By Wendy Tyson
Jean Heller is no stranger to the world of investigative reporting, and in her latest thriller, THE SOMEDAY FILE, Jean’s knowledge and experience show. THE SOMEDAY FILE follows the sharp and spirited Deuce Mora, a columnist for The Chicago Journal, in her dangerous quest for justice as she unravels the truth behind a fifty-year-old crime. Well-plotted and tightly-written, with a fascinating glimpse into the sometimes grim reality of print journalism, THE SOMEDAY FILE is a thrilling read.
Jean graciously agreed to answer a few questions for The Big Thrill.
What can you tell us about THE SOMEDAY FILE that’s not on the back cover?
This is a book about obsession, guilt, obligation, and overcoming impossible odds under incredible pressure. Deuce Mora is a columnist for The Chicago Journal, a newspaper like most in the United States struggling against financial ruin in a digital world that seems to have left traditional newspapers in the gutter. She tries to interview an aging, low-level mobster who is living on beer, bourbon, and regret for the one mistake in his life that cost him everything. Deuce’s questions trigger a horrendous event that propels her into the nightmare of a fifty-year-old crime. To solve it, she must fight the cops, the Mob, politicians, prosecutors, and even her own editor. At the very least, Deuce’s quest will ruin her reputation and cost her job. Just as likely, it will cost her life.
As you note, The Chicago Journal is a newspaper struggling to survive in a digital world. You are well acquainted with journalism. In fact, you’ve had quite a career yourself, a career that includes eight Pulitzer Prize nominations. How have your experiences in the field of journalism impacted your novels? Deuce Mora’s character?
If I hadn’t been a journalist, I couldn’t have written the book. I was trained as a projects and an investigative reporter, which taught me legitimate ways to find elusive information. A retired New York City police detective said he was recommending the novel to young cops as a how-to on digging out information bad guys don’t want them to know. He told me my novel would be more effective than a police manual because the information is delivered in the context of a fascinating mystery, so young cops are more likely to remember it. And writers write what we know, or at least we should. I had so many incredible experiences as an investigative reporter I could populate a lifetime of thrillers. As for Deuce Mora, she’s younger than I am and taller than I am. But her sense of humor, her smartass responses to life, and her self-doubts are all mine.
By Tim O’Mara
I was in the Albany auditorium during the 2013 Barry Awards ceremony when Michael Sears and I both did not hear our names called for Best First Novel. About an hour later as we walked to a local bar to get some help with our mutual disappointment, he took the opportunity to call his wife.
“Hey, Hon” I remember him saying, “this not winning thing is getting a lot easier.” He laughed at something she said, but I could tell he’d rather be making the phone call for another reason. Michael’s first book, Black Fridays, had garnered five nominations and the Barry was the fourth one he “did not win.”
The following evening he took home the Shamus Award for “Best First P.I. Novel.” (“I didn’t even know I had written a P.I. Novel.”) He was so excited he called his mother and told her about the victory.
“Wonderful,” she said. “You won the Irish award.”
“I tried to spell the name for her,” he told me sometime later, “but she wouldn’t hear of it. She spelled it for me. To her it was the Seamus Award. And I had a second cousin Seamus so…it’s now known as ‘The Irish Award.’”
Speaking of cousins, Michael has always been close to his, and this was one of the reasons he decided to give his hero, ex–Wall Street wizard and ex-con Jason Stafford, a son who has autism. Two of his cousins have children “on the spectrum,” and Michael feels a great responsibility to get it right. (As a special education teacher, I can tell you he does just that.)
“Having a kid with autism,” he explained, “is an everyday reminder of never being able to do enough for your kids. It’s constant guilt. I’ve always been interested in writing about fathers and sons, and I felt very confident I could do this particular type of relationship. I read Temple Grandin’s book on how to parent an autistic child and I remember thinking, ‘This is true for any parent.’ The relationship between a parent and their child with autism is just so much more.”
Caroline Cashion’s idyllic upbringing has always been a source of comfort to her, the result of which is a close adult relationship with her parents and siblings. She leads a quiet, academically rich life, spending her days teaching nineteenth-century French literature, and nights with her nose buried in a book. So when her chronic wrist pain leads her to have an MRI, she is stunned to discover that she has been carrying around a bullet in her neck.
One discovery leads to another. As her past unravels, she learns that the first three years of her life are a mystery—her parents are not really her parents, but adopted her and kept it from her all her life. Readers accompany Caroline on her harrowing ride to discover who murdered her birth parents, and whether the evidence she never knew she had, will make her the killer’s next target.
You have extensive experience traveling the world and reporting on very serious matters. Did you find it hard to sequester yourself and spend hours on end in the world of fiction?
It’s just a completely different job. I don’t mean making up a story from scratch; you’d be surprised how much creativity a news reporter exercises every day. Sure, you’re constrained by the facts, but you decide how to tell your story: where to begin it, and which voices to include, and what details to deploy to bring your facts to life. Send two journalists to cover the same dull Senate hearing, and you’ll end up with two very different reports, and one may be vastly more informative and entertaining.
For me, a key difference between daily news and writing fiction is one of scale. A typical news reports for the BBC or NPR runs about four minutes. A typical novel runs about four hundred pages. It’s a fascinating challenge to figure out how to sustain a reader’s interest for that long. Curling up with a novel feels like one of the last holdouts of continuous, deep attention in today’s crazy world. We all have so many demands on our time, and if a reader chooses to invest several hours in my novel, well, I want to make it worth his while.
I knew I’d find Jamie Mason sympathetic when I read in her bio that she hates the sound of ticking clocks. In the first few pages of MONDAY’S LIE, I knew I’d love her work too. It’s wonderful when you sit down with a new book and go “Ahhh, I’m in great hands here.”
The heartrending, crystalline opening (the central character, Dee Vess’s thirteen-year-old self laid bare)—mirrors my own philosophy: “later, and for years after, the thing that twisted me into a restless tangle in my sheets was the certainty that every normal night was on a hair trigger, leaning in at the ready to explode into something else entirely.”
Mason is a master of the psychological insight. Dee Vess defines herself by using her mother as a foil: “I’ve been adamant that her contradictions are not mine, that gentleness and warmth don’t come in the same package as danger and cunning.”
I’m in love with the character of the mother, Annette Vess, whose supreme self-possession and badass tradecraft coexist with deep maternal devotion. Annette, the undercover agent, cannot but help to train her two children: “In her games and in her axioms she’d been more candid with her soul than anyone else I’d ever known.”
Packages are delivered by moonlight, people are defined by what they hide. The atmosphere is dark, pulsing with apprehension, psychologically rich. Mason’s prose is elegant and strongly individual: “a cool grey tentacle of premonition strokes the back of my neck.” She talks of: “the burn of being prey.”
Over to Jamie for some fascinating and idiosyncratic insights into her life and work.
A major theme of MONDAY’S LIE (as the title would suggest!) is lies. As authors, I’ve always thought we are mythomanes, inventing legends for other people, not for ourselves. But those skills and that predisposition can easily spill over into our own lives. Are you partial to the occasional lie? If so, can you pull it off?
I don’t know if I’m any good at it, because beyond the occasional “little white lie” to grease the skids of everyday life, I try to avoid lying. This is not because I’m noble. It’s because I hate anxiety. I’m a cautious creature and I do what I can to arrange my life and my personality to keep my stress levels low. Lying about significant things would probably just do my head in.
By Rob Brunet
Pastel hospital curtains offer more than a false sense of privacy. We know to look away. We try not to hear the conversation between doctor and patient. It’s personal. Not ours to know. With LITTLE BLACK LIES, Sandra Block takes us behind the curtain in a psychiatric ward and gives us an eyeful. She probes the mental state of everyone from her protagonist-doctor to the patients she treats.
The story is told through the eyes of Zoe Goldman, a psychiatric clinician. But Zoe is also a patient herself and the child of an institutionalized mother. The book peels back layers on the human mind while it draws us into Zoe’s life, revealing mysteries long kept hidden, buried deep, veiled by fire.
Block knows a thing or two about the human brain. As a neurologist, she has a special perspective on what makes us tick. She shared some of that perspective with The Big Thrill in an interview about her debut medical thriller.
Mental illness, dementia, altered perceptions of reality, and false memory—all of these weave together tightly in LITTLE BLACK LIES. At times, it seems everyone is somewhat off-kilter, or has been. Do you think that’s just part of the human condition?
Yes, that’s exactly Zoe’s opinion. Everyone is crazy; it’s just a matter of scale, otherwise known as the “human condition.” As one patient says, “Normal is just a setting on the washing machine.”
In LITTLE BLACK LIES, Zoe Goldman has returned to Buffalo to complete medical studies after studying at Yale, whereas you did the same, but from Harvard. She’s a psychiatrist, you’re a neurologist. You know I have to ask, how much more of you is in Zoe.
My husband pointed out the same thing! Yes, there is some of me in Zoe and some of Zoe in me. I would say Zoe is more unstable and prone to self-destruction, while I’m a more centered (and certainly more boring) person. However, I also have about twenty years or so on Zoe, so I’ve managed to learn some tricks along the way.
By Dawn Ius
New York Times bestselling author Lisa Unger can usually pinpoint the exact moment, or germ for a novel. There’s a little zap, generally sparked by a poem, a slice of music, a news story, or in one instance, a piece of junk mail.
But in the case of her newest release, CRAZY LOVE YOU, Unger says she just woke up one day with an edgy, unstable voice in her head.
“I knew it wasn’t my voice because it was male, and he was a graphic novelist—a world I knew nothing about,” she says. “So I called up my friend Gregg Hurwitz, who has also written for graphic novels, and said, ‘Help! I don’t know anything about my character’s job.’”
Hurwitz immediately connected Unger with Judd Myer at Blastoff Comics who helped provide the important—and fascinating—background for Unger’s character, Ian.
Desperate to move on from the deadly family secrets he’s shared only with his best friend, Priss, Ian meets sweet, beautiful Megan, whose love inspires him to be a better man. But Priss doesn’t like change. Change makes her angry. And when Priss is angry, bad things happen.
“At its core, CRAZY LOVE YOU is about obsessive love, the twisting nature of reality and fiction, and going down the rabbit hole of addiction,” she says.
It is perhaps one of Unger’s darkest stories, which is saying a lot since it marks her thirteenth published novel. Not surprisingly, several of her thrillers have made the New York Times bestseller list. With more than 1.8 million copies of her books sold worldwide, Unger is well known by her fans to produce stories that deliver a gripping plot and deeply complex characters.
In fact, his writing routine might seem tedious or even archaic to some—two handwritten drafts, followed by carefully reciting the book into the computer using speech recognition software, and then the often painful revision-edit-revision process.
But for Pinkerton, author of seven full-length works including his latest thriller, BENDER, this writing ritual allows for the greatest creative flexibility and control. Not to mention, a cool opportunity to garner extra interest in his books.
“I give away the handwritten pages,” he says. “Anyone who posts something about one of my books—a review, a book cover, anything—can contact me and I’ll send them a free page.”
This time around, that page would come from BENDER, the story of a recovering alcoholic who falls off the wagon with disastrous results. Described as The Hangover meets Hitchcock, BENDER is a twist on the classic set-up of an innocent man on the run, framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Except in this case, the consequences don’t only affect the protagonist—they also endanger his wife and daughter.
An NFL linebacker, Brian Williams, is found dead in the middle of the street in the Nation’s capital. Other famous athletes are murdered one by one in the following weeks. The serial killer stumps the police and FBI by using a different method in killing each victim.
This is the premise of Annie Rose Alexander’s new novel, RETRIBUTION.
In the story, homicide detectives Ariel Summers and Paul Costello interrogate victim Brian Williams’s wife, who hires Private Detective, Jason Steele, not knowing that Jason is Ariel’s boyfriend. Jason and Ariel clash when evidence surfaces that causes Ariel to arrest Brian’s wife. But as the death toll continues to rise, they are forced to work together on a plan to trap the nation’s most dangerous and cold-blooded assassin.
What prompted you to write this story? It touched upon a lot of cultural memes that made the story seem especially timely. And what’s your fascination with murder?
I think what prompted me to write this story was the murder of NFL Washington Redskins safety, Sean Taylor, and other athletes who were murdered before and after Sean’s untimely death.
I wouldn’t say that I have a fascination with murder but the public wants to know why people kill and they are intrigued by the ways people commit the crime. And I think people have a need to know about motivation and means in order to prevent crime and protect themselves from crime. And because of this need to know, or fascination with murder, the public buys the mysteries and thrillers we write.
By Rob Brunet
The world’s eyes are turning to the Arctic, and none more acutely than James Abel’s. A pseudonym for a journalist with deep experience in far-flung places, Abel is the author of WHITE PLAGUE. The thriller is set in a part of the world largely ignored in geopolitical fiction since Alistair MacLean wrote books like Athabasca and Ice Station Zebra.
Abel’s three decades of research and writing have taken him to the Amazon, the Sudan, the Galapagos, the Maldives, and Somalia—places where he’s encountered “the border between order and anarchy.” That borderland is where he has set the first in a series of thrillers featuring Joe Rush, a Marine doctor tasked with rescuing the crew of the United States Navy’s newest submarine.
The sub has surfaced north of Alaska, on fire, and what Rush discovers is far worse than a nautical accident. The crew are sick and dying, with 103-degree fevers, wracking coughs bringing up frothy blood, and blotched faces and chests along with burns from the fire. The sub is under foreign military threat, and spies are aboard the icebreaker that carries Rush there. If he cannot effect the rescue in secret, he must destroy the sub, because what is happening hidden from public view threatens not only the Arctic but the rest of the world.
“The new Arctic is a character in this novel,” says Abel. As shipping lanes open up, there’s a race for undersea territory among the circumpolar nations. The United States, Russia, Canada, Norway, and Denmark (via a self-asserting Greenland) are all staking claims. It’s no wonder. Estimates are roughly twenty per cent of the planet’s discoverable oil fields are under the Arctic Ocean, and the region is already home to the world’s largest diamond mines.
The suspense of international intrigue is not restricted to government intelligence agents, as M. A. Lawson proves in his latest novel, VIKING BAY.
This novel continues the adventures of Kay Hamilton, the DEA agent protagonist who went rogue in Rosarito Beach. In VIKING BAY, Hamilton is ejected from the DEA and goes undercover in Afghanistan for a private firm. Hamilton is perfect for such an assignment. She’s a confident, independent woman who is fearless, competitive, and as comfortable in the world of espionage as James Bond. But as Lawson points out, his heroine is not perfect.
“She’s not a team player,” Lawson says. “She feels the rules don’t apply to her. She has a hard time admitting when she’s wrong. And lastly, she’s a mother that’s not the least bit maternal—although she’s trying.”
In need of a job so she can take care of her daughter, Hamilton goes to work for a shadowy quasi-governmental agency called the Callahan Group. Her first mission is to get close to Ara Khan, daughter of the man the U.S. government wants to become Afghanistan’s next president. Ara is her father’s key political advisor, and Hamilton must go undercover to learn her secrets and prod her thinking in line with America’s interests. It’s realistic and thrilling spy work until things go horribly wrong at a clandestine meeting in Afghanistan. Hamilton then faces the kind of danger fictional heroines often face. But does Hamilton see herself as a heroine?
“Not at all,” Lawson says. “She’s thrust into situations she’d avoid if she possibly could, but when she can’t, she does what’s necessary. But she’s not trying to be a hero. She’s just trying to do a dangerous job and come out of it alive.”
In preparation for writing his first novel, CONCH TOWN GIRL, Daniel J. Barrett’s read over 1,500 books, all in the last several years. Upon completion, Barrett’s debut work found a home at Black Opal Books, a boutique press founded in October 2010, dedicated to producing quality books with “stories that just have to be told.”
Barrett’s protagonist, Julie Chapman, grew up in Key Largo, a tenth-generation Conch. After the deaths of her parents, she is raised in the Florida Keys by her grandmother, Tillie. Then one night Tillie is involved in a car accident and ends up in a coma, leaving Julie and her best friend Joe to wonder if it really was an accident. As Julie and Joe start digging for the truth, they uncover some dark and desperate secrets that may not only stir up a great deal of trouble, but also cost them their lives.
“Developing characters from my imagination is very rewarding,” Barrett has said. “Having people discuss these individuals as if they are real people is very satisfying. I hope that you enjoy reading CONCH TOWN GIRL as much as I have enjoyed writing it.”
By J. H. Bográn
As the famous story goes, Steven Spielberg ran into Michael Crichton and asked what he was working on. The author replied with two words: DNA and dinosaurs. Of course, this later became the franchise known as Jurassic Park. Now, author Cara Brookins is taking DNA, and its experimentation in a totally different direction. For starters, as Brookins revealed to us this month, we’re now talking about humans.
What’s the premise of your new book, LITTLE BOY BLU?
Blu Tracey grew up isolated in the Appalachian Mountains and is the only child in his family without a genetic abnormality that causes blue skin. But when he discovers his mother intentionally had abnormal children for a reality television show, he becomes the target of a killer. If Blu doesn’t expose someone in his own family as a suspect, his siblings will be exploited for their rare, genetic mutation, and worse, they could be the next targets in the killer’s pursuit of fame.
How did the idea behind the DNA abnormality come about?
I’ve always been interested in science and unusual genetic possibilities. I read a short news article about Methemoglobinemia, a rare genetic abnormality that originated in the Appalachian Mountains, and instantly knew I had to write a novel about it. I tucked it away in my idea dump folder and waited for a plot to take root. I loved the sci-fi feel of blue-skinned people and the remote setting allowed for sinister possibilities.
Blu’s character came to me immediately, including that he was the only child in his family who was not blue. But it wasn’t until several weeks later, after reading a separate news story about Nadya Suleman (known as Octomom) that I put the full plot together with the mom’s motivations. Suleman appears to have intentionally given birth to multiple children with the hopes of a reality show. The natural question became, “How far will a person go for fame?” And more importantly, “How gray are the lines of this mindset?” In our reality show–obsessed society, it fit very well for a contemporary novel. I especially love that even though it sounds like wild fiction, it’s all possible.
Things that go Bump in the Night and Bodiless Voices that Haunt Me
A Journey into a Writer’s Mind
My father helped me to make my first crystal diode radio set for Halloween when I was just ten years old. I remember stringing the antenna, like a clothesline, between the grapefruit trees in my backyard and attaching it to the thin metal screen of my bedroom window and waiting, patiently for nightfall. Night, my father told me, was when radio signals—like things that go bump in the night—traveled best across the cooler desert floor. With my crudely-made copper-bound receiver at my bedside, I huddled beneath the sheets of my bed, pressed the earphones to my ears and strained to hear the scratchy voices of old radio plays. I was convinced I had pulled their bodiless voices through the ether and somehow managed to pierce the boundaries of a three dimensional universe.
My imagination was on fire.
I decided right then, if radio waves existed, other forms of communication, those not yet known to man and far more powerful, were hidden in the shadows around me. I just had to tap into them.
In my early writings I dabbled with the idea of alternative universes, living side-by-side with our own. None of it amounted to much. I was just a kid with a wild imagination. Remember that citrus orchard? By now it was strung with an early warning system to alert me of intruders. Our sequia, or the man who irrigated our orchard by moonlight, dressed in a poncho, sombrero and waders, was a space alien, and the largest of the trees, now my spaceship.
By Eileen Carr
A few years ago, I was at a writers’ conference and during one of those late night slightly boozy conversations, I mentioned an idea I had to another author. She thought it was a great idea and asked why I wasn’t actively working on it. I told her I wasn’t sure I could do it.
“Ah,” she said. “It scares you. Then that’s totally the book you should write.”
Her opinion was that if you had an idea that was big enough and important enough to you that it scared you to try to write it, then it absolutely had to be written.
Writing VEILED INTENTIONS has scared me more than writing any of my other books. I have written about serial killers and vampires and sociopaths and werewolves, but writing about the goings on in a northern California college town has kept me up at night and made me chew off more fingernails than all of the other books combined.
I was a little afraid of the subject matter. Part of the idea for the book came from my own ignorance. I got into a conversation about Islamophobia with someone. I found myself unable to support my opinion that an entire group of people should not be vilified based on their religious practices because I really didn’t know anything about Islam. I did a lot of reading and a lot of talking to people, but I’m still afraid I didn’t get my facts straight.
I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get the voices right. There are several teenaged characters in the books and while I’m kind of immature, I’m pretty far from being a teenager. Luckily, I had actual live teenagers in the house upon whom I could eavesdrop. They were also very patient with me asking what the kids are calling things these days. But slang changes quickly and book publication is slow. I’m afraid that what was au courant while I was writing might be old and busted now.
By Basil Sands
DARKNET is John R. Little’s fourteenth book. Primarily working in suspense, horror, and dark fantasy, his novella Miranda, won the Bram Stoker Award. Two of his other books, Ursa Major and The Memory Tree, were also nominated for the same award. In addition to novels, John has published dozens of short stories over his career. He lives in southern Ontario and writes as much as possible. You can find out more on his website or on Facebook, where he loves to interact with his readers.
John, tell us about DARKNET.
The novel is about a woman who has no way to escape from her abusive husband. She’s desperate to find a way to have a new life with her ten-year-old daughter, but she can’t find a way. However, she learns about the dark side of the Internet, where anything is possible, including hiring a contract killer. With no other option, she starts a conversation with an anonymous killer, but that soon results in consequences for her that she could never have predicted.
Although based in real technological situations, the novel is really about a scared woman who is trying desperately to save her daughter.
DARKNET addresses some very dark sides of human personality, including abusive relationships, sociopathic behavior, and revenge. What was your motivation for writing on such themes?
I’ve wondered that myself over my career. I think that some writers are born to write romances, some crave the wonder of science fiction, while I’m drawn to the darker side of the human condition. I’ve loved reading horror and other types of dark fiction my whole life, and those are also the movies I watch. Why? I think it’s just something in the genes. They control how tall I am, the color of my eyes, and the type of stories that fascinate me. I don’t know how else we find at such a young age that a certain type of fiction appeals to us more than others.
By George Ebey
Author Patricia Stoltey steps into the world of suspense fiction with her latest novel, DEAD WRONG.
Lynnette is a woman on the run from her abusive cop husband, but she’s dead wrong about who’s chasing her. A thug known as Fat Ass Sammy Grick carelessly switches laptop cases at the airport and puts Lynnette in greater danger from Sammy’s boss and the killer sent to retrieve the laptop contents. Then Lynnette finds out her husband was murdered and she’s a person of interest….
THE BIG THRILL recently caught up with Patricia to discuss the writing process and to learn more about the world of DEAD WRONG.
What first got you interested in writing crime fiction?
My mom introduced me to the traditional mystery novel when I ran out of Nancy Drew books to read, so I was hooked by the genre very early. Once I read a few thousand mysteries and thrillers, I began to wonder if I could craft one. I created Sylvia Thorn and Willie Grisseljon, a brother and sister in the over sixty crowd and let them help solve a couple of murders. Series are limiting, however, so trying out stand-alone suspense was my next challenge.
How did the idea for DEAD WRONG come to you?
I love to read “woman on the run” novels, so I started there. The criminals in DEAD WRONG are involved in a check theft ring. That idea came from a real-life experience many years ago when a large check was stolen from the company I worked for. In conversations with an FBI agent later, I learned about the check theft ring and how they managed to get a check cashed before most accounting departments discovered the check was missing. I have no idea where the foul-mouthed thug Fat Ass Sammy Grick came from, but I had a lot of fun writing from his point of view.
By Ken Isaacson
When Reece Hirsch’s debut novel, The Insider, hit the scene, John Lescroart proclaimed that he was fit to run with the big boys, while Gayle Lynds warned John Grisham to watch his back. The Insider was a finalist for the 2011 International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel. With the upcoming release of Reece’s third book, INTRUSION, he proves himself once more to be worthy of the acclaim.
All of Reece’s books draw upon his experiences as an attorney—though his legal work is a lot less exciting and hazardous than that of his protagonist Chris Bruen. Reece is a partner in the San Francisco office of an international law firm and co-chairs its privacy and cybersecurity practice.
In INTRUSION (coming December 9 in eBook, Paperback and Audiobook from Thomas & Mercer), we once more meet attorney Bruen, former DOJ cybercrimes prosecutor. When a powerful client summons him for a midnight meeting, Bruen knows something is very wrong. Zapper, the world’s most popular search engine, has been compromised, and its most valuable asset—search algorithms—has been stolen. The company suspects that this most recent instance in a wave of high-tech crimes originated in China, and that the government itself is behind the systematic theft of U.S. intellectual property.
Bruen travels to China to search for evidence that will link the intrusion to the People’s Liberation Army. With remote assistance from Zoey Doucet, the head of his firm’s computer forensics lab and his maybe-girlfriend, Bruen uncovers information that takes him even deeper into the shadowy world of cybercrime. Now he is trapped in a foreign land with a hard drive containing information that puts his life in jeopardy. In this secretive world of Big Data, Bruen will risk everything to fight an elusive enemy as far-reaching as the Internet itself.
By John Raab
Steven James brings his epic Patrick Bowers series to an exploding conclusion with CHECKMATE. The bestselling author of more than three dozen books put his master’s degree in storytelling to good use in this compelling and satisfying end to the series that began with James’s riveting, The Pawn. Already, CHECKMATE has been named a Suspense Magazine Best Book of 2014.
Despite the end of an era, James fans need not fear, the author is hard at work on more novels. And, as he recently explained to THE BIG THRILL, it may not be the last fans see of Patrick Bowers.
CHECKMATE is the last book in your Patrick Bowers series. Give us a little insight into how the series wraps up.
Well, without giving too much away, I can say that a few years ago when I was writing one of the other books in the series I was truly frightened by the antagonist. I had nightmares and actually had to set the book aside for a month before coming back to it. So, I’ve wanted to see that villain return and now, at last, he does—along with Patrick Bowers’s nemesis, who has been lurking in the background for much of the series. So, Patrick has to face both of them and stop a plot that involves one of the deadliest attacks ever on U.S. soil. It creates an unexpected ending with a lot of twists along the way.
You don’t outline before you write your novels, so the ending of the series was a surprise to you also, but when did you realize exactly how it would end?
That’s a good question. I really work hard to make sure that each addition to my series is unique and not a cookie-cutter plot, so as I worked on this book I kept thinking, “I could use a knife fight… no, wait, I did that earlier.” Or, “I could have a chase scene in a warehouse… no, been there, done that.” So, while I wanted to avoid repetition and I had lots of promises to keep from the previous seven books, I wanted something unique, exciting, and unforgettable. It wasn’t until about a month or so until my deadline that I came up with that ending. It took some long days of writing and editing to pull it all together. I honestly believe that writing organically and being open to the story’s direction are some of the keys to great storytelling. I have yet to write a book in which I knew the ending when I started writing it. I love twists and I figure that if I’m not surprised by the direction of the story most of my readers won’t be either.
From an early age, Elizabeth Heiter always knew she wanted to write novels.
“I’ve always been drawn to fiction—I love it. I love getting lost in it and figuring out the mental puzzle of a mystery… I took as many creative writing classes in college as I could because I’ve always known I wanted to do this. I almost went to law school, but decided no—I wanted to write books more,” said Heiter, of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, who graduated from The University of Michigan in 2001 with her undergraduate degree in English literature.
Heiter has a slew of books coming out in the months ahead. The first of four books is Vanished, the second book in the Profiler series of mystery-thrillers, which will be released Dec. 30. After that, each book in The Lawmen trilogy—Disarming Detective, Seduced by the Sniper, S.W.A.T. Secret Admirer—will be released one after the other in February, March, and April, respectively.
Vanished, the sequel to Hunted—which debuted in late 2013—features FBI criminal profiler Evelyn Baine.
“I knew I wanted to write about a profiler,” recalled Heiter. “I started reading about profiling; it was really fascinating to me that you could have someone go to a crime scene where there weren’t any suspects because the victim didn’t really have any enemies and there wasn’t any good forensic evidence to use, but you could get someone to just look at a crime scene… (and say) what kind of person had done it. I thought that was so fascinating, so I knew I wanted to write a profiler.”
Heiter made it clear that Evelyn is not psychic. “I didn’t want Evelyn to be psychic in any way; I wanted her to do the work. I wanted her to understand it in a way so that when she profiles something, I would be doing it properly. So I took a lot of old cases and tried to profile them, then compare it to the outcome to see how I did. I could make up a crime scene, have her look at it and say, ‘Okay, this is the kind of person that I would suspect did it.’ I really wanted it to be accurate,” she explained.
By Rick Reed
In DEAD OF AUTUMN, Alexa Williams is a successful lawyer who volunteers weekly at a women’s clinic. One autumn day she takes Scout, her giant English Mastiff, into the Pennsylvania woods, and her world is turned upside down with the discovery of a body. She becomes entangled in a murder mystery—one that she tries to unravel by linking it to experiences in her own life and can’t shake the feeling that there is some sort of connection to the murder victim. She thinks back to the stories she heard as a child, about the Babes in the Woods, who were murdered close to where the victim’s body was found, wondering if that might be why she draws the connection.
Alexa soon finds herself amidst violence aimed at the clinic where she volunteers, when she’s almost raped, ambushed by religious zealots who wish to convert her. When the murderer strikes again, Alexa must rely on her knowledge of local history and terrain in order to save her own life.
Almost a century earlier, Dewilla Noakes, a child of the Depression, has recently lost her mother. Dewilla’s father packs up the girls—and their attractive cousin, Winnie—and hits the road to look for a job on the east coast. Along the way, money becomes tighter, food becomes scarce, and relationships become strained. Dewilla’s father fears he’s brought nothing but misery to his family. Running out of options, he begins to consider the unthinkable…
DEAD of AUTUMN ties together the struggles faced by females, young and old, past and present, and the degrees of power they embrace to combat their situations.
Tell us about Alexa Williams. What kind of person is she, and how did you create her character?
Alexa is smart, articulated and committed. In her late twenties, she’s still learning her strengths but still has a tendency to want to please other people. She was dumped by the love of her life. Now, she’s avoiding a serious relationship by experimenting with casual sex. During the course of the novel, Alexa’s character evolves. She comes into her own as she confronts mounting danger.
Is FEAR CITY really the last Repairman Jack?
After twenty-two novels and a short story collection about the guy, I think it’s time to give him a rest and move on. But I don’t like to say “never.” If a good idea that’s right for Jack pops up, I’ll write that sucker, but the days of a new Repairman Jack novel every fall, year in and year out, are done.
Why do you think Jack has been so popular?
I can only go by what readers tell me. Males like his blue-collar nature: he hates jazz and art films; he loves B movies and classic rock. They feel he’s a regular guy they could sit down with and knock back a few beers. Woman readers—and there are so many more than I ever anticipated—tell me he’s a white knight, someone you can count on to be there when you need him.
All right then. FEAR CITY ties up The Early Years Trilogy. What prompted the trilogy?
The readers. The main line of Jack’s story is covered in the sixteen novels from THE TOMB through NIGHTWORLD. I’ve always said I’d never go past NIGHTWORLD and, in that case, “never” is a true word. When you meet Jack in THE TOMB he is already an experienced, streetwise urban mercenary. He’s seen a lot and learned a lot the hard way. I’d already done three YA novels about his teen years, but readers wanted to know how he morphed from a callow Jersey boy to the guy in THE TOMB. How did he make that transition?
By Kay Kendall
Tim Hallinan is a writer’s writer. Search for him online and you will find platoons of famous authors who admire Hallinan’s work. During his stellar career, he has produced three series of thrillers with outstanding reviews. Surprisingly, his is not yet a household name, but that is about to change. As the year draws to a close, 2014 holds promise as Hallinan’s breakout year.
For one, there’s the success of his Junior Bender series, starring an LA-based thief who moonlights as a private eye for other criminals. Book two in the series, LITTLE ELVISES, was nominated for the Silver Falchion (August 2014) and is also a current nominee for the Shamus, to be presented at Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach, California. Book three, THE FAME THIEF, was nominated for the Lefty award at Left Coast Crime (March 2014). Were that not enough, the series has
been bought for NBC television primetime by British actor and comedian Eddie Izzard. The pairing of Izzard and Junior Bender is inspired. Bender, the master thief, has comic characteristics as well as deep wells of sorrow he occasionally dips into, more as he ages through the novels. Izzard will produce and possibly star in the new series. Beyond Junior Bender, let’s not forget Hallinan’s incredible Simeon Grist series, featuring a hard-boiled, over-educated private eye.
But what may cement 2014 as Hallinan’s breakout year, is the latest book in his Poke Rafferty series, featuring adventurous travel writer Rafferty who has settled down in Bangkok, Thailand, with his reconstructed family comprised of wife Rose, a former Bangkok bar girl, and their adopted daughter, Miaow. Debuting on November 4, book six of the series—FOR THE DEAD—focuses on teenaged Miaow’s struggle to reconcile her former life on the Bangkok streets with her current circumstances—living with Poke and Rose in comparative luxury. Miaow’s boyfriend is the son of a diplomat, and they attend a pricey private school. Still, Miaow wonders where she really belongs, and why crooked police are trying to kill her.
By Jeff Ayers
“Stressed out” has been Lyle Deming’s default setting for years, but now the ex-cop is escaping the anxieties of police work by driving a cab in a new theme park. Nostalgia City is the ultimate retro resort, a meticulous re-creation of an entire small town from the early 1970s, complete with period cars, music, clothes, shops, restaurants, hotels—the works. But when rides are sabotaged and tourists killed, billionaire founder “Max” Maxwell drafts Lyle into investigating—unofficially. Soon he gets help from 6’2 ½ Kate Sorensen, the park’s PR director and former college basketball player. Together Lyle and Kate must unravel a story of corporate greed, conspiracy, and murder in Mark Bacon’s debut DEATH IN NOSTALGIA CITY.
Mark Bacon chatted with The Big Thrill.
When did you realize you wanted to write?
Writing classes in high school got me started. I took journalism and wrote for the school paper and I took creative writing and had short stories published in the high school magazine. I think I was initially attracted by the mystique of being a newspaper reporter, which eventually I was.
With your journalism background and success in writing non-fiction what prompted the change to fiction?
I’ve always liked writing, in part because it’s the hardest work I can do reasonably well—and get paid for. At this point in my life, I wanted to try something different and since I’ve always read mystery and suspense novels, crime was a natural. Mystery flash fiction came first then I thought I had enough to say to make a novel interesting. Now I’m hooked.
What sparked the idea for DEATH IN NOSTALGIA CITY?
My inspiration for DEATH IN NOSTALGIA CITY came from several sources.
1. I started my career as a newspaper reporter in Southern California and I covered the police beat every day. I learned how cops work and a little about how they think.
By George Ebey
The Black Stiletto is back in the final novel of this stunning five-book saga. This time, everything will come to an end and all secrets will be revealed. It’s 1962. Judy Cooper’s former lover and his psychotic sister set out to ruin the very pregnant Stiletto, forcing her to flee to Texas for a showdown. In the present, the Alzheimer’s that afflicts elderly Judy is in its last stage, but her son and granddaughter continue to protect her from the assaults from her past.
Mr. Benson recently checked in with THE BIG THRILL to provide some insight into the origins of the character and to explain what it was like to bring his long-running series to its exciting conclusion.
Let’s talk about the genesis of the series. How did THE BLACK STILETTO first come about?
I had an idea for a story in which a grown man is taking care of his mother in a nursing home—she has Alzheimer’s—and he discovers some dark secret about her past that no one knew about. I didn’t know what that dark secret was, so the idea sort of sat on the back burner. My mother-in-law died of Alzheimer’s, so my family went through that ordeal. Then, in 2009, I was having lunch with my literary manager, Peter Miller, and he said, “Raymond, you need to come up with something that women would like, because women buy books more than men.” Since there were a zillion superhero movies coming out, I facetiously said, “How about a female superhero?” We laughed and then he got serious and said, “That’s actually not a bad idea. Think about it.”
So I went home and did think about it. Then I combined the Alzheimer’s story with the female superhero idea and voila! It all fit. The dark secret was that the mom was a masked vigilante back in the 1950s/early 60s. (No super powers.) So I created the mythology that the “Black Stiletto” was a female crime fighter in New York and L.A. between 1958 and 1962, and then she mysteriously disappears. No one knew who she was, but she became a legend. Then, in the present, her grown son discovers her secret. It became two parallel stories—one in the present and one in the past.
Like her protagonist in the new thriller COLOR BLIND, author Colby Marshall has synesthesia, a neurological condition characterized by involuntary perceptions and associations—associating colors with emotions or individual people, for example. Although she had published two previous thrillers, The Trade and Chain of Command, Marshall hadn’t written about synesthesia until COLOR BLIND, the first in a new series about forensic psychiatrist and criminal profiler Dr. Jenna Ramey. Synesthesia can’t solve crimes, but it can guide Jenna in her dealings with suspects and witnesses who want to hide what they know.
In COLOR BLIND, Jenna sets aside her private practice temporarily to assist her former employer, the FBI, in solving murders committed by a team dubbed the Gemini Killers. One of the killers, Isaac Keaton, appears in the book’s opening scene, as he picks off innocent victims in a crowd. Keaton quietly surrenders. But who is his partner, and how can Jenna Ramey persuade the smooth, manipulative Keaton to talk to the police before the partner commits another mass murder? Keaton, Jenna soon discovers, knows entirely too much about her own background, and he apparently has a bond with her mother, a clear-headed psychopath who successfully faked incapacitating mental illness to avoid being tried for her violent crimes. Reconnecting with her dangerous mother is one of several avenues Jenna follows as she assists investigators.
Marshall, a ballroom dancer, choreographer, and occasional stage actress as well as a novelist, lives in Georgia with her family and a legion of pets. Recently she talked about COLOR BLIND, how synesthesia figures in the plot, and her plans for Dr. Jenna Ramey in this new series.
Synesthesia may be difficult for most people to grasp. Could you describe it from the inside—what it’s like for a person who has the condition?
Different types of synesthesia manifest differently, so I can’t claim I know what every type is like to experience. However, some types are self-explanatory. Someone with lexical-gustatory synesthesia, for instance, might taste beets when they hear the word “cake,” and that tends to be a fairly easy concept to communicate.
What if you had to say goodbye to everyone you loved in just five short days? Debut author Julie Lawson Timmer’s riveting novel FIVE DAYS LEFT takes you on a heartbreaking journey alongside a woman who must do just that. Mara Nichols has everything—a wonderful marriage, successful career, and adoring daughter until a stunning diagnosis unravels her entire world. As she counts down her final days, she considers her dwindling choices and wrestles with the decision she knows in her heart is the right one. A parallel story intertwines with Mara’s. Scott, a virtual friend of Mara’s who lives across the country, prepares to say goodbye to the child he was only supposed to have for one year but that has become like a son to him. FIVE DAYS LEFT illustrates in emotionally wrenching narrative, the lengths to which we will go to protect the ones we love.
THE BIG THRILL caught up with Julie and she agreed to answers some questions.
What was your motivation for this story?
First, thanks so much for having me!
A few years ago, a friend of mine died after a long struggle with cancer. She was in hospice for the last several months of her life and she was spectacularly brave in facing what she knew would be her last months, weeks, and days. During that time, and after she died, I was consumed with thoughts about what that must have been like for her—to know she wouldn’t be there for her kids’ graduations, their weddings, et cetera. I decided that writing about someone dealing with a fatal, incurable disease would be a way to explore the feelings my friend might have had. I also felt that exploring and writing about those feelings would be a way for me to honor her, even if the book was never read by anyone else. I chose Huntington’s because I didn’t want (or believe I had any right) to write my friend’s story. FIVE DAYS LEFT is not biographical in any sense.
I wanted to give Mara a break from her difficult situation, and adding the online group allowed me to do that. When I was casting around in my imagination for an online friend who Mara could become close to, Scott materialized, as did his job as a middle school teacher and coach. Technically, Scott and his wife are limited guardians of Curtis, not foster parents. Foster parenting involves months of background checks and classes and applications, et cetera, while being a limited guardian is a relatively immediate process, at least in Michigan. Given the urgency in Curtis’s situation, the foster system wasn’t appropriate. However, the concept of fostering and being a limited guardian are similar in that ultimately, you are caring for, making sacrifices for, and often loving deeply, a child who isn’t your own, and whose future is not in your control. In this regard, foster parents and limited guardians are in a similar position as stepparents, a role I hold. As a stepparent, I also care for, make sacrifices for, and deeply love, children whose future isn’t in my control, and I wanted to explore that.
New York Times bestselling author J. Carson Black loves horseracing. She also sings well. And writes well! Just ask Michael Prescott, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author.
He has this to say. “Sweeping from suburban California to the New Mexico desert, from an assassins’ marketplace in Austria to the killing grounds of Iraq, HARD RETURN is an amped-up thrill ride showcasing one of the most enigmatic and unforgettable antiheroes in fiction today. Part Jack Reacher, part Jason Bourne, Landry is a loner, a lover, a father, a killer, and the last thing his enemies will ever see.”
In HARD RETURN, Cyril Landry has been a dead man since he escaped a firefight off the coast of Florida three years ago. In all that time, the former Navy SEAL has been living off the grid to protect his wife and teenage daughter, who have mourned him and moved on.
Five days a week, Landry watches from a distance as his daughter Kristal leaves school—his only chance to see her. One day a shooter unloads his M-16 on the students, killing several—including Kristal’s boyfriend, Luke. Landry takes out the gunman with a single sniper shot before melting back into the city. But this wasn’t a typical massacre, and the clues add up to only one conclusion: someone knows Landry’s still alive.
J. Carson Black also writes under the pseudonyms Margaret Falk and Annie McKnight. Recently I had the chance to ask her a few questions:
In your early days as a writer, you wrote mainly romances, albeit exciting romances. What made you switch to the thriller genre?
My first published book was a ghost story called DARKSCOPE. After that, I wrote a straight historical novel, THE TOMBSTONE ROSE, but had to cut it in half and add a lot more romance to get it sold. Then I wrote romantic suspense books. But I remained unsatisfied—I was looking for something. That something came in the form of a Michael Connelly novel, and I fell hard. Not long after that, I picked up James W. Hall’s MEAN HIGH TIDE in an airport, and it just turned a light on for me. I read more and more of the great authors in that genre, and finally knew I’d found my passion: crime fiction and thrillers.
By Kay Kendall
TRUTH BE TOLD is the latest thriller by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Deemed “the incredible master of plot” by Suspense Magazine, Ryan combines foreclosure fraud, a twenty-year-old murder case, and a secret romance between a reporter and a cop into a fascinating and plausible tale. In a rush of snappy prose she brings to life believable characters set against a backdrop of financial and political shenanigans in Boston.
This is the third novel in Ryan’s series featuring investigative reporter Jane Ryland. The first title was The Other Woman, released in 2012, in which Jane Ryland and detective Jake Brogan cross paths in their respective professional capacities and romantic sparks ignite. This book won the MWA/Mary Higgins Clark Award. Its sequel, The Wrong Girl, won both the Agatha for Best Contemporary Novel and the Daphne du Maurier Award earlier this year.
Ryan burst onto the mystery/thriller scene seven years ago with Prime Time, which won the Agatha for Best First Novel. TRUTH BE TOLD is now her seventh book, and was just named a Library Journal Best of 2014. All her thrillers win rave reviews, awards, and nominations. Her fame and readership have grown with each successive book. She offers a helping hand to aspiring writers as a founding teacher of the Mystery Writers of America University and has served as president in 2013 of the national organization Sisters in Crime.
When you consider that Ryan has become a well-read, highly regarded author on top of an enormously successful and busy journalism career, then the mind does boggle. Since 1983 she has been the on-air investigative reporter for WHDH-TV, NBC’s affiliate in Boston. To date she has won thirty-two Emmy Awards and twelve Edward R. Murrow Awards for her investigative and consumer reporting. And still, she had time to be interviewed for ITW’s THE BIG CHILL.
Welcome, Hank. Your career as an award-winning TV journalist would keep most people busy enough. But in 2007 with twenty-eight Emmys already on your shelf, your first thriller, Prime Time, was published. It went on to win the Agatha Award for best first novel. What propelled you to add a second career?
I love how you ask about “adding a second career” as if that’s something a person could plan. So much of it is luck. And timing, and being at the right place at the right time. And recognizing that. Plus hard work. And—luck.
By Kay Kendall
Calling all anglophiles plus fans of psychological thrillers and Oxbridge novels! Here is a dandy book for you by Christopher J. Yates. Even figuring out the title’s meaning provides a puzzle to solve—BLACK CHALK.
The plot unfolds from two alternating points of view. One is told by a first-person narrator, a recluse who lives in New York City in the present day. The second is third person-narration from fourteen years earlier, when five young British students and one American meet at Oxford University. They become friends, and then deadly rivals. They begin a game that seems at first casual and then turns ferocious as it takes over their lives. Four young men and two women, all of keen intelligence and unique personalities, are driven to win.
And so—as Sherlock Holmes famously said to Watson—“The game is afoot.” The prospect of fun, competition, and a cash prize of ten thousand pounds gets the six players to sign up. Yet, losing a round means that a player must perform a humiliating task. Gradually the tasks become excruciatingly upsetting. Finely tuned psyches are damaged. Friendships are broken. Eventually, a life is lost. What caused this innocent game to become so devilish? Who is the villain in this piece?
Christopher Yates loves puzzles—of this there is no doubt. Even figuring out which main character provides the first-person narration takes more than a few pages to figure out. Is there something in his English blood that draws him to devise and decode enigmas? Perhaps he had an older relative who worked with Alan Turing at the venerated Bletchley Park during World War II. Suffice it to say, after leaving Oxford and working in the law for a time, Christopher turned to puzzle development, even representing the UK at the World Puzzle Championships. He still freelances as a puzzle editor and compiler.
By Terry DiDemenico
First Boston in JAMAICA PLAIN, then Los Angeles in MONTECITO HEIGHTS, and now Texas in ADOBE FLATS. Jim Grant finds himself an unwelcomed visitor as the novel opens. Unwelcomed is putting it mildly, it resembles outright hostility. But why?
Grant knew why he was in Absolution, Texas. It was the starting point of a simple enough mission. He wanted to return an heirloom to the father of his lover and former colleague. Buying a train ticket to Absolution didn’t cause concern, but the conductor’s reaction to where he wanted to disembark and the wizen man who turned up at the nearly abandoned station did. It is only a short time later that Grant is on the run for his life. Then his simple mission turns to trouble as he works to bring justice to the small town being terrorized by a tyrant. Outgunned and outmanned, Grant relies on his razor-sharp instincts to outsmart and outfight an army of Texans led by a kingpin who has everything to lose.
The brainchild of author Colin Campbell, Jim Grant, AKA Resurrection Man, is an ex-West Yorkshire cop who relocates to the United States and is attached to the Boston Police Department. The nickname came in JAMAICA PLAIN after an image of him, wearing a bright orange jacket and arms outstretched, hit the media.
Grant is an interesting character who brings to mind elements of Jack Reacher and Harry Bosch with his own British twist. That twist comes directly from Campbell. “They say that most authors include parts of themselves in their characters. Ian Fleming liked fine food so James Bond likes fine food. Lee Child favored the head-butt at school so Jack Reacher favors the head-butt. I’m six foot four and wear an orange windcheater. And I’m left-handed. Partly that’s just a creative shortcut. If I don’t have to think about how Grant looks or thinks I can concentrate on the story and the action.”
Campbell continues, “Jim Grant has a similar mindset to me, but he’s better at everything than I ever was. That’s the other thing authors do. James Bond was a better secret agent than Ian Fleming. I’ve never been head-butted by Lee Child.”