Flying By the Seat of His Pants
By Dawn Ius
Carter Wilson is an unabashed pantser.
Even after six thrillers and a handful of short stories, Wilson admits that almost everything beyond the germ of an idea is made up on the fly—a writing method that in the case of his newest novel, THE DEAD GIRL IN 2A, almost veered him off course.
The thriller—a chilling tale of two strangers seated side by side on a plane with an uncanny familiarity—is Wilson’s most intricate story, and though it lands smoothly (and perhaps with a bit of uncharacteristic hope), getting from point A to…well, 2A…was almost as complex as the plot itself.
“I put so much into the first 150 pages, that I got so stuck trying to figure out what it all meant,” he says. “I spent a month with my office covered in paper, trying to connect things.”
The Fine Line Between
Psychological Thriller and Horror
In Riley Sager’s LOCK EVERY DOOR, a young woman, struggling with grief after a tragic loss, accepts a rare opportunity to move into an elegant, Gothic-style Manhattan apartment building. She’s warned about the building’s grim history, which includes a string of grisly deaths and whispers of occult activity, but she shrugs off those concerns and sets up house among the building’s eccentric, secretive residents. At first she can’t believe her good luck, but she slowly becomes convinced that something unimaginably sinister is going on in the building. Others dismiss her concerns, leaving her to root out the truth on her own. What she finds threatens her sanity, her bodily autonomy, and ultimately her life.
If that all sounds a lot like Rosemary’s Baby, Sager can tick another item off his bucket list.
“I’ve been a fan of both the book and the movie since I was about 14, and it was a dream of mine to write my own version of a similar story,” says Sager, who first fell in love with the thriller genre when he read his sister’s copy of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None in the seventh grade—not long before he discovered Ira Levin’s devilish classic. “I was drawn to the idea of this young woman in this beautiful, glamorous apartment building, and something really sinister going on there. Who can she trust, and how is she going to get out of it?”
Keeping Things Fresh
By Alex Segura
Laura Lippman doesn’t like repeating herself.
Whether Lippman, the bestselling and acclaimed author of more than 20 novels, is chronicling the adventures of her beloved PI, Tess Monaghan, or crafting unique and memorable standalones like the sexy, noir-soaked Sunburn, one thing holds true: each book sings a different tune, and takes readers down a new, winding road. Different paintings in a sprawling, bustling gallery.
But what carries over from one book to the next are Lippman’s many strengths as a writer—her clear, warm voice; her blend of memorable and conflicted characters; a sharp, enviable ability to drop a killer twist; and an undying appreciation for the work that’s come before—and how to build on it. Lippman’s novels feel lived-in and real, the sounds and smells of her native Baltimore jump off the page and envelop the reader, whether we’re walking the city’s streets today or 40 years prior.
“I seem to be constitutionally incapable of following up a successful book with a book that’s similar to it,” Lippman says. “For better or worse, it’s who I am. And I don’t consider myself a particularly brave or principled person. It’s not like, ‘Oh my God, I’m an artist. I must do something new.’ But I recognize that if I don’t make it hard and difficult and different for myself, chances are I won’t write the best book I can write. If I try to do a version of the book I’ve just done, I’m doomed.”
Grown-up Games, Redemption,
and Diving the Deep
By K. L. Romo
“We were grown-up women, so we packed our worsts away in hidden boxes. We were mothers, so we sank those boxes under jobs and mortgages and meal plans. Mothers have to sink those boxes deep.”
We all harbor secrets, but some are more dangerous than others. How far would a wife and mother go to protect hers? That’s the premise in Joshilyn Jackson’s new psychological thriller, NEVER HAVE I EVER.
Amy Whey has a perfect life—a husband she loves, a 15-year-old stepdaughter she adores, an infant boy she dotes on, and the nicest best friend anyone could want. No one knows about her past. But when the new neighbor renting the house down the street crashes the neighborhood book club get-together, Amy fears her prior sins may have come back to destroy her.
When Amy opens her front door for book club that night, the woman on the porch mesmerizes her. Angelica Roux is sultry and intoxicating, exactly the opposite of the other women in their group. Although feigning interest in the book club, Roux (as she’s called) hijacks the meeting with liquor and a game. But it isn’t just a game, it’s a plan.
“It’s like Never Have I Ever, but for grown-ups. We skip the coy denials and go right to confession. You start by telling everyone the worst thing you did today,” she tells the girls. And then the worst thing last week, and last month.
Kidnapping, Killing, and the Search for Closure
By K. L. Romo
You never truly know anyone. Every human being who has lived long enough to make mistakes has secrets stashed away in the back of a locked closet… a moment of weakness that they’ve worked their whole lives to hide… especially from those they love most.
Podcasts are the new rage in audio entertainment. But what if the podcast’s host is a relative whose life was ruined by a mass murderer? In Alison Gaylin’s newest thriller NEVER LOOK BACK, podcast producer Quentin Garrison investigates a 40-year-old murder spree that quickly turns secretive and deadly.
The year is 1976. Two teenagers go on a killing spree in Southern California and then die in a fire. Or so everyone thinks.
The families of the victims, left behind by April Cooper and Gabriel LeRoy’s murderous rampage, still need closure after living with the aftermath for 40 years. Producer Quentin Garrison will investigate the murders for his podcast—aptly named Closure—hoping to find answers about the brutal killing of his mother’s four-year-old sister, which led to his family’s self-destruction.
The murder left Quentin’s mother emotionally damaged—launching a drug habit that would last until she died—and his grandfather wanted nothing to do with him.
By Dawn Ius
When asked what it would mean for The Chalk Man to win the 2019 ITW Thriller Award for Best First Novel, C. J. Tudor doesn’t hesitate to respond.
“Blimey! It would be the most amazing thing ever,” she says. “I mean, have you seen the other nominees? I’m chuffed to bits just to be considered alongside them.”
The feeling is mutual. Tudor’s book is up against four other worthy award winners, including The Terminal List by Jack Carr, Need to Know by Karen Cleveland, Caged by Ellison Cooper and Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman.
Taking home the medal would be a pinnacle in many an author’s career, but for Ellison Cooper, her desire to be honored by ITW runs deep.
“In 2010, I Googled the International Thriller Writers and daydreamed about, one day, joining the organization of writers that I love,” she says. “If you had told me then that I would not only get to join ITW and go to ThrillerFest, but that I would also be nominated for an ITW award, I would have laughed in your face.”
Heading to ThrillerFest? Liz Berry’s Tips on
Making the Most of Your Conference Experience
By Dawn Ius
Attending writing conferences can be overwhelming, says ITW’s Executive Director, Liz Berry. But the key to making the most of them is to start your prep early. And if you’re heading to ThrillerFest next week, Berry advises there’s no time like the present.
Before you even get the schedule of events, preliminary research can go a long way.
“Learn who will be there, and what you can learn from them,” Berry says, noting that even though ThrillerFest is a great place to network with authors of all experience, meeting the genre superstars can sometimes feel a bit daunting. “That way, if you have an opportunity to speak to them, you’ll have some knowledge about them and won’t feel quite as nervous.”
Research on the authors is a good start, but Berry says you should also have prepared a question you might like to ask—just one. Think quality, not quantity.
Strong Female Characters Drive Narrative
in Park’s 16th Thriller
Tony Park is the acclaimed author of 16 thrillers all set in southern Africa, as well as six biographical books. His latest novel, SCENT OF FEAR, features intriguing characters (some of them canine!) and plenty of twists to keep the reader guessing and the pages turning.
The book addresses the current poaching crisis, where big money from the Far East chases rhino horns, lion bones, and ivory. In that way it’s similar to Michael Stanley’s new book Shoot the Bastards, but while Stanley chose an outsider to become embroiled in the issues, Park focuses on them through the people right at the front.
An Australian, he has worked as a reporter, a press secretary, a PR consultant, and a freelance writer. He also served 34 years in the Australian army reserve, including a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Park and his wife, Nicola, now split their time between two homes—one in Sydney, and one in South Africa near the Kruger Park.
The Times of London has described Park as the “spiritual heir” to Wilbur Smith, while Publisher’s Weekly said he “excels at capturing the wilds of (Africa), as well as its political and commercial pressures.”
Park will be speaking on a panel, “Drones, Tanks or Special OPs? Today’s Military Thriller” at ITW’s ThrillerFest this month. Catch up with him there—but first, check out this The Big Thrill interview.
Obliterating the Line Between
Literary and Crime Fiction
For longtime readers of Glasgow-based crime writer Denise Mina, it will come as no surprise that her latest release, CONVICTION, is one of the finest novels to hit shelves so far this year. Since the release of her debut novel, 1998’s Garnethill, Mina has routinely found herself shortlisted for some of the genre’s most prestigious awards, including wins from the Crime Writers’ Association and Crimefest and nominations for Anthony Awards, the Edgars, and the UK’s National Book Awards.
It’s lofty praise, then, to say that CONVICTION is Mina’s best work to date. Her new standalone, about a true crime devotee who undertakes her own investigation of a high-profile case, is a fast-paced, moving, and surprisingly funny tour de force that obliterates whatever lines critics have drawn between literary and crime fiction. What begins as a relatively straightforward tale of a woman’s obsession with a mystery not quite solved evolves into a razor-edged meditation on the crucial role that storytelling plays in our lives. Mina’s work always impresses, but CONVICTION dazzles.
Not long after we meet Anna McLean, her life explodes in spectacular fashion: a casual knock at the door turns out to be Anna’s best friend, arriving to execute a meticulously planned betrayal that leaves Anna’s world in ruins. By the end of the second chapter, Anna has been kicked out of her house and her husband has run off with her best friend, taking Anna’s two young daughters with them. Desperate for a distraction, Anna decides to get to the bottom of a mystery that has captured the national imagination: a supposedly cursed yacht has sunk, killing a family of three. One of the victims, Leon Parker, was an old friend of Anna’s; when a podcaster decides that Leon killed himself and his two children in an act of “family annihilation,” Anna sets out to clear his name. In doing so, though, she inadvertently turns herself into a target—it seems Anna McLean isn’t really Anna McLean, and her past is about to catch up with her.
Unmasking the Darkness
The darkness behind the mask. We see it in the quiet man next door who turns out to be a serial killer, the pre-teen girl who sacrifices a playmate to Slender Man, the astronaut who drives 900 miles in a pair of Depends on a mission to murder her lover’s new flame. In fiction, we flock to it, entranced by Heath Ledger’s Joker.
In real life, we stare at it in horror, unable to avert our eyes. We expect our monsters to look like monsters. Instead, they’re our neighbors, our co-workers. Sometimes, they’re people we thought were our friends.
It’s this dark side of the mundane that fascinates Canadian author Nina Laurin. Her first novel, Girl Last Seen, explores the effects of sexual assault on its victims. The critically acclaimed follow-up, What My Sister Knew, delves into the destructive force of family secrets. In her latest novel, THE STARTER WIFE, a “fairy tale” marriage begins to unravel when the wife, Claire, receives an email message from her husband’s ex-wife—a woman missing and presumed dead for the past seven years.
Laurin maintains a careful balance between the story’s action and Claire’s internal landscape.
“Claire’s insecurities about her marriage stem from the fact that she tends to think in stereotypes,” Laurin says. “So, she built all these expectations in her head of what her perfect whirlwind romance and her fairytale marriage would be like. And reality can’t help but fall short. The people who wish her ill (won’t say more because spoilers!) only use those expectations to torment Claire. They don’t have to do a whole lot—she’ll make up for it by tormenting herself in her own head. Everything that happens to her plays into her deepest fears, and when you tap into those, the person tends to act out in crazy ways.”
Thor Ups the Ante in 19th Thriller
By Josie Brown
The best way to create a thriving series: make each book better than the last.
Brad Thor, a celebrated master of the thriller genre, has done just that in each of his 18 previous novels. But in his latest, BACKLASH, Thor ups the ante by putting his protagonist, Scot Harvath—a former Navy SEAL and now a partner in a private Black Ops network called the Carlton Group—in so much danger that readers will be left gasping at every plot twist.
The novel starts off where his last book, Spymaster, ended. Not to give anything away, suffice it to say that in the first few pages of the story, Harvath’s life is turned upside down. He’s grief-stricken, drugged, and abducted into enemy territory: Russia.
To escape, not only must Harvath defend himself against his kidnappers, survive frigid temperatures in the middle of the Russian wilderness, and sabotage the Russian search squad already on his tail, he must also survive an attack from a wolf pack. Talk about the ultimate alpha death match.
Harvath’s journey begins with a great escape: surviving a plane crash while shackled and injured.
While going over this very early and immensely crucial scene with military consultants, Thor was given one prime directive. “I was told, ‘Exterminate all other survivors. Nothing else matters.’”
The methods in which Thor has his protagonist accomplish this mission are varied and inspired.
Tackling the Existential Question:
Is This It?
By P. J. Bodnar
When you come to a crossroads in life, do you follow your head or your heart? In David Bell’s latest thriller, LAYOVER, Joshua Fields is given that choice, and for the first time in his life, he follows his heart…and the girl.
The idea for this novel—Bell’s ninth—came from a real life encounter he witnessed in an airport. He saw two people passionately kiss goodbye, and then heard the guy say to the bartender that he’d just met the girl earlier that morning.
Bell says that his novels come from a “conglomeration of different things, including things I see in real life and things that have happened to people I know. All writers have to constantly be on the look-out for new story ideas. Writers are relentless and will use anything to get that book finished.”
Bell, who is an English professor in his other life, took time out of his busy writing and teaching schedule to talk to The Big Thrill about his latest thriller.
By Dawn Ius
A lot of authors credit Stephen King for inspiring their love of the thriller and horror genres. A lot. And it makes sense then, that they’d want to give him a shout out—such as ITW Best Young Adult Novel award nominees Dana Mele and Gillian French, who say King has very much influenced their writing careers.
But for French, author of The Lies They Tell, it’s also King’s wife, Tabitha, that has earned some credit in the inspiration department.
“She doesn’t publish as frequently, but her writing is so incredibly powerful,” French says. “Her insights into the human condition are incomparable.”
Words Tabitha would likely be thrilled to hear—even if French got a little tongue tied trying to deliver the praise. French admits she’s extremely shy and self-conscious—the kind that makes her blush when speaking in public. Something she’ll need to conquer if her book is chosen as this year’s Best Young Adult Novel at ThrillerFest, July 14.
A win would be life-changing, but of course, French recognizes that her novel faces some steep competition. Also nominated is Dana Mele’s People Like Us, Peter Stone’s The Perfect Candidate, Warcross by Marie Lu, and Girl at the Grave by Teri Bailey Black.
Black says the nomination comes with an extra special boost as Girl at the Grave is also her debut.
“I’ve been riding the usual new-author roller coaster for the last few years,” she says. “Waking up at four in the morning to write, sure my latest chapter is brilliant. Followed by days of bleary-eyed doubt. Getting oh-so-close, then rejected. Starting over with a new story. Finally, success! Followed by a huge revision, sure it’s all dreadful. Winning the Thriller Award would be wonderful validation—a fabulous high on that ongoing roller coaster.”
By Dawn Ius
Duane Swierczynski wishes he could say he was doing something exciting when he heard the news that his short story “Tough Guy Ballet” had been nominated for an ITW Thriller Award. But rather than “juggling knives or disposing of a corpse (or juggling knives while disposing of a corpse)” Swierczynski admits he was at his desk— writing.
“Boring, right? My writer friend Dave White alerted me when he saw the news,” Swierczynski says. “Everyone says this, but that doesn’t make it any less true: I feel like I’ve already won, just being nominated.”
Audiobook Fan Goes Gaga for Golden Voices:
Narrator January LaVoy’s Audiobook Mysteries
By Ellen Quint, AudioFile
One of the privileges of being part of the AudioFile Team is the opportunity to rub elbows on special occasions with stars of the audiobook universe. Imagine being in a New York recording studio surrounded by the people who have thrilled you with their performances again and again. That was me last month at the reception in honor of AudioFile’s five new Golden Voice recipients who have joined this very special class of narrators. A full cadre of Golden Voices was there to welcome their fellow narrators.
Let me focus on new Golden Voice honoree January LaVoy. You can read more about January in the latest issue of AudioFile Magazine and in her narrator profile. Ms. LaVoy has recorded more than 200 audiobooks: biographies as diverse as Eliza Hamilton and Queen Bey (about Beyoncé and Jay Z); science fiction, including Version Control; and, of course, mysteries. She has one of those voices you would follow anywhere. As with her Golden Voices colleagues, she can make any genre come alive for the listener. That takes true talent.
I recently reviewed Judgment by Joseph Finder, in which she succeeded in one of the biggest challenges for all narrators—portraying both men and women convincingly. In fact, she did such a good job, I truly thought there must be a male narrator who stepped in to perform the male characters.
Mystery fans can also enjoy her performance in Lyndsay Faye’s Paragon Hotel; John Grisham’s Camino Island—an AudioFile Best of Mystery/Suspense 2017); and Save Me from Dangerous Men by S. A. Lelchuk.
January LaVoy is so successful at mystery narration because she’s able to convey tension, fear, and conflict through her pace and tone. She’s a narrator I will actively search for when looking for my next audiobook. I could have her voice in my ears all day long. Be sure to listen to AudioFile’s Behind the Mic podcast for a new interview with her.
Besides having the thrill of speaking with her in person at the reception, I also had the chance to meet a number of the narrators who have made me the audiobook fan that I am.
I got to shake hands with Dion Graham, whose voice thrilled me in Walter Mosely’s Down the River unto the Sea. He actually recalled my review of the book, which garnered him an Earphones Award.
What an evening!
* * *
Five Mystery Audio Books to Add to Your List
Knowing that you’ll be hungry for more after listening to January LaVoy’s Golden Voice performances, AudioFile Magazine has selected five great mystery audiobooks that combine blow-you-away narrations with standout writing. Grab your earbuds and start listening.
Narrator Lisa Flanagan creates a remarkable portrayal of its protagonist in this unique, fast-paced thriller full of intrigue and unexpected humor.
Narrator Thom Rivera plays up the danger running through this thriller about the high stakes antique market.
Narrators Emily Woo Zeller and Richard Ferrone alternate chapters, engrossing the listener in this intelligent thriller about a series of murders in Los Angeles.
Rory Kinnear returns to narrate the second in this amusing meta-detective series, which features the author as one of the characters.
Narrator Christina Delaine expertly weaves the web of Anne Hillerman’s latest mystery, which involves the theft of a priceless Navaho artifact.
AudioFile is the place to discover more about audiobooks. Every day, its reviews and recommendations tell you which audiobooks are worth your listening time. AudioFile reviews about 50 audiobooks a week, features narrator profiles, and awards exceptional performances with AudioFile’s Earphones Awards. AudioFile publishes in print, newsletters, and a blog. And podcasts daily recommendations on Behind the Mic with AudioFile Magazine.
Blood on the Page
By Neil Nyren
“She doesn’t remember, does she?”
The question hangs in the air between them too long.
Billie James has returned to the dilapidated house in Greendale, Mississippi, where her father, a renowned black poet, lived. She hasn’t seen him in 30 years. “She had forgotten about the house, figured it’d been knocked down forever ago,” but here it is, and here she is.
History breathes all around her. “This place is all longing and water and ghosts,” her cousin says. Relatives still live nearby, as do descendants of the slave-owning family for whom her own ancestors worked.
Every tree has a story, and the story that interests her most is that of her father, whom one summer night in 1972 was walking through the woods when he fell and hit his head and died. She was four then, asleep back at the house—or so she’s always thought. Now, she learns that people couldn’t find her that night, that she’d disappeared, that her picture was even on the news.
She starts to ask around, and is told that she was found in a closet—no, the porch—no, somewhere else, just leave it be, baby. But she can’t: “She wants to know all the stories of Greendale’s abandoned houses, secret affairs, and ruinous personal wars.” The more she pokes, the more she is warned that she’s getting into something most people would rather forget, and then with one poke too far, those ghosts become only too real.
“Words have blood in them; they can make fate take shape when they pass from a mouth into a heart,” and in THE GONE DEAD, those words slow-build into a haunting climax.
This is a remarkable novel about race, justice, and memory. What inspired Benz to write it?
By Dawn Ius
Jennifer Hillier distinctly remembers when everything about her writing changed. It was 2007, after she’d finished Chelsea Cain’s heart-stopping thriller, Heartsick.
“Here was a woman crime writer pulling zero punches about crafting a female villain who didn’t become a serial killer because of some ‘valid’ reason (self-protection, passion, revenge, money), but who instead murdered because she enjoyed killing people,” Hillier says. “There was violence, there was twisted sex, nothing faded to black, and it was all so…unapologetic, without feeling gratuitous.”
Empowered by Cain’s work, Hillier set out to write her own unapologetic thrillers, with her most recent psychological thriller, 2018’s Jar of Hearts, landing her an ITW Best Hardcover Novel nomination. Color her thrilled.
Having attended ThrillerFest since 2009—save a couple of years inbetween—winning this award would be significant for Hillier, but she acknowledges that the other books in her category provide some stiff competition. Keeping company with Jar of Hearts is Karin Slaughter’s Pieces of Me, Julia Heaberlin’s Paper Ghosts, Lou Berney’s November Road, and Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World.
After studying biology at MIT, a career as a thriller writer was not the natural path forward for New York Times bestselling author Megan Miranda.
“Though I loved writing when I was growing up, I also loved science, and I didn’t know anyone who was an author,” she says. “I didn’t know what that career path would look like. So I pursued a degree in biology, worked in biotechnology for a few years, and then taught high school science.”
If Miranda had continued toiling away in the lab, her new novel, THE LAST HOUSE GUEST, might never have been written—but the call to being an author was something she couldn’t ignore. And by the time she reached her late 20s, she knew she had to do something about it.
“I had children, and came to realize I had given up this creative pursuit for too long,” she says. “That’s when my focus shifted—to give it a real shot, to treat this as my job in the hopes that it would one day become my career.”
At first, writing was just something she did on the side, late at night, after she tucked in her kids. “I had set myself the goal of finishing something—which I did—but I didn’t understand the art of revising, or all the story elements needed,” she says. Miranda soon brought the same degree of rigor that she’d used to learn science to her pursuit of writing. And that approach paid off.
After two total rewrites, that late-night project evolved into her first published novel, though “the only things that remain the same from the original version are the title (Fracture), the character names, and the first four sentences. I’d say the process of rewriting that book several times taught me a lot about the writing process and the essential elements of a story.”
It can be impossible to ever know the full truth about a crime. Eyewitnesses don’t have perfect recall, and fingerprints and DNA evidence aren’t the magical solutions that shows like CSI would have you believe.
But how far would you go, and how much would you risk, to seek out justice and prevent future victims from being murdered—without locking up the wrong person?
That tension is at the heart of the new novel by Hilary Davidson, ONE SMALL SACRIFICE, told from alternating points of view: the detective and the suspect.
ONE SMALL SACRIFICE debuts a new hero, NYPD detective Sheryn Sterling, coming after Davidson wrote the acclaimed Lily Moore series.
Davidson has won the Derringer, Crimespree and Spinetingler awards along with two Anthony’s. Impressive—though she didn’t start out writing fiction.
She began her writing career as a journalist, publishing 18 travel books. That background gave her a bit in common with the other point-of-view character in her latest thriller: Alex Traynor, a wartime photojournalist suffering from PTSD.
The Big Thrill caught up with her in the middle of her book tour for her new publisher, Thomas and Mercer, to ask her about the debut of her latest character.
By George Ebey
Supernatural thrills come our way in PROOF OF LIFE, the second book in Sheila Lowe’s Beyond the Veil Mysteries series.
After recovering from amnesia five years ago, Jessica Mack never told anyone she’d started hearing voices from the spirit world. Now, forced to use her “gift” to find missing four-year-old Ethan Starkey, she can no longer ignore the voices. Time is running out for little Ethan as Jessica and Sage Boles—a man with a mysterious past—are guided by the voices to a séance, where they hope to get clues to the child’s whereabouts.
The Big Thrill recently reached out to the author to learn more about this exciting new thriller.
What attracts you to the paranormal genre?
In 2000, when my daughter Jennifer became the victim in a murder-suicide, I needed to find out what happened when we die. What I learned was that there is sound evidence for life after death. Years later, when I decided to write a book with a paranormal theme, it came as a surprise to me, but according to some well-known spiritual mediums, Jennifer was working with me on this story of a young woman’s reluctant journey into mediumship.
Approximately 6.7 million women face struggles with fertility in the US alone, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. That makes up about 11 percent of the country’s reproductive population. The global in vitro fertilization business is valued at roughly $16.7 billion and is projected to reach a cumulative annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.2 percent by 2026.
Despite this billowing market and a proliferation of fertility clinics and agencies that ensure anonymity for egg donors, legal systems are often ill-equipped to deal with personal, emotional, and spiritual conflicts that can arise in various permutations and combinations through the process.
In her debut novel, HER DAUGHTER’S MOTHER, accomplished New York City-based writer Daniela Petrova deftly weaves the sensitivities of psychological conflicts embedded in this reality into an intriguing web of domestic suspense.
Lana Stone has everything going for her—Bulgarian beauty, smarts, a coveted gig as an associate curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a loving, long-term relationship with Columbia University professor Tyler, and an apartment at the verdant Morningside Heights neighborhood near the Columbia campus. At least, that’s what one would assume if meeting Lana for the first time.
But things are not as they seem. To begin with, Lana can’t get pregnant. After years of struggling to conceive, Lana and Tyler resign themselves to the last resort, a choice that eats into a sizable chunk of their savings: using an egg donor.
The new arrival of a woman named Mary Todd wedges a rift between Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed, but they must resolve their differences if they stand any chance of cracking one of the most harrowing murder cases they have ever faced.
In the winter of 1839, a sensational disappearance rocks Springfield, Illinois, as headlines announce a local man has accused his two brothers of murder. Not one to pass up an opportunity, Abraham Lincoln takes up the case of the accused with the assistance of his best friend Joshua Speed to search for evidence of innocence.
But just as soon as they begin, Lincoln and Speed find their friendship at grave risk of rupture as they vie for the hand of a beautiful new arrival in town: an ambitious, outspoken young woman named Mary Todd. As the trial arrives, can Lincoln and Speed put aside their differences to work together for justice once more? An innocent man’s life may be in the balance—and nothing is as it seems.
Jonathan F. Putnam, author of A HOUSE DIVIDED, spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing the latest installment of the Lincoln and Speed mystery series:
As owner of the Spice Shop in Seattle’s famed Pike Place Market, Pepper Reece is always on the go. Between conjuring up new spice blends and serving iced spice tea to customers looking to beat the summer heat, she finally takes a break for a massage. But the Zen moment is shattered when she overhears an argument in her friend Aimee’s vintage home decor shop that ends in murder.
Wracked by guilt over her failure to intervene, Pepper investigates, only to discover a web of deadly connections that could ensnare a friend—and Pepper herself.
Bestselling author Leslie Budewitz met up with The Big Thrill to discuss her latest cozy mystery, CHAI ANOTHER DAY:
Cole Haufner has no equal as a professional MMA fighter. At the peak of his success, Cole suffers a horrible personal tragedy. His grief deepens when his brother, Butch, a Delta Force operator, goes missing. Desperate to find Butch, Cole travels back to his childhood home in southeastern China and the Shaolin Temple where he was raised.
When Cole meets his brother’s Delta teammate, code name Hammer, his fame and personal agenda collide with the Delta unit’s mission to recover an invention that could transform the human race. It could also see its downfall, if the pursuing North Korean agents find it first.
Cole’s spiral downward approaches madness as a family secret is revealed, one that could force him to choose between his brother and one of the most important, and potentially deadliest, discoveries in modern human history.
The Big Thrill caught up to author Mike Houtz to discuss his must-read action thriller, DARK SPIRAL DOWN:
When Professor Michael Peterson learns he has a terminal brain tumor and is faced with no other viable options, he promises complete confidentially to undergo an experimental and highly secretive operation in brain cell grafting.
While recuperating, he begins to have flashes of fragmented images that have no connection to his life. He soon realizes he is an unwilling participant in a murder plan initiated by his donor.
Drawn into a maze of deceit and danger, Michael must choose between keeping his word to the person who saved his life or making an attempt to save the life of a complete stranger.
The Big Thrill spent some time with author Lauri Broadbent discussing her debut thriller, IMAGES:
By Dan Levy
Considering that his latest book, NEW YORK MINUTE, is Bob Mayer’s 77th published novel, it might be hard to believe that he can still find new avenues of character development to explore.
In fact, the protagonist in Mayer’s latest novel mirrors much of his own life—both lived in the Bronx in the 1970s, both went to West Point, both are Special Forces veterans. However, a health discovery in Mayer’s personal life helped give rise to Will Kane, a hero with an unusual inner battle to fight, in addition to the conflicts that surround him.
In this The Big Thrill interview, Mayer shares more about his prolific writing journey, and gives us insight into his new thriller, NEW YORK MINUTE.
You seem to have a wide variety of interests relative to your fiction writing. Why does that appeal to you as opposed to taking a single character and exploring him across 20 to 30 novels?
My career would be an example of bad advice to aspiring authors. I’ve written whatever has interested me, including nonfiction. Don’t do that! Or do. Rules are made to be broken. I’ve written a lot of science fiction, including the almost 3-million copy selling Area 51 series. I started in the thriller genre with the Green Beret series, and now I’m back there, so I’ve completed an interesting circle.
If you’re looking for a powerful psychological thriller and an emotionally complex story with more twists and turns than a corkscrew, look no further than Kimberly Belle’s DEAR WIFE.
The central plot line of this novel follows a woman creating a new identity for herself while escaping an abusive marriage. However, as the author explains, she’s really telling three stories here. The central heroine is Beth Murphy on the run from her controlling and abusive husband.
“For months she’s been planning her escape,” Belle says. “Saving grocery money, thinking through the various strategies, coming up with a plan. One day when her husband is at work, she finds her chance. She steers her car westward to leave a trail of clues, then doubles back and disappears into Atlanta. It’s essential she make no mistakes, because Beth knows as soon as her husband finds her, she’s dead. She’s an abused woman in the midst of reclaiming her strength, so while she probably wouldn’t be the best conversation partner at a cocktail party, she makes a kick-ass heroine. Brave. Determined. Stronger than she realizes. Willing to risk everything for her freedom and the chance to rebuild her life.”
Beth does make some interesting decisions and friends, folks like her who are running from their own secret past. Despite everything she’s been through, she never forgets to be kind.
By Basil Sands
Lindy opened her eyes and struggled to make out the dark room around her. She’s bound at the wrists and tied to a chair, unable to move. Footsteps outside the door stifle her screams. He’s coming…
In town, Sheriff Jenna Alton gets a text with a video and a simple message—you’ve got six hours to find her or I kill her.
This is how D. K. Hood’s latest book, WHISPER IN THE NIGHT begins—and I would strongly suggest that you don’t read it if you plan to sleep soon. WHISPER IN THE NIGHT is a tense thriller, not for the light-hearted—but definitely a story thriller fans will find compelling.
Writing about the rugged beauty of Montana and her interest in criminal forensic science goes back many years for Hood. Her debut crime thriller, Don’t Tell a Soul, was a Top 100 Bestseller on Amazon USA, with her follow-up books, Bring Me Flowers and Follow Me Home, enjoying the same success. Her novels The Crying Season and Where Angels Fear hit the USA Today bestseller list.
In this interview, she takes some time out of her busy schedule to talk to The Big Thrill about what inspired her chilling new release.
M. W. (Mike) Craven’s latest novel, BLACK SUMMER, the latest in the Washington Poe series, is a wonderfully rich and twisty mystery/thriller that takes place in Cumbria, England, where he lives with his wife, a bookkeeper and a “qualified proofreader,” along with their springer spaniel, Bracken, the real-life inspiration for Poe’s dog, Edgar.
His father, who was a cigarette salesman, died when he was 14, and his mother, a nurse who then became a full-time mother and unfortunately passed away three years before he became a published author. He has two sisters, one an ex-police officer who lives in York, and a theater nurse who lives in Devon.
In this The Big Thrill interview, Craven spends some time discussing his path to publication and the latest installment of his Washington Poe series, BLACK SUMMER.
Late one August night, attorney Jessie Martin, seven months pregnant, receives a phone call from her mentor/confidante, popular high school teacher Terrence Butterfield. A frantic Butterfield confesses he’s killed someone and pleads for Jessie’s help.
Out of loyalty, Jessie rushes to his aid. She’s shocked to learn the identity of the victim—someone whose death dredges up dark, buried memories.
As the legal proceedings against Butterfield unfold, Jessie finds that her faith in the legal system and the people she trusted is shaken. Ultimately, Jessie’s decision to answer the midnight call places at great peril her love, her career, and her own life and that of her unborn child.
Author Jode Millman spent some time with The Big Thrill talking about her compelling debut, THE MIDNIGHT CALL, and her approach to writing.
In Kelsey Rae Dimberg’s debut thriller GIRL IN THE REARVIEW MIRROR, Finn Hunt lucks into the job of a lifetime when she becomes a nanny for a political power couple in Phoenix. The glamorous lifestyle of Philip Martin, the son of a senator, and his wife Marina dazzles Finn, but she loves being part of this accomplished family and caring for her young charge, the Martins’ precocious four-year-old, Amabel.
When a young woman approaches Finn and asks her to carry a message to Philip, Finn becomes enmeshed in a web of deadly lies—including her own. Secrets best left alone are laid bare under the broiling Phoenix sun, as a senate seat hangs in the balance.
Megan Abbot says this story is “an exciting, intoxicating debut, it will hold you until its startling final pages” and Sarah Weinman calls it “thrilling, thoughtful, and suspenseful.” Hallie Ephron says the story reminds her of “the ghost of Mary Jo Kopechne,” as “an appealing young woman is caught up in a power political family’s prestige and privilege.”
Dimberg says inspiration for this story was classic noir—but with a twist. “I wanted to play with the genre’s tropes. Rather than the hard-boiled detective, I was interested in their moral role in the story. I relished the exposure of rot and scandal behind powerful families, but favored domestic disturbances over benders and gambling debts. I liked the idea of an ordinary person drawn into a mystery, but I wanted that person to be a woman, both vulnerable and tough.”
Trend: Getting Personal with True Crime
By Dawn Ius
When Claudia Rowe began writing The Spider and the Fly back in the early 2000s, many literary agents told her she was flat out crazy. Part memoir, part true crime, part psychological thriller, the book represented a genre mash-up that wasn’t yet reader-tested.
Fast forward to 2019—and oh, how times have changed. In the past couple of years, we’ve seen momentum for true crime memoirs ramp up with the release of bestselling books such as Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Kerri Rawson’s A Serial Killer’s Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love, and Overcoming, and most recently—albeit with a slightly different focus—Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered by the creators of the hit podcast My Favorite Murder, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark.
These hybrid books, it would seem, have become the true crime genre’s latest darlings.
“There’s no escaping the fact that crime stories get inside us. They trigger intense feelings that go way beyond reaction to the prurient details, and it’s natural that writers would want to interrogate those reactions. Only now, there’s cultural permission to do it out loud,” Rowe says. “Obviously people felt the same frustration I did—that traditional true crime narratives left out an important element of connection, of resonance, with something bigger than the cases themselves.”
In The Spider and the Fly, Rowe uses her frank, and sometimes disturbing, conversations with convicted serial killer Kendall Francois to explore and understand the inherent darkness in each of us, including her own personal demons.
Mixing in Humor with the Thrills
By J. H. Bográn
According to Tom Hanks’s character in A League of Their Own, “There’s no crying in baseball!”—a maxim that feels as real as “There’s no comedy in thrillers!” Be that as it may, a myriad of authors have proved the latter theory wrong. Chief among them is author D. P. Lyle and his Jake Longly series.
In this latest entry, SUNSHINE STATE, Jake Longly and girlfriend Nicole Jamison are hired to prove that two of the seven murders tagged to convicted killer Billy Wayne Baker were not his doing at all—even if he previously confessed to all of them because of DNA found in the seven crime scenes.
Lyle says the story started with the classic “what if?” What if a confessed serial killer, who is doing consecutive life sentences for seven murders that he confessed to, suddenly decided to come forward stating that two of the murders were not by his hand?
Billy Wayne Baker obviously knows which ones he didn’t do, if he’s telling the truth, but he refuses to say. His take is that only a completely independent investigation would be believed, and if he hired someone and then guided them in a certain direction, no one would believe the outcome and the actual killers would probably get off. On the other side of that coin, Billy Wayne could simply be tweaking the system and looking for a little more media facetime. Jake, Nicole, Pancake, and Ray must figure it out.
They have their work cut out for them.
After taking the case, the four travel to a small town in Florida. The choice of location was deliberate.
Setting, Weather, and Butterflies
Play Key Roles in New Thriller
By Wendy Tyson
In Karen Harper’s latest South Shores Series installment, DARK STORM, forensic psychologist Claire Markwood and her husband, criminal lawyer Nick, are on a harrowing, very personal adventure. This time, Claire’s younger sister Darcy goes missing, but when Claire heads to the butterfly sanctuary in southern Florida where Darcy works, she finds no trace of Darcy—it’s as though the woman simply vanished. What dark, hidden family secrets are at work here? And can Claire and Nick find Darcy before it’s too late?
Darcy’s disappearance is especially hard for Claire. Claire’s father deserted the family when the girls were young, so the sisters had to rely on one another, and, as a result, they grew particularly close. But the family misfortune affected more than Claire’s relationship with Darcy. It also impacted the person Claire is today, including the strength and resourcefulness she demonstrates when solving crimes.
“The shock [of her father’s desertion] was so great that their mother retreated into a world where she read all the time—and read adult-level books to her girls,” Harper says. “As Claire faces difficulties and dangers, she often thinks of or relates to the tough times of great literature’s heroines.”
Mastering the Thriller Craft
By Dawn Ius
In the opening scene of John Sandford’s new thriller NEON PREY, Deese—a thin, ropy-muscled “aggressive orangutan” of a man—lightly brushes extra virgin olive oil on two thin steaks and barbecues them over peach coals. For him, cooking is a form of meditation, a distraction from his job as a contract killer—and not surprisingly, this book’s formidable villain.
What may come as a surprise for some, though, is that Deese isn’t your average assassin—and those steaks weren’t carved from any old domestic farm animal. Deese is a cannibal, as impressive and terrifying as another literary people-eater that Sandford acknowledges he thought about before writing NEON PREY.
That cannibal is, of course, Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter, and while the two literary villains share a somewhat disturbing culinary affliction, they couldn’t be more different.
“I’d never had a cannibal as a villain, and villains are, of course, the key to thriller novels. Thinking about Hannibal, though, I decided to go in an entirely different direction,” Sandford says. “Hannibal was flatly nuts: he ate people because he liked to eat people and would eat a human in preference to, say, a nice 16-ounce Kansas beefsteak.”
Not so with Deese. He eats parts of people because he’s a serious barbecue cook—connoisseurs take note of a drool-worthy recipe on Page 1—and he happens to have the meat on hand. (Pun intended.)
“In other words, you could say he was simply practical, rather than out-and-out drooling crazy,” Sandford says. “Of course, he was that, too, but that wasn’t what drove his cannibalism.”
It is, however, what puts US Marshal—and recurring Prey series character—Lucas Davenport on his trail.
Exploring Murder as an Artform
By Dawn Ius
Nearly 200 years ago, Thomas De Quincey published the controversial essay “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts”—a fictional, satirical account made to a gentleman’s club concerning the aesthetic appreciation of murder.
In 2013, New York Times bestselling author David Morrell further explored the context of Quincey’s essay in a three-book Victorian mystery/thriller series that kicks off with Murder as a Fine Art. He certainly wasn’t the first to do so, and over the years, writers, TV producers, and filmmakers have continued to manipulate this macabre theme.
The latest exploration of “murder as art” comes from Ashley Dyer’s THE CUTTING ROOM, in which detectives Ruth Lake and Greg Carver must stop the Ferryman, a diabolical serial killer whose victims become the centerpieces of gruesome public tableaux.
Dyer—the pseudonym for UK authors Margaret Murphy and Helen Pepper—says the book was inspired by the fallout from their debut, Splinter in the Blood, in which Detective Carver survives an attack and is recovering from a serious brain injury.
“Carver has had a number of scans since his brain injury, and MRI scans loomed large in my own life, for a time,” Murphy says. “There’s something simultaneously beautiful, troubling, and deeply compelling about the detailed cross-sectional images of the brain produced by an MRI. Like the Rorschach ink blots used in psychological assessments, they take on the appearance of distorted butterflies—symmetrical, ethereal, weird. Very like a piece of art, I thought.”
The 15-Minute Miracle:
How I Conquered Procrastination and
Got My Freaking Mystery Finished
By Kate White
Around the time I hatched my dream to become a suspense novelist, I caught a really lucky break. Because I’d already written a bestselling book of non-fiction, the publisher decided to offer me a contract for my first mystery based solely on seeing an outline and the four chapters I’d already written.
That’s the kind of deal you fantasize about as a first-time novelist, right? I would be working on a plot that had already been greenlighted, so there would be no possibility of the basic concept being brutally rejected when I finally submitted the book. Plus, having a contract in hand seemed comparable to having wind in my sails.
But there was a problem. A potentially big one. When I’d tried to write fiction back in my 20s, I’d been cursed with a terrible and seemingly hopeless tendency to procrastinate. Each weekend I’d promise myself to devote both mornings to writing, but I’d rarely manage to get the ball rolling. I’d wake up, putter, make tea, clean out my wallet, gossip with a friend on the phone, make more tea, de-pill a couple of sweaters, attack the shower grout with those miracle scrubbing bubbles, and the next thing I knew, the morning was shot.
I was terrified this problem was going to rear its ugly head once again. True, I’d managed to produce those first four chapters, but I worried that would be it, and I’d never end up with an entire book. The idea of 350 pages nearly paralyzed me.
Writing “Happy Thrillers” a Family Affair
By Dawn Ius
New York Times bestselling author Janet Evanovich has built a successful career writing happy thrillers—an infusion of steady and over-the-top characters, page-turning mystery and adventure plots, and trademark tongue-in-cheek humor.
So it might be tempting to assume that when she admits that it takes a child—or two—to nurture her “publishing village,” she’s having fun at the expense of an old cliché. But this is no joke.
Evanovich—author of more than 30 novels, including a staggering 25 in her popular Stephanie Plum series—says her kids have been an integral part of her journey as a novelist, serving as first and last readers pre-publication, professional advocates post publication, plot whisperers, webmasters, and in a myriad of other behind-the-scenes roles.
Caught Between the Future and the Past
By P. J. Bodnar
Layton Green isn’t the type to “put all his eggs in one basket.” Throughout his career, he’s bounced through a long list of diverse jobs, and even when he landed as an author, he’s not the type to pigeonhole himself into one genre, either.
So it might not come as a surprise that his new thriller—A SHATTERED LENS—is a sequel to Written in Blood, which introduced readers to Detective Preach Everson, rather than another installment in Green’s Dominic Grey or The Blackwood Saga series.
In A SHATTERED LENS, Everson is called home to North Carolina to investigate a murder. The victim is the son of his high school crush, which means Everson is forced to straddle the line between his past and his future—not an ideal complication for a homicide detective.
In this The Big Thrill interview, Green takes time out of his busy writing schedule to talk about his new thriller—and provide insight into his diverse career history.
Seeking Insight from the Universe
Life sometimes unravels in ways that transcend logic. On such occasions, you might seek insights from beyond the physical universe. The psychic world provides just that—or so some believe, even if those insights are so ambiguous that you sift through multiple interpretations to suit your own reality, not necessarily in favor of your personal wellbeing.
In the US, the psychic services industry churns out roughly $2 billion in annual revenue, according to market research firm IBISWorld. And scams, where psychics have claimed that their clients are hexed or insisted on the possibility of reuniting with a loved one, are increasingly rife. Chasing such charlatans is not high on the priority list of mainstream detectives—although a few lone private eyes, like retired NYC cop Bob Nygaard, have helped wealthier clients recover their fortunes from crooks.
In his latest oeuvre, SWANN’S DOWN, celebrated crime novelist, journalist, and fiction-writing instructor Charles Salzberg has skillfully woven the pressing reality of psychic chicanery into an intriguing web of subtly nuanced mystery, amid questions of moral compunction. SWANN’S DOWN is the fifth of Salzberg’s popular detective series revolving around New York-based sleuth Henry Swann.