The New Star of the Swedish Mystery Scene
By Layton Green
Sweden has a history of producing excellent crime novelists, famous for bleak Scandinavian settings and dark, psychological suspense. Names such as Liza Marklund, Mari Jungstedt, Camilla Läckberg, and of course, Stieg Larsson come to mind. Our guest this month is Sofie Sarenbrant, a rising star in the Swedish mystery scene who has sold more than 700,000 books in 12 countries. Hollywood is calling, she has appeared on numerous magazine covers, and her future is brighter than a summer solstice in Stockholm.
KILLER DEAL, Sofie’s fifth crime novel and the third in the detective Emma Sköld series, released on May 16th. The novel is a page-turner about a father who is found dead by his six-year-old daughter the morning after an open-house showing in a posh Stockholm suburb.
Sofie was gracious enough to field my questions about KILLER DEAL, her past, and her writing career.
Thanks for taking the time to chat, Sofie. We’re thrilled to have you. To kick this off, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background? Where in Sweden are you from? What did you do before becoming an author?
Thank you! I was born in Stockholm, but two years later my family moved to a farm in the middle of nowhere. Living a long time in the forest may have big consequences. I mean, it’s dark and lonely at night and the nearest neighbor lives far away. So maybe it’s no mystery why I became a crime writer. Before becoming an author in 2010, I worked as a journalist (like my mum) and also as a photographer (like my dad).
KILLER DEAL takes place in a fancy Stockholm suburb—are you intimately familiar with this setting? Or did you do some research?
I was in fact interested in buying a house in the Stockholm suburb Bromma, where KILLER DEAL takes place. The plot came to me when I went to an open house in Bromma. As soon as I entered the big white house (exactly like the house on the Swedish cover) I wanted to leave. The atmosphere scared me, I could imagine that something bad had happened there. The real estate agent wasn’t around when I left, so I never said good-bye. Then an absurd thought struck me: How would she know if everyone leaves? All the doors were open and anyone could slip in through the basement door and hide until the open house was over and the family came home. After that, I couldn’t stop thinking about what an exciting mystery plot that might be. (We did buy a house, but not that one, in beautiful Bromma.)
Embracing the Legacy—and Setting a New Mark
I’ve heard that varied experiences, an artistic temperament, or even genetics could predict writing talent. By any of those measures it’s no surprise that Daniel Palmer has turned out a steady flow of bestsellers. After earning his master’s degree from Boston University, he spent a decade as an e-commerce pioneer. He’s an accomplished blues harmonica player. And he’s the son of bestselling author Michael Palmer, whose legacy lives on because Daniel’s been asked to continue his father’s oeuvre. Which means now two of Daniel’s novels are being released at the same time.
MERCY is the second Michael Palmer medical thriller Daniel’s written in the tradition of his late father. In it, Dr. Julie Devereux is an outspoken advocate for the right to die—until a motorcycle accident leaves her fiancé, Sam Talbot, a quadriplegic. While Sam begs to end his life, Julie sees hope in a life together. But then Sam suddenly dies from an unusual heart defect, one seen only in those under extreme stress. It appears that Sam was literally scared to death. As Julie investigates similar cases, she finds a frightening pattern, and becomes the target of disturbing threats. As Julie discovers more cases, the threats escalate, until she is accused of a mercy killing herself. To clear her name she must track down whoever is behind these mysterious deaths, but someone has decided that killing Julie is the only way to stop her.
In FORGIVE ME Angie DeRose is a private investigator in Virginia, working to find and rescue endangered runaways. In the wake of her mother’s death, Angie makes a life-altering discovery. Hidden in her parents’ attic is a photograph of a little girl with a hand-written message on the back: “May God forgive me.” Angie doesn’t know what it means. Could she have a sister she never knew about? Angie sets out to learn the fate of the girl in the photo. But the lies she unearths drag the past into the present. Everything she holds dear is threatened by the repercussions of one long-ago choice, and an enemy who will kill to keep a secret hidden forever.
Beyond writing thrillers, Palmer is a lifelong Red Sox fan, and lives in New Hampshire with his wife and two children where he is hard at work on his next novel. Palmer has kindly agreed to share his thoughts on his two new books, his writing process, and what it means to be carrying on his father’s work.
FORGIVE ME seems to have a very personal theme. Did the story arise from a personal experience or did you snatch it from the reality of today’s society?
Angie DeRose’s search for a runaway girl named Nadine Jessup coincides with her quest to identify a girl in a photograph she finds hidden among the mementos in her parents’ attic.
What makes this book personal for me is my connection to the runaway girl. To my surprise, during the writing process, Nadine took over the story. I wanted her storyline to convey the danger facing all runaways, but the horror of her ordeal proved tough to convey. I did not want to write anything too graphic for my readers or myself. At the same time, I wanted to be faithful to the stories of the real-life victims of these crimes. Nadine herself showed me the answer: a journal of her captivity, giving the reader access to her private thoughts and fears. The question was whether I could meet the challenge. I’m a 40-something-year-old man. What do I know about being a teenage girl in such a terrible predicament?
As I began to write, however, Nadine Jessup came alive. I wrote the pages of her journal as quickly as if Nadine had penned them herself. The result is a story different from anything I’ve done before, and I believe Nadine’s journal is what makes this book special.
In Search of Redemption in 118-Degree Heat
A man walks barefoot from a burning plane wearing an elegant suit jacket with his name stitched into the label. Ahead of him, a small town shimmers in the desert heat. He doesn’t know where he is, or who he is, or even if he was on the crashed plane—the only thing he knows for sure is that he has come to the town to save someone.
This is the opening scene of THE SEARCHER and also the first solid image I had of the story. A new book often starts this way for me, with a scene or an image, and from this glimpse I knew I needed to find a desert town, so I booked a trip to Arizona.
I’d been to Arizona once before in my mid-twenties on a road trip with friends where we drank beer and hustled pool across America. Coming from green, leafy England, Arizona had seemed like a different planet to me, with its strange, spiky plants, bleak elemental beauty, and vast harsh landscapes. Arizona is more than twice the size of England.
My journey back to the desert started, oddly enough, in the Grand Hyatt hotel in New York. I live in the UK, so I tagged my research trip on the end of my annual pilgrimage to Thrillerfest. This meant I was heading to Arizona in July, when most sane people avoid it for good reason.
I landed in Phoenix, picked up my hire-car and noticed the outside temperature was 118 degrees. I cranked up the AC until snow started coming out of the vents and set off east from Phoenix on the Apache trail, heading towards the Superstition Mountains, so called because the Pima Indians feared the mountains and believed spirits lived there
The Insights of Crime Fiction’s Tragedian
Roger Smith is the master of South African Noir. His thrillers dig into the present and past of South Africa, and what the books come up with isn’t pretty. But they are enthralling and entirely believable. His fiction is published in eight languages, he has won the German Crime Fiction Award, and been nominated for Spinetingler Magazine Best Novel awards. Every one of his books is an important event. The latest one is NOWHERE. It opens with the president of South Africa—high on cognac—murdering his wife in their dining room. As the cover-up progresses, a variety of characters are sucked into the aftermath.
I asked Roger about the book and his feelings about the “new” South Africa.
You’ve been called “the crime genre’s greatest tragedian” and, indeed, there aren’t many happy endings in NOWHERE. Is this the way you see South Africa in the 21st century or is this how things are anywhere in the “real world”?
South Africa’s contemporary history is a tragic one: Apartheid, the giddy Mandela era when it went from pariah of the world to a role-model for transformation and then the rise of the cynical, corrupt regime that is in power now. Not a happy ending. Well, not yet—we can only hope . . .
The plot is complex—it seems to be following two different and intriguing threads, but toward the end we see how they are linked and why. Do you plan out the plot in some detail before you write, or do you see where your ideas and the characters lead you?
I always start with an image, something vivid that comes out of someplace deep and dark and grabs me by the throat. With NOWHERE it was the image of the president of South Africa murdering his wife with a spear in the dining room of his official Cape Town residence. I couldn’t shake this image even though I had no idea where it would lead, but in order not to go crazy I had to find out. And the only way I could find out was to start writing. And then Steve Bungu appeared, and Joe Louw. I knew I wanted to bring Disaster Zondi into my ensemble cast (I’d enjoyed writing him in Mixed Blood and Dust Devils) but he located himself in Pretoria about to be sent off to arrest a right winger in the Northern Cape. I had no clue how his story would intersect with those of Bungu and Louw, I just had to believe that the links would appear. That’s how it is for me: I don’t write outlines, I mostly never know how my books will end, I let the characters jump out at me and drag me along with them, deep into their desperate and messed up lives. I don’t have to think too much, just go along for the roller coaster ride.
Trend Report: Can the New Short Capture Reluctant Readers?
By Dawn Ius
Hey, reluctant readers! James Patterson is gunning for you.
The author of 156 bestselling novels that have sold more than 300 million copies worldwide is poised to further expand his readership by launching a line of cheap, concise page turners that are “impossible to put down.”
Harkening back to the era of the dime store novel, Patterson’s BookShots are aimed at the 27 percent of Americans that haven’t read a book in the past year. Writers, take note.
“Unfortunately, people aren’t reading in the same way that they have in the past,” Patterson says. “While there are still wonderful stories out there, many people have turned away from books as an accessible form of entertainment.”
The hope is that this “Netflix generation” poised for a shot of pop culture will get their fix from these 150-page, $5 novellas, rather than the barrage of media forms competing for audience attention.
“BookShots are designed to help all of you fit reading into your busy lives,” Patterson says. “Books that you can read in an hour or two, and the plot will keep you engaged the entire time. It’s like reading a movie in one sitting—people will want to pick one of these up because they won’t be intimidated by the length, or ever bored by the plot.”
Boredom is subjective, of course, and Patterson’s concept isn’t entirely new. Many literary giants including Amy Tan, Margaret Atwood, Chuck Palahniuk and Stephen King, for instance, have succumbed to the lure of penning shorter reads for Amazon’s Kindle Singles program which has sold millions of “shorts” since the program’s premiere in 2011.
In the young adult market, novellas—typically in e-book form—have become a popular way to give fans an extra shot of a character or storyline while they wait for the next full length novel. Indeed, the concept dates back to the days of Edgar Allen Poe whose well-publicized comments about the importance of “rigorously plotted, short fiction” spanned an era of bite-sized entertainment.
A Game-Changing Female Protagonist
Brad Meltzer writes carefully crafted, high-stakes thrillers loaded with secret history. So he’s delivering a hot story to the thriller crowd while making legions of nerds very, very happy. (Their fact-checks on the Internet while reading Meltzer’s books often lead to loud exclamations of “He was right about that!?”) While not writing his bestselling novels, Meltzer also crafts nonfiction for adults and children and hosts History Channel shows. Oh, and he writes comic books.
Meltzer’s 2015 thriller, The President’s Shadow, featuring brilliant National Archivist Beecher White, was the third in a successful series. His latest book, THE HOUSE OF SECRETS, co-written with Tod Goldberg, introduces a new kind of main character for Meltzer: Hazel Nash. When she was six, her father taught her that mysteries need to be solved. Hazel’s father is Jack Nash, the host of America’s favorite conspiracy TV show, “The House of Secrets.” Even as a child, she loved hearing her dad’s tall tales, especially the one about a leather book belonging to Benedict Arnold that was hidden in a corpse. Now, years later, Hazel wakes up in the hospital and remembers nothing, not even her name.
Meltzer took some time to catch up with The Big Thrill and talk career, history, and the care and feeding of readers.
This book, without giving anything away, revolves around Benedict Arnold, a fascinating man from history and, of course, a traitor. You’ve written about Thomas Jefferson and George Washington in the past, both great men. How long have you wanted to put Benedict Arnold in a thriller?
For years. Truly. The last moments between Benedict Arnold and George Washington are among the most heartbreaking in U.S. history. When Washington learns what’s happened, he’s devastated. They say it’s the only time the father of our country is ever seen crying. But the craziest part is what happens next: Benedict Arnold writes to George Washington and asks his old friend for three things: 1) To protect Arnold’s wife Peggy, who everyone now wants to hang too. 2) He tells Washington that all of the commander’s aides are innocent and have nothing to do with Arnold’s treason. And 3), in one of the oddest requests a person could make in such a moment, Benedict Arnold asks that his clothes and baggage be sent to him.
Think about it. Benedict Arnold has just put a knife in the back of his best friend, become one of the most hated men since Judas, has basically abandoned his life, and his wife is in danger of being murdered—and what does he ask for? He wants his luggage. He even says he’ll pay for the expense of sending it. And for some reason, Washington obliges. It’s a moment no one can explain: Washington hates this man. He spends the rest of the war hunting him and calling for his death. So why in God’s name does he send Benedict Arnold a final care package? And what’s in this so-called luggage? To this day, no one knows the answer. As for my theory, it’s in THE HOUSE OF SECRETS, of course. (How’s that for a tease?)
By Rick Reed
William Lashner served as a prosecutor for the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., until he became a full-time thriller writer. This New York Times bestselling writer is the author of the Victor Carl series, which has been translated into more than a dozen languages, and such standalones as The Barkeep, which was shortlisted for an Edgar Award.
His skills as a lawyer shine through in his new standalone novel. THE FOUR-NIGHT RUN features criminal lawyer J. D. Scrbacek. He has just won the biggest trial of his career when an explosion cuts the celebration short. Was the bomb meant for him? Was it meant for his mobster client? No one in this seaside casino town knows for sure, but the smart money is on Scrbacek.
Scrbacek flees into a part of town known as Crapstown. Here he is forced to argue for his life before a jury of the forgotten and damned who have taken up residence in the underbelly of the city. The question becomes whether Scrbacek is lawyer enough to save his own skin. The answer to that question lies somewhere in his past, or possibly his sordid present.
What was your first experience with being a published writer? How did that experience influence your future writing?
The first time I stepped into my new editor’s office, she began telling me a story of a woman whose novel the editor liked but who refused to make changes and so the editor passed on the book and when it came out, it flopped. The editor spent a while telling the story, as if it was just something offhand she was talking about, but then she proceeded to tell me about the hole in my book that she had just bought. I got the message.
Maybe as a result, I have always been open and grateful for any editorial critiques. The whole goal of the rewrite—and I love rewriting—is to make the book as good as possible, and my editors are always partners in the process, not adversaries.
By J. H. Bográn
Since the publication of Stephen Martino’s The New Reality, anticipation for a follow-up has grown exponentially. The new installment, titled THE HIDDEN REALITY, doesn’t disappoint, and is another leap forward into the world Martino has created.
With The New Reality now in control of all nations, the brilliant doctor and inventor Alex Pella finds himself caught in a deadly power struggle between the tyrant who rules and the one who would. As he sets out on a mission to unravel the New World Order created by The New Reality, he must also face the hidden truths about his own genetic heritage, truths that are slowly destroying him. When he receives an ambiguous message supposedly sent from a man long dead, Alex learns the only way to win his battle against The New Reality is to defeat a long forgotten enemy nearly 2,500 years old.
The Big Thrill had the opportunity to catch up with Mr. Martino and ask a few questions about his books, his writing career, and what´s next.
Where did you come up with the idea to write your books?
I remember daydreaming in college over 20 years ago, thinking of different ideas that I wanted to write about one day. In fact, the initial idea for The Hidden Reality came to me while I was in history class learning about ancient Greece. The thought of recreating such a world and bringing it back to life mesmerized me. Plus, as the cultures of the Eastern and Western worlds collide once again, these historical topics are as apropos today as they were almost 2,500 years in the past. Though the pearls of wisdom conveyed in class that afternoon have been long lost in my memory, the inspiration I garnered from that professor still lives on and motivates me to this day.
What is even more interesting is that when I completed the class at the end of the semester, the professor wrote me a note, wishing me greatness in all my future endeavors. Ironically, this idea of greatness turned out to be a cornerstone of both my first and most recent novel, THE HIDDEN REALITY. Retrospectively, I can thank this great teacher for launching my eventual writing career and recognize him for all the inspiration he has given me throughout the years.
Author and clinical psychologist Mary Kennedy says she’s tried without success to psychoanalyze both her husband and their six neurotic cats. With a background like that, it seems fitting that she should write a mystery series in which characters meet to discuss the meanings of their dreams. Of course, I was intrigued by the idea. Who hasn’t listened to a friend describe a dream and felt a fascination at the sudden glimpse into his or her subconscious?
I expected to enjoy A PREMONITION OF MURDER, and I wasn’t disappointed. The characters are charming, and the author’s background in psychology gives her unique insight into her characters and their motivations.
Mary’s life has given her plenty of grist for her writing mill. She started her writing journey as a radio copywriter for a rock radio station in Nashville, which later provided fodder for her Talk Radio series. After a stint as a television news writer, she turned to middle grade fiction and wrote 35 books for Scholastic before moving on to young adult novels and finally to cozies. “Starting out in advertising was an advantage,” she says. “You learn to write quickly and meet deadlines.”
Mary has agreed to talk to The Big Thrill about her latest book, A PREMONITION OF MURDER.
Thanks for joining us today, Mary. Let’s start with a little background. What was the first thriller you ever read, and what about it made it memorable?
I began my love affair with mysteries by reading Nancy Drew and then graduated to Agatha Christie. There’s something captivating about writing (and reading) mysteries. I love the complex plots, the twists and turns, the white knuckle suspense. As my dear friend Carolyn Hart says, “Writing a mystery is like solving a puzzle.” It’s a wonderful field, always intriguing and full of challenges.
A PREMONITION OF MURDER is part of the Dream Club mystery series. What exactly is the Dream Club, and how did you come up with the idea for basing a mystery series on a group of women with a passion for dream interpretation?
I’m a clinical psychologist in private practice and my clients love to talk about their dreams. Freud believed that dreams are the key to the unconscious and that all our hopes and fears, wishes and desires can be found by analyzing dream material. I read a piece on dream clubs and thought it would be fun to write a series about a group of Savannah women who meet once a week to share their dreams and try to interpret them. In Nightmares Can Be Murder, the first book in the series, a dance instructor is murdered right across the street from the candy shop and the club members are horrified. And then slowly, the women begin to have dreams with strange images and symbols that seem to be related to the crime. Is it a coincidence or are they really uncovering clues to the killer? I leave it to the reader to decide.
What would make a retired, independently wealthy archaeologist want to leave the comforts of his retreat in Costa Rica, join forces with an accountant from the Bureau of Audits and Reclamation, and fly to Europe in search of a mysterious notion with no foundation in reality, all while being chased by nefarious killers from a secret society older than Herodotus? Well, for starters, the accountant is coercive and, oh yes—she’s a knock-out.
Harry Thursday has been in trouble before in Robert Walton’s first novel, Fatal Snow. Now THE MASK OF MINOS takes the reader through an allegoric story retelling Theseus’ journey to becoming the ruler of Greece. Along that path, he is besotted by enemies and finally battles the son of Zeus, ruler of Crete, father of the Minotaur—half-man, half-bull. With the aid of his patron god Poseidon, Theseus brings down the once mighty kingdom in a fiery earthquake, freeing all from its oppressive dominance. And so Harry Thursday battles the secret society known to only a few as the Hyperboreans in his attempt to find—and keep them from finding—the powerful mythical mask.
Give us some insight into THE MASK OF MINOS. What does your main character, Harry Thursday, do that is so special?
THE MASK OF MINOS is the story, really, of an ordinary man cast into extraordinary situations. He’s a man no more courageous and heroic than you or me. But one of the things that is so fun about writing novels is one’s ability to put such people to all sorts of trials, run them through a plague of hardships and see how their moral strength airs through it all.
But in THE MASK, Harry carries out his destiny quite well—he mans-up, if you will—and saves the day; he even gets to kill a few people—all in the name of justice, of course, despite the fact that his general attitude is sometimes inappropriately casual for the affairs in which he’s involved.
By Rick Reed
Rick Reed’s recent release, THE DEEPEST WOUND, is the third in a series of police procedural thrillers. He introduced Detective Jack Murphy and his partner, Detective Liddell Blsnchard, aka/Bigfoot, initially with The Cruelest Cut. The series continued with The Coldest Fear and now Reed has taken us even deeper into the belly of the serial-killer beast with THE DEEPEST WOUND.
Reed, a retired Detective Sergeant with the Evansville, Indiana Police Department, refers to himself as the “accidental author.” His writing career began when he captured confessed serial killer Joseph Weldon Brown. Along with distinguished writer, Stephen Walker, he co-authored the true crime book, Blood Trail, published by Kensington Books in 2005. Blood Trail is the true account of Brown’s murders.
Reed caught the writing bug and turned his attention to writing fiction. He states, “You can kill people, maim people, destroy lives, get married, get divorced, and no real person is injured. In true crime, someone is always injured, hence the story.”
In 2009 he convinced Kensington Books to read a fiction manuscript. Thus begun the Detective Jack Murphy series.
In THE DEEPEST WOUND Reed takes you backstage in the political arena of the criminal justice system, from the workings of the police department and prosecutors office to the news media where it is said, “If it bleeds, it leads.”
The story begins in Evansville, Indiana, when a couple is illegally dumping an old mattress and finds body parts outside of the local trash dump. It’s a weekend. Detectives Jack Murphy and Liddell Blanchard are attending an engagement party for Jack’s ex-wife. She is marrying the Chief Deputy Prosecutor, which gives Jack two reasons to hate the man. First, because he is taking away any chance Jack might have of reconciling his marriage. Second, the man is an attorney. Jack doesn’t like attorneys as a rule. But then Jack and Liddell are called to the crime scene.
When I was a kid, my parents gave me a dumbed down version of Dracula. It was the last book on my open-sided metal bookshelf, and I could see the cover from my bed. I remember clearly how the Count’s pale, grease-painty face would light up when lightning flashed during storms, and I remember pulling the covers over my head and telling myself there was nothing to be afraid of. Eventually I had to hide the book somewhere in the middle of the shelf, but even then I could feel it in there, looking at me.
Years later, when I was maybe 13 or 14 and visiting family in London, Tobe Hooper’s adaptation of Salem’s Lot came on the BBC, and I watched it with my sister. That night, while everyone else was asleep, I woke with a terrible case of food poisoning—a bad batch of fish and chips—and saw one of the murdered kids from the story floating outside, pale and black-eyed, scratching lazily at the third floor window of my grandparents’ flat. I was scared beyond the point of consolation that night, but the fear didn’t last—or it did, but in a way I found incredibly attractive and compelling. It was stories like Dracula and Salem’s Lot that dragged me into the field of horror, and I’ve never regretted it.
Since then, I’ve read dozens of vampire novels—most hopeless horror junkies have. Richard Laymon’s Traveling Vampire Show, Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain, Dan Simmons’ Carrion Comfort, Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, and many, many others. Each comes at the topic with its own agenda, and in some ways that’s the real lure of the vampire story—it’s adaptable. Some of the vampires drink blood, some drink energy, some drink fear. You can go anywhere with it, and you see even more evidence of this in movies like Let The Right One In, 30 Days of Night, The Lost Boys, and even in the Blade series. Hell, look at the Twilight books and movies and you’ll see how the simple equation of vampires with teen angst and sexuality can move mountains. Small mountains, maybe, but really, really profitable ones.
By Don Helin
After graduation from college, I entered the military, serving in Vietnam and other overseas tours as well as stateside assignments, including eight years in the Pentagon. The time in the Pentagon provided me ample material for my thrillers.
When I began writing fiction, it was natural, with my military background, to feature a military protagonist. My first thriller, Thy Kingdom Come, found my hero, an army colonel, fighting white supremacists. In the second, Devil’s Den, my hero was faced with the possibility of ghosts in Gettysburg as well as a struggle with the Irish Mafia. In the third novel, Secret Assault, my protagonist dealt with antagonists driven to right wrongs from a past war.
As I developed a theme for my next novel, I happened upon an article in the paper about sexual abuse against females in the military. My research showed the problem to be far worse than I had originally thought, and it also seemed to be growing.
For any young soldier, enemy attacks like those which occurred in Afghanistan and Iraq would have been stressful. However, I read one soldier’s story that she didn’t feel respected by the men around her. She was definitely considered the weaker gender, and the men in her unit had no problem telling her that.
When another female soldier returned home from Iraq, she said she didn’t realize how much things had changed. She came home to a stack of boxes and an almost 3-year-old who didn’t know her anymore. Her son couldn’t understand his mother’s disappearance and developed self-destructive tantrums and other behavioral problems. Not only is sexual abuse a problem, but statistically, the marriages of women enlistees are more than twice as likely as men’s to crumble.
In summary, over 20 percent of female VA patients who served in Iraq or Afghanistan reported sexual assault or repeated threatening sexual harassment that had occurred during their military service. By 2040, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that women will comprise almost 18 percent of all veterans. Therefore, it appears the effects from this problem will be with us for a long time.
By Kay Kendall
Did the recent release of the Panama Papers snag your interest? If it did, then you will be intrigued by THE RARE EARTH EXCHANGE, a financial espionage thriller that focuses on the world of high-frequency trading where manipulation and corruption reign. The author is Bernard Besson, a former top-level chief of staff of the French intelligence services and an eminent specialist in economic intelligence.
He opens his thriller after a vicious terrorist attack in France and the suspicious death of a past president of France causes panic at high governmental levels. Certainly Besson’s plotline was prescient when it debuted in France, and today one must note that the thriller’s events have become, alas, quite timely. The good guys race against the clock trying to discover who is pulling the strings in a fierce international battle to control rare minerals—the key to cutting-edge technology. Various intelligence agencies snipe at each other, impeding progress even though they are all fighting cyber terrorism. Besson shows that even if all the necessary information is gathered, you still can’t win at cyberwarfare unless you ask the right questions.
Now American publisher Le French Book, dedicated to bringing the best of French thrillers and mysteries to English-speaking readers, debuts THE RARE EARTH EXCHANGE in an English edition. Its translator, Sophie Weiner, answers questions for THE BIG THRILL audience about what it was like to translate this scary book about a globe-spanning confrontation that seems altogether plausible.
Ms Weiner how challenging was working with a text that is dense with geopolitical corruption, international high finance, and cyberwarfare?
Of course unlike the author, Bernard Besson, I’m no expert in any of these areas so it was a lot of new information to take in. But the glass-half-full side of me sees this more as an opportunity to learn, rather than a challenge. In fact, that’s one of the best parts about being a translator—with each project, you get to discover new topics and points of view through thorough background research.
By R.G. Belsky
Ellie Stone—the feisty, funny reporter in James W. Ziskin’s highly acclaimed series of thrillers—is a young woman in her 20s who works at a small-town newspaper and solves murder mysteries back in the early 1960s.
Author Ziskin is a man who has worked mostly in cities like New York and Los Angeles and was barely alive more than half a century ago, during the time period of his books.
So what was Ziskin’s inspiration for creating such a unique character as Ellie—who is back this month with HEART OF STONE, the fourth book in the series?
“I loved the time period but only settled on it for some practical reasons involving the first book in the series, Styx & Stone,” said Ziskin. “I needed a setting close enough to the end of World War II to allow for memories that were still fresh, yet far enough removed to blur the focus.
“The decision to make my reporter a young woman was an easy one since I wanted constant conflict for my main character. So I thought of writing about a woman and giving her a job women didn’t often hold in those days. Men are constantly dismissing Ellie’s competence and reminding her that she’s ‘just a girl.’ But the fact that people underestimate her is actually an advantage for Ellie. She uses it to great effect in her investigations.”
Ziskin writes the Ellie books in the first personwhich certainly presents some challenges for a male author. But he says it’s the best way for him to connect with the character of Eleonora “Ellie” Stone, a self-described “modern girl” who—despite the straight-laced times of the early ‘60s—likes to drink and occasionally ends up in bed with a man.
“I’m trying get into her head,” he said. “If I wrote her in the third person, I doubt readers would have the same emotional connection with her. And of course all writers observe people and create characters from their experience. These characters can’t all be the same sex as their authors. So maybe it’s a good thing once in a while that a male author creates a female narrator and tries to climb inside her skin.”
Published steadily since 1982, New York Times-bestselling author Karen Harper writes both contemporary suspense and historical novels. As the title of THE ROYAL NANNY suggests, her current release is a historical, but she never leaves her suspense roots. This novel is what author Alex Halley dubbed “faction,” a blend of real events and people with fictional dialogue. Domestic suspense is a growing subgenre today and this novel is that: from the secrets and tragedies of Britain’s ruling Windsor family to the betrayal that led to the brutal deaths of the tsar’s family, to an attack by a World War One I Zeppelin, Harper blends the domestic and the deadly in THE ROYAL NANNY.
Can you tell us what THE ROYAL NANNY is about?
This historical novel is the true story of the Cockney lower class nanny, Charlotte Bill, who reared the children of King George V and Queen Mary, grandparents of the current queen. Two of these six children are well known, the infamous King Edward VIII who gave up his throne and became the playboy and Nazi sympathizer, the Duke of Windsor; and King George VI, “Bertie” of The King’s Speech movie. But the royals chose to hide their sixth child, Prince John, “the Lost Prince,” one of the many mysteries woven throughout the novel.
What sort of situation did “The Royal Nanny” have in the Windsor household?
Actually, she was an outsider who was an insider, caught between the servant class but constantly mingling with the upper class. When I researched this book, it blew my mind that the Victorian and Edwardians let servants rear their children. Because the royals traveled so much and because the parents of that day had a “hands off” approach to their children (the children were presented all cleaned up once a day, usually before tea time) the nannies literally reared the next rulers of the empire.
When Winston Churchill died, he had one photo on his bedside table, not that of his mother, wife or daughter but of his nanny, who was actually his “emotional mother.” Charlotte was that to her royal charges, despite dangers and deceptions.
By David Healey
Joshua Hood may be a relative newcomer to the ranks of published authors, but he is one of those rare thriller writers who has lived more than a few of the experiences described in his military fiction.
Jumping out of airplanes? Check.
Duty in Iraq and Afghanistan? Check.
Combat experience? Check.
He served with the 82nd Airborne for five years, which included missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was decorated for valor in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Now out of the military, his day job still involves its share of excitement as a full-time member of the Memphis SWAT team.
Even while living the life of a thriller character, he never gave up on wanting to be a storyteller.
“I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” he said in a recent interview. “Very early on I developed this love for the written word. Being from the South, I think we’re all kind of natural storytellers.”
In WARNING ORDER, protagonist Mason Kane and other covert operators are in Syria, battling ISIS operatives. It is hard to know who to trust and where loyalties lie. This seems to be true among the American military operatives as well—the plot twists will keep readers off balance. Bullets fly off the pages of the urban combat scenes, described in graphic detail with the accuracy of someone who has been there. It’s worth noting that Kane has a particular skill with a custom-made combat knife.
The action is fast-paced, realistic, and tells a story that begins where the headlines end.
I read, with added delight, the thriller sub-genres that put an extra that could be me real-life layer of relatability in the story. Think about the espionage thriller that, as you read it, painted a picture of the dirty bomb taking out your hometown. Ever wanted to check your credit score after reading about a fictional hacker who steals identities? What about the trusted professionals in your life—policemen, firemen, physicians? Do you give them a second look after reading a novel where they use their training, and your trust, to do harm?
It’s the latter of those that give TYPE AND CROSS, from debut author J.L. Delozier, such intrigue. This is especially true when considering that the weapon of choice turns out to be blood cells—yours. According to Delozier, “I love medical anomalies—things that are on the cusp of being real or things that are real but have fantastical elements to them. I’m most comfortable in the realm of science. I never doubted that what I would write would be a science-based thriller.”
In TYPE AND CROSS, we’re introduced to Dr. Persephone Smith who battles a real-life medical anomaly of her own—enhanced (or pathologic) empathy. A person with enhanced empathy is, according to Delozier, “Much more perceptive than the average person, and they tend to take on the terrors of the world. They feel things so acutely that it’s distressful for them. I remember reading a case in medical school about a child who saw the news about starving kids in Africa, and she stopped eating. She starved herself to death. She had this pathologic empathy, and she felt it so terribly that she couldn’t put food past her lips.”
For fictional character Dr. Persephone Smith (Seph), her pathologic empathy means she can see inside the heads of criminals too twisted for other psychologists to unravel. But it also means, “Seph’s basic flaw is that she feels things so acutely, that she’s become this hardened—you could use the word criminal—soul herself.”
It started as an ordinary day for Jed Patrick: A quick run into town for gas and a few groceries. But ordinary was not what followed. Returning home he finds his wife in tears and his daughter gone—taken by people who want something from him.
Welcome to the world of Jed Patrick, a man with a complicated past. A past that continues to dog him unexpectedly and in ways not anticipated.
Jed is convinced he is doing all it takes to keep his family safe—new names, new location, new identity. But just when he thinks he finally has his life back, the unthinkable happens. Jed needs to find a way to use the classified information he possesses to dismantle the Centralia Project. But eliminating Centralia may require compromising his own values. As danger escalates Jed isn’t sure whether there’s anyone or anything he can trust—including his own senses.
Jed and his wife, Karen, and daughter Lily are living in the mountains of Idaho, far from the horrors of Centralia. Yes, the same Centralia that has been burning for years in rural Pennsylvania. But besides the untamable fires, Centralia was the secret base for a sinister plot using a form of mind control.
We first meet Jed in last year’s Centralia. Jed is mourning the loss of his wife and child in a car accident he has no memory of. But a constant nagging doubt keeps him believing they still live. A hidden note from his daughter leads him on a chase that ends in the smoldering town of Centralia, whose abandoned streets and homes are a cover for something far more insidious.
“When I began Centralia I wasn’t sure if it would be a series or not,” Mike Dellosso said. “But the further I got into the story, the more it became evident there would be more for Jed to do. He isn’t a once-and-done kind of hero. He’s useful, smart, cunning, and deadly. Someone, somewhere is always going to be wanting to either use him or kill him. When I completed Centralia I already had several story ideas for Jed.”
By Matt Ferraz
Having traveled around the word for twenty years as a DEA special agent, J. Todd Scott knows the drill when it comes to law enforcement procedures. With his upcoming debut novel THE FAR EMPTY, Scott creates a modern western environment, set in the small town of Murfee, in the Big Bend area of Texas. There, two men join forces to take down an untouchable figure that commands the town. Chris Cherry is a once promising high school football hero who has to come back to Murfee and become a deputy under the orders of Sheriff Standford “Judge” Ross. Caleb Ross, on the other hand, is Judge Ross’ son, and believes his father might be responsible for the death of his mother. Together, Chris and Caleb form an unlikely partnership to defy the sheriff, and find many skeletons in the town’s closets.
Scott already had the book’s opening line (My father has killed three men…) written down for quite some time, but only managed to carry on after deciding to set the story in the Big Bend. Instead of creating a straightforward period piece western, Scott decided to set THE FAR EMPTY in modern days, in order to tackle many of the issues he got to know during his years as a law enforcement agent, such as drug and alien smuggling and corruption. That meant a lot of research on the region, which also served the book’s two upcoming sequels, one of which is already finished.
Westerns being a cinematic genre by definition, Scott draws lots of influence from classic and spaghetti western, and also later movies like Unforgiven, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Appaloosa, as well as the True Grit and 3:10 to Yuma remakes. William Fridekin’s To Live and Die in L.A., adapted from a book by former U.S. Secret Service Agent Gerald Petievich was also an inspiration. The author wanted to do for the Big Bend what that movie did for Los Angeles.
But can all this roughness and grit affect the literary quality of a novel? “Ultimately, I want the places in my books to feel real, to seem truly three-dimensional, even if the characters that inhabit these places make dramatic and often unwise decisions,” the author explains. “I also try to capture some lyricism in language, even when I’m writing about darkness and violence. The descent of Duane Dupree in the course of the narrative as he succumbs to meth addiction is a prime example. In order to really show his mind’s inexorable disintegration, I put him through several vivid, dramatic hallucinations. It’s tough at times for Duane to know what’s real, and I imagine that’s true for the reader as well.”
New York City attorney Tom Breen’s second courtroom thriller, THE DEVICE TRIAL, will be released by Pegasus Books in early June. In this cliff-hanger, New York attorney Brian Bradford faces off against a large medical corporation and its sociopathic CEO in a dangerous battle of wills. Like his debut novel, The Complaint, Breen’s new release draws on his intimate knowledge of judicial proceedings to deliver a story rich in realism and complex characters. His unique touches include presenting trial testimony in the format of an actual trial transcript.
We interviewed Tom Breen about his new work.
What was the first thriller you ever read, and what about it made it memorable?
To Kill A Mockingbird. You might question my assessment of that book as a thriller. While the outcome of the criminal trial had little doubt, the reader was nonetheless spell-bound as Atticus attempted to expose the truth of what occurred between Mayella and Tom. The post-trial ramifications of Atticus’ trial questions continued the suspense even after the guilty verdict was announced.
The book was also memorable because it was one of the few novels that provided actual trial testimony of witnesses during direct and cross examination, with courtroom comments by attorneys and the judge. It provided me with the idea to create my own replication of an actual trial and deposition. I attempted to enhance the realism by bringing the reader inside the courtroom through trial testimony in a question and answer format that mimics an actual trial transcript, along with the Judge’s on the record comments and rulings. I may be the first to attempt this in a novel, beginning with The Complaint and then THE DEVICE TRIAL.
Your lead character in THE DEVICE TRIAL fights against an amoral insurance company, but he doesn’t always stay inside the law himself. What are you trying to achieve here?
Brian sees his role as doing what’s necessary to bring justice to his honorable cause. When faced with resistance, he pushes back regardless of the rules. Because his adversary operates outside the law, Brian believes he must follow suit to succeed. I wouldn’t teach this to a law school class, but hopefully it increases the entertainment value of the story.
By Terri Nolan
Sidney Williams is a self-proclaimed nerd with an oversized enthusiasm for creativity in all its forms; apropos for a professor of creative writing. His newest novella, DARK HOURS, features student journalist Allison Rose. Ali is the Associate Editor of the campus newspaper at Pine College, and takes her job seriously. On a stormy night the newsroom at the Evergreen Gazette is abuzz with campus issues: parking problems, condemned buildings, leaky roofs. But Ali is more interested in the rumor that an escaped murderer is hiding on campus. Students are on edge. But no one, not the cops, campus security, or even her editor, seem interested. Then she gets a text: You write good stories, Aligirl. Want an exclusive?
This thriller transpires in a single night, perhaps inspired by a dare. A number of years ago, another author urged readers to consume his novel in one sitting—and Williams took him up on the proposition. On a plane flight, he ran through the book in one sitting, and had a lot of fun. Now, Williams is challenging readers to sit down and become immersed in Allison’s world and experiences: to join in the descent into darkness.
As a reporter who worked the nighttime crime beat was there a particular incident that inspired DARK HOURS?
I covered quite a bit of crime and followed cops down some dark streets, but actually it goes back to when I was still a student. A jail break occurred at a county lockup, which in Louisiana is called a parish lockup.
Ten or eleven prisoners escaped at one time, a huge deal when you think about it. There were rumors that one escaped murderer was hiding out on the college campus. The period of fear that lasted until everyone was caught gave birth to a short story first, called The Exclusive.
What journalistic skills did you pass down to Allison?
My style as a reporter was laid back. I’d take it easy and let people start talking to me. Allison is a little more intense and driven. She’s tenacious and, in fact, can’t let go of things that matter to her. She can’t do half-assed on things that she cares about.
Maybe I share a little of that with her, though. I’ve gone to the mat a few times in my life over the principle things.
By George Ebey
Annette Dashofy brings us the next installment in her Zoe Chambers mystery series, WITH A VENGEANCE.
Chambers and the rest of rural Monongahela County’s EMS and fire personnel are used to wading into the middle of trouble to rescue the sick and the injured. But when someone with an ax to grind seeks retribution by staging accident scenes and gunning down the first responders, Zoe finds herself forced to not only treat her own brethren of the front lines, but also, in her role as deputy coroner, seek out whoever is killing her friends.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Dashofy to learn more about her series and what it takes to write an effective suspense story.
What first drew you to writing stories involving mystery and suspense?
I’ve always loved writing stories and I’ve always loved puzzles. Writing mysteries seemed a natural progression for me. I’ve tried writing other genres, but I still always end up with a dead body, so why fight it?
Tell us about your character, Zoe Chambers. What has her journey been like up to this point?
Zoe’s a paramedic, and she’s been good at that job right from the start. But she’s also taken on the position of deputy coroner, which has been a challenge and not at all what she expected. Over the course of the series, she has struggled with whether or not to continue with the coroner’s office. It’s been fun for me to take that journey with her, and for the first three books, I honestly wasn’t sure of how it was going to work out either! And of course, she’s still trying to figure out her relationship with Police Chief Pete Adams. Will they or won’t they? Stay tuned!
What elements do you feel are essential for a good suspense story?
Above all else, I think emotion. If the reader doesn’t get emotionally involved in the characters and the circumstances surrounding them, the most intricate plot won’t mean a thing. Also, I like a smart villain. If the protagonist doesn’t have a worthy opponent, I tend to lose interest. And in my own writing, if my villain isn’t clever enough, I sense something’s wrong in the story.
Connie DiMarco is well known for her Soup Lover Mystery series published by Berkley, writing as Connie Archer.
Now writing under her own name, she has started the Zodiac mystery series featuring professional astrologer and amateur sleuth Julia Bonati.
DiMarco is happy to turn from lighter cozies to “cozy noir.” It’s closer to the kind of books she liked to read when she was in high school: the James Bond series by Ian Fleming. She loved the James Bond character so much that she learned how to play baccarat.
Bond always finds a way out of any desperate situation. “James bond has all these gadgets and doodads,” she says. “But when push comes to shove, its always mano-a-mano for him. All the artificial things drop away and James is on his own.” The book that impressed her the most was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. ”That was the book in which James questions if he wants to continue [as a secret agent]. He falls in love and his wife is killed. It was so out of keeping with the usual fare, James was heartbroken and vulnerable. The shock of her death has always stayed with me.”
DiMarco found her agent, Paige Wheeler (at that time with Folio Literary), after cold-querying with an initial darker novel. While waiting for her own book to sell, Wheeler asked her if she would be interested in doing a work-for-hire. “I didn’t even know that that was,” says DiMarco. “But it was for Berkley, so of course I said yes.” Berkley sent her a concept, a one-page bible, and asked her to write some sample chapters. “They wanted the soup shop in Vermont, but the plot as they outlined it had a very dark tone. The protagonist had just lost her parents, it started in the darkest, deadliest part of winter. I decided that what the series needed was a little humor. They liked that and hired me to write the series.” She used the name Connier Archer, as Penguin retained the rights to the author name.
“In a series it’s important to have your characters evolve, not just chronologically, but emotionally.” The Soup Series amateur sleuth is Lucky Jamieson, the owner of a soup shop who has a personal relationship with most of the village’s residents. This gives her a natural “in” when it comes to solving murders. “I was a total novice when it came to writing a series. This is what I did, almost unconsciously: in each book, when evil arrived in the village it came from the outside. But it was connected to one of the core characters and some of [that character’s] secrets are revealed. A main character is introduced in the first book and some secondary characters, and one of the secondary characters becomes the lead in the next book and so on.”
By Wendy Tyson
In her FBI Heat Series, Marissa Garner expertly combines romance, action and suspense while tackling some tough, timely topics like terrorism and human trafficking. A talented author who writes multiple series, Marissa took time out of her busy schedule to sit down with The Big Thrill.
Congratulations on the upcoming release of your new book, TARGETED, the second book in the FBI Heat Series. Please tell us something about TARGETED that is not on the back cover.
I’m so excited about the release of TARGETED because it ramps up the edginess in this series. Imagine living with an al-Qaeda cell as an imposter. Every move, every word, can lead to discovery and death. Although TARGETED was written before the recent terrorist attacks, the similarities are surprising. The story also explores the unnerving possibility of cooperation between terrorist cells and Mexican drug cartels. You can read the heart-pounding first chapter on my website.
Your newest novel features FBI Special Agent Marissa Panuska, a woman as tough and resourceful as she is smart. Please share with us a little about Marissa. What events from her past helped make her the woman she is today?
Marissa’s family immigrated to the U.S. from the Czech Republic when she was a teenager. She speaks five languages fluently: Czech, English, Arabic, Spanish, and Russian. At the FBI Academy, her breathtaking appearance and fiery personality intimidated most of the recruits and some of the instructors. Marissa suffers with involuntary premonitions, which are eerily accurate warnings. She attributes them to the Bohemian gypsy genes she inherited from her mother—for lack of a better explanation.
Setting as Touchstone and Unforgettable Characters
A great detective never turns his back on a murder, even when he’s on vacation. John Farrow shows us how gripping such a mystery can be in his latest, SEVEN DAYS DEAD.
One reason this story will grip you is the sleuth: Detective Emile Cinq-Mars is based on an actual heroic detective from the past but, of course, he is fictionalized and brought into the present.
“The real guy from the ’50s beat people up,” Farrow says. “My guy doesn’t. Yet he does not compromise for the sake of expediency, or to conform to a superior’s command. Both officers, the real and the fictional, have operated within corrupt departments; they have recognized that fighting internal battles becomes as important as fighting crime on the streets. “
Cinq-Mars is judgmental, quiet, deliberate and firm in his self-expression. And he does not think of himself as a hero. But when long-held secrets start to emerge, he has to get involved. His murder investigation is somehow linked to a woman who has raced through a torrential storm at sea in a small boat to reach her dying father. Being a mystic, Cinq-Mars thinks differently than most people. All that might make you think this book would be character driven, but Farrow says character and plot are not to be separated out in his novels.
“As in real life, who a person is goes a long way to determining what happens,” Farrow says. “And what happens reveals who the person is. I don’t favor novels where the plot-line is such that if you removed a character and substituted someone else, everything could remain pretty much the same. That’s not true in life, and it’s not true in the fiction I prefer or in the fiction I write.”
The characters in SEVEN DAYS DEAD tell their story in an island off the coast of Maine. Farrow likes his stories to have a strong setting which, he says, can yield a number of benefits. It helps ground the story in reality, or at least in what feels real.
By Dawn Ius
Leanna Renee Hieber would never willingly tell you how hard the publishing industry is—though she’d have good reason. Like many authors, her road to success has been fraught with highs and lows: the struggle to find a publisher, the excitement in landing a deal, the despair when that deal went sour, and then the sheer determination to find another place for her work.
That effort paid off as STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL eventually sold in a three-book deal to Tor that not only restored Hieber’s faith in the industry—and herself—but also allowed her to go back to the story’s original vision. The result is a hauntingly beautiful romantic suspense for young adults that is peppered with well-placed horror and riveting gothic history.
Hieber often finds herself cheekily referring to the novel as “Victorian Ghostbusters” with action, adventure, mythology and an adorable love story—but that doesn’t quite do justice to the lyrical quality of Hieber’s stunning prose. If the novel’s journey to publication is not indication enough that this is the book of Hieber’s heart, the opening chapter alone provides convincing testimony.
In this interview with The Big Thrill, Hieber openly shares her journey to publication, the inspiration for STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL, and some sage advice for writers—or anyone, really—who has ever wanted to give up.
In STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL the reader is immediately brought into a world that is rich with description and atmosphere. I was blown away. What kind of setting research did you do for this book?
Emotionally and cognitively, I suppose it began with comprehending linguistic differences at an early age, distinguishing a varied vernacular between American and British English. I watched British television shows religiously (I’ve been a Doctor Who fan since Tom Baker, at the age of 7, so all of you who now think it’s cool, you’re behind the curve). I read Victorian novels in grade school and was entranced with anything “across the pond” as far back as I can remember. I grew up in rural Ohio with a soul far more familiar with old European cities.
My last year in college I was awarded a scholarship to travel to London for a senior project about Shakespearean theater spaces. Having always felt “called” to London, the moment I stepped onto its streets, I was home. I could feel the ghost stories. The air felt instantly familiar, like an old friend. Amidst walking tours focusing on ghosts and Jack the Ripper’s haunts, the beginnings of this book that would wholly change my life stirred my already overactive imagination to a fervor. I graduated from Miami University with a BFA in theater with a focus study in the Victorian Era. I can only describe my deep connection to the 19th century as being influenced by past lives.
The True Story of Dusko Popov—World War II Spy, Patriot, and the Real-Life Inspiration for James Bond
By J. H. Bográn
How to tell apart a James Bond movie fan from one who enjoys the books better? Simple. The latter is still upset that they changed baccarat for Texas Hold ‘Em in the 2006 version of Casino Royale. James Bond is the ultimate suave spy whom women desire and men want to emulate. But did you know that Ian Fleming based his character on a real person? It turns out that James Bond is not the amalgamation of several bits and parts from people like Frankenstein’s monster, but based on one individual who lived a dangerous life as a double agent for the British government, and whose exploits would rival those of his fictional counterpart. Ian Fleming met this man during a mission and watched an event that largely mirrored the gambling scene in Casino Royale.
Meet Dusko Popov, World War II spy, patriot, and the real-life inspiration for James Bond.
This tale of nonfiction written by Larry Loftis reads much like a novel, and a thrilling one at that.
The Big Thrill had the opportunity to interrogate Mr. Loftis this month. Note we didn´t use the words “ask questions” because this book is worth probing in more than one read.
How did this project come about? When did you first hear of this story?
I had started an espionage novel and wanted to do a little research so my story would be exciting and realistic. I began digging for the “greatest spy ever” and all roads led to Popov. The information was sketchy because so much has been classified until very recently, but what I read was incredible. This MI5/MI6 agent had done more in real life than I was making up! The more I learned, the more fascinated I became. I kept asking myself, “Why doesn’t anyone know about this man?” In short order, my historical fiction novel became a narrative nonfiction book.
Since I gather most of the people involved in this tale are dead, was research particularly difficult?
It made it a bit more difficult, yes. Fortunately, I had Popov’s memoirs and the interviews he had given before he died, as well as the thousands of pages in the MI5 and FBI files. And I had many online discussions with one of Popov’s sons, and “baby Misha,” who plays an interesting role in the book (I won’t spoil it here). The “baby” is now in his seventies and is as delightful as his father (Ivo Popov, agent DREADNOUGHT).
Returning to a Reader-Favorite Character 15 Years Later
Die-hard fans of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child will cheer now that the pair has finally written a sequel to The Ice Limit, a bestseller they wrote 15 years ago. Even better, they let their series hero Gideon Crew be the man to take us BEYOND THE ICE LIMIT.
In the fictional universe, it was only five years ago that Eli Glinn led a mission to recover a giant meteorite from an island off the coast of South America. The mission ended in disaster when their ship broke apart in a storm in the Antarctic waters and sank along with its unique cargo. Glinn survived, but was left paralyzed. The meteorite proved to be a living organism from space that now threatens the entire planet. So Glinn calls on Gideon to help destroy it, in part for his expertise with nuclear weapons, but also because he is a hero, if only in a bumbling, accidental sort of way as Douglas Preston would tell you.
“He’s a trickster and a clever, smooth-talking social engineer,” Preston says, “rather than a James Bond-type hero. He does not think of himself as a hero and is often confused and surprised when he succeeds.”
Still, he’s the man Glinn trusts. Readers can see that the relationship between Glinn and Gideon is complex and difficult.
“Glinn is a master manipulator and Gideon is acutely aware that he is being manipulated,” Preston tells us. “Gideon does not like Glinn at all, although he has enormous, if grudging, respect for him. Glinn, for his part, has only liked one person in his entire life and she is dead.”
You might wonder why Preston and Child returned to The Ice Limit after such a long break. Preston says it was fan response to that dark story’s enigmatic ending.
“At the time, we believed no further explanation of that ending was required,” Preston says. “But once The Ice Limit was published, we immediately began receiving a flood of letters and emails asking exactly what did happen after that final page. Even today, at virtually every book signing we do, someone asks us when on earth we’re finally going to write a sequel to The Ice Limit.”
After being introduced in The Ice Limit, Eli Glinn appeared in several more books in both Agent Pendergast and Gideon Crew series. Then, as characters often do, Glinn started talking to his authors, insisting that they tell the rest of the story.
“We realized that Eli and our readers were right: The Ice Limit absolutely demanded a sequel. And once we understood that, a fantastic and truly frightening idea occurred to us, which we ultimately developed into the central concept of this new novel.”
By Anne Tibbets
Beware the growl in the back of your throat…you could be a werewolf.
TO LOVE A WOLF brings to life the hidden world of a S.W.A.T. squad of werewolves as they combat the criminals of Dallas, Texas.
This fourth installment in Paige Tyler’s popular romantic suspense series, follows Landry Cooper, an explosives expert with a personal history, as he meets and romances an artistic soul, Everly, in a battle for truth and happiness.
Full of action, intrigue, and romance, readers who loved Hungry Like a Wolf, Wolf Trouble, and In The Company of Wolves, will be pleased to see how the S.W.A.T. squad has grown from untamed beasts to love-seeking soul-mates.
“Each one of them is simply a man looking for a woman who will accept them for what they are—a werewolf,” says Tyler. “They all realize it’s a tough sell, especially since the folktales say there’s only one woman in the world for each of them. We’re not talking about a one in a million woman here. For them it’s more like one in a billion. And if that isn’t enough for the pack to deal with, werewolves in our S.W.A.T. world aren’t turned from a bite or a scratch. Instead, they have a recessive gene that only turns on when they go through some kind of traumatic event. Experiencing those events with the guys helps the reader get closer to them. But at the same time, while they are a serious bunch, we use humor to make the guys more approachable. Some are wittier or snarkier than others, but they all have a funny side that comes out when they’re together.”
As well as delving into the team’s interpersonal relationships, TO LOVE A WOLF has plenty of what romantic suspense readers want—a killer love story—and the author and her co-writing husband, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I absolutely love Cooper and Everly’s story, from their cute meeting to their super sexy and romantic first date, to the explosive scene where Everly tells Cooper that she loves him and accepts him for what he is—and everything in between. It’s impossible for me to pick a favorite scene,” Tyler says. “Everything about their story is special and near and dear to my heart.”
Influenced by Suzanne Brockman and Kelley Armstrong, Tyler also credits Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files as inspiration for her work.
By Amy Lignor
“Writing is hard!” may have been one of the best lines ever stated by someone in this industry. But when it comes to author Bryon Quertermous, the “hardhat” of writing comes hand-in-hand with that of being an editor for others.
Quertermous chatted with The BigThrill this month to share his advice on writing, his future thoughts regarding the cyberpunk genre, a writer’s take on the benefits of the “Golden Arches,” as well introduce new work that will definitely have suspense/thriller fans begging for more.
Being an author and an editor, you wear two very different hats. Can you describe how easy/difficult it is for you to step away from your own work when it’s completed and let another editor take over?
It’s not difficult because I know when I’m too close to a manuscript for my own editing instinct to be of any value. If I had the luxury of putting every manuscript away for a year and then looking at it with fresh eyes, I might be more inclined to only trust myself. I’ve been lucky to have an editor in Jason Pinter who is great and mostly pushes me to try harder on the stuff I want to be lazy about, and who provides a different POV from the reader and industry side that I usually find inspiring.
Can you please tell readers a bit about your new release, RIOT LOAD, and what to expect from the tale?
On the surface, RIOT LOAD is about a sperm bank robbery. Failed grad student, lazy writer, and all-around trouble magnet, Dominick Prince, is guilted into a scheme to steal the frozen sperm of a dead man that quickly blows up into a turf war between violent factions of a fading Michigan crime family. But it’s really about fatherhood and the weight of legacies we put on ourselves. It’s also about how to deal with the boredom and expectations of actually achieving a major life goal too early in life.
Say there was a time capsule being put together by writers. What advice would you put in for the future author who happens to find that treasure and dig it up?
The best writing advice is timeless. It also borders on absurdly common sense. But I would imagine a writer of the future would be even more bombarded by technology and technological and societal distractions than even we are now, so I would give two variations on the best writing advice. Read a lot and read widely, and keep your head down and write a lot. I don’t care what they’ve invented in the future, this is still the only way to get better as a writer.
Mark Adduci, writing as J. M. LeDuc, is a native Bostonian who transplanted to South Florida in 1985. His first novel, Cursed Blessing, won a Royal Palm Literary Award in 2008 as an unpublished manuscript in the thriller category and was published in 2010. Sin, the first book in his Sinclair O’Malley series, introduces an exciting protagonist. O’Malley, called Sin, was recruited by the FBI straight out of Quantico for her intelligence and attitude and released by the bureau for the same reasons. Then they needed her back! Sin returns in PAINTED BEAUTY.
Where did you get the idea for PAINTED BEAUTY?
When I began thinking of where to take Sinclair O’Malley in book 2, I knew I had to escalate the tension from the first book. Well, that was a tall order, considering Sin dealt with human trafficking and corrupt government officials in book 1. I wanted her to face a killer so twisted and psychotic that even the killer had no control over his or her actions. I wanted the villain to tread the fine line between genius and insanity. That’s where the “artistic vision” of the character came from. I also wanted to hint at more of Sin’s past and the reasons she had originally been kicked out of the FBI. Finding and entwining William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience was a God-send. The words and meaning behind his poetry ended up being the driving force of the novel. From those basic premises, the other plot lines wove themselves in as Sin and the rest of the characters spoke to me.
How did you get into the mind of a twisted killer to write that character?
It was difficult at first. I did a lot research on serial killers and psychoses, as well as what personality traits and quirks they had in common. Once I came up with the underlying MO, it was easier to get into the mind of the character.
What kind of research did you do with the FBI and police?
I’m lucky in that regard. I still have a few contacts within the agencies from way back when. I’ll just leave it at that. The toughest part for me was that Sin is not a rule follower, so I had to have her break from protocol, while making it realistic.
Tim Baker is a debut novelist with a globe-trotting background and a CV to knock your socks off. I’m delighted to be the lucky girl who gets to interview him!
Tim, you’ve, quite literally, ”seen the world.” How did a globe-trotting Aussie boy end up in the south of France?
I left Australia to live in Rome when I was 23, and whilst there I heard about a friend of a friend who needed someone to look after a place in the centre of Madrid. Who can say no to a freebie like that? However, after a year, it became harder to renew my Spanish residency visa, and I needed to leave the country for three months.
So I headed up to Paris, not realizing what magic and possibility was awaiting me there. Writing gigs and a wonderful rent-controlled apartment quickly came my way. My philosophy has always been that the unexpected is something that’s meant to be: you just haven’t received the memo yet. Marriage, the birth of my son, and a “real job” at the Australian embassy followed. When we heard by chance about a place on the Riviera becoming available just as our son was finishing middle school, we said yes. Yes is always easier to say than maybe or later.
What inspired you to start writing FEVER CITY?
I stumbled across a sound archive of the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby and heard two things that shocked me. Were they proof of a conspiracy? Up until that moment, I had always believed that Oswald was the lone gunman, but if there was a conspiracy to kill Oswald, surely that suggested a conspiracy to kill JFK as well. I started doing research and was amazed that what I had heard in that recording had been missed by everyone else. I was on to something new. I started writing…
THE LAST TIME SHE SAW HIM is the debut pulse-quickening story from debut author Jane Haseldine. She’s taken time out to tell The Big Thrill about the inspiration behind her story.
THE LAST TIME SHE SAW HIM sees journalist Julia relive a horrific experience from her childhood. Where did you get the inspiration for this storyline?
The book isn’t based on any specific crime. But for me, the worst stories are the ones about children who are victimized, abducted, or hurt in any way.
For the book, I thought a lot about what scares me the most, and that is anything bad happening to my children. But then I started to think, what if a person had already endured a similar tragedy? How would they cope? Julia is powerless as a seven-year-old child when her brother is abducted, but when her son goes missing, I thought a lot about whether she would break down completely, or be balls-out fearless, ready to risk anything, including her own life, to get her little boy back. In this case, Julia is still broken from her past loss, but she’s relentless when it comes to saving her child.
Julia is quite a strong minded woman – is she a character you enjoyed writing?
I did enjoy writing about Julia. She has a very tough exterior, but that’s because she had to create an impenetrable wall around herself when she was a little girl just to survive. She grew up in poverty and neglect. Her mother was an alcoholic and her father was a con man, and they abandoned her after Ben was abducted. Her brother was the only good part of her life, and that was taken away. Julia is a good, if not ultra-overprotective, mother to her two sons. Internally, she is vulnerable though and struggles with feeling that she isn’t good enough for the stable life she worked hard to create for herself.
There are some extremely unpleasant characters, particularly the Reverend, can you tell us about him?
When we meet Cahill, he’s serving time for tax evasion and for having sex with underage girls, which came to light because of Julia’s coverage. Cahill was once one of the most popular pastors in Detroit, combining ultra-Christian conservative values along with a hard shell of cool, as a tattooed, Harley-driving pastor who once buzzed through he streets of Detroit wearing a “God’s Soldier” on his helmet.
By Marcus Sakey
Rather than ask each other the same questions via email, authors Marcus Sakey and Johnny Shaw decided to have a conversation on the phone with no set plan. No prepared questions. They just let the conversation go in whatever direction it headed and made notes as they went.
This had nothing to do with both of them being unprepared for the interview or forgetting the deadline until the last minute. Absolutely nothing to do with that.
The following is a sampling of a conversation that was mostly laughing. Attribution didn’t seem necessary as neither author was great at keeping notes or really wanted to take credit for what they said.
ON THE PROCESS
“The process sucks. It’s also awesome. That’s the baseline, I think.”
“The thing is, I’m not really talented. I’m not a good writer. Honestly, my first draft reads like an illiterate ogre just started typing with their thumbs.”
“You’re a shitty first drafter.”
“Oh. Oh, man. Yeah. But with that draft I get the shape of the thing. Which is what I need to fix it. Then I just do a ton more drafts.”
“I’ll go 30 pages in the wrong direction. It’s part of my process. It sucks, but it’s part of my process.”
By E.M. Powell
They say the best things come in threes but with regard to my most recent reads, I have to disagree—they come in twos. I say this because two new romantic suspense novels from Mary Burton landed in my lap, VULNERABLE and THE SHARK. VULNERABLE is book #4 of her Morgans of Nashville series, while THE SHARK is book #1 of her Forgotten Files series.
In VULNERABLE, forensic technician Georgia Morgan and Detective Jake Bishop are working a cold case. Three teens have disappeared on a hike and only one was ever found, injured and suffering from amnesia. When another woman’s body is found, it leads to the missing teens’ remains and the unravelling of deadly secrets that ensnare Georgia too.
THE SHARK introduces us to Virginia state trooper Riley Tatum and former FBI agent Clay Bowman. Riley’s past as a teenage runaway and victim of a horrible crime comes back to threaten her again with an unsolved case of a serial killer nicknamed the Shark—and she is his next prey.
As one would expect with Burton, both are terrific, suspenseful reads. VULNERBALE is of course the last in a series. I haven’t read the other three but it didn’t detract at all from its impact as it works as a standalone novel. Great for me as a reader, but I asked Burton if coming to the fourth in a series is a challenge to her as a writer.
“I love writing first and last series books for different reasons,” she says. “What’s great about writing the final book in a series is that I know the characters and even the setting really well. Here the challenge is to go even deeper, to discover new facets of the characters’ personalities by again testing their abilities and strengths. I also look harder at the setting for elements that will not only surprise me but also my readers.”
I can certainly concur with the surprise element—there was a lot I certainly didn’t see coming. I can guarantee plenty of shocks in THE SHARK, too, the first in the Forgotten Files series. Starting a series brings different demands for Burton.
By Dawn Ius
From it’s chilling opening scene through to it’s shocking end, Anne Redisch Stampler’s HOW TO DISAPPEAR reads like a textbook of how to pen the ultimate cat and mouse chase for young adults.
The story moves at breakneck speed through the compelling alternating points of view of of a young girl on the run from a murder she may or may not have committed, and the boy who’s sent to kill her.
In this interview with The Big Thrill Stampler talks about her somewhat rocky transition from writing picture books to thrilling young adult suspense, how “dark” she’s willing to go, and the role of humor in the thriller genre.
Prologues can be tricky, but your opening scene is so rich with suspense and atmosphere, it sucks the reader in. What is the key to an effective prologue?
Thank you! Given that the forces of One-Size-Fits-All Writing Advice have it in for prologues, I feel quite protective of the poor things. In my prologues, I try to establish the feel of the book, the voice and tone, in the course of suggesting a terrifying incident that makes the reader go What???? Ideally, awareness of that incident will color the experience of reading the story, and heighten the desire to unearth the story’s truth.
You did a fantastic job of keeping the alternating voices of Jack and Cat distinct, something that is much harder than people often think. Was one character easier to write? How did you navigate the process?
This is hard to explain without sounding crazy or, at very least, more than slightly eccentric, but my writing process involves pretending to be the character from whose perspective I’m narrating. So working with two alternating first person narrators got a little bit tricky. With the first draft, I tended to spend each day as one character or the other—not both—so that I could be fully immersed in that person’s emotions and language. That said, while I like to think the characters’ voices developed organically, entirely as a result of who they are as (imaginary) human beings, I did come up with a mental—and later a written—cheat sheet with the details of each one’s speech.
In terms of which character was easier to write, definitely Cat. Even though in many respects I’m more like Jack than I am like Cat, gender trumped in terms of what I was sure I had right the first time through.
By Brad Parks
Allison Leotta is a former federal sex-crimes prosecutor in Washington, D.C. who now writes kickass, ripped-from-the-headlines thrillers. She has been called “the female John Grisham.” She has also been called “someone who tolerates Brad’s presence at the bar at ThrillerFest.” Therefore, they decided to sit down for this electronic chat about her latest novel THE LAST GOOD GIRL.
We’ll get to the serious subject of this terrific novel in a moment. But first: You write at your kitchen table. In order to be more in tune with you, I am writing this interview at my kitchen table. I can report it’s a typical day for my kitchen table, which means it currently contains: my children’s breakfast dishes and their contents (unfinished oatmeal, half-eaten biscuit); a stack of baseball cards; a purple sweater; nation cards from the board game Axis & Allies; some bills (unpaid, of course); and a plastic Minny Mouse cup that has some kind of bug crawling on the rim. What’s on your kitchen table right now?
Lovely! The bug is a nice touch. I’ve got: a glass bowl full of murky water and one immortal goldfish. A vase of dessicated flowers from my husband, to mark our (14th!) anniversary. I should clean it out, but there’s something about dead roses that’s perfect for a mystery writer (and, ok, honestly, it’s pretty far down on my to-do list; I’ll get to it after I change the poor fish’s water). Paint pens for my kids to decorate the Little Free Library we just installed in our yard. A game of Monopoly, mid-play (I’m the thimble, losing big time to my 9-year-old mogul, the cat). Soggy Cheerios, obviously.
Learning how to lose graciously at Monopoly is one of the real keys of parenting (hint: when you land on Park Place, say, “Oh, that’s okay. I’ll pass.”). How do you concentrate with all that crap around you?
I don’t. I’m at Starbucks. I appreciate that you know about my beloved kitchen table, but I’ve made some changes. Ever since I saw a kid steal a computer right from under the hands of a coffee-shop patron WHILE the poor woman was typing, I’ve been remarkably productive in public places. You know the old ass-in-chair advice for writers? Well, nothing keeps your ass in that chair better than the fear of losing your laptop to the local heroin addict. I write like a demon at Starbucks.
Yes, but the barista still thinks his fan fiction is better. Switching topics… Up until five years ago, when you walked away from a perfectly good job at the Justice Department to write novels—crazy! who does that?—your professional writing experience consisted of legal briefs. After five years as a novelist, how has your writing changed?
I get paid less for it.
Tracking a Killer and Facing Down the Past
By Alex Segura
Even as a series pushes forward, there’s always an opportunity to go back to the beginning. Author J.T. Ellison manages to do both in her latest Lieutenant Taylor Jackson thriller, the menacing and intense FIELD OF GRAVES. With a serial killer on the loose in Nashville, readers are left to ride along with cops that seem just as damaged as the madman trying to speed up a nightmarish future. Jackson and some of Ellison’s most memorable characters join forces to not only defeat the killer—but to fight back their own haunted pasts. Ellison, a New York Times-bestselling author, keeps you on edge with stellar pacing and lively characters. Coupled with some surprising peeks into the history of some of her key characters and fans will not want to skip on the dark, haunting GRAVES. We had the pleasure of talking about the book and what’s next for the prolific Ellison.
What was the first thriller you ever read, and what about it made it memorable?
I read a lot of Tom Clancy back in the day, but the first thriller I remember getting really excited about was Nelson DeMille’s The Charm School. I loved the idea of the wolf in sheep’s clothing, a theme I explore over and over in my own work. Also, because of the imminent Russian threat to the U.S. (I actually took a class on global thermo-nuclear war my freshman year of college), I decided I wanted to join the Foreign Service and do my part to end the threat from abroad. I was on that path when I met my husband (who was, oddly, a CIA recruit at the time). Neither of us took it any further, though. So a life-changing read, indeed.
Definitely. What can you tell us about your writing process?
Schizophrenic, at the moment. Because of terrible scheduling on my end, I have my hand in several projects right now. I’ve given up on any sort of steady progress on anything and instead have been putting out fires, snatching whatever writing time I can. But when things are calm and normal, I keep shop hours. I do business in the morning and write in the afternoon. I am not a morning person, so this works well for my creative flow, which doesn’t hit its peak until 4 or 5 in the afternoon. When I open the manuscript, I reread what I wrote the previous day, edit it, fix any lingering issues, decide which scene I need to get out of my head, and go from there. I shoot for the whole scene, which generally is a chapter, or 1000 words, give or take. I research while I write, for the most part. I am a terrible taskmaster. If I stay on myself, I can write two books a year comfortably, three if I push it. I’m pushing it right now.
Tell me about FIELD OF GRAVES—what was the inspiration behind it and why did you find you needed to tell this story now?
The inspiration—I wanted to write crime fiction like John Sandford (here we are again, being influenced by another life-changing thriller.) I wanted a female homicide lieutenant who was half cop, half rock star, and Nashville had to be very integral to the story. So I wrote a novella, which was awful, then wrote Field of Graves, which wasn’t horrible. It was my very first full-length novel. (And yes, this all happened a decade ago. Which is wild.)
Field of Graves landed me my agent but didn’t sell, so I put it in a drawer, jokingly called it “my 80,000 words of backstory,” and wrote the next book in the series, All The Pretty Girls, which was my official debut. Field of Graves introduces Nashville homicide lieutenant Taylor Jackson, and the case of the University Killer results in Dr. John Baldwin, FBI profiler, joining the team. It’s the origin story for Taylor and Baldwin, and for Samantha—a prequel to both their series.
By Dawn Ius
Mary Kubica didn’t start out writing psychological suspense. In fact, the New York Times bestselling author—often dubbed by her peers as a master of the genre—says when she completed her first novel, The Good Girl, she wasn’t even sure how to categorize it.
“Because I don’t plot my novels in advance and prefer them to unfold on their own, even I’m often surprised by the way the stories turn out,” she says. “But more so, I’m intrigued by those somewhat shrewd attributes of psychological suspense—the unreliable narrators, the sleights of hand, and more. I love surprising myself and my readers.”
Kubica continues to surprise readers with her third novel, DON’T YOU CRY, a pulse-pounding tale of deceit, obsession, and yes, riveting psychological suspense. The story follows Quinn Collins on her quest to find her missing roommate Esther Vaughan, who disappears from their Chicago apartment one day, leaving behind a haunting My Dearest letter found amid her possessions.
Meanwhile in a small town outside of Chicago, dishwasher Alex Gallo’s crush on a beautiful stranger quickly spirals into something far more dark and sinister than he could have ever imagined.
And when these seemingly separate storylines collide in a spellbinding ending that will leave you gasping for Kubica’s next book, you’ll wonder how you didn’t piece together the mystery yourself. The reason, of course, is the result of Kubica’s deft skill in peppering in subtle clues to the mystery, and creating characters that truly leap from the page—even if they’re not entirely trustworthy.
“The unreliable narrator is one of my favorite aspects of a good psychological suspense,” Kubica says. “The role of the narrator is to carry us—the reader—along on this 300-and-some page journey, and knowing that some may be unreliable creates this constant sense of discomfort in the reader in the very best way. As the reader, we’re not sure who we can and cannot trust, and it keeps us on edge during the entire experience, being cautious not to put our faith in someone who may deceive us in the end.”