By Karen Harper
I learned a lot interviewing Dana King, since he writes books that are more hard boiled than mine, but I also learned we have a lot in common. We are both drawn to small town settings where the enemy is often us—someone we know—and life is definitely not glitz and glamor. His unique career background has prepared him well for writing both long and short fiction.
Read on to learn more about his new thriller, RESURRECTION MALL.
Please tell us what your book is about.
RESURRECTION MALL is the story of a town fallen on hard times. Various solutions promise grand results, but the profits always go to a select few pockets. There seems to be no downside to a televangelist’s efforts to rebuild an abandoned shopping center into a mall that caters to religious-themed businesses, with his new church and TV studio serving as the anchors. The problem is that low-profit enterprises not only have trouble raising seed money, they often can’t afford to do the research needed to fully understand why no one else has found a good use for this location. The book is about what happens when an event totally unrelated to the mall’s construction might bring down the entire project.
Is the setting of Penns River based on a place you know or, if not, how does it work well for your story?
I grew up in Penns River. Well, the three small towns near Pittsburgh that make up my Penns River. I was struck one day about how big cities have always been well represented in crime fiction, and now writers like Daniel Woodrell are giving voice to more rural areas, but I couldn’t think of anyone writing about the problems of the towns that bridge the two, and what happens when industry leaves and never comes back to a place that lacks the population density to attract new businesses. Pittsburgh reinvented itself as a center for medicine, education, and finance, but that prosperity never seems to make it up the Allegheny River.
You have a varied career background as musician, school teacher, and systems analyst. Have any of these pursuits contributed to your writing?
Teaching has to some extent. I taught in a high school close to the border between Washington, DC and Hyattsville, MD that was 80 per cent minority. I grew up in a working class small town that had no more than half a dozen black kids out of 900 in my high school. Teaching those couple of years developed my sense of empathy, and showed how similar most people are despite superficial differences. It’s been a great help with my characters.
More than that, though, is the musical background. Besides exposing me to things and people I never would have been aware of, it developed my ear. Not only is that essential for good dialogue, but it allows me to know if I’m capturing the voice I’m looking for. There are times when I’ll replace a word the dictionary says would be more appropriate because the one I chose sounds better.
Your excellent reviews and websites describe your work as mystery and thriller. Do these two terms fit only certain of your novels, or are these book genres reflected in each of your books, especially RESURRECTION MALL?
I can’t say there’s a lot of mystery in my books. Even in my private eye novels, where the reader learns the clues as Nick Forte discovers them, Forte often solves the mystery well before the end of the book. After that it’s a matter of finding out what he’s going to do about it.
RESURRECTION MALL has a similar element. The cops have a pretty good idea who they’re looking for less than halfway through the book. The suspense lies in seeing what they can do about it, and how timely they’ll be.
There are certainly elements of noir in RESURRECTION MALL—I doubt anyone would describe the ending as happy—but I don’t really think of myself as a noir writer. I know people who disagree, so I could be wrong. To me, true noir has a bad outcome for the protagonist. Most of my stuff has a bittersweet ending for the main character, so I think of it as noir-ish. (Or gris, as my Francophile daughter and I decided one day.) My writing style is clipped and hard-boiled, which lends itself to noir, which may be what some are picking up on.
Speaking of the fascinating concept of a “religious themed mall,” did a particular place inspire that idea? I’m thinking of Kentucky’s Creation Museum or the Holyland Experience outside Orlando.
I first got the idea to “resurrect” a mall when I lived near Chicago and occasionally drove past the abandoned Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, IL, where they filmed the great chase scene in The Blues Brothers. The idea of something left for dead like that combined with the evangelical Christian concept of being born again, then placing the entire operation in an impoverished location, appealed to me.
As well as novels (including a Shamus Award), you have also written highly-praised short fiction. Do you prefer one format or the other? What (other than writing time) are the pros and cons for you of these different forms?
Sorry to disagree, but I have to set the record straight: I haven’t won any Shamuses. I have been nominated twice, each of which was a great thrill. I believe that P.I. fiction done well is the highest form of crime writing, so to have a group like the Private Eye Writers of America think that highly of my work is beyond flattering.
To your question, short stories are much harder for me. They’re in an area between writing a flash piece—which I enjoy—and a novel, which I love. The problem with short stories is that if I like a mix of idea, characters, and location enough to write five thousand words, my mind naturally keeps thinking of what happens next and pretty soon I’m outlining a novel. That’s not a problem for a flash piece, because of the natural limitations in scope of a story of fewer than a thousand words.
I find myself needing to write more short stories of late, and I have to confess, about half of them are either flash pieces that lent themselves well to expansion, or bits excised from novels that stand alone well. Even then I write on the short side for almost all my stories, around 1,500 to 2,000 words, or about the length of an average chapter in one of my novels.
You are also adept at writing a series, something I find more challenging than single title books. Are continuing characters a challenge for you or a boon, as in your Nick Forte series?
A boon, absolutely. No question. I constantly find myself watching TV or a movie and wondering, “What would Nick do here? What would Doc do?” It even happens when I’m out places. Say I’m meeting someone in a deli and I’m there first. (Which I almost always am. I’m pathologically punctual.) If I forgot to bring a book I’ll kill the time casing the joint, trying to look at it as one of my characters might.
I enjoy being in the characters’ worlds so much I crossed the two series over and brought Nick Forte to Penns River as a “guest star” in Grind Joint. I had a need for a character just like him and decided he was actually first cousins with Ben Dougherty and grew up in Penns River. It was great fun to write him in the third person to show how other people viewed him.
You have a great blog on how well the classic TV series NYPD Blue holds up over time. Why does that series still work for you, even though, as you say, the police methods are dated? Any current “cop shows” that pass your muster?
NYPD Blue holds up so well for three critical reasons. As I said in the blog, the execution is almost flawless. That goes a long way toward carrying off anything else that might show a little age.
Second is the situations the characters find themselves in. The show is largely about cops’ perspectives on interpersonal dynamics that have been true probably since before language developed. This is why shows like The Honeymooners and All in the Family are still popular. They’re about people, and people as a species don’t change that much.
From the cop angle the show continues to work because, for all the cool CSI stuff we see now, cases are still broken using much the same techniques cops use on the show: paying attention and talking to people. Fibers and DNA may seal a conviction, but someone has to catch the bad guy first. One of my proudest moments as a writer came on a Bouchercon panel a couple of years ago when Jim Born, a retired cop and that day’s moderator, inserted a comment when I gave that answer to a question, saying, “Listen to that. He’s absolutely right.” Made my day.
As for current cop shows, I have to confess that I don’t watch any. That’s not to rip them. I just don’t have time. The little bit of television I watch is spent on things that have already passed muster, either revisiting favorites of mine (The Wire, The Shield, Justified) or something else that people I trust keep telling me I really, really, really, need to see. Which is how I came to “discover” NYPD Blue a mere 22 years after it first aired.
As a busy writer, can you give other authors advice on how to balance writing time with “real life?” Any hints of getting the words on the page?
I can, but it probably won’t help. It’s a matter of butt in seat, fingers on keys. Some days are better than others, but get something done every day, even if it stinks. That’s what rewriting is for. I do five or six drafts of each book, so bad days don’t concern me that much. My idea is I won’t have bad days every time I work this section. Over time I’ll get it where I want it.
I also have two advantages a lot of writers don’t. I’m a classically trained musician and played professionally well into my thirties. Musicians are used to spending hours a day locked in small rooms practicing. The primary difference is that writing is creative and playing music is interpretive. Both activities cut you off from outside contact, so you need to be comfortable with it.
The other advantage I had, and have, is that by the time I got serious about writing I had no small children around the house. That’s not a rap on children. If my daughter were little and around when I started out as a writer, damn right I’d spend the time with her. Kids are always more important. I’ll never criticize those who can’t find time to write because they’re doing things with their kids. My luxury has been in never having to choose.
Dana King has two Shamus Award nominations, for A Small Sacrifice and The Man in the Window. His Penns River series of police procedurals includes Worst Enemies and Grind Joint, which Woody Haut, writing for the L.A. Review of Books, cited as one of the fifteen best noir reads of 2013. A short story, “Green Gables,” appeared in the anthology Blood, Guts, and Whiskey, edited by Todd Robinson. Other short fiction has appeared in Spinetingler, New Mystery Reader, A Twist of Noir, Mysterical-E, and Powder Burn Flash.
To learn more about Dana, please visit his blog, One Bite at a Time. He lives in quiet near seclusion with The Beloved Spouse.
Danny Gardner first made a name for himself as a stand-up comedian on HBO’s Def Comedy Jam. So, what’s he doing scribing dark, gritty tales of crime in 1950s Chicago? Turns out the author of A NEGRO AND AN OFAY has also toiled in scriptwriting, acting, and directing—a real Renaissance Man of the literary arts.
“When you take them separately, it seems like a lot,” he says. “But be it stand-up, or screenwriting, or acting, it all comes from my deep, spiritual love for words. First, comedy and acting gave me a career and, eventually, a small place in pop-culture. Now that I’m a published novelist, it’s the ultimate expression of that love. I’m always going to write, be it the next Elliot Caprice novel, or just doing improv on stage for ten minutes. That’s who I am. That’s how I love myself the most.”
In addition to his comedy bits, Gardner is a frequent reader at “Noir at the Bar” events nationwide, and blogs regularly at 7 Criminal Minds.
Fortunately, the transition from the stage to the keyboard wasn’t hard.
“Once I gave myself a chance, I realized my talent was suited for long-form writing,” Gardner says. “I’ve found the proper outlet for my creative desires. I could finally stop cramming all the world building and multiple points of view into screenplays and comedy bits.”
In this interview with The Big Thrill, Gardner shares details about A NEGRO AND AN OFAY, its genesis, and his story of success.
Shayna Billups left Tommy Ruzzo and Seatown, Florida in smoking ruins before escaping to New Orleans. She’s slinging rum drinks at a pirate-themed dive bar when a treasure map grabs her attention. All alone and thirsting for adventure, Shayna follows the clues to North Carolina where she assembles a band of drug-dealing pirates to wage war on a murderous mayor and his blood-thirsty biker gang.
As the bodies pile up, Shayna wonders if Ruzzo will find her before she ends up in Davy Jones’ Locker.
Author S. W. Lauden recently took some time to discuss CROSSED BONES with The Big Thrill:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I’ve heard it said that “love can make people do crazy things.” I’ve also been told that “life will take you funny places if you let it.” This book tests Tommy Ruzzo’s devotion to Shayna Billups, and the results are a bloody mess.
By Wendy Tyson
We met forensic psychologist Claire Britten in Chasing Shadows, Karen Harper’s South Shore Series debut. Claire returns in FALLING DARKNESS, Harper’s third novel in the series. Once again the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author takes readers on a thrilling ride. With a twisting plot, compelling characters, unrelenting suspense, and a rich setting, readers won’t be able to put FALLING DARKNESS down.
I recently spoke with Harper about FALLING DARKNESS, her fascinating writing career, and her tips for maximizing suspense in crime fiction.
Please tell us what FALLING DARKNESS is about.
Claire, her husband Nick and her daughter Lexi are fleeing by plane from a criminal mastermind out to stop them from exposing him to the FBI. But their plane is sabotaged and plunges into shark infested waters near Cuba—and that’s just the start of their attempt to hide out until their enemy can be caught. The WITSEC program plans to hide them in northern Michigan for the winter, but they have to find a way to get there first—and survive.
In 1946 Archeologist and former SOE operative Duncan Forrester returns to his wartime haunts in Greece to retrieve an inscription which may be the key to Minoan civilisation. But Greece is on the verge of civil war, and when a Greek poet is murdered, Forrester finds himself in the middle of a clash between communism and democracy, on a mysterious Aegean island haunted by a mythical past.
THE AGE OF OLYMPUS author, Gavin Scott, recently spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing his novel:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I hope readers will take away not just the satisfaction of a mystery solved, but the feeling that they’ve actually spent time in the Greece and Crete of 1946 and magical Aegean islands in the era before mass tourism, exploring Crusader Castles and ruined temples and hidden coves where the ghosts of ancient gods still linger.
If anyone tells you that authors are all alike, you have my permission to tear them off a strip. The members of ITW are a marvelously diverse group and Sandra Block illustrates that perfectly, being a practicing neurologist, with a wide range of genre strings to her authorial bow.
Sandra, writing poetry, fiction and medical articles are skills as unalike as chalk, cheese and chopsticks! What challenges did you find?
You’re right, they are quite different! I’ve always written both fiction and poetry, but through college, poetry was my true passion. I found working on rhythms and structure a joyful challenge. But after medical school, the desire just kind of dried up. I suspect having kids took its toll – I just didn’t have the time or mental energy for both. So I stuck with fiction. As for medical journals…alas, research writing is a skill I never mastered.
I fell in love with Arthur the minute he appeared on the page. They say never work with animals or children, but does the same apply to writing about them?
Arthur happens to be modeled after my own goofy and adorable dog, so it doesn’t surprise me that everyone loves him.
The FOREVER SPY, sequel to The Good Spy, finds former Russian naval intelligence officer Yuri Kirov quietly living as a civilian with lover and ally Laura Newman. Yuri is pulled back into the world of espionage and political warfare when he’s pressed to help the United States contain a massive environmental crisis. When his presence is discovered by a turncoat spy, Yuri unwittingly finds himself part of a deadly scheme to spark the next World War.
Jeffrey Layton talked with The Big Thrill about his recent release, writing, and the world of Russian espionage.
THE FOREVER SPY, your second Yuri Kirov thriller, picks up a year after the events of The Good Spy. What’s life like for Yuri and Laura these days? Did you discover anything new or unexpected about your characters as the sequel unfolded?
Yuri Kirov is a Russian naval intelligence officer hiding in plain sight in the United States after a botched espionage operation (in The Good Spy). He is disillusioned with the Russian government because it abandoned him and others after the spy mission failed. Yuri’s government believes he is dead so no one from Russia is looking for him.
By E.M. Powell
For many writers, the excitement of being a published debut novelist is quickly followed by the enormous challenge of the second novel. Some really struggle with writing a second book or sequel in a series, particularly when that debut has been successful, which Radha Vatsal’s historical mystery, A Front Page Affair, most definitely was. Yet for Vatsal, writing her new Kitty Weeks novel, MURDER BETWEEN THE LINES, was easier then book one.
“Being a debut author is fun but also scary,” she says. “There’s a steep learning curve. Everything you’re doing, it’s for the first time. For me nerves were baked right in to the experience.’ When it came to writing the second book, those anxieties had lessened. “It was very freeing and I felt like it flowed easily compared to the first one.”
And flow it does. Vatsal’s young female journalist protagonist Kitty Weeks returns in this pacey, cleverly-plotted story set in New York in 1915-16. Kitty, who works for the New York Sentinel Ladies’ Page is tasked with writing a piece about Westfield Hall, a prestigious girls’ boarding school. Kitty expects to find an orderly establishment teaching the safe, standard fare for schoolgirls in 1915, such as French and dancing. But she’s surprised and intrigued to see the work of students like Elspeth Bright, the daughter of a scientist heavily involved in naval technology, who has inherited her father’s interest and talent for scientific inquiry.
A terrible tragedy strikes soon after their meeting when Elspeth is found frozen to death in Central Park. The doctors proclaim that the girl’s sleepwalking was the cause, but Kitty isn’t convinced. Determined to uncover the truth, the intrepid Kitty’s investigations involve her in a dangerous scenario—a murder that may involve Elspeth’s scientist father and a new invention by Thomas Edison. As with Kitty’s first outing, there are plenty of plot twists and turns to keep the reader guessing right to the conclusion.
By Dan Levy
Except for a brief stint when he wanted to become a real-life Indiana Jones, J. T. Brannan knew he was going to be a writer early in life. Though a whip and fedora have never been required equipment for Brannan’s varied careers, his resume paints a picture of someone who is predisposed to that level of adventure. It’s hard to believe that someone who is a former national karate champion and nightclub bouncer, and who now serves as a martial arts instructor and member of the British Army Reserves, has the temperament to sit down and write fourteen novels.
But he does, and did. For his fifteenth publication, RED MOON RISING, ITW wanted to learn more.
What started you writing and what keeps your writing today?
I’ve wanted to write for a living since I was about six years old. The motivation is still the same: it is an outlet for my imagination, influenced by a steady diet of books.
Buddy and Martha Whitacre, a blue-collar couple, celebrate early retirement with a trip to Spain. They return home to discover that they’ve been wiped out by the investment fund that made retirement and travel possible. DAMN NEAR BROKE is the tale of how they deal with impending poverty, each other, and especially the shame of it all.
Seniors fleeced by a phony investment scheme, why did you choose this story line?
Since I’m far too young to be an AARP member, I steal the monthly magazine out of a neighbor’s mailbox. Nearly every issue has horror stories of people who’ve fallen victim to a variety of scams and articles warning of new twists in impoverishing seniors.
You’ve labeled this as a cautionary tale, rightfully so. Is this based on a true story or did it almost hit anyone close to home?
Fortunately, I’ve experienced nothing of this sort up close and personal.
Lisa Preston is no stranger to adventure. She’s been mountain climbing in Alaska, Ecuador, Chile, and Argentina. She’s travelled alone through Europe and Asia. She’s worked as a paramedic and a patrol officer. As a police detective, she worked in the Vice unit, in Crimes Against Children, as a Hostage Negotiator, and as a supervisor in Internal Affairs. Throughout her career in emergency services and law enforcement, she was building memories, many of them sad, all of which laid the foundation for her current career as a novelist.
Of her journey toward publication, she says, “Being a reader set me on the path to writing. I wanted to create absorbing fiction. It took years and more than a million words before my uber agent signed me and made things happen.”
Her latest book, THE MEASURE OF THE MOON, deals with childhood post-traumatic stress disorder. Asked what role her work in the Crimes Against Children unit played in the development of the story, she says, “Oh, my, it’s there. Whatever someone unfamiliar to the investigative specialty of CACU might imagine—it’s tougher and more heartbreaking. The failures are haunting. The audio, video and direct experience I’ve seen and heard cannot be undone. There are people in this world who do very bad things to the most vulnerable victims.
This Jim West mystery/thriller, the seventh in the series, finds Jim traveling to Fabens, TX, in an effort to locate an old acquaintance who had written Jim a cryptic letter asking for his help in finding a briefcase. In Fabens, he discovers that someone has murdered his friend. Jim provides a copy of the letter to the local police explaining that he has no idea where the briefcase is or how to decipher the sets of numbers provided in the letter. Figuring there is nothing more he can do, Jim starts his trek home. He plans to spend a night or two relaxing at the Lodge in Cloudcroft, NM, on his way, only to find that he is being followed. An ominous, unidentified phone caller gives Jim an order—find the briefcase and turn it over to him within a week. A violent confrontation in Cloudcroft verifies Jim’s worst suspicion, a Mexican drug cartel wants the briefcase. The confrontation also brings the FBI into the picture. They also want Jim to continue his search. The search takes Jim to the New Mexican ghost town of Chloride where the final confrontation takes place and Jim finds out who the bad guys really are.
Author Bob Doerr spent some time discussing his latest novel, GREED CAN KILL, with The Big Thrill:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I hope readers find that this book tells an interesting and fun to read story. They should find the use of Fabens, Texas, Cloudcroft, NM, Truth or Consequences, NM, and the ghost town of Chloride, NM, as seldom used but fascinating settings for a mystery. Finally, I hope readers take away a hunger to read other Jim West books they may not have already read.
Baltimore police officer Fia Mckee is suspended for excessive use of force. Given a second chance, she’s sent to work undercover for the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (TRPB) at Gulfstream Park in Florida, where her assignment is to spy on two racetrack workers suspected of illegal activities and whose horses continue to outperform all expectations.
To complete her cover story, Fia moves in with her semi-estranged brother, Patrick, and his daughter, Jilly. Fia’s investigations become twofold when Jilly disappears after an off the grid Cuban gang steals her beloved pony for horse meat. Along the way, Fia encounters, a (very handsome) do-gooder who’s close on their trail, and a cabal of super wealthy gamblers who will stop at nothing to ensure they always win.
The Big Thrill caught up with Sasscer Hill to discuss her latest novel, FLAMINGO ROAD:
Jack Murphy knows a setup when he sees one. Proving it makes his day. Especially when it involves his own partner. Lured into a trap, Evansville P.D. Detective Liddell Blanchard is accused of murdering a cop who was investigating a shadowy voodoo cult. Justice is murky enough in the swamplands of Louisiana, but when a purported descendent of Marie Leveaux menaces a murder investigation, the gumbo really hits the fan. Corruption comes with the territory. But there are darker forces at play—and only Murphy can see the light.
Author Rick Reed spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing his latest novel, THE DARKEST NIGHT:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
There is a connection between police partners that equal that of a marriage. My series explores the bounds of those connections and lets the reader decide for themselves just how they would react and how far they would go to protect their partner or loved ones. Readers of my books enjoy the camaraderie of my usual characters—Jack Murphy, Liddell Blanchard (aka/Bigfoot), Deputy Chief Richard Dick (Double Dick), and Little Casket (coroner), to name a few.
THE DARKEST NIGHT is my attempt to develop Liddell Blanchard to allow readers to have a glimpse into his past (and what lies in store for him).
Sherry Knowlton, author of the Alexa Williams suspense novels, was born and raised in small-town Pennsylvania, where she developed a lifelong passion for books. Like so many authors, she was the kid who snuck a flashlight to bed at night so she could read beneath the covers.
Knowlton’s interest in the written word never faded. Her novels focus on contemporary issues and DEAD OF SPRING, her new release, is no exception. An environmental crisis is at the heart of this latest story, which deals with fracking and government corruption. As the current crisis unravels, a parallel historical story tracks the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear incident.
In researching her novel, Knowlton drew on her personal experience living in Pennsylvania during the Three Mile Island episode. Written material on the Internet, state regulations, news clips, and interviews of experts provided additional background material. Knowlton said, “One of my most useful bits of research came when I visited a landowner in northern Pennsylvania who had leased his land to an energy company for fracking. He leased in the early days of fracking in Pennsylvania and was unaware of the problems he might encounter.” This man shared his experience, showing the process that transformed his property from a beautiful woodland into an acre of gravel and machinery. Pristine drinking water now requires constant filtering for showers and bathing, and his life is a constant battle with the energy company for compensation.
In a series of brutal murders, three young women have been killed on the subway, and panic spreads through the transit system. To make matters worse, one of the investigating detectives is considered a suspect. Detective Inspector Ian McBriar and his team need to track down the real killer before more lives are lost. The one thread that links the deaths together is a thin one, and the only thing the murders have in common is something that makes no sense. This may be Ian’s last case: ghosts from his past, and a chance for a better future, could change his life.
DEATH NEVER LETS GO is the fourth exciting instalment in the Ian McBriar Murder Mystery series, set in Toronto in 1975, the story of a Metis police detective who conquered bigotry, prejudice, and his own personal tragedies to succeed.
Author Maura Azzano took some time to discuss her latest novel, DEATH NEVER LETS GO, with The Big Thrill:
Christmas Day, 1796, on Romney Marsh. Two servants, foraging at New Hall for firewood on a freezing afternoon, discover an unexpected Christmas offering: a corpse, frozen into the ice of the horse pond. It falls to Reverend Hardcastle, justice of the peace in St Mary in the Marsh, to investigate.
At first, with the victim’s identity unknown, no murder weapon and no suspects, the task seems hopeless. But as the winter days pass, Rev Hardcastle and Mrs Amelia Chaytor slowly begin to unravel the case—and find more than they bargained for. The body leads them to an American family torn apart by war and intent on reclaiming their ancestral home, and to a French spy returning to the scene of his crimes. Ancient loyalties and new vengeance all add up to mystery, intrigue and danger, and an explosive climax.
The Big Thrill had the opportunity to discuss A. J. Mackenzie’s latest thriller, THE BODY IN THE ICE:
For these American POWs, the war is not over. Abandoned by their country, used as political pawns by Stalin, their last hope for getting home again is backwoods sniper Caje Cole and a team of combat veterans who undertake a daring rescue mission prompted by a U.S. Senator whose grandson is among the captives. After a lovely Russian-American spy helps plot an escape from a Gulag prison, they must face the ruthless Red Sniper, starving wolves, and the snowy Russian taiga in a race for freedom.
In a final encounter that tests Cole’s skills to the limit, he will discover that forces within the U.S. government want the very existence of these prisoners kept secret at any price.
David Healey sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss his latest novel, RED SNIPER:
The year is 1973, and the last of America’s soldiers are returning home from Vietnam, often shouted down and spat upon by protesters, while the first toxic cracks of mistrust have begun to appear at the highest levels of government. The American Indian Movement has entered into a bloody occupation of Wounded Knee, gas shortages have pushed the economy into deep recession, and violent civil unrest is captured in living color and broadcast nightly on the evening news. But rural Meriwether County, tucked away amid the sweeping river valleys and serrated mountain ridges of southern Oregon, has been left largely untouched by time. Until now. South California Purples is part contemporary western, and neo-noir, a novel of loyalty, passion and murder, crafted with lyrical prose and unforgettable dialogue that weaves together the sometimes poignant, often violent, strains of the 1970s, and the human cost of a nation in transition. This is the first of a new series.
Author of SOUTH CALIFORNIA PURPLES, Baron R. Birtcher, recently spent some time discussing his latest novel with The Big Thrill:
1399. York is preparing for civil war, teeming with knights and their armed retainers summoned for the city’s defense. Henry of Lancaster is rumored to have landed on the northeast coast of England, not so far from York, intent on reclaiming his inheritance—an inheritance which his cousin, King Richard, has declared forfeit.
With the city unsettled and rife with rumors, Eleanor Clifford’s abrupt return to York upon the mysterious death of her husband in Strasbourg is met with suspicion in the city. Her daughter Kate is determined to keep her distance, but it will not be easy—Eleanor has settled next door with the intention of establishing a house of beguines, or poor sisters. When one of the beguines is set upon in the night by an intruder, Kate knows that for the sake of her own reputation and the safety of her young wards she must investigate.
Author Candace Robb spent some time discussing A TWISTED VENGEANCE with The Big Thrill:
Farley Black, Kit’s friend and former radio co-host, is missing. He was supposed to be surfing but he never arrived at his Malibu Beach destination. As the last person to hear from him, Kit is determined to find out what’s happened.
But when Kit searches Farley’s home, a surprising discovery makes it clear that Farley has been lying to her—and everyone else. As she heads north in search of the truth, a series of menacing incidents convinces Kit that she’s being watched. Someone is tracking her every move. As her unknown pursuer grows bolder and more reckless, Kit realizes she isn’t just looking for her friend—but running from a killer.
Author Bonnie Hearn Hill took some time out of her busy schedule to discuss her latest book, I WISH YOU MISSED ME, with The Big Thrill:
Former Texas Ranger Arlo Baines didn’t come to the tiny West Texas town of Piedra Springs to cause trouble. After his wife and children were murdered, Arlo just wants to be left alone. Moving from place to place seems to be the only thing that eases the pain of his family’s violent end.
But a chance encounter outside a bar forces him to rescue a terrified woman and her children from mysterious attackers. When the woman turns up murdered the next day—her children missing—Arlo becomes the primary suspect in exactly the same type of crime he is trying desperately to forget.
Haunted by the fate of his family, and with the police questioning the existence of the dead woman’s children, Arlo decides it’s his duty to find them. The question is, just how deep will he have to sink into the dusty secrets of Piedra Springs to save them and clear his name?
The Big Thrill caught up with author Harry Hunsicker to discuss his latest novel, THE DEVIL’S COUNTRY:
A freelance hacker uncovers top secret files about a government cover-up surrounding the 1967 Six-Day War and triggers a murderous rampage at a resort town in Central Oregon. When the files inadvertently land in the possession of Peter Savage, he is targeted by assassins from both sides of the Atlantic and implicated in murders he didn’t commit. As the body count rises and with nowhere to turn, Savage makes a desperate decision: he draws his pursuers to the Cascade Mountains, where he plans to leverage the harsh terrain to his advantage. Doggedly trailed by both law enforcement and a small army of battle-hardened assassins, Savage becomes both hunter and prey. With his own fate uncertain, Peter Savage fights overwhelming odds to reveal the truth before full-scale war engulfs the Middle East.
The Big Thrill recently interviewed author Dave Edlund about his latest thriller, HUNTING SAVAGE:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
First and foremost, hours of riveting entertainment. Second, I hope certain plot elements provoke an interest to carefully, and perhaps more fully, examine the political theatre leading up to major elections. And third, to raise awareness of the tragic loss of life during the USS Liberty incident in 1967.
Exactly why should P.I. Vince Sutton take his ex-wife’s case? Because she, assistant district attorney Simone Armstrong, put his brother in jail? Because the ambitious spitfire still drives him crazy? No, he’ll take it because “The Avenging Angel” makes him a deal he can’t refuse. Sparks fly when Vince works all-too-closely with Simone to locate her missing key witness…but in the process, they are drawn into a cold case. As much as he tries, Vince can’t deny that he’s never gotten over beautiful Simone, but can he admit his feelings to her—and himself? And can he save her from the danger that’s heading their way?
Bestselling author, Anna J. Stewart, discussed her latest novel, REUNITED WITH THE P.I., with The Big Thrill:
Was there anything new you discovered, or surprised you, as you wrote this book?
Simone and Vince have had vastly differing experiences with the justice system. Where Simone dedicated her life to it, believes in it, lives her life by it, Vince doesn’t have nearly as much faith. Figuring out a way for the two of them to work together to solve this disappearance while respecting the other’s opinions opened up an interesting level of communication between them. It also changed both of their minds to a certain respect, which I think is always a good result.
Each day could be her last…but not if he can help it.
Tara Parrish is the only person ever to survive an attack by the Lone Wolf Bomber. Scared and emotionally scarred by her near death, she goes into hiding with only one plan—to stay alive for another day. She knows he’s coming after her, and if he finds her, he will finish what he started.
Agent Cal Riggins has had only one goal for the past six months—to save lives by ending the Lone Wolf’s bombing spree. To succeed, he needs the help of Tara Parrish, the one person who can lead them to the bomber. Cal puts his all into finding Tara, but once he locates her, he realizes if he can find her, the Lone Wolf can, too. He must protect Tara at all costs, and they’ll both need to resist the mutual attraction growing between them to focus on hunting down the bomber, because one wrong move could be fatal.
Susan Sleeman recently spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest novel, FATAL MISTAKE:
The brutal murder of sixteen-year-old Kelly Braden sends shockwaves through a community—and an intellectually disabled man to jail. The only witness to Kelly’s murder is the five-year-old cousin she was babysitting. The young girl names their neighbor, Jack Osgood, as the bat-wielding criminal. Two decades later, Osgood faces execution.
Defense Attorney Dani Trumball and her partner, investigator Tommy Noorland, are summoned to the Georgia prison where Osgood is on death row. With no friends or family of his own, there is no one left to believe Jack didn’t kill Kelly, except Dani and her Help Innocent Prisoners Project. With a mentally disabled son of her own, defending Osgood could be her most heartrending case yet.
While fighting a system that blocks her attempts to overturn his conviction, Dani must race to identify the real killer before Osgood’s time runs out—and the murderer strikes again.
The Big Thrill caught up with author Marti Green to discuss her latest novel, JUSTICE DELAYED:
Lacy Marie Crocker’s whimsical pet couture has gained a following in New Orleans’s cozy Garden District, and word of mouth has traveled all the way to her favorite fashion designer, Annie Lane. Lacy’s thrilled when Annie schedules a private session at her home to discuss a companion line for her evening wear, but when Lacy arrives for the appointment, she enters the kitchen to two mewling Siamese cats–and one very dead Annie.
Lacy takes the kittens home to care for them until they can be properly claimed by Annie’s family or friends, but after a busy day of work, she returns home to find them missing. And when Lacy learns the cats are set to inherit Annie’s fortune, she begins to wonder if the killer was after the kittens all along. Now Lacy will stop at nothing to save the Siamese and find justice for Annie–if the killer doesn’t sink his claws into her first.
Luckily, Lacy has the help of handsome NOLA PD homicide detective Jack Oliver to help her catch the cat-napper before its too late in Cat Got Your Cash, the endearing second Kitty Couture mystery from Julie Chase.
CAT GOT YOUR CASH author, Julie Chase, sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss her latest novel:
Philomela Nightingale visits her sister in the town of Saltaire. While coping with a thieving museum volunteer and a charlatan psychic, the two women become involved with an identity theft, a hit-and-run car accident, and a murder. Will Philomela’s powers of observation and intuition be strong enough for her to help the police solve these serious puzzles?
The Big Thrill had a chance to speak with author Benni Chisholm about SHOWMAN OR SHAMAN:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I hope they enjoy light entertainment and feel good after finishing the book. If they glean a bit of new information, that is a bonus.
How does this book make a contribution to the genre?
It will provide pleasant, escape reading while the reader also solves the puzzle of whodunit. Hopefully tid-bits of new information will be passed on to the reader.
Was the strange email her husband received from the fictional detective in their mystery series a threat? Did the killer mistake the woman shot in the library for Alicia or the victim’s twin sister?
Cat vs. Dog . . .
After Sneaky goes missing from the library, will he turn up before a young girl becomes ill with worry over his disappearance? And will he return in time to outsmart Fido by being first to find the perpetrator’s smoking gun?
Alicia is worried . . .
While waiting for the killer’s next move, Alicia has other concerns. An old flame of John’s is in town and her friend, Gilly, has adopted the role of Miss Marple to aid her sheriff boyfriend in his investigation.
When all clues point to one of her co-workers, Alicia joins Gilly in searching for the answers to the mystery.
Will they survive . . . . or is their ending written in stone?
Author Debbie De Louise discussed her latest novel, WRITTEN IN STONE, with The Big Thrill:
By Karen Harper
Karen Katchur writes suspense novels that beautifully blend a compelling setting with a realistic story. Her background in criminal justice makes her work feel “you-are-there” authentic. The focus on family also moves her novels into the realm of psychological fiction.
This month, Katchur took time out of her busy schedule to provide insight into her thrilling new release, THE SISTERS OF BLUE MOUNTAIN, and share with The Big Thrill some of the secrets behind her success.
Please tell us what THE SISTERS OF BLUE MOUNTAIN is about.
For Linnet, owner of a Bed and Breakfast in Mountain Springs, Pennsylvania, life has been a bit complicated lately. Hundreds of snow geese die overnight in the dam near the B&B, sparking a media frenzy, threatening the tourist season, and bringing her estranged younger sister, Myna, to town. If that isn’t enough, the women’s father has been charged with investigating the incident. But when a younger expert is brought in to replace him on the case and then turns up dead on Linnet’s property, their father becomes the primary suspect. As the investigation unfolds, the sisters will have to confront each other, their hidden past, and a side of Mountain Springs not seen before.
As tense and fast-paced as an episode of Headbanger’s Ball, HEAVY METAL is a gripping, nostalgi- riddled story that urges you to shovel this short book into your eyes. Dealing with family, and mental and societal pressures that we all face, Danny sheds light on the inner thought process of a struggling freshman living in his brother’s shadow.
But first, Danny must overcome Bourelle’s version of the 1980s without the campy TV, heartwarming movies or colorful outfits. Though I grew up in a later decade, this accurately depicts what high school kids were dealing with on some level. We were just punching walls and faces to a different soundtrack.
Here, The Big Thrill chats with Bourelle about getting into character and taking readers on a trip down memory lane.
The protagonist Danny is a depiction of 1980s youth and the book starts with a first person present, angsty voice and a literal gun in his mouth. Did you have to do anything to get into character while writing this, from playing with small firearms or blasting metal on a cassette player?
I tapped mostly into my own experiences: shooting a pistol years ago, listening to hard rock music as a kid (and still today), remembering cold walks on winter days growing up in Ohio. The novel is not autobiographical, but I did grow up in a small town in the 1980s. Setting the story in a familiar world helped me capture the tone. HEAVY METAL actually began as a short story with the same title that was published by the literary journal, Jabberwock Review. When I decided to try writing a novel, I thought there was more of Danny’s story to tell. Writing in his voice felt natural because I was already familiar with the character.
When I was a child, we had a cat named Boots, a shy gray-and-white girl who used to read with me. Her whole head would move from left to right as she scanned each line, and when she got to the bottom of the right-hand page, she’d look up to tell me to turn the page. If I started to turn it too soon, she would stop me with a paw. As you can imagine, I have a soft spot for cat stories.
PURR M FOR MURDER, the first of T.C. (Toni) LoTempio’s Cat Rescue mystery series, is a worthy addition to the cat mystery genre, with big-hearted sympathetic characters and a lovable sleuthing feline. It’s a playful romp published by Crooked Lane and written by a cat lover who, along with her uncredited partner, Rocco, also pens the Nick and Nora mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime.
Asked about her writing journey and how she came to be a mystery writer, Toni says her lifelong love of mysteries was sparked when she read her first Nancy Drew mystery, The Secret in the Old Attic, at the age of ten.
“I’ve always loved making up stories,” she says, “ever since I was little. I’d read Superman comics and if I didn’t like the end I’d rewrite it! My tastes in reading have always gravitated toward mystery/true crime. I devoured Erle Stanley Gardner and Agatha Christie early on—so I guess you could say it was a natural progression.”
DiAnn Mills wrote her first book on a Big Chief notepad with a #2 pencil. Asked about her journey toward becoming a bestselling author of Christian romantic suspense, she says, “I always enjoyed creating story, deepening characterization, and placing heroes and heroines in difficult places. The older I got, the more trouble those characters got into. But I didn’t take writing seriously until 1996 when my husband said, ‘Stop telling me you’re going to write a book one day. Just do it. Quit your job. I give you one year to see if anything is published.’”
A Type A personality, Mills took his challenge seriously.
“My new job was writing,” she says, “and I approached it with passion and enthusiasm.” She read how-to books, attended writing workshops and conferences, became involved in writing and critique groups, and wrote a set number of words every day. Two years later, her first book was released. “Not sure if my husband ever regretted the challenge, but I will say he’s my best cheerleader. He believed in me when I didn’t.”
DiAnn believes her readers should expect an adventure, and she does her best to deliver. To ensure an authentic experience, she once rode the line with the Border Patrol in McAllen, Texas. Another time, she traveled to Southern Sudan to research a novel.
By Wendy Tyson
Canadian author Vicki Delany last sat down with The Big Thrill in December, during the release of her holiday-themed mystery We Wish You a Murderous Christmas. This time Delany is back with ELEMENTARY, SHE READ, the first in a delightful new series featuring Gemma Doyle, the owner of a bookstore in Cape Cod that specializes in all things Sherlock Holmes. Like the great fictional detective, Gemma, a transplanted Englishwoman, uses heightened powers of deduction to root out evil intentions and solve murders.
I had the pleasure of talking with Delany about her new Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series, her thoughts on the cozy genre, and the importance of networking for writers.
ELEMENTARY, SHE READ is a fresh, smart, engaging whodunit with an interesting premise: an amateur sleuth (Gemma Doyle) not only owns the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium but also has impressive detective skills in her own right. What was the inspiration for this new series?
There isn’t much hotter in popular culture these days than Sherlock Holmes; people can’t seem to get enough of him, so when I was looking for an inspiration for a new series, I intended to create a fairly traditional cozy about a woman who owns a speciality bookshop. I planned to throw in bits of Sherlock-ania and references to the modern pastiche novels as well. But almost as soon as I began writing, the Gemma Doyle became Sherlock-like. And that’s been an enormous amount of fun.
Armand Rosamilia has a lot going on in his head. At any given moment, he could be writing a crime thriller, a zombie novel, an over-the-top humor book, or a paranormal thriller. With more than 150 stories published—from shorts to novellas to novels—the only time he’s not writing is when he’s sleeping.
“I keep it all in my head,” the New Jersey boy and Florida transplant says. “I usually write three to five projects at once. I’m not sure how I do it. I just do it. “
Rosamilia’s latest, DIRTY DEEDS 3, continues a crime thriller series starring main character James Gaffney. This time around he’s called upon to give testimony against The Family, a branch of the New Jersey mob operating in Philadelphia. The Philly crew takes exception to Gaffney’s impending testimony and attempts to eliminate him. At the same time, the FBI is working hard to implicate him on kidnapping and child deaths spanning many years.
You don’t have to read Gaffney’s two prior adventures to enjoy this one, but Rosamilia admits it helps to know his full backstory, so we started there.
Who is James Gaffney and what drives him?
James Gaffney is a man hired to kill children. If you’re a sports star or a rock star or a millionaire and you’ve had a baby with someone and it’s making your life complicated, James Gaffney will take care of it. Only he doesn’t actually kill the child. He saves them, gives them a new life. He’s part of this system himself, so he knows what it’s like to have a parent or parents who want you dead. It has guided him into his mid-forties.
Author Cara Putman introduces a bright new protagonist in her latest novel BEYOND JUSTICE, a legal thriller that is both suspenseful and unique.
When Hayden McCarthy is assigned a wrongful death case against the government, she isn’t sure if it’s the lucky break she needs to secure a partnership in her law firm or the case that will guarantee she never gets it.
The woman knows firsthand the pain that comes when justice is not served. That’s why she became a lawyer. But as Putman explains, Hayden is not a crusader, at least not in her own mind: “She’s a hardworking gal with vision for where she wants to go. She doesn’t see herself as a heroine but someone just taking the next step forward.”
Most legal thrillers set the hero against a crazed maniac or evil corporation. In this case, the bad guys are federal, and Putman notes that making the government the enemy actually complicated the plot. “I really needed the case to be tried in the Court of Federal Claims,” Putman says, “but that meant I had to put on my legal hat and come up with a novel but believable legal theory. Only the government can be the defendant in that particular court, but that court doesn’t hear murder or wrongful death cases. So that became a big, but not insurmountable, challenge for Hayden.”
THE STOLEN CHILD is a different take on a thriller. There is no violence in the first few pages. No swearing. No explicit sex. And still, Kay manages to create a high level of gotta-turn-the-page-and-find-out-what-happens-next tension.
Kay’s thriller influences.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is a favorite. In Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, Kay loves the plot, the chillingly Machiavellian characters and the pitch-perfect prose. She thinks Flynn’s previous novel, Sharp Objects—another favorite—is edgier with a searing twist: perfect Southern gothic-noir. Other influences are Peter Swanson’s The Kind Worth Killing, Jane Shemilt’s Daughter and Gilly MacMillian’s Burnt Paper Sky.
If you are a fan of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh and Dark Places by Gillian Flynn you should find both of Kay’s books an outstanding reason to read all night.
An example of her style.
“The moor has always been part of my life. It’s like a muse: the colours of the heather and the sky; how you can see the savagery of the wind in the way the dwarf pine trees are bent double, the bleak lines of the landscape in winter when everything save the moss and the grass are dead, stones like bones, poking through a thin skin of bilberry bushes, rushes reflected in black bog water. “
When an international ring of sex traffickers kidnaps an eight-year-old girl in Boston, FBI Agent Lucas Randall heads undercover. But his rescue operation goes disastrously wrong and Lucas barely escapes with his life. Now the ruthless traffickers are hunting him down, along with everyone else who threatens their operation.
Computer expert Ashley Chen joined the FBI to fight against evil in the world—evil she experienced firsthand. She has mad skills, and deadly secrets, and once she starts working with Lucas, she also has big trouble, because after years of pushing people away, she’s falling for the guy. The feeling is more than mutual, but as Ashley intensifies her online pursuit of the trafficking ring, her traumatic past collides with her present and suddenly Lucas can’t tell which side she’s on. And as the case escalates into a high-stakes game of cat and mouse, it turns out Ashley isn’t the only one with something to hide.
If neither can trust the other with their secrets, how can they trust each other with their hearts?
Bestselling author Toni Anderson recently discussed writing COLD SECRETS with The Big Thrill:
By George Ebey
DERANGED by Jacob Stone is the first in a brand new thriller series featuring former LAPD detective turned consultant Morris Brick.
They call him the Skull Cracker Killer. He drugs his victims. Breaks open their skulls with a hammer and chisel. The rest is inhuman. Five years ago he terrorized New York City, claiming twelve victims before the killing stopped. Now he’s racking up victims on a fresh hunting ground. Where former LAPD homicide detective Morris Brick is working as a consultant on a serial-killer film. Where a desperate mayor pleads with Brick to take on the case. And where the only way he can stop the next wave of murders is by outsmarting a madman—before he strikes again, this time much too close to home . . .
The Big Thrill recently caught up with the author to learn more about this exciting new series.
What first drew you to writing crime stories?
I’ve been an avid reader of crime and mystery fiction since I was a teenager. Some of my favorite writers include Dashiell Hammett, Rex Stout, James M. Cain, Jim Thompson, Donald Westlake, and Ross Macdonald, and so it made sense that when I started writing I’d be drawn to crime fiction, although I also write horror. So far I’ve had eleven novels published (DERANGED will be my 12th), as well as dozens of short stories, and I’ve written everything from lighthearted and amusing mysteries to pitch-black noir. While there’s a big difference between my lighthearted Julius Katz stories and my noir novels, like Small Crimes and Pariah, what they have in common is that the stories are driven by tension and suspense, and even humor, and those elements are partly why I enjoy writing crime fiction so much.
Arriving at her secluded cabin to find her brother missing, Olivia Kendricks follows his trail into the woods—until two shooters take aim at her. She only escapes when ex-detective Zachary Long, her brother’s friend—and Olivia’s first love—comes to her rescue. Now as they run for their lives in the snowbound wilderness, they must search for her brother while figuring out why someone wants them dead. And though Zach’s police force training may be what will save them, it’s also what once drove them apart when he gave Olivia up to chase his dream. In a freezing landscape as deadly as it is beautiful, they’ll have to let go of the past…and face down powerful men willing to kill to keep secrets buried.
Bestselling author, Elizabeth Goddard, recently took time out of her busy schedule to discuss writing FALSE SECURITY with The Big Thrill: