By Julie Kramer
Even with fifteen consecutive #1 New York Times bestsellers to her name, Tami Hoag still feels a tinge of panic trying to figure out the identity of the killers in her gritty psychological thrillers.
This was especially true with COLD COLD HEART, in which her protagonist, Dana Nolan, moves from abduction victim in Hoag’s previous bestseller, The 9th Girl, to a brain-damaged heroine trying to solve a cold case.
The ending shocks, to be sure, but for me the real surprise comes in Hoag’s Author’s Note in which she reveals a personal secret.
In the back of COLD COLD HEART, you share details about the lasting effects of a traumatic brain injury you suffered as a child. What made you go public with this?
One, because if I share my story I will reach other people who have struggled with something similar, and they won’t feel so alone in their experience. It’s very isolating to feel that no one understands what you’re going through, whatever that is. Two, because I wanted to illustrate the vagaries of traumatic brain injury. How one person can have a seemingly serious injury but walk away, while another might seem to have a mild injury but a devastating result.
How much of your own experience factored into your decision to center a plot around a brain-injured heroine? Did you ever consider that might be risky?
I never considered my own injury at all when I created Dana. I originally thought Dana wasn’t going to get out of The 9th Girl alive. But when the climax of her part of that book came, she fought harder than I expected, and I just couldn’t kill her off. I knew then I had to tell her story in the aftermath of her being a victim of a horrible crime. I knew she had suffered a brain injury and that she had been disfigured and would have PTSD. It never crossed my mind that a character might be risky commercially. I love writing complex and damaged people, real people with good traits and difficult traits. I have to write first to satisfy myself, then to satisfy my editor. Beyond that, I know that some readers will love what I do, some will like what I do, and some won’t like it at all, and that’s fine with me. I’d rather be a great shot of whiskey to my audience than a weak cup of tea to the masses. Of course, I’m very grateful that a lot of people like whiskey.
By J. F. Penn
Scott Mariani is the author of the acclaimed action-adventure thriller series featuring ex-SAS hero, Ben Hope. Scott’s novels have topped the bestseller charts in his native Britain, and are translated into more than twenty languages worldwide.
His next book THE NEMESIS PROGRAM, is available in the U.S., Feb 15, 2015.
Tell us a bit more about yourself, and how you got into writing.
The first book in the Ben Hope series came out in 2007, so that goes back a little while, and obviously, like everybody in this game, I’d been trying for a million years to get into writing. That sounds familiar, I’m sure. Eventually, it did happen, but it was a long road, like it is for loads of people. Some are obviously luckier than that, but for me it was a long road. I suppose it’s a cliché to say that one grew up writing little stories and all this kind of stuff, so I guess that writing is something of a disease that you catch early on in life, that then gets more and more chronic as you age, and it’s something you’re probably born with. So it’s nice, after all these years, to be able to say I am now doing this for a living.
Did you have another day job before writing?
I’ve had all sorts of jobs, some of them more interesting than others, like playing music. And, I’ve done a variety of things, like translation work in several languages. But writing was what I always wanted to do, really.
What languages do you speak?
I studied French and German, and I’ve got a French background, although my surname’s Italian, but it’s really from just outside of Nice, from the French side, so I’m sort of bilingual between French and English. I’m supposed to be able to speak German, but that, frankly, is something that fell by the wayside many years ago. I can understand a certain smattering of other languages, too, but those are the only two, French and English.
In something new for THE BIG THRILL, Barry-nominated author Tim O’Mara, a special education teacher in New York public schools, wrote this great vignette. It isn’t hard to see how his teaching led him to the world of detective fiction, with a series centered around a teacher / ex-cop who often gets involved with cases involving students or former students. —Eds
By Tim O’Mara
There’s something not quite right about the guy sitting across the table from me.
He knows it. I know it. But he’s not talking.
That’s why they called me. I have a rep for being good at getting guys like this to open up. If they go silent, it’s my job to pick up on the body language, subtle gestures, non-verbal clues.
After five minutes, I’m starting to think maybe they called in the wrong man. This guy’s as smart as they told me he was. Maybe smarter.
I decide to give him a task. Something to do that requires a set of skills unique to the situation.
He begins easily enough. He may be quiet and hard to figure out, but he’s willing to please. Most of them are. That’s what I count on. The quicker they give me what I want, the quicker they’re rid of me. That’s what they think, anyway.
I watch him for a while. I ease up out of my seat and walk to the back of the room. There’s usually not much to see from back here, but I give it a shot. I notice his back’s nice and straight. The head goes up and down more than it should, but that could just be a physical tick.
I move around to the side, just enough to give me an angle to observe as he continues to do what I asked. The head is still going up and down every three to five seconds. Too much. I complete my arc and stand in front of him. I check out his hands, his shoulders, his face.
And there it is. In the eyes. Poker players call it a “tell.” I call it squinting.
“You wear glasses?” I ask.
A varied group of mysteries and thrillers were published in South Africa last year. While several of the authors were featured in AFRICA SCENE, and Joanne Hitchens and I will be catching up with others this year, I thought we’d take a look at some of 2014’s literary highlights—apologies if we’ve missed any!
The South African thriller-publishing year kicked off with Joanne Macgregor’s debut, DARK WHISPERS, a nail-biting psychological drama. When a patient describes an experience of mental torture and sexual mutilation by a gynecologist at the private hospital where she works, psychologist Megan Wright investigates. Determined to find out the truth and stop the abuse, but bound to silence by the ethics of confidentiality, Megan enters the dark mind of a dangerously disturbed man. Joanne gave us more insight into the book in her AFRICA SCENE interview in October.
Next up, DEVIL’S HARVEST by Andrew Brown. After a secret drone strike on a civilian target in South Sudan, RAF air marshal George Bartholomew discovers that a piece of shrapnel traceable back to a British Reaper has been left behind at the scene. He will do anything to get it back—but he’s not the only one. The plot involves the search for the drone, a rare plant, war lords, and an unexpected relationship. It takes place in South Sudan, a country where undeclared war has become a way of life. Brown is one of our best crime writers. He told us more about the book and how he came to write it in the August AFRICA SCENE.
By Diane Kelly
Characters with Claws
Developing unique, realistic, and engaging characters is always a challenge. When has quirky gone too far? How “real” do fictional people have to be to maintain credibility? Just how flawed can a writer make a character before the person becomes too irritating or unlikable? As I discovered when writing my K-9 cop series, developing a realistic and engaging non-human character poses these same challenges.
Recognizing that animals are sentient creatures with emotions and the ability to reason is critical to creating a well-developed non-human character. Both instinct and intellect are common to all creatures great and small, from dogs and cats to goats and horses and humans. While those who are unfamiliar with animals might accuse a writer of anthropomorphizing their non-human characters, they would be wrong. Anyone who has spent any appreciable amount of time around animals know that each animal, while sharing some traits with others of its species, will have its own individual behavior patterns, preferences, and idiosyncrasies, just as we people do.
As with their human characters, writers must be careful not to make their non-human characters too stereotypical. My shepherd-mix K-9 cop Brigit has many of the typical shepherd traits. She’s smart. Protective. Loyal. Had these been her only characteristics, though, she would have been a rather bland and predictable secondary character. To give the canine character some teeth, I gave the dog flaws that became critical points of contention between her and her human partner, Officer Megan Luz.
AMAZON BURNING, my new eco-thriller, is, above all a fun read. But hopefully it’s more than mindless fun. Emma and Jimmy, the main characters, are caught up in an important fight to protect the rainforests of Brazil. And that’s something we should all care about.
The character of Souza in AMAZON BURNING is, unfortunately, a pretty good representation of some of the Mafioso-type ranchers and farmers in the region. They want to make a quick buck by clearing vast areas of jungle to plant crops or graze their cattle. Sadly, we’ve all seen so many of those photographs depicting the Amazon going up in smoke that I think we’ve become immune to them.
What those pictures don’t show is the human cost of all that destruction. Deforestation is not the only problem. The whole eco-system of the Brazilian rainforest is under attack. In scenes that are also true to life, Jimmy and Emma try to root out a wildlife smuggling ring. Criminals make billions of dollars each year from the illegal capture and sale of wild animals. Some of the creatures become exotic pets. Many others are just turned into potions and powders, because there are people around the world who really think that these animals can give them magic powers.
By Basil Sands
Lee Weeks is a prolific thriller writer who has been called “The female James Patterson.” Her books seem not only to tell tales of adventure but to bring them alive. And that lively adventure is something she is more than a little familiar with. Born in Devon, England she left school at seventeen and, armed with a notebook and very little cash, spent seven years working her way around Europe and South East Asia. She returned to settle in London, marry and raise two children. She has worked as an English teacher and personal fitness trainer. And her books have been Sunday Times bestsellers.
Her seventh novel, FROZEN GRAVE, is third in the riveting Willis/Carter series that follows two detectives in a London murder investigation squad. Full of excellent police drama, I found the well-written dialogue moved the story seamlessly, it reminded me of the BBC series Spooks (MI-5 in the US).
Lee graciously agreed to answer a few questions for The Big Thrill.
Lee, tell us about FROZEN GRAVE.
FROZEN GRAVE is the story of love lost, longed for or imagined—and a killer’s cold heart.
What was your inspiration for detectives Willis and Carter?
Willis and Carter, are a miss-match—I chose them so that they could view the world differently; they come from very different backgrounds. Together they form an interesting and unique investigative team.
By Karen Harper
The Big Thrill spoke with New York Times bestselling author Karen Harper from her home in Columbus, Ohio. The city is buried under an early snow, she said, but she still has power so she could stay warm and write. The third book in her Cold Creek Trilogy set in Appalachia is out this month, just two months after the second novel—a writing marathon but with the reward for readers of the three related books out close together. She was also happy to report that Shattered Secrets, the first book in this trilogy, was voted one of the Best of 2014 Books by readers of Suspense Magazine.
Can you tell us what BROKEN BONDS is about and how it fits into The Cold Creek Trilogy?
Each of these romantic suspense novels is related, yet they could stand alone. BROKEN BONDS focuses on the return of the third Lockwood sister, Charlene, called Char, to the small town of Cold Creek, and the deadly danger she is soon embroiled in there. Char is a social worker, dedicated to helping poor Appalachian children who live so high up in the mountains that they have trouble getting to school. But when she helps rescue Matt Rowan from being shoved off the cliff in his car, she’s the one who takes a fall. Not only does she fall for Matt, a man she’s not sure she can trust, but she’s soon threatened by the same killer who is after him.
Was it difficult to make the three sisters, each heroine of her own book, different—yet similar enough to be sisters?
That’s a great question, because I worked hard at that. Tess, the youngest was traumatized by being kidnapped as a child, so she’s wary and needs to come a long way to help the Cold Creek sheriff find her abductor in Book One, Shattered Secrets. Kate, the heroine of Book 2, Forbidden Ground, is just the opposite: well-educated, well-traveled, an archeologist whose self-confidence almost proves her undoing when she and Grant Mason, the owner of an ancient Adena Indian mound, are threatened. Char is the one her sister’s call “a bleeding heart,” out to save locals kids—the entire world if she could. So they are very different women, and the trick was to give them a support team through their family ties and beyond.
Abe Beckham, the protagonist of best-selling author James Grippando’s compelling new novel, CANE AND ABE, has remained a star prosecutor in the Miami State Attorney’s Office despite the untimely death of his first wife, Samantha. His new wife, Angelina, has helped him through the loss. Yet, Angelina can’t help feeling that their marriage is not what they’d hoped for because Abe still loves Samantha too much.
Then things go terribly wrong. The FBI has been tracking a killer in South Florida known as “Cutter,” whose brutal methods hark back to Florida’s dark past, when machete-wielding men cut sugarcane by hand in the blazing sun. A woman’s mutilated body is discovered dumped in the Everglades. When Angelina goes missing, Abe becomes a suspect. Was Abe responsible for Angelina’s disappearance because of his lingering love for Samantha, or because of a new woman? In the course of answering these questions, CANE AND ABE explores love, death, loyalty, and the dark side of humanity.
At the beginning of CANE AND ABE, you recount an incident that occurred in 1941, when on the promise of steady employment, African American men were led into virtual slavery by the big sugar companies, forced to cut sugarcane by hand at unconscionable wages. How does this past injustice inform your novel?
That backstory is based on the actual indictment of U.S. Sugar by the Department of Justice in 1941, but I didn’t include it CANE AND ABE simply to paint the sugar industry as a villain. CANE AND ABE is not a story about “Big Sugar.” It’s a psychological thriller that’s driven by the breakdown of trust between a husband and wife. Abe Beckham is white, and he fell in love with Samantha Vine, a black woman whose father was one of those enslaved sugar workers. Abe made promises to Samantha and her family before she died, including the promise to look after Samantha’s bipolar brother. Keeping those promises has consequences for his new marriage. Putting the backstory about Big Sugar upfront—which involved lies and broken promises on a massive scale—establishes a powerful backdrop against which Abe struggles to keep his promises.
Historical mysteries pack an extra punch when they are set in a time of turbulence and danger, and in her first mystery, E.M. Powell selected the conflict-riven 12th century reign of King Henry II for her fast-paced story. The Fifth Knight begins as a quintet of tough, ruthless knights are on their way to Canterbury Cathedral to seize its defiant archbishop, Thomas Becket. Powell gives a fascinating twist to the legend of the murder of Becket, one that pulls in her two fictional main characters, Sister Theodosia, a sheltered but feisty nun, and Sir Benedict Palmer, a mercenary knight who grows a conscience. In the sequel, THE BLOOD OF THE FIFTH KNIGHT, Powell once again blends history with fictional weavings as Sir Benedict investigates attempts on the life of King Henry’s delectable mistress, Rosamund Clifford. In the U.K. THE BLOOD OF THE FIFTH KNIGHT reached the Number One spot on Amazon’s list of historical fiction bestsellers. The novel will be released on January 1, 2015 in North America.
For The Big Thrill, Powell, born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins, reveals her inspiration, historical insights, and the craft behind creating a true page-turner.
What came first, your desire to write a mystery or your interest in medieval England?
Like all writers, the reading came first. I’ve always been a huge thriller and mystery fan and that includes historicals. As a teenager, I read Agatha Christie’s Death Comes As the End, her only historical, which is set in Ancient Egypt. I loved the way it took me to a different world so far in the past but it felt completely real. It was such a revelation.
I studied Middle English as part of my degree. And yes, tales such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight were wonderful. But it was a one-off lecture about the everyday life of a medieval tanner that grabbed me. It would have been a stinky, back-breaking existence, complete with a full complement of body-plaguing parasites. Most of my fellow students were mildly appalled/bored and couldn’t wait to get back to their analysis of the blending of the Germanic and Romance traditions. Me? I wanted to know who lived next door.
Jake Lukin has an incredible power he’s been hiding his whole life…but one (big) mess-up later, and the U.S. government knows all about it. Suddenly he’s juggling high school, tennis tryouts, flirting with Rachel Watkins, and work as a government asset, complete with twenty-four-hour bodyguards. When his family is threatened, Jake has to make a terrible choice.
TUNNEL VISION is a young adult thriller with psychic spies, graveyard chases, Call of Duty, Buffy and Veronica Mars references, and a stubborn little sister you’ll wish you had, even if you are an eighteen year-old boy.
The book already is receiving rave reviews, and the author graciously agreed to answer a few questions.
Welcome Susan, and thanks for spending some time with us.
Thanks so much! I’m so excited to be involved with The Big Thrill.
Brian: I’ve raised three teenagers, my interview partner Ellie is the youngest, and I’ve seen how hectic a modern teenager’s life can be. How much of a challenge was it for you to take an already hectic teenage schedule and cram in the potential complications of life as a psychic and secret government work?
Poor Jake. I never let him have a restful moment. I did try to make sure that his full life before this happened was reflected: he’s focused on trying to get into Stanford, playing on the tennis team, helping with his sister, and trying to balance friends and a love life before the government even enters into it. If he was the sort of person to have a to-do list, it’d be crazy full.
Ellie: What ambitions do you have for your career as a writer?
My ultimate goal is to be able to balance two threads, writing books for teens and for the middle-grade audience, and to keep publishing in both!
Brian: TUNNEL VISION is your first published work. How long have you written with an eye for publication?
I’ve been dabbling in writing for about fourteen years. I completed my first novel and began querying agents in 2006. I’m now working on my eighth manuscript. So…a long time.
By Dawn Ius
As the long-time wife of a SWAT sniper, Jan Thomas has lived most of her life under a cloak of anonymity, keeping her emotions—and close relationships—tight to her chest. She’s witnessed firsthand the darker side of humanity, and admits, it’s sometimes scary.
Thriller author Grant Jerkins considers “scary” part of his job. His dark novels—A Very Simple Crime, The Ninth Step, and At the End of the Road—are known for their ability to take readers down disturbing, uncomfortable paths.
But neither Jerkins nor Thomas ever considered those paths might one day cross.
The two have never met, but together, they’ve written DONE IN ONE, a vivid, visceral look at the haunting world of a police sniper. Though fiction, the novel is very much centered on Thomas and her husband’s life.
“If my husband had his way, this story would never have been written,” Thomas says. “Snipers are very solitary creatures. He doesn’t like anybody knowing his business.”
But Thomas knew in order to do the story justice, she’d have to dig deep and get personal. Ultimately, she’d have to get naked in front of the world. Which could have left her co-writer feeling a little like a third wheel.
Jerkins doesn’t see it that way.
“I knew Jan for four years before she even told me her husband’s name,” he says. “It’s built in to Jan not to share personal information. But even from the beginning, I’ve always felt part of their inner circle.”
By Dawn Ius
After a two-year hiatus, Thomas Perry returns to his bestselling Jane Whitefield series with, A STRING OF BEADS—a fast-paced thriller about how abandoning the past can sometimes be the hardest thing to do, even when your life—and the life of those you love—depends on it.
It’s a book Perry has wanted to write for some time, but it wasn’t until he received a letter from a fan that he found true inspiration.
“I acquired a friend who might be called my ‘culture guide,’ an expert in Senca culture,” he says. “He’s a Canadian lawyer specializing in rights issues concerning the Iroquois nations, who live on both sides of the border.”
He’d read all of Perry’s books, and while he enjoyed the stories, he was able to share expertise that not only helped Perry understand some of the more intricate parts of the Seneca culture, but also got him fired up to return to this series.
“He had a lot to say that was new to me, and new to readers, and so, I knew it was time to write,” Perry says. “I could hardly wait.”
In A STRING OF BEADS, Jane Whitefield is enlisted by the eight clan mothers of her tribe to find one of her childhood friends who has been accused of murdering a local white man. But as she retraces the steps of a walking trip she and her fellow tribesman took together at age fourteen, she soon realizes the police aren’t the only ones after him—and bringing Jimmy back before he is killed or arrested might be much more dangerous than she anticipated.
I have a book in front of me that’s fiendishly hard to classify, as it contains elements, among others, of the thriller, the paranormal, and the weird. But these many facets combine to form a polished and original end-result; one particular gem is the unique spin on the mortals-immortals relationship that sees humanity using them as a source of energy.
Its believable, down-to-earth characters depict pleasantly imperfect people, who must face situations both of and beyond this world. We meet protagonist Chris Copeland, his job description being neatly encapsulated in the book’s title, who crosses paths with a chain-smoking, chain-swearing Hungarian detective who is certain to find her way into reader’s memories. Together they provide plenty of fascinating interplay, and form an unlikely human team facing off against fleeting inhuman entities whose brevity forces us to gulp down concentrated doses of spookiness.
I was fortunate to hunt down Tim Lees and subject him to a round of questioning in an attempt to shed light on the thought processes behind the darker side of the creation of such a novel.
Your novel, THE GOD HUNTER, could be described as a paranormal thriller. What appeals to you most about writing for the paranormal genre?
You can play with ideas. Your story automatically has an extra level to it. On the one hand, you have the usual matter expected of a novel such as characters and plot, but then you have this sort of mythic level on the top of that, setting up all kinds of resonances. If everything goes well, it can be a very pleasing combination.
By George Ebey
A group known as The Order has been watching college professor Luci de Foix for years, waiting for the day that a diary written in the fourteenth century would be delivered to her—a book that contains a key to a lost codex—and they would do anything to get it. Plagued by panic attacks, Luci struggles to overcome her fears, avenge her family, and search for the lost codex written by Thomas. But who can she trust? Everyone seems intent on betraying her, even the gorgeous, enigmatic Max, a man with secrets of his own.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Linda to discuss her work on THE BLACK MADONNA.
Your novel includes aspects of religion and history. What interests you most about these subjects?
It sounds cliché but I believe by having a deep understanding of the past and that includes the daily impact religion had on people we can learn from it and grow as a society. If we fail to learn we are destined to repeat and obviously we keep making some of the same aspects. We don’t appreciate the differences that we have, we try as societies to make people conform to our own beliefs, it has never worked.
Ken Newman has loved stories of the supernatural since listening to his grandmother’s tales of witches, haints, boogers, and catawamps when he was a child. Author of urban fantasy novels, his fiction reflects his Tennessee roots and his love for all things that go bump in the night.
Mixing folklore with modern themes, Ken’s novels create a universe of supernatural creatures and larger than life heroes where nothing is as it seems and myth and legend are terrifyingly real.
Ken graciously agreed to answer a few questions about his latest novel, THE VOICE IN MY EAR.
Where does this book take readers?
Zack Cole never enjoyed living in Bryson City, Tennessee. Being the direct decedent of a bloody serial killer made Cole a pariah and when he was old enough, he left, never intending to return. Coaxed back after two years to attend a memorial for his best friend was a bad idea and Zack finds himself the lone survivor of a bloody massacre. Not only is his body broken, his memory does not jibe with the official police version of events. On the day of his release from the hospital, Zack receives a mysterious visitor who forces Zack to make good on a deal he made moments from death. In exchange for his life, Zack agrees to become the host of a very special entity. Laylakokumi Akirasoon Shu, better known as Layla, was the most powerful witch to every walk the earth, but that was 4000 years ago. Cursed to exist as an earthbound spirit trapped in the form of a tattoo, Layla needs a host to survive. While Zack and Layla struggle with their new relationship, they have no idea they are pawns in a deadly game between the Fallen.
What attracts you to this type of story?
From a young age, we are led to believe that the world in which we live is well ordered and devoid of anything outside natural laws. All the tales of witches, monsters and supernatural creatures were the creation of backward superstition. I think the concept of the world around us as being more mysterious and dark than we believe is too enticing to let go. Just imagine if myth, monsters, and legends were not only real, but lived among us, fighting a secret war? A war that from time to time we mortals were drawn into. What if your third period school teacher was secretly a warlock? Perhaps the pastor at your church was a fallen angel, or your next door neighbor a shape shifter?
An NFL linebacker, Brian Williams, is found dead in the middle of the street in the Nation’s capital. Other famous athletes are murdered one by one in the following weeks. The serial killer stumps the police and FBI by using a different method in killing each victim.
This is the premise of Annie Rose Alexander’s new novel, RETRIBUTION.
In the story, homicide detectives Ariel Summers and Paul Costello interrogate victim Brian Williams’s wife, who hires Private Detective, Jason Steele, not knowing that Jason is Ariel’s boyfriend. Jason and Ariel clash when evidence surfaces that causes Ariel to arrest Brian’s wife. But as the death toll continues to rise, they are forced to work together on a plan to trap the nation’s most dangerous and cold-blooded assassin.
What prompted you to write this story? It touched upon a lot of cultural memes that made the story seem especially timely. And what’s your fascination with murder?
I think what prompted me to write this story was the murder of NFL Washington Redskins safety, Sean Taylor, and other athletes who were murdered before and after Sean’s untimely death.
I wouldn’t say that I have a fascination with murder but the public wants to know why people kill and they are intrigued by the ways people commit the crime. And I think people have a need to know about motivation and means in order to prevent crime and protect themselves from crime. And because of this need to know, or fascination with murder, the public buys the mysteries and thrillers we write.
“There was no reason for Elizabeth Knoebel to suspect that this was going to be the last day of her life.” That’s how L. T. Graham’s THE BLUE JOURNAL begins: a promise of a murder, but this taut and exciting psychological thriller delivers so much more.
Knoebel’s body is found naked in bed and it’s clear to Lieutenant Detective Anthony Walker that the victim knew whoever put a bullet in her brain. Walker, a former NYPD detective, now works for the Darien PD, a wealthy bedroom community in Connecticut, where a year’s worth of crime would barely fit into a twenty-four-hour timespan in the Big Apple. With ten years on the job in NYC, Walker has seen it all, and at first this case seems to be a straightforward homicide. But like the well-heeled people in this town, appearances are not what they seem. And after reviewing the victim’s salacious diary, he finds he has more murder suspects than a country club cocktail party.
Elizabeth Knoebel’s diary lays out in explicit detail all her sexual exploits—including the husbands of the women in her group therapy sessions. She would pick her prey, seduce them, humiliate them, then throw them away. Knoebel had made lots of enemies. The murderer could be any one of her jilted lovers. Or one of the vengeful wives. With little concrete evidence to go on, Detective Walker must unravel the tangled relationships, decipher fact from fiction, all the while navigating the shifting sands of small-town politics and gossip, the power plays and treachery.
By Wendy Tyson
DOING THE DEVIL’S WORK is Bill Loehfelm’s fifth novel and the third book in the Maureen Coughlin crime fiction series. His first two books in the Coughlin series, The Devil She Knows and The Devil in Her Way, were published to strong reviews. And Bill’s first novel, Fresh Kills, won the 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. A prolific author, Bill’s essays and short stories can be found in a number of anthologies, including Year Zero, Life in the Wake, and Soul is Bulletproof (which feature his work about post-Katrina New Orleans) as well as Staten Island Noir and Books to Die For. Bill, who was born in Brooklyn and raised on Staten Island, makes his home in New Orleans. In anticipation of his upcoming release, Bill sat down with The Big Thrill to answer a few questions.
Booklist called your main character, Maureen Coughlin, “as compelling a character as this reviewer expects to see this year.” The New Orleans Times-Picayune called her “unforgettable” and “the character of the year.” Can you tell us a little more about Maureen and some of the elements of her past that have made her the woman she is today?
I like to save the real juicy stuff for the books, but there certainly are things about her that keep me coming back. Like a lot of crime fiction heroes, she’s a loner. She’s thirty now and has been making her own way since she was eighteen. But in joining the NOPD she’s found a place and a career where she desperately wants to fit in and belong—and of course she’s not very good at fitting in. I really enjoy writing someone who’s trying to be happy, and to be the best version of herself that she can, and who has virtually no clue how to do those things.
Also, there’s the issue of power. All her life, she’s never had any. She’s a small woman, who’s not particularly attractive and who’s always been broke. When she wasn’t getting overlooked she was getting pushed around. Her history has made her tough and wily and angry, and now she has a badge and a gun. Taking her through her struggles with having some real power over other people has been really interesting. She makes some mistakes.
By Eileen Carr
A few years ago, I was at a writers’ conference and during one of those late night slightly boozy conversations, I mentioned an idea I had to another author. She thought it was a great idea and asked why I wasn’t actively working on it. I told her I wasn’t sure I could do it.
“Ah,” she said. “It scares you. Then that’s totally the book you should write.”
Her opinion was that if you had an idea that was big enough and important enough to you that it scared you to try to write it, then it absolutely had to be written.
Writing VEILED INTENTIONS has scared me more than writing any of my other books. I have written about serial killers and vampires and sociopaths and werewolves, but writing about the goings on in a northern California college town has kept me up at night and made me chew off more fingernails than all of the other books combined.
I was a little afraid of the subject matter. Part of the idea for the book came from my own ignorance. I got into a conversation about Islamophobia with someone. I found myself unable to support my opinion that an entire group of people should not be vilified based on their religious practices because I really didn’t know anything about Islam. I did a lot of reading and a lot of talking to people, but I’m still afraid I didn’t get my facts straight.
I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get the voices right. There are several teenaged characters in the books and while I’m kind of immature, I’m pretty far from being a teenager. Luckily, I had actual live teenagers in the house upon whom I could eavesdrop. They were also very patient with me asking what the kids are calling things these days. But slang changes quickly and book publication is slow. I’m afraid that what was au courant while I was writing might be old and busted now.
By J. H. Bográn
As the famous story goes, Steven Spielberg ran into Michael Crichton and asked what he was working on. The author replied with two words: DNA and dinosaurs. Of course, this later became the franchise known as Jurassic Park. Now, author Cara Brookins is taking DNA, and its experimentation in a totally different direction. For starters, as Brookins revealed to us this month, we’re now talking about humans.
What’s the premise of your new book, LITTLE BOY BLU?
Blu Tracey grew up isolated in the Appalachian Mountains and is the only child in his family without a genetic abnormality that causes blue skin. But when he discovers his mother intentionally had abnormal children for a reality television show, he becomes the target of a killer. If Blu doesn’t expose someone in his own family as a suspect, his siblings will be exploited for their rare, genetic mutation, and worse, they could be the next targets in the killer’s pursuit of fame.
How did the idea behind the DNA abnormality come about?
I’ve always been interested in science and unusual genetic possibilities. I read a short news article about Methemoglobinemia, a rare genetic abnormality that originated in the Appalachian Mountains, and instantly knew I had to write a novel about it. I tucked it away in my idea dump folder and waited for a plot to take root. I loved the sci-fi feel of blue-skinned people and the remote setting allowed for sinister possibilities.
Blu’s character came to me immediately, including that he was the only child in his family who was not blue. But it wasn’t until several weeks later, after reading a separate news story about Nadya Suleman (known as Octomom) that I put the full plot together with the mom’s motivations. Suleman appears to have intentionally given birth to multiple children with the hopes of a reality show. The natural question became, “How far will a person go for fame?” And more importantly, “How gray are the lines of this mindset?” In our reality show–obsessed society, it fit very well for a contemporary novel. I especially love that even though it sounds like wild fiction, it’s all possible.
Demystifying the Mystery
What makes a good mystery? Could there be a simpler question? On the flipside, could there be a more broad-based question? Each reader has his or her tastes and opinions, as does every writer. I can’t—and won’t— presume to have the answers. What I will do is share some aspects of what I believe, as a reader, makes a good mystery, and what works for me as a writer.
A good mystery is plot-driven.
Without a well-paced and intriguing plot (storyline), the mystery is dead in the water. You’ve heard it a million times, but it’s worth repeating again: you must pull the reader into the story, and the sooner the better. In my first Mac McClellan Mystery, Deadly Catch, the opening sentence sets the stage:
The first cast of the day turned my dream vacation into a nightmare.
Short and sweet, but doesn’t it make you want to read more and find out why?
Had I opened with back-story, how Mac had recently retired from the Marine Corps and traveled to the Florida panhandle for a fishing vacation, you might have kept on reading for a while hoping the pace picked up. Personally, I would’ve thought, “Ho-hum.” Before the third chapter of Deadly Catch ends, Mac discovers a body, is suspected of murder, and warned not to leave the area by the local sheriff. Information important to back-story can be fed in by piecemeal as the story progress, but keep that plot moving! And speaking of moving, it’s the characters that drive the plot! Every scene, every action, every sentence or phrase of dialogue, must be used to reveal character or propel the storyline forward. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t belong.
By Rob Brunet
The world’s eyes are turning to the Arctic, and none more acutely than James Abel’s. A pseudonym for a journalist with deep experience in far-flung places, Abel is the author of WHITE PLAGUE. The thriller is set in a part of the world largely ignored in geopolitical fiction since Alistair MacLean wrote books like Athabasca and Ice Station Zebra.
Abel’s three decades of research and writing have taken him to the Amazon, the Sudan, the Galapagos, the Maldives, and Somalia—places where he’s encountered “the border between order and anarchy.” That borderland is where he has set the first in a series of thrillers featuring Joe Rush, a Marine doctor tasked with rescuing the crew of the United States Navy’s newest submarine.
The sub has surfaced north of Alaska, on fire, and what Rush discovers is far worse than a nautical accident. The crew are sick and dying, with 103-degree fevers, wracking coughs bringing up frothy blood, and blotched faces and chests along with burns from the fire. The sub is under foreign military threat, and spies are aboard the icebreaker that carries Rush there. If he cannot effect the rescue in secret, he must destroy the sub, because what is happening hidden from public view threatens not only the Arctic but the rest of the world.
“The new Arctic is a character in this novel,” says Abel. As shipping lanes open up, there’s a race for undersea territory among the circumpolar nations. The United States, Russia, Canada, Norway, and Denmark (via a self-asserting Greenland) are all staking claims. It’s no wonder. Estimates are roughly twenty per cent of the planet’s discoverable oil fields are under the Arctic Ocean, and the region is already home to the world’s largest diamond mines.
I took Jeanne Matthews’ new novel, released January 2015, to read with me on an idyllic family holiday. You know the kind: everything is perfect but by the end you all want to throttle each other. Escaping into someone else’s dysfunctional family was sheer delight.
This is the author’s fifth novel in the Dinah Pelerin series, featuring the globetrotting cultural anthropologist. The title refers not to physical bones but the lies that Dinah and her family and her heroic new boyfriend, Thor, flounder through, embellish and accommodate. These are not just any old lies. They range from the domestic to those laden with potentially fatal freight.
I hadn’t read any of Jeanne’s prior books and I found myself chuckling away as aspects of her characters’ lives are dropped in with deadpan aplomb: “Margaret Dobbs had aged considerably since her murder trial…” and “…maybe she was reluctant to speak ill of the man she’d killed.” I love the acerbically twisted Margaret: “She exuded a bitterness that lowered the ambient temperature like a block of dry ice…” And of Dinah: “Some people aspire to crime, some have crime thrust upon them.” The heroine has a liberating streak of larceny through her soul.
All the central characters are extremely well drawn, from the charming, kitten-heeled and elusive mother, Swan, to the bitter Margaret, to the playgirl-centerfold-handsome Thor. We’ve all had a scary but handy caretaker-figure in our lives like Matthews’ nocturnal Geert, whose helpfulness extends to offering to rip people’s eyes out.
By Jeremy Burns
Jana Hollifield may be a new name to the mystery field, but it shouldn’t remain an unknown one for true fans of the genre. Hollifield’s follow-up to her debut The Problem with Goodbye, THE PROBLEM WITH SECOND CHANCES, just hit store shelves, and the second in her Ryan McCabe series looks to make quite an impression on fans new and old alike. The author sat down with THE BIG THRILL to take readers behind the scenes of her latest book.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I live in a tiny coastal town in picturesque northern California where five cars ahead of you at a stoplight is considered heavy traffic. The natural environment here is a steady draw for artists of all kinds, including my relatives. I was born into a family of very creative people and for many years pursued an interest in painting until my desire to write became irresistible. The Problem with Goodbye, first in the Ryan McCabe series, was my debut novel.
Tell us about your new book, THE PROBLEM WITH SECOND CHANCES.
With his girlfriend out of town, lonely Ryan McCabe never expects ex-flame Holly Kemp to show up at his doorstep begging him to persuade his best friend, Portland homicide detective Ollie O’Neill, to clear her cousin in the brutal slaying of his fiancée. Holly’s cousin Sam seems a viable murder suspect, until he and Ryan meet. Convinced of Sam’s innocence, Ryan and Ollie find themselves embroiled in a disturbing murder mystery that claims yet another life. As they narrow in on the truth, inexplicable acts of violence begin to plague Ryan, and Ollie worries his closest pal may be next on the killer’s list.
The suspense of international intrigue is not restricted to government intelligence agents, as M. A. Lawson proves in his latest novel, VIKING BAY.
This novel continues the adventures of Kay Hamilton, the DEA agent protagonist who went rogue in Rosarito Beach. In VIKING BAY, Hamilton is ejected from the DEA and goes undercover in Afghanistan for a private firm. Hamilton is perfect for such an assignment. She’s a confident, independent woman who is fearless, competitive, and as comfortable in the world of espionage as James Bond. But as Lawson points out, his heroine is not perfect.
“She’s not a team player,” Lawson says. “She feels the rules don’t apply to her. She has a hard time admitting when she’s wrong. And lastly, she’s a mother that’s not the least bit maternal—although she’s trying.”
In need of a job so she can take care of her daughter, Hamilton goes to work for a shadowy quasi-governmental agency called the Callahan Group. Her first mission is to get close to Ara Khan, daughter of the man the U.S. government wants to become Afghanistan’s next president. Ara is her father’s key political advisor, and Hamilton must go undercover to learn her secrets and prod her thinking in line with America’s interests. It’s realistic and thrilling spy work until things go horribly wrong at a clandestine meeting in Afghanistan. Hamilton then faces the kind of danger fictional heroines often face. But does Hamilton see herself as a heroine?
“Not at all,” Lawson says. “She’s thrust into situations she’d avoid if she possibly could, but when she can’t, she does what’s necessary. But she’s not trying to be a hero. She’s just trying to do a dangerous job and come out of it alive.”
By Jeff Ayers
J. Sydney Jones is the author of numerous books of fiction and nonfiction, including the novels of the critically acclaimed Viennese Mystery series, The Empty Mirror, Requiem in Vienna, The Silence, The Keeper of Hands, and A Matter of Breeding. He lived for many years in Vienna and has written several other books about the city, including the narrative history, Hitler in Vienna: 1907-1913, the popular walking guide, Viennawalks, and the thriller, Time of the Wolf. Jones is also the author of the stand-alone thriller Ruin Value: A Mystery of the Third Reich (2013).
In his latest stand-alone, THE GERMAN AGENT, it is February 1917. A lone German agent is dispatched to Washington to prevent the British delivering a telegram to President Woodrow Wilson—by any means possible. For this is the Zimmermann telegram: it contains a devastating piece of news that is sure to bring the United States into the war on the side of Britain and her allies.
Having fought in the trenches himself, Max Volkman knows that America’s involvement will only prolong the slaughter of innocents and is implacable in his determination to kill the British envoy carrying the telegram. But when his pursuit of the Englishman leads him to the home of American heiress Catherine Fitzgerald, wife to one of Washington’s most powerful politicians, he is presented with a terrible choice: loyalty to his comrades in the trenches or the loss of the one woman he has ever truly loved.
His decision will determine the outcome of the First World War.
J. Sydney Jones chatted with THE BIG THRILL about his vast work plus the inspiration for THE GERMAN AGENT.
Why the love of Vienna? What appeals to you to write about it in your Vienna mysteries and the majority of your books?
I grew up a small-town boy on the coast of Oregon that was largely populated by loggers and fishermen at the time. Pure serendipity took me to Vienna. I studied there on a junior-year-abroad program in college and fell in love with the Austrian capital as only a first-time lover can, for it was first big city I had ever lived in.
By Ovidia Yu
Before coming to NUN TOO SOON, let me say I love the personalities in your earlier books—Giulia, her boss/ partner/husband, and the rest of their friends and office staff. Do they all reappear in NUN TOO SOON, which is being marketed as the first in the Giulia Driscoll mystery series rather than the fourth in the Falcone & Driscoll series? Are these characters based on real people? And why the change in the series name?
Thank you! Yes, Giulia, Frank, Sidney, and their friends and significant others are all in the new series. When Henery Press and I discussed the series, we decided on a reboot, in essence. We have a short story available for free on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and Kobo that bridges the gap between Veiled Threat, the last in the old series, and NUN TOO SOON. It’s called “Changing Habits.” Giulia has a mystery to solve, of course, and (SPOILER ALERT!) at the same time she’s dealing with all the craziness of her upcoming marriage to Frank.
In the new series, Frank’s rehabbed his knee and is back as a detective on the police force. Giulia is running Driscoll Investigations on her own, with Sidney as her assistant and a near-genius MIT geek named Zane as her new admin.
Frank and Giulia are both strong personalities, and jointly running the business caused a lot of friction. Sidney was about to give them boxing lessons as a Christmas gift. So they came up with the current solution, which has saved both the business and their marriage. That’s why the new series uses Giulia’s name alone—she’s in charge.
None of the characters are based on real people. Well, the Superior General in Back in the Habit may possibly have been loosely based on my former Superior General. But without the drug-running and other nasty illegal goings-on. But other than that, no. The characters are all out of my crowded head.
After a fall on ice ends Laura Nelson’s career as a surgeon, she joins a major pharmaceutical firm as Vice President for Research. In AFTER THE FALL, the latest novel from Patricia Gussin, her task is to finalize the imminent approval of her new company’s groundbreaking drug.
Unfortunately there are opposing forces at work. At the center is Adawia (Addie) Abdul, an Iraqi scientist who discovered the drug and is in no hurry to return to Iraq. And Saddam Hussein’s henchmen are pressuring Nelson to finish her task. They want her home to take over their country’s bioweapon program from her dying father. As determined as the Iraqis are to get Addie home as quickly as possible, FDA bureaucrat Jake Harter is equally obsessed with keeping her near, and will stop at nothing, including murder to get his way.
In addition, Laura has to deal with a number of personal issues including some secrets from her past. No doubt, she has her hands full.
This comes as no accident. Gussin said the most challenging part of writing AFTER THE FALL was in creating a stand-alone novel that also addressed incidents that occurred in her previous three Laura Nelson books.
“I wanted to accomplish closure for the series, but make this a perfectly satisfactory read for those who had no insight into Laura’s past. I was conscious of this throughout the writing process, but used the editing process to make sure that there was the right amount of backstory so that it would all make sense to the new reader.”
Technically, Gussin found that the scenes in Baghdad at the Radwaniyah Palace complex were difficult and required “much research” since she has never been to Iraq. Emotionally, “Laura’s actual conversation with her son about his paternity was tough. I didn’t know how it would turn out.”
Things that go Bump in the Night and Bodiless Voices that Haunt Me
A Journey into a Writer’s Mind
My father helped me to make my first crystal diode radio set for Halloween when I was just ten years old. I remember stringing the antenna, like a clothesline, between the grapefruit trees in my backyard and attaching it to the thin metal screen of my bedroom window and waiting, patiently for nightfall. Night, my father told me, was when radio signals—like things that go bump in the night—traveled best across the cooler desert floor. With my crudely-made copper-bound receiver at my bedside, I huddled beneath the sheets of my bed, pressed the earphones to my ears and strained to hear the scratchy voices of old radio plays. I was convinced I had pulled their bodiless voices through the ether and somehow managed to pierce the boundaries of a three dimensional universe.
My imagination was on fire.
I decided right then, if radio waves existed, other forms of communication, those not yet known to man and far more powerful, were hidden in the shadows around me. I just had to tap into them.
In my early writings I dabbled with the idea of alternative universes, living side-by-side with our own. None of it amounted to much. I was just a kid with a wild imagination. Remember that citrus orchard? By now it was strung with an early warning system to alert me of intruders. Our sequia, or the man who irrigated our orchard by moonlight, dressed in a poncho, sombrero and waders, was a space alien, and the largest of the trees, now my spaceship.
In preparation for writing his first novel, CONCH TOWN GIRL, Daniel J. Barrett’s read over 1,500 books, all in the last several years. Upon completion, Barrett’s debut work found a home at Black Opal Books, a boutique press founded in October 2010, dedicated to producing quality books with “stories that just have to be told.”
Barrett’s protagonist, Julie Chapman, grew up in Key Largo, a tenth-generation Conch. After the deaths of her parents, she is raised in the Florida Keys by her grandmother, Tillie. Then one night Tillie is involved in a car accident and ends up in a coma, leaving Julie and her best friend Joe to wonder if it really was an accident. As Julie and Joe start digging for the truth, they uncover some dark and desperate secrets that may not only stir up a great deal of trouble, but also cost them their lives.
“Developing characters from my imagination is very rewarding,” Barrett has said. “Having people discuss these individuals as if they are real people is very satisfying. I hope that you enjoy reading CONCH TOWN GIRL as much as I have enjoyed writing it.”
By Dan Levy
Like many successful authors, Alex Gordon was drawn to writing early in life and continued through high school. Then, Gordon explained, “I poked around with the idea of writing a (science fiction) novel in college, but that fizzled.”
Gordon shelved her writing for a time, but as it is with so many, the call was strong. “In the early nineties, I saw that so many of my coworkers were returning to school for MBAs. I thought that I would give writing a shot, that some sort of writing course would be my version of an MBA,” she said. The result was Code of Conduct, the first in the Jani Kilian science fiction series, written under my real name, Kristine Smith.
Nearly a decade later, Gordon returns with a supernatural thriller entitled GIDEON, set for release this month. THE BIG THRILL caught-up with Gordon to learn about her latest work and her shift from science fiction to the thriller format.
First, why the switch?
The main reason I want to write thrillers is because I love to read them. Supernatural, science fiction, espionage, medical—I enjoy the high stakes, rapidly-evolving plots, larger than life characters. They’re a blast to read and a real challenge to write. You need just enough detail—too much and you bog down the story. You need interesting characters, but you have to remind yourself that you’re not writing character studies. Revelations need to tie into the main plot.
Elizabeth Goddard is the bestselling award-winning author of more than twenty romance and romantic suspense novels and novellas, including the romantic mystery, The Camera Never Lies—a 2011 Carol Award winner. Elizabeth is also a 7th generation Texan.
In BURIED, Goddard’s latest novel, legal investigator Leah Marks is forced to flee to Alaska after witnessing a murder. Afraid for her life, she hopes to find safe shelter in a remote cabin—but the killer has tracked her to Mountain Cove. As he chases her into the snow-packed Dead Falls Canyon, an avalanche buries them both. Saved by daring search and rescue specialist Cade Warren, Leah longs to tell him the truth. But how can she, without bringing even more danger into Cade’s life? Especially when they discover the killer is very much alive and waiting to take them both down.
Alaska is about as far away from Texas as you can get. What inspired you to set BURIED in that location?
I lived in Oregon for a while and absolutely love the Pacific Northwest. Give me cold, wet and rainy over the blazing Texas sun any day. Don’t get me wrong, I love my home state of Texas, but like most Texans, I also love snow-covered mountains. The panhandle of Alaska is a gorgeous part of the world where I wanted to spend time one summer when my air conditioning was struggling, so I wrote the proposal for my search and rescue series and set it there.
Your novels combine suspense and romance—what makes you write in this genre?
I grew up reading Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt, and so developed an appetite for mystery and suspense early on. Of course, romance is a key ingredient. I can’t imagine reading a suspense novel without at least some romance, nor can I imagine reading a romance without a thread of suspense or mystery.
Phillip Margolin had a storied career as a criminal defense lawyer—handling more than thirty murder cases and even arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court. Though he’d published two novels early in his legal career, he wasn’t looking to leave his exciting law practice. In the early1990s, however, he was at a dinner party when the conversation turned philosophical. One of the guests had a question for him: If Adolf Hitler came to you and needed a lawyer, would you represent him? “I hadn’t really given much thought to that kind of question,” Margolin said. “But I was a believer in the system, and always thought I’d defend anyone. But it got me thinking whether I would represent someone who was pure evil.” It sparked an idea for a book that became the 1993 smash bestseller, Gone, But Not Forgotten. It was about a woman lawyer faced with representing a despicable human being—a serial killer who dehumanized women before killing them.
The book was a game changer for Margolin in many ways. It was the first of seventeen New York Times bestsellers for the author, ultimately leading to his retirement from the law. It was also the first time Margolin wrote a female protagonist. Today, it’s hard to believe that Margolin, known for writing strong women characters, once had anxiety about writing from a female point of view. “Back then, I didn’t think I could do a woman character justice. But when I was writing Gone, But Not Forgotten I was working on this scene where the killer goes to see his lawyer in this tall office building late at night when no one else is around. Having represented killers—even a serial killer—myself, I had an idea that the lawyer would be on guard. But something made me think, ‘Yes, as a man I’d be cautious around this killer of women, but wouldn’t it ratchet up the suspense if the lawyer was a woman—a person like the killer’s victims?’ The story required me to make the protagonist a woman, so I did.”
To get the character right, Margolin drew on the toughest, smartest, and best woman lawyer he knew, his wife Doreen. “I decided to write all the scenes imagining the character was Doreen; what she would say, how she would act. Doreen was very feminine, but also a real tough guy.” Sadly, Doreen passed away in 2007. “She wasn’t just the best lawyer I’ve ever known,” Margolin said, “she was the best human being I’ve ever met.”
Six Mystery Bookstores Recommend Novels
You May Have Missed
By Barry Lancet
With the holidays approaching, the rush is on to find a seemingly endless string of perfect gifts. If you are passionate about thrillers and mysteries, why not pass on your enthusiasm to others? And what better way to do so, then introduce them to a new voice or a new discovery?
With that thought in mind, THE BIG THRILL asked a half dozen renowned mystery bookstores across the country to recommend the perfect gift. Our only criteria: they had to be books the stores loved—novels they regularly recommend to customers—that might have slipped below the radar this year.
The bookstores responded enthusiastically with an impressive array of twenty titles. So if you’re looking for gifts this year, check out the books below. And if you’re in the neighborhood, do yourself a favor and visit these iconic stores. Or visit them online, as every shop has a number of additional offerings, from book clubs to signed books to rare editions that can be sent anywhere—for a gift, or to add to your own collection.
MYSTERIOUS BOOKSHOP · New York City
This store is a required stopover for any crime-novel enthusiast heading to New York City. Founded by owner, editor, writer, and publisher Otto Penzler in 1979, the shop is celebrating its thirty-fifth anniversary this year. Aside from carrying an extensive catalog of mysteries and thrillers of every stripe, Mysterious Bookshop also stocks signed first editions, collector’s items, and “the largest collection of Sherlockiana in the world.” And should you be looking for a more expansive gift, consider a one-year subscription to one of its book clubs. Penzler and his crew also run Mysterious Press, which publishes books in paperback and digital editions. Ian Kern supplied these store picks for the holidays:
International Thrills: An Interview with Bestselling Japanese Crime Writer,
By Layton Green
This edition of International Thrills is off to Japan and explores the fascinatingly dark world of Fuminori Nakamura, whose crime novels also delve into more literary themes. —The Managing Editors
Fuminori started publishing when he was only twenty-five, and has penned ten novels and three short story collections since 2003. He has won numerous awards for his writing, including the Ōe Prize, the Akutagawa Prize (Japan’s most prestigious literary award), the Shincho Prize for New Writers, and the Noma Prize. Stateside, his novels have been named a Wall Street Journal Best Mystery and an Amazon Best Mystery/Thriller of the Month. The Thief, his first novel translated into English, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Just this fall, he was the recipient of the 2014 David L. Goodis Award for Noir Fiction at NoirCon.
LAST WINTER WE PARTED is Fuminori’s most recent work, and the third novel to appear in English, published by Soho. I had the pleasure of reading LAST WINTER WE PARTED, and was blown away. In short, the novel is about a writer assigned to interview a famous photographer sitting on death row for the murder of two of his subjects—both women who were burned alive. It is a menacing, labyrinthine, deeply layered tale that also manages to be a quick read, and I wanted to reread it as soon as I finished.
I recently sat down with Nakamura and his publisher (Juliet Grames of Soho Press, who provided excellent translation) after a book signing in Chapel Hill.
Thanks for taking the time to chat. Tell us where you are from in Japan, and a little bit about your background.
I was born in 1977 in Aichi, Japan. I spent my four years of college in Fukushima, and since then have lived in Tokyo. I’ve been an avid reader since I was in high school.
Deon Meyer writes heart-racing thrillers set in South Africa. The last book that kept me up until three in the morning because I just had to know what happened next was his Thirteen Hours. His latest novel—COBRA—which was released in the U.S. last month, is right up there with his best books.
Deon is the best known thriller writer in South Africa and the London Times called him “far and away South Africa’s best crime writer.” His books have been translated from the original Afrikaans into twenty-seven languages, have won a slew of prizes, and been optioned for TV series and movies. Deon also writes and produces movies for the South African market.
COBRA features Detective Benny Griessel. Benny was never meant to have his own series—he had a minor part in one of Deon’s early novels—but characters sometimes have their own ideas. This time Benny, with the help of his Hawks colleagues Mbali Kaleni and Vaughn Cupido, has to take on a ruthless assassin, the top brass of the police, Britain’s MI6, South Africa’s own State Security Agency. In the beautiful Franschhoek wine valley, at an exclusive guest house, three bodies are found, each with a very professional bullet through the head. A fourth guest is missing, and he just might be a very, very important man in the fight against terrorism and organized crime.
I asked Deon about COBRA and his current projects.
Unlike most of your books, the backstory concerns an event where South Africa is incidental—almost just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Did you set out to construct an international intrigue and then see how it would play out in South Africa?
Yes, and no. I’ve been collecting articles on the U.S.’s Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme, also known as TFTP, for some years now, knowing that a story was brewing. The challenge was, how do I make it work in South Africa (which is not part of the TFTP agreement, as far as I know)?
We’ve also been seeing a lot of foreigners bringing their criminal activity to South Africa, so I wanted to reflect that aspect as well.
By Dawn Ius
For New York Times bestselling author Brad Taylor, almost nothing is more embarrassing than writing inaccurate information—especially when he should know better.
So imagine his horror a few books back when the former Army Lieutenant Colonel inadvertently wrote about a weapon system that fired .556.
“That went all the way to galley prints before a friend said, ‘.556? Were you even in the military? It’s 5.56.’ Of course, I knew that,” Taylor says. “That one decimal point may seem like small potatoes to just about anyone, but to a segment of readers, it would have been heresy.”
Lucky for Taylor, he’s armed with a group of pre-readers who have unique skills that go far beyond fixing typos.
Having spent twenty-one years in the U.S. Army, retiring as a Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel, he admits he is generally held to a higher standard of accuracy—but he’s fine with that, since it means he can concentrate on the plot and characters without worrying about getting the Operator’s actions right.
Plot and character remain a central focus in NO FORTUNATE SON, Taylor’s seventh book in the military thriller series featuring Pike Logan and Jennifer Cahill. The premise for the novel was inspired by the true story of Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier previously captured by Afghanistan in 2009.
“From the moment he disappeared, the U.S. government spent an enormous effort trying to repatriate him, despite the fact that he was basically a nobody with a cloud over his head about his motivations,” Taylor says. “I wondered what we would do if a military member related to someone important was captured. How far would we go?”
By Amy Lignor
It will come as no surprise to fans who read Arlene Kay’s tales and enjoy the humor embedded within each mystery that she spent two decades serving the Federal Government. Thankfully for readers, Arlene decided to step away from that career so that fans across the country could see her fantastic mind and incredible imagination on paper. With her stand-alone and series fiction, Arlene creates the perfect mix of sultry and suspense; her novels not only keep readers on the edge-of-their-seats, but also provide the handsome men and stunning women that make for the ultimate dream. What began with Swann Dive and proceeded to Mantrap in the Swann series, now continues with the third unforgettable installment, GILT TRIP. And Arlene has taken time out of her busy writing schedule to talk all about her present and future work.
Where exactly did Eja Kane and Deming Swann—the extremely memorable characters from the Swann series—come from? Is there a personal/real-life “tilt” on the characters?
Eja and Deming actually evolved from the basic story line from Swann Dive, which concerned the murder of Cecilia Swann, Deming’s twin and Eja’s best friend. I shudder at using the term “organically” but their journey began with a shared quest for justice and evolved into a deep romantic attachment. Eja does own many of my own traits and insecurities. Deming—well that’s another matter entirely.
Humor has become almost an integral part of suspense novels in the twenty-first century. Even the darkest of thrill rides seem to add in a dry comment at just the right moment. Do you believe that humor and timing within a tale can make or break a novel? And as a reader, do you want that lightness to be inserted into the characters you love?
Humor leavens the most stressful situations and humanizes characters. I find that authors, fictional characters, or acquaintances who take themselves too seriously are basically boring. The Brits are masters at witty, understated humor; from the wry observations of Jane Austen to Christie, Sayers, and more contemporary crime novelists. I read the Scandinavian writers also (Larsson, Mankell, Nesbo) but they are very dour. Maybe it’s the weather, but they could use a bit of fun in their lives.
In SHADOW KNIGHT’S MATE, Jay Brandon offers a tightly structured and thematically layered conspiracy thriller that pulls out all the stops. Jack Driscoll is a member of The Circle, a covert organization ostensibly protecting US interests for two centuries. When the organization is attacked by an unknown antagonist, what appear to be doubles of Jack are sighted in Europe. While he tries to combat the subversions occurring around him he meets Arden, a girl whose motivations remain as shadowy as the narrative.
Tell us about SHADOW KNIGHT’S MATE.
In the book, Jack Driscoll is a young member of a very secretive, loosely organized group known as The Circle, which has operated behind the scenes for generations, protecting American interests. They work through subtlety and suggestion. As Jack says, “None of our members has held elected office in more than two hundred years. Not even a local school board. Actually, two of our members were First Ladies of the United States, but not the two you would think. Very few of us were CEOs, either. More commonly we were the assistant to the Human Resources Director. These were the people to whom presidents and CEOs turn in times of crisis. Mycroft Holmes, not Sherlock.”
But in SHADOW, they seem to have been discovered, as several of their members are attacked at the same time America is. And someone is targeting Jack directly, with impersonators of him appearing around Europe. Jack goes to Europe to investigate, taking with him (against his will) Arden, the youngest and most accomplished member of The Circle. Even in this group of geniuses and world-class networkers, she scares people with her abilities to read people and make connections. And Jack isn’t sure of her intentions.