Digging Up The Past
By Josie Brown
Iconic anti-hero Jack Reacher has made thriller writer Lee Child an internationally renowned author. In PAST TENSE—the latest novel in this New York Times bestselling series—a turn in the road takes Child’s avenging loner to his long-deceased father’s hometown, where the ghosts of his past aren’t necessarily dead and buried.
As is customary, Child started PAST TENSE without a plot.
“I am the extreme example of a pantser,” he says. “I have no idea at all what the book is going to be about. I just start it and hope that somehow it sets in motion a chain of thought that will then produce a decent story. This is number 23 in the series. Having done so many, I’ve learned to trust that process.”
And as is usually the case, the book’s first paragraph inspired the entire plot.
“Reacher’s rootlessness leaves him a lot of time to kill and no particular place to go,” Child says. “The first paragraph was supposed to launch a journey, or a trip, whatever. But when I re-read it, I realized that I used a lot of ornithological imagery: about Reacher leaving the Northeast at the ending of the summer and planning to head south, like a migration. I then thought, ‘Why have I done that? What is the subliminal content about that paragraph?’”
He remembered writing about ornithology in another book, where he describes Reacher’s father. “There’s a brief mention of this Marine Corps officer who was a stone-cold killer but also a birdwatcher. Tough, but also somewhat tender,” Child says, adding that a few meager details about the man also appear in a short story. “In it, I mention his name—Stan—and the town he’s from: Laconia, New Hampshire. I chose Laconia simply because it sounds like ‘laconic,’ which is a Reacher family characteristic.”
The Dark Spectrum of YA Thrillers
By Dawn Ius
It’s not unusual for authors of bestselling adult fiction to dabble in writing for young adults, but the “turning point”—the event or circumstance or story gem—that points an author in a different direction is as random as pinpointing where ideas come from.
For C. J. Lyons, the inspiration to write for young adults stemmed from watching her niece and nephew struggle to find books that kept them engaged without pushing content boundaries.
“They’re both brilliant,” she says. “Really, not just proud auntie boasting. They were reading at a college level when they were seven and eight years old. Unfortunately, once they tore through the Harry Potter series and books like it, there really weren’t books they were interested in that didn’t have explicit sex and violence—what today they call ‘clean’ YA.”
Lyons admits she wrote her sci-fi young adult trilogy, The Stolen Futures, for them—with their input—and realized that she didn’t just love reading young adult literature. She found it much more freeing than writing for adults, where she often has to censor herself and pull back because of older readers’ sensibilities.
“I actually go much darker with my YA, not only in terms of plot twists, but also emotionally,” she says. “YA readers love emotionally honest characters, who despite their flaws and mistakes find the courage to change.”
That’s certainly the case with her new young adult thriller, THE COLOR OF LIES, a riveting story about a young girl with synesthesia—a kind of sensory criss-crossing that, in the case of high school senior Ella Cleary, gives her the ability to see people’s emotions via colorful auras.
Exploring the Eerie Pleasures
of Lake Superior
Sometimes, as readers, we don’t know what we’ve been longing for until after it arrives. For instance, the eerie pleasures of a suspenseful, atmospheric novel set on Lake Superior become evident when we wrap ourselves around a sentence such as, “No one who was alive when her body floated onto shore that morning knew anything about her, with the single exception of Kate Granger, who, by no coincidence whatsoever, was in a house that overlooked the very beach where her body now rested.”
This is in the first chapter of DAUGHTERS OF THE LAKE, the latest release from bestselling author Wendy Webb.
Webb began writing fiction following a successful journalism career, beginning with The Tale of Halcyon Crane, a modern ghost story that won the Minnesota Book Award for fiction in 2011. She was dubbed the Queen of the Northern Gothic while publishing novels such as The Fate of Mercy Alban, The Vanishing, and The End of Temperance Dare.
Her new novel, THE DAUGHTERS OF THE LAKE, has garnered praise such as “Well-delineated characters and a suspenseful plot make this a winner” from Publishers Weekly.
Below, she answers some questions about her latest release including what inspired the premise, the challenges of balancing the supernatural with thriller, and more.
Blending High-Octane Thrills with Gritty Authenticity
By Dawn Ius
Between the two of them, authors Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson have held the kind of careers most writers live vicariously through their characters—acting, firefighting, piloting a jet, performing trauma surgery. The writing duo have a wealth of experience from which they could craft stories.
But it’s their combined service to their country—Wilson, a combat surgeon and former naval officer, and Andrews, a U.S. Navy veteran and nuclear engineer—that inspires their bestselling military thrillers featuring rough-and-tumble hero John Dempsey.
The pair view their books as dual purpose—primarily to entertain, of course, but also to demonstrate, with as much authenticity as the genre will allow, what life as an elite Tier One Navy SEAL is truly like. Hint: it’s not quite the same as pop culture references might lead you to believe. Sorry, David Boreanaz.
“One of the things we spend far too much time doing is making sure that the books are authentic, but also accessible,” Andrews and Wilson say, noting that they don’t necessarily dumb down technology—that’s the fun stuff—but instead, are careful about making intentional story and character choices.
The Idyllic Start of a New Mini-Series
By E. M. Powell
Debra Webb’s latest, THE DEAD GIRL, is the first book in the Breakdown series, a suspense mini-series that revolves around the seemingly perfect small town of Shutter Lake.
Nestled in a peaceful valley surrounded by the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the picturesque Shutter Lake is filled with pleasant, charming people. The crime rate there is zero—until a dead girl is found. Deputy Chief of Police Laney Holt is called to investigate, something she never thought she’d have to do in this quiet idyll. She’s a former L.A. homicide detective who walked away from big city crime after a shooting she couldn’t put behind her.
It turns out that the perfection of the town is just a façade, one that’s crumbling piece by piece. And thanks to Webb’s fast paced, gripping writing, the reader can’t look away from the unfolding disaster. One is left waiting for the next installment.
Yet, it won’t be from Webb.
In a less than usual format, Webb has written the Breakdown series with three other writers, with the possibility of more later. First came a meeting of two minds.
“Vicki Hinze and I had been discussing it for a while,” Webb says. “Soon we had the storyline laid out. We developed the primary plots and outlined the main characters.”
Returning to the Voice of
Crime and Justice
By R. G. Belsky
V. I. Warshawski is back in a dazzling new thriller called SHELL GAME, the 19th in Sara Paretsky’s bestselling series about her renowned Chicago private investigator. And, even though Victoria Iphigenia (Vic) Warshawski’s been around for a long time, she’s still tough as ever here as she battles ISIS, ICE, the Russian mob, archeology looters, and more.
Paretsky laughs when asked about Warshawski’s age in this latest release. “We were both 30 when we started. And she’s about 50 now, while I’m 70. She’s going to hover there for a while. Maybe if I live to be 90 and I’m still writing, 60 might sound good for her — and I’ll move it up a decade.”
Paretsky says she originally intended for Warshawski to age in real time, but then decided she needed to use a fictional approach instead. “I’m not happy about it but I want her to still be an effective physical presence.”
She points out that keeping her at this age also allows her to keep a lot of beloved characters in the series. “Lotty (her close friend and doctor) and Mr. Contreras (her neighbor) would be far too old. And the dogs cannot die. In my fictional world, I don’t want that kind of grieving. Readers understand and like that. It very much resonates with people when I talk about this.”
Exploring Multiple Points of View
By Wendy Tyson
Robert Rotstein is back with his latest legal thriller, WE, THE JURY. Hailed as a must-read by New York Times bestselling author Steve Berry, WE, THE JURY is a riveting tale told from the perspective of individual jurors involved in a horrifying murder trial involving alleged domestic violence.
On the day before his 21st wedding anniversary, a man buries an ax in his wife’s skull. Now, the jurors assigned to his trial must decide whether the accused is a cold-blooded murderer—or whether he was a battered spouse who killed his wife in self-defense.
In an age of media sound bites and incendiary tag lines, some would say we’ve never had more information at our fingertips—yet have never been less informed. Given the current climate, Rotstein’s novel—which deals with public perception and the often-blurred lines between truth and fiction—seems especially timely.
Rotstein says the idea for WE, THE JURY came after he sat on a jury for the first time. “After the trial, I started exploring a modern-day jury-deliberation story. I’ve always admired Twelve Angry Men, but that’s a play/movie, so the audience isn’t inside the jurors’ heads. I wanted my novel to get inside the jurors’ heads. I re-read William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, which has over a dozen first-person narrators. Once I adopted that structure, I was off and running, finishing a first draft in six weeks.”
Rotstein agrees that the jury room is a perfect place for exploring those blurred lines between truth and fiction.
“Lawyers get paid for trying to convince a jury to adopt one competing version of the truth over another,” he says. He points out that the jurors—ordinary citizens—supposedly base their verdict on the “truth.” “But their view of what’s true is colored by their pre-existing biases and life experiences,” he says. “In the end, most people try to do the right thing. The problem is that, all too often, the ‘right thing’ is just as elusive as the truth.”
In WE, THE JURY, Rotstein skillfully uses preconceptions to pull in the reader. From the start, the reader is caught off-guard, forced to examine her or his own biases. “I play against type a lot in the novel,” he says. “The alleged battered husband is a physically strong man; his lawyer is female; the prosecutor is male. Anomalies—just like in real life and law—cause confusion and foster indecision.”
Indeed, the structure of the novel, which places the reader in the midst of the trial, serves to strengthen the sense of immediacy and involvement. The reader feels like one of the jurors, an outcome that Rotstein planned.
“That’s one reason I used the multiple-narrator technique, told the story in the present tense, and conceived of a title that has the word we in it,” he says. “The reader is also able to understand the hidden, and often dark, reasons why jurors behave and decide as they do.”
The multiple-narrator technique requires great attention to craft—especially when a novel involves more than a dozen first-person narratives. Rotstein pulls it off well and convincingly.
“Ensuring that the characters had different voices was challenging,” he admits. “To make a particular character’s voice consistent, I read chapters aloud to myself and others, showed pages to my editors, and printed out each of the character’s chapters and read them separately from the rest of the book. I also gave the characters very different backgrounds and characteristics, which helped me keep them straight naturally.”
This attention to detail is apparent in the characters themselves. WE, THE JURY is both a legal thriller and a compelling study of human psychology. The characters are complex, and their perspectives and emotional reactions ring true, especially considering the crime in question.
“I did extensive research on the law governing the battered-spouse defense and on the psychology of abuser and victim,” Rotstein says, “especially when the abuser is female. The judicial cases, to put it mildly, are not clear-cut—which is a bad thing for the law but a good thing for a novelist.”
Rotstein is no stranger to legal research. As an intellectual property attorney who has represented all the major movie studios and record companies, as well as well-known directors and writers, he’s familiar with trial proceedings, and his background certainly influences his legal thrillers. New York Times bestselling author James Patterson said, “WE, THE JURY has what most legal thrillers lack—total authenticity, which is spellbinding.”
This authenticity shines through, although Rotstein says his legal background not only influences what he writes, but how he writes. “I approach the process of writing a novel the same way I approach writing a legal brief. I set a deadline, put something down on paper whether I feel like it or not (that’s what we do in our jobs), and edit the rough draft, knowing from experience that the editing process will get rid of the roughness. There’s something to be said for demystifying the writing process.”
Rotstein’s ability to approach writing in such a professional manner was surely welcome when working with James Patterson on The Family Lawyer, the story they co-wrote for a collection by the same title, which was released in 2017.
“It was a pleasure working with James Patterson and a wonderful learning experience,” Rotstein says. “I’m grateful for the opportunity he gave me and his support for WE, THE JURY. I actually didn’t find the collaborative process difficult. Lawyers write collaboratively with colleagues and clients all the time, so I’m accustomed to that process.”
When it comes to process, Rotstein knows how to court the muse. He’s neither a hardcore outliner nor a complete fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants plotter. “On the spectrum between plotter and panster, I’m somewhere in between. (Does that make me a planster?)”
He takes long walks, thinks about the idea, and waits for the characters’ dialogue to pop into his head. “Usually, I’ll have a beginning and ending in mind before I put fingers to keyboard. Once I start writing, I’ll plan out four or five chapters, write them, plan another four or five, and so on, until I reach the end.”
WE, THE JURY was released in October, but thankfully fans can look forward to a new Rotstein thriller in the near future. “I’m writing a novel about two lawyers, a husband and wife, who travel the country representing clients in controversial, high-profile cases,” he says. “In this next book, the client is a pregnant woman who’s made a seemingly inexplicable medical decision that threatens the life of her unborn baby.”
With A SCANDAL IN SCARLET, author Vicki Delany delivers the fourth instalment of her Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mystery series. In this shrewdly plotted tale, Gemma and Jayne donate time to raise money for the rebuilding of a burned-out museum—but a killer wants a piece of the auction.
Delany is no stranger to crafting riveting plots and memorable characters. The multi-published author has three—count them!—cozy mystery series on the go, and so the first question any fellow writer has to ask is, which is her favorite of those series and why?
“That’s like asking me which is my favorite child. Difficult to answer, but in this case not impossible,” she says.
“I’m particularly fond of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series. I love attempting to create the mind of The Great Detective in a modern young woman. It has its challenges: if Gemma Doyle, my fictional bookshop owner, is to be like Sherlock, she sometimes has to be a bit clueless about people’s reactions to her deductions, not understanding that they might not want her to know things about them they’d rather keep hidden. So it’s a balancing act, making her super smart but sometimes unaware of people’s feelings; making her kind and well-intentioned, but not able to understand why people don’t always keep up with her. All of that that makes her an interesting character to write. And I love my fictional bookshop. Everything sold in it, books and merchandise, exists in the real world.”
Below, Delany takes some time to indulge The Big Thrill with more insight into A SCANDAL IN SCARLET, the trajectory of her writing career, and her love for the famous detective, Sherlock Holmes.
By Don Helin
In this latest mystery from #1 bestselling author Bruce Robert Coffin, Detective Sergeant John Byron faces the greatest challenge of his career.
When a popular high school senior is shot by police following a late night robbery, chaos ensues. The actions of the officer are immediately called into question. Amid community protests, political grandstanding, department leaks, and reluctant witnesses, Byron and his team must work quickly to figure out what went wrong.
And when an attempt is made on the officer’s life, Byron shifts into overdrive, putting everything on the line. Was the attack merely retribution or something more sinister? The search for the truth may come at a price not even Byron can afford.
Coffin is the bestselling author of the Detective Byron mystery series and a former detective sergeant with more than 27 years in law enforcement. At the time of his retirement from the Portland, Maine police department, he supervised all homicide and violent crime investigations for Maine’s largest city. Following the terror attacks of September 11th, Coffin spent four years working counter-terrorism with the FBI, earning the Director’s Award, the highest honor a non-agent can receive.
His short fiction appears in several anthologies, including The Best American Mystery Stories 2016.
Coffin is a member of International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. He is a regular blog contributor to the Maine Crime Writers and Murder Books blogs.
The Big Thrill caught up with Coffin to ask a few questions about his latest release in the Detective Byron mystery series, BEYOND THE TRUTH:
By David Healey
Welsh writer Math Bird works in a studio overlooking the Dee Estuary in the town of Holywell. The waterway serves as a boundary between Wales and England. Across the water, to the north, are Liverpool and Manchester, where local residents often commute for work.
These are the borderlands of Wales, and the writing that Bird does reflects this crossroads region with all of its history and angst.
Recently, Bird agreed to answer a few questions for The Big Thrill about his writing. (During the Skype session, he kindly explained that the name Math isn’t a shortened version of some exotic Welsh warrior’s name like Llywelyn or Cadwgan, but just the Welsh version of Matt.)
“It’s kind of seen its heyday,” Bird said of Holywell, an ancient and scenic place by the coast. In his writing, Bird adds elements to create his own brand of Welsh noir. The landscape and the Dee tend to run through all his writing.
“The estuary is in most of my stories,” he says. “There’s very few crime novels set in northeastern Wales. I wanted to make the region more accessible.”
To some extent, he’d already been doing that in his fiction. He has had some of his writing produced by the BBC, which he calls an interesting process in hearing someone else read what he’s written.
“I sometimes think that I would not have read it that way. It’s interesting how someone else puts emphasis on certain words, for example,” he says.
By George Ebey
Michaelbrent Collings sends chills our way in his latest horror novel, PREDATORS.
Evie Childs hoped the all-expense-paid trip to Africa would give her a chance at adventure. Maybe it would even let her forget a past that haunts her, and find safety from a husband who abuses her. But when a group of “freedom fighters” kidnaps her safari tour group, intent on holding them for ransom, the adventure turns to nightmare.
Now, Evie and the rest of the survivors must travel across miles of the harshest, most dangerous environment on Earth. No food. No water. No communications. And they’re being hunted.
A pack of Africa’s top predators have smelled the blood of the survivors, and will not stop until they have fed. Because in this place, you can be either one of the prey, or one of the… PREDATORS.
The Big Thrill recently checked in with Collings to learn more about his terrifying new tale.
By Azam Gill
HIGH CRIMES, Libby Fischer Hellmann’s latest Georgia Davis thriller, is about justice, conspiracy and politics, and is “loosely based on” the Facebook group Investigation of the Trump-Russia Conspiracy in the 2016 Election, founded by Suzy Fischer.
In the novel, Hellmann’s Chicago P.I. Georgia Davis is challenged to pick out a murderer from the 42,000 suspects within a Facebook group. She’s hired to hunt down the conspirators responsible for organizing and ordering the assassination of resistance leader Dena Baldwin at a demonstration fourteen months after the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The shooter, too, dies within minutes of the shooting.
Sifting through Dena Baldwin’s Facebook followers, Georgia uncovers fake profiles, concealing villains who will even commit murder to shield their sponsors.
The sudden reappearance of Davis’s mother, who had abandoned her when she was a child, complicates her investigation. She now has to survive an emotional family crisis at the same time as she pursues killers determined to snuff her out.
Fischer Hellmann has won the IPPY and the Readers Choice Award multiple times. A finalist twice for the Anthony and four times for Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year, she has also been nominated for the Agatha, the Shamus, and the Daphne. Her books have been translated into Spanish, German, Italian, and Chinese.
Lynn Cahoon’s home page says she writes about small towns and families—the ones you’re born into and the ones you create. That’s a nice way to sum up all three of her cozy mystery series: the Tourist Trap series, which features the owner of a small coffee/book shop; the Farm-to-Fork series, which features the owner of an Idaho farm-to-table restaurant; and the Cat Latimer series, about a Colorado English professor who owns a bed and breakfast.
These are fun books, which is not to say they are inconsequential. Cahoon discovered cozies while she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, and many of her readers, enduring struggles of their own, find hope and comfort in Cahoon’s stories.
“I dabble in dark themes,” Cahoon says. “I’ve written about spousal abuse, drugs, dysfunctional families, and high school bullying. But my readers know that good will win over evil and there will be a happy ending.”
Her latest work, A DEADLY BREW, has a Halloween theme and a touch of the supernatural. Like many cozies, the setting plays a strong role in the story, and in this case, it’s a long-empty house on the coastline—a perfect Halloween haunted house and the ideal place for four couples to spend the weekend in an “all-in-good-fun fright fest.” But when they try to conjure up a spirit, they get more than they bargained for.
A DEADLY BREW is a novella, book #5.25 in Cahoon’s New York Times and USA Today bestselling Tourist Trap series. The first book in the series, Guidebook to Murder, won the Reader’s Crown for Mystery Fiction. For those who like a little more spice with their mystery, Cahoon also writes romance under the pseudonym Lynn Collins.
Cahoon agreed to talk with us about her latest release. Let’s welcome her to The Big Thrill.
Every nation of the globe has unique tales to tell, whispers that settle in through the land, creatures or superstitions that enliven the night, but rarely do readers get to experience such a diversity of these voices in one place as in A WORLD OF HORROR, the latest anthology book created by award-winning editor Eric J. Guignard, and beautifully illustrated by artist Steve Lines.
Enclosed within its pages are 22 all-new dark and speculative fiction stories written by authors from around the world that explore the myths and monsters, fables and fears of their homelands.
Encounter the haunting things that stalk those radioactive forests outside Chernobyl in Ukraine; sample the curious dishes one may eat in Canada; beware the veldt monster that mirrors yourself in Uganda; or simply battle mountain trolls alongside Alfred Nobel in Sweden. These stories and more are found within A WORLD OF HORROR.
Enter and discover, truly, there’s no place on the planet devoid of frights, thrills, and wondrous imagination!
The Big Thrill caught up with author and editor Eric. J. Guignard to discuss his latest anthology, A WORLD OF HORROR:
PULP ACCORDING TO DAVID GOODIS starts with six characteristics of 1950s pulp noir that fascinated mass-market readers, making them wish they were the protagonist, and yet feel relief that they were not. His thrillers are set in motion by suppressed guilt, sexual frustrations, explosions of violence, and the inaccessible nature of intimacy. Extremely valuable is a gangster-infested urban setting. Uniquely, Goodis saw a still-vibrant community solidarity down there. Another contribution was sympathy for the gang boss, doomed by his very success. He dramatizes all this in the stark language of Philadelphia’s “streets of no return.”
The book delineates the noir profundity of the author’s work in the context of Franz Kafka’s narratives. Goodis’s precise sense of place, and painful insights about the indomitability of fate, parallel Kafka’s. Both writers mix realism, the disorienting, and the dreamlike; both dwell on obsession and entrapment; both describe the protagonist’s degeneration. Tragically, belief in obligations, especially family ones, keep independence out of reach.
Other elements covered in this critical analysis of Goodis’s work include his Hollywood script-writing career; his use of Freud, Arthur Miller, Faulkner and Hemingway; his obsession with incest; and his “noble loser’s” indomitable perseverance.
Professor Jay A. Gertzman, author of PULP ACCORDING TO DAVID GOODIS, spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing his latest work:
It’s been thirteen months since Calamity (Callie) Barnstable inherited a house in Marketville under the condition that she search for the person who murdered her mother thirty years earlier. She solves the mystery, but what next? Unemployment? Another nine-to-five job in Toronto?
Callie decides to set down roots in Marketville, take the skills and knowledge she acquired over the past year, and start her own business: Past & Present Investigations.
It’s not long before Callie and her new business partner, best friend Chantelle Marchand, get their first client: a woman who wants to find out everything she can about her grandmother, Anneliese Prei, and how she came to a “bad end” in 1956. It sounds like a perfect first assignment. Except for one thing: Anneliese’s past winds its way into Callie’s present, and not in a manner anyone—least of all Callie—could have predicted.
The Big Thrill caught up to international bestselling author Judy Penz Sheluk to gain some insight into her latest Marketville Mystery, PAST & PRESENT:
When a man who appears mentally unstable holds a group of people hostage and dies in a shootout with the FBI, Special Agent Lucy Kincaid is assigned to investigate what happened. Up until two months ago, McMahon was a respected scientist—then his wife left him, he lost his job, and he was arrested for assaulting a former colleague. The one person who might have answers—his research assistant—has disappeared.
While Lucy is investigating this bizarre case, her husband Sean is on top of the world: his son Jesse is visiting for the summer. They are having a blast, until someone follows them. Sean is positive that the surveillance is connected to Jesse’s stepfather—a man who had once laundered money for a violent drug cartel. But when Lucy and Jesse are run off the road, they begin to wonder if the attack is connected to Jesse…or Lucy’s current case.
Nothing is what it seems—not the McMahon investigation or the car accident. As Sean and Lucy dig deep into the lives of everyone involved, one thing becomes clear: If they don’t find the truth fast, everyone they care about is in danger…
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Allison Brennan spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest thriller, TOO FAR GONE:
When an old college roommate invites Claire Britten to join her on an archaeological dig at a Florida peat bog, it’s an offer the renowned forensic psychologist can’t refuse. Claire’s husband, criminal lawyer Nick Markwood, is comforted to see Claire working on a prehistoric burial site instead of an open grave for once. But Claire’s investigative instincts kick in when some of the Black Bog’s perfectly preserved corpses show signs of a grisly fate. What really happened to these people?
What started as an exploration of the past soon escalates into an all-too-current danger. Someone is watching—someone who really doesn’t want Claire digging into the past or Nick making connections to a current, violent murder case he’s investigating. The bog’s corpses may be long dead, but if Claire and Nick don’t figure out who’s gunning for a fresh kill, the next bodies to be discovered will be their own.
The Big Thrill caught up with New York Times bestselling author Karen Harper to discuss her latest release, the fifth installment of her South Shores series, SILENT SCREAM:
It’s a case Trevor Galloway doesn’t want. It’s certainly a case he doesn’t need. The client—the sister of a murdered musician—seems a bit off. She expects Galloway to not only solve her brother’s homicide, but recover a vinyl record she believes could ruin his reputation. Galloway knows he should walk away. He should simply reach over the desk, give back the envelope of cash that he admittedly needs, and walk away. However, when the client closes the meeting by putting a gun under her chin and pulling the trigger, his sense of obligation drags him down a path he may not be ready to travel.
As Galloway pieces together the final days of rock and roll legend Jimmy Spartan, he struggles to sort through his own issues, to include having the occasional hallucination. He’s not certain how bad his condition has deteriorated, but when Galloway is attacked in broad daylight by men he assumed were figments of his imagination, he realizes the threat is real and his condition is putting him and anyone nearby at risk. The stoic demeanor that earned Galloway the nickname The Tin Man is tested as he reunites with an old flame, becomes entangled in a Secret Service investigation, and does battle with old enemies.
A story is divided into twelve songs from Jimmy Spartan’s final album.
Award-winning author J. J. Hensley met with The Big Thrill to discuss the second installment in his Trevor Galloway series, RECORD SCRATCH:
By Dan Levy
Howard Levine is like most of us. He worked hard to support his family, pursued his love of writing, and, according to nearly any poll out there, shares our frustrations with the federal government.
A former educator and political activist, Levine combined his angst with the government and love of writing into his most recent novel, LAST GASP. The book introduces us to Frank Tedeschi, an everyman who shows us that you can “fight City Hall”—and perhaps those inside the Beltway as well.
In this The Big Thrill interview, Levine gives us a behind-the-scenes look at his new release, LAST GASP.
It seems your background as a teacher of Special Education and English for Speakers of Other Languages connected you to both an appreciation for language and stories about great triumph. Is that what brought you to writing? Or is there more to the story?
I’ve always had a love for writing. In fact I became a teacher only after concluding that a combination of writing and part-time jobs was no longer sufficient to support myself and my family. Still, the imperatives of learning to communicate clearly as a teacher, and trying to understand and work with the personalities of both students and fellow staff members, helped a great deal with my writing, with characterization and plot organization.
On the cusp of pot legalization in California, Jerry runs afoul of some San Francisco bikers in the marijuana game. He flees straight up Highway 101 to Humboldt County to hide out deep in the hills at Vic’s, a reclusive pot farmer and old pal of his tough-as-nails mother. But trouble finds Jerry no matter where he goes and soon the bikers, a pair of stone killers, and a Russian weed tycoon named Vlad the Inhaler are all hot on Jerry’s trail.
Fallout from the unfolding chaos piques the interest of SFPD detective Roland Mackie when he learns Jerry’s host, Vic, is somehow involved. It opens a twenty-year-old wound, an unsolved case called the Fulton Street Massacre, and Mackie is willing to do whatever it takes to get a pair of cuffs on the elusive Vic.
When Jerry and his protectors are chased off the mountain and back down the 101 to an inevitable showdown back in the Bay, he learns Vic is much more than his host, he’s a mentor, his mother’s hero, and the toughest man he’s ever met.
With an unforgettable cast of characters and an action-packed plot, 101 is a wild ride through Northern California’s “emerald triangle.”
The Big Thrill caught up with author Tom Pitts to discuss his latest novel, 101:
It’s hiking season in Black Rock Falls and the small town in Montana is flooded with visitors. But when a hiker finds a human skull on a deserted trail in the woods that surround the town, Detective Jenna Alton is called in to investigate.
With no missing persons reported, Jenna has no leads. Then her team makes a shocking discovery – the body of another hiker, a young man, tied to a tree and riddled with bullets. Could the two murders be linked?
As more bodies are found, Jenna and her deputy David Kane know that they must venture deep into the forest to find and face the killer. But nothing can prepare them for what awaits them there…
Author D. K. Hood took time out of her busy day to discuss her latest thriller, THE CRYING SEASON, with The Big Thrill:
Singapore is agog with the news of King Edward VIII’s abdication to marry American heiress Wallis Simpson. Chen Su Lin, now Chief Inspector Le Froy’s secretarial assistant in Singapore’s newly formed detective unit, still dreams of becoming a journalist and hopes to cover the story when the Hon Victor Glossop announces he is marrying an American widow of his own, Mrs. Nicole Covington, in the Colony. But things go horribly wrong when Victor Glossop is found dead, his body covered in bizarre symbols and soaked in betel nut juice.
The beautiful, highly-strung Nicole claims it’s her fault he’s dead . . . just like the others. And when investigations into her past reveal a dead lover, as well as a husband, the case against her appears to be stacking up. Begrudgingly on Le Froy’s part, Su Lin agrees to chaperone Nicole at the Farquhar Hotel, intending to get the truth out of her somehow. But as she uncovers secrets and further deaths occur, Su Lin realises she may not be able to save Nicole’s life – or even her own.
Ian Butler, 35 and a successful stockbroker, loved his gorgeous wife Suzanna, who was three years younger, and wanted nothing more than to see her get past unwarranted fears of infidelity on his part. But after doing a colleague an innocent favor, Ian’s life turns upside down in ways he could never have anticipated in his worst nightmares.
Suzanna is shot to death in their home and Ian is arrested and charged with her murder, implicated by the victim herself in a 911 call. Though the evidence points toward guilt, a good defense lawyer wins him an acquittal.
Relocating to Kauai, Hawaii, Ian starts a new career as a writer of financial thrillers and begins a relationship with an attractive artist named Jeri Chen, while keeping his painful past where it belongs.
Unbeknownst to Ian, Jeri has secrets of her own. With a new identity, she is on the run from a hitman working for a notorious Dallas, Texas, drug kingpin. She wound up on Kauai, where life was laid-back and people minded their own business.
But the past found a way to catch up to both of them in ways neither could have expected, placing their lives in danger and their future in doubt.
Jill Gardner has volunteered her Coffee, Books, and More to host a Christmas adopt-a-pet party. Among the potential forever friends is a male terrier named Baby, whose owner died of a heart attack. With few clues to go on, even finding the name of Baby’s human is a daunting task. But there’s no challenge too big for Jill this holiday season.
Playing Santa’s Little Helper, Jill is determined to find out what happened —and to fulfill a long-time coming Christmas wish…
The Big Thrill caught up to New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Lynn Cahoon to discuss her latest mystery, SANTA PUPPY:
She has drive and ambition. What she doesn’t have is money.
She knows of a home in the upscale town of Mendham, NJ, that will be empty for more than a month. The rich people who live there go away the same time every year to spend time at their vacation home. Having cleaned the house, she also knows it contains a fair amount of cash and valuables.
Sitting with Ray, one of her co-workers one night, she casually mentions a “what if” scenario; Ray tells Skooley, a white trash drifter who recently moved to New Jersey from south Florida, and a plan is hatched.
It isn’t long before Esmeralda finds herself trapped by both circumstance and greed, forced to try and defend herself against one of her partners in crime, who she quickly discovers is far more dangerous than she ever thought possible.
Author Steven Max Russo spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing his debut novel, THIEVES:
Keisha Taylor lived a quiet life with her wife, Alice, until the day that Alice disappeared. After months of searching, presuming she was dead, Keisha held a funeral, mourned, and gradually tried to get on with her life. But that was before Keisha started to see her wife, again and again, in the background of news reports from all over America. Alice isn’t dead, and she is showing up at every major tragedy and accident in the country.
Following a line of clues, Keisha takes a job with a trucking company, Bay and Creek Transportation, and begins searching for Alice. She eventually stumbles on an otherworldly conflict being waged in the quiet corners of our nation’s highway system—uncovering a conspiracy that goes way beyond one missing woman.
New York Times bestselling author Joseph Fink took time out of his schedule to discuss ALICE ISN’T DEAD, the novel that expands on the story told in the hit podcast of the same name which has had over 6 million downloads in its first 10-episode season:
But picking up the pieces in a place where he was once revered isn’t as easy as he hoped, especially for a convicted felon in the Bible Belt. And in no time Dan has landed squarely in the crosshairs of an old high school nemesis, the unctuous Judge Rick Hunter who warns Dan to “leave Echo now or be sent back where you came from.”
When Dan is offered a dream job—a coaching staff position with the Echo Junior College football team—he must decide between accepting the offer and risking his newfound freedom, or leaving Echo, tail between his legs, and breaking the promise he made to his dying father.
Meanwhile, Dan is falling fast for his college professor, a beautiful but enigmatic outsider who challenges him to stay in Echo. And in an odd twist of fate, Parrish’s final decision results in an outcome that splashes his name and face across every county news outlet in Kansas, forcing the former star to face off against his two most formidable adversaries: his age and his checkered past.
The Big Thrill caught up to co-authors Shawn Corridan and Gary Waid to discuss their collaboration, SPLINTER CITY:
“Don’t get in the car,” her lieutenant says. But, of course, she gets into the car.
The killer thinks he is in love, but his idea of love is a little strange.
The Big Thrill caught up with Pulitzer Prize nominee Roger Angle to discuss his debut novel, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MAGGIE COLLINS:
In 1939, on a remote Pacific island, botanical researcher Irene Greer plunges off a waterfall to her death, convinced the spirits of her dead husband and daughter had joined the nightmarchers–ghosts of ancient warriors that rise from their burial sites on moonless nights. But was it suicide, or did a strange young missionary girl play a role in her deteriorating state of mind? It all seems like ancient family history to Julia Greer, who has enough problems of her own. A struggling journalist, she’s recovering from a divorce and is barely able to make rent, let alone appeal the court’s decision to give sole custody of their daughter to her ex-husband. When her elderly great-aunt offers her an outrageously large sum to travel to this remote island and collect samples of a very special flower, as well as find out what really happened to her sister Irene all those years ago, Julia thinks her life might finally be on an upward swing. But she finds the island isn’t so quick to give up its secrets, and the longer she stays, the more the thin line begins to blur between truth and lies, reality and the fantastical…until she finds herself face to face with the real reason why the island is taboo….
Award-winning author J. Lincoln Fenn spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest thriller, THE NIGHTMARCHERS:
In Dorothy St. James’s third delectable Southern Chocolate Shop mystery, a new batch of chocolate and troubles of the heart cause a string of disasters for The Chocolate Box’s new owner, Charity Penn.
The vintage seaside town of Camellia Beach, South Carolina, seems like the perfect place for romance with its quiet beach and its decadent chocolate shop that serves the world’s richest dark chocolates. The Chocolate Box’s owner, Charity Penn, falls even further under the island’s moonlit spell as she joins Althea Bays and the rest of the turtle watch team to witness a new generation of baby sea turtles hatch and make their way into the wide ocean.
Before the babies arrive, gunshots ring out in the night. Cassidy Jones, the local Casanova, is found dead in the sand with his lover Jody Dalton—the same woman who has vowed to destroy The Chocolate Box—holding the gun. It’s an obvious crime of passion, or so everyone believes. But when Jody’s young son pleads with Penn to bring his mother back to him, she can’t say no. She dives headfirst into a chocolate swirl of truth and lies, and must pick through an assortment of likely (and sometimes unsavory) suspects before it’s too late for Penn and for those she loves in Dorothy St. James’s third rich installment of the Southern Chocolate Shop mysteries, IN COLD CHOCOLATE.
Multiple award nominee Dorothy St. James spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing the latest installment in her Southern Chocolate Shop Mystery series, IN COLD CHOCOLATE:
A killer is on the loose, burying his victims among the dead in Phoenix cemeteries, and leaving ghoulish signs that warn of more evil to come. It’s a crude camouflage that has Detective Alex Mills stumped. As he has done before, Mills turns to his buddy, the reluctant psychic Gus Parker. His visions, as cryptic and baffling as they sometimes are, mean something.
But just as the investigation heats up, and Mills needs him most, Gus Parker goes missing. Rock ‘n’ roll legend Billie Welch, Gus’s love interest, is frantic to find him and turns to Mills for help. Is this a case of a crazed fan who is trying to get to Billie? Is Gus’s disappearance related to the spree of cemetery killings?
There are nefarious secrets hiding in the shadows of the valley’s most well-heeled neighborhoods, and some of the most prominent residents have the most to fear.
Donna Stone, her mission leader Jack, and their covert ops team must decipher horoscope tips that contain clues to the names of twelve U.S.-born traitors whose individual acts are the catalyst to treason at highest level.
The Big Thrill caught up with author Josie Brown to discuss the eighteenth installment of The Housewife Assassin series, THE HOUSEWIFE ASSASSIN’S HORRORSCOPE:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Every novel within the series must challenge both the author and her characters. This series looks at the light and dark sides of espionage. Could your neighbor be a spy? Of course—even in America. This latest Housewife Assassin novel brings home that realization yet again.
No spoilers, but what can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?
This book is much darker than the usual Housewife Assassin novel—certainly a reflection of the times we live in.
But as history has taught us, unless we allow democracy to die in darkness, truth will prevail.
“On a strip of sand by a northern sea, salt water caresses pale skin.”
British businesswoman Anna Dent encounters a young girl’s body on a Lithuanian beach and can’t let the horrific image go. When a volcanic eruption in Iceland grounds all European flights, Anna meets a man, Will, who will change her life. She is soon sucked into a Baltic quagmire of sex trafficking and Russian mobsters. To unravel what happened, she and Will must use all their skills—but not even he can save her from the secrets of her past that the child’s murder resurrects.
THE TRUTH WAITS is Susanna Beard’s second book. Her first, Dare to Remember, was published in 2017.
Beard spent time with The Big Thrill this month to share more about the inspiration for her latest release:
What inspired you to write fiction in general, and psychological thrillers in particular?
Working with PR clients always involves writing this piece of copy about that subject. As a novelist, I discovered the wonder and freedom of using my imagination in my work. The psychological thriller bit was by complete chance—my first novel was simply a story I wanted to tell. Then I realized that this was my niche and carried on.
Jessica Fletcher has had plenty to worry about over her storied career, both as a bestselling novelist and amateur sleuth. But she never had any reason to worry about her longtime publisher, Lane Barfield, who also happens to be a trusted friend. When mounting evidence of financial malfeasance leads to an FBI investigation of Lane, Jessica can’t believe what she’s reading.
So when Barfield turns up dead, Jessica takes on the task of proving Barfield’s innocence–she can’t fathom someone she’s known and trusted for so long cheating her. Sure enough, Jessica’s lone wolf investigation turns up several oddities and inconsistencies in Barfield’s murder. Jessica knows something is being covered up, but what exactly? The trail she takes to answer that question reveals something far more nefarious afoot, involving shadowy characters from the heights of power in Washington. At the heart of Jessica’s investigation lies a manuscript Barfield had intended to bring out after all other publishers had turned it down. The problem is that manuscript has disappeared, all traces of its submission and very existence having been wiped off the books.
With her own life now in jeopardy, Jessica refuses to back off and sets her sights on learning the contents of that manuscript and what about it may have led to several murders. Every step she takes brings her closer to the truth of what lies in the pages, as well as the person who penned them.
The Big Thrill caught up with USA Today bestselling author Jon Land to discuss the next book in the Murder, She Wrote series, MANUSCRIPT FOR MURDER:
THE KNEELING WOMAN, the latest international suspense thriller in the Amanda Wells series written by G. A. Chamberlin, opens with a bang. Literally.
While browsing through a souvenir shop not far from Puerta del Puenta—the Renaissance gate in Cordoba, Andalusia—Amanda Wells is smitten with a beautiful white granite carving of a “saintly figure, its curvature smooth, its head bowed in merciful supplication with hair locks weaved about her head.”
It’s too beautiful and too good a deal to pass up, and so she buys it. But as soon as she and her husband, Trevor MacDonnell, step out onto the street, a vehicle streaks by and gunshots tear into Trevor’s body as he stretches out his arms in an effort to protect his wife from the hail of bullets.
And suddenly, we’re off and running, as THE KNEELING WOMAN seesaws back and forth between present time and the early days of World War II. It seems the provenance of the statue Amanda innocently purchases, and donates to a city museum, has a shady past, and it’s this past that winds up getting her husband’s firm investigated for dealing in stolen assets.
Research for THE KNEELING WOMAN was rooted in findings from Chamberlin’s previous work in the field of records and documents. As she explains, “The novel, framed by World War II, shows the conflicted world that Roosevelt had to face as he shaped the world of his time, and especially illustrates the perils that can arise if we don’t care about what’s important. Evil can lurk anywhere—including in the opioid epidemic of today—if allowed to take root. The novel is less about the treachery of war than about dangers that were averted and the victories sustained for our safeguard today.”
THE KNEELING WOMAN, the ninth in Chamberlin’s suspense series, saw its birth as a direct result of her attending ThrillerFest 2011.
Jeffrey Layton continues his Yuri Kirov military thriller series with book three, THE FAITHFUL SPY—a tale of intrigue, double-cross, and of course, submarines.
And who better to write about submarines and underwater warfare than a professional engineer who is an expert in waterfront and coastal engineering? Layton uses his expertise in diving, yachting and offshore engineering to bring submarine espionage and warfare to life.
A Russian spy disappearing within the United States. Double-agents from Russia and China. An American woman caught in the middle. How could a story be more relevant in today’s climate?
Layton says, “The present tension between the United States and the Russian Federation is an integral element of THE FAITHFUL SPY. Russia remains exceedingly dangerous and has embarked on an aggressive plan to regain its status as a military superpower. Perhaps even more dangerous… the People’s Republic of China has emerged as both an economic and military rival to the United States.”
What makes THE FAITHFUL SPY (and The Good Spy series) so different from other military thrillers? According to Layton, it’s because “the protagonist… is a Russian naval intelligence officer.”
As a result, we get to experience political turmoil and military strategy from the perspective of a non-American. Yuri Kirov, disillusioned with Russia because it abandoned him after a failed mission, is living as an American, alias John Kirkwood, and works as a consultant at Northwest Subsea Dynamics, part of Cognition Consultants, an American world-class IT company. Not only has he built a new life, but he’s also created a family with American Laura Newman—Chief Operating Officer of Cognition Consultants—and her infant daughter.
An Unusual Journey of Bringing
Art to Life
Belgian author Sarah Meuleman says it is the sum of everything she has been and done in her life: a singer-songwriter, a journalist, a television host, a writer, and managing editor at Vogue magazine.
“I used to sing [her album More Than Meets the I, under the name SAM, was released in 2003], and sound is pivotal to me: how sentences flow, rumble, and roll,” she says. “My background in journalism strengthens me in weaving the story, and the acting and presenting helps tremendously with writing dialogue. I feel that each sidestep I’ve ever made has added significantly to the thing I love doing most: writing.”
But even with the writing, she has continued to take sidesteps.
The history of FIND ME GONE is a case in point. It was first published in Belgium in 2015, and received praise and an awards nomination, but then the next year, she “remixed” the book and published a new version of it with a different title. Why did she do that and what version are we reading now?
“This is an important point for me,” she says. “Look at art these days: it’s very much alive. Songs are being mixed and remixed, works of art constantly evolve, a play is never the same on the last performance as it is on opening night. I think this dynamic is at the heart of what art is about. But when I look at literature, I don’t see that dynamic. When a writer delivers her novel, the work is usually done. The book is printed, shelved, and will remain the same forever. But you can tell every story in so many different ways; we do it all the time when we share stories with friends. Not one version is the same, so why would books be obliged to freeze in time?
TALES FROM THE SCRIPT:
R. L. Stine On The Goosebumps Adaptations
[Welcome to The Big Thrill’s newest column, Tales from the Script. In each installment, we’ll take an in-depth look at the book-to-screen adaptation process, from the perspective of the author. Plus, we’ll dish on some book-to-film news at the end of each article. We’re excited to kick off the series with kidlit legend R. L. Stine about the Goosebumps series’ long road to the multiplex.]
It’s hard to imagine the world of children’s literature without R. L. Stine. He might not have invented kids’ horror, but he certainly defined it for an entire generation and then some. In late 1996—four years after the first Goosebumps title, Welcome to Dead House, was published—the series was racking up an incredible 4.5 million book sales per month, with as many as 40 product licenses churning out toys, television shows, audio books, apparel, and more. After 26 years, several spinoffs, and 400 million copies sold, Stine is still writing new Goosebumps novels.
But for all the series’ success in other mediums, a big-screen adaptation proved elusive for decades. Stine saw 23 years pass between Hollywood’s first attempt at a Goosebumps film and the premiere of the Jack Black vehicle that finally hit screens in 2015—a period marked by false starts, personnel changes, and well over a dozen rejected scripts.
The process was so protracted, in fact, that Stine says he mostly forgot it was happening.
New Marching Orders
for Thriller Authors?
By Dawn Ius
Since Leo Tolstoy’s epic War & Peace was published in 1867, military novels have become a major sub-genre, their stories exploring warfare of the past, the present, and the futures of our fertile imaginations. A whole legion of authors has followed in Tolstoy’s bootsteps, among them long-standing industry giants such as Vince Flynn, Tom Clancy, and Mark Greany.
But the real world has a habit of eclipsing what we once thought possible, and now, more than 150 years after Tolstoy’s book was published, drones patrol the skies, soldiers wear smart armor, and warfare has become more technologically advanced than ever.
As the landscape of the modern battlefield continues to evolve, so too has the face of the war novel—and many of the genre’s rising stars find themselves faced with new marching orders. Today’s military thrillers are less about soldiers in hand-to-gun combat than military heroes—of a sort—tackling issues of counter terrorism, espionage, and geopolitics, often at arm’s length.