies according to my parents and teachers). Even throughout med school, writing was my addiction. Then, during my internship year at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, everything changed.

Being an intern isn’t like what you see on TV.

As interns we lived apart from the rest of the world. Our hours were crazy and out of step with mainstream society, our dinner conversation peppered with descriptions of trauma gore or medical oddities that were the stuff of nightmares for anyone else, and, at the tender age of twenty-five, we were charged with making life and death decisions for the tiny lives entrusted to us.

When you’re an intern you live in your own world populated by your fellow interns and residents. They’re your tribe, your family, your lifeline.

There were twelve of us interns.

Then, there were eleven.

According to Cindi Lash and Robert Johnson of The Pittsburgh Press, December 6, 1989:

The intern, Jeffrey Farkas, 26, of the hospital’s pediatrics department was killed late Sunday or early Monday in his rented home…Farkas had been beaten, strangled with electrical cord and stabbed in the face…

One of our own was lost. Killed. Murdered in such a horrendous, horrific manner that it made national headlines.

(Why do people say that? He was lost. As if Jeff’s life was a set of car keys left behind in a forgotten coat pocket.)

We found out Monday. A few days later we were back to work, struggling to work through our grief and stunned disbelief as we saved lives.

I wanted to change the world, to bring Jeff back. To punish the bad guys and give the good guys a happy ending. To find the courage to stand up and face the darkness. And the only place I could do that was in my writing.

I never could have made the leap of faith that took me from medicine to published author without the courage I learned from Jeff. Without finding the strength to climb out of the despair his death created and to face the pain of living with the loss.

Crime fiction deals with death on a daily basis, as practicing medicine did. And just like when working in the ER, fiction explores the gray spaces between the black and white of good and evil. Stories help us search for the power in loss, the pain that when faced, brands us, changes us forever.

Stories give us the courage to change the world.

I think Jeff would have approved.


As a pediatric ER doctor, New York Times and USA Today best seller CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge Thrillers with Heart. CJ has been called a “master within the genre” (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as “breathtakingly fast-paced” and “riveting” (Publishers Weekly) with “characters with beating hearts and three dimensions” (Newsday). Learn more about CJ’s Thrillers with Heart at Her latest is Blind Faith, out July 31, 2012, from St. Martin’s Press.


  1. Lori Ann Freeland

    CJ, that is so horrible. When my son had cancer we watched so many people say good-bye to their kids, but that had time. Time to hug and laugh and cry. Time to say what needed to be said. Not having that chance is devastating.

  2. CJ Lyons

    Thanks, Lori Ann. It was horrible (still hard to talk about even after all these years) but I try to focus on how Jeff’s life had such a wonderful impact on so many people that we still honor his memory.
    Take care,


    Oh My! CJ. How aweful. I always wonder what drives an Author to write! What a sad story. I am so sorry for your loss. You are a terrific writer and one of my top Favorites!

    I Haven’t gotten Blind Faith Yet as we are still dealing with my sister’s Cancer long distance from Kansas to Portland. (Flying back & Forth) By the time I get time to read I am too tired and only do a few pages. We also are moving in a few weeks so that is exhausting too. Things are a little better so I will buy it when I get settled in the new place and I can enjoy every wonderful page!!! God Bless you! Virginia

  4. CJ Lyons

    Thanks for your kind words, Virginia! Keeping you and your family in my thoughts. Best of luck to your sister and with the move.
    Take care,

  5. Fred Langer

    Thank you for posting your memories of Jeff. Today would have been Jeff’s 49th birthday and we miss him. Fred

  6. Michele Carlson

    I apologize CJ but I don’t remember you…I guess Stu sticks out in my memories the most since he was Jeff’s roommate. I still work at CHP and was dating Jeff at the time of this horrific tragedy. It has been a long time but sometimes the raw emotion hits me like it was yesterday. This event has changed me forever. I was trying to get into medical school at the time with Jeff’s encouragement. I was non-functional after the event as I can’t imagine how all of you felt. I will never forget him! He wasn’t lost, he was taken from us. I think of his family often.

  7. Jayme

    I’m so sorry your friend was so brutally taken from this world. I watched a rerun of the show a few days ago, and the horrific manner of his murder has haunted me for the past few days. I’m in ER/Trauma Radiology, and I know how those friendships work. Talking about what most other people consider to be gory and vomit-inducing topics with one another during breakfast, lunch and dinner. There’s a bond there that one doesn’t have with their non-medical professional friends. And the odd hours and shifts. The babies, toddlers, children, teens with cancer are the most heartbreaking cases to work on. Dealing with, and observing the fragility of life and the grief of the family members is gutting. Then, you get off at 7AM, go home and deal with the tragedy and sadness of what you’ve seen and you can’t ever get that out of your head. There’s no one to talk to about it in your home life. It’s no wonder many doctors have a high rate of alcoholism and suicide. For Jeffrey to be murdered as viciously as he was is so senseless. Every murder is senseless. I’m glad you left the medical field when you did, and I’m sure Jeffrey would have supported you all the way.
    Keep up the great work with your writing. x

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