Imagine discovering everything you believe about yourself to be a lie. And that the truth could stir a killer from his lair.
Following the death of the woman she believed to be her mother, twenty-eight-year-old Naomi Waters learns from a malicious aunt that she is not only adopted, but the product of a brutal rape that left her birth mother, Mary Rose Francis, a teenager of Micmac ancestry, in a coma for eight months.
Dealing with a sense of betrayal and loss, but with new purpose in her life, Naomi vows to track down Mary Rose’s attackers and bring them to justice. She places her story in the local paper, asking for information from residents who might remember something of the case that has been cold for nearly three decades.
She is about to lose hope that her efforts will bear fruit, when she gets an anonymous phone call. Naomi has attracted the attention of one who remembers the case well.
But someone else has also read the article in the paper. The man whose DNA she carries.
And he has Naomi in his sights.
The reviews are in—and they’re strong, comparing Joan Hall Hovey to Hitchcock and Stephen King. The author graciously agreed to say a few words to our readers:
The new year is shaping up to be a productive and prolific one for novelist Rebecca Cantrell.
On February 5th, The Tesla Legacy debuts. Barely a week later, BLOOD INFERNAL—which she co-wrote with James Rollins, and serves as the finale in The Order of the Sanguines series—debuts.
In BLOOD INFERNAL, a supernatural mystery—or as Cantrell prefers to call it, a “gothic thriller”—set on the eve of the Apocalypse, archaeologist Erin Granger, Army Sgt. Jordan Stone, and Fr. Rhun Korza team up for a final mission. As an escalating scourge of grisly murders sweeps the globe, Erin must decipher the truth behind an immortal prophecy foretold in the Blood Gospel, a tome written by Jesus Christ himself and lost for centuries.
Lucifer walks the Earth, and it will take the light of all three protagonists to banish him again to eternal darkness. Erin discovers that the only hope for victory lies in an impossible act, which will not only destroy her, but everyone and everything she loves. To protect the world, Erin must walk through the gates of Hell and battle Lucifer himself.
“We had an outline in place from the beginning of the series, but things had shifted around somewhat during the writing of the books, and we had to be careful to make sure that we were wrapping things up properly,” Cantrell said. “The characters had changed throughout their ordeals, and we wanted to be true to those changes. We also wanted to land the characters, those who survive anyway, in places where the readers can imagine how their lives might unfold.”
Added Rollins: “While we mostly knew where things were headed with this story—straight to hell, in this case—it was as much an emotional journey for me, as it was for the characters.”
New York Times bestselling author Kat Martin can paint a picture with her words that leaves you captivated and eager to flip the page. Her latest release is no exception.
AGAINST THE SKY features Nick Brodie, a former homicide detective eager to leave his old life behind. But when his young neighbor needs help solving a murder, Nick is compelled to lend a hand. This, combined with a visit from an old flame and controversy surrounding a Russian mob, sets the stage for an exciting and passionate story.
In my interview with Martin, I learned she’s not only a wonderful writer, but also a lovey person—bubbly, energetic, and down to earth. She’s also one half of a literary power couple. Her husband, L.J. Martin has written more than forty western novels. Combined with Kat’s sixty five titles, that’s more than one-hundred published works between them—an impressive feat.
Here’s what Kat had to say about AGAINST THE SKY.
Tell us about AGAINST THE SKY.
AGAINST THE SKY is the second book in my Brodies of Alaska Trilogy, the eleventh novel in my Against series.
Nick Brodie, a former Anchorage homicide detective, has a serious case of burnout. He wants a new life, something that doesn’t include violence and death. Unfortunately, when his neighbor, twelve-year-old Jimmy Evans, comes to him beaten and battered, claiming his father was murdered, Nick has no choice but to help him. To make matters worse, he has a lady friend visiting from San Francisco. Samantha Hollis, owner of the Perfect Pup pet grooming parlor, isn’t cut out for the harsh life in Alaska. Unwillingly swept into Jimmy’s problems, she finds herself on a wild ride with Nick that leads them into passion and terrible danger.
It’s a fish out of water story that gets even more complicated when Nick butts heads with the Russian Mob. I really like the way this book turned out. Lots of heart in this one.
By Rob Brunet
Pastel hospital curtains offer more than a false sense of privacy. We know to look away. We try not to hear the conversation between doctor and patient. It’s personal. Not ours to know. With LITTLE BLACK LIES, Sandra Block takes us behind the curtain in a psychiatric ward and gives us an eyeful. She probes the mental state of everyone from her protagonist-doctor to the patients she treats.
The story is told through the eyes of Zoe Goldman, a psychiatric clinician. But Zoe is also a patient herself and the child of an institutionalized mother. The book peels back layers on the human mind while it draws us into Zoe’s life, revealing mysteries long kept hidden, buried deep, veiled by fire.
Block knows a thing or two about the human brain. As a neurologist, she has a special perspective on what makes us tick. She shared some of that perspective with The Big Thrill in an interview about her debut medical thriller.
Mental illness, dementia, altered perceptions of reality, and false memory—all of these weave together tightly in LITTLE BLACK LIES. At times, it seems everyone is somewhat off-kilter, or has been. Do you think that’s just part of the human condition?
Yes, that’s exactly Zoe’s opinion. Everyone is crazy; it’s just a matter of scale, otherwise known as the “human condition.” As one patient says, “Normal is just a setting on the washing machine.”
In LITTLE BLACK LIES, Zoe Goldman has returned to Buffalo to complete medical studies after studying at Yale, whereas you did the same, but from Harvard. She’s a psychiatrist, you’re a neurologist. You know I have to ask, how much more of you is in Zoe.
My husband pointed out the same thing! Yes, there is some of me in Zoe and some of Zoe in me. I would say Zoe is more unstable and prone to self-destruction, while I’m a more centered (and certainly more boring) person. However, I also have about twenty years or so on Zoe, so I’ve managed to learn some tricks along the way.
By Dawn Ius
New York Times bestselling author Lisa Unger can usually pinpoint the exact moment, or germ for a novel. There’s a little zap, generally sparked by a poem, a slice of music, a news story, or in one instance, a piece of junk mail.
But in the case of her newest release, CRAZY LOVE YOU, Unger says she just woke up one day with an edgy, unstable voice in her head.
“I knew it wasn’t my voice because it was male, and he was a graphic novelist—a world I knew nothing about,” she says. “So I called up my friend Gregg Hurwitz, who has also written for graphic novels, and said, ‘Help! I don’t know anything about my character’s job.’”
Hurwitz immediately connected Unger with Judd Myer at Blastoff Comics who helped provide the important—and fascinating—background for Unger’s character, Ian.
Desperate to move on from the deadly family secrets he’s shared only with his best friend, Priss, Ian meets sweet, beautiful Megan, whose love inspires him to be a better man. But Priss doesn’t like change. Change makes her angry. And when Priss is angry, bad things happen.
“At its core, CRAZY LOVE YOU is about obsessive love, the twisting nature of reality and fiction, and going down the rabbit hole of addiction,” she says.
It is perhaps one of Unger’s darkest stories, which is saying a lot since it marks her thirteenth published novel. Not surprisingly, several of her thrillers have made the New York Times bestseller list. With more than 1.8 million copies of her books sold worldwide, Unger is well known by her fans to produce stories that deliver a gripping plot and deeply complex characters.
You may want to rethink what you do in public—at least if you’re a character in Ryan Quinn’s exciting tech thriller END OF SECRETS, where Hawk, the eye in the sky, might just be watching while you sit on the subway or walk along the street, unaware of the camera aimed right at you.
CIA agent Kera Mersal is recruited to a black-op team code named Hawk. Her first assignment—find out how four people could disappear seemingly into thin air. An ominous message written in graffiti haunts Kera as she comes across it time and time again—Have you figured it out yet? The action draws you in from the first page and doesn’t let up until the last word. The Big Thrill caught up with author Ryan Quinn to ask him a few questions about his latest book.
Tell us something about END OF SECRETS that we won’t find on the back cover.
The stakes in a thriller typically involve very obvious life-and-death scenarios: a psychopath killer, a terrorist, a loose nuclear bomb, that sort of thing. And those sorts of stakes are present in END OF SECRETS as Kera, the main protagonist confronts powerful people who have killed to protect the secrets she’s trying to uncover. But as a writer and, frankly, as a real live human living in our modern world, I’m interested in other stakes as well. Things like privacy and the digital footprints we are all creating every day. Things like the cultural tension between art and entertainment, or between news and entertainment, and how we ought value such things. So the characters in END OF SECRETS face these modern-day conflicts too, just as all of us will have to grapple with them well beyond the foreseeable future. As a reader, you don’t need to scratch your head over all this stuff to enjoy the book. But it’s there, and I hope it thrills a few readers in its own way.
The level of technical expertise in your book is impressive. Tell us about your research.
I’m not a tech-inclined person. But I’ve become so interested in the implications of new technologies—especially ones pertaining to privacy, surveillance, and espionage—that I overcame my indifference to the nitty-gritty details of computing and networks in order to be able to tell this story in a credible way. To do that, I had to lean heavily on research. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It was a pretty intense crash course, but I got to design the curriculum and I got hooked on the thrill of learning about this world, which is both impressive and scary. Most of my new knowledge came from nonfiction books about the CIA and NSA, cyberespionage, hacking, surveillance, and data-mining. I listened to audiobooks of these while out on long runs. That’s how I find the time to do most of my research. To compliment that in-depth research, I never hesitate to use Google and Wikipedia to track down a few specific details to round out a description of something. In the end, I think my layman’s origins helped me express all the technological details in a way that non-techie readers like me still find accessible.
I knew I’d find Jamie Mason sympathetic when I read in her bio that she hates the sound of ticking clocks. In the first few pages of MONDAY’S LIE, I knew I’d love her work too. It’s wonderful when you sit down with a new book and go “Ahhh, I’m in great hands here.”
The heartrending, crystalline opening (the central character, Dee Vess’s thirteen-year-old self laid bare)—mirrors my own philosophy: “later, and for years after, the thing that twisted me into a restless tangle in my sheets was the certainty that every normal night was on a hair trigger, leaning in at the ready to explode into something else entirely.”
Mason is a master of the psychological insight. Dee Vess defines herself by using her mother as a foil: “I’ve been adamant that her contradictions are not mine, that gentleness and warmth don’t come in the same package as danger and cunning.”
I’m in love with the character of the mother, Annette Vess, whose supreme self-possession and badass tradecraft coexist with deep maternal devotion. Annette, the undercover agent, cannot but help to train her two children: “In her games and in her axioms she’d been more candid with her soul than anyone else I’d ever known.”
Packages are delivered by moonlight, people are defined by what they hide. The atmosphere is dark, pulsing with apprehension, psychologically rich. Mason’s prose is elegant and strongly individual: “a cool grey tentacle of premonition strokes the back of my neck.” She talks of: “the burn of being prey.”
Over to Jamie for some fascinating and idiosyncratic insights into her life and work.
A major theme of MONDAY’S LIE (as the title would suggest!) is lies. As authors, I’ve always thought we are mythomanes, inventing legends for other people, not for ourselves. But those skills and that predisposition can easily spill over into our own lives. Are you partial to the occasional lie? If so, can you pull it off?
I don’t know if I’m any good at it, because beyond the occasional “little white lie” to grease the skids of everyday life, I try to avoid lying. This is not because I’m noble. It’s because I hate anxiety. I’m a cautious creature and I do what I can to arrange my life and my personality to keep my stress levels low. Lying about significant things would probably just do my head in.
I write funny, or screwball, mysteries, but I scared myself writing BIG MOJO, the third novel in my Austin Carr series. Maybe the book really is a thriller. What happened, a supporting character—Angelina “Mama Bones” Bonacelli—took over as my favorite writing voice, and that is not supposed to happen. Austin Carr is my chosen speaker, the man whose strange ideas about life found voice inside the devil on my shoulder. Austin’s the star of the show. He talks in first person. It’s his series. Says so on the cover of every book.
Looking back, examining Mama Bones’ creation and early appearances, it’s hard to say when and how the change-over occurred. Austin did all the talking in book one, Big Numbers. Mama Bones tickled my funny bone when she showed up in book two, Big Money, by playing out a story I’d heard about one of my wife’s aunts who cheated at a church-sponsored bingo game. In my fictional version of this family story, the cheater—Mama Bones—was the mother of Austin’s boss and tougher than week-old tomato pie. She was hard-edged, owned a sarcastic sense of humor like Austin, but she also had a gigantic heart. And though no scenes were written from Mama Bones’ point of view in either book one or two, I knew she’d be back in Austin’s life.
Why? Because I enjoy making other people laugh, telling stories that crack people up, but I enjoy stories even more when it’s me doing the laughing. Pecking away at that tiny computer keyboard, I like to giggle and hoot while I’m making this stuff up, and I’ve discovered through the comments section of Goodreads and Amazon that if the scene, characters, or dialogue make me chuckle or laugh, chances are excellent my fans will enjoy the work as well. Good thing, eh? Or maybe that’s why they’re my fans.
By Wendy Tyson
In Merry Jones’s newest thriller, IN THE WOODS, Harper Jennings and her husband are enjoying a child-free camping trip in a Pennsylvania State Park when Jennings stumbles on a body in the woods. Neither she nor the park ranger believe the death was an accident, and when a fellow camper’s husband goes missing, Jennings begins her own reluctant hunt for the killer.
Jones, who lives near Philadelphia, has authored a number of works, including the Zoe Hayes mystery series, and the Elle Harrison and Harper Jennings thriller series, as well as several humor and nonfiction books. I recently had the good fortune to catch up with Jones for The Big Thrill.
Congratulations, Merry! What can you tell us about IN THE WOODS that is not on the back cover?
IN THE WOODS is densely plotted. It’s partly about personal betrayal and revenge. But, it’s also about “larger” issues—issues of the environment, use of energy resources, weapons control, even domestic terrorism. It touches on legends and superstitions about Yeti/Bigfoot-type creatures. And, as tension and danger escalate, all of these elements combine, so that the plot attains an undertone of semi-absurdity.
Through it all, the protagonist, Iraq war veteran Harper Jennings, remains strong and resilient. But readers will also see her softer side emerge as a mother and wife who needs to redefine herself as her family grows.
By Jeremy Burns
Ever since smashing onto the scene with his award-winning, bestselling debut, The Faithful Spy, Alex Berenson and series protagonist John Wells have thrilled readers, weaving dangerous plots ripped from tomorrow’s headlines, and offering high-speed windows into the world’s most exotic places. In his latest outing, TWELVE DAYS, Berenson leads readers on a breakneck adventure where Wells must prevent a terrible calamity where countless lives hang in the balance. But with only the titular twelve days to uncover the truth, is Wells in over his head this time?
Alex Berenson sat down with The Big Thrill to offer some insight into his latest thrill ride, and into the man behind the magic himself.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a former reporter who got into writing thrillers after spending some time in Iraq for the New York Times in 2003 and 2004. I wanted to explore the complexities of the post-9/11 world in fiction, and spy thrillers seemed like a natural way to do so. I didn’t study fiction in college or get an English degree or an MFA—I have always been what I’d call a working writer.
Tell us about your new book, TWELVE DAYS.
TWELVE DAYS is the ninth book in the John Wells series and the immediate sequel to The Counterfeit Agent, which ends with Wells and his two closest allies realizing that they have twelve days to stop the United States from being tricked into invading Iran.
What was your initial inspiration for TWELVE DAYS? How did the story’s premise develop through the early days of your writing process?
See the above. I knew I had to finish the story I had begun in The Counterfeit Agent—and if I hadn’t, the emails I received from readers would have opened my eyes!
From escaping the marriage clutches of a Spanish beauty to being taken in the night and dumped in an Indian village deep inland along the shores of Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela, debut author Ken Oxman has lived a thrilling life of adventure.
Back in his days as a Navy officer, Oxman became fascinated with the dark and dangerous. This, coupled with the stories told to him by his father, a WWII RAF navigator on the British Mosquito and Sunderland Flying Boat, sparked the idea for RELUCTANT ASSASSIN, and his protagonist, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Nathan Blake.
Blake is a hard-wired up-close assassin and bound by his duty to serve—but, as Oxman points out, it’s not the career he really wants. His dream is to be a sea-going officer.
“I know people who are very good at something and yet choose to make a life doing something else,” Oxman says. “It’s as if they can’t believe they could get by doing something they love. The antithesis of that is someone doing what they are good at but wanting to do something else. For example, I know someone who is a very clever engineer, but really he wants to paint. He would like to make a living as a painter but he’s just not good enough.”
The idea of that intrigued Oxman—the notion that someone could be an assassin, for instance, and yet live another life. This fact is brought out in the book when after sidelining a group of thugs, Blake’s girlfriend asks of him, “Who are you?” His reply, “Someone else, sometimes.”
In fact, his writing routine might seem tedious or even archaic to some—two handwritten drafts, followed by carefully reciting the book into the computer using speech recognition software, and then the often painful revision-edit-revision process.
But for Pinkerton, author of seven full-length works including his latest thriller, BENDER, this writing ritual allows for the greatest creative flexibility and control. Not to mention, a cool opportunity to garner extra interest in his books.
“I give away the handwritten pages,” he says. “Anyone who posts something about one of my books—a review, a book cover, anything—can contact me and I’ll send them a free page.”
This time around, that page would come from BENDER, the story of a recovering alcoholic who falls off the wagon with disastrous results. Described as The Hangover meets Hitchcock, BENDER is a twist on the classic set-up of an innocent man on the run, framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Except in this case, the consequences don’t only affect the protagonist—they also endanger his wife and daughter.
Oh, what a sorry sight we must have looked, two New York writers of Irish descent, staggering from bar to bar along Seventh Avenue on a cold night in January. But it was the first night of the NFL playoffs and the Patriots versus Ravens had every bar with a television packed. Tim O’Mara and I finally found a relatively quiet table in the back of one of those fine establishments and ordered something medicinal—we were both fighting colds. Tim is the author of three mysteries featuring ex-cop turned public school teacher, Raymond Dunne. Sacrifice Fly, which introduced the series, was nominated for the Barry Award, followed by Crooked Numbers, and his latest, DEAD RED, published by St. Martin’s Minotaur in January. The New York Times has called his work “authentically gritty.”
Tim, the police are New York’s finest, the firefighter’s, the bravest. What are the public school teachers? The toughest?
I love working with kids. I started out as a camp counselor and still feel a bit like one now.
But, twenty-seven years in the New York school system? You’ve been a mainline middle school teacher, a Special Ed teacher, a dean, and now you work in an Upper West Side school. How do you think this has molded you?
I’ve seen so many changes. It’s the things that remain the same, though, that blow my mind. We still have folks who’ve never stood in front of a group of teenagers, but have the whatever to try to teach my colleagues and me the best way to do it. I have a pretty simple philosophy about that: the farther you work from an actual classroom with real live kids, the less you know what you’re talking about. And the kids—they’re great. Sure there’ve been societal and technological changes since 1987, but the kids are amazing. They never bore me, they occasionally crack me up, and they are a constant source of inspiration for my writing. Which I will deny if I’m ever sued.
There’s more than a bit of you in Raymond. You made what I think is a great choice to have him be an ex-cop from a cop family—his uncle is the Chief of Detectives. It gives him immediate credibility—both with readers and with other characters. Where does that come from? Are you from a police family?
Yes and no. Not the same, at any rate. My brother is a Sargent with the Nassau County Police out on Long Island. But he’s the only one of us to go in that direction. But you’re right, Raymond is a combination of the two of us.
By Julie Kramer
Even with fifteen consecutive #1 New York Times bestsellers to her name, Tami Hoag still feels a tinge of panic trying to figure out the identity of the killers in her gritty psychological thrillers.
This was especially true with COLD COLD HEART, in which her protagonist, Dana Nolan, moves from abduction victim in Hoag’s previous bestseller, The 9th Girl, to a brain-damaged heroine trying to solve a cold case.
The ending shocks, to be sure, but for me the real surprise comes in Hoag’s Author’s Note in which she reveals a personal secret.
In the back of COLD COLD HEART, you share details about the lasting effects of a traumatic brain injury you suffered as a child. What made you go public with this?
One, because if I share my story I will reach other people who have struggled with something similar, and they won’t feel so alone in their experience. It’s very isolating to feel that no one understands what you’re going through, whatever that is. Two, because I wanted to illustrate the vagaries of traumatic brain injury. How one person can have a seemingly serious injury but walk away, while another might seem to have a mild injury but a devastating result.
How much of your own experience factored into your decision to center a plot around a brain-injured heroine? Did you ever consider that might be risky?
I never considered my own injury at all when I created Dana. I originally thought Dana wasn’t going to get out of The 9th Girl alive. But when the climax of her part of that book came, she fought harder than I expected, and I just couldn’t kill her off. I knew then I had to tell her story in the aftermath of her being a victim of a horrible crime. I knew she had suffered a brain injury and that she had been disfigured and would have PTSD. It never crossed my mind that a character might be risky commercially. I love writing complex and damaged people, real people with good traits and difficult traits. I have to write first to satisfy myself, then to satisfy my editor. Beyond that, I know that some readers will love what I do, some will like what I do, and some won’t like it at all, and that’s fine with me. I’d rather be a great shot of whiskey to my audience than a weak cup of tea to the masses. Of course, I’m very grateful that a lot of people like whiskey.
By J. F. Penn
Scott Mariani is the author of the acclaimed action-adventure thriller series featuring ex-SAS hero, Ben Hope. Scott’s novels have topped the bestseller charts in his native Britain, and are translated into more than twenty languages worldwide.
His next book THE NEMESIS PROGRAM, is available in the U.S., Feb 15, 2015.
Tell us a bit more about yourself, and how you got into writing.
The first book in the Ben Hope series came out in 2007, so that goes back a little while, and obviously, like everybody in this game, I’d been trying for a million years to get into writing. That sounds familiar, I’m sure. Eventually, it did happen, but it was a long road, like it is for loads of people. Some are obviously luckier than that, but for me it was a long road. I suppose it’s a cliché to say that one grew up writing little stories and all this kind of stuff, so I guess that writing is something of a disease that you catch early on in life, that then gets more and more chronic as you age, and it’s something you’re probably born with. So it’s nice, after all these years, to be able to say I am now doing this for a living.
Did you have another day job before writing?
I’ve had all sorts of jobs, some of them more interesting than others, like playing music. And, I’ve done a variety of things, like translation work in several languages. But writing was what I always wanted to do, really.
What languages do you speak?
I studied French and German, and I’ve got a French background, although my surname’s Italian, but it’s really from just outside of Nice, from the French side, so I’m sort of bilingual between French and English. I’m supposed to be able to speak German, but that, frankly, is something that fell by the wayside many years ago. I can understand a certain smattering of other languages, too, but those are the only two, French and English.
In something new for THE BIG THRILL, Barry-nominated author Tim O’Mara, a special education teacher in New York public schools, wrote this great vignette. It isn’t hard to see how his teaching led him to the world of detective fiction, with a series centered around a teacher / ex-cop who often gets involved with cases involving students or former students. —Eds
By Tim O’Mara
There’s something not quite right about the guy sitting across the table from me.
He knows it. I know it. But he’s not talking.
That’s why they called me. I have a rep for being good at getting guys like this to open up. If they go silent, it’s my job to pick up on the body language, subtle gestures, non-verbal clues.
After five minutes, I’m starting to think maybe they called in the wrong man. This guy’s as smart as they told me he was. Maybe smarter.
I decide to give him a task. Something to do that requires a set of skills unique to the situation.
He begins easily enough. He may be quiet and hard to figure out, but he’s willing to please. Most of them are. That’s what I count on. The quicker they give me what I want, the quicker they’re rid of me. That’s what they think, anyway.
I watch him for a while. I ease up out of my seat and walk to the back of the room. There’s usually not much to see from back here, but I give it a shot. I notice his back’s nice and straight. The head goes up and down more than it should, but that could just be a physical tick.
I move around to the side, just enough to give me an angle to observe as he continues to do what I asked. The head is still going up and down every three to five seconds. Too much. I complete my arc and stand in front of him. I check out his hands, his shoulders, his face.
And there it is. In the eyes. Poker players call it a “tell.” I call it squinting.
“You wear glasses?” I ask.
A varied group of mysteries and thrillers were published in South Africa last year. While several of the authors were featured in AFRICA SCENE, and Joanne Hitchens and I will be catching up with others this year, I thought we’d take a look at some of 2014’s literary highlights—apologies if we’ve missed any!
The South African thriller-publishing year kicked off with Joanne Macgregor’s debut, DARK WHISPERS, a nail-biting psychological drama. When a patient describes an experience of mental torture and sexual mutilation by a gynecologist at the private hospital where she works, psychologist Megan Wright investigates. Determined to find out the truth and stop the abuse, but bound to silence by the ethics of confidentiality, Megan enters the dark mind of a dangerously disturbed man. Joanne gave us more insight into the book in her AFRICA SCENE interview in October.
Next up, DEVIL’S HARVEST by Andrew Brown. After a secret drone strike on a civilian target in South Sudan, RAF air marshal George Bartholomew discovers that a piece of shrapnel traceable back to a British Reaper has been left behind at the scene. He will do anything to get it back—but he’s not the only one. The plot involves the search for the drone, a rare plant, war lords, and an unexpected relationship. It takes place in South Sudan, a country where undeclared war has become a way of life. Brown is one of our best crime writers. He told us more about the book and how he came to write it in the August AFRICA SCENE.
By Diane Kelly
Characters with Claws
Developing unique, realistic, and engaging characters is always a challenge. When has quirky gone too far? How “real” do fictional people have to be to maintain credibility? Just how flawed can a writer make a character before the person becomes too irritating or unlikable? As I discovered when writing my K-9 cop series, developing a realistic and engaging non-human character poses these same challenges.
Recognizing that animals are sentient creatures with emotions and the ability to reason is critical to creating a well-developed non-human character. Both instinct and intellect are common to all creatures great and small, from dogs and cats to goats and horses and humans. While those who are unfamiliar with animals might accuse a writer of anthropomorphizing their non-human characters, they would be wrong. Anyone who has spent any appreciable amount of time around animals know that each animal, while sharing some traits with others of its species, will have its own individual behavior patterns, preferences, and idiosyncrasies, just as we people do.
As with their human characters, writers must be careful not to make their non-human characters too stereotypical. My shepherd-mix K-9 cop Brigit has many of the typical shepherd traits. She’s smart. Protective. Loyal. Had these been her only characteristics, though, she would have been a rather bland and predictable secondary character. To give the canine character some teeth, I gave the dog flaws that became critical points of contention between her and her human partner, Officer Megan Luz.
AMAZON BURNING, my new eco-thriller, is, above all a fun read. But hopefully it’s more than mindless fun. Emma and Jimmy, the main characters, are caught up in an important fight to protect the rainforests of Brazil. And that’s something we should all care about.
The character of Souza in AMAZON BURNING is, unfortunately, a pretty good representation of some of the Mafioso-type ranchers and farmers in the region. They want to make a quick buck by clearing vast areas of jungle to plant crops or graze their cattle. Sadly, we’ve all seen so many of those photographs depicting the Amazon going up in smoke that I think we’ve become immune to them.
What those pictures don’t show is the human cost of all that destruction. Deforestation is not the only problem. The whole eco-system of the Brazilian rainforest is under attack. In scenes that are also true to life, Jimmy and Emma try to root out a wildlife smuggling ring. Criminals make billions of dollars each year from the illegal capture and sale of wild animals. Some of the creatures become exotic pets. Many others are just turned into potions and powders, because there are people around the world who really think that these animals can give them magic powers.
Ken Newman has loved stories of the supernatural since listening to his grandmother’s tales of witches, haints, boogers, and catawamps when he was a child. Author of urban fantasy novels, his fiction reflects his Tennessee roots and his love for all things that go bump in the night.
Mixing folklore with modern themes, Ken’s novels create a universe of supernatural creatures and larger than life heroes where nothing is as it seems and myth and legend are terrifyingly real.
Ken graciously agreed to answer a few questions about his latest novel, THE VOICE IN MY EAR.
Where does this book take readers?
Zack Cole never enjoyed living in Bryson City, Tennessee. Being the direct decedent of a bloody serial killer made Cole a pariah and when he was old enough, he left, never intending to return. Coaxed back after two years to attend a memorial for his best friend was a bad idea and Zack finds himself the lone survivor of a bloody massacre. Not only is his body broken, his memory does not jibe with the official police version of events. On the day of his release from the hospital, Zack receives a mysterious visitor who forces Zack to make good on a deal he made moments from death. In exchange for his life, Zack agrees to become the host of a very special entity. Laylakokumi Akirasoon Shu, better known as Layla, was the most powerful witch to every walk the earth, but that was 4000 years ago. Cursed to exist as an earthbound spirit trapped in the form of a tattoo, Layla needs a host to survive. While Zack and Layla struggle with their new relationship, they have no idea they are pawns in a deadly game between the Fallen.
What attracts you to this type of story?
From a young age, we are led to believe that the world in which we live is well ordered and devoid of anything outside natural laws. All the tales of witches, monsters and supernatural creatures were the creation of backward superstition. I think the concept of the world around us as being more mysterious and dark than we believe is too enticing to let go. Just imagine if myth, monsters, and legends were not only real, but lived among us, fighting a secret war? A war that from time to time we mortals were drawn into. What if your third period school teacher was secretly a warlock? Perhaps the pastor at your church was a fallen angel, or your next door neighbor a shape shifter?
An NFL linebacker, Brian Williams, is found dead in the middle of the street in the Nation’s capital. Other famous athletes are murdered one by one in the following weeks. The serial killer stumps the police and FBI by using a different method in killing each victim.
This is the premise of Annie Rose Alexander’s new novel, RETRIBUTION.
In the story, homicide detectives Ariel Summers and Paul Costello interrogate victim Brian Williams’s wife, who hires Private Detective, Jason Steele, not knowing that Jason is Ariel’s boyfriend. Jason and Ariel clash when evidence surfaces that causes Ariel to arrest Brian’s wife. But as the death toll continues to rise, they are forced to work together on a plan to trap the nation’s most dangerous and cold-blooded assassin.
What prompted you to write this story? It touched upon a lot of cultural memes that made the story seem especially timely. And what’s your fascination with murder?
I think what prompted me to write this story was the murder of NFL Washington Redskins safety, Sean Taylor, and other athletes who were murdered before and after Sean’s untimely death.
I wouldn’t say that I have a fascination with murder but the public wants to know why people kill and they are intrigued by the ways people commit the crime. And I think people have a need to know about motivation and means in order to prevent crime and protect themselves from crime. And because of this need to know, or fascination with murder, the public buys the mysteries and thrillers we write.
By Basil Sands
Lee Weeks is a prolific thriller writer who has been called “The female James Patterson.” Her books seem not only to tell tales of adventure but to bring them alive. And that lively adventure is something she is more than a little familiar with. Born in Devon, England she left school at seventeen and, armed with a notebook and very little cash, spent seven years working her way around Europe and South East Asia. She returned to settle in London, marry and raise two children. She has worked as an English teacher and personal fitness trainer. And her books have been Sunday Times bestsellers.
Her seventh novel, FROZEN GRAVE, is third in the riveting Willis/Carter series that follows two detectives in a London murder investigation squad. Full of excellent police drama, I found the well-written dialogue moved the story seamlessly, it reminded me of the BBC series Spooks (MI-5 in the US).
Lee graciously agreed to answer a few questions for The Big Thrill.
Lee, tell us about FROZEN GRAVE.
FROZEN GRAVE is the story of love lost, longed for or imagined—and a killer’s cold heart.
What was your inspiration for detectives Willis and Carter?
Willis and Carter, are a miss-match—I chose them so that they could view the world differently; they come from very different backgrounds. Together they form an interesting and unique investigative team.
By Karen Harper
The Big Thrill spoke with New York Times bestselling author Karen Harper from her home in Columbus, Ohio. The city is buried under an early snow, she said, but she still has power so she could stay warm and write. The third book in her Cold Creek Trilogy set in Appalachia is out this month, just two months after the second novel—a writing marathon but with the reward for readers of the three related books out close together. She was also happy to report that Shattered Secrets, the first book in this trilogy, was voted one of the Best of 2014 Books by readers of Suspense Magazine.
Can you tell us what BROKEN BONDS is about and how it fits into The Cold Creek Trilogy?
Each of these romantic suspense novels is related, yet they could stand alone. BROKEN BONDS focuses on the return of the third Lockwood sister, Charlene, called Char, to the small town of Cold Creek, and the deadly danger she is soon embroiled in there. Char is a social worker, dedicated to helping poor Appalachian children who live so high up in the mountains that they have trouble getting to school. But when she helps rescue Matt Rowan from being shoved off the cliff in his car, she’s the one who takes a fall. Not only does she fall for Matt, a man she’s not sure she can trust, but she’s soon threatened by the same killer who is after him.
Was it difficult to make the three sisters, each heroine of her own book, different—yet similar enough to be sisters?
That’s a great question, because I worked hard at that. Tess, the youngest was traumatized by being kidnapped as a child, so she’s wary and needs to come a long way to help the Cold Creek sheriff find her abductor in Book One, Shattered Secrets. Kate, the heroine of Book 2, Forbidden Ground, is just the opposite: well-educated, well-traveled, an archeologist whose self-confidence almost proves her undoing when she and Grant Mason, the owner of an ancient Adena Indian mound, are threatened. Char is the one her sister’s call “a bleeding heart,” out to save locals kids—the entire world if she could. So they are very different women, and the trick was to give them a support team through their family ties and beyond.
Abe Beckham, the protagonist of best-selling author James Grippando’s compelling new novel, CANE AND ABE, has remained a star prosecutor in the Miami State Attorney’s Office despite the untimely death of his first wife, Samantha. His new wife, Angelina, has helped him through the loss. Yet, Angelina can’t help feeling that their marriage is not what they’d hoped for because Abe still loves Samantha too much.
Then things go terribly wrong. The FBI has been tracking a killer in South Florida known as “Cutter,” whose brutal methods hark back to Florida’s dark past, when machete-wielding men cut sugarcane by hand in the blazing sun. A woman’s mutilated body is discovered dumped in the Everglades. When Angelina goes missing, Abe becomes a suspect. Was Abe responsible for Angelina’s disappearance because of his lingering love for Samantha, or because of a new woman? In the course of answering these questions, CANE AND ABE explores love, death, loyalty, and the dark side of humanity.
At the beginning of CANE AND ABE, you recount an incident that occurred in 1941, when on the promise of steady employment, African American men were led into virtual slavery by the big sugar companies, forced to cut sugarcane by hand at unconscionable wages. How does this past injustice inform your novel?
That backstory is based on the actual indictment of U.S. Sugar by the Department of Justice in 1941, but I didn’t include it CANE AND ABE simply to paint the sugar industry as a villain. CANE AND ABE is not a story about “Big Sugar.” It’s a psychological thriller that’s driven by the breakdown of trust between a husband and wife. Abe Beckham is white, and he fell in love with Samantha Vine, a black woman whose father was one of those enslaved sugar workers. Abe made promises to Samantha and her family before she died, including the promise to look after Samantha’s bipolar brother. Keeping those promises has consequences for his new marriage. Putting the backstory about Big Sugar upfront—which involved lies and broken promises on a massive scale—establishes a powerful backdrop against which Abe struggles to keep his promises.
Historical mysteries pack an extra punch when they are set in a time of turbulence and danger, and in her first mystery, E.M. Powell selected the conflict-riven 12th century reign of King Henry II for her fast-paced story. The Fifth Knight begins as a quintet of tough, ruthless knights are on their way to Canterbury Cathedral to seize its defiant archbishop, Thomas Becket. Powell gives a fascinating twist to the legend of the murder of Becket, one that pulls in her two fictional main characters, Sister Theodosia, a sheltered but feisty nun, and Sir Benedict Palmer, a mercenary knight who grows a conscience. In the sequel, THE BLOOD OF THE FIFTH KNIGHT, Powell once again blends history with fictional weavings as Sir Benedict investigates attempts on the life of King Henry’s delectable mistress, Rosamund Clifford. In the U.K. THE BLOOD OF THE FIFTH KNIGHT reached the Number One spot on Amazon’s list of historical fiction bestsellers. The novel will be released on January 1, 2015 in North America.
For The Big Thrill, Powell, born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins, reveals her inspiration, historical insights, and the craft behind creating a true page-turner.
What came first, your desire to write a mystery or your interest in medieval England?
Like all writers, the reading came first. I’ve always been a huge thriller and mystery fan and that includes historicals. As a teenager, I read Agatha Christie’s Death Comes As the End, her only historical, which is set in Ancient Egypt. I loved the way it took me to a different world so far in the past but it felt completely real. It was such a revelation.
I studied Middle English as part of my degree. And yes, tales such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight were wonderful. But it was a one-off lecture about the everyday life of a medieval tanner that grabbed me. It would have been a stinky, back-breaking existence, complete with a full complement of body-plaguing parasites. Most of my fellow students were mildly appalled/bored and couldn’t wait to get back to their analysis of the blending of the Germanic and Romance traditions. Me? I wanted to know who lived next door.
Jake Lukin has an incredible power he’s been hiding his whole life…but one (big) mess-up later, and the U.S. government knows all about it. Suddenly he’s juggling high school, tennis tryouts, flirting with Rachel Watkins, and work as a government asset, complete with twenty-four-hour bodyguards. When his family is threatened, Jake has to make a terrible choice.
TUNNEL VISION is a young adult thriller with psychic spies, graveyard chases, Call of Duty, Buffy and Veronica Mars references, and a stubborn little sister you’ll wish you had, even if you are an eighteen year-old boy.
The book already is receiving rave reviews, and the author graciously agreed to answer a few questions.
Welcome Susan, and thanks for spending some time with us.
Thanks so much! I’m so excited to be involved with The Big Thrill.
Brian: I’ve raised three teenagers, my interview partner Ellie is the youngest, and I’ve seen how hectic a modern teenager’s life can be. How much of a challenge was it for you to take an already hectic teenage schedule and cram in the potential complications of life as a psychic and secret government work?
Poor Jake. I never let him have a restful moment. I did try to make sure that his full life before this happened was reflected: he’s focused on trying to get into Stanford, playing on the tennis team, helping with his sister, and trying to balance friends and a love life before the government even enters into it. If he was the sort of person to have a to-do list, it’d be crazy full.
Ellie: What ambitions do you have for your career as a writer?
My ultimate goal is to be able to balance two threads, writing books for teens and for the middle-grade audience, and to keep publishing in both!
Brian: TUNNEL VISION is your first published work. How long have you written with an eye for publication?
I’ve been dabbling in writing for about fourteen years. I completed my first novel and began querying agents in 2006. I’m now working on my eighth manuscript. So…a long time.
By Dawn Ius
As the long-time wife of a SWAT sniper, Jan Thomas has lived most of her life under a cloak of anonymity, keeping her emotions—and close relationships—tight to her chest. She’s witnessed firsthand the darker side of humanity, and admits, it’s sometimes scary.
Thriller author Grant Jerkins considers “scary” part of his job. His dark novels—A Very Simple Crime, The Ninth Step, and At the End of the Road—are known for their ability to take readers down disturbing, uncomfortable paths.
But neither Jerkins nor Thomas ever considered those paths might one day cross.
The two have never met, but together, they’ve written DONE IN ONE, a vivid, visceral look at the haunting world of a police sniper. Though fiction, the novel is very much centered on Thomas and her husband’s life.
“If my husband had his way, this story would never have been written,” Thomas says. “Snipers are very solitary creatures. He doesn’t like anybody knowing his business.”
But Thomas knew in order to do the story justice, she’d have to dig deep and get personal. Ultimately, she’d have to get naked in front of the world. Which could have left her co-writer feeling a little like a third wheel.
Jerkins doesn’t see it that way.
“I knew Jan for four years before she even told me her husband’s name,” he says. “It’s built in to Jan not to share personal information. But even from the beginning, I’ve always felt part of their inner circle.”
By Dawn Ius
After a two-year hiatus, Thomas Perry returns to his bestselling Jane Whitefield series with, A STRING OF BEADS—a fast-paced thriller about how abandoning the past can sometimes be the hardest thing to do, even when your life—and the life of those you love—depends on it.
It’s a book Perry has wanted to write for some time, but it wasn’t until he received a letter from a fan that he found true inspiration.
“I acquired a friend who might be called my ‘culture guide,’ an expert in Senca culture,” he says. “He’s a Canadian lawyer specializing in rights issues concerning the Iroquois nations, who live on both sides of the border.”
He’d read all of Perry’s books, and while he enjoyed the stories, he was able to share expertise that not only helped Perry understand some of the more intricate parts of the Seneca culture, but also got him fired up to return to this series.
“He had a lot to say that was new to me, and new to readers, and so, I knew it was time to write,” Perry says. “I could hardly wait.”
In A STRING OF BEADS, Jane Whitefield is enlisted by the eight clan mothers of her tribe to find one of her childhood friends who has been accused of murdering a local white man. But as she retraces the steps of a walking trip she and her fellow tribesman took together at age fourteen, she soon realizes the police aren’t the only ones after him—and bringing Jimmy back before he is killed or arrested might be much more dangerous than she anticipated.
I have a book in front of me that’s fiendishly hard to classify, as it contains elements, among others, of the thriller, the paranormal, and the weird. But these many facets combine to form a polished and original end-result; one particular gem is the unique spin on the mortals-immortals relationship that sees humanity using them as a source of energy.
Its believable, down-to-earth characters depict pleasantly imperfect people, who must face situations both of and beyond this world. We meet protagonist Chris Copeland, his job description being neatly encapsulated in the book’s title, who crosses paths with a chain-smoking, chain-swearing Hungarian detective who is certain to find her way into reader’s memories. Together they provide plenty of fascinating interplay, and form an unlikely human team facing off against fleeting inhuman entities whose brevity forces us to gulp down concentrated doses of spookiness.
I was fortunate to hunt down Tim Lees and subject him to a round of questioning in an attempt to shed light on the thought processes behind the darker side of the creation of such a novel.
Your novel, THE GOD HUNTER, could be described as a paranormal thriller. What appeals to you most about writing for the paranormal genre?
You can play with ideas. Your story automatically has an extra level to it. On the one hand, you have the usual matter expected of a novel such as characters and plot, but then you have this sort of mythic level on the top of that, setting up all kinds of resonances. If everything goes well, it can be a very pleasing combination.
By George Ebey
A group known as The Order has been watching college professor Luci de Foix for years, waiting for the day that a diary written in the fourteenth century would be delivered to her—a book that contains a key to a lost codex—and they would do anything to get it. Plagued by panic attacks, Luci struggles to overcome her fears, avenge her family, and search for the lost codex written by Thomas. But who can she trust? Everyone seems intent on betraying her, even the gorgeous, enigmatic Max, a man with secrets of his own.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Linda to discuss her work on THE BLACK MADONNA.
Your novel includes aspects of religion and history. What interests you most about these subjects?
It sounds cliché but I believe by having a deep understanding of the past and that includes the daily impact religion had on people we can learn from it and grow as a society. If we fail to learn we are destined to repeat and obviously we keep making some of the same aspects. We don’t appreciate the differences that we have, we try as societies to make people conform to our own beliefs, it has never worked.
“There was no reason for Elizabeth Knoebel to suspect that this was going to be the last day of her life.” That’s how L. T. Graham’s THE BLUE JOURNAL begins: a promise of a murder, but this taut and exciting psychological thriller delivers so much more.
Knoebel’s body is found naked in bed and it’s clear to Lieutenant Detective Anthony Walker that the victim knew whoever put a bullet in her brain. Walker, a former NYPD detective, now works for the Darien PD, a wealthy bedroom community in Connecticut, where a year’s worth of crime would barely fit into a twenty-four-hour timespan in the Big Apple. With ten years on the job in NYC, Walker has seen it all, and at first this case seems to be a straightforward homicide. But like the well-heeled people in this town, appearances are not what they seem. And after reviewing the victim’s salacious diary, he finds he has more murder suspects than a country club cocktail party.
Elizabeth Knoebel’s diary lays out in explicit detail all her sexual exploits—including the husbands of the women in her group therapy sessions. She would pick her prey, seduce them, humiliate them, then throw them away. Knoebel had made lots of enemies. The murderer could be any one of her jilted lovers. Or one of the vengeful wives. With little concrete evidence to go on, Detective Walker must unravel the tangled relationships, decipher fact from fiction, all the while navigating the shifting sands of small-town politics and gossip, the power plays and treachery.
By Wendy Tyson
DOING THE DEVIL’S WORK is Bill Loehfelm’s fifth novel and the third book in the Maureen Coughlin crime fiction series. His first two books in the Coughlin series, The Devil She Knows and The Devil in Her Way, were published to strong reviews. And Bill’s first novel, Fresh Kills, won the 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. A prolific author, Bill’s essays and short stories can be found in a number of anthologies, including Year Zero, Life in the Wake, and Soul is Bulletproof (which feature his work about post-Katrina New Orleans) as well as Staten Island Noir and Books to Die For. Bill, who was born in Brooklyn and raised on Staten Island, makes his home in New Orleans. In anticipation of his upcoming release, Bill sat down with The Big Thrill to answer a few questions.
Booklist called your main character, Maureen Coughlin, “as compelling a character as this reviewer expects to see this year.” The New Orleans Times-Picayune called her “unforgettable” and “the character of the year.” Can you tell us a little more about Maureen and some of the elements of her past that have made her the woman she is today?
I like to save the real juicy stuff for the books, but there certainly are things about her that keep me coming back. Like a lot of crime fiction heroes, she’s a loner. She’s thirty now and has been making her own way since she was eighteen. But in joining the NOPD she’s found a place and a career where she desperately wants to fit in and belong—and of course she’s not very good at fitting in. I really enjoy writing someone who’s trying to be happy, and to be the best version of herself that she can, and who has virtually no clue how to do those things.
Also, there’s the issue of power. All her life, she’s never had any. She’s a small woman, who’s not particularly attractive and who’s always been broke. When she wasn’t getting overlooked she was getting pushed around. Her history has made her tough and wily and angry, and now she has a badge and a gun. Taking her through her struggles with having some real power over other people has been really interesting. She makes some mistakes.
In preparation for writing his first novel, CONCH TOWN GIRL, Daniel J. Barrett’s read over 1,500 books, all in the last several years. Upon completion, Barrett’s debut work found a home at Black Opal Books, a boutique press founded in October 2010, dedicated to producing quality books with “stories that just have to be told.”
Barrett’s protagonist, Julie Chapman, grew up in Key Largo, a tenth-generation Conch. After the deaths of her parents, she is raised in the Florida Keys by her grandmother, Tillie. Then one night Tillie is involved in a car accident and ends up in a coma, leaving Julie and her best friend Joe to wonder if it really was an accident. As Julie and Joe start digging for the truth, they uncover some dark and desperate secrets that may not only stir up a great deal of trouble, but also cost them their lives.
“Developing characters from my imagination is very rewarding,” Barrett has said. “Having people discuss these individuals as if they are real people is very satisfying. I hope that you enjoy reading CONCH TOWN GIRL as much as I have enjoyed writing it.”
By Dan Levy
Like many successful authors, Alex Gordon was drawn to writing early in life and continued through high school. Then, Gordon explained, “I poked around with the idea of writing a (science fiction) novel in college, but that fizzled.”
Gordon shelved her writing for a time, but as it is with so many, the call was strong. “In the early nineties, I saw that so many of my coworkers were returning to school for MBAs. I thought that I would give writing a shot, that some sort of writing course would be my version of an MBA,” she said. The result was Code of Conduct, the first in the Jani Kilian science fiction series, written under my real name, Kristine Smith.
Nearly a decade later, Gordon returns with a supernatural thriller entitled GIDEON, set for release this month. THE BIG THRILL caught-up with Gordon to learn about her latest work and her shift from science fiction to the thriller format.
First, why the switch?
The main reason I want to write thrillers is because I love to read them. Supernatural, science fiction, espionage, medical—I enjoy the high stakes, rapidly-evolving plots, larger than life characters. They’re a blast to read and a real challenge to write. You need just enough detail—too much and you bog down the story. You need interesting characters, but you have to remind yourself that you’re not writing character studies. Revelations need to tie into the main plot.
Elizabeth Goddard is the bestselling award-winning author of more than twenty romance and romantic suspense novels and novellas, including the romantic mystery, The Camera Never Lies—a 2011 Carol Award winner. Elizabeth is also a 7th generation Texan.
In BURIED, Goddard’s latest novel, legal investigator Leah Marks is forced to flee to Alaska after witnessing a murder. Afraid for her life, she hopes to find safe shelter in a remote cabin—but the killer has tracked her to Mountain Cove. As he chases her into the snow-packed Dead Falls Canyon, an avalanche buries them both. Saved by daring search and rescue specialist Cade Warren, Leah longs to tell him the truth. But how can she, without bringing even more danger into Cade’s life? Especially when they discover the killer is very much alive and waiting to take them both down.
Alaska is about as far away from Texas as you can get. What inspired you to set BURIED in that location?
I lived in Oregon for a while and absolutely love the Pacific Northwest. Give me cold, wet and rainy over the blazing Texas sun any day. Don’t get me wrong, I love my home state of Texas, but like most Texans, I also love snow-covered mountains. The panhandle of Alaska is a gorgeous part of the world where I wanted to spend time one summer when my air conditioning was struggling, so I wrote the proposal for my search and rescue series and set it there.
Your novels combine suspense and romance—what makes you write in this genre?
I grew up reading Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt, and so developed an appetite for mystery and suspense early on. Of course, romance is a key ingredient. I can’t imagine reading a suspense novel without at least some romance, nor can I imagine reading a romance without a thread of suspense or mystery.
By Eileen Carr
A few years ago, I was at a writers’ conference and during one of those late night slightly boozy conversations, I mentioned an idea I had to another author. She thought it was a great idea and asked why I wasn’t actively working on it. I told her I wasn’t sure I could do it.
“Ah,” she said. “It scares you. Then that’s totally the book you should write.”
Her opinion was that if you had an idea that was big enough and important enough to you that it scared you to try to write it, then it absolutely had to be written.
Writing VEILED INTENTIONS has scared me more than writing any of my other books. I have written about serial killers and vampires and sociopaths and werewolves, but writing about the goings on in a northern California college town has kept me up at night and made me chew off more fingernails than all of the other books combined.
I was a little afraid of the subject matter. Part of the idea for the book came from my own ignorance. I got into a conversation about Islamophobia with someone. I found myself unable to support my opinion that an entire group of people should not be vilified based on their religious practices because I really didn’t know anything about Islam. I did a lot of reading and a lot of talking to people, but I’m still afraid I didn’t get my facts straight.
I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get the voices right. There are several teenaged characters in the books and while I’m kind of immature, I’m pretty far from being a teenager. Luckily, I had actual live teenagers in the house upon whom I could eavesdrop. They were also very patient with me asking what the kids are calling things these days. But slang changes quickly and book publication is slow. I’m afraid that what was au courant while I was writing might be old and busted now.
By J. H. Bográn
As the famous story goes, Steven Spielberg ran into Michael Crichton and asked what he was working on. The author replied with two words: DNA and dinosaurs. Of course, this later became the franchise known as Jurassic Park. Now, author Cara Brookins is taking DNA, and its experimentation in a totally different direction. For starters, as Brookins revealed to us this month, we’re now talking about humans.
What’s the premise of your new book, LITTLE BOY BLU?
Blu Tracey grew up isolated in the Appalachian Mountains and is the only child in his family without a genetic abnormality that causes blue skin. But when he discovers his mother intentionally had abnormal children for a reality television show, he becomes the target of a killer. If Blu doesn’t expose someone in his own family as a suspect, his siblings will be exploited for their rare, genetic mutation, and worse, they could be the next targets in the killer’s pursuit of fame.
How did the idea behind the DNA abnormality come about?
I’ve always been interested in science and unusual genetic possibilities. I read a short news article about Methemoglobinemia, a rare genetic abnormality that originated in the Appalachian Mountains, and instantly knew I had to write a novel about it. I tucked it away in my idea dump folder and waited for a plot to take root. I loved the sci-fi feel of blue-skinned people and the remote setting allowed for sinister possibilities.
Blu’s character came to me immediately, including that he was the only child in his family who was not blue. But it wasn’t until several weeks later, after reading a separate news story about Nadya Suleman (known as Octomom) that I put the full plot together with the mom’s motivations. Suleman appears to have intentionally given birth to multiple children with the hopes of a reality show. The natural question became, “How far will a person go for fame?” And more importantly, “How gray are the lines of this mindset?” In our reality show–obsessed society, it fit very well for a contemporary novel. I especially love that even though it sounds like wild fiction, it’s all possible.
Demystifying the Mystery
What makes a good mystery? Could there be a simpler question? On the flipside, could there be a more broad-based question? Each reader has his or her tastes and opinions, as does every writer. I can’t—and won’t— presume to have the answers. What I will do is share some aspects of what I believe, as a reader, makes a good mystery, and what works for me as a writer.
A good mystery is plot-driven.
Without a well-paced and intriguing plot (storyline), the mystery is dead in the water. You’ve heard it a million times, but it’s worth repeating again: you must pull the reader into the story, and the sooner the better. In my first Mac McClellan Mystery, Deadly Catch, the opening sentence sets the stage:
The first cast of the day turned my dream vacation into a nightmare.
Short and sweet, but doesn’t it make you want to read more and find out why?
Had I opened with back-story, how Mac had recently retired from the Marine Corps and traveled to the Florida panhandle for a fishing vacation, you might have kept on reading for a while hoping the pace picked up. Personally, I would’ve thought, “Ho-hum.” Before the third chapter of Deadly Catch ends, Mac discovers a body, is suspected of murder, and warned not to leave the area by the local sheriff. Information important to back-story can be fed in by piecemeal as the story progress, but keep that plot moving! And speaking of moving, it’s the characters that drive the plot! Every scene, every action, every sentence or phrase of dialogue, must be used to reveal character or propel the storyline forward. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t belong.
By Rob Brunet
The world’s eyes are turning to the Arctic, and none more acutely than James Abel’s. A pseudonym for a journalist with deep experience in far-flung places, Abel is the author of WHITE PLAGUE. The thriller is set in a part of the world largely ignored in geopolitical fiction since Alistair MacLean wrote books like Athabasca and Ice Station Zebra.
Abel’s three decades of research and writing have taken him to the Amazon, the Sudan, the Galapagos, the Maldives, and Somalia—places where he’s encountered “the border between order and anarchy.” That borderland is where he has set the first in a series of thrillers featuring Joe Rush, a Marine doctor tasked with rescuing the crew of the United States Navy’s newest submarine.
The sub has surfaced north of Alaska, on fire, and what Rush discovers is far worse than a nautical accident. The crew are sick and dying, with 103-degree fevers, wracking coughs bringing up frothy blood, and blotched faces and chests along with burns from the fire. The sub is under foreign military threat, and spies are aboard the icebreaker that carries Rush there. If he cannot effect the rescue in secret, he must destroy the sub, because what is happening hidden from public view threatens not only the Arctic but the rest of the world.
“The new Arctic is a character in this novel,” says Abel. As shipping lanes open up, there’s a race for undersea territory among the circumpolar nations. The United States, Russia, Canada, Norway, and Denmark (via a self-asserting Greenland) are all staking claims. It’s no wonder. Estimates are roughly twenty per cent of the planet’s discoverable oil fields are under the Arctic Ocean, and the region is already home to the world’s largest diamond mines.
I took Jeanne Matthews’ new novel, released January 2015, to read with me on an idyllic family holiday. You know the kind: everything is perfect but by the end you all want to throttle each other. Escaping into someone else’s dysfunctional family was sheer delight.
This is the author’s fifth novel in the Dinah Pelerin series, featuring the globetrotting cultural anthropologist. The title refers not to physical bones but the lies that Dinah and her family and her heroic new boyfriend, Thor, flounder through, embellish and accommodate. These are not just any old lies. They range from the domestic to those laden with potentially fatal freight.
I hadn’t read any of Jeanne’s prior books and I found myself chuckling away as aspects of her characters’ lives are dropped in with deadpan aplomb: “Margaret Dobbs had aged considerably since her murder trial…” and “…maybe she was reluctant to speak ill of the man she’d killed.” I love the acerbically twisted Margaret: “She exuded a bitterness that lowered the ambient temperature like a block of dry ice…” And of Dinah: “Some people aspire to crime, some have crime thrust upon them.” The heroine has a liberating streak of larceny through her soul.
All the central characters are extremely well drawn, from the charming, kitten-heeled and elusive mother, Swan, to the bitter Margaret, to the playgirl-centerfold-handsome Thor. We’ve all had a scary but handy caretaker-figure in our lives like Matthews’ nocturnal Geert, whose helpfulness extends to offering to rip people’s eyes out.