Mission Beach author writes debut novel about brutal 1958 murder case her journalist father covered

Author Deborah Holt Larkin lives in Mission Beach.
(Courtesy - Deborah Holt Larkin)

Author Deborah Holt Larkin will talk about her book on Aug. 23 at the Pacific Beach Library


It’s not often that true crime, court cases and murder charges work their way into the minds of young children, but for Deborah Holt Larkin the 1958 murder of Olga Duncan did just that.

When Duncan was killed by two hired-hit men in Santa Barbara, Larkin was a living in Ventura County with her parents. Her father, a crime reporter, and her mother, a psychiatric social worker, had front row seats as the disappearance and murder discovery of Duncan unfolded.

For a young child, the traumatic events left a lasting effect on Larkin. To this day, she considers everything that led up to the crime and conviction of Duncan’s killers, and that’s why she chose to write “A Lovely Girl: The Tragedy of Olga Duncan and the Trial of One of California’s Most Notorious Killers.”

“Olga Duncan’s story shadowed me my whole life,” Larkin said. “My dad (Bob Holt) being a crime reporter played a big role. He did not have a filter or many boundaries with things he discussed at home with the family, so I heard a lot about crime growing up.

“Growing up, my dad was talking about crime and my mother was talking about mental illness, so this entire trial and case perplexed me,” she said.

Duncan was a young woman, in Larkin’s hometown, murdered by hit-men hired by Duncan’s mother-in-law. The story almost wrote itself.

“She vanished from her apartment around the time I was 10,” Larkin said. “It fed into my worst nightmares as a child. I came to really identify with her through reading my dad’s articles and pumping him for information. My dad talked about this case off and on for the entirety of his life.”

With a deep understanding of the case, and what she feels is a unique perspective, the Mission Beach resident published her debut novel in October 2022.

She will be participating in an “Author Talk” at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 23 in the Pacific Beach/Taylor Library, 4275 Cass Street.

Set against the backdrop of 1950s California, “A Lovely Girl” follows along as the case unfolds, with sprinkles of Larkin’s memory of events throughout. It tells the story of Elizabeth Duncan, an enraged mother-in-law who hired hit men to kill her pregnant daughter-in-law. It highlights the bizarre court appearances and lies told to authorities.

Olga’s husband, Frank, was a defense attorney who always maintained his mother was innocent even when she became the last woman executed in California after being convicted of the crime.

The cover of Deborah Holt Larkin's book, "A Lovely Girl."
(Courtesy - Deborah Holt Larkin)

Published by Pegasus Books, “A Lovely Girl” encapsulates the ins and outs of the legal system, as they stood in the ‘50s.

“There were so many aspects to this case I was trying to work out. I went through over 5,000 pages of trial transcripts and countess newspaper articles and interviews,” Larkin said. “It is so interesting because unlike nowadays, everyone got on the stand during the trial, it is so different.”

In addition to digging through her own memory, preparation for the book began many years ago, with endless hours of research. Unearthing files, documents and court hearings, Larkin established a plethora of information long before writing began.

“I spent nine years researching and writing this book. I wrote and re-wrote it and I think I had nine different drafts of this story,” Larkin said.

Although the publishing of her debut novel comes late in her career, Larkin is far from a stranger when it comes to writing. She holds a bachelor’s degree in American history and literature from the University of California, Davis, as well as a having studied creative writing at the University of California, San Diego.

“I set out to be a writer but throughout college my path changed a bit and I became a teacher in Julian for many years,” Larkin said.

Since the book’s publishing, Larkin said she has been pleased with its traction. Outstanding reviews and plenty of press make the years of research all worth the while, she said. “A Lovely Girl” has been optioned for film rights and is in development for a limited TV series on a streaming platform, with Larkin as a consulting producer.

“Having this be both a memoir and a true crime, I was initially told it would be a hard sell,” she said. “But I thought, ya know this is what I have. This is a book that I was writing, and I just kept going. I found an agent, and although this took a while, it was published. Pegasus Books never said it was too long or that I was too old, they published it and it’s been great.”

To learn more about Larkin, visit

Her book is $29.95 for a hardcover, though prices vary through major booksellers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It is also available in Kindle, audio book and audio CD formats.