Uncovering the Motivations of Complex Characters
By Josie Brown
Nuanced in your writing voice. Detailed in your research. Prolific in your output. In this era of publishing, these are the key ingredients for a successful thriller author.
Allison Brennan is proof of that.
Come April 2016—just 10 years since her debut as an author—she will have published 30 books and 12 novellas. Besides racking up numerous book award nominations—and being awarded finalist status 12 times—Allison is a Daphne du Maurier award winner. She has also won a Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice award, and was a finalist for “Best Paperback Original” with International Thriller Writers.
In her latest novel, NO GOOD DEED, Allison’s protagonist, FBI agent Lucy Kincaid, is up against an escaped convict—former DEA agent Nicole Rollins—with a vendetta against her. Yet, after a daring escape, Nicole does one very stupid thing: She sticks around in order to play cat-and-mouse with Lucy. At the same time, Nicole has a more pragmatic motivator not to flee: embezzlement of tens of millions of dollars.
All great stuff. And all the more reason to get Allison to open up on what it takes to stay at the top of her game, one book at a time.
Talk about good cop gone bad! Allison, how did you come up with this dual plot dilemma? And for that matter, did the yin and yang of Nicole’s motivations make your writing process for this story more difficult or more fun, considering the number of obstacles it puts in Nicole’s way, and of course Lucy’s too?
One of my favorite parts of writing is uncovering the motivation of my characters. For Lucy it’s easy—NO GOOD DEED is her tenth book. I know why she does what she does, and for me the fun part is giving her more complex and difficult decisions to make—and putting her in unfamiliar situations. But a villain is only as compelling as his or her motivation.
While Nicole does have a vendetta against Lucy and those who (in Dead Heat) uncovered her illegal activities and put her in prison, there is no doubt in my mind that if it wasn’t about the money, she would have left the country. Nicole was stuck—if she didn’t get the money that the FBI seized, she wouldn’t be able to stay in hiding for long. It was a risk she had to take because her long-term survival depended on having the resources to elude authorities. I didn’t quite figure that out at first … but as soon as I got into her head, it all came together.
Delving Deep into the Assassin’s Story
By Dawn Ius
International bestselling author of more than thirty novels.
An insatiable appetite for storytelling.
Advocate for literacy.
On all accounts, David Baldacci is guilty as charged.
The lawyer-turned-author is known for producing some of the most gripping, page-turning fiction in the genre—a fact he attributes to several factors that include setting, brevity of words, a genuine love of storytelling, and a healthy dose of fear.
“I love starting from a blank slate and getting out of my comfort zone,” he says. “I think writers should be terrified every time they sit down to write. Fear is a great antidote to complacency.”
Indeed, Baldacci’s infectious passion has paved the way for a boisterous publishing career that includes novels for adults and teens. His books have been translated into more than forty-five languages and sold in over eighty countries—a staggering 110 million copies are in print worldwide.
And if that’s not enough, several of Baldacci’s novels have been made into TV and movie adaptations, beginning with his debut Absolute Power, which was directed by —and starred—none other than Clint Eastwood.
“I felt like I had hit the lotto jackpot,” Baldacci says. “I called everyone I knew. Everyone was throwing checks at me. It was very surreal. When it happened, I remember thinking, ‘This is never going to happen like this again. Take it one, slow breath at a time.’ ”
A difficult task for an author that truly waits with breathless anticipation to begin each new story.
By J. H. Bográn
They say writing is a lonely profession. A writer sits in a room with only a computer and imagination. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Once in a while two writers join forces and produce tremendous work. And so it is with the acclaimed duo of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. They’ve co-authored New York Times bestselling thrillers for years, including the Agent Pendergast series. Next month the FBI agent extraordinaire is back in CRIMSON SHORE. In this story, Pendergast, New Orleans born and bred, takes the alluring Constance Greene to a town in Massachusetts. The story begins with the theft of a rare collector’s wine, but quickly expands into a mystery that weaves back to an earlier century.
Since I really can’t elaborate any more without giving away the plot, let’s see what Mr. Preston and Mr. Child have to say about their latest novel.
How did the idea originate?
We wanted to write a book with a similar feel to our earlier Still Life With Crows, in which Agent Pendergast is placed in an unusual and alien environment far out of his comfort zone, where he finds himself essentially a fish out of water. A charming New England setting, which Doug and I are both familiar with, immediately suggested itself as a good possibility.
What’s new for Agent Pendergast in this novel?
This story is more like a Sherlock Holmes tale than our usual novels, in that Pendergast takes on a private for-hire case. Of course, things very quickly begin to get out of hand…
What kind of research did you have to go through for CRIMSON SHORE?
I can’t answer that in too much detail without spoiling things, but suffice it to say that we had to give the Salem witch trials a pretty close look. As I allude to above, we’re both familiar with the New England coast, so the particular setting of CRIMSON SHORE—the fictitious town of Exmouth, Massachusetts—was relatively easy and fun to both assemble and describe.
In an intense thriller that’s perfect for fans of Lee Child or Lisa Gardner, security specialist and PI Jamie Sinclair tackles a cold case that could cost her the one person who means the most to her.
Hardworking Jamie Sinclair can’t wait for the weekend. She plans to be off the clock and on the road to wine country with handsome military police officer Adam Barrett. But when a strung-out soldier takes an innocent woman hostage and forces his way into Jamie’s bedroom, everything changes. Jamie’s never seen the soldier before. But he’s no stranger to Barrett—and with one word he persuades Barrett to pack a duffel and leave Jamie in the lurch.
Jamie cannot fathom why Barrett would abandon her without explanation. But as the consequences of an unsolved crime threaten to catch up with him, a late-night phone call sends Jamie racing to Barrett’s hometown in upstate New York. In a tinderbox of shattered trust and long-buried secrets, Jamie must fight to uncover the truth about what really occurred one terrible night twenty years ago. And the secrets she discovers deep in Barrett’s past not only threaten their future together—they just might get her killed.
In writing his first novel, Paul McGoran wanted to create a noir thriller with fully developed characters. At the same time, he felt a need to turn the old femme fatale trope on its head. His protagonist had to be a woman, and her best-laid plans would be annihilated by an attractive, but deadly homme fatal.
Welcome to MADE FOR MURDER (New Pulp Press), a suspense thriller in the classic tradition that pits mercenary socialite Helena Swann against a lethal ex-con named Sam “Shoo-fly” Porter. When they meet on a flight from Las Vegas to San Francisco, their mutual attraction is palpable, but Helena tries to resist—she can’t quite bring herself to dump a rich and adoring fiance, Brad Styles.
Thus begins the see-saw of Helena’s emotions tilting her first toward Sam’s drive and sexual magnetism, then back toward Brad’s wealth and prestige. But a bible-spouting private eye comes along to disrupt the narrative. He attributes a double murder back in Las Vegas to Sam, who bolts—the start of a long odyssey leading to Miami Beach. In fear for her own life now, Helena flees in secret to relatives in Newport, Rhode Island—where MADE FOR MURDER’s climax takes place after more plot twists and two more brutal slayings.
What made you want to write this book? Did you start with plot, theme, or character?
MADE FOR MURDER started life as a screenplay treatment. When it dawned on me I had no one to pitch it to and no prospects of going to Hollywood, I put it aside. Later, I wondered if I might try it as a novel. It was then I asked myself what was driving me to tell the story. What stuck in my mind from beginning to end was the blind ambition and will to power of Sam “Shoo-fly” Porter, a stone-cold killer who nevertheless thinks he can make it into the top echelons of business and society.
Is Shoo-fly a serial killer? Can a serial killer be a hero, Dexter notwithstanding?
Sam Porter doesn’t have the distinctive M.O. of a serial killer. His crimes come from frustration and rage. Besides, this is noir—there’s no real hero. The protagonist is Helena Swann, she’s the one under pressure, the one whose decisions drive the story. In Frankenstein, for instance, the focus is on the monster, but the doctor is the protagonist.
By Rob Brunet
Secrets—their holding, their telling, their discovery—are an important part of crafting an engaging story. Some characters do things only the reader will know. Others learn things after we’ve discerned them, whether good or bad.
With the launch of her latest series, Bonnie Hearn Hill gives her readers a chance to not only meet Kit Doyle, but to watch Kit uncover secrets of her own past. An amateur sleuth who airs other people’s stories on her radio talk show, Kit knows better than most that some secrets are better left hidden. But the bombshell her mother reveals to kick off her story isn’t something she can ignore.
In this interview for The Big Thrill, Bonnie Hearn Hill gives us a look at where her stories come from, and what she thinks of how secrets shape our stories, and our lives. more »
The Boundless World of Jack Reacher
A TRAIN STOPS at night next to “a grain elevator as big as an apartment house,” and a single man gets out. “There was mist in the nighttime air like a note on a calendar.” A woman emerges from the shadows, eager to speak to him, until she realizes he’s not whom she was expecting, and her disappoint shows.
So begins MAKE ME, the twentieth novel written by Lee Child featuring Jack Reacher, a former major in the U.S. Army Military Police who now wanders America alone. Something always happens, and Reacher is, in his creator’s words, “in deep shit for the rest of the book.” Or to put it another way: “He’s always in the wrong place at the wrong time.” MAKE ME, which made its debut on The New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list at Number One, is “pretty hard core even for a Reacher book,” said Child at a tour stop at Barnes & Noble in Manhattan’s Union Square. The twists are truly shocking. “I have a big surprise and then I have a bigger surprise,” the author said with a smile. To prevent spoilers, no more can be said on the plot of MAKE ME.
No less a fan than Malcolm Gladwell, in the pages of The New Yorker, described the appeal of Reacher’s “lawless pleasures”: “We know going in that Reacher will kill the bad guy through some combination of tactical brilliance and brute force. The pleasure is in Reacher’s moment of introspection in the millisecond before the action occurs: his silent consideration of the variables of physics, geometry, and psychology that comprise a violent encounter.”
In an interview with The Big Thrill, Lee Child opens up about his creation, Jack Reacher, and the craft of writing.
The first question from the audience at your Barnes & Noble event in September was about Tom Cruise playing Reacher, and later you were asked about another film being adapted from a Reacher novel. It seems that people frequently want to ask authors about film possibilities.
Yes, and you know I don’t care who plays Jack Reacher. The books are my thing. I don’t like the presumption that the books are not enough. In this view, it’s as if a book is a chrysalis yearning to be a movie. But for me, the book is the final product.
And of course authors have to accept the realities of adaptation.
I love Hollywood people, I like the movies. But if you’re going to turn a book into a movie, it will change a lot. A book has ten times the content of the movie.
Your novels are so very visual, they have a filmic quality, that could be bringing this about. The geography of the Reacher books is critical. What drew you to these remote towns, these wide open spaces?
Well I come from Europe, where we have places that are radically different 30 miles apart. And when I was driving through West Texas, I could go 80 miles without seeing a physical structure. I met a woman who said that she could not eat anything that she didn’t grow herself or shoot herself without needing to drive five hours to buy it. I loved that.
When Caitlin Summers becomes aware of her surroundings, she finds she has blood on her clothes and is carrying a duffle bag that contains six prosthetic hands and a gun, and the beat-up sedan in the deserted parking lot apparently goes with the key she found in her pocket. She realizes she not only has no idea where she is, she has no memory of anything that transpired over the past seven months. What the hell has happened to her?
The last thing she remembers is leaving her safe suburban home and husband one night seven months ago.
Determined to learn the truth, Caitlin begins a journey that is rife with pitfalls and problems and with each hard-won bit of knowledge come even more questions.
In THE PRETTIEST ONE, Caitlin suffers from a dissociative fugue. Author James Hankins says, “I thought it would be interesting to start a book at the precise moment when a character is exiting a dissociative fugue. The story possibilities seemed nearly endless.”
This state is, as Hankins puts it, “a rare but, to me, a fascinating form of amnesia. The victim suffers memory loss, but what makes this condition so interesting is that the person will travel to a different place and often create an entirely new identity there. These fugues may be hours long, but can also last for months or even years. And when the persons’ memories of their former life return, they typically remember none of the time spent in the fugue state.”
Knowing the fugue state would be a feature, Hankins also wanted to write a story with a female protagonist, something he touched on in a previous novel, Drawn.
“I might have felt a little different writing Caitlin, but not dramatically so. I think her observations, particularly about the men around her, might be a little different from what a man might observe, but she was otherwise quite similar to other characters I’ve written, at least as far as my approach went.
By George Ebey
Tom Avitabile, author of the popular Bill Hiccock series, is back with a new and exciting tale featuring former FBI agent, Brooke Burrell. In this series opener she finds her planned return to Hawaii turned upside down when an assignment she took to make some cash while her husband is deployed at sea explodes. Witnesses are dying, evidence is vanishing, and the masterminds behind it all are about to take down a whole city. So much for Brooke Burrell’s early retirement.
The Big Thrill recently checked in with Avitabile to discuss his book and what lessons he’s learned from his experiences as a writer.
Tell us a little about GIVE US THIS DAY. Is it part of a new series?
Yes, it is the first novel of the Brooke Burrell series. Brooke appeared in The Eighth Day, the first Bill Hiccock novel, as a minor character. In the next two books in the series, The Hammer of God and The God Particle, she had larger roles and the reader sees deeper dimensions. They see beyond her steely, professional law enforcement persona as she embraces her long-denied emotional side. She also rises to become the most-trusted operative of the president of the United States, a position actively sabotaged by the “old boy network” that’s still on life support, shuffling with walkers down the halls of power.
What lessons did you learn from your previous series that helped you to craft this story?
I learned that in a character-based action thriller, a female protagonist has to be built organically from the ground up. It’s not enough to develop the perfect action hero, with skill sets, wit, and emotional depth and then hang a female name on character and change all the pronouns to her and she. That would be easy, but incredibly dishonest and I believe blatantly transparent to any woman reader.
Therefore, Brooke’s wiring has to be different than a male’s, and although they may ultimately take the same action, the same physicality, it has to be for different reasons, intentions and motivations. I am pleased to say that early positive reviews and blurbs from leading authors like Lisa Gardner and Olivia Rupprecht seem to imply that I have achieved that goal.
Fans of Chelsea Cain and Lisa Gardner will devour this edgy thriller about the gruesome secrets hidden beneath a small-town amusement park. From the author of Creep, Freak, and The Butcher, Jennifer Hillier’s “fine knack for creating hideous killers” (Booklist) is vividly on display.
Welcome to Wonderland. By day, it’s a magical place boasting a certain retro charm. Excited children, hands sticky with cotton candy, run frenetically from the Giant Octopus ride to the Spinning Sombrero, while the tinkling carnival music of the giant Wonder Wheel—the oldest Ferris wheel in the Pacific Northwest—fills the air. But before daybreak, an eerie feeling descends. Maybe it’s the Clown Museum, home to creepy wax replicas of movie stars and a massive collection of antique porcelain dolls. Or maybe it’s the terrifyingly real House of Horrors. Or…maybe it’s the dead, decaying body left in the midway for all the Wonder Workers to see.
Vanessa Castro’s first day as deputy police chief of Seaside, Washington, is off to a bang. The unidentifiable homeless man rotting inside the tiny town’s main tourist attraction is strange enough, but now a teenage employee—whose defiant picture at the top of the Wonder Wheel went viral that same morning—is missing. As the clues in those seemingly disparate crimes lead her down a mysterious shared path of missing persons that goes back decades, she suspects the seedy rumors surrounding the amusement park’s dark history might just be true. She moved to Seaside to escape her own scandalous past, but has she brought her family to the center of an insidious killer’s twisted game? Acclaimed author Jennifer Hillier’s bone-chilling thriller is masterful and fast-paced, hurtling toward a shocking, bloody conclusion.
When I was asked to write an article about Rick Mofina and his new book, EVERY SECOND, I thought, “This should be easy.” Rick is a former journalist who has interviewed murderers on death row and patrolled with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police near the Arctic. After thirty years in journalism, Rick has spanned the globe, from the Caribbean, Africa, and Kuwait’s border with Iraq, reporting on crimes that would curl anyone’s toes. There would be so much to write about, from his long list of journalist adventures, to his twenty-one books and counting, racking up awards, and rave reviews from too many bestselling authors to list here. I mean, what hasn’t been said about his experiences and his books? What could I possibly bring that’s new to the table? It turns out, I don’t need to bring anything. His latest thriller, EVERY SECOND, speaks for itself.
The tension hits you from page one—hell, from the first sentence—and doesn’t let up until the last page. The Fulton family—Dan, Lori, and their nine-year-old son Billy—are assaulted by four men in the middle of the night in their beds. They are bound and gagged, then vests loaded with C4 are strapped to their bodies. We quickly discover that the reasons are far more sinister than a home invasion. As the manager of a suburban New York bank, Dan Fulton is forced to rob his own bank of a quarter of a million dollars or the assailants will remotely detonate the vests. That would be chilling enough, but Rick escalates the tension into a high-stakes chase, where not only is the Fulton family’s lives at risk, but countless other lives could be wiped out in an instant. So, strap yourselves in, ladies and gentlemen, and keep your hands and arms inside the rollercoaster cars at all times. Rick Mofina is obviously at the top of the thriller game!
Rick was kind enough to take time out of his busy writing schedule to sit down with The Big Thrill.
R. K. Jackson’s lyrical, twisty psychological thriller debut follows an aspiring journalist as she uncovers dark truths in a seaswept Southern town—aided by a mysterious outcast and pursued by a ruthless killer.
When Martha Covington moves to Amberleen, Georgia, after her release from a psychiatric ward, she thinks her breakdown is behind her. Taking a summer internship with the local historical society, Martha is tasked with gathering the stories of the Geechee residents of nearby Shell Heap Island, the descendants of slaves who have lived by their own traditions for the last three hundred years.
As Martha delves into her work, the voices she thought she left behind start whispering again, and she begins to doubt her recovery. When a grisly murder occurs, Martha finds herself at the center of a perfect storm—and she’s the perfect suspect. Without a soul to vouch for her innocence or her sanity, Martha journeys through a terrifying labyrinth—to find the truth and clear her name, if she can survive to tell the tale.
Mark Coggins’ work has been nominated for the Shamus and the Barry crime fiction awards, and selected for best of the year lists compiled by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Detroit Free Press and Amazon.com, among others. His novels Runoff and The Big Wake-Up won the Next Generation Indie Book Award and the Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY) respectively, both in the crime fiction category.
In NO HARD FEELINGS, Coggins pairs his aging series protagonist August Riordan with a determined, aggressive young woman named Winnie who literally feels no pain. Told in alternating points of view, the book describes a cut and thrust battle to the death between these uneasy partners and a shadowy villain known only as “The Winemaker.”
What was the genesis of the book?
NO HARD FEELINGS continues a story I began in my second novel, Vulture Capital. In Vulture Capital, a venture capitalist hires Riordan to find the missing Chief Scientist of a biotech firm in which he has invested. The men determine that the scientist’s disappearance is part of a larger conspiracy to use the technology for perverse applications, including terrorism, slave labor and prostitution.
They ultimately unravel the conspiracy and stop the bad guys, but in NO HARD FEELINGS, the worst of them—The Winemaker—is back, as is Winnie, the human guinea pig on whom the technology was first tested.
Throngs of holiday makers crowd the streets of New York in anticipation of the Christmas tree lighting in Rockefeller Center, but a short distance away, police and the FBI are responding to a terrifying hostage situation at iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Traffic stops, the celebrations are put on hold, and the newscasters begin their non-stop reportage. HOSTAGE TAKER by Stefanie Pintoff, takes us through one day of a nail-biting and tension-filled standoff between an unknown hostage taker and FBI Special Agent Eve Rossi. She’s smart, gutsy and tough, and her secret team of notorious former criminals with their huge egos and disregard for the law is completely believable.
A merciless hostage taker who has targeted Eve asks the question, “What are you guilty of?” With the clock ticking relentlessly, the New York City landmark is wired to blow up at the first negotiating mistake. Pintoff’s writing is tight and skilled, her pacing superb, and her research meticulous.
Pintoff, a former teacher and lawyer who lives in New York, took a break from her busy schedule for this interview with The Big Thrill.
Your protagonist, FBI Special Agent Eve Rossi, is a master at the psychological strategies of hostage negotiation. How were you able to get so believably into the minds of both Eve and the hostage taker?
The job of all writers is to step into their characters’ shoes and present the story from their points of view. Seeing the world from someone else’s perspective is both the hardest challenge and the greatest pleasure of writing fiction. But it’s also how your characters acquire flesh and blood, and become real. While I did plenty of research to figure out how hostage negotiations are handled—combing through memoirs and learning from interviews with former professionals—there’s really no substitute for that imaginative leap into the mind of a character.
By Jeff Ayers
Bestselling author Shane Gericke has been held at knifepoint, hit by lightning, and shaken the cold, sweaty hand of Liberace. His latest work is THE FURY, a sweeping novel of global terrorism that will release in trade paperback, eBook, and audiobook on September 4th.
His earlier novel Torn Apart was shortlisted for the prestigious Thriller Award for Best Novel, and named a Book of the Year by Suspense magazine. His debut novel, Blown Away, was selected as the year’s Best First Mystery by RT Book Reviews, which also named his Cut to the Bone a Top Pick. His books have been translated into German, Chinese, Turkish, and Slovak. Gericke’s new novel, THE FURY, is a bit of a departure in terms of the story, but not in the excellence of the writing.
Tell me about THE FURY in ten seconds or less.
If a grief-blinded cop can’t find the man who killed her husband, millions of people will die in a nerve-gas strike on America.
What sparked the idea for this thriller?
One sleepless night in 2011, a series of real-life events I’d read about over he years coalesced into this frantic brain-mash of doomsday weapons, Cold Warriors, psychopathic drug cartels, Nazis, nerve gas, exploding oil rigs, and saucy women with black belts in martial arts. Intrigued, I hustled out of my blankets, went to my computer.
By John Raab
John Lutz’s work includes political suspense, private-eye novels, urban suspense, humor, occult, crime caper, police procedural, espionage, historical, futuristic, amateur detective, thriller—he has conquered virtually every mystery subgenre.
He is the author of more than 40 novels and over 200 short stories and articles. His novels and short fiction have been translated into almost every language. He is a past president of both Mystery Writers of America and Private Eye Writers of America. Among his awards are the MWA’s Edgar, the PWA’s Shamus, the PWA Life Achievement Award, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s Golden Derringer Lifetime Achievement Award.
Lutz is the author of two private-eye series, the Nudger series, set in St. Louis, Missouri, and the Carver series, set in Florida, as well as many standalone novels. His novel SWF Seeks Same was made into the hit movie Single White Female, and his novel The Ex was made into the HBO original movie of the same title, for which he co-authored the screenplay.
SLAUGHTER is your latest release, can you give us the inside look?
The underlying theme is that anything can happen to anyone at any time, especially in New York. Many people realize this, but precautions help only slightly if at all. Potential victims–you, me, and the reader–can only avoid so much because we can only know so much. As with this exchange between detectives Sal and Harold, the beginning of Chapter 1 outside of the Dakota: “Lennon was shot there.” “The Russian or the singer?” Not sure whether Harold is playing dumb, Sal growls simply, “The singer.” What else might Harold not know? Trickles can lead to tributaries, can lead to dangerous white-water rivers or plunging falls.
The Search for a Dangerous Truth
By Dawn Ius
It should get easier.
The writing. The waiting.
But after penning five critically acclaimed thrillers, Sean Chercover admits that in some ways, it actually gets harder.
“What gets easier is, you’ve been there before,” he says. “So when you hit the midpoint of your first draft and you become suddenly convinced that this is the worst book in the history of books and you’re murdering trees for no good reason, you say, ‘Ah, I’ve reached the midpoint of the first draft,’ instead of freaking out that your book is fatally broken.”
This underlying insecurity, coupled with the challenges of an ever-changing publishing landscape, can cripple some writers, but for Chercover, it fuels his drive to continue doing what he describes as the best job in the world—“sitting around in my underwear writing stories.”
No doubt fans are now speculating what color boxers the Toronto writer wore while penning THE DEVIL’S GAME, the second book in The Game Series featuring investigator Daniel Byrne.
“He is a man on a mission,” Chercover says. “Having searched for faith, now he searches for the truth, wherever that search leads.”
Byrne’s faith is irrevocably shaken in the first book of the series, The Trinity Game, when after ten years and 721 cases, his search for truth reveals some disturbing earthly conspiracies, forcing him to burn his old life to the ground.
THE DEVIL’S GAME follows Byrne as he steps into a new life of secrets and lies to investigate a bizarre new strain of the plague that seems to flood the minds of its victims with visions of the future.
When the mutilated body of a young woman is discovered in the Santa Monica Mountains, LAPD Detective Jessica Allen knows she’s seen this MO before – two and a half years ago on the other side of the country.
A sadistic serial killer has been operating undetected for a decade, preying on lone female drivers who have broken down. The press dub the killer ‘the Samaritan’, but with no leads and a killer who leaves no traces, the police investigation quickly grinds to a halt.
That’s when Carter Blake shows up to volunteer his services. He’s a skilled manhunter with an uncanny ability to predict the Samaritan’s next moves. At first, Allen and her colleagues are suspicious. After all, their new ally shares some uncomfortable similarities to the man they’re tracking. But as the Samaritan takes his slaughter to the next level, Blake must find a way to stop him … even if it means bringing his own past crashing down on top of him.
“A sprawling American epic delivered with panache.” ~Barry Forshaw, INDEPENDENT
“[Cross] has created a character in Carter Blake that can easily stand alongside the likes of Jack Reacher.”~Book Addict Shaun
Everyone puts down celebrity news, everyone makes fun of the people in celebrity news—and everyone loves to read celebrity news. That’s one thing I’ve learned during a long journalistic career covering celebrities from Liz, Oprah, and Michael Jackson to Kim, Miley, and Brangelina.
So when it came time to write my new thriller, I decided to make it about the mysterious death of a big name celebrity. The result is SHOOTING FOR THE STARS, in which New York Daily News reporter Gil Malloy tries to solve the murders of a legendary movie star from 30 years ago, and a present-day TV star which seems to be related.
I draw on two real-life celebrity murder cases for my fictional one—the shooting of John Lennon and the stabbing of actress Sharon Tate by the Charles Manson family. The glamorous movie star in my book—Laura Marlowe—is gunned down by what is believed to be a deranged fan on a Manhattan street. Which is, of course, what happened to Lennon on that tragic night of December 8, 1980. The trail for Laura Marlowe’s killer leads reporter Malloy back to the murderous Manson family that executed actress Sharon Tate—the pregnant wife of Hollywood movie director Roman Polanski—at her L.A. mansion in a senseless bloodbath in the summer of 1969.
But there are many other examples of celebrity crime that inspired me to write a thriller about celebrity murder—and some of them are even wilder than I or any other fiction author could ever dream up.
McNeill took some time out of her schedule this month to answer a few questions for The Big Thrill about her novel and what’s next for her writing career.
Tell us about CENTER OF GRAVITY
On the surface, the novel is about the dissolution of a picture-perfect family. The story follows Ava Carson as she navigates through bitter shock and pain after her husband announces he’s leaving the marriage.
Things get much worse, however, after Mitchell files for divorce and demands full custody of the couple’s children. It’s then that Ava is forced to wake up and face the truth that her husband is not the charming, loving man she believed she’d married.
Sounds a bit like Sleeping With the Enemy.
Like Martin in Sleeping With the Enemy, Mitchell is definitely controlling, jealous, and increasingly violent. As a powerful member of the community, he skillfully manipulates public opinion, placing Ava in devastating situations with her own friends and family.
Unlike Price’s novel, though, CENTER OF GRAVITY includes an additional domestic suspense angle, with the couple’s young children caught in the middle of Ava and Mitchell’s custody battle.
Cold, emotionless and with an innate ability to recognize lies, Geiger was the best of the best in the field of Information Retrieval. Until he was asked to break his only rule and do the unthinkable – to torture a child. Something broke in Geiger’s neatly controlled mind, opening up a flood of terrible memories long kept at bay. And now Geiger is missing, presumed dead.
But, with no body ever found, there are a number of people invested in finding out the truth. One of those people is Harry Boddicker, Geiger’s old handler and friend. Another is his bitter rival, Dalton, who is determined to find Geiger and extract a final confession from him, before carrying out his deadly revenge.
But no one has reckoned on Zanni Soames – a woman more dangerous than any of them could imagine, and hell-bent on winning the race to find Geiger first.
The new novel from Mark Allen Smith is a masterfully written thriller that will send you spinning from New York to Paris and back again, and into the darkest depths of the man known only as Geiger.
Marion Spicer spends her days examining auction catalogues and searching for stolen works of art. She is a top-notch investigator when it comes to eighteenth-century art. But for her it’s just a job and her life is well ordered. All this changes when she inherits a huge and very prestigious collection of pre-Columbian art from a father she never knew. There are conditions attached: she must first find three priceless statues.
That is when her troubles begin. Her father’s death sparked much greed, and Marion finds herself facing the merciless microcosm of Paris art auctions and galleries, with its sharks, schemes, fences, traps, scams, and attacks. Her quest draws her into a world where people will kill for a love of beauty.
“The story is captivating, with twists and turns and murders, along with a dive into the little-known world of art specialists and counterfeiters.” ~Elle Magazine (Readers’ Panel)
“A well-written plot with all the necessary ingredients: a few deaths, lost objects and a whole collection of worrisome characters…Ideal for a moment of relaxation.” ~Elle Magazine (Readers’ Panel)
More than forty years after their release from the notorious “Hanoi Hilton,” three American prisoners of war return to Vietnam to make peace with their most brutal former captor, a guard whom they’ve dubbed, “Mr. Wonderful.” The U.S. State Department hopes reconciliation will help cement a major trade agreement between Washington and the Vietnamese. But when Mr. Wonderful is found murdered, the three ex-POWs are accused of the crime and the multi-billion dollar deal threatens to unravel. Enter pilot, still-aspiring Buddhist, and former military assassin Cordell Logan.
Working with a newly formed covert intelligence unit that answers directly to the White House, Logan is dispatched to Hanoi to identify the real killer as the trade agreement threatens to implode. What he soon uncovers proves to be a vexing and increasingly dangerous mystery. Who really killed the guard and why? Unlocking the answers will test every ounce of Logan’s ingenuity and resolve, while risking his life as never before.
Like its three predecessors in the Cordell Logan mystery/thriller series Flat Spin, Fangs Out, and Voodoo Ridge, The Three-Nine Line is a classic, pulse-pounding page-turner. Legions of loyal readers and critics alike, from Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal to Noir Journal and the Associated Press, have hailed the series for its taut writing, finely wrought characters, flashes of wry humor, and full throttle pacing. The Three-Nine Line may well be the best yet.
I am the star of screaming headlines and campfire ghost stories.
I am one of the four Black-Eyed Susans.
The lucky one.
As a sixteen-year-old, Tessa Cartwright was found in a Texas field, barely alive amid a scattering of bones, with only fragments of memory as to how she got there. Ever since, the press has pursued her as the lone surviving “Black-Eyed Susan,” the nickname given to the murder victims because of the yellow carpet of wildflowers that flourished above their shared grave. Tessa’s testimony about those tragic hours put a man on death row.
Now, almost two decades later, Tessa is an artist and single mother. In the desolate cold of February, she is shocked to discover a freshly planted patch of black-eyed susans—a summertime bloom—just outside her bedroom window. Terrified at the implications—that she sent the wrong man to prison and the real killer remains at large—Tessa turns to the lawyers working to exonerate the man awaiting execution. But the flowers alone are not proof enough, and the forensic investigation of the still-unidentified bones is progressing too slowly. An innocent life hangs in the balance. The legal team appeals to Tessa to undergo hypnosis to retrieve lost memories—and to share the drawings she produced as part of an experimental therapy shortly after her rescue.
How She Gets It Right in Her Best-selling Series
With its whip-smart, hyper-focused protagonist, forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan, the “Bones” thriller series stands out for both its authenticity and its excellent pacing. Author Kathy Reichs, herself a certified forensic anthropologist, has written seventeen bestsellers and her novels are the basis of the long-running Fox series “Bones.” In an interview with The Big Thrill, Reichs, the winner of International Thriller Writers’ Silver Bullet Award for 2015, speaks frankly about the importance of accuracy in both the forensic sciences and the thriller-writing field, and shares some of the secrets to her writing success.
One of the things that interests me most about SPEAKING IN BONES is it shines a light on web-sleuthing. The key character Hazel Strike sets the plot in motion when she pushes her way in to see Dr. Brennan because she’s become obsessed with a missing-person case. Hazel doesn’t know the girl in question but has become an amateur sleuth using the Internet, and then takes it further, with frightening results. What led you to the phenomenon of web-sleuthing?
It’s like any book. I’m always on the look-out, my antennae are always up, for interesting things going on. Somewhere along the way I stumbled onto web-sleuthing. My son and I write the Virals young-adult series, and we did something in our third book about Geocaching. It’s a game people play online. So when I heard about web-sleuthing, it sounded similar in that thousands of people worldwide do it. I thought my readers might like to find out about it and about sites that have unidentified remains and sites that have missing persons.
Do you feel that the lines are blurring between professional forensics specialists and web-sleuths on the solving of crimes?
There are some people who say, “Oh if I had it all to do over again, I’d be a forensic anthropologist or a forensic scientist.” I think it’s a way that people can enter that world. It’s almost like thriller readers. They want a glimpse into a world. They don’t necessarily want to go to a crime scene or perform an autopsy or be in the forensic lab. This takes it a step further: they’re actually working with real cases out there, from the privacy of their own home.
The third time I met Vicki Pettersson, she offered up a confession. Squished in at a small round table in a local coffee shop, she leaned forward conspiratorially and said, “I was so intimidated when first we met. I thought if you were anything like Munroe, you were going to hate me.” I shook my head and tried not to laugh.
This type of reader reaction happens often enough that it became material for a tongue-in-cheek piece about the many traits I share with a quasi-psychotic, knife-wielding, butt-kicking, anti-hero, but I never would have expected it from Vicki. Her stories are just as dark as mine, if not darker, her characters as smart and capable, and her readers often think the same thing about her when they first meet.
Backing up a step: Munroe is shorthand for Vanessa Michael Munroe, a woman in the vein of Jason Bourne, first introduced to Vicki when a bookseller put The Informationist in her hands and told her that in this international thriller was a character that could give her own ruthlessly tough heroines and large-than-life settings a run for their money.
Vicki penned dark fantasy and I wrote real-world blood and guts, but he was right: there was a lot in common between our badass female protags and the worlds in which we placed them.
When Vicki discovered that we were both based out of Dallas, Texas, she shot off an email, asking if I might like to meet for coffee. We’ve since become fast friends, so it’s particularly gratifying that as I celebrate the release of THE MASK (6/30/15) the sixth in the Vanessa Michael Munroe series, Vicki is bringing readers SWERVE (7/7/15) her first mainstream psychological thriller. Serendipitously, we’ll be joint-signing at Murder by the Book, in Houston, Texas, on July 14, coming full circle to the bookstore that first brought us together.
By Alex Gilly
I have French heritage, and though we didn’t live in France, the comic-book “albums” I read were in French. We had hundreds of them at home—Tintin, Asterix, all of Blake and Mortimer. But my favorites, by an unreachable distance, were Blueberry by Charlier and Giraud, and Barbe Rouge—Red Beard—by Charlier and Hubinon.
Both were adventure stories. Blueberry is the nickname of a Union cavalry officer named Donovan, who, after the Civil War, rides into the untamed West, drinks hard, womanizes, plays his trumpet, and fights injustice and cruelty wherever he encounters it—which is pretty much everywhere. Red Beard, meanwhile, commands the three-masted Black Falcon, and has an adopted son, Eric. Together, they roam the 18th Century seas, mostly pirating but occasionally privateering on behalf of the King of France against the rapacious Spanish and duplicitous English.
The arrival of a new Blueberry or Red Beard album was always a momentous occasion for me. I would become utterly absorbed in every new adventure, disappearing from the sometimes airless real world into one in which bracing winds drove beautiful wooden ships across scintillating seas. I was fiercely loyal to my heroes. I needed them in my life, so the knowledge that I could count on them was profoundly reassuring. Blueberry always sided with the good guys. So did Eric, even if it was sometimes only to atone for the sins of his pirate father.
I met Jenny Milchman three years ago when I applied to ITW’s Debut Authors Program. A nervous new author, I was welcomed by this woman with seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm. I soon learned a few things about Jenny. One, she loves Jack Reacher novels—I mean loves them. Two, she is one of the most talented, kind, and generous authors you’d ever hope to meet.
A little backstory: Jenny’s road to publication was not easy. She struggled for more than a decade—seven unpublished novels—before finally getting her break. Despite it all, including a pile of rejection letters a foot tall, she didn’t grow bitter or jaded or turn her back on the publishing community. Instead, she stuck to it, honed her craft, and stayed positive. She became an influential blogger, created a national holiday in support of booksellers, and was named chairperson of the Debut Authors Program—before her own debut novel was released.
For those who don’t believe in Karma, consider this: A bestselling author took pity on Jenny, read her unpublished manuscript, and loved it so much she shared it with her editor. That manuscript—Cover of Snow—was scooped up by Random House and ultimately won a Mary Higgins Clark award for best first novel. It also had a blurb from none other than Jack Reacher’s creator, Lee Child.
Jenny did not take her success for granted. Rather, she embarked on an unprecedented book tour, packing her family in the car—home schooling her children in the backseat—and traveled the country for months on end promoting her books. She also became Vice President of Author Programs for ITW, a position singularly aimed at helping ITW authors succeed. Through it all, she’s been a wonderful and supportive friend to an untold number of authors, myself included.
Jenny’s highly anticipated third novel, AS NIGHT FALLS, releases this month. It’s about a family in an isolated mountain home who are terrorized by two escaped convicts. If you’ve watched the news the past couple of weeks, you’ve seen that real-world events have conveniently coincided with Jenny’s book launch. Remember what I said about Karma?
Carey Baldwin’s first book, Judgment, the opening volume in her series featuring forensic psychiatrist Caity Cassidy and FBI profiler Atticus “Spense” Spenser, is a finalist for the prestigious Daphne du Maurier Award and the Booksellers Best Award. In addition, Judgment was named “A Best Book of 2014” by Suspense Magazine.
I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of her new book, FALLEN, and I know readers will love it. Having met Baldwin at Bouchercon in Long Beach last fall, I know that besides being generous and optimistic, she has grit. She’s worked hard for everything she’s achieved in her life and is insanely supportive of other writers. Baldwin was kind enough to answer a few questions about her work and her latest book for The Big Thrill.
How on earth do you juggle writing and working as a fulltime physician and still write two full-length novels in about a year?
I really don’t do it all. People used to ask me that question even before I became an author because I was a single mother throughout medical school and for most of my career as a physician. The simple truth is that some things have to fall by the wayside, but I try to make sure that my family and my patients never do. It’s mostly sleep and housework that get pushed aside for writing. And boy, do I ever hate the fact that I don’t have time for housework—big sacrifice!
Your fourth book, FALLEN, comes out this month. Tell us about it.
Out of all my books to date, I have to say that FALLEN, the second book in my Cassidy & Spenser thriller series, was the most fun to write. It features two characters I’ve grown to love, an FBI profiler, Atticus Spenser, and a forensic psychiatrist, Caitlin Cassidy. This time the former rivals turned partners-in-crime-fighting are on the trail of a madman known as the Fallen Angel Killer. The setting is Hollywood, so for research purposes, I explored every tourist trap in Tinsel Town, took star tours, and I even learned how wax statues are made. The book is a thriller, but it has some good times built in. I hope readers will enjoy it, because I certainly loved writing it.
Acoustic Shadows Inspired by Patrick Kendrick
People have asked how I come up with ideas for my novels and my pat answer is, “I read the newspapers.” While this is not an original concept, with my newest work, ACOUSTIC SHADOWS, one cannot miss the headline-inspired storyline of the novel. It begins with a shooting at an elementary school.
When I was touring and doing signings for my last book, Extended Family, I would do a lecture on “Mass, Spree, and Serial Killers,” accompanied by slides, historical information, and anecdotes about various killers over the years. The lecture pointed out the differences between these types of killers: Mass murderers: one event, one location, multiple victims, usually targeted, meant to be a statement and garner lots of coverage by the media. Spree killers: several events over a few days, multiple locations, multiple victims, sometimes targeted, often random, sometimes making a statement, or a person just going over the edge due to some dramatic event such as a lost job or crumbling marriage. Serial killers: multiple events, multiple victims, typically over years; they want to be recognized for their heinous acts but do not want to be caught, so they are very careful.
When I began doing these lectures in 2012, there were a number of mass killings but they could be counted easily enough. Columbine is one of the first that came to mind, then Virginia Tech. But since 2006, these killings have increased exponentially and there have been some 200 cases or more since then. Currently, they are happening at a pace of about one attack every two weeks. They are always startling accounts of innocent people being slaughtered by someone, typically, with a long history of mental illness, living an isolated, socially inept life. For reference, I would suggest this site, based on the FBI’s current data.
For me, none were as disturbing, as heart wrenching, as the shooting that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut, a quiet, small town like thousands of suburban towns that exist all across the world. As a paramedic and fire fighter for many years, I have seen my share of disasters, trauma, and human suffering. I could not get over all of those children, so young and innocent, that were slaughtered by another one of these mad men that I often write about in my novels. I could not sleep at night and while I, like most people, wept as I watched the news coverage every night, I could not stop watching it while wondering why does this keep happening and, can it ever be stopped?