Mussolini, Churchill, and the Vatican
Blend in New Cotton Malone Thriller
By R. G. Belsky
Benito Mussolini. Winston Churchill. And a present-day Vatican conclave to elect a new pope. These are the unlikely plot elements that Steve Berry masterfully blends together in THE MALTA EXCHANGE—his 14th in the bestselling Cotton Malone thriller series.
It starts out with Malone on the trail of legendary letters between Mussolini and Churchill that disappeared in 1945. But that quickly turns into a search for a lost document from the fourth century, involving Constantine the Great, that could determine the election of the next pope.
And—like all of Berry’s Cotton Malone novels—the fiction in THE MALTA EXCHANGE is very much inspired by real history.
“The niche I’ve carved for myself,” Berry says, “is that 90 percent of what I put in a story is historically accurate. The fiction part comes from how I put those elements together.”
In the hunt for the mysterious fourth century document, former Justice Department operative Cotton Malone—along with younger agent Luke Daniels—must deal with a rogue cardinal who will go to any lengths to obtain what he believes can make him pope: the Secreti—an ancient sect (which is real) intent on affecting the coming papal conclave; and the legendary Knights of Malta, a group of warrior-monks who have existed for more than 900 years. Berry says his idea for the plot of THE MALTA EXCHANGE began with the Constantine the Great document and what secrets it might reveal about the origins of the Catholic Church.
Brad Parks Takes the Stage
As an actor, Tommy Jump never gets onstage without learning his lines. But that’s a way of working that would be completely foreign to Tommy’s creator, Brad Parks. Parks’s riveting new thriller THE LAST ACT was born from the author’s willingness to jump into a project and see what happens—even if, as he freely admits, he has to embrace failure along the way.
“About midway through 2017, I was writing a completely different novel, and it just wasn’t working,” he says. “Suddenly I had to flush 60,000 words, which was brutal. This was not, ‘Let me salvage this idea.’ The idea was just no damn good.”
Some writers might push on in denial. Others might curl up beneath their desks and wallow. Parks did neither. Instead, he did what he does best: he got back to work.
“I had to fall back on an idea that had been kicking around for a while,” he says. “Then it was trying to find the pieces to fit that idea.”
When the pieces did come together, the result was THE LAST ACT, which has Parks’s signature blend of high-stakes suspense and emotional resonance. It’s the story of Tommy Jump, a stage actor struggling to land his next role. “He is obviously not a prototypical thriller character,” says Parks. “I love that.”
Nothing as it Seems in
Dark and Racy new Thriller
Cape Town author Peter Church’s debut Dark Video was released in 2008 and he was acclaimed as the best new mystery writer in a long while. His writing has been called “dark and racy,” and that sums it up pretty well. His new book CRACKERJACK, released this month in South Africa and the US, is a page turner in the same mold.
Daniel Le Fleur is a reformed hacker and very successful day trader. Against his better judgement, he’s sucked into the search for a missing businessman, who has disappeared taking his company’s money with him, by an attractive executive of the company, Carla.
What seems like an easy assignment leads to a fight for their lives. Was the man murdered and his body thrown into the sea, was he kidnapped, or has he fled to South America with the shareholders’ money?
All is not as it seems. In fact, nothing is as it seems.
With a background in IT and a successful career in the industry, Church brings his knowledge to bear in his thrillers. He has quite a different take on Cape Town.
Abandoned by his part-Cherokee Ma, Charlie Kincaid escapes servitude with his uncle. He jumps a boxcar, accompanied by his schoolmate, Roxy, who is escaping troubles of her own. Charlie becomes a US Navy diver.
Mattie Blanc is from a genteel New Zealand family. But when her brother’s friend persuades her to take a ride, it all goes horribly wrong. Desperate, she flees her family’s stifling expectations for a new life in Auckland.
After the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, Charlie sets sail for Auckland aboard the USS Rigel. And there she is, the girl of his dreams. Mattie is everything that Roxy isn’t—sophisticated, tender, and patient. But the war intervenes… Rigel embarks for the Pacific war zones.
Charlie’s letters are sporadic. Mattie is tormented by doubts; did he truly love her, or was it only a dream?
Author L. M. Hedrick answered a few questions for The Big Thrill about her new military and historical thriller, THE RIGEL AFFAIR:
Student Alistair Minton is missing, and his parents want Sam Dyke to find him. He does … but then learns that the reason Alistair went missing goes back to when he was five years old, to an event that his parents, Carol and Giles, have been hiding both from others and from themselves.
Dyke uncovers two murders separated by 15 years but connected by the same moral blindness and willingness to lie and act as though the ends always justify the means.
Writing in the spirit of Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, THE LONELY GRAVE examines how damaged families can perpetuate the hurt and the shame experienced by one generation into the next, with results that are damaging to all.
Keith Dixon is a two-time first-place winner, private eye/noir category, in Chanticleer Reviews’ CLUE Awards for crime writing.
Dixon had a chance to meet with The Big Thrill and discuss the ninth installment of the Sam Dyke Investigations series, THE LONELY GRAVE:
John Lee is the Extractor, an ex-US Air Force Pararescueman trained to retrieve personnel from behind enemy lines, in the most inhospitable environments on earth. Now running his own “extraction” business, his team is hired by the Russian government to locate Yuri Yushenkov, one of the country’s top nuclear scientists, who is believed to have been kidnapped by the Russian Mafia.
It is believed that the scientist is being held in a secret camp somewhere in northern Siberia, in the death zone within the Arctic Circle—and John therefore sets off into the icy wastes, supported by his loyal team. He must fight against temperatures that drop to -50F, calving ice glaciers, blinding blizzards, and avalanches, as well as ferocious polar bears.
And as he faces the appalling conditions, John knows that even if he does manage to locate and rescue Yushenkov, he will have to escape back across the dangers of the Arctic once more—this time with an untrained civilian to look after, as the Russian Mafia pursue them all the way back to Moscow in order to exact their savage revenge.
Bestselling author J. T. Brannan discussed the third installment of his John Lee series, THE EXTRACTOR – MISSION: ARCTIC, with The Big Thrill:
The Knights Templar,
the Ark of the Covenant,
and Vikings—Oh My!
By J. H. Bográn
Bestselling author Heather Graham returns to her New York Confidential series with A LETHAL LEGACY—a thriller that involves a modern murder and a cocktail of historic mysteries ranging from the Knights Templar to the Ark of the Covenant and the Vikings in America, with a twist of alien conspiracy.
Special Agent Craig Frasier agrees to help his cousin Finn Douglas by investigating the death of a friend in Douglas Island, off the coast of New York State. The island comes with a reputation for bad luck and curses, yet Finn doesn´t accept his friend´s fate as an accident.
Along for the ride is psychologist Kieran Finnegan.
As the duo delve into the history of the Douglas estate, they discover that the property comes complete with strange lore and a blood-soaked past—something evil seems to be lurking in the caverns that run beneath the stony ground. Kieran and Craig take on a dangerous search for the truth, where one false step could send them plummeting to their deaths, and one wrong turn could bring them face-to-face with a killer.
Police investigate. Suspicions swirl. A teenage boy admits he was outside her bedroom window the night she disappeared. A halfway house for convicts recently opened in the neighborhood. The Lane family is thrown into turmoil, then detectives turn their sights on them.
No one is ruled out. Not Karen, with her tragic past, who argued with her daughter. Not Ryan, with his violent streak. Not Maddie’s 13-year-old brother, Tyler, who heard voices in her room the night she vanished.
Days, weeks, months, then agonizing years go by without answers, the Lanes fearing that Maddie is gone forever…until a stunning twist shocks everyone, plunging the family deeper into a world of buried secrets whose revelations threaten the very foundation of their lives.
The Big Thrill caught up with award-winning author Rick Mofina to discuss his latest thriller, MISSING DAUGHTER:
Truman Capote’s bestselling book In Cold Blood has captivated worldwide audiences for more than 50 years. It’s a gripping story about the consequences of a trivial robbery gone terribly wrong in a remote village of western Kansas.
But what if robbery was not the motive at all, but something more sinister? And why would the Kansas Bureau of Investigation press the Attorney General to launch a ruthless four-year legal battle to prevent fresh details of the state’s most famous crime from being made public, so many years after the case had been solved?
Based on stunning new details discovered in the personal journals and archives of former KBI Director Harold Nye—and corroborated by letters written by Richard Hickock, one of the killers on Death Row—AND EVERY WORD IS TRUE meticulously lays out a vivid and startling new view of the investigation, one that will keep readers on the edge of their seats as they pick up where Capote left off. Even readers new to the story will find themselves drawn into a spellbinding forensic investigation that reads like a thriller, adding new perspectives to the classic tale of an iconic American crime.
Sixty years after news of the 1959 Clutter murders took the world stage, AND EVERY WORD IS TRUE pulls back the curtain for a suspenseful encore to the true story of In Cold Blood.
Divorce lawyer Leigh Huyett knows all too well that most second marriages are doomed to fail. But five years in, she and Pete Conley have a perfectly blended family. To celebrate their anniversary, they grab some precious moments of alone time and leave Pete’s son Kip, a high school senior, in charge of Leigh’s 14-year-old daughter Chrissy at their home.
Driving back on a rainy Friday night, their cell phones start ringing. After a raucous party celebrating his college acceptance to Duke and his upcoming birthday, Kip was arrested for drunk driving after his truck crashed into a tree. And he wasn’t alone—Chrissy was with him.
Twelve hours later, Chrissy is dead and Kip is charged with manslaughter.
Kip has always been a notorious troublemaker, but he’s also a star student with a dazzling future ahead of him. At first, Leigh does her best to rally behind Pete and help Kip through his ordeal. Until he changes his story, and claims that he wasn’t driving after all—Chrissy was, and he swears there is a witness.
Leigh is stunned that he would lie about such a thing, while Pete clutches onto the story as the last, best hope to save his son, throwing his energy and money into finding this elusive witness. As they hurtle toward Kip’s trial date, husband and wife are torn between loyalty to their children and to each other, while the mystery of what really happened that night intensifies.
Former trial lawyer-turned-author Bonnie Kistler took a break from writing to speak with The Big Thrill about her latest book, HOUSE ON FIRE:
The subsequent police inquiry exposes corruption, lies, and organized crime within the tight-knit community—and Kay’s determination to seek justice for the young murder victim could ruin the reputations of men who will do anything to protect their business interests.
But as Kay closes in on the killer, tragedy strikes closer to home in an event that will send a shockwave through her personal life and make her question everything she values.
Can Kay keep her private and professional life under control while she tries to unravel one of the strangest murder cases of her career?
The Big Thrill caught up with Rachel Amphlett to discuss the creation of her seventh book in her Kay Hunter British detective murder mystery series, BRIDGE TO BURN:
Aymar Tackles Tough Topics
in New Crime Novel
By Wendy Tyson
E. A. Aymar’s newest crime novel, THE UNREPENTANT, features Charlotte Reyes, a teenage runaway forced into a life of sexual slavery. Charlotte escapes her captors, but, relentlessly pursued, she knows her freedom is short-lived unless she can beat her enemies at their own game. With the reluctant help of former soldier Mace Peterson, who is battling his own demons, Charlotte fights back.
Publishers Weekly calls THE UNREPENTANT “a gut-wrenching crime thriller” and notes that “readers who appreciate depth of character alongside gritty nonstop action will be rewarded.” Indeed, with its skillful plotting, intriguing characters, and sharp humor, THE UNREPENTANT is a book about modern-day horrors and modern-day heroes that will stay with you long after the final page.
Given some of its subject matter, THE UNREPENTANT wasn’t an easy book to write, but Aymar began with a clear vision of the characters he wanted to create.
“Most of my writing has dealt with damaged women; at least, those were the characters readers enjoyed most when they talked with me about my books (Diane in I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, the twins in You’re as Good as Dead, Callie in my short story in The Night of the Flood),” he says. “I began to look a little deeper into why that was and, at the same time, I wanted to create a female character who fought back, particularly in a societal view where women have been mistreated. Charlotte Reyes emerged from that, and she brought the rest of the story with her.”
Twenty-three-year-old Walter MacGregor (aka Wallie) craves adventure, her desires whetted by Sherlock Holmes tales. Her prayers are answered when her father’s rum-running brother Rory lands on the MacGregors’ doorstep, fleeing from enraged bootleggers. In quiet Gunmetal, Texas, during Prohibition, Rory’s tales of adventure charm Wallie, but appall her father, a respected judge.
When a freak accident horrifies the small town, Wallie believes she sees a crime scene that shows evidence of foul play. In short, it’s murder. Annoyed that no one agrees with her—including the sheriff and her dad—she sets out to prove her theory. Soon she is knee-deep in flappers and floozies, Chicago thugs sent south by Al Capone, and a crime lord in the sinful port city of Galveston. Her prim aunt wants her to pay more attention to her eligible suitors. Can Wallie stay alive long enough to figure out which one is her true love?
The Big Thrill caught up with author Kay Kendall to discuss the latest installment of the Austin Starr mystery series, AFTER YOU’VE GONE:
Twisted Plots, Twisted Characters:
The Ground Opens Up
By Neil Nyren
“This is what living with Millicent has always been like. Life goes along like it’s supposed to…And then suddenly the ground opens up into a chasm wide enough to swallow everything.”
This is the story of an extraordinary woman—and of the three women behind her: an author who wrote 12 books in 20 years and never submitted any of them; an assistant editor just seven months on the job; and an agent willing to take a chance on the editor and give her an exclusive. The ground opened up for all of them, in a good way.
MY LOVELY WIFE begins one night when a deaf man named Tobias, an accountant, picks up a woman named Petra at a bar, goes to her place, and sleeps with her. Then he goes home to his wife, Millicent, who says, “Well?” He replies, “No, she isn’t right.”
His name is not Tobias, he is not an accountant, he’s not deaf. He and Millicent are looking for someone to murder. They’ve done it before. It excites her. It excites him that it excites her. And they have a plan.
“If we do this right,” she says, “the police will never even think to look for a couple. We’ll be free to do whatever we want.”
But they’re keeping secrets from one another. Small lies that have built to big lies. The question, really, is not if something will crack open, but when, and what comes after. And when it does happen…it’s in a way neither of them would ever have guessed.
They’re not the only ones keeping secrets. Not by a long shot.
When Ella Tate stumbles into Black Rock Falls, her exhausted and bloodied body is a terrifying sight, but not as frightening as the story she has to tell. Ambushed on their way into town when they stopped to help a man by the side of the road, Ella and her friend, Sky, ran when he pulled a knife on them. But only one of them got away.
As Detective Jenna Alton investigates the case, she looks into the history of missing persons in the town, and uncovers more cases—all young people. All stopped on the same stretch of road into town. All vanished without a trace.
When a distinctive pink sweater belonging to Sky turns up in Black Rock Falls, Jenna follows the trail to a derelict building on the outskirts of town. But she isn’t prepared for what lies behind those doors. Can she stop the killer before more lives are lost?
USA Today bestselling author D. H. Hood spoke with The Big Thrill about her latest thriller, WHERE ANGELS FEAR:
Marriage, Murder, and Plenty of Questions at Heart of Thrilling Debut
By Dawn Ius
Harriet Tyce knew she wanted to create a character who was fully human—not only with good and bad aspects, but also a transgressive nature that wouldn’t be punished in a way that so many women are in psychological thrillers.
She succeeds with Alison Wood, the decidedly unlikeable protagonist in her chilling debut BLOOD ORANGE, a domestic thriller that twists and turns down a dark rabbit hole of suspense toward an explosive ending that will stick with readers long after they turn the page.
On the surface, Alison has a perfect life—a doting husband, a precocious young daughter, and a thriving career as a London barrister who has just landed her first murder case. But it’s evident within the first few pages that Alison’s perfection is only a mirage—she’s an alcoholic who is both unfaithful to her husband, and negligent to her beautiful daughter.
She knows what she’s doing is wrong—she just can’t stop.
The Making of a Mystery Writer
By Dawn Ius
The first novel Eileen Cook ever wrote was a mystery—a book inspired by her love of the genre, but unfortunately one that will never see the light of day.
The manuscript was rejected numerous times, with one agent including this soul-crushing note: “For your edification, the purpose of a mystery is to not know who done it in the first chapter.”
“I have to hand it to the agent for both using ‘edification’ in a sentence, and being bold enough to tell me what I needed to hear,” Cook says.
Ultimately, the message Cook received was that she didn’t have the chops to write a mystery—yet. While some authors may have traded in their typewriters, Cook didn’t give up. Instead, she turned her skills to contemporaries, writing—and publishing—eight young adult novels and a middle grade before the allure of the mystery once again became too strong to deny.
The Resurgence of
By Dawn Ius
A locked door. A sealed room. A deserted island. These are some of the popular confinements in sleight-of-hand mysteries, a puzzle-box subgenre of thrillers made famous back in 1841 with Edgar Allan Poe’s classic short story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”
No question the height of the locked-room mystery came during the reign of the Golden Age of Detection, with everyone from Agatha Christie to John Dickson Carr dabbling in the “impossible crime”—but after a decade or so of psychological thrillers and unreliable narrators dominating the genre, the locked-room mystery appears to be making a comeback.
In the last year alone, we’ve seen books by debut authors and bestselling favorites raise the thriller ante by confining a group of potential victims and a psychopath in isolation with a ticking time bomb. Think New York Times bestselling author Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers, which takes place in a remote health spa setting, or Shari Lapena’s An Unwanted Guest and Taylor Adams’s chilling No Exit, both making use of Mother Nature to confine their cast of characters to a single locale—a snowbound mountain lodge, a highway rest stop.
By P. J. Bodnar
Arliss Cutter is a man of action—so when his sister-in-law suffers a tragic loss, Arliss doesn’t hesitate and moves to Alaska to help. A Deputy US Marshal, Arliss is called to a remote island off the Alaskan Coast to look for a missing girl. But when others go missing, Arliss must use all his skills to find the missing—and bring the suspects to justice.
OPEN CARRY is the first book in a new series from bestselling author Marc Cameron. His other work includes the popular Jericho Quinn series and the Jack Ryan books in the Tom Clancy franchise.
Cameron is a retired Deputy Chief US Marshal with more than 20 years’ experience hunting people. He took some time out of his busy schedule to sit down with The Big Thrill and talk about his new thriller, OPEN CARRY.
Cutter pushes the limits at times but has a strong moral compass. How does he balance this?
Arliss Cutter will always err on the side of action. He rarely smiles so it seems like he has a bad temper, but that’s not it at all. He’s a big, imposing guy who believes wholeheartedly in the law, but he also has a strong view of right behavior. He doesn’t have to decide what to do in the heat of the moment. That decision has already been made. Cutter will suffer virtually any insult against himself personally, but he will not allow another to be bullied. There is a line he will not allow others to cross. Ever. No matter the consequences. He’s the type to put himself in the middle of a confrontation.
As the plot of OPEN CARRY unfolds, we see there is a moment in Cutter’s past that changed him profoundly. He feels extreme guilt for a time he feels he should have acted, but didn’t.
By George Ebey
This month, E. V. Lind brings us her new domestic thriller, ONLY WHEN I SLEEP. It’s the first of a planned trilogy from the pseudonymous author, who has penned more than 40 titles—including several USA Today bestsellers—under another name.
Discovering she’s pregnant gives Beth Campbell the impetus to break free of Detective Dan Henderson’s narcissistic and brutal control, but Dan won’t let go easily. Terrified, she runs for her life, but is her refuge even more dangerous? When Beth finds the diaries of a woman who’s been missing since 1942, the ghosts of the past are unleashed on her present with menacing fury.
Meanwhile, forced to assimilate back into “normal” life in Riverbend, Oregon, war-weary veteran Ryan Jones is laden with survivor’s guilt. Which is why he’s pissed when he ends up with a secretive, vulnerable housesitter he’d be a fool to trust. His plans for a quiet life are shattered by Beth, the undead, and her homicidal ex, and Ryan is thrust back into a protector role to save them both. Hunted in the present, haunted by the past—they must learn to trust each other to survive.
The Big Thrill recently checked in with Lind to learn more about her new thriller.
Tell us about your main character, Beth Campbell. What has her journey been like up until now?
Beth Campbell’s life had few complications until the death of her parents in a road accident. Grief-stricken, she gave up finishing her studies and returned home, and since that time she has cleared her parents’ debts and continued to live simply in the family home while working in a local diner. Broken in spirit and directionless, she was ripe pickings for narcissistic detective Dan Henderson, who carefully groomed her before beginning to control everything she did, said, wore, or thought. Only when she discovered she was pregnant did she find the courage to break free of Dan’s growing violent control of her.
Can you imagine how a mother would feel if her only daughter went missing? How she would feel, six years later, if the child still hadn’t been found? Author Marlene Adelstein took on these questions in her debut thriller, SOPHIE LAST SEEN.
Jesse Albright is a grief-stricken, self-destructive mess. Her daughter, Sophie would be 16 now, and Jesse haunts the mall where Sophie disappeared—where for only a minute or two—she took her eyes off her daughter. The guilt is unbearable. Every scrap of discarded paper or bit of rock seems to carry a clue as to where Sophie is, to the point that she hoards trash by the boxful. Her marriage has fallen apart, but she won’t give up on her daughter.
Sophie’s best friend, Star Silverman, begins work at her father’s bookstore, where Jesse also works, and an uncomfortable alliance begins. Sophie’s disappearance haunts Star as well, and she hides her own secrets that may hold the key to Sophie’s whereabouts. Tension builds to a boiling point as these two wounded souls come together to discover the truth.
New York Times bestselling author Beth Hoffman says SOPHIE LAST SEEN is “a gripping tale of heartbreak and eternal hope.” USA Today bestselling author Alison Gaylin calls it “unique, mysterious, and thoroughly absorbing.”
The Big Thrill caught up with Adelstein to learn more about her engrossing story.
Writing a trilogy is a massive undertaking for any author, but few can claim the era-spanning commitment Diana Rodriguez Wallach has made to her Anastasia Phoenix series. While the trilogy’s publication history spans just two years—it kicked off in March 2017 with Proof of Lies, continued the following year with Lies that Bind, and concludes this month with END OF THE LIE—Rodriguez Wallach has been hammering away at the story in some form or other since her junior year of high school, when the idea for the YA spy thriller was sparked by the true account of a Boston University professor who was once an Eastern European spy and propagandist.
The series, about a teenage girl who must reevaluate everything she’s ever known about her family when her older sister goes missing, went through countless revisions over the years as Rodriguez Wallach started a family, racked up multiple publishing credits, and began teaching creative writing at Johns Hopkins University. Her work, which includes the YA contemporaries Amor and Summer Secrets and Amigas and School Scandals, has earned accolades from Paste Magazine and Bustle; in 2018, Proof of Lies was shortlisted for ITW’s Best Young Adult Novel award.
The Big Thrill caught up with Rodriguez Wallach for a spoiler-free chat about Anastasia Phoenix, Nancy Drew, and wrapping up her most ambitious project to date.
At the local ER, a battered and bruised teenage girl has been brought in by a mysterious man who claimed she’d fallen out of a car. The staff is suspicious, but while they attend to the teenager, the unidentified man slips out. Then the girl dies, but not before informing social worker Hildy Schneider that the man has her little sister as well.
Mattie’s exam reveals forensic evidence of long-term IV drug use and physical abuse, findings consistent with Hildy’s suspicion that the girl was a victim of human trafficking. They are able to confirm her identity as a teen who went missing six months ago, along with her sister—facts that are deeply unsettling to Mattie, who now shares a home with her husband’s teenage daughter.
Working closely with Hildy and Sorenson homicide detectives, including her husband Steve Hurley, Mattie delves into a dark underworld to stop the ruthless trafficking of human lives—before it’s too late for another young girl…
Here, bestselling author Annelise Ryan spends some time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest mystery, DEAD OF WINTER:
A lighthearted morning trip to test a new drone turns deadly for attorney Alexa Williams and two close friends when they find a stranger’s bullet-riddled body in a remote field in rural Pennsylvania. Next to the dead man is a note that declares: Allahu Akbar.
Trying to shake the gruesome discovery, Alexa returns to her busy law practice and personal life. She’s representing a Syrian refugee family whose son has been bullied at school.
Old love Reese Michaels is back from Africa and living in nearby Harpers Ferry. He and Alexa are tiptoeing through a delicate dance as they rekindle the spark between them. Alexa is also taking Krav Maga classes at a local studio for self-protection. The studio owner, the widow of a soldier killed in the Iraq War, is fast becoming a friend. If that’s not enough, Alexa’s parents are pulling her into a flurry of social commitments as they host an International Fellow at the US Army War College, an Iraqi general, and his colleague, a decorated American colonel.
When another man is found executed near Harpers Ferry, Reese becomes a suspect and Alexa wonders just how much he’s changed since working in Africa. After a third murder, an improbable fear of Islamic terrorism spreads like wildfire through Alexa’s small Pennsylvania town. When the police arrest the oldest son of the refugee family for the murders, her Syrian clients become the focus of mounting anti-Muslim rage, and a dangerous militia group targets Alexa.
One dark night in the dead of winter, Alexa discovers how all these threads intersect, and she must race to stop an attack that could kill hundreds. If she fails, she could lose everyone she loves.
The Big Thrill spent some time with award-winning author Sherry Knowlton to discuss the latest installment in the Alexa Williams series, DEAD OF WINTER:
By Tim O’Mara
So, Quentin Tarantino and Patricia Highsmith walk into a bar. They hit it off, play a little pool, some darts are tossed, they argue over the best rock-and-roll song to play while killing an innocent victim. After one too many drinks, they decide they should write a crime novel together.
The result would be something along the lines of Paul Heatley’s GUILLOTINE, out now from Down & Out Books/All Due Respect.
When gangster Big Bobby Joe’s pregnant daughter Lou-Lou runs off with her boyfriend, Big Bobby pulls out all the stops to get her home and make her boyfriend dead. His first choice for the job is Mikey, known in the murder-for-hire profession as “Guillotine.” When Mikey turns the job down, an underling of Bobby Joe’s picks it up successfully, but makes the huge mistake of using the signature move that gave Mikey his moniker.
Heatley lives in northeast England, but sets his story somewhere in the American South. I asked him why and wondered if he thought there was a difference between American crime fiction and British crime fiction.
“I do write British stuff as well,” Heatley explained, “primarily set in the northeast of England—Newcastle and Northumberland, etc.—but my tastes in reading (and viewing for that matter) are very much American. It’s what I enjoy and that bleeds over into my own work when I set out planning and writing. When I start a new project I give it a little thought first: is this British or American? I go with whichever setting will work best for the story.”
Writing historical stories without falling into cliché takes a bucketload of skill. Tom Lowe demonstrates that dexterity in his latest thriller, DRAGONFLY.
The ninth book in the Sean O’Brien series finds the former Miami homicide cop matching wits with an assassin who’s killing off retired CIA agents. When the killer sets his sights on one of Sean’s closest friends, Sean lands himself squarely in the middle of a deadly plot that stretches across borders—and into the past.
The Big Thrill caught up with Lowe to talk about the challenges of weaving together fact and fiction, the demands of juggling three ongoing series, and the benefits of giving his longest-running character an unconventional sidekick.
Interweaving real events and characters with a fictional story risks ending up with a finished product that’s unconvincing. (I call it the “Oh dear, I see the Titanic’s sunk” effect.) How do you guard against that?
By its very nature, historical fiction is an oxymoron. History, especially well-known history, is set in stone. That doesn’t mean the ripples from it can’t be fictionalized in the novel form. Historical events can provide exceptional leverage for the writer to use as background to base a story. I believe authors have a creative license to whisper, “What if?” and then follow the wellspring of their imagination as it flows from an event in history that will give the story added credence. That, of course, can be a double-edge sword. The creative liberty can’t cross the line and paint history with brushstrokes that will alter it. But the author can work along the seams and create characters and events that possibly could have had a connection to the background of that specific point in history. For example, my novel The Jefferson Prophecy deals with Thomas Jefferson before he was president and then from when he authorized the nation to go to war against the Barbary pirates. I knew I couldn’t change any event involving Jefferson in terms of what he did or didn’t do, as it was documented in history. However, I knew that Jefferson was a gifted cryptographer, a man who’d invented the cipher-wheel used for decades after his death to send and receive covert messages. That’s where I whispered, “What if?” and let the story begin.
Welcome to the cool side of the 1950s, where the fast cars and revved-up movie monsters peel out in the night. Where outlaw vixens and jukebox tramps square off with razorblades and lead pipes. Where rockers rock, cool cats strut, and hot rods roar. Where you howl to the moon as the tiki drums pound and the electric guitar shrieks and that spit-and-holler jamboree ain’t gonna stop for a long, long time . . . maybe never.
This is the ’50s where ghost shows still travel the back roads of the South, and rockabilly has a hold on the nation’s youth; where lucky hearts tell the tale, and maybe that fella in the Shriners’ fez ain’t so square after all. Where noir detectives of the supernatural, tattoo artists of another kind, Hollywood fix-it men, and a punk kid with grasshopper arms under his chain-studded jacket and an icy stare on his face all exist.
This is the ’50s of POP THE CLUTCH: THRILLING TALES OF ROCKABILLY, MONSTERS, AND HOT ROD HORROR. This is your ticket to the dark side of American kitsch . . . the fun and frightful side!
The Big Thrill caught up to Eric J. Guignard to discuss this intriguing new anthology:
Marc Blanchard’s short, ill-fated marriage and the death of Nikki Alvarez’s fiancé sent them both to very dark places, causing them to close their hearts to future love of any kind, the risk of devastation more than they were willing to face.
But Fate likes to play tricks on people, like bringing these two badly wounded souls together at their most vulnerable and showing them the possibility of a future.
A romantic getaway is supposed to help them find the answers…until they stumble onto a plot of a major terrorist attack. Before they can contemplate a future together, they have to save their own lives—and those of several thousand others.
Desiree Holt is a USA Today bestseller and multi-award winning author, and she took some time to speak with The Big Thrill about her latest Strike Force novel, ADVANCE TO THE REAR:
After spending some time in prison, Leon returns home to Portland—and all his old tricks. He attempts to move in on a sports book operation to make some money, but when Leon’s goddaughter goes missing, he takes matters into his own hands to get her back—and will use any means he can.
Author Lono Waiwaiole might be the only half-Hawaiian writer of noir crime fiction in the world. In his fifth book, LIZZIE’S LULLABY, Waiwaiole gives a glimpse into the past of his characters, Wiley and Leon, from his successful Wiley series.
Writing full-time from his adopted home of Portland, Waiwaiole took a few moments out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for The Big Thrill.
In LIZZIE’S LULLABY, good attempts to conquer evil. Is it possible to combat evil without lowering yourself to that level, or is it better to have someone willing to get a little dirty?
Very interesting question, but not one these characters would ever ask. I don’t think they think in terms of good or evil. Wiley and Leon don’t appear to have anything against “evil” in general; they only spring into action against the villains when they are under attack. In that mode, they don’t really have a filter on what they’ll do in response—this is determined wholly by what works and doesn’t work, and they are fine with wherever that takes them. So in the context of Lizzie’s abduction, this means they will do literally whatever it takes to get her back safely, and would not consider whatever was required “dirty” in any way. Yes, Wiley is fortunate to have someone like Leon around, but not because Leon is willing to do more—it’s because Leon is capable of doing more than Wiley can. He has more tools in his toolbox for this kind of work than Wiley has.
Hipsters are getting slashed to pieces in the hippest neighborhood in New York City: Williamsburg, Brooklyn. As fear and tension rise in the summer heat, police detectives Petrosino and Massoud eye local gangbangers for the crimes.
Meanwhile, slacker reporter Tony Moran and his ex-girlfriend Magaly Fernandez, pursue a cold case involving an old woman who mysteriously disappeared a year before. But the closer they all get to the truth, the closer they get to losing their heads.
Filled with a broad cast of local characters and told with sardonic wit, this fast-moving, intricately plotted story plays out against a backdrop of rapid gentrification, skyrocketing rents, and class tension, written like only a true native could.
Award-winning author Richie Narvaez took some time to discuss his debut novel HIPSTER DEATH RATTLE with The Big Thrill:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I hope they have an enjoyable experience and maybe end up thinking about serious issues like gentrification and/or they get up and go to the fridge for a beer, chuckle and say, “Hey, that wasn’t too bad.”
How does this book make a contribution to the genre?
HIPSTER DEATH RATTLE plays with familiar tropes but adds a widely diverse cast of characters not usually present in crime fiction. Also, now there will be a deluge of books with “hipster” in the title, such as Gone Hipster, The Hipster with a Dragon Tattoo, and Hipster on the Train.
Was there anything new you discovered, or that surprised you, as you wrote this book?
How supportive my friends are of my writing. I thought it was an incredibly selfish imposition to ask them to beta read my drafts, and I was shy about it, but some of them were asking me if they could help me out. It was very touching, and I owe a lot of drinks.
No spoilers, but what can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?
That there is a reference to an episode of the Rod Serling TV show Night Gallery that is spot on metaphorically.
What authors or books have influenced your career as a writer, and why?
When I was writing this, I have to say Philip Kerr, whose Bernie Gunther novels I absolutely love. The way Kerr develops character and place is inspirational. He passed away last year, and it’s a great loss that we won’t have any new Bernie Gunther books. I got to meet Kerr once, by the way, and he was thoroughly unimpressed with me.
Richie Narvaez was born and raised in Brooklyn. His work has been published in Latin@ Rising: An Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Long Island Noir, Mississippi Review, Murdaland, Pilgrimage, and Tiny Crimes: Very Short Tales of Mystery and Murder, among others. His first book of short stories, Roachkiller and Other Stories, received the Spinetingler Award for Best Anthology. Hipster Death Rattle is his debut novel.
To learn more about Richie, please visit his website.
By Azam Gill
There’s a new demon unleashed in the City of Angels—The Cupid Killer targets couples in love, mercilessly torturing women before murdering them. Then, he forces the men to watch before leaving them beaten and broken—but alive—and wishing them “an especially wonderful day.”
The surviving male victims have all identified the killer’s snarling wolf tattoo.
L.A. detective Morris Brick is on the case—though he’s never hunted a psycho who’s taken such sadistic pleasure in destroying people’s lives before. He knows he’s on the trail of a brutal predator who’s taunting him, but he doesn’t realize the danger is much closer to home than he imagines…
UNLEASHED is the fifth book in the Morris Brick thriller series by Jacob Stone—Dave Zeltserman’s pseudonym. His other fifteen thrillers are under his real name.
Prolificacy being the child of talent and perseverance, it took Stone 11 years to sell Fast Lane, his first novel, finished in 1992. His big break came with Small Crimes and Outsourced in 2008.
The books triggered a starburst of recognition—movie rights, translations, and spots on the Best Books of the Year lists from The Washington Post, NPR, Booklist, American Library Association, and WBUR. He’s been crowned with the Shamus, Derringer, and two Ellery Queen Readers awards. Four of his books have been optioned for films.
In his enthusiastic review, Jeffery Deaver spotlights Stone’s rare quality of being able to work the binary nature of evil into a single tale, integrating a moral statement without challenging societal values. It is at this epicenter that thriller literature distinguishes itself from other genres which can bore readers to a standstill or test their stamina to slog.
By Dawn Ius
There’s often not a lot of discussion about horror writers outside of the horror writing community—and when there is, the same two names who are generally discussed with any academic credibility come up repeatedly: Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft.
Author and editor Eric J. Guignard hopes to add variety to that elite list with a series of anthologies that will recognize the work of some of the lesser-known scribes of the genre.
“[Poe and Lovecraft] are widely recognized as the champions of poetic and descriptive dark prose, yet Lovecraft perished over 80 years ago, and Poe near a century before that,” Guignard says. “What they wrote is still compelling today—I’m not saying otherwise—but, so too are there living authors whose words can shape the boundaries of our imagination, who can invigorate and capture our modern tastes and sensibilities, and who can connect us in ways not possible by our literary forebears.”
The latest author to meet Guignard’s discerning criteria is Nisi Shawl. Six of her short works—including one original—are captured in EXPLORING DARK SHORT FICTION #3: A PRIMER TO NISI SHAWL, available now from Dark Moon Books.
In this interview for The Big Thrill, Guignard takes some time out of his busy writing and editing schedule to discuss this project, as well as share some exciting personal news.
By K. L. Romo
One problem with having bipolar disorder is that sometimes people think you’re crazy. Even your own husband. And especially when you suspect you’re living next to a murderer.
In Peter Swanson’s new psychological thriller, BEFORE SHE KNEW HIM, Hen Mazur and Lloyd Harding have just moved to their new house in West Dartford, 45 minutes from Boston. Hen will use the converted warehouse down the street as her art studio—she’s a printmaker and illustrates children’s books. This new house and neighborhood will give her a fresh start.
Hen hasn’t had an “episode” for two years, since she started the medication cocktail that mended her broken brain, stabilized her moods, and tempered her paranoia and crippling depression.
At a neighborhood barbeque, Hen and Lloyd meet their next-door neighbors, Mira and Matthew Dolamore—another couple who doesn’t have kids and weren’t planning on any. The neighbors are pleasant enough, Matthew even charming. Until Hen notices a Junior Olympics fencing trophy on Matthew’s office mantel. It looks just like the trophy stolen from Dustin Miller, a young guy murdered in his apartment. Is it a coincidence that Dustin graduated from Sussex Hall where Matthew is a teacher? No way. But if Hen goes to the police, will anyone take her seriously?
Spying on Matthew is the only way she can prove he’s a murderer, and what she discovers terrifies her. To get the proof she needs, she must get to know him better. Is he a vigilante protecting women from abuse, or a psychotic killer?
How ironic that the only one who believes Hen’s accusations about Matthew being a killer is Matthew.
Emilia believes she has come back to life in a different body and is determined to find her family from her former life. The search takes her to Texas, to Samuel Lake’s home, her supposed husband from the former life. She tells him that she was born the day his wife died and that she has come back for a reason, which she doesn’t yet know.
How can she convince Samuel to help her find her purpose without appearing crazy? Find out in this suspenseful mystery novel.
Author C. M. Okonkwo spent time with The Big Thrill and offered some insight into her latest thriller, WHEN IT’S MURDER:
Titus “Crisp” Crespo, Princeton-bound valedictorian and self-proclaimed nerd, avoids risky situations at all costs. Glynnie Dreyfus, solid C-student and self-proclaimed screw-up, can talk—or buy—her way out of almost any difficulty she lands in. They aren’t exactly friends, but when a negative encounter with the NYPD threatens to unravel all of Crisp’s achievements, he figures it can’t get worse if he tags along with rich, white Glynnie to visit her weed dealer…near his absentee father’s old stomping grounds.
Now they’re both missing.
In the middle of the night, near the blinking lights of Coney Island, Crisp’s mother begs Detective Lex Cole to find her son; a few miles away in a brownstone in upscale Boerum Hill, Glynnie’s parents summon Detective Saki Finley to bring home their wayward daughter. When it emerges that the teenagers were last seen together, the two detectives combine forces to retrace their path through a dangerous maze of housing projects, abandoned warehouses, and drug dens.
Brilliant storyteller Karen Ellis deftly alternates between the teens’ misadventures and the detectives’ investigations, ratcheting up the tension as the hours tick by. The police, we see, aren’t the only ones scrambling to catch up to Glynnie and Crisp … and their futures will look very different depending on who finds them first.
Author Karen Ellis spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing the second installment in the Searchers series, LAST NIGHT:
Perseverance Key to Martin’s Success
With a 30-year writing career and more than 70 historical and modern romantic suspense novels under her belt, Kat Martin knows a thing or two about what it takes to be a successful writer. In fact, her recent novel, Beyond Control, was the 15th book in a row to claim a spot on the prestigious New York Times bestseller list.
Asked about the key to her success, Martin says, “Perseverance.”
Despite that coveted bestseller status and over 17 million copies of her books in print in 20 different countries, Martin says she was never one of those authors who achieved instant success. “My career has mostly been two steps forward, one step back, changing publishers, pay cuts, and pay raises.”
Like most writers today, her biggest problem was getting her books promoted. Another was being strong enough to stand up to the people who wanted to change her into the writer they thought she should be.
What’s trending in romantic suspense fiction?
By Dawn Ius
As early as a few months after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, publishers of romantic suspense fiction saw a shift in the marketplace—submission inboxes became flooded with books featuring heroes of authority. Enforcement officers, military men, and in particular, bodyguards.
Two years later, those tropes—now considered evergreen for the genre—remain strong, but as of late, a new sub-category of hero has begun to emerge: “the exes.”
Ex-military, ex-cop, ex-FBI.
“So still a protector, by nature, but burdened with that extra emotional arc of trying to figure out how to exist in a new reality—without the bandage or the organization or the neat-and-tidy self-identification,” says Kerri Buckley, senior editor, Carina Press. “Plus, you know, navigate the romance.”
Mastering the Nuances of the Thriller
By Dawn Ius
There’s a certain artform that comes with crafting a thriller—nuances that must be carefully woven into the story to create that perfect balance of action and exposition, page-turning suspense and emotional resonance, plot and character.
A tall order for even the most skilled of scribes, but for those just getting their literary feet wet, a potentially daunting challenge, regardless of how many thrillers line your bookshelves.
“There’s a moment when you first sit down and write Chapter One where you realize—you have no idea what you’re doing,” says New York Times bestselling author Hank Phillippi Ryan.
The tendency may be to panic—but Ryan says “Don’t. Come to ITW. They say you can only learn from experience, but here’s the secret: it doesn’t have to be your own.”
Ryan is one of seven master thriller writers poised to share knowledge and experience as part of the International Thriller Writers’ sixth annual Online Thriller School, a virtual classroom where for eight weeks starting March 25, the craft of thriller writing will be front and center.
Readers Reunited with old Friends
By E. M. Powell
As debuts go, Allen Eskens couldn’t have asked much more of his 2014 success, The Life We Bury. His tale of Joe Talbert, a junior at the University of Minnesota who’s given a biography assignment that leads to the unraveling of a 30-year-old murder, launched a career that has seen Eskens on bestseller lists, receiving awards, and translated into 21 languages. The book is now in development as a feature film as well.
Between then and now there have been three subsequent books that feature homicide detective Max Rupert, but Eskens’s latest release is a sequel to The Life We Bury, titled THE SHADOWS WE HIDE. In it, we’re reunited with Joe Talbert, his brother Jeremy, his mother Kathy, and Lila Nash, Joe’s girlfriend. It’s a welcome return to those characters for readers and for Eskens too.
“I couldn’t wait to return to Joe and the others to tell their continuing story,” he says. “I come to writing as a daydreamer more than anything else, and I have these characters living in my head, so they were growing and changing as time passed between the two books. By the time I sat down to write, the story was itching to get out.”
THE SHADOWS WE HIDE is an excellent, suspenseful mystery that keeps delivering twists right up to the last pages. Interestingly, Eskens didn’t know that there would be a sequel when he wrote The Life We Bury. It’s his approach to developing his characters that made it possible.
“I daydream far ahead in my characters’ lives and do my best to plant important tidbits in my current book that may become important in future novels,” he says. “For example, in The Life We Bury, Joe never met his father. That becomes a driving force for the plot of the sequel.”
Rice Delivers Riveting Sequel in Burning Girl Series
Even in a genre where powerful, proactive heroines are becoming the rule rather than the exception, it’s hard to think of a character quite like the protagonist of Christopher Rice’s Burning Girl novels. After surviving a harrowing, years-long ordeal at the hands of the serial killers who murdered her mother, Charlotte “Charley” Rowe is determined to save others from similar fates—and thanks to an experimental drug that gives her superhuman abilities when it’s triggered by fear, she’s able to do just that.
With this month’s release of BLOOD ECHO (a follow-up to last year’s series launch, Bone Music), Rice cements Charley’s role as one of the genre’s most dynamic and surprising new series characters.
“I like to call BLOOD ECHO a gender-swapped thriller,” Rice says, answering questions via email to accommodate a particularly dense schedule (more on that later). “Normally the superhero-type character in this type of story is a male, and as soon as he attempts an intimate relationship, his new girlfriend is twisting her ankle and doing all sorts of stereotypically feminine things that supposedly hold him back and test his faith in their relationship. In BLOOD ECHO, the hero is a woman and the only ankle-twisting is her new boyfriend’s inability to control his temper and accept the fact that he doesn’t share her powers.”