WHAT ABOUT BOB?
By Shannon Kirk
Back again for another Debut Spotlight interview, reporting live from Murderers’ Row on Election Tuesday. Thank goodness I had something else to focus on: interviewing Robert Rapoza, a shiny new thriller author.
Spotlight on the Row means Hot Seat. As in the past, if The Boss, E.A. Aymar, is crazy enough to give me the wheel, or the pen as they say, please know that part of this interview was on point, other parts, not so much, while other other parts might seem like I tortured poor Bob through some inane babble for babble’s sake. I would have allowed our interviewee to follow in the footing of the presidential election and veer way off the road of reality and just plain make shit up. But I got paired with Bob Rapoza, one of the good guys. The type of guy you’d love to actually run for office, so his answers were all, well, wonderfully sincere. I fact-checked him at 100 percent.
I rang up good ol’ Bob (Robert Rapoza signs his emails as Bob, so I’m going with Bob) and he was such a DAD! A sweet, home-by-dinner-time, awesome dad kind of DAD. On the phone, he sounds like the type of guy who might wear one of those red Ken Bone Izod sweaters and pick you up from school and take you for an ice-cream cone before your steak and peas dinner at the dining room table, just because you make him “so gosh darn proud.” That kind of DAD!
Bob’s debut thriller is titled The Vilcabamba Prophecy. And no, it’s actually not that hard to say. Only four syllables for the first word. It goes like this: Vilca – bamba. Bamba like the dance. Try it out. It’s easy. Sort of addicting actually. The Vilcabamba Prophecy is a 2015 Semi-Finalist in the Clive Custler Adventure Writers’ contest. In The Vilcabamba Prophecy we explore ruins of an ancient civilization hidden deep within the Amazon Jungle. It seems to have been uninhabited for centuries…or has it? So enters our protagonist, Dr. Nick Randall, an archeologist forced to the fringes of the scientific community, who wishes to prove that there is a hidden civilization deep in the Amazon that possesses an extraordinarily advanced energy technology. His break comes when a mysterious benefactor funds his expedition to find the lost city of Vilcabamba, which he believes holds proof that his controversial theory is true. Upon arriving at the ruins, Nick mysteriously disappears. Only one person can find him: his daughter Samantha Randall, who hasn’t spoken to her father in years. But Sam has competition, dark forces, who wish to obtain the Vilcabamba powers and control the world.
This whole story is so appealing to me right now. A solid action-adventure archeological thriller. I’m sold.
By Alex Dolan
I’m jealous of Nina Mansfield, in part because she just moved into a writer’s dream house in Connecticut, complete with stained glass windows, a wraparound staircase, and some eccentric neighbors that will help fuel future creativity. For a few minutes, Nina stopped unpacking to talk to me about her debut novel, SWIMMING ALONE, as well as her upcoming second book and graphic novel.
Tell me about your sweet new house. Is it a good place to write?
It’s a total mystery writer’s house. It’s a little creepy, and we have strange things happening. We clearly have a cat that keeps coming back to leave us things, like a dead bird and a regurgitated mouse on the front step.
You started out as a playwright. What kinds of plays do you write?
I write short, ten-minute plays. Those tend to be really quirky, romantic comedies, usually with one very strong female character who’s a bit out there. I have one going up at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, “Clown Therapy,” that’s about a woman who’s married a clown, and four years later, she realizes that he’s just a guy in a clown costume, and not actually a clown. They’re in couple’s therapy.
I love that [laughing].
So, those things aren’t thrillers. The closest I ever got to that in my plays was the history of the guillotine. But it was a comedy.
Susan E. Sagarra’s debut mystery novel, CRACKS IN THE COBBLESTONE, is the story of two vastly different women who have a mutual obsession with the Titanic tragedy. That calamity presents itself to each woman in different ways to help solve a long-forgotten mystery in the quirky river town of Tirtmansic.
Sagarra has always been intrigued with the historic catastrophe. “I have an unexplained fascination with, or connection to, the Titanic disaster, and my lucky number is 12,” she said. “When I set out to write my book, I looked at the calendar the day I started writing and it was April 12, 2010. So I decided to start part of the novel on April 12 . . . of 1912. I did not even think about the year’s significance until I researched important events and realized the Titanic sank on April 15, 1912, three days after I had determined my written journey would begin.”
But this was only one of several coincidences along the way. Several years earlier, when Sagarra was the managing editor of a St. Louis, Missouri-based newspaper, she had been invited to see the Titanic exhibit at the Saint Louis Science Center. “At the beginning of the exhibit, they give you a ‘boarding pass’ that depicts a real passenger who was on the ship and you have the opportunity to experience the event as that person,” Sagarra said. “The pass gives details about the person and my passenger, a woman named Mrs. Edward Beane (Ethel Clark), was one of just twelve newlywed brides on the ship. At the end of the exhibit, you find out if ‘you’ survived. She did.”
Sagarra dug out the boarding pass from her trunk of memorabilia and researched Ethel Beane. She ended up paying homage to Mrs. Beane in the book.
The next serendipitous event occurred when she received a gift from her brother. “He gave me a book called I Survived the Titanic, by Lawrence Beesley. Mr. Beesley described how he had survived in lifeboat No. 13, which spooked me. He was in the same boat as Ethel Beane. My brother did not know I describe this woman in my novel when he gave me the present.”
By Abby Normal
HOUSE OF HOMICIDE is a battle between good and evil. Our protagonist, Cindy Fairbank, tries to do right by her family but unwittingly puts them in danger when she buys a suburban house that seems to be perfect.
When Cindy hears about an urban legend that centers on her house, she dusts off her investigative journalist skills and begins to research the stories. She discovers that there is much more to the history than expected, with a series of gruesome homicides spanning over forty years and restless souls of murder victims who are clamoring for revenge. As Cindy gets close to uncovering the killer, the killer gets close to her and the ones she loves.
To find out more, let’s talk to the author, Eileen Magill.
Is it true that you almost bought the house that HOUSE OF HOMICIDE is based on?
I did! When I was looking to buy a house, my agent, Dawn, sent me a list of houses that fit my needs. One stood out well above the rest, and I was pretty much set to buy it without seeing it. Thank goodness I didn’t. When we got into the house, we both got a very bad feeling. Truly, my hair on my arms stood up. Not good! Dawn went into the kitchen to look at the disclosure documents, and I went into the first bedroom. It was in horrible shape. There were holes in the floor and the walls. Windows were broken. And that bad feeling I had when I first entered the house? It was overpowering in that room. Back in the kitchen, Dawn reminded me that if anyone had died in the house in the last three years, it had to be listed in the disclosure documents. And there had been. Quite a few, including ones that were listed as “violent, non-disclosed.” I got the heck out of there, but the house “haunted” me. My brain couldn’t let it go. It became the basis for HOUSE OF HOMICIDE.
By Alex Gilly
I have French heritage, and though we didn’t live in France, the comic-book “albums” I read were in French. We had hundreds of them at home—Tintin, Asterix, all of Blake and Mortimer. But my favorites, by an unreachable distance, were Blueberry by Charlier and Giraud, and Barbe Rouge—Red Beard—by Charlier and Hubinon.
Both were adventure stories. Blueberry is the nickname of a Union cavalry officer named Donovan, who, after the Civil War, rides into the untamed West, drinks hard, womanizes, plays his trumpet, and fights injustice and cruelty wherever he encounters it—which is pretty much everywhere. Red Beard, meanwhile, commands the three-masted Black Falcon, and has an adopted son, Eric. Together, they roam the 18th Century seas, mostly pirating but occasionally privateering on behalf of the King of France against the rapacious Spanish and duplicitous English.
The arrival of a new Blueberry or Red Beard album was always a momentous occasion for me. I would become utterly absorbed in every new adventure, disappearing from the sometimes airless real world into one in which bracing winds drove beautiful wooden ships across scintillating seas. I was fiercely loyal to my heroes. I needed them in my life, so the knowledge that I could count on them was profoundly reassuring. Blueberry always sided with the good guys. So did Eric, even if it was sometimes only to atone for the sins of his pirate father.
Brooklyn native Ronnie Allen worked for the New York City Department of Education for more than thirty years as a classroom teacher, staff developer, crisis intervention specialist, and mentor for teachers who were struggling. Along the way, she saw the horrors inflicted by child abuse on both the victims and society as a whole. She carries through this theme in her novel GEMINI, which also includes intriguing information about holistic healing and alternative therapies, such as Reiki and crystal healing.
Combining a love of the crime genre and her psychology background with her alternative therapies experience, writing psychological thrillers is the perfect venue for Ronnie.
In GEMINI, Barbara Montgomery, school psychologist by day and stripper by night, has an emotional meltdown and is given over to Dr. John Trenton for analysis in a seventy-two hour observation. But as the clock ticks down, her thirst for revenge only grows, until she breaks free and goes on a violent, killing rampage, targeting not only those who caused her to fall into an abusive foster care system, but everyone who stands between her and her revenge, including the NYPD, as well as Dr. Trenton … and his wife and the adoptive son they only recently rescued from the foster system.
Action, murder, sex, and healing all await you in GEMINI.
Here’s what Ronnie Allen had to say about her book in a recent interview.
What was the catalyzing event or idea that caused you to write GEMINI?
Well, I’m a NYC gal transplanted to rural central Florida. We’re here seven years. In 2011, I was bored. I missed the energy and fast pace of the city. I’ve been writing since the seventies. First in film and TV, not produced, but my screenplays were always in the crime genre. Then in the ’90s, I began my journey into holistic healing and I was published in a few professional journals. I was thinking about what I should do to occupy my mind. I was thinking about writing a novel and this was the time. I told my my friends at Mahjongg that I was going to write a novel and their reaction was like everyone else’s, “yeah right.” Well chapter by chapter everyone asked me, “What are you up to?” At the pool, this was daily. In all honesty, with people questioning and doubting, I was more motivated. I will always beat out anyone who says, “You can’t.”
With its breakneck pacing and fascinating characters on display from the first page, EENY MEENY opens with a compelling and terrifying premise. A young couple wakes up trapped in an abandoned diving pool without food or water. There’s no escape. Instead there is a loaded gun with a single bullet, and a phone with enough battery life to receive one message: to walk free, one of them must kill the other.
Kill or be killed—no choice.
When other pairs are given the same orders in increasingly twisted ways, the brilliant but damaged Detective Inspector Helen Grace (reminiscent of Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennison or Stella Gibson in the TV series The Fall) finds herself racing against time and confronting dark chapters of her own past.
Published in the UK last summer, EENY MEENY was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick, an instant Sunday Times bestseller, and a reviewer favorite.
“Readers will look forward to seeing more of this strong, intelligent, and courageous lead.”
By Karen Harper
Colin Edmonds is a writer who wears many hats—including his unique debut novel, STEAM, SMOKE & MIRRORS. A successful script and comedy writer for British TV, he has written a steampunk thriller/mystery with brilliant characters. As an Anglophile and lover of Victoriana, I was amazed at the book’s range of plot and people, the real and the fictional. Ladies and gentlemen—sit back and enjoy (and be frightened) for the show is about to begin!
What is your novel about?
STEAM, SMOKE & MIRRORS is set in the swirling fog-filled streets of London in 1899. It’s a thriller-mystery which chronicles the adventures, often misadventures, of a couple of Music Hall/Vaudeville stage magicians who are reluctantly seconded by Superintendent William Melville of London’s Metropolitan Police Special Branch (the forerunner of the British Secret Service MI-5) to help solve the unsolvable. You know, those uncanny curiosities, unfathomable mysteries, bizarre and arcane crimes which defy logic and, frankly, baffle the authorities. My magicians, who also work a twice nightly show at The Metropolitan Theatre of Steam Smoke & Mirrors in West London’s Edgware Road, are the devastatingly handsome Michael Magister, Bronx-born conjuror who has performed in England for just over a decade, and his equally brilliant, drop-dead gorgeous British assistant Phoebe Le Breton.
Because magicians are masters of misdirection, deception, sleight of hand, and all manner of subterfuge, Michael and Phoebe are the Special Branch’s obvious go-to advisers when mysterious crimes start getting just a little too weird.
In this opening case, a former Music Hall hypnotist has escaped from Hanwell Asylum, vowing to murder all the performers who appeared in her final show. Michael and Phoebe must employ all their cunning and experience chasing down this mind-bending killer, whose gruesome revenge makes The Ripper look like a novice. Especially as Michael Magister’s name appears on her Death List.
As the murders mount up and the mystery unravels, history-changing secrets are revealed; not only magic trick secrets and state secrets, but the secrets Michael and Phoebe have been keeping from one another.
All this is set against an exotic backdrop of national conspiracies and steampunk. But is anything what it seems? Or is it all steam, smoke, and mirrors?
Although he was born in Cumbria, England in 1968, author Mike Craven grew up in the northeast and attended the same school as Newcastle and England center-forward, Alan Shearer, before running away to join the circus army. He believes, but has no proof, that his little sister moved into his bedroom before the train had even left the station. He trained for two years as an armourer (that’s gunsmith to you and I) before spending the next ten being paid to travel the world and drink ridiculous amounts of alcohol.
In 1995, sick of writing postcards and having fun, he decided it might be time to do something a bit more sensible. And it doesn’t get more sensible than getting a law degree. So, he did social work instead. Two years later, he started working in Cumbria as a probation officer. Sixteen years, and a few promotions later, he is still there; although as a crime writer, he now has different motivations for trying to get inside the minds of criminals.
In between joining the army and securing a publishing deal, Mike found time to nurture a pet crocodile, survive cancer, get married, and buy a springer spaniel named Bracken. He wanted to call him Gimli, but was told to grow up. He lives in Carlisle where he tries to leave the house as little as possible and gets annoyed by people who say “it’s too cold to snow” and “watch that swan, its wings can break your arm”.”
Craven took time out of that busy schedule to talk to The Big Thrill about his new release, ASSUME NOTHING, BELIEVE NOBODY, CHALLENGE EVERYTHING, a collection of short stories that explores betrayals of trust, poker cheats, ambitious barristers, cyber bullies, lost diplomats and revenge.
But this is not a book set in a typically bleak cyberpunk dystopia. The setting may be financially ruthless but also affords its paying inhabitants sparkling entertainment, vast networks, and instantaneity. It could easily be imagined as an exaggerated view of today’s modern society, particularly in regard to an unhealthy obsession with money. CASH CRASH JUBILEE will certainly make you think about where we might be headed.
However, amidst all this cash and cyber-technology we still find vital sparks of humanity. This comes to light in the form of a moral dilemma faced by protagonist Amon, whose job it is to delete the online presence of those with no more credit. He is suddenly faced with the unpalatable task of doing the very same to someone he greatly admires, which results in him questioning the status quo, asking things that should never be asked, and taking him to places shrouded in digital darkness.
It is interesting how the novel occasionally employs phonetic spellings for some of its dialogue, such as in the apologetic “Aim sohry”. This reflects the setting where people resort to alternative versions of words to avoid the costs associated with official spellings. Initially, this took a little getting used to, but it successfully adds flavor to the world being described.
I had a chance to probe the mind of the author, Eli K.P. William. The following data was returned…
By Basil Sands
Ladies and gents I present to you Robert Kidera, author of the awesome new release RED GOLD. A first-person crime thriller that felt like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Lawrence Block all rolled into one.
After an early fling in the motion picture industry and a long and successful career in academia, Kidera retired in 2010. With his desire to play major league baseball no longer a realistic dream, he chose to fulfill his other lifelong ambition and became a writer. He is a member of Southwest Writers, Sisters in Crime, and the International Thriller Writers organizations.
RED GOLD is his debut novel, the first installment in the McKenna Mystery series. He is currently working on its sequel, Get Lost, with a third book to follow.
Robert lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with his wife and Otis the cat. He has two daughters, a grandson, and granddaughter.
Welcome Robert. Tell us about RED GOLD.
Red Gold is the first volume of the Gabe McKenna Mystery Series. It’s the story of a shattered man who finds himself swept up in a lethal struggle for a lost fortune in nineteenth-century gold. More than that, it’s about a lost soul resurrecting himself, getting up off the canvas of personal despair and self-pity, and continuing The Fight. And giving himself a second chance at life and love.
By Cathy Clamp
Eleven years ago, young Braydon Thatcher was unable to stop a tragic murder, one that hit painfully close to home. Now a detective, Braydon can’t help but notice the eerie similarities between that murder and three women who have suddenly gone missing in the small town of Culpepper. But he has to focus on the present and keep distractions of the past to a minimum. Distractions like Sophia Hardwick, who crashes into town like a Florida thunderstorm, demanding to know where her missing sister is. The attraction between them is nearly his undoing. But he has to protect her, because it’s clear someone is resurrecting ghosts in order to punish Braydon. And if he lets his emotions for Sophia get the best of him, she could become yet another victim…
ITW contributing editor Cathy Clamp sat down with the author of this intriguing new romantic thriller to find out more about the story.
Is MANHUNT intended to be part of a series, or is it a standalone novel?
MANHUNT is a standalone novel…though in my head I definitely continued it to follow the characters after its “The End!”
Are Braydon and Sophia people your readers will have met before, or are they brand new characters?
This is the first time Braydon Thatcher and Sophia Hardwick have been introduced! And boy what a way to start!
Please tell us a little more about the town of Culpepper.
Culpepper is your stereotypical small, quiet town but in the best way possible. Sure there’s no big mall or a plethora of restaurants or attractions. But, the community really makes it great. They are a close bunch, ready to have each other’s backs when everything starts to go sideways…Which it does in MANHUNT. Because like almost every small town or, even large city, there’s a past that can’t stay hidden.
In Mason Cross’s new release, THE KILLING SEASON, the FBI calls upon Carter Blake, a modern high-tech bounty hunter, to track down Caleb Wardell, a serial-killer sniper who escaped during a botched prison transfer. Blake is teamed with veteran FBI agent Elaine Banner, and together they close upon Wardell, only to watch him slip away time and time again. The more Blake learns about the suspect, the more he’s convinced that the homicidal fugitive is acting on an agenda more sinister than simple murder. Worse, Carter and Banner discover too late that Wardell is actually at the center of monstrous conspiracy that could tear the country apart.
Sounds thrilling, right? I caught up with Cross for this month’s The Big Thrill, to talk to him about his hero, Carter Blake, and the inspiration behind his hot new release.
I commend you for deftly articulating a story with a lot of moving parts. You braided several subplots into a compelling and integrated whole. A challenge in any book is avoiding a soggy middle, and in a thriller there’s the danger that the various plot lines can veer out of control. How did you manage to keep so much story not only coherent, but moving forward with compelling momentum?
I started out with quite a simple narrative spine and ended up layering on a lot of subplots, plot twists, and character beats. Some of that was by design, some of it just grew out of the writing process. I’m really glad it seems well-integrated, because it took a lot of rewriting to streamline what ended up being quite a convoluted first draft into a reasonably coherent whole.
Nicholas and Victoria Foulkes’ children are kidnapped to force repayment of a gambling debt, but when the couple are unable to raise the ransom money in time, they turn to crime. The stakes are raised when their crime spree catches the attention of Harry Evans, a childless and recently bereaved detective trying to dodge enforced retirement.
Smith writes tough-as-nails prose and delivers a page-turner that will leave you high on adrenaline.
Graham took some time this month to answer a couple of key questions about what inspired his latest release, and the motivating factors behind his protagonist Harry Evans and the family that opens old wounds.
How well does childless Harry Evans understand the plight of the central characters in SNATCHED FROM HOME?
I think he fully understands their desire to save their children. Being the swine I am, I have him mourning the loss of his own wife and unborn child. This gives him the perspective needed to put himself in their shoes. Also, he believes (wrongly) he could have done things differently and saved them.
By Dawn Ius
In his twenty-five years as a business executive and management consultant, Douglass Seaver has authored dozens of articles, guest editorials, and even a chapter in a marketing book. Now, Seaver adds a full-length novel to his already impressive publishing resume, with the debut of his international suspense, THE FOURTH RULE.
THE FOURTH RULE is the story of two brothers—one a missing Green Beret, the other, Matthew Grant, charged with keeping a secret. When the CIA approaches Grant to help solve the mystery of his brother’s disappearance, readers are taken on a twisting journey of suspense and intrigue, culminating in a high stakes gamble of life…and peace.
Here, Seaver talks about what inspired THE FOURTH RULE, his transition to fiction, and what he’s working on next.
Congrats on your debut, THE FOURTH RULE. It sounds fascinating. What was the inspiration for this story?
When I was fourteen, my dad told me a story about a man who rose every morning, got dressed, had breakfast with his family, and left for work. He rode the elevator down to the lobby, exited his apartment building, walked across the street to the local bakery, and bought a chocolate croissant. He returned to his building, went down to the basement, hid the white bakery bag with the croissant, and went on to work. At the end of the day, the man returned to his building, went to the basement, threw the bag and the chocolate croissant into the furnace, and then went up to his apartment and family.
Four decades later, I remembered the story, and it led me to think about keeping secrets. I became fascinated by the impact secrets might have on those who keep them. That curiosity became the backbone of the plot for my novel.
By Ian Walkley
Glen Erik Hamilton’s debut thriller introduces readers to an exciting new protagonist, Van Shaw, whose military and thieving skills inevitably find him immersed in the high-stakes and violent underworld of ruthless criminals where right and wrong aren’t defined by the law.
In PAST CRIMES, former thief and now Army Ranger Shaw receives a call from his criminal grandfather Dono to come home to Seattle. But when he arrives at Dono’s house in the early hours of the morning, Van discovers the old burglar bleeding out on the floor from a gunshot to the head. With a lifetime of tough history between him and the old man, the battle-tested Ranger knows the cops will like him for the crime. Diving back into the illicit world he’d sworn to leave behind, Van reconnects with the ruthless felons who knew Dono best. Armed with his military and criminal skills, he follows a dangerous trail of clues that leads him deeper into Dono’s life—and closer to uncovering what drove his grandfather to reach out after years of silence.
The book already is creating buzz: Lee Child described it as “a home run off the first pitch,” and J.A. Jance called Hamilton “a gifted writer with a sure hand.”
Glen, first tell us what made you come to write this type of story.
The story evolved by blending my favourite aspects of mystery literature. I’m never quite sure what to call it. It’s definitely intended to be thrilling, with a lot of action scenes. It has many characters who are crooks tangled up in their various schemes, but it’s not strictly a crime thriller. And there’s a fair amount of good old-fashioned whodunit in the recipe. Add a dash of memoir, since we see Van at different ages as he’s growing up with Dono. A bouillabaisse thriller, perhaps? Mystery smorgasbord?
Speaking of Dono, tell us a little about the relationship between Van Shaw and his grandfather—how is that background an important element in the changing nature of Van Shaw?
Van came to live with his grandfather Dono—a career criminal—at six years old after his mother died. Dono and Van’s mother had a falling out, and Dono may be trying to make that right by giving his grandson a home. But of course, Dono’s approach to raising a child is a little outside the norm. Van grew up with a very skewed sense of right and wrong. As an adult and as a soldier, he’s worked hard to reset that moral compass.
When their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, Dee, her boyfriend Luke, and Luke’s brother, Mike, seek help in the nearby town of Purity Springs. But as they walk the vacant streets, the teens make some disturbing discoveries. The seemingly deserted homes each contain a sinister book with violent instructions on disciplining children. The graveyard is full of unmarked crosses. Worst of all, there’s no way to contact the outside world.
When Purity Springs’ inhabitants suddenly appear, the trio find themselves at the mercy of Elijah Hawkins, the town’s charismatic leader who has his own plans for the three of them. Their only hope for survival is Elijah’s enigmatic son, Joseph. And his game may be just as deadly as his father’s . . .
Welcome Trish and Lindsay, and thanks for spending some time with us.
Brian: CREED sounds like a very grisly story. Did you pull any punches because of the intended young adult readership?
Lindsay: Absolutely not. While I think an awareness of the target audience you’re writing for is important, we don’t like holding back for the sake of being safe. There’s a line between content that is valuable and content that is gratuitous, and we truly believe we’ve stayed on the right side of that line with CREED.
Ellie: What kind of ambitions do you have for your career?
Trish: To give the hundreds of characters circling my mind a fictional world to call their own. To get better with each chapter, with each manuscript I write. To find the courage to dig deeper and write harder than I ever dreamed possible. Essentially, I want to continue to grow as an author.
Lindsay: I love writing, so my ambitions are pretty simple: to keep doing it. Ten years from now if I’m still fortunate enough to be writing YA lit, I’ll be one grateful author.
By Karen Harper
If anyone proves that ITW is international, it is Cecilia Ekback. Her parents are from Lapland; she was born in Sweden, lives in Canada, and has traveled all over the world in her earlier career. The setting and plot of WOLF WINTER are as unique as the author.
What is your novel about?
WOLF WINTER is set in Swedish Lapland, in 1717, on Blackåsen Mountain where a group of disparate settlers struggle to forge new lives. There are six settlements on the mountain. A day’s journey away is an empty town that only comes alive twice a year when the Church summons her people. Maija, her husband, and two daughters arrive in Blackåsen from Finland to escape past traumas and start over.
Not long after their arrival, the daughters stumble across the mutilated body of a fellow settler, Eriksson. The locals are quick to dismiss the culprit as a wolf or bear. But Maija is unconvinced and compelled by the ghosts of her own past. She just cannot let it rest.
As the seasons change and a harsh winter descends on the settlers, Maija finds herself on a dangerous quest to unearth the secrets of her neighbors and of the Church. But it’s a dangerous pursuit for everyone who has come to Blackåsen, because each of them has come there to escape someone or something.
The setting for WOLF WINTER seems unique and intriguing. Did you start with setting and grow plot and character from there, or did you conceive of this novel in another way?
“Wolf winter,” or Vargavinter, as the word is in Swedish, is a really cold, long, and bitter winter. But it is also how we talk about the worst period in a human being’s life: brought on by loss, or illness. The kind of period that reminds us we are mortal and, ultimately, always alone. My father was my best friend. The period preceding and just after his death was my wolf winter, and the book was written as a riposte to that event. Thus, I started with the idea of characters passing through their wolf winters.
By Ken Isaacson
Steve Cavanagh’s debut novel, THE DEFENCE, features con-artist-turned-top-defense-attorney Eddie Flynn. One advance reviewer has told us to imagine The Verdict’s Frank Galvin crossed with The Firm’s Mitch McDeere, and you’d get something like Eddie Flynn. This is enough to hook me, and I’m looking forward to the book’s release later this month.
The plotline for THE DEFENCE is taut: It’s been over a year since Eddie Flynn last set foot in a courtroom. That was for the trial that cost him his career and his family, and Eddie has vowed never to practice law again. But when Olek Volchek, the infamous head of the Russian mafia in New York, blackmails Eddie into defending him in a murder trial, Eddie has no choice but to comply. The Russians have kidnapped his ten-year-old daughter Amy and her life is on the line.
With all eyes on this high-profile case, Eddie must use his razor-sharp wit and unparalleled skills in the courtroom to defend his client and ensure Amy’s safety. Finally forced to confront the demons from his past and come to terms with the case that all but broke him, can Eddie convince the jury of the impossible? And with the clock ticking, will he be able to call on his contacts from the old days in order to double cross the Russians and get his daughter back?
Cavanagh has kindly agreed to answer some questions.
By Rob Brunet
Pastel hospital curtains offer more than a false sense of privacy. We know to look away. We try not to hear the conversation between doctor and patient. It’s personal. Not ours to know. With LITTLE BLACK LIES, Sandra Block takes us behind the curtain in a psychiatric ward and gives us an eyeful. She probes the mental state of everyone from her protagonist-doctor to the patients she treats.
The story is told through the eyes of Zoe Goldman, a psychiatric clinician. But Zoe is also a patient herself and the child of an institutionalized mother. The book peels back layers on the human mind while it draws us into Zoe’s life, revealing mysteries long kept hidden, buried deep, veiled by fire.
Block knows a thing or two about the human brain. As a neurologist, she has a special perspective on what makes us tick. She shared some of that perspective with The Big Thrill in an interview about her debut medical thriller.
Mental illness, dementia, altered perceptions of reality, and false memory—all of these weave together tightly in LITTLE BLACK LIES. At times, it seems everyone is somewhat off-kilter, or has been. Do you think that’s just part of the human condition?
Yes, that’s exactly Zoe’s opinion. Everyone is crazy; it’s just a matter of scale, otherwise known as the “human condition.” As one patient says, “Normal is just a setting on the washing machine.”
In LITTLE BLACK LIES, Zoe Goldman has returned to Buffalo to complete medical studies after studying at Yale, whereas you did the same, but from Harvard. She’s a psychiatrist, you’re a neurologist. You know I have to ask, how much more of you is in Zoe.
My husband pointed out the same thing! Yes, there is some of me in Zoe and some of Zoe in me. I would say Zoe is more unstable and prone to self-destruction, while I’m a more centered (and certainly more boring) person. However, I also have about twenty years or so on Zoe, so I’ve managed to learn some tricks along the way.
You may want to rethink what you do in public—at least if you’re a character in Ryan Quinn’s exciting tech thriller END OF SECRETS, where Hawk, the eye in the sky, might just be watching while you sit on the subway or walk along the street, unaware of the camera aimed right at you.
CIA agent Kera Mersal is recruited to a black-op team code named Hawk. Her first assignment—find out how four people could disappear seemingly into thin air. An ominous message written in graffiti haunts Kera as she comes across it time and time again—Have you figured it out yet? The action draws you in from the first page and doesn’t let up until the last word. The Big Thrill caught up with author Ryan Quinn to ask him a few questions about his latest book.
Tell us something about END OF SECRETS that we won’t find on the back cover.
The stakes in a thriller typically involve very obvious life-and-death scenarios: a psychopath killer, a terrorist, a loose nuclear bomb, that sort of thing. And those sorts of stakes are present in END OF SECRETS as Kera, the main protagonist confronts powerful people who have killed to protect the secrets she’s trying to uncover. But as a writer and, frankly, as a real live human living in our modern world, I’m interested in other stakes as well. Things like privacy and the digital footprints we are all creating every day. Things like the cultural tension between art and entertainment, or between news and entertainment, and how we ought value such things. So the characters in END OF SECRETS face these modern-day conflicts too, just as all of us will have to grapple with them well beyond the foreseeable future. As a reader, you don’t need to scratch your head over all this stuff to enjoy the book. But it’s there, and I hope it thrills a few readers in its own way.
The level of technical expertise in your book is impressive. Tell us about your research.
I’m not a tech-inclined person. But I’ve become so interested in the implications of new technologies—especially ones pertaining to privacy, surveillance, and espionage—that I overcame my indifference to the nitty-gritty details of computing and networks in order to be able to tell this story in a credible way. To do that, I had to lean heavily on research. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It was a pretty intense crash course, but I got to design the curriculum and I got hooked on the thrill of learning about this world, which is both impressive and scary. Most of my new knowledge came from nonfiction books about the CIA and NSA, cyberespionage, hacking, surveillance, and data-mining. I listened to audiobooks of these while out on long runs. That’s how I find the time to do most of my research. To compliment that in-depth research, I never hesitate to use Google and Wikipedia to track down a few specific details to round out a description of something. In the end, I think my layman’s origins helped me express all the technological details in a way that non-techie readers like me still find accessible.
From escaping the marriage clutches of a Spanish beauty to being taken in the night and dumped in an Indian village deep inland along the shores of Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela, debut author Ken Oxman has lived a thrilling life of adventure.
Back in his days as a Navy officer, Oxman became fascinated with the dark and dangerous. This, coupled with the stories told to him by his father, a WWII RAF navigator on the British Mosquito and Sunderland Flying Boat, sparked the idea for RELUCTANT ASSASSIN, and his protagonist, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Nathan Blake.
Blake is a hard-wired up-close assassin and bound by his duty to serve—but, as Oxman points out, it’s not the career he really wants. His dream is to be a sea-going officer.
“I know people who are very good at something and yet choose to make a life doing something else,” Oxman says. “It’s as if they can’t believe they could get by doing something they love. The antithesis of that is someone doing what they are good at but wanting to do something else. For example, I know someone who is a very clever engineer, but really he wants to paint. He would like to make a living as a painter but he’s just not good enough.”
The idea of that intrigued Oxman—the notion that someone could be an assassin, for instance, and yet live another life. This fact is brought out in the book when after sidelining a group of thugs, Blake’s girlfriend asks of him, “Who are you?” His reply, “Someone else, sometimes.”
AMAZON BURNING, my new eco-thriller, is, above all a fun read. But hopefully it’s more than mindless fun. Emma and Jimmy, the main characters, are caught up in an important fight to protect the rainforests of Brazil. And that’s something we should all care about.
The character of Souza in AMAZON BURNING is, unfortunately, a pretty good representation of some of the Mafioso-type ranchers and farmers in the region. They want to make a quick buck by clearing vast areas of jungle to plant crops or graze their cattle. Sadly, we’ve all seen so many of those photographs depicting the Amazon going up in smoke that I think we’ve become immune to them.
What those pictures don’t show is the human cost of all that destruction. Deforestation is not the only problem. The whole eco-system of the Brazilian rainforest is under attack. In scenes that are also true to life, Jimmy and Emma try to root out a wildlife smuggling ring. Criminals make billions of dollars each year from the illegal capture and sale of wild animals. Some of the creatures become exotic pets. Many others are just turned into potions and powders, because there are people around the world who really think that these animals can give them magic powers.
By George Ebey
A group known as The Order has been watching college professor Luci de Foix for years, waiting for the day that a diary written in the fourteenth century would be delivered to her—a book that contains a key to a lost codex—and they would do anything to get it. Plagued by panic attacks, Luci struggles to overcome her fears, avenge her family, and search for the lost codex written by Thomas. But who can she trust? Everyone seems intent on betraying her, even the gorgeous, enigmatic Max, a man with secrets of his own.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Linda to discuss her work on THE BLACK MADONNA.
Your novel includes aspects of religion and history. What interests you most about these subjects?
It sounds cliché but I believe by having a deep understanding of the past and that includes the daily impact religion had on people we can learn from it and grow as a society. If we fail to learn we are destined to repeat and obviously we keep making some of the same aspects. We don’t appreciate the differences that we have, we try as societies to make people conform to our own beliefs, it has never worked.
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.”
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.
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.
By Jeff Ayers
In Nicholas Pengelley’s first novel, RYDER, Ayesha Ryder bears the scars of strife in the Middle East. Now her past is catching up to her as she races to unravel a mystery that spans centuries—and threatens to change the course of history.
As Israeli and Palestinian leaders prepare to make a joint announcement at the Tower of London, an influential scholar is tortured and murdered in his well-appointed home in St. John’s Wood. Academic researcher Ayesha Ryder believes the killing is no coincidence. Sir Evelyn Montagu had unearthed shocking revelations about T. E. Lawrence—the famed Lawrence of Arabia. Could Montagu have been targeted because of his discoveries?
Ryder’s search for answers takes her back to her old life in the Middle East and into a lion’s den of killers and traitors. As she draws the attention of agents from both sides of the conflict, including detectives from Scotland Yard and MI5, Ryder stumbles deeper into Lawrence’s secrets, an astounding case of royal blackmail, even the search for the Bible’s lost Ark of the Covenant.
Every step of the way, the endgame grows more terrifying. But when an attack rocks London, the real players show their hand—and Ayesha Ryder is left holding the final piece of the puzzle.
Pengelley chatted with THE BIG THRILL.
With your extensive background, what made you decide to start writing?
I’ve loved books and writing for as long as I can remember. In fact I’ve been writing for many years now—decades in fact. Until comparatively recently, though, my writing was all academic. I’ve published a great many law-related articles, and written a one-hundred thousand word thesis for my PhD. When, a few years ago, I finally sat down to try my hand at fiction I thought, “I’ve written a lot of non-fiction, and I’ve read a lot of books. So of course I can write a novel. Oh boy! I had a lot to learn. Fiction is way harder than non-fiction. Then there’s the whole process of getting published, which is akin to climbing Everest.
By Rick Reed
In DEAD OF AUTUMN, Alexa Williams is a successful lawyer who volunteers weekly at a women’s clinic. One autumn day she takes Scout, her giant English Mastiff, into the Pennsylvania woods, and her world is turned upside down with the discovery of a body. She becomes entangled in a murder mystery—one that she tries to unravel by linking it to experiences in her own life and can’t shake the feeling that there is some sort of connection to the murder victim. She thinks back to the stories she heard as a child, about the Babes in the Woods, who were murdered close to where the victim’s body was found, wondering if that might be why she draws the connection.
Alexa soon finds herself amidst violence aimed at the clinic where she volunteers, when she’s almost raped, ambushed by religious zealots who wish to convert her. When the murderer strikes again, Alexa must rely on her knowledge of local history and terrain in order to save her own life.
Almost a century earlier, Dewilla Noakes, a child of the Depression, has recently lost her mother. Dewilla’s father packs up the girls—and their attractive cousin, Winnie—and hits the road to look for a job on the east coast. Along the way, money becomes tighter, food becomes scarce, and relationships become strained. Dewilla’s father fears he’s brought nothing but misery to his family. Running out of options, he begins to consider the unthinkable…
DEAD of AUTUMN ties together the struggles faced by females, young and old, past and present, and the degrees of power they embrace to combat their situations.
Tell us about Alexa Williams. What kind of person is she, and how did you create her character?
Alexa is smart, articulated and committed. In her late twenties, she’s still learning her strengths but still has a tendency to want to please other people. She was dumped by the love of her life. Now, she’s avoiding a serious relationship by experimenting with casual sex. During the course of the novel, Alexa’s character evolves. She comes into her own as she confronts mounting danger.