July-August 2021

Close to home

A local author gives one Bethesda neighborhood a starring role in her new murder mystery

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Aggie Blum Thompson at home in Bethesda. Photo by  Erick Gibson

In her first published novel, I Don’t Forgive You, former police reporter Aggie Blum Thompson weaves neighborhood dynamics into a murder mystery propelled by identity theft. Fake posts on Facebook, Tinder and a community listserv bring shame and police charges for a photographer mom when she’s wrongly linked to a neighbor’s death. Bethesda has a starring role: A local elementary school and swim club, plus landmarks like the Farm Women’s Market, are backdrops for the terror sparked by sexual come-ons posted under the woman’s name. It’s a fast-paced read where family secrets explode and friendships are tested. Now, Thompson’s real-life Westbrook neighbors want to know if she modeled any of the characters after them.

“My husband jokes we’ll have to move,” she says.

Thompson, 50, has been a writer since growing up in a bookish family in Great Neck, Long Island. Visiting New York City with her psychiatrist father and French professor mother meant trips to the original Barnes & Noble, which then sold used books. “My dad would give my brother, Asher, and me each $10,” she says. “You could buy a lot of remaindered books for that.”

Writing short stories and plays was her childhood obsession. One play she now finds cringe-worthy, A Panegyric to Female Adolescence, was produced at her high school. She studied English at Columbia University, taught literacy in AmeriCorps and earned a master’s in journalism at the University of Maryland. Her first newspaper job, at the Star-News in Wilmington, North Carolina, introduced her to crime reporting and to a culture far removed from her Jewish roots. “It was surreal to encounter the racism and sexism of that time,” she says. Her cop beat continued at the Virginian-Pilot, where she covered Virginia Beach.

In 1999, a friend fixed her up with Bethesda native John Thompson, and the two dated long-distance as he finished law school at Harvard University. But 9/11 changed her life. The next day, she felt compelled to drive from Virginia to lower Manhattan to cover the tragedy, getting there just before barriers closed the area. She found survivors and rescue workers with connections to Virginia, filed her story, and decided it was time to make some big choices. She moved to join John in Boston, where she worked as a correspondent for The Boston Globe and started writing her first novel, a coming-of-age story based on her time bartending in New York City after college. After initial interest, the book wasn’t sold.

The couple married in 2003 and moved to Washington, D.C., for John’s job at a civil rights firm. Thompson covered Montgomery County for The Gazette. Moves to Charlottesville, Virginia, and Paris for her husband’s legal work followed. Thompson wrote a second novel, about a police reporter in the South, and the couple began a family. They have two daughters—Roxy, now 14, and Nina, 11. After returning from France, the family first moved to Silver Spring and then to Westbrook, John’s childhood neighborhood in Bethesda.

I Don’t Forgive You, which came out in June, was nurtured in an eight-week evening class at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda with teacher Kathryn Johnson. “I knew she was a good writer,” says Johnson, who requires students to sign a contract promising to write for 90 minutes, six days a week. “She had that drive and desire to put writing first and finish her book.” Publishers liked it, and a modest bidding war brought a two-book deal for Thompson with Forge Books, a division of Macmillan Publishers. The movie rights have been sold to a Hollywood producer.

“My dream was to have my book in a bookstore where my girls could see it,” says Thompson, who spent two years writing and revising the novel. Her daughters are excited that she used their hometown in the book. So are their neighbors. “Three book clubs here have asked me to speak, and the Little Falls Swim Club is hosting a book party.”

The attention is welcome encouragement for Thompson, who was diagnosed two years ago with a rare kidney disease that required chemotherapy, which appears to have worked.

“It’s good to be older and have all my publishing dreams finally come true,” she says.

Her next mystery, already finished, deals with something she knows well from her reporting days in Virginia Beach: the chaos of Beach Week.