When I rang up Tom Ryan at his Toronto home on a Wednesday afternoon in mid-April, he was having an exceptionally good week. Only a month away from the publication of his first YA murder mystery, KEEP THIS TO YOURSELF (out May 21 from Albert Whitman & Co.) he’d just unveiled the book’s atmospheric, synth-driven trailer, and he was enjoying a wave of industry press following the acquisition of his second teen thriller, I Hope You’re Listening.
The buzz that’s building around KEEP THIS TO YOURSELF, about a gay teen on the trail of an unidentified serial killer who once terrorized the picturesque coastal town of Camera Cove, is wholly deserved. Simmering with paranoia, shot through with reveals and reversals, and featuring a truly satisfying resolution, Ryan’s first thriller is a prime example of the welcome revival—and long overdue diversification—of a genre popularized by YA heavyweights like Lois Duncan and Christopher Pike.
KEEP THIS TO YOURSELF centers on Mac Bell, whose just-completed senior year of high school was overshadowed by the murder of his best friend. College-bound Mac is anxious to put his hometown of Camera Cove in the rearview mirror as quickly as possible, but when he discovers an overlooked note written by his murdered friend on the night of his death—a note asking for Mac’s help and swearing him to secrecy—Mac becomes obsessed with the idea of doing what the police couldn’t: uncovering the identity of the killer. Mac quickly finds that everyone around him wants the past left undisturbed, except for Quill, a handsome young man with a tragic personal stake in the case. As Mac and Quill undertake their own amateur investigation (and a burgeoning romance), it becomes increasingly clear that the danger has not passed, and a killer might be watching their every move.
The conversation below has been edited for length and clarity (Ryan was great, but I tend to ramble) and indiscriminately purged of spoilers. On that note, once you’ve read the book and uncovered Camera Cove’s darkest secrets, please remember to keep them to yourself…
Strong Return for Land’s Popular Series Character
By J. H. Bográn
Bestselling author Jon Land returns to his Caitlin Strong series with STRONG AS STEEL.
This time the plot thickens with two timelines, one in 1994, where Texas Ranger Jim Strong investigates a mass murder on a dusty freight train linked to a mysterious, missing cargo for which no record exists; while in the present, fifth generation Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong finds herself on the trail of that same cargo when skeletal remains are found near an excavation site in the Texas desert. She’s also dealing with the aftermath of a massacre that claimed the lives of all the workers at a private intelligence company on her watch. These two cases are connected by a long-buried secret, one that men have killed and died to protect.
Land says he’s always looking for the “MacGuffin” of the next Caitlin Strong book. And while searching for something else entirely, he came across a title which felt like an epiphany: Burial Boxes Marked with Jesus’ Name Revealed in Jerusalem Archaeological Warehouse.
“BOOM!” Land says. “I knew I had found the conceptual engine to drive Caitlin’s next adventure. Coincidentally, I’d wanted to make STRONG AS STEEL a more traditional thriller cut from the cloth of James Rollins and Steve Berry, and envisioned a scene with something long buried in the Texas desert getting dug up to fuel the story.”
No More Female Victims
“No damsels in distress, and no unreliable narrators.”
Such were the rules that Wendy Walker laid out for her third and latest psychological thriller, THE NIGHT BEFORE. Walker used both devices to great success in 2016’s All Is Not Forgotten and its 2017 follow-up Emma in the Night, but she was ready to trade those genre mainstays for something a little more surprising in her tale of a woman who disappears after a blind date with a man she met online. The question that drives the book is one that turns expectations inside out: who’s really in danger?
“I did not want any more female victims,” Walker says. “I wanted to flip that cliché on its head. And that’s when I decided to give the main character a dark backstory so that you’re actually more afraid of what she’s going to do if she finds out the man she’s with is lying.”
THE NIGHT BEFORE has its underpinnings in the author’s own experiences with online dating and the culture of deceit that has taken root in it. “I’ve been single for 11 years, so I’m a veteran of internet dating,” Walker says. “It’s just what everybody does. But being a newbie to it, I really did not understand the extent to which people would lie. It’s not that I have anything profound to say about it. It’s pretty obvious—online dating is chock full of danger, and you have to be careful. But I thought the stories [of disturbing encounters] were ripe for a thriller plot.”
Two Crime Writers at the Bar
By James Ziskin
They say never start your story with weather, but I’ve never liked being told what to do. I’d lost my umbrella to a bully of a wind gust. A blast that broke the ribs and turned its skin inside out. I tossed the carcass into a trash can, but the wind wasn’t finished with it. Another blow and the umbrella tumbled down Forty-fourth Street like it was chasing a bus. I needed to get out of the rain and pour myself into something warm. The Harvard Club? That was a no. They’d thrown me out of there before. Something about my not being an alumnus. The Algonquin Hotel? Banned for life.
I raised my collar to the wind and crossed Sixth Avenue. A blue awning offered shelter. The fact that there was a bar through the door beneath it was gravy. Jimmy’s Corner. It wasn’t quite five, but I slipped inside just the same. The barkeep and a couple of Joes eyed me as I dripped puddles all over their vinyl tiles. It was dark, like the proprietor was too cheap or lazy to flick the switch and throw some light on this fagged-out corner of oblivion.
“Jim,” a voice called from one of the tables along the wall in the back. “Over here.”
Dick Belsky. R. G. Belsky on the covers of his books. I hadn’t noticed him when I first came in, but there he was, a shade in the dim light of the tavern’s gloaming.
I joined him at his table. “How you doing, old friend?”
Social Issues Core of Smith’s Work
By Dawn Ius
Timothy Jay Smith wrote his first stage play in the fourth grade—a socially conscious piece of work about freed slaves in the Civil War. To say that his passion for issues of social justice goes back a few years would be a gross understatement.
It’s been a while since Smith has written a play, but through his screenplays and novels, he continues to cover issues of global importance, including with the theme of his newly released fifth book, THE FOURTH COURIER, a deeply atmospheric literary thriller set in post-Cold War Poland. A time, Smith says, when “there was a lot of smuggling across the border between Russia and Poland, giving rise to fears that nuclear material, too, might be slipping across.”
It’s the impact of this fear on the people that Smith was most interested in exploring, and to do so, he created two strong protagonists—FBI agent James “Jay” Porter, who teams up with a gay CIA agent named Kurt Crawford—to investigate a series of grisly murders along Warsaw, Poland’s eerie riverbanks. The killings themselves are disturbing, but it’s Smith’s attention to setting and atmosphere that truly ratchet up the suspense.
Smith captures the “gloominess” of Poland with an authenticity that is in part due to the fact that he lived there for a short time in the ’90s.
Writing Duo Jump the Wall for Sequel
Frank Owen is the writing partnership of Diane Awerbuck and Alex Latimer, both South African authors well-known for their work in other genres. Awerbuck has won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Africa and the Caribbean) and was shortlisted for the Caine Prize. She is a teacher, reviewer, and poet. Latimer wrote The Space Race for adults, and also writes and illustrates children’s books.
An unlikely combination to write dystopian and totally scary alternative history thrillers set in the United States, you think? Don’t judge until you’ve read SOUTH and NORTH.
This is a US where the Civil War didn’t happen until much later, when unification of the North and the South became more a matter of political ambition than of policy. By the time the war does happen, it has many modern warfare horrors available and spirals into germ warfare. The North is ruled by Renard, who grabs total power, uses the wind and multiple mutated viruses to destroy the South, and also builds a wall across the continent to enforce the separation.
In this The Big Thrill interview, I talk with the authors about the sequel to SOUTH, their writing partnership, and what we can expect from the authors next.
By Dawn Ius
When Lynne Constantine walks into a room these days, she pauses a second before introducing herself.
It’s not because she’s suffering some kind of identity crisis—though she’d be forgiven if that were the case—but rather in the last couple of years the writer “formerly known as Lynne” has taken on a couple of pseudonyms.
The most recent is L. C. Shaw, the nom de plume she’s adopted for her recently announced series of conspiracy thrillers. But Lynne is also one half of “Liv Constantine,” the pen name she and her sister Valerie created when the two co-wrote last year’s sensational debut The Last Mrs. Parrish.
Writing under pseudonyms isn’t new—just ask Dean Koontz, whose works have been published under a half dozen or so different pen names—but the idea of combining authors into one is a new-ish trend that seems to be born more out of necessity than artistry or anonymity.
“I Basically Popped His Short Story Cherry”
By Dawn Ius
Few events can fire up readers more than a collaborative effort between their favorite authors—so when a couple of genre heavyweights get together to write, it’s a big deal. Especially when the authors in question are Karin Slaughter and Lee Child, arguably two of the biggest names in thriller.
In a riveting short story that took five years to come together, CLEANING THE GOLD will send Will Trent to Fort Knox to investigate a 22-year-old murder. His prime suspect? Jack Reacher.
Meanwhile, Reacher has his own agenda: to bring down a dangerous criminal ring operating at the heart of the military.
But of course, there’s a bigger conspiracy at play, and to get to the heart of it, Trent and Reacher are forced to work together.
With it’s high stakes tension, rapid-fire pacing, and infusion of quick wit for which both authors are known, Slaughter and Child make it look easy—probably substantially easier than it was for Trent and Reacher to put their personal agendas aside.
In this quick Q&A with The Big Thrill, Slaughter talks about the genesis that became CLEANING THE GOLD, what it’s like to work with Lee Child, and why Brad Meltzer may or may not be a demon.
A Hurricane of a Novel About Love and Murder
By Neil Nyren
My trial starts the way my life did: a squall of elbows and shoving and spit. From the prisoners’ hold, they take me through the gallery, down the stairs and past the table crawling with barristers and clerks. Around me a river of faces in flood, their mutters rising, blending with the lawyers’ whispers. A noise that hums with all the spite of bees in a bush. Heads turn as I enter. Every eye a skewer.
I duck my head, peer at my boots, grip my hands to stop their awful trembling. It seems all of London is here, but then murder is the story this city likes best.
April, 1826: A servant and former slave from Jamaica named Frannie Langton is accused of murdering her employer, renowned scientist George Benham, and his wife Marguerite—but Frannie can’t recall a thing about that night, and has no idea how she came to be covered in their blood.
She does have a story to tell, however, and in Sara Collins’s THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANNIE LANGTON, it’s an extraordinary one: of an enslaved life in Jamaica, yet being taught to read and write to help her master’s scientific studies (“Sometimes I picture all that reading and writing as something packed inside me. Dangerous as gunpowder”); of his ruin and flight to London (“the luggage he took with him included me”); of her master’s gift of her to Benham to curry favor, the remarkable role in which she found herself in this new household, the passionate affair it produced with her new master’s wife, and the explosion of events that followed, all rushing to calamity, the world spinning out of control.
It’s a hurricane of a book, its prose both cold and red-hot, a brilliant exploration of the darkest corners of race and gender, slavery and freedom, science and passion—and in the middle of it, a towering figure the likes of whom you’ve never seen before.
“This is a story of love, not just murder, though I know that’s not the kind of story you’re expecting. In truth, no one expects any kind of story from a woman like me. No doubt you think this will be one of those slave histories, all sugared over with misery and despair. But who’d want to read one of those? No, this is my account of myself and my own life and the happiness that came to it, which was not a thing I thought I’d ever be allowed, the happiness or the account….
Lucky 13 for Former Cosmo Boss-Turned Suspense Author
By Dawn Ius
Thirteen may not be a number routinely associated with luck, but for New York Times bestselling author Kate White, the number has significant meaning—SUCH A PERFECT WIFE represents White’s 13th published novel, and number eight in her suspenseful series featuring intrepid crime journalist Bailey Weggins.
For the former Cosmopolitan editor—whose time at the reins led the magazine to consistent #1 sales on the newsstands—she’s grateful for the opportunity to continue following this new career passion.
“When I finished my first book, it seemed miraculous that I could actually have cranked out 90,000 words, and it still seems miraculous each time I finish a new book,” she says. “But most of all I feel lucky to be writing full time and not going into an office every day. I loved my Cosmo years, but this is really orgasmic.”
Rounding Out an Unintentional Trilogy
By Dawn Ius
Alafair Burke didn’t set out to write a trilogy, but with the release of her latest novel of domestic suspense—THE BETTER SISTER—Burke completes a set of three thematic novels that explore “the complexity of female relationships and the diverse roles that women play in contemporary society.”
THE BETTER SISTER is, of course, a mystery—there’s a dead body, numerous suspects, and enough twists to give readers whiplash—but at its core, it’s the story of two sisters: Chloe, the seemingly perfect career woman; and Nicky, the unstable sibling whose recklessness cost her her marriage and her son. Chloe ended up with both, until her husband ended up dead, and her stepson the prime suspect.
While readers might not relate to the specifics of this particular family dysfunction, they will find something familiar about each of the sisters. In Chloe, it’s constant guilt—not only for marrying her sister’s ex-husband, but also for having a successful career, an achievement she is constantly apologizing for, despite knowing she shouldn’t have to.
Twin Tragedies Form Basis for
Gripping Pavone Thriller
By Rick Pullen
His wife Madeline had already left for work and New York Times bestselling author Chris Pavone was running late. He was petting the couple’s dog goodbye when something caught his eye outside the giant wall-size window of their lower Manhattan loft.
Four blocks away, the side of the World Trade Center exploded.
“I saw horrific things,” Pavone says. “There was a moment when the first building came tumbling down…it wasn’t clear what was happening. It was then clear the building was collapsing. Through my window, I thought, shit, it’s going to fall on me. I grabbed the dog and ran to the bathroom. I closed the door—the whole building shook and there was the sound of glass shattering.”
When he emerged, the apartment was dark. A cloud of dust had enveloped the neighborhood. The shattering glass? A picture had fallen off the wall from the reverberation.
Outside his window was black—he couldn’t see anything. And then slowly, the other side of the street began to emerge. A police officer later told him he needed to leave the neighborhood.
What Happens in the Absence of Justice?
By Dawn Ius
Lisa Scottoline knows a little something about justice.
As a former corporate attorney, the pursuit of justice was a part of her day-to-day life. And later, when she turned in her business suits for the more casual attire of full-time writer, “justice”—in all its many facets—began to thread its way through her books.
Thirty-three novels later—many of them debuting on bestseller charts, garnering option deals, or earning coveted awards—justice remains a central theme in Scottoline’s work. But with her latest and perhaps most talked-about thriller SOMEONE KNOWS, it’s the absence of justice that drives the story forward, kicking off at breakneck pace and barreling readers toward a truly shocking end.
There are many success factors at play here, but at the root is the compelling spark of story—a game of Russian roulette among teenagers that goes horribly wrong. Twenty years later, three of the four survivors of that deadly prank reunite, but when one of them commits suicide, the death not only threatens to expose the group’s terrible secret, but sends one of them on a quest to figure out if the suicide somehow connects to the tragic events of that long-ago summer.
In this in-depth Q&A with The Big Thrill, Scottoline shares how writing dark fiction wars with her sunny disposition, the importance of work ethic and genre diversity, and of course, why the idea of “justice” is vital to her writing.
Exploring Tragic, Forgotten Native American History in Crime Fiction
By Tim O’Mara
GIRL GONE MISSING is Marcie Rendon’s second crime novel featuring Cash Blackbear, a member of the Anishinabe Nation of North Dakota and Minnesota. Cash’s first appearance, in Murder on the Red River, earned Rendon the Pinckley Prize for Debut Crime Fiction.
In GIRL GONE MISSING, Cash begins to have dreams about a fellow Moorhead State student, a young blond girl who has disappeared. Then it happens again—and the girls are calling out in Cash’s dream to be saved. Not one to let a good dream go to waste, Cash enlists the help of her closest friend, Sheriff Wheaton, to find the missing girls.
“Cash is a gift to me from the universe,” Rendon says. “I don’t think I could have made her up on my own. I was writing a story about a young woman who wrote poetry and wanted to go to Nashville to try to break into the music business. Cash appeared and said, ‘Nope, this is the story you’re going to write’—and so I wrote it.
“Cash is every young Indian woman I’ve known…we are fierce, resilient, kind, generous, tough…lonely, alone…”
Turns out, there’s a horrible—almost forgotten by many of us—piece of American history behind that characterization.
“For too many years in America, Native American children were systematically taken from their families and placed with non-Indian families or institutions,” Rendon says. “Cash Blackbear was one of these children.
Leaving the Surprises to the Bitter End
By R. G. Belsky
The woman at the heart of Michael Koryta’s electrifying new thriller IF SHE WAKES is in a coma for most of the book—trapped inside her body in a vegetative state, but still aware that she must somehow find a way to stop the powerful forces out to kill her.
So how did Koryta ever come up with such a unique concept—and then find a way to write a story told in part from a coma victim’s point of view?
“A friend gave me a book written by a neuroscientist who studies locked-in syndrome,” he says, “and there was a specific test that really captured my imagination. They would show the patient an old Hitchcock short film while administering an MRI, and watch to see whether the brain engaged with the story, both from a cognitive and emotional standpoint.
“That test fascinated me, and then the whole idea of being alert but unable to communicate your existence to the world seemed like the ultimate in claustrophobic terror. I mean, I’d written some claustrophobic scenes before—people trapped in caves in the dark, for example—but trapped in silence in your own body? That felt like a fresh terror to me.
“It took a few approaches before I found a style that seemed to work for her POV, but like anything else, it was essentially a matter of trying to slip into her skin and see the world through her eyes, feel that journey.”
We don’t often get the chance to support a great cause and get a great read at the same time, but the opportunity is here in DOWN TO THE RIVER, an anthology edited by Tim O’Mara.
DOWN TO THE RIVER collects 20 crime stories written by some of the best in the business, and they all take place on, or near, American rivers. Rivers, it seems, are not simply sources of life—they prove to be scenes of revenge and murder in these stories.
There are a lot of worthy causes to champion, and O’Mara is involved in a few, such as bringing literacy to incarcerated youth and working with kids with special needs. But he knows that none of them will mean much if we continue to screw with Mother Nature.
“I love rivers,” O’Mara says. “I live a short walk from the Hudson in NYC and spend a good chunk of my summer in Missouri and kayak the creeks out there. Rivers literally connect us all. I can get into a kayak up in Minnesota where the Mississippi River starts and, with enough stamina and supplies, make it all the way into the Gulf of Mexico and then the Atlantic. The United States would not be the great country it is without its fabulous waterways.”
Proceeds from the anthology will support the work of American Rivers, an organization that educates people about our rivers and advocates for them. How did O’Mara get so many great writers to contribute stories? He feels it was a no-brainer for just about every writer he asked to participate.
CHANGING OF THE GUARD DOG is the latest installment in Lane Stone’s successful Pet Palace mystery series. This latest takes place in, you got it, Lewes—correctly pronounced “Louis,” as in the Keymaster from the film Ghostbusters.
After finding the body of a tuxedo-clad Danish conductor washed up on their peaceful beach, Buckingham Pet Palace’s co-owner, Sue Patrick, and her partner Lady Anthea Fitzwalter, help Lewes’s Chief of Police, John Turner, solve a very unpredictable and page-turning mystery. Oh and by the way, dogs are involved.
Spend one minute talking with Stone, and you’ll find that she loves the craft of writing, unlike Dorothy Parker who once quipped, “I hate to write, but love to have written.” For Stone writing is a passion, and she devotes most of her free time—when she’s not walking her dog—to putting pen to paper, or more correctly, fingers to the keyboard.
But there’s more to the author than cozy mysteries.
In this The Big Thrill interview, she shares insight into her life, her work, and her vision.
In her latest novel, USA Today and Publishers Weekly bestselling author Debra Webb brings back Dr. Rowan Dupont, the forensic psychiatrist introduced in The Undertaker’s Daughter. THE SECRETS WE BURY finds Rowan back in her hometown of Winchester, Tennessee, recovering from the trauma of her shattering encounter with a serial killer and running the family business, a Victorian-style funeral home she inherited after her father’s death.
“I’ve always been curious about funeral homes and death,” Webb says. “One of the stories my grandmother often told me was about the woman who woke up buried in a wooden coffin. An occasional baby sitter of me and my brother told us the story about a man waking up in the funeral home lying on a gurney beneath a sheet. The story went that he ran out and all the way home wrapped in that sheet.” Whether or not either tale was rooted in fact, they were good stories. “I suppose the inspiration for the book and the series is a fascination with death and the multitude of reasons it happens before it should.”
Webb had just signed the contract for the series when she learned she had a life-threatening aneurysm in her ascending aorta. Because of its small size, it was determined that the risk of open heart surgery was greater than the danger posed by the aneurysm. That, however, is a delicate balance. As the aneurysm grows, the risk of a rupture becomes greater than the risk of surgical correction. She was given medication and rules for how high she could allow her heart rate to go. If she wasn’t careful, she was told, the aneurysm could rupture, and if that happened, the chances of survival were very slim.
It was like having a time bomb in her head.
By P. J. Bodnar
When a firefighter named Bucky dies in a mill fire and three others are injured—including Andi Comstack’s brother—his spirit enlists Andi to help find the arsonist and solve his murder. Having proven herself a worthy advocate in the past, Andi helps the local fire department with information from her “Smokies”—those who have been recently cremated, like Bucky.
“The afterlife intrigues me. Does it exist? What’s it like? Who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell? Are people caught in limbo, and that’s why there are so many ghost sightings?”
These are the questions that inspire and intrigue author Ann Simas, and she tries to answer them in her supernatural series of books featuring Andi Comstock. With HELLFIRE, the fourth book in the series, Simas hopes readers will “approach this book and the others in the series with an open mind. I’d like them to consider the possibilities the series suggests.”
Here, she takes time to chat with The Big Thrill and answer a few questions about this fast-paced paranormal thriller.
Mystery novels have been set in virtually every workplace imaginable, from coffee shops to wineries, libraries to law firms. But Mark S. Bacon has come up with a unique setting for his series of books: Nostalgia City, a theme park that aims to recreate a small town from the ’60s and ’70s.
Over the course of his latest novel, THE MARIJUANA MURDERS, Bacon does an excellent job of making the park and the people who run it—as well as the murder investigation that unfolds there—seem real.
Maybe that’s because he’s drawing on his own experience.
As a former reporter, Bacon spent day after day on the police beat. “I learned about police work, the exciting times, and the monotony,” he says. Later, as a copywriter, he worked “in the advertising department at Knott’s Berry Farm, the big theme park just down the freeway from Disneyland.”
He knew he wanted to blend those two experiences for a story, but the question was how?
For twelve-year-old Cora Landry and her friends Violet and Jordyn, it was supposed to be an ordinary sleepover—movies and Ouija and talking about boys. But when they decide to sneak out to go to the abandoned rail yard on the outskirts of town, little do they know that their innocent games will have dangerous consequences.
Later that night, Cora is discovered on the tracks, bloody and clinging to life, her friends nowhere to be found. Soon their small rural town is thrust into a maelstrom. Who would want to hurt a young girl like Cora—and why? In an investigation that leaves no stone unturned, everyone is a suspect and no one can be trusted—not even those closest to Cora.
BEFORE SHE WAS FOUND is a timely and gripping thriller about friendship and betrayal, about the power of social pressure and the price of needing to fit in. It is about the great lengths a parent will go to protect their child and keep them safe—even if that means burying the truth, no matter the cost.
New York Times bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf recently took some time to discuss her latest thriller, BEFORE SHE WAS FOUND, with The Big Thrill:
From Emily Carpenter, bestselling author of Every Single Secret, Burying the Honeysuckle Girls, and The Weight of Lies, comes a new psychological thriller, UNTIL THE DAY I DIE.
After her husband dies in an accident, Erin Gaines and her brilliant college-age daughter, Shorie, grieve. For Erin, the responsibility of running the financial app Jax, the company she, her husband, and their partners had founded, plus typical mother-daughter relationship stresses, are overwhelming. Erin’s business partners, extended family, and even Shorie want her to take a break. They schedule her for a few weeks at a luxury spa in the Caribbean. At first Erin resists, but then decides they may be right.
But Hidden Sands is not as the brochure promises. Either Erin is losing her mind, or she wasn’t sent there to recover. She was sent there to disappear. And it will take all of Erin’s and Shorie’s ingenuity to save her.
Jessica Strawser dubbed UNTIL THE DAY I DIE “seductively sinister . . . a fast, frightening read,” and Heather Gudenkauf called it “twisty . . . jaw-dropping.”
“A wild thought—The Lord of the Flies with soccer moms—inspired UNTIL THE DAY I DIE,” Carpenter says, noting that the story eventually evolved into something “less nihilistic and with more soul.”
Roan West was born with an extraordinary gift: he can perceive the past of any object he touches. A highly skilled psychometrist, he uses his talents to find and sell valuable antiques, but his quiet life in New Orleans is about to change. Stuart, a fellow pyschometrist and Roan’s close friend, has used his own abilities to unearth several out-of-place-artifacts or “ooparts”—like a ring that once belonged to the seventeenth-century mathematician and philosopher René Descartes, but was found buried in prehistoric bedrock.
The relics challenge recorded history, but soon after the discovery, Stuart disappears, making him one of several psychometrists who have recently died or vanished without a trace. When Roan comes across a viral video of a young woman who has discovered a priceless pocket watch just by “sensing” it, he knows he has to warn her—but will Melicent Tilpin listen? And can Roan find Stuart before it’s too late?
The quest for answers will lead Roan and Melicent around the world—before it brings them closer to each other and a startling truth—in the latest romantic thriller from Gwendolyn Womack,
The Big Thrill caught up with Womack, the bestselling, PRISM Award-winning author of The Memory Painter and The Fortune Teller, to discuss her latest thriller, THE TIME COLLECTOR:
Lucy Ramos is out for blood—she needs to kill a man, but she has no clue how. Lucy calls on the help of aged hit-man, Tito Garza—also known as El Perro of Pedro. Garza’s signature method of killing? Using dogs to maul his targets to death. Now, in his golden years, Garza lives a mundane life in San Pedro, a port town south of downtown Los Angeles. With a backpack full of cash, Lucy persuades Garza to help her murder her mother’s killer, Assistant District Attorney Victor Soto. Together, the forgotten hit-man hungry for a comeback and the girl whose life was shattered as a child set out to kill the man responsible.
But killing Victor Soto may prove to be an impossible task. The newly elected assistant district attorney’s wealth and political clout keep him well-insulated. Lucy and Garza’s plan is further complicated when Lucy begins to develop feelings for Victor Soto’s son, Martin. With their romance threatening to derail the mission, Lucy fights to keep Martin out of Garza’s cross-hairs when his violent urges become more unpredictable.
Will Lucy’s feelings for Martin jeopardize everything she’s worked for? Will Garza’s unchecked rage cause innocent people to die? Lucy Ramos and Tito Garza are furious, deadly, and driven by vengeance—but vengeance comes at a price.
Novelist and screenwriter Aaron Phillip Clark took a few minutes to discuss his latest thriller, THE FURIOUS WAY, with The Big Thrill:
THE PANDORA ROOM is New York Times bestselling author Christopher Golden’s chilling exploration of what happens when the original Pandora’s Box is discovered in an ancient subterranean city, stirring international conflict and exposing the archaeological team to curses, whispers, and the terror of a legendary plague.
In one ancient variation on the myth of Pandora’s Box, there were two jars, one for Pandora and one for her sister, Anesidora. One contained all the blessings of the gods, the other all the world’s curses. Now, in a subterranean city in Northern Iraq, archaeologist Sophie Durand has discovered a secret chamber covered in writing that confirms that version of the tale–a chamber which contains a single jar. “Weird shit” expert Ben Walker joins Sophie’s team just as the mystery deepens and grows ugly. Those who believe the myth want to know which jar has been found in the Pandora Room, the one containing blessings, or the one full of curses. Governments rush to lay claim, but jihadi forces aren’t waiting for the dust to settle. Whatever the jar contains, they want it, no matter who they have to kill…or what will emerge when they open it. For Sophie, Walker, and the others, the Pandora Room may soon become their tomb.
Bestselling author Christopher Golden spent some time with The Big Thrill adding some insight and intrigue into his latest thriller, THE PANDORA ROOM:
A vacation to the historic city of St. Augustine, Florida, quickly turns deadly for brothers Jon and Michael Rickner as an antiquities dealer is brutally murdered in his shop just minutes after meeting with them. Moments later, Jon and Michael discover an original Edison wax cylinder recording in the wreckage of the shop, one detailing the first step of an audacious treasure hunt devised by 19th-century railroad magnate Henry Flagler to lure rich tourists to his Florida resorts.
But the hunt, abandoned by Flagler on the eve of its announcement, is not as straightforward as it seems. For the tycoon’s innovative attraction is tied to a priceless relic hidden by 16th-century Conquistadors and paid for in blood.
The Rickner brothers are not alone in their quest for Flagler’s prize. Caeden Monk – an infamous treasure hunter exiled from the archaeological community for his destructive methods – and his devious assistant are also on the trail, and they will stop at nothing to claim the prize for themselves.
Diving headlong into a breakneck pursuit of the truth, Jon and Michael must outwit Monk, discover the secret behind Flagler’s abandoned treasure hunt, and unravel a deadly riddle hidden for centuries in the very foundations of America’s oldest city before an unfathomable treasure is lost forever.
The Big Thrill spent some time with bestselling author Jeremy Burns learning more about his latest thriller, THE FLAGLER HUNT:
Rhys Gravenor, Great War veteran and Welsh sheep farmer, arrives in Paris in the midst of the city’s liberation with a worn letter in his pocket that may have arrived years too late. As he follows the footsteps of his missing son across an unfamiliar, war-torn country, he struggles to come to terms with the incident that drove a wedge between the two of them.
Joined by Charlotte Dubois, an American ambulance driver with secrets of her own, Rhys discovers that even as liberation sweeps across France, the war is far from over. And his personal war has only begun as he is haunted by memories of previous battles and hampered at every turn by danger and betrayal. In a race against time and the war, Rhys follows his son’s trail from Paris to the perilous streets of Vichy to the starving mobs in Lyon to the treacherous Alps. But Rhys is not the only one searching for his son. In a race of his own, a relentless enemy stalks him across the country and will stop at nothing to find the young man first.
The country is in tatters, no one is trustworthy, and Rhys must unravel the mystery of his son’s wartime actions in the desperate hope of finding him before it’s too late. Too late to mend the frayed bond between them. Too late to beg his forgiveness. Too late to bring him home alive.
Author Meghan Holloway spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her historical thriller, ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH:
When a Catholic priest is found murdered in his New Orleans rectory, the aging pastor who discovers the body calls on his loyal nephew to help conceal evidence that might implicate the dead priest as a child sex offender.
As Father McMurray and his nephew, Peter Moore, become enmeshed in a cover-up that involves the Church hierarchy and an obliging district attorney, the two men grapple with the moral consequences of their participation, which has compromised their integrity and threatens to shatter their faith.
In the course of their own private investigation, Father McMurray and Peter Moore eventually discover who murdered the priest and are confronted by the killer in a chilling finale.
OUTCRY WITNESS provides an insider’s view of how sex abuse crimes have taken place for decades among the Catholic clergy and how innocent lives have been destroyed.
Award-winning author Thomas Zigal spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing his latest thriller, OUTCRY WITNESS:
How does obsession begin? For one hit man it starts with a target he just can’t kill. She leads him on a crime spree across Europe. With every step he’s in deeper. Each crime binds them together like a vow and only death can part them.
But will it be his—or hers?
Sex, death and crime: the essentials of noir. LOVE IS A GRIFT and the other stories in this volume offer a fresh take on the classic genre that begins with obsession and often ends in death.
The Big Thrill sat down (virtually) with author Graham Wynd to gain some insight into his latest noir compilation, LOVE IS A GRIFT:
By Wendy Tyson
Award-winning author Elizabeth Heiter is back with her latest romantic suspense novel, K-9 DEFENSE. In addition to Heiter’s signature compelling plot and strong, intriguing protagonists, this book has an extra twist: canine character Rebel, a combat tracker dog. Together, Kelsie Morgan, ex-marine Colter Hayes, and Rebel search for Morgan’s long-ago kidnapped sister in the wilds of Alaska.
Heiter hopes readers take away from this book how important self-forgiveness is. “Colter Hayes lost everything in a single moment—his career, his marine brothers, even some of his mobility,” Heiter says. “Now he’s shut out the world, punishing himself for his survivor’s guilt by refusing to truly live his life. Kensie Morgan has spent most of her days since she was thirteen searching for the sister who was abducted right in front of her—and blaming herself for not stopping it. Through the course of the book, they have to learn to accept that they can’t change the past, and figure out how to forge a new future.”
Morgan and Hayes’ journey toward self-forgiveness, and the challenges they face along the way, will keep readers riveted.
With 11 full-length published novels to her name, Heiter understands what it takes to write a riveting crime novel. The Big Thrill recently had the pleasure of talking with Heiter about K-9 DEFENSE, the importance of networking, and her excellent advice for aspiring authors.
He hasn’t been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate or a king, but Tom Savage’s resume includes a whole bunch of interesting careers, two of which come in handy in his latest thriller, THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SPY, the next installment in the Nora Baron series.
Set in the Caribbean, on both a cruise ship and various islands along the route, Nora, a former actress, and her husband, Jeff, a former CIA operative, try to track down and follow Claude Lamont, a shady French businessman who has a connection to an international terrorist known only as Diablo.
As far as we know, Tom Savage has never been a spy, but he has been an actor, which is a nice talent to have when it comes to fooling people into believing you’re someone you’re not.
But here’s who Tom Savage is: He was born in New York City and raised in St. Thomas, USVI. He and his two sisters were adopted by their maternal aunt after his mother died when he was only two years old. His aunt was a theater actress before she moved to the Islands and started a real estate company. Savage returned to the mainland to attend Hofstra University, majoring in drama and minoring in English.
Maddox Kinkade is an expert at managing the impossible. Tasked with neutralizing a lethal bioweapon, she turns to the one person capable of helping her stop the threat of pandemic in time: the love of her life, back from the dead and mad as hell at her supposed betrayal. Recruiting Cole to save millions of lives may be harder than resisting the attraction still burning between them, but Maddox will do whatever it takes…even if it destroys her.
When Maddox crashes back into Cole Matthews’ life, he wants to fight back. He wants to hate her. But the crisis is too strong to ignore, and soon the two former lovers find themselves working side by side in a breakneck race to stop a world-class killer with a secret that could end everything.
The clock is ticking.
Author Juno Rushdan took time out of her busy day to discuss her latest romantic thriller, EVERY LAST BREATH, with The Big Thrill:
By K. L. Romo
No author mixes life in Greece with suspense like Jeffrey Siger. From the Parthenon in Athens to the party life of the mega-wealthy on the island of Mykonos, Siger immerses readers in all things Greek.
In his newest police procedural, THE MYKONOS MOB, Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis and his number two, Yianni Kouros of the Special Crimes Unit become entangled in ruthless mob warfare as they investigate the murder of a retired police colonel who specialized in security shakedowns on the wrong side of the law.
Andreas and Yianni leave Athens for the party island of Mykonos to investigate the slaying of Colonel Aktipis. As they piece together facts, they realize that the island’s dark criminal elements are at the heart of the assassination. But which of the powerful crime bosses? After escaping a hit man’s attempt to murder them, their investigation intensifies as they shake up the island’s most powerful players.
When Yianni falls for an American ex-pat named Toni, a piano-bar performer whose day job is tracking down stolen property for wealthy tourists, the investigation becomes even more complicated. Toni and Andreas’s wife Lila vow to help a young girl escape a life of prostitution at the hands of the son of Angelos Karavakis, the island’s premier crime boss. Not only must Andreas and Yianni protect themselves, but the safety of Toni and Lila come to the forefront.
Can Andreas and Yianni infiltrate “the world of the night” to find the muscle behind the growing number of murders? And what will happen if the power of the Mykonos mob families plummets into chaos?
Haunted. This word lurks within our deepest emotions. It’s a fear we can’t let go of, or that won’t let go of us. It’s a place we dream of going, or a place we can never leave. An LAPD detective is haunted by the case she never solved. A Century City financial advisor is haunted by the greed he cannot escape. A bridge is haunted by ghosts of despair.
In a city of 10 million people, the haunted could be the man waiting to cross the street, or the memory that keeps you awake at night.
FATALLY HAUNTED, a Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles anthology, includes original stories by Julie G. Beers, Julia Bricklin, Roger Cannon, Tony Chiarchiaro, Lisa Ciarfella, Cyndra Gernet, B. J. Graf, Mark Hague, A. P. Jamison, Micheal Kelly, Alison McMahan, Peter Sexton, Gobind Tanaka, and Jennifer Younger.
The Big Thrill caught up with Sheila Lowe to discuss the creation of the latest Sisters in Crime Los Angeles anthology, FATALLY HAUNTED:
Joe never wanted to come back to Arnhill. After the way things ended with his old gang–the betrayal, the suicide, the murder–and after what happened when his sister went missing, the last thing he wanted to do was return to his hometown. But Joe doesn’t have a choice. Because judging by what was done to that poor Morton kid, what happened all those years ago to Joe’s sister is happening again. And only Joe knows who is really at fault.
Lying his way into a teaching job at his former high school is the easy part. Facing off with former friends who are none too happy to have him back in town–while avoiding the enemies he’s made in the years since–is tougher. But the hardest part of all will be returning to that abandoned mine where it all went wrong and his life changed forever, and finally confronting the shocking, horrifying truth about Arnhill, his sister, and himself. Because for Joe, the worst moment of his life wasn’t the day his sister went missing.
It was the day she came back.
“Tudor maintains a tone of creeping dread throughout the book, of something lingering always in the background, coyly hiding its face while whispering promises of very bad things to come. In the last quarter, however, she goes for broke with outright horror, giving readers an effective jolt of adrenaline that will carry them all the way to the terrifying conclusion. Readers won’t know what hit them. Tudor came out swinging with The Chalk Man, but this one puts her firmly on the map. Not to be missed.”—Kirkus
“Tudor has crafted another fantastic horror-tinged thriller (after The Chalk Man, 2018) in the vein of John Connolly and Brendan Duffy” – Booklist
“Some writers have it, and some don’t. C. J. Tudor has it big time – The Hiding Place is terrific in every way.” – LEE CHILD
“With The Hiding Place, C. J. Tudor has proven that she is a true master at creating perfectly dark, highly propulsive, and tightly coiled mysteries that are utterly impossible to put down. From page one, the reader is pulled in with a gathering sense of dread, and taken on an addictive, thrilling ride to the very last page.” – AIMEE MOLLOY, New York Times Bestselling author of The Perfect Mother
“Dark, gothic and utterly compelling, The Hiding Place pulls off a rare combination – an atmosphere of unsettling evil along with richly nuanced characterisation.” – JP DELANEY
C. J. Tudor is the author of The Chalk Man, and lives in Nottingham, England, with her partner and three-year-old daughter. Over the years she has worked as a copywriter, television presenter, voice-over, and dog walker. She is now thrilled to be able to write full-time, and doesn’t miss chasing wet dogs through muddy fields all that much.
Photography credit: Bill Waters
But though they may be in the money, they’re far from easy street.
Shocked by her husband’s betrayal, Dolly discovers Harry Rawlins isn’t dead. He knows where the four women are and he wants them to pay. And he doesn’t just mean getting his hands on the money.
The women can’t keep running. They have to get Harry out of their lives for good. But can they outwit a criminal mastermind who won’t hesitate to kill?
Especially when one of them has a plan of her own…to kill or be killed.
An Epic Tale of Friendship, Betrayal, and Secrets
By Dawn Ius
In an era when many believe the attention span of readers is at an all-time low, New York Times bestselling author Greg Iles embraces the “epic tome.” He has no choice; that’s pretty much how his books come out these days, whether he plans for it or not.
Last year, when the final chapter of his bestselling Natchez Burning trilogy released—a series spanning more than 2,400 pages—Iles considered writing something simpler, shorter even. But his latest novel, CEMETERY ROAD, is a hefty standalone thriller that to no one’s surprise reads at a seemingly impossible rapid pace—or perhaps, would be impossible in the hands of a less capable master of the craft.
“I’d initially planned to write a small-scale noir novel set in Oxford, Mississippi,” he says. “In the end, I couldn’t make the transition from the epic canvas to the small canvas that quickly. CEMETERY ROAD occupies that middle ground.”
The novel begins with a poignant, powerful, and shockingly short first chapter, propelling us into a story that is a stunning tale of friendship, betrayal, and—in typical Iles fashion—the secrets that threaten to destroy a small Mississippi town.
Christopher Golden on Adapting
His Ben Walker Series
In the 25 years since the release of his first novel, Christopher Golden has achieved success by nearly every metric the publishing industry can think of. He’s appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, won the coveted Bram Stoker Award, earned glowing blurbs from Stephen King and George R. R. Martin, left his own mark on beloved properties such as Star Wars, X-Men, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer via media tie-ins, and collaborated with the likes of filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. But one milestone has eluded him so far—in spite of multiple options and development deals, Golden has yet to see one of his original properties make it to the screen.
It looks like that’s about to change, thanks to Golden’s Ben Walker series, which kicked off in 2017 with the horror-adventure hybrid Ararat and continues this month with THE PANDORA ROOM, out April 23 from St. Martin’s Press. (A third entry, Red Hands, is slated for publication next year.) The series, about a Department of Defense operative who works under the auspices of the National Science Foundation to investigate and contain what he accurately describes as “weird shit,” is currently being developed for television by the small-screen arm of AGC Studios.
Peering Through the Curtains at the
Couple Next Door
By Dawn Ius
“Love thy neighbor” the Bible quotes, but if the recent trend in psychological thrillers has any influence, “fear” might be a more apt emotion.
In the past few years, domestic thrillers have ruled the marketplace, with novels like Gone Girl prompting us to ask: How well do we really know the person that sleeps beside us? But a new crop of thrillers in this subgenre encourage us to peer through the curtains and take a harder look at our neighbors. Could the cul-de-sac recluse be a serial killer? What exactly is in “The Smiths’” garbage that smells like rotting flesh?
The questions are endless, and they’re exactly the kind authors like Shari Lapena want you to ask. Lapena’s The Couple Next Door explores the alternative personalities of seemingly perfect neighbors, while author Alex Marwood makes it pretty clear what the characters of The Killer Next Door think of someone in their housing complex.
Kick-ass Thriller Writers Gone Rogue
By P. J. Bodnar
A journalist who took on a state legislature; a 30-year veteran law enforcement officer; a forensic scientist; a hostage negotiator; a Wall Street lawyer; a martial artist; a globetrotting writer researching her next novel; a Deputy Press Secretary to the U.S. President; a senior director at the National Security Council; an adventure junkie who dives with great white sharks; and a lawyer that got New Jersey to abolish the death penalty.
These may seem like main characters from the latest bestselling thriller novels, but they aren’t—they’re the real lives of the kick-ass women who write them.
Eight of these women belong to a writing collective known as the ROGUE WOMEN WRITERS, and while their books are the primary focus of their collective blog, their diverse real-life experiences are also worth writing about.
Which is why they’ve recently changed their blog tagline to: Kick-ass writers. With lives.
“We want our readers to know that this is a group of thriller writers who’ve had many exciting experiences/jobs/travels that have inspired our novels,” says Karna Small Bodnam, author of the White House National Security Series.
K. J. Howe—whose debut, The Freedom Broker, won an International Thriller Writers (ITW) award last year—concurs, adding that her life experiences add a layer of authenticity that brings the characters and plots of her books to life. Howe hasn’t just researched some of the dangerous stunts in her novels, she’s lived them—and as a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I call it ‘method writing,’” she says. “[It’s] comparable to ‘method acting,’ where the actor immerses himself in the protagonist’s world.”
But of course, a passion for adventure is just one ingredient in crafting a successful thriller, and not all authors can skyjump out of a plane.
Jamie Freveletti—also an ITW-award winner—says she loves weaving real facts in with the fiction, and while those experiences certainly inform her stories, there’s more to crafting a compelling tale than just capturing the action.
“The most important part of being a writer, for me as a thriller writer or as a writer for any other literary work, is the ability to imagine the world from the perspective of our characters,” she says. “While having interesting experiences certainly helps inform the details, the heart of what a writer does comes from within.”
That’s especially important to author Lisa Black, who admits her life—by comparison—isn’t all that exciting, even though the action in her thrillers most certainly is.
“If having a kick-ass life is a prerequisite, they’d have to dump me because there’s nothing kick-ass about my life,” she says. “I haven’t worked as a spy or walked the corridors of power like my fellow bloggers. I’ve never been in a fist fight (and I’m super happy about that). So I have to have my character do those things instead.”
It’s a balance that Gayle Lynds, bestselling author—and Rogue founding member—says she’s learned over time.
“In the past when people asked me what my writing schedule was, I used to say that I wrote all of the time. The rest of life—like eating, talking on the phone, going to parties and PTA meetings and doctors’ appointments, and sleeping—were interruptions,” she says. “Now, I’m more integrated and enjoy both life and writing far more. So kick-ass lives and kick-ass books are, to me, the same. I can’t have one without the other.”
While the Rogues have certainly been known to lean on one another for support, advice, or simply to bounce ideas off each other, they’ve spent the past three years also sharing their knowledge and expertise on their blog—where the range of topics is as diverse as the writers themselves.
Be sure to check out their blog archives, but first scroll down to see what they had to say about their kick-ass lives—and their exciting upcoming projects.
GAYLE LYNDS: Was interviewed on CBS Sunday Morning about conspiracy theories. She shattered the glass ceiling at Bouchercon’s all-boys poker games. Publishers Weekly lists her book Masquerade among the Top 10 spy novels of all time.
You co-founded International Thriller Writers with David Morrell, and then Rogue Women Writers. What are the three biggest milestones the Rogues have achieved as you approach the third anniversary of your first blog post?
Perhaps the Rogues’ greatest contribution has been in raising the awareness that women are writing very good thrillers in the field and doing well. For a long time, some publishers were afraid to publish us because they said they don’t know how to market heart-stopping thrillers by women. I’m seeing more and more evidence that this is changing because of the number of new women entering the field in the last couple of years. I’ve waited a long time for this, and it’s gratifying.
Year 2: We settled into the rhythm of writing the blog. Some of us, including me, had never written a blog.
Year 3: Analysis! What are we doing right, and what can we do better? That’s the fun part of something that’s already successful—let’s make it even better.
What can we look forward to reading from you next?
I’m working on a new thriller with a friend that is still in the secret stages. Hope to have a goodly part of it done by the end of the year. It’s an exciting project!
In your first blog post with the ROGUE WOMEN WRITERS, you mention that your writer’s brain turns everything into a plot line. How does your experience as a police officer magnify this?
Back in the day, when I was on patrol, it was easy pickings, driving around, getting a call, spinning it into a plot. Fatal Truth came about from one such call, where a senior citizen was reporting that one of the political parties was spying on her, because they’d infiltrated her mailbox with dozens of political flyers. The plot for The Last Good Place came about from a newspaper article—and reading between the lines of what was printed and what I knew the cops had to have done as part of the investigation.
But what seems like a blessing can also be a curse. Because I know how the police operate, it makes it difficult to separate the realities of police procedure from my writing—and sometimes that can get in the way. For example, in Pirate, the first book that Clive Cussler and I co-wrote, I had come up with a good action scene, where Sam and Remi Fargo were attempting to rescue a kidnap victim. All very legal, should it ever end up in court—I didn’t want the Fargos breaking the law. Clive took that scene, rewrote it, and had Sam shooting the guy in the head the moment he stepped out the door. As I tried to explain that Sam can’t just kill someone who walks out of a building without knowing if there were weapons, if anyone was in danger, etc., Clive gave me what I call the look. I tried not to let my police background get in the way of good storytelling. (On our next outing together, The Romanov Ransom, Clive was happy to see that I’d written a scene where Sam Fargo shoots the guy in the head first time out.)
What can we look forward to reading from you next?
Look for The Oracle this June, another Sam and Remi Fargo thriller co-written with Clive Cussler.
In your first blog for the Rogues, you talk about spy thrillers being not black and white, but more gray and tan. Is it important in a spy thriller for readers to understand the motivations of the antagonist? How do you know when your protagonist has reached their moral limits?
I think it’s very important for the reader to understand the motivation of the antagonist. It’s important to remember that especially in the context of international thrillers, the antagonist doesn’t see himself as a villain—he sees himself as a hero. That’s also true historically. The most evil, reprehensible leaders who have ever existed—Hitler, Stalin—thought they were the heroes of the story, and it’s important to understand them, even while we root for their defeat. The question then becomes how do we fight them without becoming too much like them? I find that an interesting question—and it has to be answered within the context of a situation. If you have a Hitler-like character who will kill thousands or millions of people, do you bomb a theater filled with otherwise innocent people to kill him? But then, you have to live with the fact that you killed innocent people. And at what point is it okay to trade a few hundred lives for the possibility of saving other lives? How certain do you have to be of the risk? Are there potential unforeseen consequences that could be even worse? There’s no easy answer—and I like that there are no easy answers.
What can we look forward to reading from you next?
Right now, I’m writing the first of two books involving my favorite spy, Kolya Petrov. It’s an origin story: two best friends in an abusive Russian boys’ school take very different paths in the early 2000s, after Kolya is adopted by an American cousin, and Dmitri is drawn into the Russian underworld. When they meet up again in New York in their 20s, Kolya decides between the pull of an old friendship and his loyalty to the country that has become his new home—and helps put Dmitri in prison. In the second novel, which I hope to start next summer, Kolya, now a member of an elite intelligence agency, gets Dmitri out of prison to help to foil an elaborate plot by the Russian President—but is Dmitri working with Kolya or against him?
You grew up living in many different cultures. Your protagonist is a hostage recovery expert. In one of your recent blogs, you discuss the benefit of having a protagonist negotiate her way out of trouble instead of shooting her way out. How do these tactics differ from culture to culture?
Excellent question. I’m all for Thea Paris using her negotiation skills and intelligence to solve problems, if at all possible. Of course, a little action does spice things up from time to time. That said, readers love the psychological stimulation of witnessing how characters manage to free themselves from being boxed in on all sides. Because Thea is an elite kidnap negotiator who traverses the globe, she must analyze the cultural differences of each country and follow their customs. There are ways to do things in each locale, and a smart negotiator knows these trade secrets.
What can we look forward to reading from you next?
In the next Thea Paris novel, a group of journalists has been kidnapped on the Jordan/Syrian border and Thea’s ex is the security consultant taken with the news team. The title is Black September.
You once wrote that your happy childhood robbed you of the types of trauma from which many protagonists suffer. In your other life as a CSI, you are surrounded by this type of trauma on a daily basis. Do you pull from these experiences for your writing?
I do see a lot of trauma in my job. However, I’m not spending a lot of time with the victims because that’s the job of the detective, prosecutor, victim advocate. I tend to see the same kind of trauma over and over: grief at a loss, annoyance at a major inconvenience, weaseling/aggression of guilty parties, and anger at the disruption and damage to their lives. The varieties are endless, and I do mean endless. And much of this trauma gets translated and filtered into many of my characters.
What can we look forward to reading from you next?
My next book, Let Justice Descend, will be released October 29. In it, Maggie and Jack investigate a bizarre murder in the midst of a desperate political campaign.
You are a former trial attorney with a degree in international studies, who is also a distance runner and martial artist. This seems like an excellent character description for a Rogue novel. In your blogs, you’ve discussed the importance of locale in international spy thrillers. Which is more important, depth of character or location?
Depth of character, for sure. If someone doesn’t care about the character, you’re not going to care about the location. Location can really add to the story, though. As a writer of international thrillers with a twist of action-adventure, I always think about the location that may add excitement or interest to the story. Usually that means, for my thrillers, that the characters are often in failing countries or war zones. I spend a lot of time researching history, current events, and using Google Earth and interviews of journalists that have traveled to the more dangerous countries to get a flavor of what it’s like. Then I let my imagination kick in.
What can we look forward to reading from you next?
In December I had a short story published featuring Sherlock Holmes in the anthology For the Sake of the Game. I placed Holmes in present day in Chicago. And I just finished a thriller manuscript set in the Gold Rush era and am quite excited about it.
You spent six years working with the President of the United States. You have flown on Air Force One and worked in the Situation Room. How did living the plot of a political and international thriller shape your own work in the same genre?
I know that anyone can check daily headlines and see a veritable “Petri dish” of possible plot points. But I figured out that “being there” is even better. So yes, I have incorporated many of the events, the tension we felt, the settings where we had meetings and meals (Situation Room, Oval Office, State Dining Room, White House Mess as well as the Pentagon and CIA), as well as some of the personalities I encountered in my thrillers. For example, President Reagan’s announcement of his Strategic Defense Initiative—missile defense program—was the inspiration for my first novel Checkmate, and I used the shooting down of a Korean jetliner with a Congressman on board as part of the inspiration for my thriller Gambit. Finally, my fascination with Russia came from attending Arms Control Talks and Summit Meetings with the Soviets…which led me to write my new thriller, Trust but Verify.
What can we look forward to reading from you next?
I’ve already outlined my next novel. It’s a contemporary thriller—it was inspired by a trip I took to South America. I was sent there by the White House to meet with governments, businesses, and student groups to explain some of President Reagan’s policies. I spent most of my time in Brazil—in Rio de Janeiro and the capital, Brasilia—so the story is centered there. It continues the same characters featured in Trust but Verify, a White House staffer and FBI Special Agent, sent there on a dual assignment.
You began your career as a journalist and writing non-fiction before moving into mysteries and international thrillers. You been called an intrepid traveler by the Rogues. Have you always had the travel bug, or did you begin traveling to do research for your novels? What is the most unique trip you’ve taken?
I was born with the travel bug. As an only child growing up, I was able to go along when my parents traveled. At 15, I studied French for a summer in Talence, France, a suburb of Bordeaux. At 19, I took a “gap” year and backpacked Europe with a friend. We visited 13 countries and had lots of great adventures. That was a time before cell phones, when telegrams from Western Union and letters that arrived three weeks later were the main form of communication. To date, the most unique trip was a research trip to Ukraine, Poland, and Germany. My youngest daughter joined me, and we spent a little more than two weeks exploring Kiev, L’Viv, Krakow, Gdańsk, and Berlin. Having a chance to talk to people who had grown up as communists and are now in a war with Russia was illuminating. Seeing first-hand the economic distress of Ukraine, the rolling blackouts, the unemployment. A lot of those impressions made it into the pages of Red Sky, though certainly not all. I think a good writer can only use about 10 percent of the research they do, if that. The story is the story. The research is often the backstory.
What can we look forward to reading from you next?
Lincoln Square Books will be re-releasing all six of my Birdwatchers Mystery Series this fall, and I’m working on a new thriller set in my home state of Colorado.