The 1944 film Laura is a noir classic, cherished not only for its haunting score and performances–alluring Gene Tierney, acerbic Clifton Webb, and relentless Dana Andrews–but also for the chills of the brutal murder at its core. Less well known is the 1942 detective story the film was based on, written by Vera Caspary. It’s a tense read, more nuanced than the film, with daring point of view switches and well developed characters, set in a world of newspaper-columnist divas, impoverished fashion models, striving ad executives, and ice-cold heiresses.
This may change, now that Caspary’s novel has been brought to light as part of the stunning collection Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s and 1950s, published by the Library of America and edited by Sarah Weinman. The other chosen authors:, , , , , , and
Weinman, a crime fiction aficionado, selected the “top of the class” women writers of suspense of that era: “They had good sales in hardcover and paperback, excellent reviews, high regard among their writer peers.” This is not Weinman’s first foray into earlier decades. She edited Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense, published by Penguin Books in 2013 and nominated for an Anthony Award. When reading through the work she gathered for Women Crime Writers, she was struck by how universal and timeless the stories are. “Mothers still do everything to protect their children, still fear murderous men, still struggle with expectations placed upon them by society, family, peer groups, and the like,” she says.
Last year, fans of Steven James’s Chess series saw the end of an era when he closed an eight-book story arc with Checkmate. Named a Suspense Magazine Best Book of 2014, Checkmate allowed FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers to face a longtime nemesis and brought a satisfying conclusion to the series that began nearly a decade ago with The Pawn. James, who Publishers Weekly has called a “master storyteller at the peak of his game,” thought it was time, and he had no shortage of other projects, including his popular Jevin Banks series.
But Patrick Bowers wouldn’t let go.
Readers wanted more of the FBI environmental criminologist who James once described as “cool under pressure, a little dark, a little haunted.” So did James’s publisher. And even as James said good-bye, he told The Big Thrill in 2014 that, “although I tapped out the bad guys for this cycle of books, I still have lots of ideas for cases that Agent Bowers could work on.”
So began EVERY CROOKED PATH, a prequel to the Chess series (actually, it covers the period after Opening Moves but before The Pawn). This time, Bowers is hunting the worst kind of monster—child sexual predators. As James explained, it’s “the story of how Patrick Bowers gets his start in New York City. It’s the first book in this prequel series and has one of his most complex plots of any of my novels. It’s a story about the lure of evil, obsession, courage, and the bounds of morality, all borne out in a taut, psychological thriller.”
Was he concerned about setting the story around catching child predators? “As a parent, it was both difficult and necessary for me to write this book. We can’t turn a blind eye to the world we live in. In my books I never celebrate evil, I never make it look glamorous or attractive. Instead, I try to give people a window to see the world more clearly, and a mirror so we also see ourselves in a new light.” James’s only concern was that people might assume the book contains objectionable material and be scared off. “It doesn’t,” James said. “The story is honest but not exploitative. Since I share with readers what is really going on, I think this is my most important novel yet.” Already opening to stellar reviews, EVERY CROOKED PATH promises to be another success for Bowers and his creator.
Who Can You Trust? The Reemergence of the Unreliable Narrator
By Dawn Ius
From Agatha Christie’s groundbreaking novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd to Daisy Goodwin’s The King Worth Killing, the literary landscape is littered with classic examples of unreliable narrators—who could forget Humbert Humbert in Lolita, Alex in A Clockwork Orange, or even the unnamed narrator in Fight Club?
But in more recent years, the trope has enjoyed a revival of sorts, with novels like Gillian’s Flynn’s Gone Girl and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train vaulting onto global bestseller charts and worming their way into the hearts—and minds—of previously reluctant readers.
“I remember reading Chris Lynch’s book Inexcusable years ago and being blown away by the intensity of the writing and the story,” says Eve Porinchak, a literary agent with the Jill Corcoran Agency. “Basically we are sucked into this world of a ‘good guy’ who finds himself accused of an unspeakable crime. Of course, things aren’t always what they seem. And we, the audience, begin to feel like jackasses for letting ourselves get sucked in—because we want to believe that people are good and honest.”
It’s this exploration of the human psyche that not only keeps the pages turning but also creates chillingly relatable characters that often have us looking inward.
“Unreliable narrators remind us that humans are complex and that there is a vast moral compass that exists within us all,” says avid reader and book blogger Kathy Coe. From the jilted and vengeful Amy in Gone Girl to tragic alcoholic Rachel in The Girl on the Train, maybe there’s a bit of but for the grace of God go I in the characters.
This unpredictability, coupled with generally shocking plot twists, provide a solid backdrop for spine-tingling reads—even if the most alarming aspect is the uncomfortable realization that you have more in common with the protagonist than you’d like to admit.
A Master of Crime Fiction Tells All
There are few contemporary authors I respect as much as Lawrence Block, and I’m not the only one who feels that way, as his list of honors indicates: Grand Master Award from Mystery Writers of America, four Edgars and four Shamuses, Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America, Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement Award from the Crime Writers Association . . . and I’m just getting started.
The length of Larry’s career is equally impressive—more than five decades. Read that again. More than five decades. Longevity isn’t as important as quality, though, and he just keeps getting better, never disappointing in the four (count them, four) splendid series that demonstrate the depth of his talent, featuring cop-turned-detective Matthew Scudder, globetrotting insomniac Evan Tanner, introspective assassin Keller, and hilarious bookselling burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr (my personal favorite).
Among Larry’s more than 100 books, there are two non-fiction volumes that ITW members should consider required reading: his collection of essays about his friendships with such crime-writing legends as Donald E. Westlake and Evan Hunter/Ed McBain (The Crime of Our Lives) and his writing book (Write for Your Life).
But it’s Larry’s latest, THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES, that we’re here to talk about—an amazing update on the scorchers that James M. Cain pioneered with The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity..
Hard Case Crime published THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES, giving it one of their fabulous covers that re-create the classic look of crime novels in the 1950s and 1960s. The cover is hot, but your novel is even hotter. What inspired you to take a new look at this powerful sex-and-murder subgenre?
Hard Case reissued an early pseudonymous book of mine, Borderline, and damned if it didn’t get far better reviews than I felt it deserved. And I was telling my wife that it might be fun to write something similar—fast-paced, pulpy, with the narrative drive more important than the plot. “It might,” she said, and 15 seconds later—no joke—I sat up and said, “I’ve got an idea.” Now most ideas wither on the vine, and that’s probably just as well, but this one stayed with me and grew, and less than two months later I was writing it.
Building the Scariest, Smartest Villains
By James Ziskin
Peter James writes terrifying thrillers. The kind you know are going to scare you, but you read them just the same, because once you start, stopping is not an option. You know the scary parts are coming, but you can’t look away. James’s realistic, nail-biting police procedurals and their popular hero, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, have earned him a bushelful of prestigious awards on both sides of the Atlantic and in France. But it’s not just Roy Grace who keeps James’s millions of readers turning the pages. His villains are the smartest, scariest, and most complex bad guys you’ll find anywhere.
James has written 28 novels, including 11 in the wildly successful D.S. Roy Grace series. The latest installment is YOU ARE DEAD, which follows Grace’s harrowing pursuit of a twisted serial killer.
I had the pleasure of talking to Peter James about his latest book and even managed to squeeze in some questions about writing and his career as well.
YOU ARE DEAD is the 11th novel in the wildly popular Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series. More than 16 million books sold. Sorry, let me just say that’s a lot of books. Readers and writers are always interested to learn about the journey. Has this series met your expectations? Or did you dream of even wilder success? Tell us about your writing aspirations before you made it big.
I never started out with a finite number of Roy Grace books in my head–and I never imagined, in my wildest dreams, the global success that Roy Grace would have. I love writing these books more than anything I have ever done in my life and just so long as my readers keep enjoying them and wanting more, I will continue. The success of these novels has totally astonished me, I never expected him to be this popular–and it is wonderful –I’m immensely grateful to all my readers and, of course, now I feel very protective of him!
In the early days I had years of rejection letters as an unpublished author. It was as if there was a wall, like a Berlin wall, on one side of which were the publishers and the published authors, and on the other side were all those desperate to be published authors–and never the twain should meet. I became hugely despondent in my mid-twenties, really believing that the dream I’d held since the age of eight, of being a published author, would never come true. I resigned myself to the fact that I would never be any good at writing novels, that I just did not have what it took.
Calibrating the balance of crime-fueled suspense, romance, and comedy in a novel is fiendishly hard—yet Janet Evanovich makes it look easy, and the results are in. TRICKY TWENTY-TWO debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times hardcover best seller list on November 29th, business as usual for Evanovich. Bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, a curly-haired Trenton girl with a pair of handcuffs she can’t always clamp onto her prey, two men trying to get into her skinny jeans, and one gerbil running the wheel at home, has won legions of devoted fans.
Evanovich grew up in South River, New Jersey, and in her thirties began pursuing a writing career. After numerous rejections and four months into a secretarial temp job, she sold her first story, a romance, for $2,000. She now lands onto Forbes‘ list of 100 Highest-Paid Celebrities.
Evanovich’s first novel featuring Stephanie Plum, One for the Money, was published in 1994. Along with that series, she’s written the Lizzy and Diesel series, twelve romance novels, the Alexandra Barnaby novels and Troublemaker graphic novel, How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author, as well as the Fox and O’Hare series with co-author Lee Goldberg. She lives in Florida, her family working on her book empire alongside. According to Evanovich, “It turns out I’m a really boring workaholic with no hobbies or special interests. My favorite exercise is shopping and my drug of choice is Cheeze Doodles.”
We caught up with the fast-moving Janet Evanovich to learn a few of her secrets.
The judge of a screenwriting fellowship recently said a strong writer’s voice is the most important thing in launching a career. I think it’s more important in fiction than people realize. You have an effective and entertaining voice in the Stephanie Plum series. How would you advise writers to develop it?
I don’t think a writer can “develop” voice. Voice comes from a writer’s point of view and is heard in a writer’s head. It’s a reflection of a writer’s personality. Some writers have a generic voice that disappears on the page and others, like me, have a voice that is more unique. The hard part is not developing the voice but rather recognizing that the voice is there.
What is the most rewarding aspect of a long-running series? What is the most challenging aspect?
The most challenging part of a long-running series is the reintroduction of continuing characters. It has to be done in a way that is interesting to both the core reader and the new reader. The most rewarding aspect for me is the fun of getting up in the morning and going into The World of Plum or The World of Wicked or The World of Fox and O’Hare and watching the characters develop with each new book.
How do you write sustained dialogue passages in which there is laugh out loud comedy?
Comedy is the easy part for me. I grew up in Jersey watching I Love Lucy. Most of my comedy is character driven so I simply get into a character’s head (like Lula or Grandma Mazur) and run with it.
What is your secret to keeping suspense levels high in a book that has that many light moments?
For the most part I follow the pattern of a screenplay and divide my book into three parts. When I get to a pivotal plot-point mark, I drop in a dead body. Sometimes just for variety I blow up a car or have someone get kidnapped or fall off a fire escape into a pile of dog poop.
In Top Secret Twenty-One there are some intriguing crime developments having to do with Russia, in Tricky Twenty-Two it’s biological warfare. How did you conduct that research?
Google, Google, Google.
How do you incorporate Trenton’s rising murder rate into the books, or do you feel it’s best to stay away from that?
The books are set in Trenton, but my characters live in The World of Plum. My characters don’t age. Good guys and hamsters don’t die. Crime is a constant. And at the end of the day Stephanie succeeds in thwarting evil. I tend to ignore the changing face of Trenton.
You didn’t achieve a writer’s contract quickly or easily in the beginning of your writing career, and you persevered to outstanding success. How would you advise beginning writers who are frustrated with trying to find an agent and publishing contract?
This is a tough one. You need to have a thick skin and tenacity and you need to hone your sales person skills when it comes to getting an agent. I think organizations like ITW and RWA can be helpful.
Do you hear from real-life female bounty hunters on Stephanie Plum?
Every now and then I’ll get a letter or someone will pop up at a signing. In the beginning of the series I attended PBUS conferences and had much more contact with actual bounty hunters and bondsmen than I do now. Unfortunately (or fortunately) my writing schedule has me pretty much tied to my office these days.
Janet Evanovich is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Stephanie Plum series, the Fox and O’Hare series, the Lizzy and Diesel series, the Alexandra Barnaby novels and Troublemaker graphic novel, and How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author.
To learn more about Janet, please visit her website.
Photography Credit: Roland Scarpa
A New and Unflinching Voice in French Noir
By Layton Green
“You want me to tell you what’s sad? Sad is when you believed in things, when you backed a man who turned out to be the wrong horse, when you wanted a career and wound up with a guy who makes a living taking out other people’s trash, getting philosophical over a beer on a weekday night.” — Jérémie Guez, EYES FULL OF EMPTY
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I agreed to interview a 26-year-old novelist hailed as the “rising star of contemporary French noir.” I was pretty sure his work would be exciting and brilliant. I just wasn’t certain what French noir meant. Camus meets Chandler? A Proust-spouting tough guy?
Turns out Jérémie Guez’s EYES FULL OF EMPTY invokes all of those things. A touch of world-weary philosophy, a nod to the greats, a moody Parisian setting. Yet EYES FULL OF EMPTY carves out its own place in the crime fiction canon. It features Idir, an at times frustrating but always compelling anti-hero, a P.I., and a second-generation Algerian immigrant who uneasily roams the vast limbo between the Parisian upper crest and the criminal underclass. I’ve never run across a character quite like him, and he made an indelible impression.
I’ll let Jérémie tell you a bit more about himself, Idir, and EYES FULL OF EMPTY:
Thanks for taking the time to chat, and for creating a great work of fiction. I have lots of thoughts on the novel, but let’s start with your impressive career–tell us about your journey to become a novelist.
Thank you! Well I was finishing my studies and working shit jobs. I had an unfinished manuscript in my drawer. I polished it, went to the post office, and sent it to a publisher. I was very lucky.
Can you talk a bit about your background, and how it might influence your work?
I know very well the city where I live, I’ve met a lot of people in my life with very different situations. I just observe. And write.
You’re often described as a noir writer, as well as an author writing in the legacy of Camus– how do you describe your literary roots? (I noticed the inclusion of Oscar “Crumley” as a character . . .)
My literary roots are mainly Americans. So many names. It’s hard to quote everybody. Ellroy, Bunker, Burke, Price… You’ve noticed Crumley, it was a big influence for this book because what he writes is funny and desperate at the same time. Beautiful.
That’s me, to the right, standing in downtown Los Angeles. Behind me is the Biltmore Hotel, a renowned building for the crime and thriller writers of my city. The Biltmore was the last place Elizabeth Short, better known as “the Black Dahlia,” was seen alive. She swayed out the front doors one dark night and turned right on Olive Street. The next time she was seen she was in sections, in a little park in South L.A.
Los Angeles is the great noir city. It’s a district of dreams and demise (the perfect short-form obit for poor Betty Short). And it’s not just a city of the night. Bad things happen in sunshine and shadow, too, making the whole place a fertile soil for Bunco artists, swindlers, thieves, gamblers, and killers––not to mention politicians, cops, lawyers, and doomed lovers.
That’s why I like to hang out downtown. There’s the heartbeat of criminal history here, a pulse of dread possibilities. Anything can happen in L.A. You just have to open your eyes and ask What if?
So I walk around, ask, and think about it over some chop suey at the Grand Central Market.
Which I saved. Allow me to explain.
This iconic funicular, see below, was built in 1901, mainly to carry women from the steep, fashionable climes of Bunker Hill down to the shopping district of the burgeoning city. It remained a fixture through the area’s inevitable decline, faithfully maintaining its daily rounds.
Finding Art in Emotional Damage
Joanne Hichens is a South African author living in Cape Town. Her first Rae Valentine thriller, Divine Justice, was a Sunday Times best-selling Top Mystery in 2011. SWEET PARADISE is the second in the series. Thriller author Sarah Lotz describes it as “original, spiky, hard-hitting, and thoroughly enjoyable.” In this escapade, while Rae attempts to locate a missing teenager she falls foul of a psychological cesspit of obsession, addiction, misogyny, and love-gone-bad.
The Paradise of SWEET PARADISE is a rehab clinic in Cape Town. Superficially, it’s an upmarket facility where patients suffering from addictive behavior or geriatric mental degeneration can receive care and help. Below the surface it’s a very dangerous place. This sort of scenario has played out in fiction (and real life) quite often, but your backstory has a different take on it. What attracted you to this setting and how did you research it?
I worked in a psychiatric clinic for a number of years, as an expressive arts practitioner as well as coordinating an eating disorders unit, so I know the setting first hand. I took a break from working with psychiatric patients in order to do a Master’s degree in Creative Writing and then my life took a different path.
I miss the work of teasing out the underlying reasons why people behave as they do. To see a patient’s angst and sorrow reflected in art work, and to engage with those images as a point of departure for discussion in order to alleviate pain, was an incredibly satisfying experience. Art therapy is widely misunderstood—yet it offers a creative way to work with the psyche, with “what cannot be seen.” as the art therapist, Eden Kramer, does in SWEET PARADISE.
As far as the back story goes, and the themes, there’re all sorts of nasty undercurrents. No one in Paradise Place Clinic is who they appear to be, and everyone has their secrets… That said, I have the utmost respect for those who work at psychiatric clinics and rehab centres. I have profound respect for those who take the risk of facing the past, inpatients who want to change destructive behavior and expose their fears in order to facilitate change. I’ve addressed that in the book – that mental illness is not to be shunned, or ignored.
By Dawn Ius
Some of today’s best-known crime writers have come together to create JEWISH NOIR, an anthology of new stories that examine the re-emergence of noir in Jewish culture.
Edited by Kenneth Wishnia, the book’s 32 compelling offerings tackle issues such as the long-terms effects of the Holocaust, sexual abuse in an insular ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn community, amoral businessmen, and, much to Wishnia’s surprise, multiple stories on bullying.
“No less than three of the contributions focus on characters having been bullied for being Jewish,” he says.
The anthology is truly a diverse collection of work by an eclectic group of authors—some of whom aren’t even Jewish.
“This is a compilation of ‘not the usual suspects,’ ” Wishnia says, noting that among the stories by the more well-known authors, the anthology includes a few debut efforts, one vintage reprint, and a translation of a story originally penned in Yiddish in 1960.
At more than 400 pages, Wishnia admits, it’s a heady—but timely—book.
“We live in an age which parallels many of the conditions that gave rise to the first generation of noir writers—economic insecurity, corruption at all levels of government, and disillusion with the American dream, while those responsible for it all make millions and get away with murder.”
By A. J. Tata
Like the protagonists in their own novels, 25 suspense writers descended on Tampa, Florida, in full force on November 7th to support the SEAL Legacy Foundation inaugural fundraiser at the Tampa Bay Book Festival.
From No. 1 New York Times bestsellers to debut authors, the writers first rallied at the home of Jeff and Wendy Wilson for an evening of renewing and forging friendships in the name of a worthy cause. Jeff, who is the co-author with Brian Andrews of the Nick Foley Series and the Tier One Series as well as a medical doctor and Navy veteran, spent countless hours organizing and fundraising for the event.
“While on active duty in the Navy, my greatest pride was to have served in the company of the heroes of Naval Special Warfare,” Jeff said. Looking for a way to give back, he worked with Commander Mark McGinnis and Master Chief Shawn Johnson to develop the SEAL Legacy Foundation in the wake of the Extortion 17 helicopter shoot down that killed 38 military personnel, mostly special operations forces.
As Thom Shea, the author of Unbreakable: A Navy SEALs Way of Life, said: “It is important for me to contribute to the SEAL Legacy Foundation in order to help the families of fallen SEALs.”
And so it was for authors like Jon Land, Mark Greaney, John Gilstrap, Andrew Gross, Lis Wiehl, and many others who supported the event. On hand were several military veteran authors as well, such as Brian Andrews, Ward Larsen, Andy Harp, Tom Young, Erik Sabiston, and Simon Gervais.
The year is 1936. Charles “Lucky” Luciano is the most powerful gangster in America. Thomas E. Dewey is an ambitious young prosecutor hired to bring him down, and Cokey Flo Brown–grifter, heroin addict, and sometimes prostitute–is the witness who claims she can do it. Only a wily defense attorney named George Morton Levy stands between Lucky and a life behind bars, between Dewey and the New York governor’s mansion.
As the Roaring Twenties give way to the austere reality of the Great Depression, four lives, each on its own incandescent trajectory, intersect in a New York courtroom, introducing America to the violent and darkly glamorous world of organized crime and leaving our culture, laws, and politics forever changed.
Based on a trove of newly discovered documents, Tom & Lucky (and George & Cokey Flo) tells the true story of a singular trial in American history: an epic clash between a crime-busting district attorney and an all-powerful mob boss who, in the crucible of a Manhattan courtroom, battle for the heart and soul of a dispirited nation. Blending elements of political thriller, courtroom drama, and hard-boiled pulp, author C. Joseph Greaves introduces readers to the likes of Al Capone, Dutch Schultz, Meyer Lansky, and Bugsy Siegel while taking readers behind the scenes of a corrupt criminal justice system in which sinners may be saints and heroes may prove to be the biggest villains of all.
By Stacy Mantle
Jae Hwa has spent sixteen years in Seoul, trying to destroy the evil mortals who’ve been torturing her family for centuries—the last thing she expects is to become their assassin.
Now, trapped in the darkest cove of the Spirit World as a servant to a Korean god, Hwa fights for her humanity and freedom. But she’s starting to lose hope that she’ll ever see her family again. Especially since her captor will do anything to keep her as a pawn in his quest to take over Korea.
In the third installment of her Gilded series, author Christina Farley truly puts her character through the paces. In this interview with The Big Thrill, she tells us a bit more about her latest release, BRAZEN, and what fans can expect from her next.
Tell us a bit more about your BRAZEN.
BRAZEN is the third and final book in the Gilded series. I’m super excited about this book, not only because it’s my favorite, but also because I pulled in some of my experiences and adventures while I traveled in China.
Hwa’s entire family thinks she’s dead, and Jae’s true love, Marc, believes she is lost to him forever. So, When Kud sends Jae to find and steal the powerful Black Turtle orb, Jae sees an opportunity to break free and defeat Kud once and for all…but first she needs to regain Marc’s trust and work with him to vanquish the darkness that threatens to overwhelm Korea. There’s much to lose as Jae struggles to save the land she’s come to call home.
By Kay Kendall
The Winemaker Detective series has a huge following in its native France. To date there are twenty-three mysteries in the series, and a New York-based publishing house, Le French Book, is now translating all of the titles into English. Its founder, translator Anne Trager, has a passion for crime fiction equal to her love for France.
BACKSTABBING IN BEAUJOLAIS, published in English on November 19, is ninth in the series by French authors Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen. The tenth mystery—Late Harvest Havoc—comes out in December, together with a collection of the first three mysteries, The Winemaker Detective: An Omnibus.
Here, translator Anne Trager talks with The Big Thrill about bringing this beloved French series to an English-speaking audience.
Each book in the Winemaker Detective series is not only a mystery but an homage to wine and the art of making it. Has the series’ growing number of international readers begun to influence the mysteries’ plots?
For both authors, Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen, the main character has always had an international vocation. Benjamin Cooker is an expert winemaker whose father was British and mother French. He and his young assistant solve mysteries in wine country. The initial mysteries translated so far all take place in France, but next year, one will take place in Hungary. The authors confirm that their intention has always been to have the protagonist travel to wine countries around the world, and the growing international audience makes that choice more and more pertinent. The mysteries have been adapted to television, attracting an audience of over 4 million in France, Belgium, and Switzerland. The authors write two books a year and just told me they will be picking up the pace because of the French television series. We too are picking up the translation pace.
By George Ebey
In his newest novel, THE BEAST OF BARCROFT, author Bill Schweigart brings readers a true tale of terror.
Ben McKelvie believes he’s moving up in the world when he and his fiancée buy a house in the cushy Washington, D.C., suburb of Barcroft. Instead, he’s moving down—way down—thanks to Madeleine Roux, the crazy neighbor whose vermin-infested property is a permanent eyesore and looming hazard to public health. First, Ben’s fiancée leaves him; then, his dog dies, apparently killed by a predator drawn into Barcroft by Madeleine’s noxious menagerie. But this killer is something that couldn’t possibly exist—in this world.
With some grudging assistance from a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and the crackpot theories of a self-styled cryptozoologist, Ben discovers the sinister truth behind the devilish creature now stalking the locals—but knowing the beast of Barcroft and stopping it are two very different animals.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Schweigart to learn more about this chilling new story.
Tell us a little about THE BEAST OF BARCROFT. Based on the description, it feels like it has a supernatural vibe. What most interested you in writing a story with this theme?
You are correct—there is a supernatural vibe to it, but the novel takes place in a very grounded setting. In THE BEAST OF BARCROFT, something is stalking the residents of Arlington, VA. When Ben McKelvie survives an attack in his own backyard by an animal that has no business being in Arlington, no one believes him. But when neighbors begin turning up dead, Lindsay Clark, a curator from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo is brought in. Ben soon convinces Lindsay that there may be more to this creature than meets the eye, and with the wild theories of a wealthy cryptozoologist, they discover the truth about the Beast of Barcroft.
The story grew very organically. I love the network of trails in Arlington and I’ve always wanted to set something there. It’s this secret circulatory system right under everyone’s noses, in the shadow of Washington DC, weaving between the neighborhoods. Then two things happened in quick succession a few years ago: my father passed away and I read an article on the history of the area, and there was a blurb about the actual Beast of Barcroft. Forty years ago, something actually terrorized the neighborhood. Cats and dogs were killed, wild screeching filled the night, and the local media ran stories like: “What is it that screams so in the dark hollow of Four Mile Run?” In the end, a civet was captured and took the blame. The blurb was only a couple of sentences long, but it was the lightning bolt that brought everything to life for me. In my version of events though, I move the action to the present day and my beast is considerably more terrifying than a civet.
Alan L. Moss is a retired Washington insider with the ability to view his former environs with a writer’s outsiderly detachment. The best of both worlds, you could say. His writing draws upon Ph. D. research capabilities and many years in Washington D.C. as a federal Chief Economist, Congressional Fellow in the U.S. Senate, and Adjunct Instructor at the University of Virginia’s Northern Virginia Center. In 2002, he put his government career aside and moved to the Jersey Shore to pursue his writing. His published novels, Insidious Deception and Surviving the Endgame spin yarns of conspiracy, love, sex, revenge, and subterfuge.
His latest novel, THE SAMOA SEDUCTION, takes advantage of his time in American Samoa administering the minimum wage hearings fictitiously portrayed in the novel. His insider knowledge of Washington politics, such as how policies may be distorted to support powerful interests, is clearly demonstrated in the web of betrayals that drive the story forward. His personal familiarity with the Samoan people and the beautiful landscape of the Island of Tutuila provide a fascinating backdrop to the story’s telling. Alan’s strong thriller competencies are revealed in the protagonist’s journey fighting to raise Samoa’s poverty wages, yielding to a beautiful Samoan seductress, paying a high price for his infidelity, and then seeking revenge for the damage done by returning to the South Pacific to punish those responsible.
THE SAMOA SEDUCTION is the story of two strong-willed individuals haunted by their love for one another while being manipulated by a deadly conspiracy.
Yet when he’s passed a file detailing a particularly gruesome murder, Michael knows that this is no ordinary killer at work.
The removal of the victim’s eyes and the Latin inscription carved into the chest is the chilling calling-card of the ‘soul jacker’: a cold-blooded murderer who struck close to Michael once before, twenty-five years ago.
Now the long-buried case is being re-opened, and Michael is determined to use his inside knowledge to finally bring the killer to justice. But as the body count rises, Michael realises that his own links to the victims could mean that he is next on the killer’s list…
The gripping first novel in a thrilling new crime series by Matt Brolly. Perfect for fans of Tony Parsons, Lee Child and Angela Marsons.
Two decades after her sister’s brutal attack and murder, Meg Brogan has finally found happiness…or so it appears. A bestselling true-crime writer, Meg has money, fame, and a wealthy fiancé. But when a television-show host presses her to tackle the one story everyone claims she cannot write—the story of her own family’s destruction—her perfect life shatters.
Determined to finally face her past, Meg returns to her hometown of Shelter Bay. Shrouded in cold, brooding fog, the close-knit coastal town harbors dark secrets and suspicious residents. One of the few people to welcome Meg back is Blake Sutton, her high-school sweetheart and the marina’s new owner. Desperate for clues, Meg digs through her family’s files. As Pacific storms brew outside, her passion for Blake reignites.
But someone doesn’t want Meg digging up the past. And that person will go to deadly lengths to prevent the writer from revealing a terrible truth.
Summer Redding thought the blindingly handsome jock who’d loved and left her years ago had died in the Washington Massacre. She grieved for her lost golden boy as the rest of the country mourned their dead—until she comes home to find a very alive Jack Delvaux waiting for her with a devastating secret that turns her life upside down.
No longer the carefree man he was in his youth, this Jack is dark, hard and dangerous; a fifteen-year veteran of the CIA hungry for answers…and hungry for her. The rich, good-looking charmer who broke her heart once before would have been easy to resist, but this man, this powerful man? Summer needs him, and he knows it.
When Jack’s mission uncovers evidence of government involvement in the Massacre—and plans for another attack—he’s primed for revenge. But he has more than vengeance to live for now, and when Summer’s life is threatened, it’s nearly Jack’s undoing. Someone taking shots at his woman? That’s a dead man walking.
Leslie Budewitz is a woman of many passions. After thirty years as an attorney, she wrote a guide for writers about criminal law and courtroom procedure, which won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction. Then she decided to combine two of her passions, food and great mysteries, by writing a series of cozy “foodie” mysteries. In 2013, Death al Dente, the first Food Lovers’ Village Mystery, won an Agatha for Best First Novel, making Budewitz the first author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction.
Her latest novel, GUILTY AS CINNAMON, has all the elements of a great cozy mystery—quirky characters, a unique, well-realized setting, and plenty of conflict. And did I mention the food? In this second Spice Shop Mystery, Budewitz’s knowledge of and love for cooking shine through. Five pages in, spice shop owner Pepper Reece describes a process for making a “gorgeous, fiery, red-orange oil” by heating ground dried peppers in oil and straining the oil off. Despite my lack of the domestic gene, I could hardly wait to try it myself.
The Montana native has a heart for service. She serves as president of Sisters in Crime and is a founding member of the Guppies, the SinC chapter for new and unpublished writers. She generously agreed to answer a few questions for us about her work.
Can you tell us a bit about your writing journey?
I started writing at 4, on my father’s desk. Literally—I did not yet understand the concept of paper. But while l always wanted to be a writer, I didn’t actually think it was something you could do—so I became a lawyer instead. In my late thirties, I decided I really did want to write seriously, though it took more than fifteen years before I held my first book in my hands. In the interim, I wrote several unpublished manuscripts, although a few were agented and came close, and published half a dozen short stories. After Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books, 2011) was published, I decided that as much as I love helping other writers get the facts about the law write—er, right—I wasn’t through telling my own stories. I love the light-hearted subset of traditional mystery sometimes called the cozy, and decided to try that genre.
Brendan Rielly graduated from college with a major in Government and Legal Studies—but as is the case in his family of storytellers, his heart led him to fiction writing at Notre Dame and his first novel, AN UNBEATEN MAN.
This month Rielly answers a few questions for The Big Thrill about what it was like to write his first thriller, and what comes next for the characters, and for the author.
Tell us about AN UNBEATEN MAN.
Michael McKeon is a microbiologist at Bowdoin College who discovers a microbe that consumes oil and turns it into natural gas. Because of the potential to unlock difficult-to-tap oil reserves or to clean up huge oil spills, this should be a breakthrough that defines a career, but instead, Michael’s life is ruined when The Global Group kidnaps his wife and adopted daughter to force him to weaponize the microbe and deploy it against Russia and Saudi Arabia, destroying their oil reserves and crippling those countries. Still haunted by the deaths of his parents and sister when he was young, Michael will do anything to save his wife and daughter, even if it means undermining the efforts of the United States, Russia, and Saudi Arabia to implement a Middle East Marshall Plan, unleashing global chaos.
A microbe that can destroy Russia’s and Saudi Arabia’s oil is an intriguing idea. What did you do to try to get the science as correct as possible?
A lot of research. I’m an attorney, not a scientist, but I never wanted to write a legal thriller. The idea of a microbe that could destroy oil jumped into my head and wouldn’t get out, so I began digging and found some lab research into a microbe that could consume oil in the Canadian tar sands and release natural gas as a potentially cleaner way to develop that energy resource. The idea of weaponizing that development is, fortunately, just mine. I did a ton of research and worked with professors from Bowdoin College, the University of Southern Maine, and the Max Planck Institute in Germany. I think I may have worried the German professor because every time he would answer a question, he would caution me (and reassure himself): you know, you can’t really do this, right?
By Cathy Clamp
When a new gang of criminals comes to town, Dallas S.W.A.T. team member Eric Becker immediately senses werewolves—a lot of them. Turns out, the new bad guys are a pack of wolf shifters. While stopping a crime in progress, Becker comes face-to-face with the most gorgeous woman he’s ever seen. So, he does the logical thing—he hides her and leaves the scene with the rest of his team. But with a street-savvy thief named Jayna on his hands, along with Eastern European mobsters bent on making Dallas their new home, Becker’s life is about to be turned upside down.
The Big Thrill caught up New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Paige Tylor to talk about the latest in her S.W.A.T. series, IN THE COMPANY OF WOLVES.
This is the third book in your S.W.A.T. series. Are Eric or Jayna characters that fans will recognize from previous books?
Fans will definitely recognize Eric. By the way, he prefers to go by Becker (his last name). He’s one of the youngest werewolves in the S.W.A.T. pack and is typically really laid back. You can usually find him hanging out with fellow werewolf/S.W.A.T. officer Landry Cooper (who also prefers to go by his last name.)
Jayna Winston will be new to the fans. She’s the woman Becker runs into during a crime in progress. She’s The One who rocks his world and gets him out of his laid-back mode. Jayna comes with a bit of baggage, and some responsibilities that make a relationship between her and Becker extremely interesting.
I found the idea for THE THRONE OF DAVID while reading the Old Testament—and knew it was a high concept idea from the very first. Understanding the scope of the story helped me stay focused as I wrote the manuscript, and when I sent out queries, two of them, both agents wanted the book. I’m convinced it was the high concept element that got their attention.
I can hear you asking, just what is high concept and how do I incorporate these ingredients into my writing?
High concept fiction is a term hijacked from Hollywood. Think ‘visual’, ‘high stakes’, and ‘easily communicated.’ It’s attractive to publishers and agents and eventually, readers and moviegoers.
The reaction you want when an agent reads your synopsis is: “Why didn’t I think of that?” or “Why hasn’t somebody written about this before?” Or, “You tell me your amazing idea, and then I decide I have to kill you so I can steal it!” When people light up after you tell them about your book, you know you’ve got them. This is what high concept is all about.
The essential elements of a high concept book are:
- an original idea
- mass commercial appeal
- a great title
- a big problem
Kim Alexander’s debut fantasy-thriller THE SAND PRINCE, the first installment in the Demon Door series, introduces readers to not one, but two new worlds, and a cast of characters torn between those universes where demons, magic, and high adventure are part of the landscape.
On the war-ravaged demon world called Eriis, Hellne, a strong young demon queen, struggles to keep her people alive. On the world of Mistra, demons have become whispered myths and a handful of people guard The Door, an opening between the two worlds.
Readers know, of course, that the status quo can’t be maintained in any novel, so both worlds are destined for upheaval. That the door is destined to be opened, and the two worlds are destined to collide.
In THE SAND PRINCE, that comes when Rhuun, a demon prince of Erris, uncovers a book with secrets about another world. When he’s forced through The Door, he finds more than he expects on Mistra, including a fierce and headstrong human heroine named Lelet. And in Mistra, the people soon learn demons are more than myths.
Alexander, who grew up in the wilds of Long Island, NY, crafted those worlds after a stint as co-programmer of Sirius XM Book Radio, where she interviewed some of her favorite writers, including Anne Rice, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and Margaret Atwood, among hundreds more.
She currently lives with “two cats, an angry fish,” and her “extremely patient husband” in Washington, D.C., close enough to the National Zoo “to hear the lions and the monkeys.” At least she hopes that’s what those noises are.
This month, she fields a few questions for The Big Thrill about her latest release.
By Anne Tibbets
Young adult thriller YOU THINK THIS IS A GAME? is set in the throws of a Somalian energy war, where young mercenaries and tech specialists Ted Reagan and Alex Kirwan join the fray against a massive army of hired guns.
Bernard Maestas’ third installment of the Internet Tough Guy series, takes the reader on a thrilling adventure full of action, witty banter, and international intrigue.
A police officer by day, and writer by night, Maestas is quick to set the record straight about which came first. Surely, it’s being a policemen, right?
“Really, it’s the other way around,” he says. “I’ve been writing my whole life, since I could hold a crayon. I did some short stories in grade school but I also started writing screenplays around the same time as well. I worked on a TV series, played at creative writing with some friends in high school (this I really credit with honing my prose), I’m sure I even wrote fan fiction at some point.”
But Maestas is quick to point out how much he loves his day job. “Being a police officer was high on a short list of dream careers from childhood and I’m fortunate beyond words to have gotten to do it. It is a passion and a calling and, thankfully, I happen to be quite good at it.”
It also feeds his creative muse. Between his day job and keeping abreast of world news, Maestas says he isn’t worried about running out of ideas for his books.
Veronica is a biochemist and a vampire. She likes humans more than most, but physical attraction to one is unthinkable. Joe, a human, needs Veronica’s help to find his brother’s killer, but she has no plans to get involved in any sort of human problem. What neither counts on is the attraction that pulls them together, and the conspiracy that could destroy them both.
Cheryel Hutton trained as a registered nurse, which only partially satisfied her love for science. When her health forced an early retirement, she took advantage of the development to take classes and study the sciences, primarily biology, on her own. Combining that knowledge with her other love, writing, she uses real science to write fantastic stories about vampires, dragons, bigfoot, and other creatures. She especially likes to use fiction to speculate on how mythical beings could actually exist. BLOOD OF THE INNOCENT uses genetics to offer some logical conjectures about how vampires might exist.
BLOOD OF THE INNOCENT is part of the unique multi-author Lobster Cove series from Wild Rose Press. What was it like working on the project?
The books revolve around Lobster Cove, a fictional town on the eastern coast of Maine near Bar Harbor. The series includes all kinds of different stories: historical, contemporary, women’s fiction, erotica, suspense, paranormal, comedy. What they have in common is the setting and a sprinkling of crossover characters. The authors support each other, and the series editor, Lori Graham, made the complicated information easy to find and use. Being a Lobster Cove author has been a great experience, and I’m glad I could be a part of it.
Weather played a vital part in the genesis of A COLD WHITE FEAR, according to R. J. Harlick. “Most people think winter and Canada are synonymous and yet only one of my previous books, Red Ice for a Shroud, takes place in winter. So I decided the seventh would capture its full fury. I also wanted to try my hand at a thriller. While the other books in the Meg Harris series are suspenseful as any thriller, they all have crime-solving plots. In A COLD WHITE FEAR, I wanted to place Meg in jeopardy from the get-go and watch how she musters all her resources to get out of it alive.”
About the writing of this latest entry, Harlick said, “I know Meg very well so the continuing development of her character easily flows from one book to the next. She is joined by Adjidamo, a young Algonquin boy who has appeared in earlier books. So the writing of both characters was relatively easy, along with the setting, Meg’s home, Three Deer Point, which I also know intimately.
“For me the hard part was the unfolding of the story within its narrow parameters. The action takes in less than a day and in a single location. Since a change in time or location were not tools I could use to move the story forward, I found myself delving deeper into the souls of all the main characters, including the bad guys, and used this to drive the story to its tumultuous ending.
“Because A COLD WHITE FEAR takes place in western Quebec—a setting I know intimately—and during the kind of blizzard I wish I didn’t know intimately, I didn’t have to do much research.” But some research was required. Aside from the standard Internet research, Harlick had her main character handling a gun for the first time, so off she went to a local gun club to hold, fire, and see “what it felt like.” Her books are, after all, set in Canada.
Although Harlick doesn’t outline she does know certain things before starting. She establishes the setting, the community, the social issues, and most of the main characters. She knows where the story will start and has a general idea of the arc. “But I’m a pantser,” she said. “I let the story flow from chapter to chapter. Rarely do I know whodunit until the very end. In A COLD WHITE FEAR, there is one scene in particular that appears close to the end that came as a complete surprise to me. Though I had done some foreshadowing, I hadn’t fully thought out the implications until I reached the point in the story where it needed to happen. For me it was a very difficult scene to write.”
By Wendy Tyson
FATAL COMPLICATIONS is John Benedict’s third crime novel. Kirkus Reviews called Benedict’s debut novel Adrenaline, “a mystery story rife with suspense,” and its popular sequel, The Edge of Death, was published to strong reviews. In anticipation of the release of FATAL COMPLICATIONS, The Big Thrill sat down with Benedict to talk about medical thrillers, sources of inspiration, and his (dead on) advice for aspiring authors.
Congratulations on the release of your newest novel. Your protagonist, Luke Daulton, is an anesthesiologist—a job that demands quick thinking and involves high human stakes. What inspired you to write medical thrillers?
This is a very good question—one that has a short answer and a long answer. I’ll give you both. The short answer goes something like this and deals more with the practicality of the question: The cool part about being a medical thriller author is that there are so many clever ways to kill people in a hospital setting. Plus there is always lots of drama, big egos, and life-and-death scenarios that play out on a daily basis in the operating room. This makes for great characters and exciting backdrops for my stories. Finally, most readers don’t exactly know what takes place in a modern OR, especially when it comes to the anesthesia end of things (where I specialize), so this can add realism and interest to a story.
The long answer delves into the heart of my inspiration and involves a little true-life story: One day it struck me—at two in the morning in the midst of another grueling twenty-four-hour shift. I had just finished interviewing a nice lady with an appendix about to burst—we’ll call her Linda. I had done my best not to yawn as I went through the routine questions that an anesthesiologist is obliged to ask. She appeared nervous, which soon gave way to tears. I did my best to comfort her, took her hand, told her I would take good care of her. That I would watch over her carefully in the operating room and see her through surgery. And I would be there when she woke up in the recovery room. She appeared to calm down a bit. I wrapped up my pre-op assessment and asked her to sign the anesthesia consent form, while assuring her the risks would be minimal. She raised her eyebrows at this and the fearful look returned. I wondered: What the hell does ‘minimal’ mean when you’re talking about life and death? More tears. She told me of her two young daughters at home that desperately needed a mommy. I felt my own throat tighten. I quickly buried my emotions, tried not to think about my own wife and three sons, and focused on the task at hand as we wheeled her litter back down the hall to the OR.
By Jeremy Burns
For many thriller fans, author Matt Hilton is synonymous with his action hero and ex-counterterrorism soldier, Joe Hunter. Now, Hilton dials up the intrigue with the first in a new mystery series starring Tess Grey and “Po” Villere.
BLOOD TRACKS, which hit shelves in the UK in November and makes its global debut February 2016, forces an unlikely partnership in an action-packed quest to solve not only a staggering cross-country mystery, but also the ghosts of their own pasts.
This month, Hilton answered a few questions for The Big Thrill, giving readers a peek into his new book.
Tell us about BLOOD TRACKS.
BLOOD TRACKS is the first in a new series featuring investigator Tess Grey and renegade ex-con Nicolas “Po” Villere. The two are an unusual pairing of ex-cop and ex-con, thrown together in the search for a witness that takes them from Maine to Louisiana and back again, while trying to stay alive. Initially the two don’t like each other, but they come to realize that sometimes opposites really do attract. The book is action-packed, but it’s also more of a mystery than my readers might expect from me.
What was your initial inspiration for BLOOD TRACKS?
Joe Hunter thrillers are full of action and feature tough guys caught in tough scenarios, and when I sat down to write a new series, I wanted to challenge readers’ expectations, so I chose a woman’s POV. I hoped to develop a character that was recuperating from a severe injury and carrying the baggage of a failed law enforcement career, then throw her into the kind of desperate situations Hunter usually finds himself, and see how she fared. Because I’d set up a backstory for Tess, the writing of the novel came from the need to get her back in the saddle so to speak, and I had the idea of throwing her in at the deep end to do just that.
By Jeff Ayers
The Sri Lankan navy is unexpectedly attacked by a resurgent and separatist Tamil Tiger organization in Claude Berube’s follow up to The Aden Effect. In SYREN’S SONG, the government issues a letter of marque to former U.S. Navy officer Connor Stark, now the head of the private security company. Stark and his eclectic compatriots accept the challenge only to learn that the Sea Tigers who crippled the Sri Lankan navy are no ordinary terrorists. The Sea Tigers have created a new weapon that not even the West possesses, fueling it with a previously undiscovered element. Stark and his team race against the clock to prevent another Sea Tiger attack.
Claude Berube is the author of two novels featuring Connor Stark, both published by Naval Institute Press. But he’s also co-authored non-fiction, including A Call to the Sea: Captain Charles Stewart of the USS Constitution (Potomac Books, 2005) and Congress: Games and Strategies (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007 & 2009). He is currently writing his doctoral dissertation through the University of Leeds on Andrew Jackson’s Navy.
He took time to chat with The Big Thrill.
With your background, what prompted you to want to write The Aden Effect?
Although I write non-fiction (naval history and national security), I always wanted to write fiction as well. I was influenced by a number of series such as Bill Granger’s November Man, William F. Buckley’s Blackford Oakes, Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, and others. Part of THE ADEN EFFECT was influenced by my non-fiction research on modern piracy and private maritime security companies. In 2004, I was recalled (I’m a Navy Reserve officer) on the USS Bunker Hill for six months. That deployment included tsunami relief operations in Sumatra, security operations in the Persian Gulf, and piracy operations off Somalia. A few years later I had a moment of inspiration in Scotland. Everything—the characters, the plot, and the locales—just fell into place.
By J. H. Bográn
While hosting the 2009 Oscars, Hugh Jackman joked about actors playing characters from other countries receiving nominations while that year he had played an Australian, set in Australia, in a film aptly titled Australia, thus being snubbed. This month I had the privilege to discover Australian author Steve P. Vincent and his novels, set in the United States—and other places around the world—and his real American hero of a character Jack Emery. NATIONS DIVIDED is the third book in this series, and Steve kindly agreed to answer a few questions for The Big Thrill.
What’s the jacket description of NATIONS DIVIDED?
Peace has been decades in the making, but chaos is just the press of a button away.
Jack Emery is happier than he has been in a long time. Nobody has shot at him or tried to blow him up for years, and he’s learned to love the job he thought he’d hate: Special Advisor to the President of the United States.
But nothing can prepare Jack for the work to come. As America continues to heal from self-inflicted wounds, an ambitious President McGhinnist draws closer to achieving the impossible: peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
As the countdown to peace reaches zero, a desperate group of hardline Israelis invoke the Samson Option, a secret protocol that will eradicate the peace agreement and pave the way for the destruction of America and the Middle East.
Jack has learned the hard way that when a crisis knocks, you don’t always get the chance to ignore it.
How did the idea for NATIONS DIVIDED come about?
Mostly it was a topic I wanted to know more about and try to twist in a fun way.
By John Darrin
“The crime thriller, TARGETED, co-authored by debut author Donna Warner, and award-winning mystery author, Gloria Ferris, reminds us that danger lurks in unexpected places.”
That is the description of the book that Donna Warner suggested I use in this article, and I have no problem doing just that, as you can see because you just read it. Now, let me add a little of my take on that. Danger in unexpected places for me lurks in asking questions of authors that elicit answers like this:
- “I confess that I have a pin head.”
- “I don’t think it’s necessary to stand up to cast from a boat.”
- “Blue Jays? Is that a hockey team?”
- “Nobody wants to look at an Elderly Goth.”
How do I work that stuff into an article about their book? Oh, never mind, I just did.
They couldn’t be total loons (living on the shores of Lake Huron, they certainly know all about loons) because they did write a book together. And I give them enormous credit for the fact that they are still friends and intend to do it again. I burned my co-author in effigy.
Enough frivolity. Here are some words about TARGETED:
Looking forward to a week of sipping mojitos and moonlight walks on a Caribbean beach, Jordan Blair and her friend, Ellie, arrive in Le Ceiba in Honduras, unaware that they have attracted the attention of The Watcher, and are at that very moment framed in the receiving side of his high-powered binoculars.
And then things turn sinister. The previous occupant of their hotel room has vanished. No one seems concerned, but the police presence says they should be.
Track Three by John Gibson
By Dan Levy
As it happens with many writers, author John Gibson’s love of thrillers began during a childhood spent soaking in the great spy stories and other thriller genres that made their way onto television screens and into movie theaters.
“And then Watergate happened and I was completely and hopelessly stuck,” said Gibson. “Everyday after school, while my buddies were out playing basketball, I sat at the television, enthralled by the entire break-in scandal. I began to read thrillers that dealt with politics because of Watergate.”
In the forty-plus years since Watergate, Gibson, in addition to a successful engineering career at Kodak, went from reading political thrillers to writing them. His second, TRACK THREE, is due to be released on December 15, 2015. We wanted to learn more about Gibson’s latest offering. Due to scheduling conflicts, The Big Thrill was unable to conduct an in person interview with Gibson to meet our deadline. However, below are excerpts from an interview (edited for length) conducted via email.
TRACK THREE is your second published novel. Is that part of a series or are the two novels independent?
No, not a series. I seem to exert so much to write my books that when I’m finished, I really feel I have nothing else to give. I have no more fire to write about those same characters. I write from a loose outline, but my stories seem to move where they want to move. When they are done they are done and there is really not much more for me to give.
With all your time spent in the tech industry, it feels like it would be a natural, and perhaps easier, transition to write tech thrillers. Why write in the political-thriller sub-genre?
Engineering was something that I kind of fell into. I had a home and family to provide for and at Kodak I fell into working in the digital imaging area, microelectronics. It really was a fascinating engineering area to work in, simply fascinating, otherworld kind-of stuff all conducted under microscopes. But engineering, even microelectronics, did not provide the passion that my soul demanded. Only writing did (does) that for me.
Talk a bit about your protagonist, reporter Elliott Lawder. What made him a compelling character to you?
I like Elliott because even though professionally he is at the top of his game, his personal life, though not totally going down the drain, is well on its way. He is real, hard working but flawed. [He is] nearing alcoholism, [and in a] terrible family situation with his father mired in Alzheimer’s, his mother old and incapacitated and an older brother that truly despises him. But the two worlds, his professional life and his personal life are totally separate.
What do you like most about Elliott Lawder? What surprised you about him as he came to life on the page?
Elliott’s authenticity, to have risen to the heights of his profession without being portrayed as superhuman is very endearing to me. Also, dealing with the pain of his personal life and still performing in his professional life is something that I found admirable. I don’t think there is much about Elliott that surprised me.
Is there a scene or chapter in TRACK THREE that is a favorite or that is especially meaningful to you? Why?
The Tarzan Chapter is near and dear because most of what takes place I actually lived as a boy; this really did happen. The Tarzan chapter is about boys [Elliott and his older brother] nearing puberty getting talked into swinging from a rope tied to a tree. Bad thing happens [and] this scene explains a lot about Elliott’s rocky relationship with his brother.
While I don’t want to overlook TRACK THREE, what do your fans have to look forward to in your next book? Can you give us a little insight?
I’m working on a story that is a bit of departure from Dummy (Gibson’s debut novel) and TRACK THREE. It is about a guy who goes from being an actual bum to owning a conglomerate, but with many, many problems with every one of his family members.
What’s one piece of advice that has served you well since you started writing? Is it the same advice you’d give to aspiring authors today?
I think advice today is different than it would have been fifteen years ago. Then, I think I would have just told them “Write!” Now there is so much more after the writing that influences the writing experience. I don’t particularly like that part of it, but it’s the reality now. I guess what I would tell them today is not all that much different, though—Don’t think about the other stuff you have to do to get read. Deal with the other stuff in its own time; just have something for someone to read. And write it as best you can.
TO BREW OR NOT TO BREW, the debut cozy mystery by Joyce Tremel out on December 1, features Max (Maxine) O’Hara, a certified brewmaster who is opening a brewpub in Pittsburgh. Although there have been minor problems, she rejects the possibility of sabotage until her assistant Kurt is found dead. She sets out to investigate with the help of other small business owners in the neighborhood and her new chef Jake, but then there is another death….
Tell us about your book, TO BREW OR NOT TO BREW.
It’s the first in the Brewing Trouble cozy mystery series being published by Berkley Prime Crime. My protagonist, Max O’Hara, is in the process of opening a brewpub in a Pittsburgh neighborhood and finds herself involved in solving the murder of her assistant. Along the way she gets help from a bakery owner who’s a rabid Steeler fan, a cranky World War II vet, and of course, her new chef, Jake, who was her high school crush.
Details of Pittsburgh life add a nice touch to your mystery. Have you always lived in Pittsburgh?
Yes. I know Pittsburghese and I’m not afraid to use it! The city has gone through a lot of change over the years and it seemed like the perfect place—to me, anyway—to set a light mystery. Pittsburgh is really a small town disguised as a big city and I think it makes a great setting.
I’m not sure what to say about myself. That’s always a hard question to answer! I’ve been married to the love of my life for thirty-five years and we have two grown sons. And a cat.
By Ian Walkley
Sherry Fowler Chancellor writes thrillers, romances, and YA novels, and her latest thriller offering, THE EISENGER ELEMENT, follows a determined young detective, Emilia Hammond, on her first assignment with the New Orleans Police Department, determined to prove herself capable and worthy of her shield.
Sherry Fowler Chancellor is a lawyer by day and writer, amateur photographer, and history buff by night. She lives on the beautiful gulf coast of Florida and loves her little slice of paradise.
Sherry, could you give us the “elevator pitch” to the story?
A Garden District lawyer and a New Orleans detective with a shiny new gold shield collide at the scene of a murder.
I understand you developed the essence of the book during NaNoWriMo in 2013. How did you discipline yourself to that challenge?
THE EISENGER ELEMENT was my NaNoWriMo story for 2013. I’ve participated and won every year since 2009. I love it. The mad dash to the finish line motivates me. I get excited to update my word count and watch that graph move along. I’m a lawyer in my day job and it’s pretty hectic there, too. I seem to thrive on the pressure. I do a lot of lunch hour writing and use the weekends to really up the word count.
Did you change the story much during the editing?
I actually didn’t change much on this story after I submitted it to the publisher in May of 2014. I finished the first draft during NaNoWriMo and polished it for a few months afterward but once I turned it in, I waited for the edits and made just the editorial changes as suggested.
By Toby Tate
Blackbeard the Pirate was a walking paradox. He was just as likely to shoot one of his own crew members in the knee (which he once did), as he was to personally nursemaid that same crewmember back to health. In fact, it was said that Blackbeard, AKA Edward Teach, had even taken bullets for his crewmen during their frequent battles with the Royal Navy.
So how then did this notorious scallywag, from 1716 to 1718, develop such a reputation for brutality? Well, that’s where the paradox comes in. Teach was known to be as fierce a fighter as he was a lover. According to most accounts, he indeed had a woman in virtually every port. It was said that he would become so infatuated with women that he married several of them and by the time of his death had something like eighteen wives.
In the meantime, he would scuttle ships, take their cargo for his own, and leave their crews marooned on deserted islands. Blackbeard and his crew once created a blockade of Charleston Harbor and threatened to execute prisoners, send their heads to the Governor, and burn all captured ships if his demands for supplies were not met. Yet history has it that a man he had taken prisoner became sick and was on the verge of death, so Teach allowed him to go free in order to get medical attention. The pirate eventually got what he wanted and left Charleston Harbor without firing a shot.
In my thriller, DIABLERO, I tried to stick as close to the real Edward Teach as I could, instead of the bloodthirsty maniac seen in movies or the whimsical caricature read about in books. But I guess that’s why they call it “creative license.”
In NATION OF ENEMIES, H.A. Raynes’s razor-sharp, double-edged pen thrills, warns, instructs, and entertains with prophetic vision, controlled imagination, and Spartan zeal.
On the eve of the 2032 presidential election, the country is deeply divided and on the brink of civil war. A decade before, the U.S. government had mandated that all citizens be issued biochips carrying their full medical information and a digital health indicator. Then they made the information public leading to widespread and devastating consequences.
The Liberty Party’s presidential nominee is assassinated in a highly-coordinated, masterful attack. This sets off a chain of events that will change the course of history and leave America’s inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness dangling on the precipice of extinction.
The author graciously answered a few questions for The Big Thrill.
Please give our readers an overview of your personal life and professional career?
I’m married and a parent to two kids and a cockapoo. My professional career up to this point has been as a producer in advertising, making commercials. Other than that, I learned to swim at the age of thirty-two. Played spin-the-bottle with Nicolas Cage. And have jumped out of a plane. Writing is much more my speed than the latter two. I’ve been writing as long as I can remember, though more seriously and committed to the craft in the last ten years. For me, it’s equal parts fun and sanity. In the busy world we live in, both fun and sanity can be hard to hold onto. But no matter what, I know they’re mine for about eight hours every week.
This is probably the most common question readers ask about the psychiatrist-protagonist of the Zoe Goldman series.
The honest answer: I didn’t give Zoe anything. That’s just how she came to me. Maybe this sounds glib, but it’s true. Once I heard her voice (and believe me, it was rather loud at times), it was obvious that Zoe had “issues.” Her thoughts kept zigzagging, her moods cycled up and down, and she made these impulsive decisions that weren’t helping anyone, including herself. I’m a neurologist, so it didn’t take long to make the diagnosis.
In a fortuitous way, her ADHD is literary gold. Zoe’s thoughts may be scattered, but also self-deprecatingly funny. Her voice shifts based on her meds and her moods, and her perspective is certainly unique. Does this make her—get ready for the dreaded word—”likable”? I don’t know. That’s a loaded word for any female protagonist. One reviewer said, “Sometimes I want to put my arm around Zoe, and other times I want to smack her.” I get that. I want to smack her myself sometimes.
But who wants a genius as a protagonist, always armed with the right zinger, who can suss out a villain a mile away? Not me. I like my main characters flawed, and Zoe Goldman is certainly that. Still, our flaws can be our strengths too. Her thought process, though helter-skelter at times, allows her to make connections that others miss. Her decisions are impetuous and even self-destructive. But they also yield unexpected results.
Ultimately, her ADHD is neither her saving grace nor her handicap; it is just part of who she is. My subconscious was simply responding to the milieu, or as they say, “something in the water.” Neurocognitive disorders such as autism and ADHD are on the rise, and Zoe Goldman is just one of many out there. Not only do we as a society need to get used to it, we need to recognize the positives of these disorders and drop our dependence on biased “normative” standards. Who is normal, after all? As a patient in Little Black Lies said (in a line which I stole from a real-life patient), “Normal is just a setting on the washing machine.”
By David Healey
What do you get when you combine a plumbing sales professional, an expert Cape Cod boater, and former music student? You get an author like Kevin V. Symmons, who uses his unique background and experience to write thrillers such as CHRYSALIS, his newest novel.
In CHRYSALIS, the story revolves around Paige Fuller, a champion equestrian who is slowly making a comeback from a devastating riding accident. She feels that she lives in the shadow of her sister, Candy, who is more outgoing and has those classic “Cover Girl” looks that attract boys in the way that a seashore picnic attracts seagulls.
When childhood friend Morgan Cahill visits the Fuller family estate on the Massachusetts shore for the weekend, Paige is expecting that the Harvard football star will be polite but eager to get away—or to spend more time with Candy. Of course, Morgan is not just any boy, but the one that Paige has been secretly in love with since she was a little girl.
When Morgan falls for Paige, much to her surprise, it begins a romantic adventure that features twists, turns, dark secrets, thugs and ex-cons, and redemption—not to mention the 9-11 terrorist attacks as a backdrop.
One of the more intriguing aspects of this new romantic thriller is that it is mostly written from the viewpoint of an eighteen-year-old woman—a character very different from Symmons himself. He adds that in many ways, the story and the character chose him. Paige had a story to tell, and selected Symmons to tell it.
How did he get inside her head?
Be careful what you tell your hair dresser. Especially if you are a cop. Because while she listens to you vent about your work, she’s taking notes for her next mystery novel.
That’s how DB Kennison, known to her friends as Darlene, got her start as a writer. In 2008, with the recession, people stopped spending on facials, makeup, and hair. Darlene went from more work than she could handle to staring at the walls. She wrote to save her sanity.
“I did a year and a half in college,” she says. “I took a basic English class. They gave me six papers to write. It was torture.”
But when she was ready to write novels, she was smart enough to know how much she didn’t know. She took courses online. She reached out to everyone for feedback. She discovered the Mystery Writers of America’s mentor program.
“My mentor was Michael Allen Dimmoch, and I am eternally grateful to him for not just saying to me, ‘Don’t quit your day job.’ He was very, very generous in encouraging me to learn how to do it and to continue. That was really big for me, it was huge, considering how much red there was on that manuscript.” Darlene has kept the critique to this day.
She was just as tenacious when it came time to sell her first book. “I just about quit over synopsis and query letters, but I pounded through it.”