Into the Wild
By Dawn Ius
Jenny Milchman doesn’t write to formula, but admits that each of her novels share commonalities—ordinary women with believable flaws, husbands that suck, the fictional town of Weedskill nestled among the mighty Adirondack forest, and the vital role that setting and atmosphere can play in creating suspense.
Those factors come together with startling effectiveness in Milchman’s latest release, WICKED RIVER, a standalone wilderness thriller that will give you pause next time you drag out that camping gear.
“It became very clear to me with this novel that I think of the environment as a character,” Milchman says, noting that while the town mentioned in the book is made up, the landscape around it is very real. “The details about the area are pretty accurate—many of them based on some spotty experiences I’ve had in my life.”
That said, Milchman’s stint as a Girl Scout, or a handful of trips downstream in her canoe, don’t fully account for the authenticity in which Milchman brings to life the potential terrors of that vast wilderness world—that depth of truth comes from what can only be described as “sinking into the story.”
For Milchman, that’s the key to a good novel.
Out-Holmesing Sherlock Holmes
There’s an adage in Hollywood to this effect: When a producer is looking for a new property to turn into a film or TV show, he or she wants a story that’s been wildly successful in the past, yet has never been seen before.
We chortle—who doesn’t love to snicker a bit at the movie biz?—but there’s some truth to the words, and, in fact, I embrace them in my own philosophy of writing. The “successful in the past” part (I won’t go so far as to say “wildly”) is my sticking to the Deaver formula for a book, an approach my readers expect. First, I write thrillers (in the crime story world, thrillers ask the question: “What’s going to happen?” as opposed to murder mysteries, a la Agatha Christie, which ask “What happened?”) I set my books over a very short period of time, perhaps three days or so. I include what I hope readers will consider interesting facts about a specific topic, like data mining, illusion and sleight of hand, the electric grid, or—in the case of my recent The Cutting Edge—the diamond industry. I always include at least three surprise endings.
By Dawn Ius
By its very nature, fiction is a means of escape, stolen moments in time that allow us to forget the day-to-day reality of a world often shaken by technology, politics, and fear. And to some extent, the further away from “today” the better.
Which may, in part, account for why over the past few months, the historical suspense genre has experienced an upswing in popularity.
“It seems to me that historical thrillers have always been popular, but maybe they’re getting more attention because readers want to escape from the modern world as much as I do,” says David Morrell, bestselling author of almost 30 novels, including the Thomas De Quincey Books of historical suspense. “That means authentic details, of course, and not just characters wearing strange clothes.”
It’s those details—along with Morrell’s desire for an escape from present-day reality—that lured him from the contemporary thriller genre where his book First Blood created a pop culture phenomenon in Rambo—to 1850s London.
“With Murder as a Fine Art, Inspector of the Dead, and Ruler of the Night, I immersed myself and discovered that 1850s London was more different, weird, and unexpected than I could ever have imagined,” he says. “How much did a prosperous woman’s clothes weigh, for example? 37 pounds, because of the weighty hoop and the many yards of ruffled fabric necessary to cover the hoop. But you won’t find that kind of detail in contemporary novelists such as Dickens, because they took it for granted. I enjoyed finding these kinds of undiscovered treasures and trying to make a reader say, ‘Gosh, I didn’t know that.'”
On the Run, Discovering the Truth
For August Thomas, the love affair with Turkey began in 2007, when she was 16. With her mother, they traveled 2,400 miles across the country, from the bazaars of Istanbul to the underground cities of Cappadocia and the ruins of Ephesus. “We watched dervishes whirl in a rose-covered caravanserai, ate fresh lamb by the roadside, took a ferry across the Dardanelles to the ruins of Troy, and drank scorching glasses of tea in the gardens of the sultans’ palace.”
She returned at 18 to study Turkish in Ankara, then again at twenty-one as a Fulbright Scholar at Bogazici University in Istanbul, and finally at twenty-four to bear witness to a nation in uproar.
She poured this all into LIAR’S CANDLE, the story of a young summer intern named Penny Kessler at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, who barely survives a bomb that kills and injures hundreds. For reasons she doesn’t understand, there are those who believe she may have played a part and the situation escalates rapidly, as the CIA, State Department, and Turkish government all pile in with their own agendas, intensely interested in what she may know or, worse, may tell. Forced to go on the run, the clock ticking, she must dig deep to discover the truth, not only about the terrorist attack and the treacheries of those in power but also about what she herself is made of.
At one point, Penny is told, “You notice things,” and that is true of the author as well. The book is filled with the details of Turkish life, from the unique gesture for “no” to the interiors of Turkish houses, and the politics of wearing a headscarf. “By the time I wrote the book,” she says, “I’d been traveling in Turkey for a decade. I’d studied at Bogazici and been an extra on a godawful Turkish soap opera. I knew Turkey. The challenge was really when to stop adding details so they didn’t get in the way of the plot.”
Engulfed in Turmoil
Paul Mendelson is a man of many talents: writer, interviewer, actor, script-writer for theatre and television. He is also an expert on bridge and poker, and has written more than a dozen books as well as regular newspaper columns about them.
Mendelson is passionate about South Africa and he’s been visiting Cape Town for 25 years, so when he decided to write a crime fiction novel, he chose Cape Town as the setting.
“The cultural and political background of the country is fascinating for an author and, despite my characters seemingly facing increasing problems, I remain optimistic for South Africa…” he says.
His debut Vaughn de Vries thriller—The First Rule of Survival—was described by Lee Child as: “An excellent, uncompromising crime thriller made even better by its setting.” The First Rule of Survival was an immediate success and was shortlisted for the most prestigious U.K. crime fiction award. It was followed in 2015 by The Serpentine Road and The History of Blood in 2016.
Last year the fourth in the series, APOSTLE LODGE, came out. A group of boys discover the body of a woman who seems to have been abused and then starved to death in an empty house, Apostle Lodge. Because of the circumstances, Vaughn immediately suspects that it’s not a single crime but part of a series. He finds it hard to attract the focus the crime deserves because a terrorist bomb blast has recently shaken Cape Town and the police are hunting for the perpetrators. As the cases progress, Vaughn finds himself sucked personally into both of them.
If you think serial killer thrillers are formulaic, APOSTLE LODGE will change your mind. It’s a very different and intriguing take on the subgenre.
A Heroine of Great Importance
Some fans of Downton Abbey are obsessed over Lady Mary’s marriage and romances, the travails of her sister or the quips of Dowager Cora. Not writer Mariah Fredericks. “I watched Downton solely for the downstairs stories,” she says. “I thought the most compelling, moving couple in the show was Carson and Hughes; forget Mary and Matthew or Mary and her interchangeable brunettes.”
So when Fredericks decided it was time to write her own historical mystery, she created a heroine who was very much downstairs. The result is a compelling story of a maid in 1910 New York City, employed by a family with riches but not a lot of culture. A murder in the Gilded Age circle reverberates in ways no one could have imagined. Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying, “The novel’s voice, plotting, pace, characterization, and historical background are all expertly crafted…”
We asked Fredericks more about her novel A DEATH OF NO IMPORTANCE.
You’ve written some wonderful YA novels. What led you to write an adult book?
Thank you. I ran out of adolescent angst. After eight books, I had mined every last horror story of my teen years. With the exception of my one summer at sleep-away camp. One day, I may have the courage to put that experience on paper.
I also love history and that can be a hard sell in young adult novels. They’ll let you kill any number of people, but if you set the murders in the past as opposed to a fabulous movie-ready dystopia, it’s problematic. So when I realized I wanted to write a mystery from a servant’s point of view and that the context was going to be certain aspects of American history, I knew it had to be an adult novel.
A Protagonist Who Crosses Time
In the novel Maisie Dobbs, a young maid with a secret thirst for learning volunteers as a nurse in World War I and then becomes a fledgling private investigator. Published in 2003, the mystery was highly successful, with Library Journal pointing out that “World War I is a major theme in the book.”
This spring, the thirteenth novel in the series, TO DIE BUT ONCE, was published. In it, Maisie Dobbs, now a successful investigator, takes on a case of a young man missing from his job as a painter employed by the military in a mysterious capacity. England is at war with Germany … but now it’s World War Two. The novel rapidly hit the bestseller list, with reviews such as this in the Wall Street Journal, saying, “The wartime details … transport us with ease to a milieu where danger is omnipresent but—thanks to the presence of steadfast figures like Dobbs and her like-spirited colleagues—so is hope.”
The question arises: did author Jacqueline Winspear carefully plan her main character’s progression from one world war to the next?
It turns out, not at all.
Winspear says, “When I first wrote Maisie Dobbs, I was just writing a story that was in my head—I had no plans for a series. It was only when the book went into production and my then editor asked me about ‘the next book in the series’ that I sat down to plan what I wanted to come next, and how I wanted to share a series of novels—but at that point I had not envisaged taking the novels to World War Two.” more »
The Art of Being Ghoulish
By Dawn Ius
“It’s hard to pinpoint the exact alchemy of color, design, smarts and emotion that leaps off the page when you encounter good pop art, but whatever it is, the work of Gary Pullin qualifies, with a visual punch that lingers in the mind.”
So begins Larry Fessenden’s introduction to GHOULISH, a riveting and beautiful expose written by April Snellings into the life and art of the iconic Gary Pullin, an artist whose work you have certainly seen—and by which you’ve no doubt been affected.
For Snellings, the true impact of his art dates back to 2009, when Pullin illustrated the cover of Rue Morgue’s Ray Harryhausen’s tribute issue.
“It’s a mash-up of some of Harryhausen’s most memorable creatures,” Snellings says. “The Cyclops from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, the skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts, the rhedosaurus from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, etc.—and it just leapt off the newsstand at me. I knew I had to write for Rue Morgue, got in touch, and had my first assignment by the end of that year.”
Creating the Perfect Villain
By R.G. Belsky
Raymond Benson is the author of six James Bond novels, but he loves writing about FBI agent Annie Marino – the character from his new thriller IN THE HUSH OF THE NIGHT – even more than 007.
“She’s the head of the human trafficking unit in the Chicago field office,” says Benson, who wrote the Bond novels from 1996-2002. “Smart, tough, and single—and she takes tap dancing lessons outside of work for fun. I was fortunate to be able to spend time with the real head of the human trafficking unit in the FBI Chicago field office, and she read the finished manuscript. She said I ‘nailed it’, so if I never receive any other praise for the book, that will be enough.
“I always prefer writing my own original books and my own characters to writing for established series. The latter is good work-for-hire bread-and-butter money, and that’s why many of us ‘tie-in’ writers do it. But the original books are more satisfying.”
IN THE HUSH OF THE NIGHT takes a harrowing look at the issue of human trafficking of women – focusing on the plight of a pretty young Russian woman named Yana whose dream escape to America quickly turns into a nightmare.
Making Miami His Own
Miami is a city that everyone feels like they know, even if they’ve never set foot there. It’s alternately a vacation paradise and a dangerous town generating national headlines. Miami definitely dominates television series and films, with its beaches, palm trees, and South Beach glamor. And then there are the novels set there, a cottage industry all its own.
But for Alex Segura, who now lives in New York City, Miami is something very particular. The author of the Pete Fernandez mystery series says, “I was born and raised there, and I try to keep my connection to Miami as strong as I can, living somewhere else. We visit as often as we can, and so that keeps me tuned in to how Miami today is different from the Miami I knew as a resident. But my South Florida is just that: mine. It’s based on my experiences as a kid who grew up in the suburbs and experienced Miami as a place where I lived, as opposed to a tourist destination or vacation spot. It was home.
“I feel like a lot of books default to the ‘Florida Man’ and ‘wacky Florida’ side of things—which is fine, and there’s an audience for that—but I wanted to drill down and explore the city as I remember it and experience it, as this beautiful, tropical place that has a seething, dark undercurrent, as a place that isn’t just about beaches and relaxing but a sprawling city with a variety of neighborhoods and people with different cultures and perspectives. Miami often finds itself at the nexus of national and worldwide stories and is loaded with amazing characters and shocking crimes—so I wanted to bring a little bit of that up to the surface. My books deal with Pete’s past and his family’s past a lot, but they also do the same for Miami—the past and the city’s history cast a long shadow over the series.”
It’s a treatment of the city that clearly works, with the latest novel in the series, BLACKOUT, winning a tidal wave of advance praise. “One of the most anticipated crime, mystery and thrillers of 2018,” says Lithub.
Pete Fernandez is a Miami journalist, specifically a sports reporter, who has left the newsroom behind to become a private investigator. On creating the character, Segura says, “He kind of showed up fully-formed, which I realize isn’t a sexy answer. Before I started writing Silent City, the first book in the series, I had an idea of what I wanted—a flawed person who was not yet a P.I., but would, if everything worked out, become one. I wanted to reveal the origin of a private eye, as opposed to jumping into the story midway. more »
A Date With Jessica Fletcher
America loves Jessica Fletcher, the iconic fictional author and amateur sleuth who stars in the beloved Murder, She Wrote series. Like the television show, this cozy mystery series, which takes place in idyllic Cabot Cove, Maine, has enamored fans for years. Originally written by Donald Bain (alongside the fictitious Jessica Fletcher), the series has a new author—thriller writer Jon Land.
Land took over Bain’s work-in-progress, A DATE WITH MURDER, and will be continuing the Murder, She Wrote tradition. The series is in excellent hands. This latest installment is an exciting mystery that maintains the spirit and charm of its predecessors while delivering the tightly-woven plotting and the riveting suspense for which Land is known. Topshelf Magazine had this to say: “Featuring all the beloved characters that fans love, A DATE WITH MURDER is a killer cozy, boasting a masterfully crafted plot, fast-paced scenes, nail-biting suspense, and a heaping helping of old-fashioned justice. Longtime fans of Murder, She Wrote mysteries will revel in this latest installment.”
When asked how he received this prestigious engagement, Land, whose work includes the acclaimed Caitlin Strong thrillers, is humble. “It’s the classic case of one man’s misfortune becoming another man’s gain,” Land says. “The great Don Bain had written the first 46 books in the Murder, She Wrote series. But he had fallen ill and was no longer able to continue, then subsequently passed away. Since we share the same agent in Bob Diforio, Bob thought I would be a great choice to replace Don. He called me just after Don fell ill, and it took me all of five seconds to say, yes, I’d most definitely be interested. Opportunities like this just don’t come up very often.”
Hitting Triple Digits as a Novelist
By E.M. Powell
Patricia Rosemoor calls her new release EYES OF THE TIGER a “reincarnation romantic thriller,” but such a snappy description doesn’t do justice to this multi-layered, fast-paced read.
When the mother of jewelry designer Gemma Hewitt is brutally murdered, Gemma inherits her late mother’s famed jeweled collar. Yet the collar is not just a valuable memento of a beloved parent—Gemma has a gift. Gems and jewelry speak to her, providing inspiration for her designs and sending her on adventures across the globe. Now that gift may give her something that is literally priceless—the chance to find her mother’s killer and bring him to justice. But her search doesn’t only send her across physical distance. It sends her through time as well, as she’s thrown back to 1901 India where she sees a young woman about to be married with a pendant that matches her jeweled collar. The intrigue grows when 21st century Gemma is hired to track down the entire bridal suite of jewels and is joined by an enigmatic man who promises to help her on her quest.
As well as being a gripping thriller, the book has a plot that will satisfy romantic suspense and paranormal readers, and those who enjoy historical fiction too. It speaks volumes of Rosemoor’s huge talent as a writer that she can handle so many genres within one novel with equal balance and skill. This is something that she more modestly puts down to a lot of experience. “Writing 100 books has provided me with opportunities to try just about everything,” she says. “And I have!”
If a statement by a writer ever deserved a pause for celebratory acknowledgement, then it must surely be the above. Yes, EYES OF THE TIGER is Rosemoor’s 100th novel. The road to those extraordinary triple digits has seen Rosemoor a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author and more than 7 million copies of her books are in print.
Hoping to promote the Glass Dolphin antiques shop, co-owners Arabella Carpenter and Emily Garland agree to sponsor a hole in one contest at a charity golf tournament. The publicity turns out to be anything but positive, however, when Arabella’s errant tee shot lands in the woods next to a corpse.
They soon learn that the victim is closely related to Arabella’s ex-husband, who had been acting as the Course Marshal. With means, opportunity, and more than enough motive, he soon becomes the police department’s prime suspect, leaving Arabella and Emily determined to clear his name—even if they’re not entirely convinced of his innocence.
Dogged by incriminating online posts from an anonymous blogger, they track down leads from Emily’s ex-fiancé (and the woman he left Emily for), an Elvis impersonator, and a retired antiques mall vendor with a secret of her own.
All trails lead to a mysterious cult that may have something to do with the murder. Can Arabella and Emily identify the killer before the murderer comes after them?
A HOLE IN ONE author, Judy Penz Sheluk, took some time out of her busy schedule to discuss her latest mystery with The Big Thrill:
Lizzie Bradshaw. A student from the Lake District, forced to work away from home, who witnesses a terrible crime. But who will ultimately pay the price?
Emma Taylor. A mother, a wife, and a woman with a dangerous secret. Can she keep her beloved family safely together?
Stella Taylor. A disaffected teenager, determined to discover what her mother is hiding. But how far will she go to uncover the truth?
And one man, powerful, manipulative and cunning, who controls all their destinies.
The Big Thrill spent some time with author Sanjida Kay discussing her latest thriller, MY MOTHER’S SECRET:
Dickinson, North Dakota, 1965. It’s a harsh winter, and freelance indexer Marjorie Trumaine struggles to complete a lengthy index while mourning the recent loss of her husband, Hank. The bleakness of the weather seems to compound her grief, and then she gets more bad news: a neighbor’s fourteen-year-old disabled daughter, Tina Rinkerman, has disappeared. Marjorie joins Sheriff Guy Reinhardt in the search for the missing girl, and their investigation quickly leads to the shocking discovery of a murdered man near the Rinkermans’ house. What had he been doing there? Who would have wanted him dead? And, above all, is his murder connected to Tina’s disappearance?
Their pursuit of answers will take Marjorie all the way to the Grafton State School, some six hours away, where Tina lived until recently. And the information she uncovers there raises still more questions. Will the murderer come after Marjorie now that she knows a long-hidden secret?
Hannah Clarke, a wife and mom one day, is a widow without a child the next. She dwindles to a shell of her former self, grief-stricken and bereft by Jason and Jay’s deaths. Two years later, reclaiming her life and living as H.L. Mason in Fossil, Colorado, her safe new world explodes with a revelation so shocking and horrifying she can hardly grasp it. By chance, she meets Sheriff Noah Ward, and though she’s leery of cops after relentlessly being accused of killing her family, she needs help. Noah agrees, but when Hannah becomes a target, he realizes the case is far more insidious than parental abduction. How is he supposed to keep the woman he loves safe when the immoral trio determined to stop her applies the same solution to every problem—murder.
Prolific author Ann Simas was kind enough to discuss her latest thriller, HERE AND GONE, with The Big Thrill:
By Renee James
If Linda Poitevin had been an inch or two taller, it might have all turned out differently. But she missed the height requirement for service as a police officer in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police years ago and instead became a civilian dispatcher for the local RCMP, where she met and married a cop.
Thus began the endless adventures (and misadventures) of family rearing, home relocation, and a variety of jobs. One constant, however, was writing. Poitevin had been writing stories since childhood, and used her passion to fill the few quiet hours in her family life. With the encouragement of her husband, she published her first novel, Sins of the Angels, in 2011.
Today, Poitevin has published seven books, with an eighth, SHADOW OF DOUBT—about a police officer whose life is upended when she crosses paths with a wounded ATF agent who’s been framed for murder—scheduled for release on May 10. Her work is notable for many reasons, not the least of which is that she has achieved artistic and commercial success as a self-published author.
The Big Thrill interviewed Poitevin by email in late March.
A car lies at the bottom of an icy ravine. Slumped over the steering wheel, dead, is the most critically acclaimed horror writer of his time. Was it an accident? His son Milo doesn’t care. For the first time in his life, he’s free. No more nightmarish readings, spooky animal rites, or moonlit visions of his father in the woods with a notebook and vampire make-up.
Or so he thinks.
Milo settles into a quiet routine—constructing model Greek warships and at last building a relationship with his sister Klara, who’s home after a failed marriage and brief career as an English teacher. Then Klara hires a gardener to breathe new life into their overgrown estate. There’s something odd about him—something eerily reminiscent of their father’s most violent villain. Or is Milo imagining things? He’s not sure. That all changes the day the gardener discovers something startling in the woods. Suddenly Milo is fighting for his life, forced to confront the power of fictional identity as he uncovers the shocking truth about his own dysfunctional family—and the supposed accident that claimed his parents’ lives.
The Big Thrill caught up with author Michael Barsa to discuss his debut novel, THE GARDEN OF BLUE ROSES:
Fia McKee, now officially employed by the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (TPRB), is sent undercover to Saratoga Racetrack to investigate Mars Pizutti, a racehorse trainer whose horses’ wins are suspiciously lucky—and lucrative. Fia’s bosses believe Pizutti’s success is based on illegal drugs and deceitful methods, and they want Fia to work inside his barn to ferret out the truth.
But after witnessing the tragic and inexplicable suicide of a jockey, Fia discovers the rider’s death is only the tip on an iceberg involving the mob, a crooked racing hedge fund, and threats to the lives of another jockey and his young sister. Fia must find out who’s connected to who, and what shadowy forces are at play before someone else dies.
The Big Thrill caught up to author Sasscer Hill just in time to discuss her latest mystery, THE DARK SIDE OF TOWN:
At the edge of the Solar System, beyond the Heliosphere, a massive warship comes out of Faster Than Light Transit. It is the Ancient Enemy spoken of in myths and legends.
Do we deserve a Second Chance?
Mike Turcotte, the Special Forces officer who led the fight against the Airlia, which ruled our planet from the shadows for over 10 millennia, has returned to Area 51. Earth has freed itself from the shackles of alien domination, but at high cost while winning World War III. He has learned what he believes is the truth about human origins.
A truth so devastating he insists it cannot be made public.
But the thing no one on Earth knows is that in winning the war they’ve initiated the seeds of their own doom.
Something worse than World War III.
Something worse than the Airlia.
Something that means the end of all life in the Solar System.
But there is one who might have a solution; except she’s not human.
AREA 51: REDEMPTION author and New York Times bestseller, Bob Mayer, sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss his latest thriller:
Two nuns murdered. Two elderly, wonderful women brutally stabbed to death outside their ghetto mission as they went into the streets to gather the addicts and human waste for a night’s rest. Motive? None. If scum are willing to come out of the shadows just to kill, they get paid in little more than blood. In this neighborhood, blood is gold.
Private detective Richard Dean Buckner aids his best friend and former homicide partner Graham Clevenger in working the case. The local priest sees Buckner’s handiwork—and rage—firsthand and hires him with the intention of hopefully saving the killer from the worst of the bare knuckle detective’s rampage.
Buckner develops a lead and hunts the suspect down, but as Clevenger develops a second, less likely and more earth-shattering suspect of his own, friend is pitted against friend as they race to prove who really did it. All the while Buckner is trying to ignore a similar case from his past where he allowed his pride to railroad the suspect into an early grave. Fearing Clevenger is about to do the same thing, Buckner realizes just how bleak his mistake was.
To hunt a man who slaughtered two nuns, Buckner needs to use a junkyard dog as a landing cushion, make a victim remember the worst night of her life and undo years of therapy, smoke PCP and use a barnyard blow-up doll to strangle a man. So be it. Just another day.
Editors Barb Goffman, Donna Andrews, and Marcia Talley have pulled together 13 authors from the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime for FUR, FEATHERS, AND FELONIES, the wonderfully eclectic eighth volume of the award-winning Chesapeake Crimes anthology series.
The latest entry is all about critters of the furry, feathery, and even boneless kind. There’s nothing as macabre as “The Black Cat” or as frightening as that Baskervilles mutt, though—these entertaining stories are suspenseful and even filled with a spontaneous sense of humor. Where else can you build a murder around an octopus, have a crow solve a crime, or read a story told by a most unlikely bard? Looking for a dog and pony show? How about a dog, cat, bunny, crow, octopus, rat, and, oh yes, an exploding-cow show instead?
The stories are as diverse as the animals that drive their plots. The collection kicks off with Shari Randall’s “Pet,” about a dog groomer and her boyfriend who get mixed up with a rather unpleasant and wealthy client. Next up is Carla Coupe’s “As the Crow Flies,” which travels back to the mid-19th century for the tale of Hermes, a family crow who helps to solve a dastardly crime in the English countryside.
Despite the title, KM Rockwood’s entry, “Rasputin,” is not about a devilish mountebank; rather, Rockwood sheds some light on what Lassie and Rin Tin Tin were really thinking about: that when dogs aren’t helping to save lives, all they really want is to eat, sleep, and play. The next tale also features a canine theme: “Bark Simpson and the Scent of Death” sounds like the title of an Indiana Jones story, but author Alan Orloff subverts expectations by letting a Shih Tzu solve police cases.
The lineup continues with “A Snowball’s Chance,” where Eleanor Cawood Jones spins an intriguing cold case about a fish and a bunny named Snowball. In “Hunter’s Moon,” private investigator-turned-author Robin Templeton takes us on a walk through a story about an Irish setter named Rupert, while volume editor Barb Goffman has some bovine tips on how to relieve that bloated feeling in a surprising way in “Till Murder Do Us Part,” a whodunit about one hot cop and a crime of passion.
Marianne Wilski Strong takes us back in time to a bar in Scranton, Pennsylvania, with “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” which features a tot who solves the crime. It took Linda Lombardi eight slimy arms to wrangle “The Octopus Game,” a story about death and a fish tank. Josh Pachter’s study of military science in “The Supreme Art of War” uses emotions more than science, or perhaps a bit of both.
In “Killer,” Joanna Campbell Slan gives us a Chihuahua named Jonathan—a caregiver’s best friend in an otherwise miserable situation—while Cathy Wiley spins a tale of cats, rats, and a body in “Curiosity Killed the Cat Lady.” Finally, Karen Cantwell’s “Sunset Beauregard” reminds us that there’s more than one dog in Hollywood.
To learn more about Sisters in Crime’s Chesapeake Chapter and the authors featured in FUR, FEATHERS, AND FELONIES, visit chessiechapter.org
Unloaded was an Anthony-nominated anthology that asked writers to tell a crime story without one of the genre’s most common props: guns. Now editor Eric Beetner is back with another collection of great stories in UNLOADED VOL. 2: MORE CRIME WRITERS WRITING WITHOUT GUNS.
For this anthology, Lori Rader-Day, Bill Crider, and 22 other respected crime, suspense, and thriller writers have used well-crafted fiction to call for a sensible and reasoned debate about guns in America. Beetner says the idea was born out of the conflict between his personal feelings about guns and the way he was portraying firearms in his writing.
“I worried I was glorifying them or at least adding to the normalization of guns,” Beetner says. “I think to be a crime writer you have to accept the reality of guns in society and especially in the criminal world, but that doesn’t mean writing gun porn.”
Beetner found several other writers with similarly conflicted feelings and decided that it wasn’t enough just to rant on social media about mass shootings and access to military-style rifles. And when he went looking for contributors to his themed anthology, he found it was incredibly easy to recruit them.
By George Ebey
Author S.A. Stovall brings us the next installment in his Vice City crime series featuring ex-mob enforcer Nicholas Pierce.
Holding on to a life worth living can be hard when the nightmares of the past come knocking.
Eight months ago, Pierce faked his death and assumed a new identity to escape sadistic mob boss Jeremy Vice. With no contacts outside the underworld, Pierce finds work with a washed-up PI. It’s an easy-enough gig—until investigating a human trafficking ring drags him back to his old stomping grounds.
Miles Devonport, Pierce’s partner, is top of his class at the police academy while single-handedly holding his family together. But when one lieutenant questions Pierce’s past and his involvement in the investigation, Miles must put his future on the line to keep Pierce’s secrets.
The situation becomes dire when it’s discovered the traffickers have connections to the Vice family. The lives of everyone Pierce cares about are in danger—not least of all his own, if Jeremy Vice learns he’s back from the dead. Pierce and Miles face a conspiracy that reaches the highest levels—one that will gladly destroy them to keep operating. As Pierce uses every dirty trick he learned from organized crime to protect the new life he’s building, he realizes that no matter how hard he tries, he might never escape his past.
But he’s not going out without a fight.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Stovall to discuss his book as well as what it takes to craft great suspense.
Fairy tales are just part of Alethea Kontis’ DNA. For much of her career she has retold stories from the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Mother Goose, and more. In her YA Nocturne Falls Universe trilogy, the fairy tales she tells are her own.
BESPHINXED, Kontis’ third entry in the Nocturne Falls shared universe series, finds Owen Liddell in big trouble. One hundred years ago, as a poor boy, he was tricked by a descendent of Arachne into staring into the eyes of the Great Sphinx, leaving him bespelled into the form of a cat. Now Arachne’s spider-sisters have found him while his heart is all tangled up with the most popular witch in school. Heather Hayden is a mean girl Gothwitch who has looks, money, and power along with a family who treats her like she’s nothing. As if this weren’t enough, Heather has a history of torturing Owen’s best friend, Kai. Can he possibly escape the evil spider sisters, thwart the spell he’s under, rescue the poor rich girl, and save his friendship with Kai—all before finals and the Zombie Prom?
“Working on the Nocturne Falls Universe IP has been an incredibly unique experience,” Kontis said. “[Author and NFU creator] Kristen Painter handpicked the authors for the NFU books. She not only encouraged us to write series within her existing series, but she also encouraged us to use our books to launch our own worlds.
“My background is in fairy tales—MG/YA is definitely my wheelhouse. What inspired this series, though, was Mummy’s Diner. The original Nocturne Falls series constantly references this diner and its delicious food. My first thought was, ‘Well if it’s that good, it’s obviously run by Greeks!’ I had never before had the opportunity to write a young heroine with my own Greek background, and the thought made me dance with joy. I could finally name characters after people in my family! Everything else just fell into place.”
This led to the first novel in the trilogy, The Truth About Cats and Wolves, which tells the story of Kai Xanthopoulos, whose family owns the diner. The second novel, When Tinker Met Belle, is the story of Kai’s best friend Bellamy, a fairy. The last book was to center on the third friend, Maya, “but readers loved Owen so much that I wrote book three about him instead, tying up his storyline from book one,” Kontis said. In BESPHINXED, Owen finds a home and a surrogate family within the confines of the diner and its employees.
After a long week lobbying on Capitol Hill, all Karina Cardinal wants to do is chill with Netflix and her boyfriend, Patrick Dunne. Instead, she’s slipping her aching feet into red stilettos for his parents’ annual holiday bash. When she accidentally interrupts Patrick’s father in his study, her embarrassment is tempered by suspicion that Martin Dunne and his dapper, secretive guest are hiding something. Maybe the painting she barely glimpses right before it disappears behind a secret panel.
An internet search raises her curiosity to full-blown alarm. If she’s right, Martin is in possession of a stolen masterpiece. Infamous because everyone close to it has turned up dead. As in Mafia-style-execution dead.
As she’s chewing over which instinct to follow—back off while she still can, or dig deeper for the truth—she crosses paths with FBI agent Mike Finnegan, an old friend and not-quite flame from her college days. When she looks into his warm, mocha eyes, she’s tempted to tell him everything.
Trouble is, she’s already being watched. And the next move she makes could destroy innocent lives…including her own.
The Big Thrill caught up with bestselling novelist Ellen Butler to discuss her latest mystery, ISABELLA’S PAINTING:
In the shadow of the Pentagon, a secret DoD brain research experiment goes terribly wrong, and an ex-Special Ops soldier escapes, believing he is Viktor Dragunov, the Russian operative from the ’80s thriller novel, Attack on America. To capture him, the Feds turn to the person uniquely qualified to predict his next moves, the man who created the fictional character, best-selling author Mathias King.
Now a reclusive English professor, King is reluctant to get involved, having sworn off the culture of violence after a deranged fan murdered his wife. But when innocent people start dying, King is thrust back into that dark world. With help from his enthusiastic graduate assistant Emily Phan, King must outsmart his own creation—while outmaneuvering the cover-up-loving Feds—before Dragunov succeeds in his hell-bent mission.
To destroy America.
Novelist Alan Orloff spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing his latest thriller, PRAY FOR THE INNOCENT:
The first thing I noticed about Marty Wingate’s books was that they are very British. Reading her latest, FAREWELL, MY CUCKOO, I felt like I was strolling through the English countryside, meeting eccentric characters and soaking up the local ambience. These are the kind of charming books the word “cozy” was made for.
This newest book is part of the Birds of a Feather series, which follows Julia Lanchester, a bird lover who runs a tourist office in a Suffolk village. But one series isn’t enough for this bestselling author. She also writes the Potting Shed books, featuring Pru Parke, a middle-aged American gardener transplanted from Texas to England.
The Seattle native writes convincingly about Suffolk and other British locations. “England feels like a second home,” she explains. “My husband and I travel to Britain once or twice a year, and we’ve spent enough time that it’s easy for us to slip into the life. We stay with a friend in the Cotswolds and also spend time in Suffolk, in the village I’ve used as a model for Smeaton-under-Lyme, and where I’ve found inspiration not only for Hoggin Hall, but also Nuala’s Tea Room. Research is rewarding.”
By Basil Sands
THE BLACK CAR BUSINESS is an anthology of short stories written by some of the thriller genre’s hottest writers, each crafting a heart-pounding take that propels you from story to story.
Editor Lawrence Kelter took some time out of his schedule to chat with The Big Thrill about what inspired the theme for this anthology and how each tale fits within the book.
What can you tell the readers about THE BLACK CAR BUSINESS?
That ominous sedan is always there—lurking—just out of sight. It’s parked down the street or it’s following you several car-lengths back as you leave the parkway to make your way through the inner city. One fleeting glance of the darkened figure within the shadowy cabin is enough to push you over the edge. After all, we’ve all got something we’re hiding—and maybe, just maybe, it’s payback time. As the hairs rise on the back of your neck you wonder, Who is behind the wheel and what is the driver’s intent? It’s THE BLACK CAR BUSINESS and its presence means your life is about to abruptly change. You try to assure yourself there’s nothing wrong, but your heartbeat quickens nonetheless, and soon you’re running, desperate for that narrow sliver between two buildings to slip through, the one too narrow for the black car to pass through. Will you make it in time? more »
Europe, 1940: Posing as a friar, a British operative talks his way into a Belgian monastery just before Nazi art thieves plan to whisk everything of value back to Berlin. No thief, that night he adds an old leather Bible to the monastery’s library and then escapes.
London, 2017: A construction worker discovers a skeletal arm bone with a rusty handcuff attached to the wrist, all that remains of a courier who died in a V-2 rocket attack.
The woman who will put these two disparate events together—and understand the looming tragedy she must hurry to prevent—is Russian historian and former Soviet chess champion Larissa Mendelova Klimt, “Lara the Bookworm” to her friends.
Lara will learn the significance of six musty Dictaphone cylinders recorded after D-Day by Noel Coward—in real life a British agent reporting directly to Winston Churchill—and understand precisely why that leather Bible played such a pivotal role in turning Hitler’s guns to the East. And she will discover the new secret pact negotiated by the nefarious Russian president and his newly elected American counterpart—maverick and dealmaker—and the evil it portends.
Mitch Silver, author of THE BOOKWORM, spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing his latest thriller:
By David Healey
Florida and crime fiction go together like windshields and bugs on a summer night while speeding down Alligator Alley. A good plot is like that oddly satisfying smack against the glass, leaving an imprint on the mind.
One such book that hits with a satisfying smack is TUSHHOG by Florida native Jeffery Hess, who continues the adventures of his protagonist, Scotland Ross. Ross is a veteran who finds himself caught up in the underbelly of the Fort Myers area, and tries to do the right thing, even if there are a few bodies along the way.
So what exactly is a Tushhog? To set the record straight, the term is defined in a note at the start of the novel. Rather than give that away here, the definition is best left up to Hess.
Recently, Hess took some time out from his favorite writing spot on the screen porch of his Tampa home to talk about his own brand of Sunshine State noir.
Hess is a Florida native and has set his novels in the early 1980s, a period that was just starting to see meteoric development. At that time, Hess was a teenager.
“Back in the ’80s it was kind of the Wild West,” he says. “Florida was half the size in terms of population. The growth has been nonstop.”
Back then, the popular TV show Miami Vice glamorized the East Coast lifestyle of fast cars, Ray Bans, and pastel-colored clothing—often paid for with drug money. Hess recalls that the West Coast—of Florida—wasn’t like that, but had its own vibe, which is why he chose to set his novels in that time and place.
During the last few years of her 21-year tenure as a violinist at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Erica Miner found herself captivated by the endlessly fascinating intrigues that took place there—on and off stage.
“That’s what first inspired me to capture those plots and characters and bring them to life in fiction,” she says. “Between the murderous plots onstage and the murderous rivalries that I observed backstage, there was a seemingly limitless treasure trove of material to write about.”
Not to mention a setting ripe for danger and suspense— an opera house abounds with dark corners, hidden hallways and out-of-the-way stairways; heavy scenery is constantly being moved around; there are potentially dangerous elevator shafts everywhere.
Add in huge egos that tend to collide under stress, and “you’ve got the perfect formula to depict nefarious situations.”
“It was all about the opera,” she says. “It can kill you—seriously.”
So it would seem if Miner’s latest thriller, DEATH BY OPERA, is any indication. Here, in The Big Thrill, the author dishes on the inspiration for her new novel, and gives insight into the world of an opera singer.
Nicholas “Duke” Ducheski is the most important man in the eastern Ohio steel town of Mingo Junction. Nearly two decades after he made the winning shot in the state championship basketball game, he remains much adored and the focal point of community pride. Hardly a day passes when someone doesn’t want to talk about “the game.” Now approaching forty, Duke no longer wants to be defined solely by something he did when he was eighteen. So he decides to parlay his local popularity into a successful restaurant–“Duke’s Place.”
But no sooner does he get his restaurant up and running than disaster strikes. One day, “Little Tony” DeMarco, his brother-in-law and a known mob enforcer, comes into the restaurant and murders Duke’s oldest friend. Now Duke faces the hardest decision of his life. DeMarco thinks he’s untouchable, but Duke discovers a way to take him down, along with his mob superiors.
To do so, however, means leaving Mingo Junction and sacrificing his treasured identity as the town legend. And if he follows through, what will remain of his life?
Robin Yocum, the critically-acclaimed author of A PERFECT SHOT, took time out of his busy schedule to discuss his latest mystery with The Big Thrill:
IRS agent-turned-PI Mortimer Angel is relaxing in a hole-in-the-wall bar in a Reno casino when an attractive young girl hires him to find out who left her a cryptic message demanding a million dollars. At the girl’s house, Mort finds the body of missing rapper Jonnie Xenon―Jo-X to his legions of fans―hanging from the rafters with two bullet holes in him. Mort is shocked when he learns the identity of the girl’s father―and even more shocked when the father hires him to investigate the murder.
Mort, being Mort, accumulates a few felonies as he follows the clues to Las Vegas. And along the way, he picks up an alluring young assistant who changes his life―in every conceivable way.
Author Rob Leininger took time out of his busy schedule to meet with The Big Thrill and discuss the third installment of the Mortimer Angel series, GUMSHOE ON THE LOOSE:
Anna is everything her identical twin is not. Outgoing and athletic, she is the opposite of quiet introvert Jess. The same on the outside, yet so completely different inside–it’s hard to believe the girls are sisters, let alone twins. But they are. And they tell each other everything.
Or so Jess thought.
After Anna falls to her death while sneaking out her bedroom window, Jess’s life begins to unravel. Everyone says it was an accident, but to Jess, that doesn’t add up. Where was Anna going? Who was she meeting? And how long had Anna been lying to her?
Jess is compelled to learn everything she can about the sister she thought she knew. At first it’s a way to stay busy and find closure . . . but Jess soon discovers that her twin kept a lot of secrets. And as she digs deeper, she learns that the answers she’s looking for may be truths that no one wants her to uncover.
Because Anna wasn’t the only one with secrets.
The Big Thrill caught up with Amelia Brunskill and had a chance to discuss her debut novel, THE WINDOW:
Irish American, Derry O’Donnell is a talented actress looking for her next big role, but in real life show business isn’t all glitz and glamor, in fact “…as Derry’s awesomely successful mother liked to point out, show business was no kind of business at all.”
Even the cost of a cup of coffee is a commodity, so Derry also moonlights as mystic to the rich and famous, Madam Tulip. Her new persona has led her into the world of secrets, money, and murder. Now she’s back in the third instalment of the Madam Tulip series in MADAM TULIP AND THE BONES OF CHANCE uncovering more mysteries, this time in a Scottish castle.
Author David Ahern tells The Big Thrill why he was inspired to write about a crime solving fortune teller.
“Derry is a teeny bit psychic, but when it comes to solving mysteries that’s no help at all. The thing about fortune telling for the wealthy is that where you’ve got money and secrets, you’ve got trouble. In MADAM TULIP AND THE BONES OF CHANCE, Derry gets to act in a movie being shot in Scotland. She soon discovers that someone is determined to kill.
“I grew up around theatre people, and I love actors. They’re dedicated to their craft and they want so much to perform and grow. But in most places, and in Ireland especially, the work just isn’t there. So most actors are unemployed much of the time and moonlight at something. The thing about fortune tellers though is that people tell them all kinds of things they wouldn’t tell anyone else. Add secrets to celebrity and money, and a fortune teller may learn some things they’d be safer not knowing.”
At a research station in Antarctica, scientists discovered a strange and ancient organism.
They thought they could study it, classify it, control it. They couldn’t.
IT HAS THRIVED
Six months ago, a secret paramilitary team called Unit 51 was sent to the station.
They thought the creature was dead, the nightmare was over. It wasn’t.
IT HAS EVOLVED
In a Mexican temple, archeologists uncover the remains of a half-human hybrid. They believe it is related to the creature in Antarctica, a dark thing of legend that is still alive—and still evolving. They believe it needs a new host to feed, to mutate, to multiply. They’re right. And they’re next. And the human race might just be headed for extinction…
Award-winning author Michael McBride took some time to discuss his latest thriller, FORSAKEN, with The Big Thrill:
Shtefan Brandt, young adjutant to Colonel Erich Himmel of the Waffen SS, has made it through the war so far in spite of his commander’s habit of bringing his staff into combat, and a pair of secrets that are far more dangerous. Shtefan is a Mischling, one of the thousands of partial Jews who have avoided the death camps by concealing themselves in the ranks of the German Army. And he is in love with Gabrielle Belmont, the colonel’s French mistress. Either of those facts could soon mean his end, except that his master has other concerns. Colonel Himmel can see the war’s end on the horizon and knows he will not be on the winning side, so he has taken matters into his own hands, hatching a plot to escape Europe. To fund his new life, he plans to steal a fortune from the encroaching Allies. A fortune which Shtefan, in turn, plans to steal from him….
New York Times bestselling author Steven Hartov met with The Big Thrill to discuss his latest thriller, THE SOUL OF A THIEF:
Finding Truth in Notoriety
By Nancy Bilyeau
Getting into the mind of a murderer is a true feat for a writer. It’s made even more challenging if, first, it’s a famous crime, and, second, it’s one that is officially unsolved. But that is exactly what Dawn Ius pulled off in LIZZIE, a young adult novel that re-imagines the infamous 19th century double murder widely attributed to Lizzie Borden, who as the song goes, “gave her mother 40 whacks, and when she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.”
Ius, the author of Overdrive and Anne & Henry, a young adult modern telling of the love story of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, was drawn to the life of Lizzie Borden, arrested but not convicted for the murders of her father and stepmother, because “I’m obsessed with true crime, and more so, true crime that is unresolved. Plus, this story takes place in the past, so it’s a bit of a triple threat—all of my ‘loves’ coming together. Admittedly, this particular story was inspired by my great friend James Grasdal who dropped Lizzie Borden’s name in casual conversation, and then sort of nudged me toward a very loose plot. By the end of coffee, I knew I would write this book—I just wasn’t sure how. That took a tremendous amount of research and brainstorming.”
A journalist and editor, as well as the deputy editor of The Big Thrill, Ius plunged head-long into the life of Borden, who died in 1927 in Falls River, Massachusetts, the same town she was born in and where in 1892 her father, Andrew Borden, and stepmother, Abigail Borden, were found dead in their house, attacked with a hatchet that was never found. “I knew the basics—the rhyme, the fact that she was acquitted, a bit about her religious background, and the gruesome nature of the crime,” Ius says. “But as I started to research her story, I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that she could have murdered her father and stepmom, that there had to be an alternative theory, or some reason. I don’t know, even now after the book is about to hit shelves, if I am confident in her guilt or innocence, but the research I did about the case certainly helped me understand—as much as anyone can understand motive—the ‘why’.”
To Write About the Dark Side
By A.J. Colucci
“By the time you read this, I’ll be dead.” So begins IF I DIE TONIGHT, the latest novel by Alison Gaylin. With nominations for Edgar, Anthony and ITW Thriller Awards, a Shamus Award, and an RT Reviewers Choice Award for Suspense, Gaylin has proven herself a master at pulling readers in and not letting go. That goes for the opening of her new book, a suicide note posted on Facebook by high school student Wade Reed. In the post, Wade says a goodbye to his mother and brother after he’s been accused of something terrible and has reached the end of his rope. “This will probably make a lot of you very happy,” he writes. The post has 1,043 likes.
IF I DIE TONIGHT is a cautionary tale—how a small town, an angry mob, and social media can be a lethal combination. Gaylin hits the mark in showing the manipulative power of social media and the dark side of humanity, in a compelling, honest way that she does so well. “What changed a lot with the advent of social media, is empathy,” she says. “The things I’ve seen grown-ups write on Twitter astounds me.” The book, she says, was partly inspired by Sinead O’Connor’s suicide note on Facebook. “Although she didn’t go through with it, what struck me is how it got thousands of likes. When you have that feeling of anonymity, that this is not real, the layers of empathy are taken away. Kids are most affected because they use social media more, and can sometimes be more emotionally fragile.”
IF I DIE TONIGHT takes place in the small town of Havenkill, where a popular high school senior, Liam, has been killed by a hit-and-run driver after a carjacking gone wrong. Aimee En, the victim of the carjacking, is a washed-up musician from the ’80s who reports the incident to the police, but she offers sketchy details and seems more concerned with her beloved car than with the victim. Her story doesn’t sit well with Pearl, a young cop on the case with a tragic past and a strong moral compass. Eventually, suspicions fall on another high school senior, Wade Reed, an artistic, brooding outlier who has no alibi and is obviously hiding secrets of his whereabouts. Rumors begin circulating on social media, anger turns into hateful posts, and before long you can’t tell who the real monster is—the hit-and-run driver or the town itself.