By Basil Sands
Due to some business travel to Fairbanks Alaska I had the chance to read STARRIE by Heidi Ruby Miller in two sittings on the same day. And let me just say, I’m glad I had that opportunity. STARRIE is one ripping fast book and a well told story. I loved it! It was a perfect diversion as I looked out the airplane window across the billowing clouds and Alaskan mountains
Miller uses research for her stories as an excuse to roam the globe. With degrees in anthropology, geography, foreign languages, and writing, she knew early that penning fast-paced, exotic adventures would be her life. She’s put her experiences and studies to paper in her new, far-future novel. She took a short break from her travels to talk to The Big Thrill about STARRIE.
Please tell us about STARRIE.
This standalone novel runs concurrent with events which take place in Marked by Light, the first book of the big Ambasadora series main arc. It’s a little bit space opera, a little bit cyberpunk, and a lot science fiction adventure thriller.
Where did the character, Starrie come from? Is she based on a real person? Totally fictional? Or a secret version of yourself?
I doubt I could go through the abuse Naela did and come out of it so strongly. She reminds me a little of Aeryn Sun from Farscape with a dash of Elizabeth Jennings from The Americans, but with a better sense of humor than both.
As I read the story I was impressed by the tightness of the writing. How do you recommend new writers achieve good clean prose?
Like I tell my writing students at Seton Hill, know your intent for each scene—ideally, you will be showing characterization while moving the plot forward. A few words can be more powerful than an entire page, so make them count by eliminating redundancies, unnecessary gestures and facial expressions, and constant internal questioning by the POV character. Chapter outlines or summaries are a surefire way to keep each scene on task for me.
In college, Philip Donlay was once asked to write an article. He got a B on it, which made him angry. He sent the article off to a magazine, then, in the way of freshmen, forgot about it, until a check showed up in the mail.
This experience left him with the idea that writing is easy. Just write something, send it off, and a check shows up in the mail. Because he spent the next few decades flying all kinds of airplanes all over the world, it took him years to learn the truth.
He wrote his first three novels while working as a pilot. It was difficult, but he learned as he went. Oceanview bought his third novel. Donlay has just signed a two-book deal with them for the seventh and eight installment in the Donovan Nash (his pilot hero) series.
He’d always read thrillers, so it seemed natural to write one. And he was passionate about flying. “Most people who write about airplanes write from the point of view of the passengers,” Donlay says. “I drag the reader into the cockpit. Flying is breathtaking, naturally fast. The plane is a character. The weather is critical. There are lots of elements that make it compelling.”
There is a helicopter battle in his new book, PEGASUS DOWN, which had this reader white-knuckling her tablet as she read. It’s the sixth in the Donovan Nash series, but it stands alone perfectly well. Donlay brings a non-flying person into the cockpit, Montero, the kind of former FBI agent who sleeps with her gun and who was once Donovan’s nemesis (Book #3). She is a stand-in for the non-pilot reader who needs flying issues explained. Donlay aims to educate. “There’s a lot going on in an airplane that most passengers don’t know about and don’t see.”
In PEGASUS DOWN Donovan Nash has to rescue his beloved wife, Lauren, a CIA agent, from the middle of Eastern Europe after her mission goes horribly wrong. Within hours he assembles a crack team and a series of airplanes and helicopters, finds childcare for his five-year-old daughter, and is in Eastern Europe looking for his wife. Luckily his wife’s boss can tweak a satellite or two and help him pinpoint where she might be.
By Richard Edde
These days the line between fact and fantasy keeps getting increasingly blurred. That gray area between truth and fiction gets narrowed to a fine line. With all the advances in science and technology, the things we read in the books we buy and see in the movies can certainly cause us to pause. I have always enjoyed those novels whose plots were made plausible within a background of scientific information. The reader no longer knows what is fact or fiction but doesn’t care because the story is so good.
Since college I have been fascinated with the science of our human origins and the fossils that make up the collection of early humans and proto-humans. I read everything I could get my hands on describing Australopithicus, Homo erectus, Homo habilis, and of course, the Neanderthals. In 1974 when the skeleton Lucy was discovered in Ethiopia, it was determined to be the oldest hominid fossil yet —3.2 million years old.
It was a revelation.
By then I had graduated from medical school and actively engaged in residency training but I still found time for my “other obsession.” The fact that our human ancestors had walked on this planet over three million years earlier was almost more than I could get my young mind around.
Lucy’s discovery marked a turning point in our understanding of human evolution. Even today scientists are still learning from her. Paleoanthropologists can visit her in Ethiopia’s National Museum in Addis Ababa, to run further analyses using new technologies. Perhaps her most important contribution was to spark a wave of research that has led to the discovery of many new species. The number of known species has more than doubled since Lucy, but many parts of the story still need to be filled in. Now there are much older fossils, some six million years old.
By Jeff Ayers
In Ken Newman’s new novel, FORSAKEN, Maggie Black is the champion of a fallen angel she loves as a father. She relishes her heroic life of danger and intrigue-until the day the angel betrays her and sends a witch to kill her. However, the assassin, Mrs. Kerr, fakes Maggie’s death and kidnaps her. Renamed Hajar, which means forsaken, Maggie is forced to commit crimes to support her master’s lifestyle. When all seems lost, hope arrives in the form of a world-weary adventurer, Gideon Kane. He bargains for Maggie’s freedom, offering Mrs. Kerr a prize the power-hungry woman can’t resist-the Tree of Life, whose fruit can turn mortals into gods.
Ken Newman has loved stories of the supernatural since listening to his grandmother’s tales of witches, spooks and creepy things as a child. He chatted with The Big Thrill.
What sparked the idea for your new novel, FORSAKEN?
I am a huge fan of the old pulp heroes and radio shows. They were crude, by today’s standards, with over-the-top melodramatic villains and outrageous situations, but the stories drew you in and kept you glued to your seat. There was a ‘feel’ to the stories that was irresistible.
FORSAKEN began with the question: Suppose there was a pulp hero that the public considered fiction, yet he and his wild adventures were actually real? Thus Gideon ‘Kamikaze’ Kane was born. In FORSAKEN, Maggie Black, was a heroic, one-woman army, but was kidnapped and forced into a life of crime. The only solace in her captivity was a series of wild pulp novels titled, ‘The Adventures of Kamikaze Kane.‘ In the course of my story, Maggie discovers that Kane is real, and he comes out of retirement, guns blazing, willing to move heaven and earth to free her.
By Jeff Ayers
In Timothy Washburn’s novel POWERLESS, a massive geomagnetic solar storm strikes without warning. It destroys every power grid in the northern hemisphere. In one week the human race is flung back into the dark ages. After which, survival becomes everything.
Only one man—army veteran Zeke Marshall—is prepared to handle a nightmare like this. But when he tries to reunite with his family in Dallas—across a lawless terrain as deadly as any battlefield—he discovers there are worse things in life than war. And there are terrible and unthinkable things he’ll have to do to survive…
Washburn chatted with The Big Thrill about his new book.
What sparked the idea for POWERLESS?
I read an article in a journal about the effects of space weather on the earth. That triggered a series of “what if” questions that I couldn’t ignore. I researched the issue further and what I discovered frightened me. The threat is real, and the power companies are woefully unprepared. Congressional hearings have been conducted, but, much like everything else in Washington, very little is being done. Scientists insist it’s only a matter of time before our planet is struck by a devastating solar storm.
Who is Zeke Marshall?
Zeke is a wounded man––both physically and emotionally. Wounded in the Iraq war, Zeke arrives at a stateside hospital to continue his healing process. While there he meets the woman of his dreams, only to have his life shattered once again. Seeking solace, Zeke migrates to his parent’s retirement hideaway in rural Oklahoma.
What was the Carrington Event?
On the morning of September 1, 1859, Richard Carrington, an amateur astronomer, observed a coronal mass ejection escaping from the surface of the sun. Fifteen hours later one of the largest geomagnetic storms ever recorded slammed into the earth’s magnetic field. Telegraph systems all over Europe and North America were destroyed, with many telegraph operators suffering electrical shocks. Auroras were seen around the world, some bright enough to awaken sleeping residents. And this was all before the advent of electricity. Today, a geomagnetic storm of similar size would cripple most of the world. Damage estimates for such a storm would be in the trillions of dollars.
Writers often talk about writing a book of the heart, a phrase which refers to writing a book that may not be marketable, but one that the author feels compelled to write anyway. Some authors refer to this as a book that haunts you, a story they absolutely must tell.
I’ve come to think of the third book in my Shipwreck Adventures series, KNIGHT’S CROSS, as a book of the heart, but not because it emerged from somewhere deep in my soul or psyche. I use the phrase to describe this book that grew out of my experiences of meeting and falling in love with the man who is now my husband.
My books are international adventure thrillers, and I have sailed the Caribbean, traveled in Thailand, and backpacked through the Philippines to do research for the novels in this series. I enjoy living a life of adventure. Two years ago, I lived alone on my sailboat while cruising the east coast of the United States and out to the Bahamas.
One night I was hard at work on the edits of Dragon’s Triangle when I remembered I had to write a scheduled blog post. I wanted to finish the edits, so I decided instead to make a quick, funny video of my dog using an iPad app called My Talking Pet. I animated Barney’s mouth and had him complain about his dang owner who was always sitting in front of her computer screen. It was done in ten minutes, and I went back to work.
The next morning I had a comment from Wayne, a solo sailor in Fiji who also sailed with a dog. He asked what kind of software I had used to make the video. I replied, but the surprising thing was that he wrote back and thanked me. That was quite interesting as many people never write back with thanks, so I hit reply and wrote back.
By Karen Harper
Peter Tonkin’s first novel, Killer, was published in 1978. His work has included the acclaimed “Mariner” series that have been critically compared with the best of Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley and Hammond Innes.
In BLIND REEF, Richard and Robin Mariner’s quest to rescue a kidnapped girl leads them into the perilous heart of the Sinai desert. They suddenly find themselves saving the lives of several refugees when their boat flounders on Shaab Ruhr Siyoul, known as the Blind Reef.
One of the survivors, Nahom, is of particular interest to the Mariners. His twin sister, Tsibekti, has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom by smugglers. Shocked by Nahom’s story, Richard and Robin soon become dangerously involved, travelling into the heart of the Sinai in their quest to find the lost girl. But they will need to tread a perilous path, steering clear of Egyptian police, Bedouin smugglers and militant Islamists to have any hope of rescuing Tsibekti and getting out of the desert alive
Please tell us about your new release, BLIND REEF, in your long-running Mariner series.
Although the Mariner series is mostly set at sea, BLIND REEF is the first adventure set largely on land. The land in question is the romantic, historic, fascinating, and occasionally deadly Sinai Peninsula. The Sinai is the triangle of land at the head of the Red Sea between Egypt, Palestine, and Israel. It is where most of the Book of Exodus in the Bible is said to have taken place. It is a scorching, mountainous, desert wilderness surrounded by some of the most wonderful coral reefs on earth. My wife Charmaine and I have holidayed there every summer for a decade, first in the tourist haven of Sharm el Sheikh and then in the divers’ paradise of Dahab – and it was inevitable that such an awe-inspiring location would eventually form the backbone of a novel.
Please tell us more about the story.
The increasingly regular headlines about people-smuggling eventually proved to be the inspiration for BLIND REEF. The world is now aware of the tsunami of refugees crossing the Mediterranean to Europe from Africa and the Middle East. Fewer are aware of the lively trade in desperate people crossing the Sinai and running up through the desert wilderness of Saudi Arabia. In BLIND REEF Richard and Robin Mariner, holidaying in Sharm el Sheikh, become involved in a desperate attempt to rescue a young woman kidnapped by these smugglers and held for ransom under threat of rape and a terrible death or being offered for sale as a sex-slave. A situation tragically common among trafficked women. Once the idea was there, it was just a question of exploring the interior of the Sinai – we were already well acquainted with the coral reefs having snorkelled them. Our friends in Sharm and Dahab helped and advised with regard to the practical aspects of Scuba-diving the reefs and exploring the mountains to make the story absolutely authentic, timely, relevant and above all exciting.
By Jeremy Burns
For many thriller fans, author Matt Hilton is synonymous with his action hero and ex-counterterrorism soldier, Joe Hunter. Now, Hilton dials up the intrigue with the first in a new mystery series starring Tess Grey and “Po” Villere.
BLOOD TRACKS, which hit shelves in the UK in November and makes its global debut February 2016, forces an unlikely partnership in an action-packed quest to solve not only a staggering cross-country mystery, but also the ghosts of their own pasts.
This month, Hilton answered a few questions for The Big Thrill, giving readers a peek into his new book.
Tell us about BLOOD TRACKS.
BLOOD TRACKS is the first in a new series featuring investigator Tess Grey and renegade ex-con Nicolas “Po” Villere. The two are an unusual pairing of ex-cop and ex-con, thrown together in the search for a witness that takes them from Maine to Louisiana and back again, while trying to stay alive. Initially the two don’t like each other, but they come to realize that sometimes opposites really do attract. The book is action-packed, but it’s also more of a mystery than my readers might expect from me.
What was your initial inspiration for BLOOD TRACKS?
Joe Hunter thrillers are full of action and feature tough guys caught in tough scenarios, and when I sat down to write a new series, I wanted to challenge readers’ expectations, so I chose a woman’s POV. I hoped to develop a character that was recuperating from a severe injury and carrying the baggage of a failed law enforcement career, then throw her into the kind of desperate situations Hunter usually finds himself, and see how she fared. Because I’d set up a backstory for Tess, the writing of the novel came from the need to get her back in the saddle so to speak, and I had the idea of throwing her in at the deep end to do just that.
In Arabian mythology, they are called the “Jinn”—creatures who inhabit our world, yet live outside of our universe. But the superhuman assassin known as Cain is no myth—he is all too real, and all too deadly. CIA operative Gabrielle “Gabe” Lincoln has a very short time to learn the secret of Cain’s power, or she will soon witness the annihilation of Earth and everyone in it.
“The Cain Prophecy is a compelling blend of high-octane action and creepy thrills. Scary, dynamic and thoroughly entertaining!”
~Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Predator One and Patient Zero
“Ancient legends merge with modern-day complications, creating tension and turmoil in this high-stakes, gritty, action thriller. Never a dull moment!”
~Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author of The Patriot Threat and The Lincoln Myth
By Basil Sands
An American Sherlock Holmes and Alan Quartermain wrapped together—that’s how I’d describe the characters in William E. Lemanski’s latest novel, MURDER IN TUXEDO PARK, a Victorian era mystery.
Lemanski is a Vietnam combat veteran, with an engineering background in the nuclear power industry. Since retiring from both the New York Power Authority and Entergy Nuclear Northeast, he’s worked as a freelance journalist in the Hudson Valley of New York, held public office as a councilman, and served as a police commissioner in the Town of Tuxedo, New York.
When not researching new book material, he spends time traveling the world on various big-game hunting expeditions. He is also the author of two other books, Adventures in Distant and Remote Places: A Memoir, and Lost in the Shadow of Fame: The Neglected Story of Kermit Roosevelt A Gallant and Tragic American.
This month, he spoke to The Big Thrill about the inspiration behind his newest release.
Tell us about MURDER IN TUXEDO PARK.
The story is in the spirit of a Conan Doyle, Victorian-era murder mystery. The venue is the wealthy, gated community of Tuxedo Park, New York in the latter 19th Century, where a deranged serial killer begins knocking-off some of the residents. The protagonist is a very eccentric and wealthy doctor residing in the Park, who is also an engineer. His esoteric interests include the workings of the brain and the mysterious motivations that drive criminals to commit their evil deeds. During his research at the Sing Sing penitentiary, he meets a comely young woman who is also studying murderers there for her doctorate thesis in psychiatry. However, they have distinct differences in theory regarding murderous motive. They team-up to find the killer while also falling in love.
Their many harrowing adventures and near misses take them to Africa and back, and through a court case as they pursue their elusive quarry.
By Ethan Cross
When antiquities are stolen from a museum near Delphi, British archaeologist Sarah Weston and her American partner, Daniel Madigan, are drawn into a deadly plot that goes beyond harmless role-playing—someone is using the Delphian oracle as a smoke screen for an information exchange with devastating consequences to the Western world.
Pitted against each other by the cult’s mastermind, Sarah and Daniel race against time and their own personal demons to uncover clues left behind by the ancients. Their mission: to find the original navel stone marked with a lost Pythagorean formula detailing the catastrophic events that led to the collapse of a legendary civilization. But will they find it in time to stop the ultimate terrorist act?
D.J. Niko’s, THE ORACLE, is the riveting third installment in her popular Sarah Weston Chronicles. This month, the author took a few minutes to talk to The Big Thrill about writing her latest release—and a lot more.
Tell us about THE ORACLE in one line.
A fast-paced thriller with a fascinating glimpse into pagan divination rituals that shaped politics in ancient Greece—and are being resurrected today.
Do you have any marketing advice for your fellow authors? Any techniques that you feel have worked especially well for you?
I enjoy the personal approach to marketing. Because I do a lot of research for my books, I have a body of knowledge that I love to share with people, whether they’ve read my books or not. I lecture and teach on my research topics, and that has proven effective in selling books and building a fan base.
Agro-Terrorism: “A Match Made in Hell”
By Josie Brown
Picking up the latest novel in the Caitlyn Strong Texas Ranger series is like checking in with an old friend: you can’t wait to begin where you left off, and you’re always a bit sad when the visit comes to an end. Which is proof positive that Jon Land deserves the accolades he’s earned from readers, reviewers, and his peers.
Interviewing Land about his latest novel, STRONG LIGHT OF DAY, was just as fun as reading one of his books. See for yourself:
As with most of your books, in STRONG LIGHT OF DAY there are many “spinning plates”—conflicts—put into play. For example, the missing students, the rancher’s herd, the SEALS ’ find, just to name a few. Which was the first plot point that came to you? And in what order did the others follow?
Great question to start off. And the answer is none of the above. The first plot point was the notion of a nightmarish genetic anomaly created by exposure to a genetically produced pesticide—I got that from an article in The New York Times. As soon as I saw that, a lightbulb flashed in my head, spelling “agro-terrorism.” Some research followed where I determined this was something the Russians really did look into doing during the Cold War. So now I have the reconstituted remnants of an old Soviet plot, which gave me one set of bad guys. For the other, I looked to a greedy petro-chemical magnate whose miraculous discovery turns out not to be so miraculous at all. Other things sprang from there, like the disappearance of the high-school students on a field trip.
But here’s the simple truth: I didn’t know exactly how all the individual strands were going to connect when I conceived them—in other words, the pieces of the puzzle kept coming, but I had no idea initially how they were going to fit together.
That’s part and parcel of my writing process.
When towering black obelisks start appearing around the Mediterranean, CIA operative Gabrielle Lincoln begins to question their presence, believing them to be far more ominous than simple country tributes. But if she’s right, humanity is about to be plunged into a living nightmare.
PRIMORDIAL is the second book in Toby Tate’s Lilitu series, and a continuation of his thrilling novel, Lilith. Tate took some time out of his schedule to talk to The Big Thrill this month about his latest release, including what about the sci-fi genre piques his interest and the exciting project he’s working on next.
Did you have a favorite character to write?
I think my favorite character would have to be CIA Operative Gabrielle “Gabe” Lincoln. She was born in the U.S. and raised by her parents in Australia. She came back to the U.S. to go to college and join the Air Force as an intelligence officer. She later joins the CIA as one of their best clandestine field operatives. She’s quite lethal, but has a soft side, as well. Two things that make her stand out are: a big red dragon tattoo across one shoulder, and her ten-inch, neon-green Zombie War Sword.
Why sci-fi? What got you interested in the genre?
I grew up reading Ray Bradbury and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Stories like The Martian Chronicles and John Carter of Mars just pulled me in and opened my imagination to new worlds. I’ve never read anyone yet who could mold the English language the way Bradbury could. He will always be the master storyteller.
What’s it like writing sci-fi? It’s like creating your own world, am I right?
Although there’s a lot of globe-hopping, my stories are all set on Earth. I do it that way because it’s more relatable to the reader to have things they are familiar with. Otherwise it just gets so far out that it’s easy to lose interest. But there are some bizarre creatures called Lilitu, which I think people will find fascinating. They start out as human, but when they come into contact with radiation, they mutate into these huge, vicious beasts.
Chris Kuzneski is the author of numerous international bestsellers. As a former college football player at Pitt, a former teacher, and someone who self-published his first novel before the literary establishment took notice, his rise among the ranks of the writing world is a testament to the fact there is no set path to success as an author. His books have sold millions of copies around the globe, and there is no reason to believe his latest will be any exception. Kuzneski was kind enough to answer some questions about his most recent release, THE PRISONER’S GOLD, and give readers of The Big Thrill a little insight into both the book and its author.
Congratulations on your latest novel, THE PRISONER’S GOLD. This is the third novel in the Hunters series. Can you tell us a little about this book and how you chose its central storyline?
Thanks, I’d be happy to. THE PRISONER’S GOLD focuses on Marco Polo and the treasure he supposedly left in China before returning to his native Italy. Although most readers are familiar with Polo’s name and major exploits, few people know about his imprisonment in Genoa and the close friendship he had with fellow inmate Rustichello da Pisa. I wanted to explore a few “what ifs” that sprang from that relationship. GOLD opens in 1298 A.D. in a Genoese prison cell, with Polo recovering from a savage beating at the hands of the guards. In his delirious state, he reveals a little bit too much information about his time in China—information that eventually gets into the hands of the Hunters. Using firsthand details from Polo himself, the Hunters head to modern-day China in hopes of finding the fortune he left behind.
Your protagonists are a team of well-financed experts tasked with tracking down lost and stolen treasures. Do you think the appeal of having characters with specialized backgrounds are easier or harder to write?
Both! In some ways it’s easier because my characters were asked to join the Hunters for a specific reason, so a lot of their DNA is built in to the roles they fill. The team leader, Jack Cobb, is former military. He believes in precision and discipline—the type of things you’d expect from an elite soldier. Sarah Ellis is ex-CIA. She eventually found her calling as a world-class thief but doesn’t view herself in those terms. She sees herself as an acquisitions expert, someone who can get anything if the reason is right. Hector Garcia is an FBI-trained hacker, able to do things with ones and zeroes that Stephen Hawking couldn’t comprehend. Then there’s Josh McNutt, a sniper/weapons expert who has seen more carnage in his life than the others combined. A pretty interesting group, right? Well, now comes the hard part. How do you make these characters unique? I mean, ex-soldiers are featured in half of the action series today, so what makes Cobb and McNutt different from the characters in Tom Clancy’s or Clive Cussler’s books—or even the characters in my Payne & Jones series? Like I said, that’s the hard part: figuring out how to make your characters stand out in a crowded marketplace.
By Jeremy Burns
William Lashner earned his writing chops penning legal thrillers that garnered comparisons to the work of John Grisham and Scott Turow. Now, with an Edgar Award nomination and a Shamus Award nod under his belt, he’s releasing one of the most intriguing tales in his decades-long career. A departure from the courtroom dramas longtime fans know him for, GUARANTEED HEROES creates a chilling vision of a post-apocalyptic America, yet is populated with all-too-human characters forced to confront timeless challenges that will surely resonate with readers in today’s world. In the build-up to what may be his most intriguing and creative work yet, Lashner sat down with The Big Thrill to give readers some advance insight into this fascinating adventure.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I write novels. For many years I was working on a series of legal thrillers with a down-and-out lawyer named Victor Carl as the ostensible hero. Lately I’ve been writing standalones thrillers and am really excited about the wild flexibility standalones offer. I’m just trying to stay as inventive as the thriller form allows.
So where have you gone with GUARANTEED HEROES?
It’s a classic story about a kid in prison who learns that his sister has gone missing and escapes to find her. Violence, of course, ensues. But I set the story in an alternate-history America where the Midwest has been wiped out in a series of nuclear tragedies and a new Constitution has been forged to deal with the consequences. The search takes place in this alternative landscape, from the still-standing city of Chicago, through the wild border town of Moline, and then into the nuclear-ravaged heart of the country.
The post-apocalyptic setting is a departure for you. Why did you choose to go this route with GUARANTEED HEROES, and what challenges or opportunities did you encounter in writing this type of book?
First of all, I thought it would be cool. But just as importantly, GUARANTEED HEROES is a book about freedom and how to create it for yourself in difficult circumstances, and the setting allowed me to make those circumstances more oppressive and dire, which is always a good thing in a thriller. The challenge was to keep the setting constantly inventive yet still rooted in reality, even if it’s an alternative reality. The fun part was hitting on an idea and, because of the freedom the setting allowed me as a writer, to run with it as far as it would take me. Sometimes it would run me right into a dead end, and I’d have to start again, but other times it lifted the whole story levels above what I expected when I started.
By Jeremy Burns
Ethan Cross burst onto the scene in 2011 with his blockbuster debut, The Shepherd, which rocketed its way to national and international bestseller status. Now, after further success with a prequel novella and two full-length sequels starring serial-killer-hunting investigator Marcus Williams, the secretive Shepherd Organization, and show-stealing antagonist Francis Ackerman, Jr., Cross has set his sights on a new series, one with a unique protagonist and a compelling world. The author sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss his newest surefire hit, BLIND JUSTICE, starring an investigator who sees the clues and connections others don’t despite not seeing what most of us do.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am the International Bestselling Author of The Shepherd, The Prophet, The Cage, Father of Fear, and Callsign: Knight. Bestselling author Jon Land described The Prophet as “the best book of its kind since Thomas Harris retired Hannibal Lecter,” while Andrew Gross (#1 New York Times bestselling author of Reckless and Don’t Look Twice) called The Shepherd “a fast-paced, all-too-real thriller with a villain right out of James Patterson and Criminal Minds.” The Shepherd recently spent nineteen weeks in the Top 5 on the German Der Spiegel list and has been published in around 20 different languages. I live and write in a small town in rural Illinois with my wife, two daughters, one son, and two Shih Tzus.
Tell us about your new book, BLIND JUSTICE.
Deacon Munroe is not your average investigator. He’s intelligent, cultured, well-connected. And totally blind. With BLIND JUSTICE, I wanted to create a story featuring an investigator with the brilliance of Lincoln Rhyme being paired with a soldier with the determination and strength of Jack Reacher. And page one kicks off with the murder of the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Brothers Danny and Clay Gunn were brought up an ocean apart, but blood will out. Both served in the military, and both know how to kill, taking work as private military contractors and freelance fixers. But when they save a female journalist in the Nevada desert, it is they who become the targets, pursued by clandestine paramilitary forces …
To stay alive they must turn the tables, stop running, and become hunters once again.
James Hilton is the author of several Kindle-release titles and short stories. He is a Fourth Dan Blackbelt in Shotokan Karate, as has worked as a martial arts instructor, which has been invaluable in crafting his fight scenes. He is currently planning a YA series. He lives in Carlisle. His brother is bestselling thriller author Matt Hilton.
To learn more about James, please visit his website.
James Abel is a pseudonym for journalist Bob Reiss, who has covered the Arctic—the setting for PROTOCOL ZERO—for the magazines Smithsonian, Parade, Readers Digest, and Outside. He also wrote the nonfiction book The Eskimo and the Oil Man about the opening of the Arctic, advised 60 Minutes on Arctic issues, and has appeared as a guest on Morning Joe, Dan Rather Reports, Al Jazeera, and Nightline, discussing Arctic security and potential conflict.
PROTOCOL ZERO begins as a party of four scientific researchers, a family of three and their guide, makes a satellite call for help, but by the time Alaskan police arrive they are all dead. It looks like a murder/suicide, but then Marine bio-terror expert Joe Rush discovers that all the dead were sick with the most fatal disease on earth, yet one that never afflicts people in groups. At least until now. Through the ages, this very real disease has given rise to myth, terror, and folk tales.
Has the microbe evolved into something even more terrible, or has it been genetically engineered? And if the latter, who is behind it? More people are falling ill in Alaska. Soon the area will be quarantined, and the race will be on to stop the illness.
How did your work as a journalist in the Arctic lead to the plot for PROTOCOL ZERO?
The region is warming so fast that scientists believe that the next big outbreak of illness may come from a cold region, not a hot one. Add to that the competition between Arctic nations for territory, the race to get oil out of the ground there, the fact that the biggest new diamond mines on earth are in the Arctic…well, the real world provides all the elements of a thriller.
In the 15 years I’ve been writing thrillers, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazing people—from medical examiners and crime-lab directors to criminal profilers and homicide detectives. Because I don’t have a background in forensics or law enforcement, I’ve had to rely on experts who have generously offered their time and shared their experiences. Their real-life details have breathed life into my novels, and their friendships have enriched me personally as well as professionally. Through these experts, I’ve been able to write what I did not know.
Over the years my research has taken me through a variety of topics: the Ebola virus (Exposed); Munchausen syndrome by proxy (At the Stroke of Madness); the underground trafficking of body parts (Damaged); domestic terrorism (Black Friday); and food contamination in our school-lunch programs (Hotwire). One of the experts I met during this research told me about cadaver dogs. And ever since, I’ve been chomping at the bit to include one in a novel.
I’m a dog lover. I’ve surrounded myself with dogs my entire life, some of which have been rescues. I’ve had as many as six in my pack at one time. Each and every one of them has been a special member of my family—their entrance a celebration; their exit a deep and profound sadness. Yet I never truly realized the amazing capabilities that dogs possess until I started writing SILENT CREED. Not only do they have a keen sense of smell but they can also differentiate and sort through a variety of scents. And they do this over miles, despite barriers of dirt, water, and mounds of mahi-mahi—or in the case of SILENT CREED, debris and mud from a devastating mudslide.
The follow-up to the critically acclaimed Phoenix Island, which reads like “Lord of the Flies meets Wolverine and Cool Hand Luke” (F. Paul Wilson, creator of Repairman Jack) and inspired the CBS TV show Intelligence.
With a chip in his head and hundreds more throughout his body, sixteen-year-old Carl Freeman was turned from an orphan with impulse control issues into a super-soldier. Forced into the mercenary Phoenix Force group, he begins to fear he’ll never escape. Sent to a volcanic island to fight for them, he’ll compete in a combat tournament that awards teens with survival for merciless brutality. But just when all looks lost, he spies a friendly face…and possibly a way out.
On Phoenix Island:
“Fantastic… superbly suspenseful… unpredictable and frightening. Phoenix Island will blow you away.”~Mark Sullivan, New York Times bestselling author of Rogue and co-author of Private Games (with James Patterson)
ASHSTORM is the fourth novel in the award-winning thriller series Seventeen by A.D. Starrling. The other novels in the series have been nominated for and won several awards since their publication in 2012, with the third novel Greene’s Calling being a finalist in the 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
This month, Starrling answered a few questions for The Big Thrill about the series that fans can’t get enough of.
The Seventeen series comprises an unusual blend of history, science, action, suspense, and an intriguing supernatural twist on the concept of immortality. Tell us how you came up with the series idea for Seventeen.
Seventeen started life with a simple but striking image. Imagine the number seventeen written in blood-red paint on a black marker stone. Imagine that stone standing in the middle of a deserted sandbank in a tropical lagoon halfway on the other side of the world. How did it get there? What did it mean?
Those thoughts went through my mind when I found myself staring at one such marker stone while visiting my home country of Mauritius several years ago. I decided to enter the British Fantasy Society Short Story Competition the following year, and elected to use that image as inspiration.
After toying with several ideas, I chose to write about a man who could die up to seventeen times. That short story made the finals of the BFS competition and was the beginning of Soul Meaning, the first novel in the series.
GRAY VENGEANCE is the fifth title in the Tom Gray action thriller series, recently released by Thomas & Mercer. Gray is an ex-soldier who runs a security company, and his journey started in England when he kidnapped five repeat offenders and paraded them on the Internet, letting the people of Britain decide their fate. That ended with Gray being whisked off to the Philippines with a new identity, but trouble wasn’t far away as local terrorists took him hostage. Close friends from the UK went to his rescue, but once again, nothing was what it seemed, and soon Gray and his crowd were in a fight for their lives.
Gray eventually returned to Britain, but the journey home was fraught with danger as a government-backed assassin tracked his movements. Only the intervention of MI5 operative Andrew Harvey saved Gray and his companions from certain death, and the two became close friends.
In Gray’s most recent exploits, a local gangster is hustling a relative for protection money while an African warlord threatens to wipe out his friends who are on a training exercise in Malundi. Gray has to decide who takes priority, with tragic consequences.
The latest installment sees Gray taking a back seat in his own company as clients seek to distance themselves from him, but he can’t stay out of the spotlight for long. A home-grown terrorist group launches a series of deadly attacks across Britain, prompting the government to bring a new surveillance tool online, and not a moment too soon. But is it ethical? And does that even matter now?
Fresh from pulling off her latest heist, Cat Montgomery believes she’s ready to leave her thieving lifestyle behind. But old habits die hard. When she’s recruited to retrieve the Lionheart, a legendary medieval ring made from the finest gold and excavated from the grave of Robin Hood, Cat’s determined to end her career with a bang.
Or so she thinks…until the Caliga Rapio, a mysterious brotherhood of thieves, beats her to the punch. Now she has to hightail it to Venice to swipe it back. With two old flames thrown into the mix and an Interpol agent hot on her tail, things are about to get a lot trickier. Cat’s troubles only worsen as she realizes the legend of the Lionheart runs deeper than she could have possibly imagined…
What can one man do against a huge criminal organization bent on world domination? Jon Land shows us in BLACK SCORPION: THE TYRANT REBORN, and thriller fans will love getting the answer.
The man in question is Michael Tiranno, whose cunning and ruthlessness in business earned him the nickname “The Tyrant.” Land introduced him in The Seven Sins. In that novel, Tiranno saved Las Vegas from a terrorist attack. This impressive character fully deserved to return in an even bigger adventure.
“You’d find him captivating, fascinating, charismatic, engaging, and a bit brash,” Land says. “The Tyrant inside him only emerges when he, someone close to him, or someone vulnerable, is harmed or threatened. The question, of course, then becomes which is the real Michael Tiranno.”
Tiranno gives us a clue to that in BLACK SCORPION when asked why he helps a family that just lost their house to foreclosure. He says, “Because I know what it’s like to lose a home.” But as Land points out, Tiranno’s motivations are more complex than that.
“I think Michael’s entire life, the core of his very existence, is about replacing what he lost the day as a young boy he witnessed the murder of his parents,” Land says. “But he can never get it, not really, which leads to him being a constantly restless soul moving on from one quest to another.”
Colin Campbell’s Resurrection Man returns in SNAKE PASS, a new thriller that looks back on the protagonist’s deadly standoff during his police career in Yorkshire.
Readers know Jim Grant, The Resurrection Man, as a special operative who stayed in the United States after a British case brought him to American shores.
In Jamaica Plain, Montecito Heights, and Adobe Flats he’s been troubleshooting dangerous situations for an unnamed U.S. security agency. In the first novel in the series, Jamaica Plain, a press photo of Grant with his hands extended during a standoff with a gunman earned his nickname, and his adventures have earned praise from outlets such as Library Journal, which noted of SNAKE PASS: “Campbell’s gritty noir style and hard-hitting action scenes mix well with Grant’s dry wit, making this fourth series installment a rollicking good time.”
Campbell recently answered a few questions for The Big Thrill.
Your hero, Jim Grant, The Resurrection Man, has hopped around America for several books now. What prompted a look back at his UK days and how long had you planned to go back to his home?
SNAKE PASS was actually going to be the first book, long before it was even called SNAKE PASS or had anything to do with Jim Grant. When my agent, Donna Bagdasarian, suggested writing a series set in America I was already outlining a story about a disillusioned UK cop who’s always telling the newbies not to get involved off duty but ends up helping a waitress being attacked after work. I changed it to be this UK cop who gets sent to America at the end to set up the US series. (Since I was halfway through the plotting stage.) Then I thought it made more sense to jump straight in with Jamaica Plain and Grant’s first adventure in the US, using Snake Pass as backstory for why he was sent there. I always intended to revisit it and tell the whole story. I actually wrote it before Adobe Flats, but working on the rule of threes I decided that having three US adventures gave him time to get established before going back to that snowy night in Yorkshire.
By Dawn Ius
If you knew Philip Donlay in high school, you probably caught him just “flying around.” At seventeen, he was the only student in the school with his pilot’s license—a rare accomplishment for most, but for Donlay a somewhat natural progression in his life’s navigation.
Growing up in Wichita, Kansas, the Air Capital of the World, coupled with the fact that Donlay’s grandfather was a pilot, Donlay’s love of flying was essentially part of his DNA, as natural as breathing air.
Over the years, he’s been a flight instructor, flown a private jet for a Saudi prince, and for twenty-eight years, flew a corporate jet for a Fortune 500 company, logging almost 14,000 hours of flight time. Even still, he remembers his first solo flight with crystal clarity.
“I was a teenager flying a Cessna, realizing a lifelong dream, and it changed me,” he says. “The sense of freedom and accomplishment was, and still is, extraordinary.”
Although he’s officially retired from flying, Donlay now merges his love of planes with another great passion—writing. AFTERSHOCK is his fifth novel centered on Donovan Nash, a pilot with an unwavering belief system and a compassion for people that inspires him to be a hero, without the trumped up title.
“My vision of him is private, but what I want people to think about when they read my books is that brave people don’t all have super powers, or Ninja skills,” Donlay says.
Though some might suggest that Nash’s demonstrated piloting skills put him somewhere in the super hero range. In AFTERSHOCK, Nash is challenged to perform a dangerous rescue amid earthquakes, volcanic ash and lava from the eruption, a scenario inspired by one of Donlay’s more thrilling flights.
I write funny, or screwball, mysteries, but I scared myself writing BIG MOJO, the third novel in my Austin Carr series. Maybe the book really is a thriller. What happened, a supporting character—Angelina “Mama Bones” Bonacelli—took over as my favorite writing voice, and that is not supposed to happen. Austin Carr is my chosen speaker, the man whose strange ideas about life found voice inside the devil on my shoulder. Austin’s the star of the show. He talks in first person. It’s his series. Says so on the cover of every book.
Looking back, examining Mama Bones’ creation and early appearances, it’s hard to say when and how the change-over occurred. Austin did all the talking in book one, Big Numbers. Mama Bones tickled my funny bone when she showed up in book two, Big Money, by playing out a story I’d heard about one of my wife’s aunts who cheated at a church-sponsored bingo game. In my fictional version of this family story, the cheater—Mama Bones—was the mother of Austin’s boss and tougher than week-old tomato pie. She was hard-edged, owned a sarcastic sense of humor like Austin, but she also had a gigantic heart. And though no scenes were written from Mama Bones’ point of view in either book one or two, I knew she’d be back in Austin’s life.
Why? Because I enjoy making other people laugh, telling stories that crack people up, but I enjoy stories even more when it’s me doing the laughing. Pecking away at that tiny computer keyboard, I like to giggle and hoot while I’m making this stuff up, and I’ve discovered through the comments section of Goodreads and Amazon that if the scene, characters, or dialogue make me chuckle or laugh, chances are excellent my fans will enjoy the work as well. Good thing, eh? Or maybe that’s why they’re my fans.
By Jeremy Burns
Ever since smashing onto the scene with his award-winning, bestselling debut, The Faithful Spy, Alex Berenson and series protagonist John Wells have thrilled readers, weaving dangerous plots ripped from tomorrow’s headlines, and offering high-speed windows into the world’s most exotic places. In his latest outing, TWELVE DAYS, Berenson leads readers on a breakneck adventure where Wells must prevent a terrible calamity where countless lives hang in the balance. But with only the titular twelve days to uncover the truth, is Wells in over his head this time?
Alex Berenson sat down with The Big Thrill to offer some insight into his latest thrill ride, and into the man behind the magic himself.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a former reporter who got into writing thrillers after spending some time in Iraq for the New York Times in 2003 and 2004. I wanted to explore the complexities of the post-9/11 world in fiction, and spy thrillers seemed like a natural way to do so. I didn’t study fiction in college or get an English degree or an MFA—I have always been what I’d call a working writer.
Tell us about your new book, TWELVE DAYS.
TWELVE DAYS is the ninth book in the John Wells series and the immediate sequel to The Counterfeit Agent, which ends with Wells and his two closest allies realizing that they have twelve days to stop the United States from being tricked into invading Iran.
What was your initial inspiration for TWELVE DAYS? How did the story’s premise develop through the early days of your writing process?
See the above. I knew I had to finish the story I had begun in The Counterfeit Agent—and if I hadn’t, the emails I received from readers would have opened my eyes!
By Dawn Ius
As the long-time wife of a SWAT sniper, Jan Thomas has lived most of her life under a cloak of anonymity, keeping her emotions—and close relationships—tight to her chest. She’s witnessed firsthand the darker side of humanity, and admits, it’s sometimes scary.
Thriller author Grant Jerkins considers “scary” part of his job. His dark novels—A Very Simple Crime, The Ninth Step, and At the End of the Road—are known for their ability to take readers down disturbing, uncomfortable paths.
But neither Jerkins nor Thomas ever considered those paths might one day cross.
The two have never met, but together, they’ve written DONE IN ONE, a vivid, visceral look at the haunting world of a police sniper. Though fiction, the novel is very much centered on Thomas and her husband’s life.
“If my husband had his way, this story would never have been written,” Thomas says. “Snipers are very solitary creatures. He doesn’t like anybody knowing his business.”
But Thomas knew in order to do the story justice, she’d have to dig deep and get personal. Ultimately, she’d have to get naked in front of the world. Which could have left her co-writer feeling a little like a third wheel.
Jerkins doesn’t see it that way.
“I knew Jan for four years before she even told me her husband’s name,” he says. “It’s built in to Jan not to share personal information. But even from the beginning, I’ve always felt part of their inner circle.”
BITE HARDER gives us an unlikely antihero, Dean Drayhart, a paraplegic serial killer. Drayhart’s mission in life is to find and render justice to hit-and-run drivers who have left behind their dead victims. His cohorts include Cinda, a fearless, fast-driving girlfriend, and Sid, the helper monkey—Drayhart’s secret weapon. But Drayhart’s quest for cosmic retribution goes one dead body too far when he deservedly slays the son of a Mexican drug king, make that queen—the beautiful and evil Orella—and this bereaved mother has her claws out for our hero in the wheelchair. Anonymous-9 delivers a story that slaps you silly with humor, action, and poignancy as it careens in a hyper-kinetic narrative fueled by rich, high-octane prose.
You have taken on quite a challenge with this story. The protagonist is a paraplegic, which itself can be a difficult subject to read. And you’ve added plenty of details of what life with that disability can be like. Then you’ve made him a renegade who takes the law into his own hands. On top of that, you’ve heaped tons of humor on the dark moments. Given that, what made you write this book?
Aw, thanks. I wrote the kind of book I want to read. I can lose patience with a slow-moving plot or lack of character engagement very quickly. A story needs to grab me in the first sentence—it better be fresh and it’s gotta have a hook. I need a plot loaded with situations and dialogue I haven’t seen before. I want to care deeply about unique characters. I want to laugh, cry, and feel. When it came time to write my own book, it had to have all this and more.
Your prose was so vivid. Even in the middle of wild action, I could follow the moves no matter how out-of-control the choreography seemed. What’s your secret?
My secret? Never let the POV go fuzzy. Every sentence drives the POV road, even if it’s breaking the speed limit.