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.
By Jeremy Burns
Jana Hollifield may be a new name to the mystery field, but it shouldn’t remain an unknown one for true fans of the genre. Hollifield’s follow-up to her debut The Problem with Goodbye, THE PROBLEM WITH SECOND CHANCES, just hit store shelves, and the second in her Ryan McCabe series looks to make quite an impression on fans new and old alike. The author sat down with THE BIG THRILL to take readers behind the scenes of her latest book.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I live in a tiny coastal town in picturesque northern California where five cars ahead of you at a stoplight is considered heavy traffic. The natural environment here is a steady draw for artists of all kinds, including my relatives. I was born into a family of very creative people and for many years pursued an interest in painting until my desire to write became irresistible. The Problem with Goodbye, first in the Ryan McCabe series, was my debut novel.
Tell us about your new book, THE PROBLEM WITH SECOND CHANCES.
With his girlfriend out of town, lonely Ryan McCabe never expects ex-flame Holly Kemp to show up at his doorstep begging him to persuade his best friend, Portland homicide detective Ollie O’Neill, to clear her cousin in the brutal slaying of his fiancée. Holly’s cousin Sam seems a viable murder suspect, until he and Ryan meet. Convinced of Sam’s innocence, Ryan and Ollie find themselves embroiled in a disturbing murder mystery that claims yet another life. As they narrow in on the truth, inexplicable acts of violence begin to plague Ryan, and Ollie worries his closest pal may be next on the killer’s list.
The suspense of international intrigue is not restricted to government intelligence agents, as M. A. Lawson proves in his latest novel, VIKING BAY.
This novel continues the adventures of Kay Hamilton, the DEA agent protagonist who went rogue in Rosarito Beach. In VIKING BAY, Hamilton is ejected from the DEA and goes undercover in Afghanistan for a private firm. Hamilton is perfect for such an assignment. She’s a confident, independent woman who is fearless, competitive, and as comfortable in the world of espionage as James Bond. But as Lawson points out, his heroine is not perfect.
“She’s not a team player,” Lawson says. “She feels the rules don’t apply to her. She has a hard time admitting when she’s wrong. And lastly, she’s a mother that’s not the least bit maternal—although she’s trying.”
In need of a job so she can take care of her daughter, Hamilton goes to work for a shadowy quasi-governmental agency called the Callahan Group. Her first mission is to get close to Ara Khan, daughter of the man the U.S. government wants to become Afghanistan’s next president. Ara is her father’s key political advisor, and Hamilton must go undercover to learn her secrets and prod her thinking in line with America’s interests. It’s realistic and thrilling spy work until things go horribly wrong at a clandestine meeting in Afghanistan. Hamilton then faces the kind of danger fictional heroines often face. But does Hamilton see herself as a heroine?
“Not at all,” Lawson says. “She’s thrust into situations she’d avoid if she possibly could, but when she can’t, she does what’s necessary. But she’s not trying to be a hero. She’s just trying to do a dangerous job and come out of it alive.”
By Jeff Ayers
J. Sydney Jones is the author of numerous books of fiction and nonfiction, including the novels of the critically acclaimed Viennese Mystery series, The Empty Mirror, Requiem in Vienna, The Silence, The Keeper of Hands, and A Matter of Breeding. He lived for many years in Vienna and has written several other books about the city, including the narrative history, Hitler in Vienna: 1907-1913, the popular walking guide, Viennawalks, and the thriller, Time of the Wolf. Jones is also the author of the stand-alone thriller Ruin Value: A Mystery of the Third Reich (2013).
In his latest stand-alone, THE GERMAN AGENT, it is February 1917. A lone German agent is dispatched to Washington to prevent the British delivering a telegram to President Woodrow Wilson—by any means possible. For this is the Zimmermann telegram: it contains a devastating piece of news that is sure to bring the United States into the war on the side of Britain and her allies.
Having fought in the trenches himself, Max Volkman knows that America’s involvement will only prolong the slaughter of innocents and is implacable in his determination to kill the British envoy carrying the telegram. But when his pursuit of the Englishman leads him to the home of American heiress Catherine Fitzgerald, wife to one of Washington’s most powerful politicians, he is presented with a terrible choice: loyalty to his comrades in the trenches or the loss of the one woman he has ever truly loved.
His decision will determine the outcome of the First World War.
J. Sydney Jones chatted with THE BIG THRILL about his vast work plus the inspiration for THE GERMAN AGENT.
Why the love of Vienna? What appeals to you to write about it in your Vienna mysteries and the majority of your books?
I grew up a small-town boy on the coast of Oregon that was largely populated by loggers and fishermen at the time. Pure serendipity took me to Vienna. I studied there on a junior-year-abroad program in college and fell in love with the Austrian capital as only a first-time lover can, for it was first big city I had ever lived in.
By Ovidia Yu
Before coming to NUN TOO SOON, let me say I love the personalities in your earlier books—Giulia, her boss/ partner/husband, and the rest of their friends and office staff. Do they all reappear in NUN TOO SOON, which is being marketed as the first in the Giulia Driscoll mystery series rather than the fourth in the Falcone & Driscoll series? Are these characters based on real people? And why the change in the series name?
Thank you! Yes, Giulia, Frank, Sidney, and their friends and significant others are all in the new series. When Henery Press and I discussed the series, we decided on a reboot, in essence. We have a short story available for free on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and Kobo that bridges the gap between Veiled Threat, the last in the old series, and NUN TOO SOON. It’s called “Changing Habits.” Giulia has a mystery to solve, of course, and (SPOILER ALERT!) at the same time she’s dealing with all the craziness of her upcoming marriage to Frank.
In the new series, Frank’s rehabbed his knee and is back as a detective on the police force. Giulia is running Driscoll Investigations on her own, with Sidney as her assistant and a near-genius MIT geek named Zane as her new admin.
Frank and Giulia are both strong personalities, and jointly running the business caused a lot of friction. Sidney was about to give them boxing lessons as a Christmas gift. So they came up with the current solution, which has saved both the business and their marriage. That’s why the new series uses Giulia’s name alone—she’s in charge.
None of the characters are based on real people. Well, the Superior General in Back in the Habit may possibly have been loosely based on my former Superior General. But without the drug-running and other nasty illegal goings-on. But other than that, no. The characters are all out of my crowded head.
After a fall on ice ends Laura Nelson’s career as a surgeon, she joins a major pharmaceutical firm as Vice President for Research. In AFTER THE FALL, the latest novel from Patricia Gussin, her task is to finalize the imminent approval of her new company’s groundbreaking drug.
Unfortunately there are opposing forces at work. At the center is Adawia (Addie) Abdul, an Iraqi scientist who discovered the drug and is in no hurry to return to Iraq. And Saddam Hussein’s henchmen are pressuring Nelson to finish her task. They want her home to take over their country’s bioweapon program from her dying father. As determined as the Iraqis are to get Addie home as quickly as possible, FDA bureaucrat Jake Harter is equally obsessed with keeping her near, and will stop at nothing, including murder to get his way.
In addition, Laura has to deal with a number of personal issues including some secrets from her past. No doubt, she has her hands full.
This comes as no accident. Gussin said the most challenging part of writing AFTER THE FALL was in creating a stand-alone novel that also addressed incidents that occurred in her previous three Laura Nelson books.
“I wanted to accomplish closure for the series, but make this a perfectly satisfactory read for those who had no insight into Laura’s past. I was conscious of this throughout the writing process, but used the editing process to make sure that there was the right amount of backstory so that it would all make sense to the new reader.”
Technically, Gussin found that the scenes in Baghdad at the Radwaniyah Palace complex were difficult and required “much research” since she has never been to Iraq. Emotionally, “Laura’s actual conversation with her son about his paternity was tough. I didn’t know how it would turn out.”
Things that go Bump in the Night and Bodiless Voices that Haunt Me
A Journey into a Writer’s Mind
My father helped me to make my first crystal diode radio set for Halloween when I was just ten years old. I remember stringing the antenna, like a clothesline, between the grapefruit trees in my backyard and attaching it to the thin metal screen of my bedroom window and waiting, patiently for nightfall. Night, my father told me, was when radio signals—like things that go bump in the night—traveled best across the cooler desert floor. With my crudely-made copper-bound receiver at my bedside, I huddled beneath the sheets of my bed, pressed the earphones to my ears and strained to hear the scratchy voices of old radio plays. I was convinced I had pulled their bodiless voices through the ether and somehow managed to pierce the boundaries of a three dimensional universe.
My imagination was on fire.
I decided right then, if radio waves existed, other forms of communication, those not yet known to man and far more powerful, were hidden in the shadows around me. I just had to tap into them.
In my early writings I dabbled with the idea of alternative universes, living side-by-side with our own. None of it amounted to much. I was just a kid with a wild imagination. Remember that citrus orchard? By now it was strung with an early warning system to alert me of intruders. Our sequia, or the man who irrigated our orchard by moonlight, dressed in a poncho, sombrero and waders, was a space alien, and the largest of the trees, now my spaceship.
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.
Phillip Margolin had a storied career as a criminal defense lawyer—handling more than thirty murder cases and even arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court. Though he’d published two novels early in his legal career, he wasn’t looking to leave his exciting law practice. In the early1990s, however, he was at a dinner party when the conversation turned philosophical. One of the guests had a question for him: If Adolf Hitler came to you and needed a lawyer, would you represent him? “I hadn’t really given much thought to that kind of question,” Margolin said. “But I was a believer in the system, and always thought I’d defend anyone. But it got me thinking whether I would represent someone who was pure evil.” It sparked an idea for a book that became the 1993 smash bestseller, Gone, But Not Forgotten. It was about a woman lawyer faced with representing a despicable human being—a serial killer who dehumanized women before killing them.
The book was a game changer for Margolin in many ways. It was the first of seventeen New York Times bestsellers for the author, ultimately leading to his retirement from the law. It was also the first time Margolin wrote a female protagonist. Today, it’s hard to believe that Margolin, known for writing strong women characters, once had anxiety about writing from a female point of view. “Back then, I didn’t think I could do a woman character justice. But when I was writing Gone, But Not Forgotten I was working on this scene where the killer goes to see his lawyer in this tall office building late at night when no one else is around. Having represented killers—even a serial killer—myself, I had an idea that the lawyer would be on guard. But something made me think, ‘Yes, as a man I’d be cautious around this killer of women, but wouldn’t it ratchet up the suspense if the lawyer was a woman—a person like the killer’s victims?’ The story required me to make the protagonist a woman, so I did.”
To get the character right, Margolin drew on the toughest, smartest, and best woman lawyer he knew, his wife Doreen. “I decided to write all the scenes imagining the character was Doreen; what she would say, how she would act. Doreen was very feminine, but also a real tough guy.” Sadly, Doreen passed away in 2007. “She wasn’t just the best lawyer I’ve ever known,” Margolin said, “she was the best human being I’ve ever met.”
Six Mystery Bookstores Recommend Novels
You May Have Missed
By Barry Lancet
With the holidays approaching, the rush is on to find a seemingly endless string of perfect gifts. If you are passionate about thrillers and mysteries, why not pass on your enthusiasm to others? And what better way to do so, then introduce them to a new voice or a new discovery?
With that thought in mind, THE BIG THRILL asked a half dozen renowned mystery bookstores across the country to recommend the perfect gift. Our only criteria: they had to be books the stores loved—novels they regularly recommend to customers—that might have slipped below the radar this year.
The bookstores responded enthusiastically with an impressive array of twenty titles. So if you’re looking for gifts this year, check out the books below. And if you’re in the neighborhood, do yourself a favor and visit these iconic stores. Or visit them online, as every shop has a number of additional offerings, from book clubs to signed books to rare editions that can be sent anywhere—for a gift, or to add to your own collection.
MYSTERIOUS BOOKSHOP · New York City
This store is a required stopover for any crime-novel enthusiast heading to New York City. Founded by owner, editor, writer, and publisher Otto Penzler in 1979, the shop is celebrating its thirty-fifth anniversary this year. Aside from carrying an extensive catalog of mysteries and thrillers of every stripe, Mysterious Bookshop also stocks signed first editions, collector’s items, and “the largest collection of Sherlockiana in the world.” And should you be looking for a more expansive gift, consider a one-year subscription to one of its book clubs. Penzler and his crew also run Mysterious Press, which publishes books in paperback and digital editions. Ian Kern supplied these store picks for the holidays:
International Thrills: An Interview with Bestselling Japanese Crime Writer,
By Layton Green
This edition of International Thrills is off to Japan and explores the fascinatingly dark world of Fuminori Nakamura, whose crime novels also delve into more literary themes. —The Managing Editors
Fuminori started publishing when he was only twenty-five, and has penned ten novels and three short story collections since 2003. He has won numerous awards for his writing, including the Ōe Prize, the Akutagawa Prize (Japan’s most prestigious literary award), the Shincho Prize for New Writers, and the Noma Prize. Stateside, his novels have been named a Wall Street Journal Best Mystery and an Amazon Best Mystery/Thriller of the Month. The Thief, his first novel translated into English, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Just this fall, he was the recipient of the 2014 David L. Goodis Award for Noir Fiction at NoirCon.
LAST WINTER WE PARTED is Fuminori’s most recent work, and the third novel to appear in English, published by Soho. I had the pleasure of reading LAST WINTER WE PARTED, and was blown away. In short, the novel is about a writer assigned to interview a famous photographer sitting on death row for the murder of two of his subjects—both women who were burned alive. It is a menacing, labyrinthine, deeply layered tale that also manages to be a quick read, and I wanted to reread it as soon as I finished.
I recently sat down with Nakamura and his publisher (Juliet Grames of Soho Press, who provided excellent translation) after a book signing in Chapel Hill.
Thanks for taking the time to chat. Tell us where you are from in Japan, and a little bit about your background.
I was born in 1977 in Aichi, Japan. I spent my four years of college in Fukushima, and since then have lived in Tokyo. I’ve been an avid reader since I was in high school.
Deon Meyer writes heart-racing thrillers set in South Africa. The last book that kept me up until three in the morning because I just had to know what happened next was his Thirteen Hours. His latest novel—COBRA—which was released in the U.S. last month, is right up there with his best books.
Deon is the best known thriller writer in South Africa and the London Times called him “far and away South Africa’s best crime writer.” His books have been translated from the original Afrikaans into twenty-seven languages, have won a slew of prizes, and been optioned for TV series and movies. Deon also writes and produces movies for the South African market.
COBRA features Detective Benny Griessel. Benny was never meant to have his own series—he had a minor part in one of Deon’s early novels—but characters sometimes have their own ideas. This time Benny, with the help of his Hawks colleagues Mbali Kaleni and Vaughn Cupido, has to take on a ruthless assassin, the top brass of the police, Britain’s MI6, South Africa’s own State Security Agency. In the beautiful Franschhoek wine valley, at an exclusive guest house, three bodies are found, each with a very professional bullet through the head. A fourth guest is missing, and he just might be a very, very important man in the fight against terrorism and organized crime.
I asked Deon about COBRA and his current projects.
Unlike most of your books, the backstory concerns an event where South Africa is incidental—almost just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Did you set out to construct an international intrigue and then see how it would play out in South Africa?
Yes, and no. I’ve been collecting articles on the U.S.’s Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme, also known as TFTP, for some years now, knowing that a story was brewing. The challenge was, how do I make it work in South Africa (which is not part of the TFTP agreement, as far as I know)?
We’ve also been seeing a lot of foreigners bringing their criminal activity to South Africa, so I wanted to reflect that aspect as well.
By Dawn Ius
For New York Times bestselling author Brad Taylor, almost nothing is more embarrassing than writing inaccurate information—especially when he should know better.
So imagine his horror a few books back when the former Army Lieutenant Colonel inadvertently wrote about a weapon system that fired .556.
“That went all the way to galley prints before a friend said, ‘.556? Were you even in the military? It’s 5.56.’ Of course, I knew that,” Taylor says. “That one decimal point may seem like small potatoes to just about anyone, but to a segment of readers, it would have been heresy.”
Lucky for Taylor, he’s armed with a group of pre-readers who have unique skills that go far beyond fixing typos.
Having spent twenty-one years in the U.S. Army, retiring as a Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel, he admits he is generally held to a higher standard of accuracy—but he’s fine with that, since it means he can concentrate on the plot and characters without worrying about getting the Operator’s actions right.
Plot and character remain a central focus in NO FORTUNATE SON, Taylor’s seventh book in the military thriller series featuring Pike Logan and Jennifer Cahill. The premise for the novel was inspired by the true story of Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier previously captured by Afghanistan in 2009.
“From the moment he disappeared, the U.S. government spent an enormous effort trying to repatriate him, despite the fact that he was basically a nobody with a cloud over his head about his motivations,” Taylor says. “I wondered what we would do if a military member related to someone important was captured. How far would we go?”
By Amy Lignor
It will come as no surprise to fans who read Arlene Kay’s tales and enjoy the humor embedded within each mystery that she spent two decades serving the Federal Government. Thankfully for readers, Arlene decided to step away from that career so that fans across the country could see her fantastic mind and incredible imagination on paper. With her stand-alone and series fiction, Arlene creates the perfect mix of sultry and suspense; her novels not only keep readers on the edge-of-their-seats, but also provide the handsome men and stunning women that make for the ultimate dream. What began with Swann Dive and proceeded to Mantrap in the Swann series, now continues with the third unforgettable installment, GILT TRIP. And Arlene has taken time out of her busy writing schedule to talk all about her present and future work.
Where exactly did Eja Kane and Deming Swann—the extremely memorable characters from the Swann series—come from? Is there a personal/real-life “tilt” on the characters?
Eja and Deming actually evolved from the basic story line from Swann Dive, which concerned the murder of Cecilia Swann, Deming’s twin and Eja’s best friend. I shudder at using the term “organically” but their journey began with a shared quest for justice and evolved into a deep romantic attachment. Eja does own many of my own traits and insecurities. Deming—well that’s another matter entirely.
Humor has become almost an integral part of suspense novels in the twenty-first century. Even the darkest of thrill rides seem to add in a dry comment at just the right moment. Do you believe that humor and timing within a tale can make or break a novel? And as a reader, do you want that lightness to be inserted into the characters you love?
Humor leavens the most stressful situations and humanizes characters. I find that authors, fictional characters, or acquaintances who take themselves too seriously are basically boring. The Brits are masters at witty, understated humor; from the wry observations of Jane Austen to Christie, Sayers, and more contemporary crime novelists. I read the Scandinavian writers also (Larsson, Mankell, Nesbo) but they are very dour. Maybe it’s the weather, but they could use a bit of fun in their lives.
In SHADOW KNIGHT’S MATE, Jay Brandon offers a tightly structured and thematically layered conspiracy thriller that pulls out all the stops. Jack Driscoll is a member of The Circle, a covert organization ostensibly protecting US interests for two centuries. When the organization is attacked by an unknown antagonist, what appear to be doubles of Jack are sighted in Europe. While he tries to combat the subversions occurring around him he meets Arden, a girl whose motivations remain as shadowy as the narrative.
Tell us about SHADOW KNIGHT’S MATE.
In the book, Jack Driscoll is a young member of a very secretive, loosely organized group known as The Circle, which has operated behind the scenes for generations, protecting American interests. They work through subtlety and suggestion. As Jack says, “None of our members has held elected office in more than two hundred years. Not even a local school board. Actually, two of our members were First Ladies of the United States, but not the two you would think. Very few of us were CEOs, either. More commonly we were the assistant to the Human Resources Director. These were the people to whom presidents and CEOs turn in times of crisis. Mycroft Holmes, not Sherlock.”
But in SHADOW, they seem to have been discovered, as several of their members are attacked at the same time America is. And someone is targeting Jack directly, with impersonators of him appearing around Europe. Jack goes to Europe to investigate, taking with him (against his will) Arden, the youngest and most accomplished member of The Circle. Even in this group of geniuses and world-class networkers, she scares people with her abilities to read people and make connections. And Jack isn’t sure of her intentions.
It has been said that there is no story that has not already been told, that is not old and familiar. It is in the telling, however, that a story is raised to a higher level. That is precisely the kind of story telling Suzanne Chazin has accomplished with her latest novel LAND OF CAREFUL SHADOWS. With pitch perfect prose, she offers an intimate glimpse into the world of undocumented immigrants in a moving and psychologically complex murder mystery. The tension never stalls in this unflinching and searing examination of the human heart.
Suzanne Chazin is a former journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Ladies Home Journal, People, Money, and other publications. She is a former senior editor and writer for Reader’s Digest and has taught writing at New York University, Sarah Lawrence College, and the Smithsonian. Her Georgia Skeehan mystery series, published by Putnam, is about a New York City female firefighter turned fire marshal. LAND OF CAREFUL SHADOWS is the first in the new Jimmy Vega series.
Your volunteer work with Hispanic immigrants became the inspiration for your latest novel, LAND OF CAREFUL SHADOWS. Was there a story or common refrain that particularly touched you?
I live in Westchester County, New York, in a suburban area that has seen a very large increase in Latino immigrants over the past two decades. I live three miles from a train station where day laborers often gather, and I was struck by this obviously needy group of people so desperate for work. As the daughter of immigrants myself, I felt drawn to their situation and began volunteering at outreach centers in the area. I got to know some of the immigrants and found them to be humble, decent, and resourceful people who went about their struggles with quiet determination. I felt their story hadn’t been told––or at least not in a readily accessible way to mainstream audiences.
A rural Missouri girl, Kate Brauning fell in love with writing at a young age. She was that child who practically lived in the library, discovering all its treasures. Now, she resides in Iowa with her husband and a Siberian husky, and works in publishing. She loves to connect with readers. If you see her and say hi, she might invite you for a coffee—if you want to talk about books.
Her debut novel HOW WE FALL is a young adult tale about two cousins with a secret relationship, a missing best friend, and strange girl with secrets. Will this strange girl be a harbinger of doom? Will they find their friend? THE BIG THRILL sat down with Brauning to find out more.
When did you start writing?
Oh, I was pretty young. I wrote my first “story” at ten or so, I think. I’ve always had fun writing stories, and I wrote a novel all through high school. I loved it, but it just never occurred to me that I could write for a career. I kept on loving it, though. In college I decided that I loved it too much to not try.
Did you ever want to be anything besides write?
I decided early on that I wanted to be an author, so no, not really. Along the road to becoming an author, I’ve discovered I love the publishing world and I love editing, so if I couldn’t write anymore, I’d continue to work with publishing houses as an editor.
How far wrong can a missing persons case go? You can find out, and truly enjoy the thrills and mystery in the process, in Harry Hunsicker’s latest novel, THE SHADOW BOYS.
This character-driven mystery follows former DEA contractor Jon Cantrell. As the story opens things are going well for Cantrell. He has a new job working for a law firm. But then his ex-girlfriend asks him to meet with a high-ranking police official. Cantrell is forced to take an off-the-books assignment to find a missing boy. And then, everything starts to unravel.
Cantrell is not a hero in the strict sense, but he is a fascinating character with, as Hunsicker says, a sharp wit, an eye for the quickest escape route, and a fascinating history.
“Jon Cantrell is a third-generation law enforcement officer, now in the private sector because of an altercation with a federal agent while he was a Dallas police officer,” Hunsicker says. “Cantrell thinks of himself as a cop even though he’s not wearing a badge in SHADOW BOYS.”
Cantrell’s client, Deputy Chief Raul Delgado, is an up-and-coming politico who bears his own tragic burdens. Forty years earlier, a racist cop killed Delgado’s brother. Now, Delgado works for the same department. Cantrell relates to Delgado, even though he’s not really a cop or even a private eye.
By Ken Isaacson
When Reece Hirsch’s debut novel, The Insider, hit the scene, John Lescroart proclaimed that he was fit to run with the big boys, while Gayle Lynds warned John Grisham to watch his back. The Insider was a finalist for the 2011 International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel. With the upcoming release of Reece’s third book, INTRUSION, he proves himself once more to be worthy of the acclaim.
All of Reece’s books draw upon his experiences as an attorney—though his legal work is a lot less exciting and hazardous than that of his protagonist Chris Bruen. Reece is a partner in the San Francisco office of an international law firm and co-chairs its privacy and cybersecurity practice.
In INTRUSION (coming December 9 in eBook, Paperback and Audiobook from Thomas & Mercer), we once more meet attorney Bruen, former DOJ cybercrimes prosecutor. When a powerful client summons him for a midnight meeting, Bruen knows something is very wrong. Zapper, the world’s most popular search engine, has been compromised, and its most valuable asset—search algorithms—has been stolen. The company suspects that this most recent instance in a wave of high-tech crimes originated in China, and that the government itself is behind the systematic theft of U.S. intellectual property.
Bruen travels to China to search for evidence that will link the intrusion to the People’s Liberation Army. With remote assistance from Zoey Doucet, the head of his firm’s computer forensics lab and his maybe-girlfriend, Bruen uncovers information that takes him even deeper into the shadowy world of cybercrime. Now he is trapped in a foreign land with a hard drive containing information that puts his life in jeopardy. In this secretive world of Big Data, Bruen will risk everything to fight an elusive enemy as far-reaching as the Internet itself.
By Stacy Mantle
There are cozies for every topic, and that includes baby boomers. Award-winning author Susan Santangelo is the master of taking a lighthearted look at the issues facing the seventy-six million members of the fastest growing market segment in the country: the baby boomers.
Santangelo is a baby boomer herself and has worked as a feature writer, drama critic, and editor for publications throughout New York. Retirement Can Be Murder, the first in the Baby Boomer series, was released in 2009 and she has averaged a new novel in the series each year. Her third novel in the series, Marriage Can Be Murder, was selected as one of Suspense Magazine’s Best Mysteries of 2012.
On top of being an acclaimed author, she is also a breast cancer survivor. Santangelo devotes a percentage of sales of all books to the Breast Cancer Survival Center, a nonprofit organization she co-founded in 1999 to provide post-treatment education and support for cancer survivors.
THE BIG THRILL had the opportunity to connect with her about her newest popular release, FUNERALS CAN BE MURDER.
Most of your books are focused on the baby boomer generation. What is it that fascinates you most about this demographic?
I’m an early member of the baby boomer generation myself. As my husband and I were approaching our own “milestone” years, I began to focus on what issues we were going to have to deal with. Everything I read focused on financial planning for retirement and beyond. But nobody seemed to be dealing with the emotional impact of retirement, particularly as it impacts a marriage. I’ve written for years for magazines and newspapers, and always loved the mystery genre. So I decided to combine retirement with a funny mystery and wrote “Retirement Can Be Murder,” the first in what has morphed into the Baby Boomer mystery series.
Hope Clark, author of The Carolina Slade Mysteries, has a new release and a new series. MURDER ON EDISTO is book one of The Edisto Island Mysteries from BellBooks. When her husband is murdered by the Russian mob, Boston detective Callie Jean Morgan suffers a mental break and relinquishes her badge to return home to South Carolina. She has no idea how to proceed with her life, but her son deserves to move on with his, so she relocates them to the family vacation home.
But the day they arrive on Edisto Beach, Callie finds her childhood mentor and elderly neighbor murdered. Her fragile sanity is threatened when the murderer taunts her, and the home that was to be her sanctuary is repeatedly violated. Callie loses her fight to walk away from law enforcement as she becomes the only person able to pursue the culprit who’s turned the coastal paradise into a paranoid patch of sand where nobody’s safe. But what will it cost her?
MURDER ON EDISTO is a new series for you. What made you decide to change venues and characters instead of continuing your Carolina Slade series?
Actually, my publisher strong-armed, um, suggested that I create a new series to more clearly demonstrate the depth of my talent. I was flattered and scared to death at the same time, because I adored Carolina Slade. I had envisioned myself writing her stories like Sue Grafton and her alphabet mysteries, until I ran out of little communities in South Carolina to set each Slade escapade. My editor gave me sort of a full rein on the direction of the series but asked that I design the second series at least around three issues: (1) the protagonist could not be an amateur sleuth (she had to be law enforcement), (2) the story had to include a heavy-handed dose of family drama like any good Southern family, and (3) the series had to take place in one locale in South Carolina. The Carolina Slade series took place all over the state. So I set the Edisto Island Mysteries completely on Edisto Beach, a place I’ve escaped to many times. I went into the project begrudgingly, just ask my editor.
By Brian Knight and Ellie Knight
Jonathan Stiles is a fourteen-year-old atheist who is coping with his first day of ninth grade at the fervently religious St. Soren’s Academy when his idolized older brother Ryan is found dead at the bottom of a ravine behind the school. As his world crumbles, Jonathan meets an eccentric stranger who bears an uncanny resemblance to Jesus Christ (except for his white linen leisure suit and sparkling gold chains). Jesus Jackson, as he calls himself, offers to provide faith to Jonathan. He also suggests that Ryan’s death may not have been an accident after all.
Jonathan teams up with Henry, his new best friend at St. Soren’s, to investigate. The two boys find footprints leading to the ravine that match Ryan’s sneakers. They are assisted by Ryan’s grieving girlfriend, Tristan, who also thinks the accident theory is bunk. The police, however, will not listen. But Jonathan knows something the police do not know: Shortly before his death, Ryan was doing cocaine with fellow footballer and number one suspect Alistair not far from the ravine where his body was found.
An inspired Jonathan battles sanctimonious school psychologists, overzealous administrators, and a cavalry of Christian classmates on his quest to discover the truth about Ryan’s death—and about God, high school, and the meaning of life, while he’s at it. But he keeps getting distracted by Cassie—Alistair’s quirky younger sister—who holds the keys to the answers Jonathan is searching for, but who also makes him wonder if he should be searching for them at all.
Welcome James, and thanks for stopping by to chat with us.
Brian: Faith seems to be an important theme, or at least ingredient, in JESUS JACKSON. Putting an atheist teen in an environment where faith is the rule promises to produce a lot of tension. May I ask where you stand on the subject of faith?
Well that is an awesome and difficult question. Ultimately, I think faith is a wonderful thing, as long as it isn’t blind faith. Personally, I like to detach the word faith from its strict religious connotations, and generally define it as “trust in something that you cannot know for certain.” Now for me, while I don’t happen to have faith in any particular god or religion, I do try to have faith in lots of other things that I cannot know for certain. I have faith in the love of my wife and the support of my family. I have faith in my own intuitive sense of ethics and morality. I have faith that my hard work will pay off and that as long as I make the best decisions I can every day, my life will ultimately work out pretty well. That’s the kind of faith that I try to explore in JESUS JACKSON.
Jean Harrington published the first of her series of mysteries featuring interior designer Deva Dunne in 2012. The fifth, THE DESIGN IS MURDER, was published last month. In it Deva, hired by not one but two clients whose wives have suffered suspicious deaths, continues to stumble across bodies and search for answers, much to the annoyance of her fiancé, a detective in the Naples, Florida, police force.
Tell us about your series Murders by Design and the new book THE DESIGN IS MURDER.
The Murders by Design series are tongue-in-cheek cozy mysteries that take a light-hearted look at murder and mayhem. (I love a good oxymoron.) In the first book, Designed for Death, amateur sleuth Deva Dunne is a young widow struggling to climb out of her sorrow and rebuild her life. So the books, over time, show her change and grow as she strives, with wit and humor, to find happiness again and, incidentally, with the help of Lieutenant Rossi, to solve one murder after another.
In the latest release, THE DESIGN IS MURDER, Deva’s client James Stahlman believes Stew Hawkins moved into the house across the street to terrorize him after he became engaged to Kay, Stew’s ex-wife. But Stew is over it. He’s remarried—and to someone much younger. When just days apart, both women are found dead under mysterious circumstances, Deva thinks there’s something afoot on Whiskey Lane. Could the death of these women be coincidence, or were they the victims of foul play?
You were a professor of English literature at Becker College in Worcester, Massachusetts, for sixteen years. What led you to writing your own books?
After talking about fiction for years and dissecting it in the classroom, I longed to try my hand at writing it. So as soon as I stopped teaching, I began to write. The learning curve was much steeper than I anticipated but exciting and fulfilling. Creating people, fleshing them out, giving them personalities, strengths and weaknesses then setting them loose in a believable time and place is great fun. Kind of like world-building really, and where else but in fiction can I get to do that?
By Derek Gunn
Elderwood Manor is a beautifully presented limited edition hardcover from DarkFuse, luckily also available in Kindle. It is a well-crafted novella that instantly transported me to the titled Manor as darkness began to spread its eerie fingers across the land. The fact that it is a novella allows the authors to plunge us straight into the action as they build the atmosphere from the first page.
There is no wasted backstory, merely the story itself. The characters are instantly believable and the atmosphere dripped from the pages. It put me in mind of the classic stories from Robert E. Howard where the writing was always of the highest quality and the story was thrust forward to grab you by the throat and squeezed tighter until you finally finished the story. It also suggests a nod towards Lovecraft and his unique ability to instil fear in the reader. I mention these comparisons merely to give a sense of what Christopher and Angeline have achieved in this story. In my opinion Howard and Lovecraft managed what few authors do today, they actually scared us. Elderwood Manor also manages to do this.
There is no relenting in pace, no added paragraphs to flesh out the story. This story is pure class from the beginning to end and well worth the small charge on Kindle. It would be even better if you can afford the hardcover as the cover illustration is gorgeous. I kept feeling that this was what James Herbert’s The Secret of Crickley Hall should have been.
As it is a novella I will not give too much away. It is better to let the story whisk you away. However, in brief, Bruce Davenport and his four-year-old son Cody are called to his ancestral home, secluded deep within Ozark forests. Life has not been good to Bruce and he uses the last of his funds to visit his dying mother.
There are strange stories surrounding Elderwood Manor, stories of vengeance and blood, horror and dark secrets. As night closes in it is doubtful they will see the dawn.
By Basil Sands
DARKNET is John R. Little’s fourteenth book. Primarily working in suspense, horror, and dark fantasy, his novella Miranda, won the Bram Stoker Award. Two of his other books, Ursa Major and The Memory Tree, were also nominated for the same award. In addition to novels, John has published dozens of short stories over his career. He lives in southern Ontario and writes as much as possible. You can find out more on his website or on Facebook, where he loves to interact with his readers.
John, tell us about DARKNET.
The novel is about a woman who has no way to escape from her abusive husband. She’s desperate to find a way to have a new life with her ten-year-old daughter, but she can’t find a way. However, she learns about the dark side of the Internet, where anything is possible, including hiring a contract killer. With no other option, she starts a conversation with an anonymous killer, but that soon results in consequences for her that she could never have predicted.
Although based in real technological situations, the novel is really about a scared woman who is trying desperately to save her daughter.
DARKNET addresses some very dark sides of human personality, including abusive relationships, sociopathic behavior, and revenge. What was your motivation for writing on such themes?
I’ve wondered that myself over my career. I think that some writers are born to write romances, some crave the wonder of science fiction, while I’m drawn to the darker side of the human condition. I’ve loved reading horror and other types of dark fiction my whole life, and those are also the movies I watch. Why? I think it’s just something in the genes. They control how tall I am, the color of my eyes, and the type of stories that fascinate me. I don’t know how else we find at such a young age that a certain type of fiction appeals to us more than others.
BITE HARDER gives us an unlikely antihero, Dean Drayhart, a paraplegic serial killer. Drayhart’s mission in life is to find and render justice to hit-and-run drivers who have left behind their dead victims. His cohorts include Cinda, a fearless, fast-driving girlfriend, and Sid, the helper monkey—Drayhart’s secret weapon. But Drayhart’s quest for cosmic retribution goes one dead body too far when he deservedly slays the son of a Mexican drug king, make that queen—the beautiful and evil Orella—and this bereaved mother has her claws out for our hero in the wheelchair. Anonymous-9 delivers a story that slaps you silly with humor, action, and poignancy as it careens in a hyper-kinetic narrative fueled by rich, high-octane prose.
You have taken on quite a challenge with this story. The protagonist is a paraplegic, which itself can be a difficult subject to read. And you’ve added plenty of details of what life with that disability can be like. Then you’ve made him a renegade who takes the law into his own hands. On top of that, you’ve heaped tons of humor on the dark moments. Given that, what made you write this book?
Aw, thanks. I wrote the kind of book I want to read. I can lose patience with a slow-moving plot or lack of character engagement very quickly. A story needs to grab me in the first sentence—it better be fresh and it’s gotta have a hook. I need a plot loaded with situations and dialogue I haven’t seen before. I want to care deeply about unique characters. I want to laugh, cry, and feel. When it came time to write my own book, it had to have all this and more.
Your prose was so vivid. Even in the middle of wild action, I could follow the moves no matter how out-of-control the choreography seemed. What’s your secret?
My secret? Never let the POV go fuzzy. Every sentence drives the POV road, even if it’s breaking the speed limit.
By George Ebey
Author Patricia Stoltey steps into the world of suspense fiction with her latest novel, DEAD WRONG.
Lynnette is a woman on the run from her abusive cop husband, but she’s dead wrong about who’s chasing her. A thug known as Fat Ass Sammy Grick carelessly switches laptop cases at the airport and puts Lynnette in greater danger from Sammy’s boss and the killer sent to retrieve the laptop contents. Then Lynnette finds out her husband was murdered and she’s a person of interest….
THE BIG THRILL recently caught up with Patricia to discuss the writing process and to learn more about the world of DEAD WRONG.
What first got you interested in writing crime fiction?
My mom introduced me to the traditional mystery novel when I ran out of Nancy Drew books to read, so I was hooked by the genre very early. Once I read a few thousand mysteries and thrillers, I began to wonder if I could craft one. I created Sylvia Thorn and Willie Grisseljon, a brother and sister in the over sixty crowd and let them help solve a couple of murders. Series are limiting, however, so trying out stand-alone suspense was my next challenge.
How did the idea for DEAD WRONG come to you?
I love to read “woman on the run” novels, so I started there. The criminals in DEAD WRONG are involved in a check theft ring. That idea came from a real-life experience many years ago when a large check was stolen from the company I worked for. In conversations with an FBI agent later, I learned about the check theft ring and how they managed to get a check cashed before most accounting departments discovered the check was missing. I have no idea where the foul-mouthed thug Fat Ass Sammy Grick came from, but I had a lot of fun writing from his point of view.
By Wendy Tyson
Shelley Coriell’s first novel in The Apostles series, The Broken, was published to terrific reviews and won Daphne du Maurier and Golden Pen Awards, among other honors. THE BURIED, Coriell’s second installment in the series, doesn’t disappoint. With riveting opening scenes, sharp storytelling and a complex plot, THE BURIED follows state prosecutor Grace Courtemanche and FBI crisis negotiator Theodore “Hatch” Hatcher as they race to find a merciless killer bent on revenge.
Coriell graciously agreed to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
What can you tell us about THE BURIED that is not on the back cover?
THE BURIED is a dark, twisty tale centered on old family skeletons and a serial killer who buries victims alive. The first draft of the story was so dark and the villain’s back story was so disturbing that I set aside the manuscript for two years.
When my publisher asked for the second Apostle book, I re-read THE BURIED and realized the story isn’t about victims being buried alive but about connections and disconnections with others, primarily family. With that in mind, I teamed my independent heroine, Grace, with a lovable but needy old blue tick hound, while my hero, Hatch, discovers he has a thirteen-year-old son who’s in trouble with the law. Both of these minor characters underscore the importance of “family” and provide a bit of light and lightness to balance out all the dark.
By Dawn Ius
Samurai detective Sano Ichiro is working his last—and most dangerous—case.
For the many fans of bestselling author Laura Joh Rowland, this is perhaps bittersweet. Because after more than twenty years and seventeen books, THE IRIS FAN marks the stunning conclusion to Rowland’s series of thrillers set in feudal Japan.
“[These characters] are like family, and saying goodbye to them is heart-wrenching,” Rowland says. “But I’m happy as well as sad, because I think it’s the right thing to do. In such a long series, the later books can never be as original and fresh as the first few. Some of the later books are better works of art and craft than the earlier ones, but my initial creative excitement has diminished over the years.”
That doesn’t mean readers aren’t in for a triumphant conclusion, though. In THE IRIS FAN, Sano Ichiro is restored to the rank of chief investigator to find the person responsible for stabbing a shogun with a fan made of painted silk and sharp-pointed iron ribs. If he fails, his family and his life are at risk.
“Sano and his long-time enemy, Yanagisawa, make a deal from hell,” Rowland says, admitting that this novel is one of her favorites in the series—not only because it’s the “end” but also because it’s a culmination of everything she’s learned about the craft of writing.
“When I wrote the first book (Shinju, published in 1994), I was still learning how to juggle the elements of fiction, and some basic things about the mystery genre slipped by me,” she says. “I forgot that a series needs, in addition to a detective, a cast of recurring characters. In subsequent books I gave Sano a boss, a sidekick, an enemy, a wife, and two kids, who all have important roles in the stories. One of the challenges of writing a series character is making him change and grow over time, like a real-life person. That happened to Sano, although I didn’t plan it out when I first created him.”
By Jeremy Burns
Jack Soren may be a new name to thriller readers, but he’s no stranger to the genre. A lifelong aficionado of the genre, Soren has finally thrown his hat into the ring with what looks to be a blockbuster debut. On the eve of THE MONARCH’s release, Soren sat down with THE BIG THRILL to give readers a sneak peak at a thriller master in the making.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Growing up, my favorite movies usually starred either Jerry Lewis or Vincent Price. This explains a lot. A LOT. My headboard was usually stocked with The Hardy Boys, Star Trek novels and comic books. And my head was usually full of science, bad jokes, and girls. Luckily, some of this has finally started to leak out.
Before becoming a thriller novelist, I wrote software manuals, waited tables, drove a cab, and spent six months as a really terrible private investigator.
I recently signed a multi-book deal with HarperCollins for my debut thriller series. The first book in the series, THE MONARCH, is due out December 2, 2014. The second book—Dead Lights—is scheduled to follow next summer.
I live in a Toronto area dungeon where my girlfriend tosses meat and beer over a curtain for every ten manuscript pages I manage to finish.
Tell us about your new book, THE MONARCH.
Imitation is the deadliest form of flattery …
I was surfing the Internet looking for ideas for my third book when I came across this sentence: “There are more slaves in the world today than at any other time in human history.” It was followed by a number: thirty million.
As a writer, I’ve learned to listen to the little voice that says pay attention to this. Even though my books are set in Nashville and seemed far away from the things I reading about, I knew there was something here I needed to explore.
The number was an estimate, for obvious reasons. Modern-day slavery takes place in the shadows, with many of its victims unaccounted for in any census. But other experts and law enforcement agencies reported similar numbers, and a detailed document published by the International Labor Organization in 2005 reported ten million slaves in Asia alone. A UN report released in 2004 showed 700,000 children forced into domestic labor in Indonesia, more than half a million in Brazil and more than a quarter of a million in Haiti and in Pakistan. In Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Benjamin Skinner, the author of A Crime So Monstrous, was offered a ten-year-old girl for fifty dollars.
Human trafficking is not only a third-world problem. Victims of both sexual and domestic servitude have been discovered throughout the United States, with high-profile cases in Florida, California, New York, and even sleepy New England. Nashville isn’t immune. A report released by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation revealed that trafficking cases have been identified in almost every county in the state. Nashville, with its convergence of three major interstates, is a hub for all manner of trafficking—drugs, guns, and humans.
By J. H. Bográn
In DRESSED TO KILL, Victor Espinoza, a short, youthful LAPD patrol officer, is sent undercover as a cross-dresser to catch a serial killer. His ambition to become a detective gets snarled when, ignoring his captain’s orders, he goes it alone. He establishes himself at the Velvet Glove, a Hollywood bar that caters to transvestites. The secret nature of his assignment strains his relationship with his girlfriend, Jannine—who wants to marry and start a family—but also puts him hot on the trail of the killer. Victor gets a little too close and now is targeted as the next victim.
THE BIG THRILL recently caught up with Alvarez to ask some questions about his intriguing new thriller.
Let’s tackle the origins of the story first, shall we?
Let me give you a few words of background. Here in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles LAPD sent an undercover police officer into a high school to glean information about a drug operation rooted there. He was a very youthful looking man who passed as a student. That news piece was followed by an experience my wife and I had in Chicago.
My brothers and sisters (I have eight of them) and their spouses were attending the wedding of my nephew and we all stayed at a major hotel near O’Hare Airport. We noticed that there were a significant number of very big women also staying there. Turns out the Cross-dressers of America were holding their annual convention there. My younger brother whose fuse is very short got into an argument with a couple cross-dressers at the bar.
Several years later I read of the murder of a cross-dresser here in the Valley and everything clicked. The story almost wrote itself. I just added in the bar scene for dramatic binding of the novel’s topic.
Jack Ferrell, William Nikkel’s swashbuckling marine biologist, returns in BLOOD GOLD, his fifth adventure, which takes him to South America to investigate the source of lethal toxins in the Mazaruni River.
In this outing, Ferrell, who’s won fans including bestselling authors James Rollins and Thomas Perry, must battle not just an ecological crisis but also a trio of villains driven by greed and uninhibited by compassion.
As the author notes, Jack has a way of being at the wrong place at the right time. This tale starts as he’s investigating a strange increase in shark attacks. An assault on a beautiful woman makes a more immediate demand on Jack’s attention, and he’s soon embroiled in an ecological mystery that points to a quest for gold in the Guyanese jungle that could cost lives and devastate the rainforest.
Nikkel, a former police officer, joined THE BIG THRILL for a few questions about his latest book, his hero and the inspiration for the story.
Your hero in BLOOD GOLD is part of a team facing a major ecological crisis. Was there a particular real life incident that inspired the tale?
There was no real-life incident involving a research team, at least that I know of, but the ecological crisis in South America is quite real. The high price of gold has brought about a modern-day gold rush in the South American rainforests that has caused the large-scale destruction of a vital ecological resource to the entire world. Along with logging, vast expanses of the rainforest are disappearing every day from large-scale mining operations that clear away trees and topsoil to get to the gold-bearing gravels. In addition, there have been documented cases of mercury and cyanide runoff from the open-pit mining operations polluting the waterways and killing off aquatic life.
By Cathy Clamp
“We find the defendant not guilty,” is an instant attention grabber for the opening line of a new thriller series. But there’s more. While Miranda Vaughn might have walked out of the courtroom a free woman, suspicion still hangs over her head. Losing her job at the prestigious investment firm where she worked was only the beginning of her problems. The trial, for a fraud scheme involving her supervisors, also cast a cloud of suspicion over her reputation and sent the fiancé she thought would stand by her out the door.
Ellie Ashe’s debut amateur sleuth/romantic suspense novel CHASING THE DOLLAR has plenty of thrilling moments. Miranda and her cast of quirky family and friends will instantly endear themselves to readers. New York Times author Gemma Halliday gives high marks to the book as being “high stakes, high energy and a highly humorous good time.”
Ashe, a former journalist and lawyer from northern California spins an excellent tale of an intelligent and determined woman pushed too far. With her life in shambles, it’s no surprise that the jury verdict isn’t enough for Miranda. Who could move forward with their life with the knowledge that someone set them up to take the fall?