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.
By Jeremy Burns
Jack Soren may be a new name to thriller readers, but he’s no stranger to the genre. A lifelong aficionado of the genre, Soren has finally thrown his hat into the ring with what looks to be a blockbuster debut. On the eve of THE MONARCH’s release, Soren sat down with THE BIG THRILL to give readers a sneak peak at a thriller master in the making.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Growing up, my favorite movies usually starred either Jerry Lewis or Vincent Price. This explains a lot. A LOT. My headboard was usually stocked with The Hardy Boys, Star Trek novels and comic books. And my head was usually full of science, bad jokes, and girls. Luckily, some of this has finally started to leak out.
Before becoming a thriller novelist, I wrote software manuals, waited tables, drove a cab, and spent six months as a really terrible private investigator.
I recently signed a multi-book deal with HarperCollins for my debut thriller series. The first book in the series, THE MONARCH, is due out December 2, 2014. The second book—Dead Lights—is scheduled to follow next summer.
I live in a Toronto area dungeon where my girlfriend tosses meat and beer over a curtain for every ten manuscript pages I manage to finish.
Tell us about your new book, THE MONARCH.
Imitation is the deadliest form of flattery …
Jack Ferrell, William Nikkel’s swashbuckling marine biologist, returns in BLOOD GOLD, his fifth adventure, which takes him to South America to investigate the source of lethal toxins in the Mazaruni River.
In this outing, Ferrell, who’s won fans including bestselling authors James Rollins and Thomas Perry, must battle not just an ecological crisis but also a trio of villains driven by greed and uninhibited by compassion.
As the author notes, Jack has a way of being at the wrong place at the right time. This tale starts as he’s investigating a strange increase in shark attacks. An assault on a beautiful woman makes a more immediate demand on Jack’s attention, and he’s soon embroiled in an ecological mystery that points to a quest for gold in the Guyanese jungle that could cost lives and devastate the rainforest.
Nikkel, a former police officer, joined THE BIG THRILL for a few questions about his latest book, his hero and the inspiration for the story.
Your hero in BLOOD GOLD is part of a team facing a major ecological crisis. Was there a particular real life incident that inspired the tale?
There was no real-life incident involving a research team, at least that I know of, but the ecological crisis in South America is quite real. The high price of gold has brought about a modern-day gold rush in the South American rainforests that has caused the large-scale destruction of a vital ecological resource to the entire world. Along with logging, vast expanses of the rainforest are disappearing every day from large-scale mining operations that clear away trees and topsoil to get to the gold-bearing gravels. In addition, there have been documented cases of mercury and cyanide runoff from the open-pit mining operations polluting the waterways and killing off aquatic life.
By Thomas Drago
Cast against the background of a futuristic world order and a disintegrating Global Alliance, Tom Calen’s latest science fiction thriller The Ignota, which follows up Torranceas the second book in the enthralling Scars of Tomorrow series. The style and magnitude of the work capture a maturity rarely achieved by writers who cross genres. Tom’s brilliant, fast-paced narratives continue to blaze a path for those of us following in his footsteps.
Recently, I had a chance to chat with Tom about his new novel, The Ignota,and learn more about past, current, and future projects.
The more I think about The Ignota and the entire Scars of Tomorrow series, I can’t help but think about epic motion pictures. The Godfather and the warring Five Families. Star Wars and the fragmented Rebel Alliance. Those are two of the biggest and best films ever made. Ever envision your series on the big screen?
That’s the dream for all us, isn’t it? Seeing our words and worlds brought to life on film?
I’ve been told my writing is very cinematic. The scene cuts, the descriptions. I’m a visual learner, so it’s not a shock that my writing style reflects that. I have to “see” it before I can write it. Sometimes that involves acting out a certain scene. I’m sure my neighbors wonder why that crazy American next door is running around his living room acting out fight sequences.
The Internet Tough Guys return for a second fast-paced, globe-hopping adventure in the new novel by Bernard Maestas, GODWIN’S LAW.
With a tip of its hat to author Mike Godwin’s assertion that Internet debates will eventually result in comparisons to Nazis, the tale finds Alex Kirwan and Ted Reagan heading to Germany. There they must confront a cult that’s holding a young American woman, Gwen Kane.
While she might seem like one more member, the cult leader throws all of his paramilitary resources to bringing Gwen back once they’ve swept her away. That makes for a challenging trip home.
In fact, staying alive’s going to require all of the survival skills of ex-commando Alex plus Ted’s computer hacking skills.
From Germany to Canada to points in the U.S., the book unfolds a running battle with the unrelenting cult-leader villain and a clever mystery at its heart. What’s so special about Gwen? Is there a Nazi comparison? You’ll need to read the book to resolve those questions. You can enjoy the adrenaline pumping confrontations and the clever banter between Alex and Ted along the way.
Meanwhile, Maesta, a police officer who works writing in around his job patrolling the mean streets of Hawaii, agreed to a few questions about the tale, while keeping important plot points close to his chest.
By Jeremy Burns
In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and discovered America—or did he? What if Vikings, led by the famous adventurer Leif Eriksson, were in fact the first Europeans to discover the New World five centuries before Columbus’s voyage?
This is the question posed by award-winning author and former congressman Robert J. Mrazek in his new thriller, VALHALLA, a globe-spanning adventure steeped in history, legend, and myth. Mrazek sat down with THE BIG THRILL to talk about his fascinating new book, its creation, and some cool tidbits about himself.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I don’t know how many former members of congress ever decided to become working novelists. Looking back on my life, I believe I was a writer who became a politician, rather than a congressman who eventually turned to writing fiction as a second profession.
Like I’ve read about you, I’ve been reading and writing stories since I was a small boy, and enjoyed pursuing creative writing all through college. In 1968, I was placed on the disabled-retired list by the Navy following a training accident at Officer’s Candidate School. I had spent two months in Newport Naval Hospital, sharing a ward with badly wounded Marines who had been evacuated from Vietnam.
After seeing first hand part of the human cost of the war in Vietnam, I was deeply disheartened, and decided to leave the country to attend the London Film School. Within five months, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated. Suddenly, my goal of writing fiction and making films seemed trivial compared to the convulsive upheaval that was taking place at home.
My anger over the Vietnam War and its aftermath carried me a long way in politics. But I never stopped writing. With four novels and three non-fiction books now published since leaving public life, I’m as proud of the awards that my books have received as the legislation I authored in congress.
Caitlin Strong, the protagonist of Jon Land’s compelling series, is a Texas Ranger, as were her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. In the words of real-life Ranger Rip Ford (and also the epigraph to the prologue), “They knew their duty and they did it.”
The latest in the series, STRONG DARKNESS, opens in 1883 Texas, where Caitlin’s great-grandfather William Ray Strong is pursing the Old West’s first serial killer. Fast forward to the present, when a serial killer whose methods are eerily similar to the earlier one has surfaced. Caitlin learns that the killings are somehow connected with a powerful Chinese billionaire, Li Zhen, who intends to use his company’s cutting-edge 5G wireless network against America to avenge what he believes was an old wrong. Up against an army at Li’s disposal, Caitlin and her outlaw lover Cort Wesley blaze a violent trail across the country in search of the truth, even as a strong darkness descends and a climactic battle looms with nothing less than the fate of the U.S. at stake.
STRONG DARKNESS, the latest book in your Caitlin Strong series, begins in 1883, with Caitlin’s great-grandfather, Texas Ranger William Ray Strong, trying to find a serial killer who’s murdered a number of Chinese women. The story then fast-forwards to the present, when Caitlin, also a Ranger, is called upon to solve more contemporary, but no less heinous crimes. Why do Texas Rangers make such compelling subjects of a novel?
That’s a great question and I think the way you phrased it kind of suggests the answer: that is the Texas Rangers have persevered remarkably unchanged through a long and mostly storied history. They wear different clothes and carry different guns than they did in 1883 but otherwise they’re really the same. What’s amazed me in the research I’ve done, and what I try to demonstrate in the snippets of Ranger history that precede each section, is that they remain to this day the archetypal and quintessential American icon. The loner hero whose duty is stitched into the fabric of their being. Similar in that respect, I suppose, to those soldiers in Special Forces or Navy SEALS. The difference being, of course, that the Texas Rangers have been around a lot longer than either of these.
By Jeremy Burns
For his many readers, Andy McDermott’s name has become synonymous with adventure. From discovering Atlantis and the Garden of Eden to saving the world countless times, McDermott’s flagship characters Eddie Chase and Nina Wilde have explored dozens of fascinating locations across the globe, usually getting into high-octane shootouts and car chases in the process.
For THE VALHALLA PROPHECY, the ninth entry in the series, McDermott tackles Norse mythology, Vikings, a Soviet Secret, and the end of the world in an adventure steeped in the author’s trademark blend of action, history, adventure, and legend. The author sat down with THE BIG THRILL to take readers behind the scenes with one of the most exciting and inventive thriller minds working today.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a former entertainment journalist who in 2004 took a massive gamble by quitting his job to write full-time until either selling a novel or running out of money. To my everlasting relief, the former happened before the latter—just! My first novel, THE HUNT FOR ATLANTIS, came out in the UK in 2007, and since then I’ve had ten more published, several of which made the New York Times bestseller list.
Tell us about your new book, THE VALHALLA PROPHECY.
It’s the tenth book starring what have become my signature characters, American archaeologist Nina Wilde and British former SAS soldier Eddie Chase. They’re currently working for a department of the United Nations, the International Heritage Agency, and are called upon to help investigate the theft of a Viking runestone from a museum in Sweden. It turns out that the runes point the way to a place long thought to be only a Norse myth—Valhalla, the Hall of the Slain—that holds a deadly secret. But there’s also a parallel storyline set eight years earlier, in Eddie’s days as a mercenary before he met Nina, revealing that he has his own dark secrets that are somehow connected to present-day events.
James Patterson is a giant in the literary world. He holds a Guinness record for the most #1 New York Times bestsellers of any author. One-in-seventeen fiction hardcovers sold in the U.S. are Patterson novels. And Forbes ranks him as the top earning author in the world. With all that, it might be easy to forget that Patterson was no overnight success. He paid his dues, and his rise was born of great storytelling, tenacity, and a willingness to buck convention.
Patterson’s first novel was rejected by more than thirty publishers. When it was finally published in 1976, he won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, but Patterson was so insecure about his work that he thought they’d made a mistake. Over the next sixteen years, Patterson published only a handful of novels to modest sales. It wasn’t until 1992 and his breakout novel featuring the now iconic Alex Cross that things started to change.
But it wasn’t just Mr. Cross that set Patterson’s course. It was his decision to take the reins of his career, to do things his way, even if it defied conventional wisdom. So, he ran television ads for his work despite raised eyebrows from some in the literary crowd. He embraced short chapters and chapters with alternating points of view, prompting finger-wagging from some writing teachers. He wrote in multiple genres, against admonishments that it would confuse his readers. And he was among the first to work regularly with co-authors, publishing multiple books a year, to claims that he was treating writing too much like a business.
While most of the naysayers have come around, it is doubtful anyone can dispute that Patterson’s rise is truly a writer’s story; a tale of sticking to it, beating the odds, and getting people—including millions of kids—to read.
Patterson recently took the time to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
Back when you were a kid in Newburgh, New York—or even after you published your first novel, The Thomas Berryman Number—did you ever imagine you’d become the world’s bestselling author? What did your success mean for your family and your friends from your hometown?
My first book was rejected by thirty-one publishers, so no; I did not expect this kind of success at that point. My mother was a teacher so I know that she would be especially proud of my kids’ books.
If you could go back in time and give your younger writer self some advice from what you’ve learned, what would it be?
Be confident in your ability to tell a good story. I have that now but early on I didn’t. When I won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel I thought it was a mistake. That’s the kind of lack of confidence that many young writers face.
By Jeremy Burns
An incredibly prolific up-and-coming thriller author, Michael McBride integrates elements of science-fiction and horror into his books. His latest, SUNBLIND, continues that trend while delving into one of today’s most controversial topics and completely turning it on its head. Michael sat down with THE BIG THRILL to take readers behind the scenes of his latest gripping adventure.
Please tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a third-generation Coloradan, born and raised in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. My wife and I have a whole slew of beautiful children ranging in age from four to twenty-two, three dogs, and several iguanas. When I’m not writing, I’m shivering in an ice rink, examining patients in a radiology department, or immersed in all things football and hockey. My dream is to one day create a serial character as beloved as Jack Reacher or Harry Bosch, through whose exploits I can vicariously live out my days.
Tell us about your new book, SUNBLIND.
SUNBLIND is about a group of undocumented aliens who set out across one of the deadliest regions on the planet in search of a new life in America. It’s about their suffering at the hands of the merciless desert and something else…something that’s survived in complete geographic isolation. Mostly, though, it’s a story about hope and the triumph of the human spirit. It’s about learning how far we can physically push ourselves and to what lengths we are willing to go to survive.
How is this book different from other books you’ve written?
SUNBLIND is my first story told from the female perspective. Writing Mayra’s part was challenging because it forced me to work outside my comfort zone and make choices I might not have otherwise made. And the book’s better for it. I believe the reader will be able to identify with her suffering and appreciate the sacrifices she makes in order to survive.
A remote military research station sends out a frantic distress call, ending with a chilling final command: Kill us all! Personnel from the neighboring base rush in to discover everyone already dead-and not just the scientists, but every living thing for fifty square miles is annihilated: every animal, plant, and insect, even bacteria.
The land is entirely sterile-and the blight is spreading.
To halt the inevitable, Commander Gray Pierce and Sigma must unravel a threat that rises out of the distant past, to a time when Antarctica was green and all life on Earth balanced upon the blade of a knife. Following clues from an ancient map rescued from the lost Library of Alexandria, Sigma will discover the truth about an ancient continent, about a new form of death buried under miles of ice.
From millennia-old secrets out of the frozen past to mysteries buried deep in the darkest jungles of today, Sigma will face its greatest challenge to date: stopping the coming extinction of mankind.
By James Ziskin
This month, I interview Gregg Hurwitz, the New York Times best-selling author of fourteen thrillers and several comic books. If that’s not enough, he also has written and produced television shows for major networks, and is currently developing his Tim Rackley series for TNT/Sony. His latest thriller, DON’T LOOK BACK, hits bookstores this month.
You write strong, fascinating female characters in all your books. I’m thinking of Cameron Kates, both Evelyn and Cristina Brasher, Janey Overbay… They’re at turns smart, sassy, brave, controlling, and have great conscience and soul. But DON’T LOOK BACK is the first time you’ve put a woman, Eve Hardaway, at the center of one of your thrillers. It’s a fantastically terrorizing story. Why, do you think, are so few thrillers about women?
I do think there’s a perception bias that books about women tend to be more “literary” (whatever that means)—or that within genre, female protagonists appear in mysteries rather than thrillers. But there are more thrillers about women than people tend to be aware of. If we look at contemporary writers alone, Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs, Laura Lippman, Chelsea Cain, Karin Slaughter, Lisa Unger, Alafair Burke, Meg Gardiner, Megan Abbott and many more write thrillers (or books with strong thriller elements). Connelly and Crais have chosen female protagonists for certain books (and interestingly, for those books closer to the thriller end of the spectrum for their respective bodies of work). And of course, Thomas Harris placed Clarice Starling at the center of one of the benchmark thrillers of all time.
DON’T LOOK BACK demanded a female lead character. I wanted to tell the story of a woman who was a single mother, freshly off a divorce, struggling to find herself and to reestablish her voice in the world. Leaving her son in the care of his beloved nanny for a week, Eve Hardaway finds herself in a small ecolodge way up in the jungles of Oaxaca. On her first day, she strays from the group into the jungle and sees something she’s not supposed to see. Which involves a Very Bad Man. He clues in to the fact that she saw him. And just as he starts to zero in on her and this small band of tourists, a tropical storm blows in. So Eve, single mother and nurse from Calabasas, finds herself being pursued through the jungle in the middle of a storm by a brutal man who can outflank, out-fight, and overpower her. And she realizes that if she ever hopes to get back home and see her son again, she is going to have to find that unbreakable part of herself, outlast, and prevail.