By Alex Segura
The novels of Brigadier General A. J. Tata don’t go unnoticed, that’s for sure. Even former President George W. Bush is a fan. Tata’s well-researched, authentic, and engaging novels are built to keep readers on edge from the first page on, and his latest, THREE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT, is no exception.
The second of Tata’s novels featuring Jake Mahegan, THREE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT finds the Delta Force vet on the trail of his mother’s murderer. But when an Army geologist is kidnapped, Mahegan must figure out if the two threads are tangled together. When nuclear plants on U.S. soil fall under attack, that question is answered with deadly results. As time winds down, Mahegan must track down the homegrown terrorists hell-bent on tearing the country apart from within before it’s too late. It’s a safe bet this isn’t a low key, slow-moving piece of fiction. Quite the opposite. Tata brings his sharp plotting and first-hand knowledge together to craft a taut, memorable story. We got the chance to talk with Tata about his latest and what’s next for him.
This is your second Jake Mahegan thriller—what makes Jake such a fun character to write? What experience has he gained since the first novel?
Jake’s constant battle internally is that he is trying to escape the warrior life and find love, yet he is continuously thrust back into the fray. Since Foreign and Domestic, Jake has had his dishonorable discharge converted to an honorable one and he has resigned himself to working with the man who made that happen, Major General Bob Savage. Still, hope reigns eternal and he meets Grace Kagami in THREE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT, hoping that he can trust her to help him.
Your book deals with some very topical things, like domestic terrorism. How much research is involved and how much do you draw from your own professional experience?
I research all of my books extensively. While I have significant experience combatting terrorism, I remain current through frequent news program appearances and studying the enemies of our nation and discerning their intent.
A Search For Light in Dark Places
By R.G. Belsky
The wait is over for John Hart fans. Five years after his last book, Hart–the best-selling thriller author whose writing about the South has been compared to John Grisham and Pat Conroy–is back with the eagerly anticipated REDEMPTION ROAD.
So why the long gap between books? Hart says it took him that much time–including a year spent on a failed novel that he discarded after 300 pages–to find the character he really wanted to write.
“I began that fifth, failed novel without understanding what my hero wanted and valued, and how far he would go to achieve those things,” Hart told us. “It was, in retrospect, an exercise in hubris. After four bestsellers I was overconfident. If I just write, I told myself, then all elements for the book would, in time, resolve. That’s the lesson it took a year to learn: that without the right protagonist I had no foundation for the story.
“When I started fresh, I knew exactly who the main character was supposed to be: Elizabeth Black, who was a small character in that first failed attempt, but one I found endlessly fascinating, not just dark and wounded, but complex and strong and willing to sacrifice. Once I had that fundamental foundation–a character I understood completely–then the book came as the previous four had. The lesson is that we have to do the legwork first, not an outline in my case, but a relationship with the protagonist that is damn near personal.”
Like his previous works, REDEMPTION ROAD is set in the South (Hart’s native state of North Carolina) and features many of the themes that have won him such praise from fans and critics alike: flawed characters, broken families, troubled children, plus–in this book–a terrifying serial killer.
“If there’s a common thematic element to my books, it’s the search for light in dark places, the discovery through hardship of those qualities that make human beings exceptional, things like selflessness and hope, courage and love and family,” Hart says. “Some think I write dark stories, but that’s an unfair assessment. I put people through hell so they might find a bright, warm spark in all that blackness. That’s what the books are really about.”
Writing About a World Not Black and White
By J. H. Bográn
They say that word-of-mouth is the most effective marketing technique for selling books. I believe book lending is a close second. A few years ago, a friend lent me David Baldacci’s The Winner. The novel was about a dirt-poor single mother forced into a scheme that began by winning $10 million in the lottery. After I devoured the book in record time, I returned it—yes, I’m one of those—and told my friend that I felt I was the winner, because I’d just discovered a new favorite author. I’ve read plenty of his books since then, so when the editors asked me if I´d like to interview Mr. Baldacci and read his latest novel, you can bet I was sofa-jumping.
Can you tell us in your own words, what’s THE LAST MILE about?
Amos Decker, my hyperthemesia detective with a touch of synesthesia, is back on the case. When convicted murderer Melvin Mars’s execution is stayed because someone else confessed to the killings, Decker sees stark parallels between the murder of his family and Mars’s case. It also doesn’t hurt that the two men played college football against each other. The case takes Decker and Mars on a journey that goes back to before either of them was even born. And I manage to do it all without the benefit of time travel! Take that, Diana Gabaldon!
Was there an incident in particular that prompted the story?
As a lawyer, I saw stark injustice. If you’re poor and unconnected, you don’t get justice. If you’re rich and connected, you get more than justice, which actually makes it an injustice. Writing thrillers is a lot of fun. But by focusing on substantive issues of interest to me, and allowing people to read about them in a way that may linger with them, makes it even more gratifying.
What is the most frightening thing that has happened to you while researching a novel?
Being chased down an alley by a psychotic dog owned by a double murderer while on a walk-along with a police officer in D.C. The officer later told me that the guy had just left his dog behind when he “went away” for 20 to life. It made such an impression on me that I wrote both the dog and the double murderer into the novel I was working on. I’m a dog lover, so things turned out fine for the canine, but not so nice for the double murderer.
By Dawn Ius
Leigh Russel is no stranger to series writing—for some time she’s been delivering two manuscripts a year, one each for her Geraldine Steel and Ian Peterson series’. But with JOURNEY TO DEATH, Russel adds a new character to her regime, introducing Lucy Hall, a young woman looking to leave her worries behind—but finding new, potentially deadly troubles in the seemingly idyllic tropical paradise of Seychelles.
Here, Russell takes time out of her now even busier writing schedule to answer some questions for The Big Thrill.
I really enjoyed the slow build of JOURNEY TO DEATH, almost as though the suspense and tension itself was a “journey.” It would be easy to launch into action action action as many thrillers do—why did you decide to tell the story in this way?
Most of my books begin with dramatic action, but this one is different. My story was inspired by a first-hand account of life under a coup d’etat in the 1970s in the Seychelles, which provides the background to the main story, which takes place in the present day. In addition, setting the action on an island affects the narrative, reflecting the leisurely pace of life in the Seychelles. Once the mystery begins to take hold, the pace speeds up.
Your characters are notoriously well developed—what do you want readers to know about Lucy before they dive into this new series?
Lucy Hall is only twenty-two in JOURNEY TO DEATH, and just beginning to emerge as an independent adult. Recovering from a disastrous broken engagement, she is forced to reconsider her intentions in life. In this vulnerable frame of mind, she is thrown into a challenging situation. As Lucy learns about herself, through the course of the narrative, the reader also learns about her character.
Keeping a Series Fresh
By Dawn Ius
Back in the early 90s, John Sandford’s son was driving through Omaha in the evening when his car struck a deer head, and the animal’s horns punctured his tire. Knowing his limited-use spare wouldn’t get him through Nebraska, he called his father, already a bestselling thriller writer, for advice.
Using an early mapping program—created long before Google—Sandford was able to navigate directions to an open tire store. His son was back in business within 15 minutes.
The event marked a significant shift in Sandford’s thinking: Technology had taken a huge step forward, and if he wanted to stay relevant, he needed to get on board.
Now, with the release of EXTREME PREY, the 26th book in the Lucas Davenport series, Sandford once again finds himself at a crossroads. In an increasingly fickle marketplace where even long-standing characters have a shelf life, how will he keep the series—and his star protagonist—fresh?
“I thought about killing his wife,” Sandford says. “We actually took a vote on it at a book event and more than 90 percent of the audience voted not to kill her. I guess his wife is too popular.”
That might not seem like a conundrum to some, but it poses a problem for Sandford, who feels his latest books lack some of the romance his readers have come to expect. Davenport can’t fool around on his wife—he’s not that kind of guy—but marriage often reads a bit on the dull side, particularly with thrillers.
If you’re having heart palpitations about the thought of Lucas losing his better half, Sandford admits he’s still mulling over options and there’s no cause for concern—yet. But fans of his Davenport series will note a few missing familiars in EXTREME PREY.
A Legal Thriller With Heart
By Dawn Ius
In THE ADVOCATE’S DAUGHTER, author Anthony Franze—a lawyer at a major Washington, DC law firm and frequent media commentator on the Supreme Court—takes readers behind-the-scenes of the country’s highest court, in a murder mystery that has as much heart as it has suspense.
Sean Serrat, a prominent DC lawyer, seems to have it all: married to the love of his life, blessed with three great kids, and even a possible U.S. Supreme Court nomination on the horizon. That is, until Sean’s daughter is found murdered in the library of the Supreme Court. Serrat is rocked to the core. Not only does his daughter’s death shatter his picture-perfect life, but the killing could also be connected to his potential nomination—or a dark secret from his past.
Secrets and law and more secrets. Each surprising, each lurching story and motive in a different direction. Many an author has built a successful career writing traditional legal thrillers with these elements in mind, and Franze could have left it at that. But the real root of this thriller with dueling legal and domestic angles is family.
“I love thrills and twists, but the books I connect most with have an emotional component,” says Franze. “As a writer, I’m always trying to make an emotional connection with readers—I want readers to care about my characters, I want them to feel. That’s what I tried to achieve with THE ADVOCATE’S DAUGHTER.”
I’m not ashamed to admit that Franze made me cry—more than once. Because murder mystery aside, this novel is about the lengths people will go to protect the ones they love. From Franze’s meticulous attention to detail, careful plotting and superb character development, through to his touching acknowledgments, one gets the sense that Franze—much like his protagonist—would go the distance.
Perhaps, in part, this is because of his life experiences. This month for The Big Thrill, I had the pleasure of interviewing Franze about life before—and after—THE ADVOCATE’S DAUGHTER.
By Andy Martin
After observing Lee Child at work for one year as he wrote his 20th thriller, Andy Martin, a Cambridge educator and author, wrote ‘Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me.’ Martin’s book was written and at the printer when that Lee Child novel hit bookstores in September 2015 and made it to the No. 1 spot on bestseller lists. Martin was with Child on tour in Washington, D.C., when the news broke last autumn, and he shares their conversation with The Big Thrill:
Lee Child was having a pizza. As a result of poor parenting, he always leaves the crusts. Followed by some kind of fudge pudding with chocolate ice-cream. And coffee. Black. Room service in the Four Seasons, Georgetown, Washington, D.C. Silver platters and linen napkins. You wouldn’t get that in the Skyline (where I was staying). No big deal, but you have to take note of these small things. I was being Reacher, putting up in grimy motels. He was in the presidential suite. I was sitting there drinking coffee from his silver coffee pot. And helping myself to some of his fries on the side.
Me: And you have a gym.
Lee: I, for one, won’t be making use of it. You use it. Go and do whatever it is you do in there.
Me: What about the pool?
Lee: Nah, can’t be arsed.
He used to be a swimmer, long-distance, international level, with that long reach of his, but dropped out (or climbed out and never dived back in).
The luxury was wasted on him. He basically had to stay in these 5-star palaces, on account of being so huge. Physically, and commercially.
And lo, his forecast had come true. With extra marmalade on top. Make Me, his 20th Jack Reacher novel, was no. 1 in all the English-speaking countries. Without regard to category. It was the best-selling book in the Western world. Bar none. Lagercrantz, Franzen, Harper Lee, all comprehensively trounced.
“For that week at least,” he pointed out. “Maybe not longer. It’s cool for you. You were there when I started the first sentence. And now it’s…”
This month we’re joined at The Big Thrill by SG Redling – radio personality, avid traveler and so-so gardener. She’s also a best selling author of conspiracy thrillers and science fiction. Her latest release is BAGGAGE, which was published in February.
Thanks for joining us here at The Big Thrill. Can you tell us a bit about BAGGAGE?
Thanks for having me. I’m really excited about BAGGAGE. It’s a dark psychological thriller about a woman with a lot of secrets in her past that refuse to stay hidden.
Anna Ray, your protagonist, has been through some horrible things in the lead-up to the novel. Tell us about her?
She was a great character to write—funny and intelligent, even while she’s desperately trying to escape her own life. That was a tough balance to keep. She had gone through such horror, but I didn’t want her limping through the story. On the other hand, I think I made it pretty clear that she’s a lousy role model for emotional health.
You’re not dealing with easy themes and your characters go through a lot. Do you feel any pangs of sympathy as you’re tormenting your characters on the page?
I think all writers are sadists. And since we have to put ourselves in our characters’ heads, that also makes us masochists. The truth is, the bigger the struggle, the better the story. This book has some particularly difficult experiences for the main character. The thing about writing a well-developed character is that it doesn’t feel like putting them through something as much as it seems you bear witness to some hard history. Like, I dream up this woman, Anna Ray, put her on her feet, and she marches up and says “You won’t believe the shit that happened to me.” And away we go. That said, I would advise people to be careful what they share with writers—your tragedy can easily become our plot twist.
By James Ziskin
New York Times best-selling author J. T. Ellison is known for her two addictive suspense series, one featuring Lieutenant Taylor Jackson, and the other Dr. Samantha Owens. Her latest novel, NO ONE KNOWS, is a dark standalone that takes a deep dive into the troubled soul of a young widow. Aubrey Hamilton’s husband vanished five years earlier and has just been declared legally dead. That judgment clears the way for a huge insurance payoff. And then things start to happen.
Recently, I had the chance to talk to J. T. Ellison about her latest book.
In NO ONE KNOWS, you switch narrative point of view many times. From third person past omniscient to third person present, with every shade of idiosyncrasy in between. Can you discuss the challenges and rewards of multiple viewpoints?
It’s not something I usually do, which made it so much fun. I generally write it straight—the story is either close third, or first. But this one unfolded differently, and I realized that I loved the idea of telling the story through different characters’ eyes, and through different narratives at different points in time. It added to the element of misperception I was trying to create. Plus, I was really trying to stretch my writing wings with this book. Throw out the rulebook is my new mantra.
Nashville plays a dynamic role in this thriller. The reader can feel the love you have for your adopted home. The restaurants, the skyline, parks, bars, and coffee houses: you present a vivid sense of place. Talk to us about the locations you’ve used. Any personal favorites?
Thank you! Nashville is such a great city to write about. We’re constantly evolving, too, so in the years I was working on this book I kept having to change the names of the bars and restaurants I was using. I finally gave up and fudged them. The area where Aubrey lives is vibrant and exciting, with lots of students and young families mixing with older homes and condos and the Vanderbilt campus and hospital, so the vibe is very eclectic. I wanted to capture that sense of belonging to the old money of Nashville juxtaposed against the lifestyle of a young widow who used to have it all, and now is scraping by with two jobs and a lot of heartache. Nashville is a rich tapestry to draw from. Downtown, suburbs, the Gulch, east and west—no matter where you go there’s a microcosm of attitudes and restaurants and shops that fit the environs. I like them all!
By E.M. Powell
Suspense author Rebecca Drake’s new psychological thriller, ONLY EVER YOU, opens with a gut-wrenching scenario familiar to many parents and care givers. Her heroine Jill Lassiter’s three-year-old daughter Sophia disappears from a playground. As a frantic Jill berates herself for being distracted by her busy life, Sophia is found and returned after just forty minutes. As readers we share Jill’s absolute relief. But something’s not right–and Jill finds a tiny puncture mark on Sophia’s arm. Medical checks reveal no trace of drugs and a deeply rattled Jill has to settle with not knowing for sure what has happened to her daughter. Her consolation is that Sophia is back safe with her and husband David and life can go on as normal. Trouble is, someone has other ideas. Ideas that include Sophia’s abduction and the destruction of the Lassiters’ lives. It’s a taut, tense read in which the reader stays with Jill’s devastated bewilderment and her increasingly desperate search for her daughter and for answers as to what has happened to Sophia.
The disappearance of a toddler is of course every parent’s worst nightmare. Drake says she had a brief taste of that terror when her son was very small. “He wandered away in a store and for a brief period I was terrified that he’d been abducted. It was probably only five or six minutes before we found him, but the store went through a lock down procedure and PA announcements and it felt horribly long.” Yet it wasn’t that experience that provided the direct inspiration for ONLY EVER YOU. “It was a vivid dream I had one night,” says Drake, “about a child disappearing from a playground only to return with a puncture mark on her arm.’ Like many authors, the notepad and pen were ready and waiting. ‘I woke up with my heart racing and scribbled the dream down and in the morning I knew I had a great beginning for a novel.”
Many people think that thrillers have to have a red-numbered ticking clock or a spaceship pilot needing to bounce an asteroid off the sun to save the world. Drake’s novel is a psychological thriller–of course none the less gripping (and many would argue more) due to its subject matter. It’s a sub-genre that Drake says she has always been drawn to, more so than any other crime fiction. “I was really influenced by one of my favorite authors, the late Ruth Rendell (a.k.a. Barbara Vine), who so wonderfully explored the dark side of human nature. I’m fundamentally interested in why people behave the way they do. That’s the big question for me: Why? For me, the internal and interpersonal battles we wage are always more interesting than any external war.”
“It’s about people who feel they consciously have to redeem themselves.” That’s how Adam Mitzner describes his fourth book, THE GIRL FROM HOME: A THRILLER. Although the word “thriller” is part of the title, THE GIRL FROM HOME is really a novel of psychological suspense. It asks if redemption is possible, and if so, what are the steps to getting there?
“For a lot of people, my characters included, the first step is when they ask themselves: am I the person that I want to be? Is the person that I am the person I want to be? Is there a way I can be a better person?”
His hero, Jonathan Caine, has it all: the condo with a fabulous view in Manhattan; the summer house in the Hamptons; the young, lovely trophy wife. But Jonathan is a currency wizard who hits a spot of trouble, pulls a sleight of hand to get out of it, has to keep pulling more and more to stay ahead of it, until finally he pulls one sleight of hand too many.
Jonathan loses nearly everything. During the twilight period where he waits to see if he will also lose his freedom, he takes his first baby steps toward redemption. Can he correct any of his mistakes? Not really. Can he start over now and try to be a better person? Well, maybe. At least until he goes to jail.
Being a better person involves tending to his dying father. It also involves trading in the acquisition marriage for true love with Jacqueline Williams, the prom queen his senior year in high school. Back then she didn’t even know he existed. Now she’s impressed with his wealth and power, or at least, the appearances of it that Jonathan manages to maintain.
Jacqueline is in need of redemption too. For her own sake, for that of her children, and for the sake of true love, she needs to get away from her abusive husband. She needs to love Jonathan the way he really is. And both of them need to learn to trust each other.
Is redemption even possible when murder is involved?
By Kay Kendall
JUST FALL is a contemporary thriller that has everything—hot sex, hot sands, a high body count, and a seductive new husband who isn’t as straightforward and solid as he seems. This is the debut of Nina R. Sadowsky.
Although “debut novelist” may conjure a particular picture in your mind, set that aside. Sadowsky has quite a resume in her former career. She segued from practicing entertainment law into script writing and producing in Hollywood, along the way working and making friends with many of the biggest names in the business. I was especially pleased, to interview Sadowsky for The Big Thrill about her exciting background, and how that led to JUST FALL.
Your life has been a series of successes. With such a full dance card, what inspired you to turn your hand to writing a sexy thriller?
After a frustrating run with some film and television projects, I felt my love of writing ebb. I had always wanted to write a novel, and decided to start one as a private project, something I was doing just for my own purpose—to rekindle my love of the process. So I decided to have fun with a genre I’d always loved as a reader. I’ve been a mystery/thriller fan since I devoured my first Agatha Christie. I decided I wanted to write about real emotions, parse the perils and pleasures of intimacy, but as kind of a pulp fiction, a lurid fever dream. My goal was to have fun with it and I did.
Did your work in Hollywood influence your choice of genre, plot line, or location when you set about writing your thriller?
Some of my favorite filmmakers are Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorcese —all masters of controlled tension in stories that seem simultaneously larger than life and completely relatable. They certainly influenced me in my quest to make Ellie, the protagonist of the thriller, a kind of “every woman.” Not a femme fatale, not a good-girl-gone-bad, but a woman with whom most people could identify, even as she committed terrible acts. I’ve always also loved the noir genre, with its stark examination of moral ambiguity. I believe these kinds of stories are how we process our fears about a violent, often senseless world.
As far as the locations, years of working in a visual medium has taught me how much information can be infused into every frame of film. I can’t help but think visually when I think about story. So in choosing locations and how to describe them, I always try to look at a place from many different angles. How does a location speak to the themes at play? Does the emotion of the scene demand a bleak location? A colorful one? What can the reader learn about the characters by their reactions to their environment?
By Dawn Ius
Use your shredder. Don’t save your credit card information in your online accounts. Never click on an unfamiliar attachment. And for goodness sakes, don’t provide your social security number or other financial info in response to an unsolicited email request.
If you’re not already following this sage advice from author and privacy attorney Reece Hirsch, chances are good you’ll beef up your online security after reading his latest thriller, SURVEILLANCE, the third book in his award-nominated Chris Bruen series.
For former computer-crimes prosecutor Chris Bruen, teaming up with the plucky hacktivist Zoey Doucet to open a San Francisco law firm seems like a great idea—until their first case. With their client on the run, two employees dead, and their own lives at stake, Bruen and Doucet go from defending an “ethical hacker” to evading a hired assassin, a bloodthirsty drug cartel, and their own government in an epic run for survival.
“It’s not always easy to strike the balance between action and character development because I think thriller readers generally have an expectation of a fast pace and quite a bit of action,” Hirsch says. “When I ran track in high school we used to do a very demanding workout called ‘intervals training,’ which involved sprinting a quarter mile and jogging an eighth, and repeating that again and again, with the pace steadily increasing. I sometimes think that pacing in a thriller can be a little like that.”
No question SURVEILLANCE is a marathon of action-packed sprints that sometimes hit a little too close to home—you did fire up that shredder this morning, right?—but Hirsch doesn’t do so at the story, or characters’, expense.
Doucet’s “spiky attitude” is somewhat modeled after one of Hirsch’s friends, while the rest of her “checkered resume” was drawn from other acquaintances, creating a mash-up that Hirsch tweaks until the character comes to life.
Uncovering the Darkest Secrets
No one likes a bully, but even bullies deserve justice, according to Max Revere, the no-nonsense, investigative journalist in Book Three of the Max Revere series, POISONOUS. Max receives a letter from a mentally challenged teen asking for her help: his stepsister Ivy Lake is dead, and Ivy’s mother blames him. Max is moved by Tommy’s plea and decides to investigate the cold case. She soon discovers that Ivy’s talent for using social media to spread her poison has ruined more than one life. Whether Ivy Lake’s plunge from a cliff was an accident or a homicide is unclear, but Max is determined to find out.
Every town has its secrets and the picturesque Corte Madera is no different. Max’s investigation meets with resistance from everyone in town, and she finds that most are unsympathetic about the demise of the much hated Ivy. As she digs deeper, she discovers relationships rife with resentment, strife, and buried secrets. When another teen is murdered, it becomes clear that there is a killer on the loose, and finding the truth is more critical than ever.
Ivy is an unsympathetic character whose actions have resulted in the suicide of another teen. As we learn more, we see that others have contributed to Ivy’s bullying by liking her posts on social media. Is Ivy a scapegoat and are the silent followers as culpable as she for the bullying?
Ivy is not a scapegoat–she is responsible for her own actions. However, I do think that the “piling on” behavior of her peers, those who commented and publicly “liked” her gossip, contributed to her behavior. She was validated by the people whose opinions she cared about. She had a false sense of popularity and that fueled her actions.
I’m a mom–two of my kids have survived the teen-age years and are in college, and I have three more in the middle of the worst time in many kid’s lives–junior high and high school. I have lectured ad nauseum about what not to post on the Internet, but I also point out that their comments online have the same impact as a unique post. That if they participate in bashing someone or being hyper-critical, they are just as guilty as the individual who started it. Unfortunately, there are many parents out there who don’t have any restraint on the Internet, either. They make blanket statements, use abusive language, or “unfriend” people because of differing political or religious views, showing their children that it’s okay to ostracize and criticize others because of a different opinion.
By J. H. Bográn
When I first got into reading thrillers, there were three authors who distinctly defined the genre for me: Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum. Their stories were tall, filled with detailed descriptions and, above all, very entertaining. I had the chance to read an advance copy of debut author Matthew Betley’s OVERWATCH, and somehow he managed to combine the style of my top three.
This first entry into a new series is action-packed; in fact, that term may be an understatement. In two simultaneous timelines we fear the outcome of a global threat while we learn what made the hero, Logan West, what he is today.
Mr. Betley graciously agreed to answer some questions for The Big Thrill.
In your own words, what’s the premise for OVERWATCH?
When Logan West impulsively answers a dead man’s ringing phone, he triggers a global race against the clock to track down an unknown organization searching for an Iraqi artifact that is central to a planned attack in the Middle East—one that will draw the United States into a major conflict with Iran.
It should be noted that it was Logan who actually killed that man before answering the call. What happens next?
Logan, a former Marine officer, is quickly contracted as a “consultant” to assist the FBI as part of a special task force bent on stopping the shadowy operatives, whatever the cost. The battles are nonstop, from the plains of the Midwest, to mansions in northern Mexico, to the war-torn Al-Anbar province, pitting an international team against trained mercenaries employed by the world’s largest private security contractor…whose owner has a personal vendetta against the US government. Meanwhile, Logan is battling his own demons, especially the trauma of the ambush that his Force Recon unit suffered at an insurgent torture compound in Fallujah in 2004, which threatens to destroy everything he holds dear.
Creating a Formidable Antagonist
The heart of every thriller fan speeds up a bit when they hear there’s a new Lincoln Rhyme novel coming out. Jeffery Deaver’s latest in the series, THE STEEL KISS will not disappoint his fans. In this one, Rhyme comes up against one of his most formidable enemies yet: a brilliant murderer who turns common products into weapons.
Quadriplegic forensic detective Lincoln Rhyme is the kind of character readers love to try to figure out. He’s a scientist: cold, dispassionate and given to the immutable laws of the physical world.
“He would never see himself as a hero,” Deaver says. “In fact, he doesn’t think about himself much at all. He looks at his quadriplegic condition, if at all, as an occasional inconvenience and has no time for the frivolities and distractions of modern life, as he focuses on the task at hand—solving a crime. If he’s like anyone, he’s the positive side of Walter White, the central figure in Breaking Bad, and, of course, Sherlock Holmes.”
To most fans it’s Rhyme’s series, but THE STEEL KISS opens with Amelia Sachs hot on the trail of a killer, trailing him through a department store in Brooklyn. An escalator malfunctions, the stairs give way and an innocent bystander is horribly mangled by the gears. Sachs is forced to stop and save the victim, letting her target escape. The fact that she drives the opening sequence in the book reflects Sachs’ growing role in the series. In fact, Deaver says it was his goal to make Rhyme and Sachs equals from the beginning.
“I loved the idea of making her the uncompromising action hero, and him the thoughtful one,” Deaver says. “She represented the intuitive side of policing while he was the cold rationalist. That was always an interesting mash-up of personality types for me.”
In that opening sequence, Sachs and Rhyme soon learn that the escalator problem was no accident, but the first in a series of homicidal attacks executed by another great Deaver villain. Vernon is a brilliant craftsman who manages to turn products we all buy into weapons.
“He’s thoughtful, obsessed with his craft, devoted to family… and chillingly ruthless.” Deaver says. “He’s also emotionally fragile, really a heartbreaking character. I’ve always felt that we must feel something for all the people in our books, even the bad guys.”
Sanjida Kay’s first psychological thriller, BONE BY BONE, focuses on the hard-hitting topic of bullying.
Recently divorced, Laura never imagined that making a new start with her nine-year old daughter, Autumn, could be so hard. But when Autumn becomes a target for bullies at school, and Laura’s reaction crosses the line, Laura’s dream of a bright new start takes a dangerous turn. Taunted and harassed, with no support, Laura struggles to find her family’s happy ending.
“I was bullied as a kid,” says Kay, acknowledging that when she had a child of her own she began to worry about her daughter’s potential fate. BONE BY BONE was born out of Kay’s musings about what would happen if a mother fought back against her child’s bullies.
“Although BONE BY BONE is a thriller, it deals with the horrific side of physical, emotional and cyber bullying in a realistic way,” says Kay. It’s an issue that hits close to home. In order to help in the prevention and protection of childhood bullying, Kay is donating a portion of the profits from BONE BY BONE to the anti-bullying charity, Kidscape.
Kay wrote her first novel while completing her PhD on chimpanzees— not surprisingly, that first novel features chimpanzees.
“My previous novels were more literary,” Kay says. After the birth of her child, however, Kay could no longer spend copious hours “researching the past or travelling to far flung places” as she had done with her previous books.
BONE BY BONE is set in Bristol, where Kay lives with her husband and daughter. But her love of the natural world still plays a role in her current novel. “When I was plotting BONE BY BONE, I wanted to write a gritty novel set in Bristol’s city centre. What actually happened was that lots of the action ended up in an urban nature reserve!”
The Path to Writing a Southern Gothic tale of Suspense
Ten years ago at the very first Thrillerfest in Phoenix, I met Toni McGee Causey in person, after first meeting online through Backspace, the writer’s community co-managed by ITW’s own Karen Dionne. We were both debut authors—my first book came out in 2006, Toni’s out in 2007. We were new to the business; naive and excited and terrified by the process. We bonded over kalamata olive dip, French bread and wine, friends at first sight.
So I was more than a little bit thrilled to get to interview Toni about her long-awaited release of THE SAINTS OF THE LOST AND FOUND (writing as T.M. Causey, on sale March 8, 2016). I tried to get Liz Berry to foot the bill for me to fly from California to New Orleans to interview Toni in person, but no such luck. Fortunately, long-distance phone calls and emails are now free.
Toni is a busy woman. Sure, I have five kids—three still at home—but Toni is renovating a historic building in the French Quarter of New Orleans, works with her husband on the construction business they own, is a photographer, and has two grown kids who have kids of their own. And she writes. But we connected. Aside from our five years of playing Words with Friends on a daily basis, I have Toni’s number programmed into my cell phone. (Like when I called her driving back from Left Coast Crime to help me figure my way out of a plot hole I’d created …)
The first question I had was why did Toni depart from her adrenalin-fueled Bobbie Faye series—which I read and loved—and write a dark, Southern gothic tale of suspense?
“One of the odd surprises of my life is that the thing you never expect to hit is the thing that hits, and in so many ways, that’s what happened with Bobbie Faye,” Toni said. “She was fierce and fun and I loved giving my humor a wide field in which to play, from subtle to sarcasm, from irony to slapstick. I always saw Bobbie Faye as Wile-E-Coyote just as he goes over the edge of the cliff, looking back at the camera with that oh, shit expression, and it was a joy to write her.”
By George Ebey
Lis Wiehl is one of the nation’s most prominent trial lawyers and highly-regarded commentators. She’s also the author of numerous legal thrillers. Her latest work, THE NEWSMAKERS, is the first in an exciting new series set in the world of on-screen news broadcasting.
In this first installment, TV reporter Erica Sparks has become a superstar overnight. On her first assignment, Erica inadvertently witnesses—and films—a horrific tragedy, scooping all of the other networks. Mere weeks later, another type of tragedy strikes— again, right in front of Erica and her cameras.
Is it luck, or is Erica at the center of a spiraling conspiracy? She’ll stop at nothing to uncover the truth—even if it means once and for all dealing with her troubled past.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Lis to discuss her work in both broadcasting and fiction writing.
Can you tell us a little about your background in news casting and how that helped you prepare to write this story?
I began my career as a lawyer and law professor at the University of Washington. The Seattle NPR station would occasionally ask me to comment on a story. This led to my being booked on Bill O’Reilly’s radio show. In 2001, I joined FOX News as a legal analyst and later became an anchor as well. Working at FOX is an immersive experience, when you’re delivering the news 24/7 there is literally no down time, the stakes are high, and the competition is fierce. I knew this pressure cooker environment would make a great setting for an action-thriller. It provides a spicy mix of suspense, risk, larger-than-life personalities, romance, money, and ruthless ambition. It also takes readers behind the scenes to show them the often-messy truth behind the polished presentation they see on screen. How I could I resist setting my new series at a cable news station?
THE NEWSMAKERS is the first in a new series featuring your character, Erica Sparks. Can you tell us more about Erica, who she is and what her journey is about?
Erica is an “It” girl. When she’s on screen, your eyes go to her. It’s a quality that can’t be bought or taught. She’s also young, beautiful and smart—and carrying some very dark secrets. She grew up food-stamp poor in a dying mill town in Maine, the only child in an abusive family. It wasn’t pretty, and it’s left Erica with some deep scars. At Yale, on a full scholarship, she felt intimidated by the ease and privilege of her classmates. Erica started to drink. After graduation, she landed a job as a reporter at a local Boston TV station. She married a perfectly nice schoolteacher and had a daughter, Jenny.
L.J. Sellers may have had a rough and busy year in 2015, not the least of which included a broken leg, but she took time to chat with me about stand-up comedy, writing screenplays, and exploring the world of a sociopath in her new thriller POINT OF CONTROL.
Known for her wildly popular Detective Jackson series and a spin-off series starring Agent Dallas, Sellers has also gained acclaim for her standalone novels like The Baby Thief. The standalones are her way to explore new characters, new settings, and new plots. “Police procedurals can be limiting,” she says, “because detectives have to follow an investigative structure. They also don’t allow me to write from the antagonist’s point of view—because the ‘who’ in a whodunit has to be saved until the last moment. Writing the bad guy is often my favorite part of the process.”
Ironic coming from a woman who says humor is her outlet. She loves funny movies and has actually written three comedic screenplays. Balancing the gritty thriller writer and the comedian wasn’t easy at first. “I felt like I needed help with the comedic elements and dialogue. So I took a comedy writing class. That’s how I ended up doing standup in public.” Even before she wrote and performed her own routines, she was a fan of live standup and continues to attend acts whenever she can. “I still write short standup sketches just for fun, but I rarely perform. I keep telling myself I will again—soon. But I’m so busy!”
Sellers has an entire list of things she’s trying to make more time for, including learning to play the hand-drum she bought three years ago and capitalizing on what she learned in that comedy writing class. “I have a PI series planned with another writer that will have humorous elements. I’m due for that kind of change.” A new series is just one component in her upcoming production schedule. “The 11th Jackson book comes out next June (Death Deserved), and I’m writing another standalone thriller that is very different from anything I’ve done. I may self-publish, but I’m also considering submitting it to Skyscape [another Amazon Publishing imprint].”
By David Healey
The first pages of NEMESIS: INNOCENCE SOLD by German author Stefanie Ross are filled with an extensive list of dramatis personae and it soon becomes clear why because there is so much going on in those opening chapters: drug raids, police department politics, an apparent abduction, and even the involvement of both German and American Special Forces. These seemingly disparate plots come together like a batch of holiday Glühwein made with warm red wine, spices, a little orange rind, and sugar. Take a sip—it’s a delicious winter cocktail, just as this is a delicious thriller.
With this novel, the author is finally making her first appearance to American readers after several popular novels in her native Germany.
In between visiting Germany’s famous Christmas markets and getting ready for the holidays, Ross answered a few questions about her 2016 debut for American readers.
One of the things that’s really interesting about NEMESIS: INNOCENCE SOLD is that while there is plenty of action, there is a lot of focus on male friendships between characters like Mark, Sven, Dirk, and Danny. These are tough guys, but they care deeply about one another. This is something that’s often glossed over in many thrillers. Can you talk a little about your insights into these male friendships?
Well, NEMESIS: INNOCENCE SOLD is the fifth part of this series, so there’s a history behind these men. They fought together, learned to trust each other, and know each other very well.
I love the male friendships in movies like Top Gun (Maverick and Goose) or Lethal Weapon (Riggs and Murdock), but thought about them as a “Hollywood thing.” When I started to research Special Forces and even talked to some members of a German unit, I learned that this kind of friendship is a significant part of their job. They have to trust each other and know exactly how their partner is acting and thinking. I’ve tried to show this in my books and it works. My readers love it and I’ve also heard from men in similar jobs that this part is quite realistic (even if the cases are fiction.)
Suzanne Redfearn is no ordinary author. She is an inventor, golfer, surfer, kick boxer, mom, wife, and self-proclaimed geek.
She writes about everyday moms, dads, and children who are put in untenable situations where the conflict is tangible and the pacing moves at lightning speed. Not unlike the Wonder Laces she invented, her latest novel, NO ORDINARY LIFE (Grand Central, out this month) is taut and gripping.
NO ORDINARY LIFE centers around a family led by a mother, Faye, who is estranged from her truck-driving husband, Sean. Hustling to make ends meet and protective of her family, Faye has to uproot her three children, Tom, Emily, and Molly, to live with her mother. During the transition, Faye is interviewing for jobs with her children in tow. Four-year-old Molly brings every parent’s worst fear to life when Faye cannot find her in a teeming outdoor plaza. During her frantic search, she discovers a huge crowd cheering for her precocious Molly, who is dancing with a sidewalk artist using the steps she learned from Bo, a family friend. As often happens today, an onlooker uses a phone to make a video of the performance and it goes viral on YouTube. The millions of views lead to an agent tracking down Molly, who lands a gig dancing in a Gap commercial. That performance leads to a starring role in a hit children’s television show called, The Foster Kids.
The set up is beautiful. Struggling Faye finally is able to see the possibility of financial freedom and better care for her children. But her other children are unhappy with the relocation away from friends. Emily, the oldest, is a twelve-year-old middle school student with enough “access to excess” to be dangerous. Tom is nine and shy to the point of speechlessness. Meanwhile, Molly is growing more famous and rich, Faye plays stage mother and manager. What could go wrong?
Finding no similar fiction story on the market, Redfearn wrote NO ORDINARY LIFE after reading the autobiography of Little House on the Prairie television star Melissa Francis. Redfearn says, “It was heartbreaking, and I knew, after reading it, I had my jumping off point. It required a child too young to choose a path for herself…”
At four, Redfearn’s Molly indeed cannot choose her path and the question becomes, who will? Anyone who has stood in a supermarket line knows the potential headline-grabbing trials of child stardom: helicopter parents, absent parents, greedy parents, substance abuse, brutal hours, and ruthless directors. In NO ORDINARY LIFE, Hollywood and the estranged Sean combine to play equally compelling antagonists, creating conflict on every page. Both Hollywood and Sean impose their will on Molly and Faye, while the repercussions for Tom and Emily are equally threatening.
What motivated you to write your novel?
With the impact of social media on our lives today, do you see the events you write about as possible in our near future?
Yes. Maybe not this specific story, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see an Internet corporation abuse its power in the future. Everything in my novel is possible today. All that’s missing is motive.
A series of murders rocks the Los Angeles area, and each victim’s body bears a note addressed to Detective Gabriel McRay. If McRay knows the killer, that knowledge is locked in the suppressed memory of a childhood trauma.
Teamed with his forensic pathologist girlfriend and a psychiatrist, Gabriel runs two parallel investigations: a dark journey into the terrifying recollections of his past, and a hunt for a killer who knows more about Gabriel than he knows himself.
What inspired you to create such a dark storyline, Laurie?
I’ve asked myself the same question, because I consider myself a positive person.
Like many other people, I’m fascinated by the inner workings of the human mind, and how a catastrophic event can alter a person’s entire perspective on life.
But I didn’t want the main character to be mired in his problems. He wants to be happy and is willing to do the work to achieve balance in his life. I did a lot of research and consulted professionals to find out what kind of therapy could be used to aid in his healing process.
Gabriel is working through a childhood trauma, the memory of which he has suppressed. So, while the story is dark, and Gabriel’s history is certainly dark, I wanted to weave that thread of hope throughout, because I do believe that such a thing exists.
Do you have any personal experience with repressed memories?
Yes. I had an experience where Researching hypnotic drugs for the series actually made me realize that at one time I was drugged without my knowledge. I had experienced the same effects that I was creating for characters in the story.
How’s that for the inner workings of the human mind?
By Dawn Ius
A mile from Carol Goodman’s house is a long and winding road. Haunting as it is picturesque, this stretch of highway was the catalyst for Goodman’s return to writing adult fiction. Well, that and an unfortunate incident between her car and a deer.
RIVER ROAD begins with Nan Lewis—a creative-writing professor at a state university in upstate New York—driving home from a faculty party after finding out she’s been denied tenure. Tired, a little tipsy, and a lot pissed off, she doesn’t see the deer that darts in front of her vehicle until it’s too late. But when she gets out of the car to look for it, the animal is nowhere to be found.
Frazzled, and eager to take shelter from the oncoming snowstorm, Nan goes home, pours herself a drink, and vows to forget the entire night. That is, until the next morning, when the police arrive with horrifying news—one of Nan’s students, Leia Dawson, was killed on River Road the night before. And because of the damage to her car, Nan is suddenly suspect number one. Nan now finds herself ostracized by the very community that once rallied around her when her own daughter was killed in an eerily similar accident on the same road.
“The experience of hitting the deer stayed with me for days, weeks,” Goodman says. She even wrote a poem about it, trying to process her feelings and shake off the overwhelming sadness.
A month or so later, a tragic double hit-and-run in her community further solidified Goodman’s need to write RIVER ROAD. “Two college girls were killed only a few miles from my house. This incident also impacted me greatly.”
The woman responsible for the deaths was caught, but Goodman became fascinated by her, desperate to understand the experiences that would have led this woman to make choices that ultimately ended in tragedy. As soon as she wrote the first chapter of RIVER ROAD, Goodman had built the foundation for her protagonist, and the story branched off from there, forcing the author to stretch outside her comfort zone.
“If you write crime fiction, never allow yourself to think that your mom might someday be reading what you’re writing,” says J.D. Rhoades, the North Carolinian author of ICE CHEST .
Considering that Rhoades became famous for writing gritty and dark crime stories, his advice seems legit.
With ICE CHEST Rhoades creates a heist novel with a very unusual MacGuffin: a piece of lingerie made with precious stones worth five and a half million dollars. It becomes the target of a gang of inept thieves.
“Researching the real-life ‘Fantasy Bra’ for ICE CHEST was quite a bit of fun,” Rhoades says, while also stating how much he loved writing the main female character, Clarissa Cartwright. “She’s continually underestimated because she’s so beautiful. But she’s smart and tough and doesn’t take crap from anyone.”
Rhoades is the author of the praised Jack Keller series that deals with a disturbed bounty hunter living in the American South. Rhodes currently lives in Carthage, NC, where he also works as a lawyer. His vast experiences as a reporter, club DJ, television cameraman, ad salesman, waiter, attorney, and newspaper columnist helped him become a published writer.
While working as a columnist for The Pilot newspaper, Rhoades decided to take the suggestion of his editor and start writing fiction. The journalistic work also led him to meet writers such as Katy Munger, Karin Slaughter, Sean Chercover, and Kat Richardson, which encouraged him to give fiction-writing a shot. In Rhoades’ words, “once you start meeting novelists, either in person or online, somehow writing a novel seems much more of an obtainable accomplishment.”
Some places seem too beautiful to be touched by horror. Summit Lake, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is that kind of place, with charming stilt houses dotted along the pristine water. But two weeks ago, Becca Eckersley, a first-year law student, was brutally murdered in one of those houses. Now, while the town reels with grief and shocked residents gather to share their theories, the police are baffled.
At first, investigative reporter Kelsey Castle thinks of the assignment as a fluff piece. But as Kelsey digs deeper, she feels a growing connection to the dead girl. And the more she learns about Becca’s friendships, her love life, and her secrets, the more convinced she becomes that learning the truth about Becca could be the key to overcoming her own dark past…
Writing a Fast-Paced Thriller Laced With Fascinating Detail
By Dawn Ius
Barry Lancet doesn’t study martial arts or Japanese art, but some of his friends do, so he watches. Carefully.
These keen observations transpose with awe-inspiring fluidity onto the pages of Lancet’s award-winning Jim Brodie thrillers, creating a cultural depth—to say nothing of the action sequences—that have catapulted the series onto “best of” lists and garnered the attention of none other than Star War’s J.J. Abrams.
PACIFIC BURN, the third installment featuring rogue second-generation P.I. Jim Brodie, is no exception.
As a special liaison for the San Francisco mayor’s Pacific Rim Friendship Program, Brodie enlists the help of his friend, a renowned Japanese artist named Ken Nobuki. But the promising start of a partnership takes a nosedive when Nokubi is attacked by a sniper and ends up in a coma. To get to the bottom of who is behind the attack on not only Nokubi but Nokubi’s entire family, Brodie goes up against the CIA, the FBI, Department of Homeland Security—and a killer operating on both sides of the Pacific.
Many exceptional fight sequences ensue.
“Every novel has so many different types of scenes,” Lancet says. “And there is a separate art to each type. Even fight scenes. And within the fight scene, there is nuance and many ways to create suspense.”
Lancet achieves this with almost cinematic flair, creating vivid action scenes that are easily visualized, perhaps even meant for the screen, which explains the attention Brodie has received from Hollywood.
“The reason J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot ears perked up with the Jim Brodie books is because of Brodie’s unique abilities, I was told,” Lancet says. “As a Japan expert, Brodie knows two worlds extremely well. And like other classic detectives such as Sherlock Holmes and even television’s Monk, he sees things others cannot fathom. At the murder scene in Japantown he is able to point out details the SFPD miss, and in the aftermath of the attacks in PACIFIC BURN, only he sees the critical clues.”
Authenticity Knocks—and Shocks!
By Dawn Ius
Carla Buckley doesn’t write about terrorists. She isn’t interested in the day-to-day drama of (fictional) presidents. And you’re not likely to find her protagonists facing off against a deranged serial killer.
Buckley’s books are part of the ever-evolving and increasingly more popular “domestic thriller” genre—stories of real families facing real dilemmas.
“I want my readers to be able to put themselves in my characters’ shoes,” Buckley says. “I want them to ask themselves the same, hard questions.”
In her newest release, THE GOOD GOODBYE, the “bad guy” is the question that lurks in every parent’s heart: how well do we really know our children?
Told through three alternating points of view—cousins Rory and Arden, and Arden’s mom, Natalie—THE GOOD GOODBYE is the chilling story of an estranged family forced together after a fire in a college dorm leaves Rory and Arden in the hospital and one of their friends dead. As the mystery of how the fire started begins to unravel, disturbing truths come to light, culminating in a whopper of a plot twist.
“The idea for the novel was inspired by a true event a number of years ago when two devastated families were pushed together under the most terrible of circumstances,” Buckley says. “The event forms the central reveal at the story’s midpoint.”
The journey to this shocking turn is a compelling read, guided by Buckley’s seemingly effortless prose, filled with unexpected curves and an authenticity that truly positions Buckley as one of the genre’s best.
“I work really hard to write tight because that’s what I like to read,” she says. “I focus on scene openings and endings especially, because that’s where you can lose a reader. I chop, chop, chop.”
And just when she thinks she’s got the book where she wants it, she chops some more.
Writing Two Heroines in One Thriller
By Dawn Ius
Writing partnerships can get complicated. Egos, creative differences, writerly quirks—the potential for disaster hovers just below an author’s naturally thin skin.
Unless you’re Allison Brennan and Laura Griffin, the dynamic duo behind the popular female P.I. series, Moreno and Hart. While both are New York Times bestselling novelists in their own right, the co-authors credit a unique writing process for their partnership—and series—success.
“What works is that we each write our own character,” says Brennan, who is the voice behind Scarlet Moreno, the slightly older, more experienced former cop who was pulled into being a private investigator when she was pushed out of the Los Angeles Police Department. “Laura writes Krista Hart, the former rookie cop who thrives as a P.I. and is the only person Scarlet really trusts.”
For each book, the authors discuss the general over-arcing storyline and key character growth points—and then break off to write what ends up being individual novellas that are carefully stitched together to create two unique versions of the same story.
“I think it goes back to voice,” says Griffin. “These heroines—Scarlet and Krista—have such distinct personalities, it seemed natural for us to trade points of view within each book, part one told from one character’s perspective and part two told from the other’s.”
LOST AND FOUND, the third in the Moreno and Hart series, begins with Krista on the most dangerous skip trace of her career. With their P.I. business on the brink of failure, Krista doesn’t think twice about bringing in rival investigator (and potential love interest) R.J. Flynn to help track down the missing witness. Meanwhile, Scarlet is following a lead that could answer the question that’s been dogging her for three years: who is behind the mysterious shooting that cost her her badge and nearly her life?
As Scarlet begins to unravel a shocking conspiracy, Krista hones in on the witness—and realizes someone close to them is watching their every move. With the clock ticking and the body count rising, LOST AND FOUND builds to a heart-pounding climax that has become the hallmark of Brennan and Griffin’s work.