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 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.
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 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.
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 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 Jeremy Burns
Jack Soren may be a new name to thriller readers, but he’s no stranger to the genre. A lifelong aficionado of the genre, Soren has finally thrown his hat into the ring with what looks to be a blockbuster debut. On the eve of THE MONARCH’s release, Soren sat down with THE BIG THRILL to give readers a sneak peak at a thriller master in the making.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Growing up, my favorite movies usually starred either Jerry Lewis or Vincent Price. This explains a lot. A LOT. My headboard was usually stocked with The Hardy Boys, Star Trek novels and comic books. And my head was usually full of science, bad jokes, and girls. Luckily, some of this has finally started to leak out.
Before becoming a thriller novelist, I wrote software manuals, waited tables, drove a cab, and spent six months as a really terrible private investigator.
I recently signed a multi-book deal with HarperCollins for my debut thriller series. The first book in the series, THE MONARCH, is due out December 2, 2014. The second book—Dead Lights—is scheduled to follow next summer.
I live in a Toronto area dungeon where my girlfriend tosses meat and beer over a curtain for every ten manuscript pages I manage to finish.
Tell us about your new book, THE MONARCH.
Imitation is the deadliest form of flattery …
By J. H. Bográn
In DRESSED TO KILL, Victor Espinoza, a short, youthful LAPD patrol officer, is sent undercover as a cross-dresser to catch a serial killer. His ambition to become a detective gets snarled when, ignoring his captain’s orders, he goes it alone. He establishes himself at the Velvet Glove, a Hollywood bar that caters to transvestites. The secret nature of his assignment strains his relationship with his girlfriend, Jannine—who wants to marry and start a family—but also puts him hot on the trail of the killer. Victor gets a little too close and now is targeted as the next victim.
THE BIG THRILL recently caught up with Alvarez to ask some questions about his intriguing new thriller.
Let’s tackle the origins of the story first, shall we?
Let me give you a few words of background. Here in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles LAPD sent an undercover police officer into a high school to glean information about a drug operation rooted there. He was a very youthful looking man who passed as a student. That news piece was followed by an experience my wife and I had in Chicago.
My brothers and sisters (I have eight of them) and their spouses were attending the wedding of my nephew and we all stayed at a major hotel near O’Hare Airport. We noticed that there were a significant number of very big women also staying there. Turns out the Cross-dressers of America were holding their annual convention there. My younger brother whose fuse is very short got into an argument with a couple cross-dressers at the bar.
Several years later I read of the murder of a cross-dresser here in the Valley and everything clicked. The story almost wrote itself. I just added in the bar scene for dramatic binding of the novel’s topic.
By Cathy Clamp
“We find the defendant not guilty,” is an instant attention grabber for the opening line of a new thriller series. But there’s more. While Miranda Vaughn might have walked out of the courtroom a free woman, suspicion still hangs over her head. Losing her job at the prestigious investment firm where she worked was only the beginning of her problems. The trial, for a fraud scheme involving her supervisors, also cast a cloud of suspicion over her reputation and sent the fiancé she thought would stand by her out the door.
Ellie Ashe’s debut amateur sleuth/romantic suspense novel CHASING THE DOLLAR has plenty of thrilling moments. Miranda and her cast of quirky family and friends will instantly endear themselves to readers. New York Times author Gemma Halliday gives high marks to the book as being “high stakes, high energy and a highly humorous good time.”
Ashe, a former journalist and lawyer from northern California spins an excellent tale of an intelligent and determined woman pushed too far. With her life in shambles, it’s no surprise that the jury verdict isn’t enough for Miranda. Who could move forward with their life with the knowledge that someone set them up to take the fall?
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.
It seems mystery is more mysterious and thrills more thrilling if set in a foreign place and time. Anyone who doesn’t believe that hasn’t read Joe Gannon’s impressive debut novel, NIGHT OF THE JAGUAR.
The novel is set in Nicaragua in 1986, the mid-point for the Sandinista revolution. That volatile environment shaped Captain Ajax Montoya, homicide detective and classic man-without-a-country. Montoya, the novel’s investigator protagonist, was conceived in Nicaragua but born and raised in America. So even after fighting for years with the Sandinista revolutionaries he was still neither Nicaraguan nor American. Neither, yet both, and as Gannon explains, a classic noir hero.
“Like all such detectives he has a flawless moral compass,” Gannon says. “It always points true north, but that is both curse and, well, pretty much just curse. But he is the last one on earth who would view himself a hero. In fact, much of what others see as heroic he sees as a source of shame: killing and sending others to their deaths.”
Much of that killing was for a good cause, the overthrow of tyranny, but that is no solace to a man living with the damage done to his soul from so much sustained violence. So when a corpse turns up in a poor barrio it shakes Montoya to his core.
By Jeff Ayers
“Stressed out” has been Lyle Deming’s default setting for years, but now the ex-cop is escaping the anxieties of police work by driving a cab in a new theme park. Nostalgia City is the ultimate retro resort, a meticulous re-creation of an entire small town from the early 1970s, complete with period cars, music, clothes, shops, restaurants, hotels—the works. But when rides are sabotaged and tourists killed, billionaire founder “Max” Maxwell drafts Lyle into investigating—unofficially. Soon he gets help from 6’2 ½ Kate Sorensen, the park’s PR director and former college basketball player. Together Lyle and Kate must unravel a story of corporate greed, conspiracy, and murder in Mark Bacon’s debut DEATH IN NOSTALGIA CITY.
Mark Bacon chatted with The Big Thrill.
When did you realize you wanted to write?
Writing classes in high school got me started. I took journalism and wrote for the school paper and I took creative writing and had short stories published in the high school magazine. I think I was initially attracted by the mystique of being a newspaper reporter, which eventually I was.
With your journalism background and success in writing non-fiction what prompted the change to fiction?
I’ve always liked writing, in part because it’s the hardest work I can do reasonably well—and get paid for. At this point in my life, I wanted to try something different and since I’ve always read mystery and suspense novels, crime was a natural. Mystery flash fiction came first then I thought I had enough to say to make a novel interesting. Now I’m hooked.
What sparked the idea for DEATH IN NOSTALGIA CITY?
My inspiration for DEATH IN NOSTALGIA CITY came from several sources.
1. I started my career as a newspaper reporter in Southern California and I covered the police beat every day. I learned how cops work and a little about how they think.
By Dan Levy
It was the late W.C. Fields who said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.” Fortunately, many writers never got that message and, as a result, wrote many great things after struggling to get published.
J.J. White is among the authors who either didn’t get the message from, or just plain ignored, Mr. Fields. In fact, after seven fiction manuscripts and over 250 short stories, PRODIGIOUS SAVANT is White’s debut novel. “You have to be persistent in everything you do, no matter what age you are.”
At 61, White would be the first to tell you that he’s not really wired toward the conventional. He still surfs in the ocean, has kept his liberal leanings, and listens to Top 40/Contemporary music (unless his wife hears Rihanna, then she changes it). What’s more, unlike most authors, White had neither a penchant for writing or a mentor to inspire him at a young age.
White wrote and submitted a short story to his high school composition teacher who, after grading the story, suggested to White, “Good story. Please learn how to write.” He didn’t.
Decades past, and one day White found himself out for a week with a back injury. “During that week, I said to myself Why don’t you start writing? I was like Forrest Gump who started running for no reason. I started writing for no reason and got hooked.”
And it paid off. PRODIGIOUS SAVANT is set in 1962 Burlington, Vermont, where seventeen-year-old Gavin Weaver survives a dreadful explosion, six hours of brain surgery, and thirty days in a coma. He wakes possessing not just one savant talent, but several, including art, music, mathematics, and memory, and all without suffering any of the usual mental disabilities associated with head trauma. Even in the pre-cable TV/Internet era, Gavin quickly becomes a global sensation. The notoriety puts a murderer on his tail, while his newfound abilities, which seem like a gift, are coalescing into a madness that is robbing Gavin of reason and reality. The odds are slim he will survive both the internal and external conflicts that keep him from the one thing he wants most, the girl he’s loved since childhood.
By Basil Sands
Ladies and Gentlemen, I introduce you to Steve P. Vincent, the author of the new action-packed tale of international intrigue ripped right from the headlines, THE FOUNDATION. Or as he is known in Big Time Wrestling “The Thrilluh from Down Unduh”!
Okay, he doesn’t actually have a Big Time Wrestling name, at least not that I know of. But if he did it would be something like that. He does have degrees in political science and history, though. His honors thesis was on the topic of global terrorism and he has travelled extensively throughout Europe, the United States, and Asia.
Steve lives with his wife in a pokey apartment in Melbourne, Australia, where he’s forced to write on the couch in front of an obnoxiously large television. When he’s not writing, Steve keeps food and flat whites* on the table working for The Man. He enjoys beer, whiskey, sports and dreaming up elaborate conspiracy theories to write about.
Steve, tell us about THE FOUNDATION.
THE FOUNDATION is a punch you in the mouth political thriller full of intrigue, suspense and action against a backdrop that’s all too plausible. It was a lot of fun to write and I hope readers are enjoying it as well.
It’s about the concentration of power in the hands of powerful organizations such as big business, the media, and think tanks, and what might happen when these powerful groups manipulate global events to seize power. One guy, Jack Emery, is dragged into a power struggle when one such group, The Foundation for a New America, blows up half of Shanghai, starts a war between the U.S. and China, and tries to use the chaos to take over.
If there’s something readers love more than a fresh read in their favorite genre, it’s two fresh reads. Stark House Press has delivered just that for mystery fans with its double-shot combination now available by new author Rick Ollerman featuring a pair of crime novels, TURNABOUT and SHALLOW SECRETS. Recently, THE BIG THRILL caught up with Rick and asked him to share some of his thoughts about writing along with some tidbits about his two-for-one mystery debut.
Congratulations on the publication of your two novels, TURNABOUT & SHALLOW SECRETS (published in one combined volume by Stark House Press). It’s impossible not to notice that both of these stories are set in Florida. How important is setting to your writing?
I once read an introduction to a Ross Macdonald that described Southern California as if it were another character in his books. I think that’s really true. What I did with TURNABOUT was make it my “Florida book,” meaning it could only take place in Florida. You have the Ten Thousand Islands, the Everglades, alligators, crocodiles, seemingly every insect known to North America, and a rich “tradition” of smuggling, poaching, and other illegal moneymaking opportunities. Ninety percent of the birds in the Everglades were wiped out long ago, when there was a demand for feathers for women’s hats. After a hurricane and a flood, the governor of the state tried to actually drain the Everglades. Now you’ve got Big Sugar sucking the nutrients out of the soil upstream, you have Miami encroaching constantly into the edges of what is otherwise the last and greatest wilderness area in the country.
An FBI agent once told me that if you took all the drug money out of Florida, the city of Miami would collapse. That’s how important the drug trade was to that part of the state—the invention of air conditioning made the area livable and the importation of dope made it rich.
Setting is always important, no matter where it is, but in TURNABOUT I use the features of the state to follow a plot that could only happen there. SHALLOW SECRETS is a bit different; I’d already written my “Florida book.” The last kind of writer I’d like to be is one who writes the same book over and over again. You can’t hide from your style but you can keep from templating your plots and characters. SHALLOW SECRETS takes place across a span of years with a series of killings that bring down a cop when it turns out that not only did the killer know him personally, he’d been his roommate for a while. During the time of the killings. When he was caught, he tries to implicate the cop and the resulting mess just became something the cop needed to walk away from. It didn’t matter what he said or did, people would always wonder….
What if you had to say goodbye to everyone you loved in just five short days? Debut author Julie Lawson Timmer’s riveting novel FIVE DAYS LEFT takes you on a heartbreaking journey alongside a woman who must do just that. Mara Nichols has everything—a wonderful marriage, successful career, and adoring daughter until a stunning diagnosis unravels her entire world. As she counts down her final days, she considers her dwindling choices and wrestles with the decision she knows in her heart is the right one. A parallel story intertwines with Mara’s. Scott, a virtual friend of Mara’s who lives across the country, prepares to say goodbye to the child he was only supposed to have for one year but that has become like a son to him. FIVE DAYS LEFT illustrates in emotionally wrenching narrative, the lengths to which we will go to protect the ones we love.
THE BIG THRILL caught up with Julie and she agreed to answers some questions.
What was your motivation for this story?
First, thanks so much for having me!
A few years ago, a friend of mine died after a long struggle with cancer. She was in hospice for the last several months of her life and she was spectacularly brave in facing what she knew would be her last months, weeks, and days. During that time, and after she died, I was consumed with thoughts about what that must have been like for her—to know she wouldn’t be there for her kids’ graduations, their weddings, et cetera. I decided that writing about someone dealing with a fatal, incurable disease would be a way to explore the feelings my friend might have had. I also felt that exploring and writing about those feelings would be a way for me to honor her, even if the book was never read by anyone else. I chose Huntington’s because I didn’t want (or believe I had any right) to write my friend’s story. FIVE DAYS LEFT is not biographical in any sense.
I wanted to give Mara a break from her difficult situation, and adding the online group allowed me to do that. When I was casting around in my imagination for an online friend who Mara could become close to, Scott materialized, as did his job as a middle school teacher and coach. Technically, Scott and his wife are limited guardians of Curtis, not foster parents. Foster parenting involves months of background checks and classes and applications, et cetera, while being a limited guardian is a relatively immediate process, at least in Michigan. Given the urgency in Curtis’s situation, the foster system wasn’t appropriate. However, the concept of fostering and being a limited guardian are similar in that ultimately, you are caring for, making sacrifices for, and often loving deeply, a child who isn’t your own, and whose future is not in your control. In this regard, foster parents and limited guardians are in a similar position as stepparents, a role I hold. As a stepparent, I also care for, make sacrifices for, and deeply love, children whose future isn’t in my control, and I wanted to explore that.
By J. H. Bográn
LAST WORDS opens with New York City on the brink of bankruptcy, rumbles in the Bronx, and newsman Coleridge Taylor roaming police precincts and ERs in search of a story that will rescue his career. A break comes at Bellevue, where Taylor views the body of a homeless teen picked up in the Meatpacking District. Taylor smells a rat: the dead boy looks too clean, and he’s wearing a distinctive Army field jacket. Time is not on Taylor’s side. If he doesn’t wrap this story up soon, he’ll be back on the obits pages—as a headline, not a byline.
Rich Zahradnik offers an interesting setup for a promising series set in a decade usually overlooked, probably due to its disco connection. Still, Zahradnik dives right into the middle of seventies and never looks back. THE BIG THRILL had the opportunity to question him about LAST WORDS.
What can you tell us about Coleridge Taylor?
Taylor was a top police reporter at the New York Messenger-Telegram until he was accused of inventing a story about a nine-year-old heroin addict. In fact, he was set up. He was demoted to the obituaries desk, an assignment where he deals with the dead all day but can’t pursue the real stories behind their deaths. He’s using all his spare time to find a crime story so good that his editors will give him his old job back. He’s also trying to track down the little addict he interviewed to prove the story was real.
Taylor, who’s thirty-four, joined the paper as a seventeen-year-old copy boy after growing up in Queens and moving up to reporter four years later, a traditional career path in newspapers still available in the late fifties. Now it’s 1975, and newspapers are hiring college grads from places like Columbia. These younger, better-educated reporters make Taylor insecure. Taylor isn’t sophisticated about the job. He doesn’t believe in the New Journalism or interpretive reporting. He believes in facts. If he can get all the facts, he’ll get the story. He quotes John Adams on this, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” He lost his brother in Vietnam and his mother to cancer. His father is an alcoholic English professor at CUNY he’s not very close with.
By Derek Gunn
Ethan Reid has the honour of being the premier release for the new Simon451 imprint from Simon & Schuster that will be launching in 2014. While I am sure this comes with a lot of pressure, it says a lot for the author to be given this slot and it says quite a bit of Simon & Shuster as well launching a new imprint, concentrating on speculative fiction, fantasy, and apocalyptic fiction in the current market.
Luckily they’ve picked a winner with this one. Unsurprisingly, they are already closed for submissions as they wade through all the manuscripts their call generated. Simon451 will publish in multiple electronic and printed formats, with a focus on digital-first publishing and e-book originals. I’m not too clear as to the time frame for the printed format version but the e-book comes out around the time you will be reading this.
One thing that immediately comes to your attention is the formatting. I’ll get to the writing in a minute—be patient. This book was designed as an e-book, rather than the usual design as paperback and “fit” it into an e-book as an afterthought. The result is a much more gratifying e-book experience. A small point but I have read so many badly formatted e-books that it was a joy to read this one.
Of course, the writing helped a bit too. The prose is snappy, the characters immediately likable and the pace burns through the text so quickly that my poor Kindle is still smoking. This is not another zombie novel, though it can be enjoyed as such. There is more at work here. Not content with throwing an unknown global catastrophe at our heroes, the author uses earthquakes, falling meteors, et cetera as merely a first course. After the initial disaster, strange creatures begin to pull themselves from the darkness to hunt the living.
These creatures are not just mindless zombies though. They reason, they run in packs, and they are all too hard to kill. Throw all that at our hero and then place them in a foreign city with limited language ability and you begin to get the idea of what our heroes have to go through. Of course, don’t expect all the humans to be helpful either. As society crumbles, man’s rules deteriorate and danger lurks everywhere.
By Brian Knight and Ellie Knight
When Thea discovers a new role-playing game online, she breaks her parents’ rules to play. In the world of the game, Thea falls for an older boy named Kit whose smarts and savvy can’t defeat his near-suicidal despair. Soon he’s texting her, asking her to meet him, and talking in vague ways about how they can be together forever. As much as she suspects that this is wrong, Thea is powerless to resist Kit’s allure, and hurtles toward the very fate her parents feared most. Ripped from a real-life story of Internet stalking, WHO R U REALLY? will excite you and scare you, as Thea’s life spins out of control.
Margo Kelly’s debut novel WHO R U REALLY? is now available from Merit Press, and Margo was kind enough to let my daughter, Ellie, and I gang up on her to talk about it.
Hi Margo. Thanks for agreeing to talk with my daughter, Ellie, and I.
Brian: As a public speaker, you’re already something of a professional communicator, but there is a difference between the spoken word and the written one. Was the transition from orator to author a challenging one for you?
In some ways, yes, because much of my public speaking has been on non-fiction topics such as business, sales, and recruiting. Now I’m writing fiction for the young adult audience. These are two completely separate worlds. However, any great public speaker includes stories, personal details, and a bit of hyperbole to keep the interest of the listeners. So that art of engaging the audience has definitely helped me translate stories to paper.
Ellie: Did writing WHO R U REALLY? bring back the trauma of your daughter’s experience?
The process of writing the story was very therapeutic for both me and my daughter. As she recovered from the ordeal, we would play the “what if” game. What if she’d done this instead of that? What if the predator had done that instead of this? The tough part for both of us was when we received the advance reading copies from the publisher. That was when we both realized the story was actually going out into the world for everyone to read. I have to admit there was a flash of panic for me. It was an extreme moment of vulnerability—feeling naked. Not only would people be judging the story for its merit, but also people would be judging my parenting choices and my daughter’s naivety. We wish we could explain a couple of things to every reader: 1) This happened to my daughter six years ago when she was eleven going on twelve. 2) This book is mostly a work of fiction. While many of the scenes happened in real life, there are also many that are a product of our “what if” game all those years ago.
By J. H. Bográn
I first met author Maria Alexander in the hallways of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City during the 2010 ThrillerFest. We exchanged book pitches and business cards. Hers was made of thick pink cardboard, with black lettering, lilac leaves on each corner, and neatly framed. There was this message on the back that has haunted me ever since: “I’ve suffered for my art. Now it’s your turn.” We kept in touch, and when I got this month’s assignment I was thrilled to find out it was for Alexander’s MR. WICKER.
Tell us about MR. WICKER.
Alicia Baum is missing a deadly childhood memory. She must find it before it destroys her. Located beyond life, The Library of Lost Childhood Memories holds the answer. But the Librarian is Mr. Wicker—a seductive yet sinister creature with an unthinkable past and an agenda just as lethal.
What can you tell us about Alicia?
She’s intelligent. Independent. Passionate. Depressed. Angry.
Authors rarely kill off the main character in the first paragraph, but that’s exactly what I’ve done in MR. WICKER.
While she is certainly in a bad way at the outset, her enormous imagination and courage later help her process extraordinary events that would drive you and I insane. Her strong will and rebellious streak don’t always help her make the best decisions. However, you can see the size of her heart in her defense of and compassion for those weaker than herself. Publishers Weekly said some lovely things about both the book and Alicia. It made me very happy.
Can you give us some dirt on the librarian? Without giving away the ending, of course.
Mr. Wicker, who presides over The Library of Lost Childhood Memories, is one unforgiving bastard, even when it comes to centuries-old hurts. The contents of the Library have corrupted his mind, yet there is still a chance for him to learn forgiveness. Whether he takes it or not is to be seen, but Alicia’s life might depend on it.