Contemporary Thrillers

Heavy Metal by Andrew Bourelle

By Tom O’Brien

As tense and fast-paced as an episode of Headbanger’s Ball, HEAVY METAL is a gripping, nostalgi- riddled story that urges you to shovel this short book into your eyes. Dealing with family, and mental and societal pressures that we all face, Danny sheds light on the inner thought process of a struggling freshman living in his brother’s shadow.

But first, Danny must overcome Bourelle’s version of the 1980s without the campy TV, heartwarming movies or colorful outfits. Though I grew up in a later decade, this accurately depicts what high school kids were dealing with on some level. We were just punching walls and faces to a different soundtrack.

Here, The Big Thrill chats with Bourelle about getting into character and taking readers on a trip down memory lane.

The protagonist Danny is a depiction of 1980s youth and the book starts with a first person present, angsty voice and a literal gun in his mouth. Did you have to do anything to get into character while writing this, from playing with small firearms or blasting metal on a cassette player?

I tapped mostly into my own experiences: shooting a pistol years ago, listening to hard rock music as a kid (and still today), remembering cold walks on winter days growing up in Ohio. The novel is not autobiographical, but I did grow up in a small town in the 1980s. Setting the story in a familiar world helped me capture the tone. HEAVY METAL actually began as a short story with the same title that was published by the literary journal, Jabberwock Review. When I decided to try writing a novel, I thought there was more of Danny’s story to tell. Writing in his voice felt natural because I was already familiar with the character.
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The Stolen Child by Sanjida Kay

By Myles Knapp

THE STOLEN CHILD is a different take on a thriller. There is no violence in the first few pages.  No swearing. No explicit sex. And still, Kay manages to create a high level of gotta-turn-the-page-and-find-out-what-happens-next tension.

Kay’s thriller influences.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is a favorite. In Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, Kay loves the plot, the chillingly Machiavellian characters and the pitch-perfect prose. She thinks Flynn’s previous novel, Sharp Objects—another favorite—is edgier with a searing twist: perfect Southern gothic-noir. Other influences are Peter Swanson’s The Kind Worth Killing, Jane Shemilt’s Daughter and Gilly MacMillian’s Burnt Paper Sky.

If you are a fan of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh and Dark Places by Gillian Flynn you should find both of Kay’s books an outstanding reason to read all night.

An example of her style.

“The moor has always been part of my life. It’s like a muse: the colours of the heather and the sky; how you can see the savagery of the wind in the way the dwarf pine trees are bent double, the bleak lines of the landscape in winter when everything save the moss and the grass are dead, stones like bones, poking through a thin skin of bilberry bushes, rushes reflected in black bog water. “
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Moon Over Ruin by Lisa Von Biela

A tragic twist of fate takes away everything that really matters to Peter Watson. After such a profound loss, he can’t make sense of his life anymore. So he takes to the road—alone—to put some time and distance between himself and what happened. He hopes the solitude will help him find a reason to go on, a way to heal.

When he stops to check in at the remote Quarry Resort, he expects to wrestle with painful, intense memories. He does not expect to spend the night fighting for his life.

No matter how far you travel, the darkness inside will find you…

The Big Thrill recently had the opportunity to discuss MOON OVER RUIN with Lisa Von Biela:

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

This book is a novella, so it’s a relatively short ride, but I hope my readers empathize with Peter Watson, his loss, and the way he tries to cope with it. Of course, he gets more than he bargained for, and that’s what makes this a thriller!
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Echoes of Terror by Maris Soule

Katherine Ward is assigned the case, never expecting it to parallel her own kidnapping experience seventeen years before. In Skagway, Alaska, the usual crimes faced by the police department’s small force are DUIs and missing bikes. With the chief in the hospital and one officer missing, they’re not prepared for the kidnapping of a billionaire’s daughter.

Misty Morgan thought running off with a college boy would get her father’s attention. Now she and another teenager are praying for their lives. Stuck in China, Misty’s father knew his daughter was up to something, so he asked his longtime friend Vince Nanini to fly to Alaska and stop Misty. Problem is, Vince arrives too late. The college boy is dead, Misty is missing, and the police aren’t eager to let him help.

When Katherine realizes the same man who kidnapped and raped her years ago is the one holding Misty and the other teenager, the terror of those months resurfaces. Vince finds her drunk and in tears, and he’s with her when she realizes the kidnapper has struck again. Together they must figure out where this man has taken three people, and they must find him fast.

Maris Soule spent time with The Big Thrill this month to discuss her novel, ECHOES OF TERROR:
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Johnny Casino by Fred Zackel

JOHNNY CASINO is a love story and a thriller. It’s about Old Vegas and gangsters, toddlers and in-laws and terrorists, and the heartbreak and joys of falling in love, getting married, and starting a family. About impossible choices and incredibly dark secrets. About finding courage and thus Ffnding yourself. About saving your family and maybe saving even the world. Or at least Las Vegas.

Johnny Caine is just twenty-three and a sweetheart of a guy. Happily married, he is a wonderful dad. He thinks he has a future in the hotel-casino industry, even if it is Mob-owned. But the glitzy, glamorous world he lives in no longer a safe place to raise a family.

Johnny Caine thought the violent shooting deaths of his father and other bystanders was a casually cruel byproduct of some turf war among San Francisco’s gangs. The drive-by killers didn’t care who died amid the gunfire. But that night when Johnny is ducking bullets for a second time, he realizes he was the real target.

Johnny suffers from synesthesia. A rare neurological “gift” where his senses are all screwed up and his “conclusions” are all jumbled up. Johnny always knows where the cops are. All of them. How many cops there are and how fast they’re approaching. A useless “gift” to anybody but the Mob. To the Bovadiglia family of Las Vegas, Johnny Caine is their secret weapon keeping the cops and Feds at arm’s length. Johnny Caine has been on their leash for nine years; he is also their Top Secret. Even as they have started taking him for granted.

Back in Vegas Johnny discovers the killings are here, too. The Bovadiglia familia is being taken out one-by-one in the most unusual ways. The Mob thinks it’s a turf war, too, that these killings just go with the territory, and “for now we got time to retaliate.” But Johnny learns he can identify, even trail the killers by their particular auras. Like following a pretty girl who uses too much perfume. Or hating the cloud a cigarette smoker leaves behind in an elevator. He learns how these killings are part of a very personal vendetta, a most vicious political payback for the family’s role with the CIA in Latin America. And he is terrified when he finds out why the killers have spotlighted him as one of them.
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Betrayed by Karen E. Olson

Computer hacker Tina Adler discovers that her true enemy could be someone terrifyingly close to home in this cunningly plotted tale of identity and suspense.

Framed for ordering a hit on mobster Tony DeMarco, Tina Adler is forced to re-enter the shadowy world of computer hacking she thought she’d left behind. In order to clear her name, she reluctantly joins an FBI team led by her old flame, Zeke Chapman, tasked with scouring the deep web to unearth DeMarco’s darkest secrets.

The trail will lead Tina to the person who framed her—but it may also reveal other secrets that she would rather not know. DeMarco might be the least of Tina’s worries. Could her true enemy be someone much closer to home?

The Big Thrill interviewed author Karen E. Olson about her novel, BETRAYED:
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Besieged by A. J. Tata

Tata’s latest Jake Mahegan novel, BESIEGED, tackles the rise of domestic terrorism in America—and puts his hero in the crackling center of a firestorm.

It starts with the unthinkable. A school under siege. A shooter in the classroom. A nightmare scenario that has become all too common in today’s United States. But this time, former Delta Captain Jake Mahegan is there when it happens, face to face with a merciless gunman rigged as a suicide bomber. Without warning, the school is attacked from the outside as well—and all hell breaks loose.

When the smoke clears, Mahegan is left with a long list of unanswered questions—and a deeply personal mission. Racing against the clock, his search will take him from the tech-fueled think-tanks of a North Carolina factory to the top-secret nerve centers of embedded Iranian agents. It’s all part of a bigger, darker conspiracy that’s taking domestic terrorism to a whole new level. And it’s up to Mahegan to stop what could be the most devastating attack in U.S. history.

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Before Sunrise by Rick Mofina

In BEFORE SUNRISE, a short, dark novel, we meet Will Fortin of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, on patrol in southern Alberta. It’s a lonely region where the sky meets the land on even terms, where the landscape exaggerates or diminishes your place in the world. If you’re lucky, trouble would never find you there. If you weren’t, this was your battleground.

It is here where Fortin experiences the worst any cop can face, the taking of innocent lives when he accidentally shoots two children while responding to a call at a farm involving a gun. His life destroyed, his guilt unbearable, Fortin, a good man, struggles as a haunted soul, aching to redeem himself.

Years after the shooting, Fortin is assigned to escort a murderer to trial in Seattle, Washington. When their plane crashes in the unforgiving Rocky Mountains, Fortin is presented with his last chance at redemption.

Coming in at about the same length as The Old Man and the Sea, BEFORE SUNRISE, is a powerful, heart-wrenching story of love, heartbreak, courage and enduring human spirit.

Author Rick Mofina recently discussed his latest novel with The Big Thrill:
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Korrosion by Peter Beck

A caramelized baker. A lonely old woman, beaten to death at Christmas finished off with a needle through the eye. The suspect, a Sudanese refugee, gone into hiding.

The dead widow not only leaves behind a million-dollar inheritance, but also a bitter accusation: From beyond the grave, she claims that one of her children killed her husband.

Tom Winter, the laconic head of security of her Swiss private bank, tracks down the children in the Azores, Manchester and Nuremberg, and finds himself entangled in a horrifying net of abuse, exploitation, and revenge.

Author Peter Beck discussed his latest novel, KORROSION, with The Big Thrill:

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

A sleepless night, breathless hours of entertainment, an intercontinental flight gone by fast, being engrossed in the corrosive effects of abuse, exploitation and revenge, be it on the victims or on the witnesses.

A Nuba warrior is one of the key characters in KORROSION. He travels from his native village in Sudan to Europe, sacrificing a lot. Maybe the memory of Obado’s journey gives some insight into what’s going on with migration.
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No Darker Place by Debra Webb

By Karen Harper

I was excited to be able to interview Debra Webb for her new novel NO DARKER PLACE.  We both write suspense for Mira Books, and I am impressed with her own backstory which is one of courage and tenacity.  “Never give up” shouts from her heroine’s lives—and her own.

This month, she took time out of her schedule to chat with The Big Thrill about her new release, winning awards, the pros and cons of writing series characters, and her sage advice for aspiring scribes.

Please tell us what NO DARKER PLACE is about.

Detective Bobbie Gentry has one objective: to stop the serial killer who robbed her of her husband, her child, and her life. Nick Shade understands Bobbie’s pain—and her desire for vengeance. He’s on a mission of his own, and the murderer known as the Storyteller is next on his list. Nick knows that the best way to find his target is to stick close to Bobbie. But as she becomes more and more reckless in her attempts to lure the Storyteller out of hiding, he has to make a choice: will he protect her from herself even if it means passing up the chance to take out one more monster? As for Bobbie, she’s forced to decide just how much she can trust this stranger who knows so much about her. And both of them are about to learn whether or not two broken people can save each other.
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Black Moon Rising by Ann Simas

Sunshine Fyfe’s dealt with the death of her Navy SEAL husband, the birth of two kids, and life’s general ups-and-downs, but five visions in five days, each showing a different version of a disturbing event? What’s that all about?

From the moment Sunny stops to help a bicyclist down on the side of the road, her calm, sane life becomes hell on earth.

Detective Luca Amorosi doesn’t start out beholden to Sunny for helping his sister. How could he, when he’s been led to believe she’s the hit-and-run driver? With the truth comes another realization—he’s falling for Sunshine Fyfe in ways he never imagined possible.

From her dead husband’s letters, Sunny gleans information that sends her spiraling into a living nightmare. Cults. Blue moons. Sacrificial lambs. She does the only thing she can to prevent the dire future her visions foretell.

Will her efforts be too little, too late, or can Sunny save her children, her family, and the man she’s come to love?

Author Ann Simas recently took time out of her busy schedule to discuss her latest thriller with The Big Thrill:
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The Ashes by Vincent Zandri

“Don’t go down into the cellar, Mommy…”

From Thriller Award winner and New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Vincent Zandri, comes the long awaited sequel to the No. 1 Overall Amazon Bestselling suspense thriller, THE REMAINS.

HORROR IN THE DARK WOODS
It’s been eight years since artist and single mom, Rebecca Underhill, was abducted and left to die in an old broken down house located in the middle of the dark woods. But even if her abductor, Joseph William Whalen, has since been killed, another more insidious evil is once more out to get her in the form of the Skinner. The son of an abusive butcher, Skinner intends on finishing the job Whalen started.

How will he get to Rebecca?

He’s going to do it through her children, by luring them into the cornfield behind the old farmhouse they live in.

HORROR IN THE DEPTHS
Now, armed with the knowledge that the Skinner has escaped incarceration at a downstate facility for the criminally insane, Rebecca must face the most horrifying challenge of her adult life: Rescuing the children not from a house in the woods, but from the abandoned tunnels that run underneath her property.

But the Skinner is watching Rebecca’s every move.

Horrifying question is: will she live long enough to save the children?

Vincent Zandri recently sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss his latest novel, THE ASHES.
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Stalked by Elizabeth Heiter

If you’re reading this, I’m already dead… 

That’s the note seventeen-year-old Haley Cooke leaves behind when she disappears from inside her high school. FBI profiler Evelyn Baine is called in to figure out who had reason to hurt her. On the surface, the popular cheerleader has no enemies, but as Evelyn digs deeper, she discovers that everyone close to Haley has something to hide. Everyone from estranged parents, to an older boyfriend with questionable connections, to a best friend who envies Haley’s life.

Secrets can be deadly… 

One of those secrets may have gotten Haley killed. If she’s still alive, Evelyn knows that the more the investigation ramps up, the more pressure they could be putting on Haley’s kidnapper to make her disappear for good. It’s also possible the teenager isn’t in danger at all, but has skillfully manipulated everyone and staged her own disappearance. Only one thing is certain: uncovering Haley’s fate could be dangerous—even deadly—to Evelyn herself.

Author Elizabeth Heiter recently sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss her latest novel, STALKED.
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The Kill Sign by Nichole Christoff

By Renee James

Before she began writing the Jamie Sinclair thrillers, Nichole Christoff was a broadcaster and a military spouse, living and working in an ever-changing succession of states and countries. Her experiences ranged from attending the birthday party of the King of Thailand and learning to make sushi from the chef to the Japanese Ambassador, to working on-air and behind the scenes in radio, TV, and the public relations industry.

Some of these experiences have helped to inform Christiff’s popular series featuring Jamie Sinclair, an army brat who grew up to be a security specialist and private eye. THE KILL SIGN, releasing this month, is Christoff’s fourth in the series and finds Jamie on the Mississippi Gulf Coast visiting her would-be boyfriend—a military police officer at a fictional military post—when a dirty bomb explodes on a river boat packed with military personnel.

Christoff took some time this month to talk to The Big Thrill about her new book, the progression of her main character, and what readers can expect from her next.

THE KILL SIGN is set in coastal Mississippi. You’re well-travelled and can pick from dozens or even hundreds of settings—why this one?

The Gulf Coast region is a cultural crossroads of sorts, and outside the gates of its military installations, it really is home to those infamous lingerie stores, antebellum plantation houses converted for other uses, and private hunting camps you’ll find in THE KILL SIGN. It’s the perfect place to let a thriller writer’s imagination run wild.
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The Old Man by Thomas Perry

Unexpected Adversaries

By Robert Rotstein

Dan Chase, the protagonist in Thomas Perry’s riveting new novel, THE OLD MAN, lives a quiet life in Vermont. He’s a 60-year-old retiree who takes great pleasure in walking his two loyal mutts. He’s a devoted father and grandfather who keeps in touch with his daughter by phone. Though he desperately misses his late wife, he’s generally content. Then a car appears on his tranquil street and everything changes. The driver has come to kill him for an incident that occurred 35 years earlier. To survive, Dan Chase must reawaken his survival instincts and fight a private war against younger, better-equipped, and decidedly lethal adversaries. Dan’s story takes us on a tense, often chilling ride across the United States and all the way to hostile regions of Libya.

The most compelling thrillers effectively explore how old missteps and a violent past can shatter the life of an apparently ordinary person, and THE OLD MAN certainly accomplishes that, at the same time keeping the reader turning the pages. Perry has kindly agreed to share his thoughts on THE OLD MAN, his writing process, and his future projects.

THE OLD MAN tells the story of Dan Chase, a retired 60-year-old widower who lives in Vermont and who enjoys walking his two large dogs. Yet, Dan isn’t exactly who he seems. What motivates Dan?

As a young military intelligence operator 35 years ago Chase made an ill-considered decision motivated by a misplaced but noble sense of duty.  After delivering U.S. aid money to a middleman, he learned the middleman kept the money instead of delivering it to Libyan rebels. He retrieved most of the money and brought it home to the U.S., but his superiors tried to arrest him and blame him for the deaths of the rebels who went unsupplied. Enraged, he held onto the money and disappeared.  Thirty-five years later, he has been married and widowed, raised a daughter who’s become a doctor, and lived a good life.  But now, someone has come for him—not to arrest him, but to kill him. His motivation now is simply to stay alive
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The Blackest Crimson by Debra Webb

blackestDetective Bobbie Gentry was psyched when she was offered the opportunity to work with the FBI on a special task force in the search for a heinous serial killer known as The Storyteller. What she didn’t expect was for the serial killer to follow her home on Christmas Eve…

The Storyteller couldn’t resist Bobbie no matter the risk. He murdered her husband and would have murdered her child, but the little boy got away. Now Bobbie’s fight for survival might just be more than he bargained for…

One of them must die.

Author Debra Webb recently discussed her latest novel with The Big Thrill:

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

THE BLACKEST CRIMSON is the prequel to the new Shades of Death series and includes an extended excerpt of No Darker Place, the first novel in the series.
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Kiss of the Sun by R. K. Jackson

kiss-from-the-sun_revise_4_7Following her diagnosis as a schizophrenic, Martha Covington has been easing herself back into her quiet life on a small island off the Georgia coast. The trouble is, Martha’s research into local healing roots has earned her an unwelcome reputation as a psychic. When an elderly couple from Atlanta tracks her down, desperate for any sign of their missing grandson, Peavy, Martha confronts a terrifying possibility: that the line between intuition and insanity may not be as clear as she’d like to believe.

Despite her therapist’s insistence that it’s all in her head, Martha travels to Atlanta to investigate Peavy’s mysterious disappearance, where she is reunited with handsome law student Jarrell Humphries. A trail of cryptic clues leads the pair deep into a heart of a dangerous conspiracy whose members will stop at nothing—including murder—to protect their secrets.

R. K. Jackson recently took some time to discuss his latest book with The Big Thrill:

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

I hope they will be both frightened and entertained, and maybe a little appalled, because the menace at the heart of this book is grounded in a contemporary reality.

No spoilers, but what can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?

This book continues the story of Martha Covington, the heroine of my first novel, The Girl in the Maze. I think fans of that book will enjoy seeing Martha evolve into a more confident protagonist who at one point even breaks into full action-hero mode.
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Yanapop by John T. Cullen writing as John Argo

yanapopNewly in love, 21 years old, head over heels, Martin Brown and Chloë Setreal need each other with total hunger and passion. But Chloë, a production assistant at a media conglomerate (YANAPOP in Los Angeles) is laid up with a broken leg and needs Martin to come hold her hand. Martin, in San Diego for the summer (two hours down the coast from LA) hops in his car and heads north, like the dashing hero that he is. What should be a simple, two-hour drive on the freeway turns into a nightmarish adventure through dystopia and beyond.

The plot is fun, scary, dark, and totally over the top. One thing piles on top of the other unrelentingly, as heroic Martin struggles against cosmic odds to reach the new love of his life. This is Southern California as we’ve never seen or imagined it, rich with its beaches, snowy mountains, broiling deserts, shimmering lakes—not to mention mysterious surfers, vampire girl scouts, alien taxi drivers, and other unusual persons. Thriller author John T. Cullen (many novels and nonfiction books) writes as John Argo (author of more than twenty SF and DarkSF novels.)

The author took time out of his prolific career to discuss YANAPOP with The Big Thrill:

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

Well, first, here is an aspirin before we start: although it has deep layers of meaning, you don’t need to be a brain or an egghead to “get it.”  YANAPOP is a fast, thrilling, vernacular race to the finish that anybody can easily understand—and love. I don’t say this as a parent (the novel is one of my children) but once a novel is done and on its way, the author goes from being a participant to an observer. I’m pleased to wave goodbye as I move on to the next project.

Readers will take one the wildest roller-coaster rides of their lives, and come away with the restored idea that imagination still has new worlds to explore. Although tightly structured and sparingly executed, this novel is one of any reader’s least formulaic novels ever enjoyed. Those who get off the ride with shaky legs and blurry vision will immediately cry for more. If I do decide to write a sequel, I will make sure this novel remains a once-in-a-million standalone. The thriller aspects are all there: the shooting, the running, the terror, the wonder (as Jeff Goldblum informs us in the Jurassic Park sequel) and above all, the relentless pacing on a nightmare stallion through the cosmos of Southern California (LA and San Diego) as few have ever experienced or imagined it.
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The Next One Will Kill You by Neil S. Plakcy

the-next-one-will-kill-you-600The world’s a tough place for an FBI agent, especially a young one fresh out of Quantico, accustomed to viewing the world through the lens of an accounting spreadsheet.

Assigned to South Florida for his first posting, Angus Green is worlds away from his hardscrabble upbringing in Scranton, PA. He has to cope with ethnic distinctions he’s never considered, a multitude of foreign languages spoken around him, and a range of crimes and criminals that boggle his mind.

While investigating a jewelry heist with its roots in Fort Lauderdale’s gay neighborhoods, Angus must learn how to use his education, his intelligence, and his good looks, without losing track of who he is and what he stands for.

The street quickly teaches him that the only way to face a challenge is to assume that he’ll survive this one—that it’ll be the next one that will kill him.

Author Neil S. Plakcy recently spent some time discussing his latest book with The Big Thrill:

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

What it’s like to be a young special agent in today’s FBI and how weirdly funny crime is in South Florida.

How does this book make a contribution to the genre?

As a young, openly gay FBI special agent, Angus Green brings increased diversity to the field of thriller writing.
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Between the Lines: Alex Kava

A Writer Who Defies Expectations

recklesscreed_4-23By Austin S. Camacho

Alex Kava’s literary career is a beautiful paradox. In addition to great writing, a series of accidents, surprises, and unintended consequences have helped bring us some of the most beloved mystery thrillers being written today. On the eve of the release of her latest novel, RECKLESS CREED, Kava spoke to The Big Thrill about her surprising journey.

To begin with, Kava didn’t set out to write thrillers. In fact, genre was not a consideration at all.

“When I wrote my first novel, A Perfect Evil, I wanted to capture the raw emotions of a small-town community held hostage by a killer,” she says. “My killer was loosely based on serial killer John Joubert. I worked for a newspaper during Joubert’s killing spree in the fall of 1983. He kidnapped and murdered two Nebraska boys before his capture.”

Surprise number two: Although she worked on the paper, she was not a journalist but a paste-up artist and part-time copy editor. Still, being in the building, she learned more about the case than the general public. So when she decided to write a novel, she was able to use bits and pieces from the Joubert case.  By then she had already committed to writing after 15 years in marketing and advertising.

“I quit my job as director of public relations for a small college. I’d always wanted to write novels. I even had one in my bottom desk drawer that had received 116 rejections from literary agents.”

That novel remains unpublished, but she moved full steam ahead into the next, doing whatever she had to, to give herself time to write.

“I taught part-time, delivered the Omaha World Herald on the weekends, and ran up my credit cards to help pay the mortgage and living expenses while I wrote A Perfect Evil.”

With so much marketing experience, you might think she sold that novel easily. Well, not exactly, but she was sharp enough to see the lesson in her 116 rejections.

“There were too many comments in the margins that said stuff like, ‘This is too harsh to be a romance,’ or, ‘The suspense is good but you need to tone down the violence,’ or ‘Add some romance,’ ” Kava says. “I suspected that the literary agents expected a romantic suspense novel from Sharon Kava, which is my real name.”
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Up Close: Jon Land by David Swatling

Taking a Series to New Heights

strongBy David Swatling

Anyone who has attended ThrillerFest knows Jon Land, award-winning author of bestselling novels and nonfiction, including his series featuring Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong. They’ll also recognize him as a tireless whirlwind of energy, whose larger-than-life personality matches his increasingly action-packed thrillers. His latest is certainly no exception.

I met Jon Land at ThrillerFest 2012 when he gave a CraftFest session on pitching a book to agents. His advice: Speak from the heart about why your story means so much to you as a writer, why it demanded to be written. So I thought it would be fun to turn the tables and ask him to give us a pitch for STRONG COLD DEAD.

What makes the eighth story in his series as compelling as the first? 

Wow, making me think right off the bat—that’s not fair! Okay, how about this:  ISIS comes to Texas and only Caitlin Strong can stop them from unleashing a deadly weapon on American soil, somehow connected to a long-buried mystery on a shadowy Indian reservation. Does that make you want to read the book? As for the second part of your question, what makes STRONG COLD DEAD as compelling as Strong Enough to Die is that the characters are facing different challenges. Caitlin’s surrogate son Dylan, for example, has fallen in love with a Native American girl who may or may not be setting him up. As for Caitlin, well, she has a personal history with one of the book’s primary villains.

You’ve talked in previous Big Thrill interviews about how you developed the character of Caitlin Strong to fill a gap in the market re: women in action thrillers. Now she faces growing competition. Do you have a strategy for keeping her “strong”?

That’s another great question! As the series has progressed, the books have spiraled out into the more traditional action thriller form. The action scenes have gotten bigger, the villains badder, and the plots more devious and potentially devastating—in other words, the stakes have gotten higher across the board and that includes emotionally for the characters. I think it’s fun watching Caitlin deal with the fact that she’s become a living legend. Keeping her “strong” isn’t just about her prowess in bringing down the bad guys, it’s also about how she negotiates the politics of law enforcement and deals with the emotional demands of her lifestyle.
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Deep Cover Jack and Blood Trails by Diane Capri

deep-cover-jackBy Basil Sands

Best Selling author Diane Capri has two action packed books coming out back to back. First is Book #7 of The Hunt for Jack Reacher Series DEEP COVER JACK. Then comes BLOOD TRAILS, a new series. Diane Capri is the New York Times, USA Today, and Amazon bestselling author of numerous series, including the Hunt for Justice and Hunt for Jack Reacher series and the Jess Kimball Thrillers .A former lawyer, she now divides her time between Florida and Michigan. Capri has been nominated for several awards, including the International Thriller Award, and she won the Silver award for Best Thriller e-Book from the Independent Publishers Association. She is currently at work on her next novel.

Diane, you’ve got two books coming out. Tell us about them.

In DEEP COVER JACK, FBI Special Agents Kim Otto and Carlos Gaspar pick up where Lee Child’s “Persuader” leaves off in The Hunt for Jack Reacher. In this exciting follow-up to the ITW Thriller Award nominated “Jack and Joe, Otto and Gaspar will wait no longer. They head to Houston to find Susan Duffy, one of Reacher’s known associates, determined to get answers. But Duffy’s left town, headed for trouble. Otto and Gaspar are right behind her and powerful enemies with their backs against the wall will stop at nothing to keep the secrets Reacher left behind.

Hunting Jack Reacher is deadly business — and lots of thrills.  As Lee Child put it when this series was being conceived, “Who in their right mind would go looking for Reacher?” Otto and Gaspar are on the hunt and have lived to share their adventures with us — so far.

BLOOD TRAILS, a completely different series, tells the story of Michael Flint, an heir hunter of last resort. A forensic genealogist and former clandestine agent specializing in high-end private investigations, he promises clients he can find anyone, anytime, anywhere—dead or alive. Laura Oakwood stands to lose more than $50 million in mineral royalties if she’s not found within seventy-two hours. But she presents an extra challenge: she’s been running from the law due to her involvement in a deadly armed robbery twenty-eight years ago.

What can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy for the Hunt for Jack Reacher series?

It’s very difficult to write this series, and Deep Cover Jack was no exception. My books in this series have a long list of rules and coloring inside the lines is quite a challenge. In Deep Cover Jack, Otto and Gaspar are battling one of the biggest blizzards to hit the east coast on Thanksgiving weekend while they attempt a rescue from a remote location on the Maine coast, a fortress Reacher breached in Persuader. Reacher survived then. Everything about this story was a challenge.
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Blonde Ice by R.G. Belsky

A Journalist on the Hunt for a Killer

blonde-iceBy Dawn Ius

R.G. Belsky knows his way around a newsroom.

Now, with the release of the new book in his Gil Malloy mystery thriller series, Belsky deftly demonstrates that he also knows his way outside of the newsroom, delivering another gripping story featuring his hard-driving reporter with a penchant for breaking stories on the front page of the New York Daily News.

In BLONDE ICE, Malloy is inadvertently caught up in the hunt for a devious killer—a fair-haired femme fatale who is killing men for thrills.

“Serial killers are such a staple of so many things,” Belsky says. “But one thing I noticed—especially in fiction—is that there are so few women serial killers. I thought it was a fresh concept.”

Definitely, though writing about women is almost old hat to Belsky, whose previous works have included several female characters, often in a lead protagonist role.

“I find writing about women easier in some ways,” he says. “I had a lot of fun putting myself in the character’s head space. It makes it more unique, and the story flows better. If the writing was hard, I wouldn’t want to write the book.”

To loosen the process, Belsky begins with excellent character development, which is what he first looks for when reading the works of his peers. Once settled into point—or points—of view, Belsky is ready to take his cast on an epic journey of twists and turns that ultimately shape the plot.
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The Breastplate of Faith and Love by Paul McGoran

Breastplate coverPaul McGoran’s chronicle of the elegant but toxic Chitworth clan continues in THE BREASTPLATE OF FAITH AND LOVE (New Pulp Press)—his follow-up to the 2015 noir thriller, Made for Murder. The action begins in old-money Newport, then shifts to a contrasting pair of upscale and hardscrabble neighborhoods in San Francisco.

While the new novel stands alone as a psychological thriller/murder mystery combo, it also marks the start of a series featuring P.I. Stafford Boyle, a small-time gumshoe from Rhode Island. His keynote is a kind of sophisticated naivety. He’s the kind of fellow who relates his clients and their cases to his favorite film noir plots and the actors who starred in them. He’s also a dogged sleuth.

Stymied at first by a job that has him chasing down a promiscuous reality-show winner and a missing fiancée, Boyle is refocused when the trail leads to Dismas Cottage, the gilded-age mansion of the wealthy Chitworths. Under a mandate from Ivan and Claudia Chitworth to conduct a ‘discrete’ investigation of their west coast relatives, a reluctant Boyle departs the cozy confines of Newport and flies to San Francisco where he confronts:

  • A pair of socialite sisters haunted by scandal;
  • Two ex-cons battling over an extortion scheme;
  • A family stonewalling the cops about a corpse on the staircase; and
  • A youngster pondering the legacy of his serial killer daddy.

It’s a hell of a mess, but it’s all connected, and Boyle must figure out how. When the last piece of the puzzle locks into place, he’ll be forced to abandon his client and break the law to protect the life of an innocent child.

THE BREASTPLATE OF FAITH AND LOVE has a spooky sound to it. What does your title refer to?

In the novel, it’s the name of a storefront mission in San Francisco. Beyond that, it symbolizes the strength found in truth and forgiveness, something my cast of confused and volatile characters needs to contemplate. The phrase goes back to St. Paul in the New Testament.
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Turning Point: Hank Phillippi Ryan by Wendy Tyson

Writing a Gutsy Heroine From the Heart

air timeBy Wendy Tyson

Hank Phillippi Ryan is well known on several fronts. She’s an award-winning on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate and an award-winning bestselling crime author. Fans love her Charlotte McNally series and her Jane Ryland thrillers—as well as her anthologies and short stories. How does she do it all? This month in The Big Thrill, Hank shares a few of her secrets. She also gives us a glimpse into AIR TIME and DRIVE TIME, her two summertime releases from the popular Charlotte McNally series. Thanks to some innovative moves, Charlotte is back.

Congratulations on the recent release of AIR TIME and the upcoming release of DRIVE TIME. What an exciting summer—two releases in the Charlotte McNally Series in as many months.  Many readers know and love your Jane Ryland thrillers, but you actually wrote the Charlotte McNally series first, and now that series is back in print. Can you tell us something about AIR TIME that’s not on the back cover? DRIVE TIME?

Uh-oh. You’re going to make me reveal one of the pitfalls of being an investigative reporter as well as a crime fiction author.  The Charlotte McNally stories are so realistic, and so true to life for a reporter, that sometimes I get reality and fiction confused. (Happily the confusion is all on the fiction side. You can’t make stuff up for TV, right?)

First let me say how thrilled I am that the Charlie books are back in print. The initial releases had so many fans, and were so well received, and I actually jumped up and down when I learned Forge wanted to reissue them in those gorgeous new hardcovers. So I am endlessly grateful.

Anyway as a television reporter for 40 years, I am used to telling stories. And sometimes, in the midst of an investigation, a gem of an idea emerges that I know can grow into a compelling novel.

You know the first line of AIR TIME? “It’s never a good thing when the flight attendant is crying.” I actually said that, on a flight from Atlanta to Boston. The deadly runway incursion that had just taken place really happened. And I actually got off the plane and covered the story. What happens in the book is very different from what happened in real life. But that moment was my take-off point for AIR TIME. And trust me, you’ll never look at baggage claim the same way again.

DRIVE TIME too, has a scene or two that really took place. We did a big investigation about car recalls, and a high-tech method for stealing cars.  When you get to the part where Charlie is undercover at the car dealer? That’s me.  The diabolical scheme the bad guys use—I made that up. But it would work. Just saying.
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Free Fall by Rick Mofina

Free Fall coverBy James W. Ziskin

Hailed as “one of the best thriller writers in the business” by Library Journal, Rick Mofina is the acclaimed author of 19 novels and many short stories. Mofina writes standalones and four series (Reed-Sydowski, Jason Wade, Jack Gannon and Kate Page). He has garnered numerous nominations and awards, including the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel in 2003 for Blood of Others. A 30-year veteran journalist for the Ottawa Citizen, Calgary Herald and Southam News wire service, among others, Mofina uses his journalistic experience to write tight, white-knuckle thrillers.

Reporter Kate Page returns in Mofina’s latest thriller, FREE FALL, a terrifying race against time as airplanes start falling out of the sky for unknown reasons. Kate Page is a tenacious heroine who can’t let go of a story even when it isn’t supposed to be hers. In FREE FALL, she butts heads with her editors, the NTSB and law-enforcement officials who believe pilot error is to blame for the mishaps. And when the untraceable masterminds behind the nefarious plot select Kate as their mouthpiece, she too becomes a target.

FREE FALL is great stuff. The kind of thriller that keeps you up late into the night reading. It also might well leave you cursing the author for scaring you to death.

You have a long history in journalism. That shows in your descriptions of the investigative reporting process. This is the fourth book in the Kate Page series. And you’ve written three other series, all featuring reporters. Can you talk about your work history and how it shapes your fiction?

I’ve been writing fiction since I was in grade school. I went to university to study English literature and journalism, hoping to find a job in the news business with the aim of gaining experience that would serve my fiction. It all came together for me when I was assigned to my newspaper’s crime beat. Unless you’ve done this kind of work, nothing prepares you for it. You see what cops, paramedics, firefighters, emergency experts see. For me, as a reporter by day, novelist by night, a light had been switched on. Covering human tragedies and dramas up close was overwhelming. But on another level, having a university degree in English literature and journalism, and having studied courses such as Religious Responses to Death and American Detective Fiction, I felt I was equipped to try to make sense of what I was experiencing. To try to convey through fiction, the truths I’ve learned.
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Killfile by Christopher Farnsworth

Killfile Final Cover copyBy E. M. Powell

I’m sure we all treasure the wisdom of our friends. But I’m equally sure we envy Christopher Farnsworth this particular relationship: “A good friend of mine says that writing is painting yourself into a corner—and then flying out.” Even better is that Farnsworth has acted upon this advice. His latest release, KILLFILE, most definitely flies and then some.

For starters, it has such an original and compelling premise. Psychic John Smith was trained by the CIA to weaponize his unusual talents. Not only can he hear people’s thoughts, he can also bend the will of others to his own. He has moved on from government service to private consultancy to the very wealthiest. Hired to investigate a young software genius and recover priceless intellectual property, he rapidly finds himself the target of people willing to kill to him for his talents. And he’s no longer alone. Smith has to use his gift to protect himself and a young woman caught in the crossfire—no matter what it takes.

Now, there may be those for whom this premise has a whiff of the “look into my eyes” or trumpets at séances. I can assure you that nothing could be further from the truth with KILLFILE. Farnsworth’s creation of John Smith is masterful. Smith’s gift verges on intolerable as he seeks silence and peace from the non-stop banal chatter in the heads of others. Worse, he absorbs terror, fear, and physical pain too. Within the first couple of pages, Smith’s world was reality for me. Add in relentless action and humor drier than martini-dissolved bone, and you have a winner.

His premise of the psychic spy had a long gestation, says Farnsworth. He credits his early reading in his junior high library for planting the seed. “My research started when I spent way too much time as a kid in the weird sections of the library, reading the dodgy books about psychic phenomena, unknown creatures, and other strange stuff. It left me with lots of odd facts stuck in my head—like the story of Wolf Messing—that eventually mutate into ideas.”
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Dancing With the Tiger by Lili Wright

dancing tigerLili Wright’s debut novel, DANCING WITH THE TIGER, is set in Mexico, a country the author knows well. Wright lived in Mexico twice, and she infuses this rollicking novel of art and addiction with her reporter’s eye for vivid detail.

The story begins when a meth-addicted looter digs up what he believes is Montezuma’s funerary mask, a priceless artifact. A tense chase ensues as an eclectic cast of characters pursues the treasure for very different reasons. In addition to the meth-addicted looter, there is a masked tiger, an expat art collector, a dying drug lord, a lesbian housekeeper, and most importantly—Anna Ramsey, a 30-year-old American with a history of bad choices. Ramsey needs the mask to redeem her father—and save herself.

Here, Wright chats with The Big Thrill about her first foray into fiction.

Why did you choose to set your novel in Mexico?

I fell in love with Mexico years ago during a language immersion trip to Cuernavaca. At the time, I was a newspaper reporter in Salt Lake City and was taking a night class in Spanish. My professor, John Bahoric—I dedicated the novel to him—adored Mexico and, like the Piped Piper, seduced us into following him on his annual trip there. At the time, I spoke almost no Spanish and spent most of the trip asking my Mexican host family, “Mande?” (Slang, for What?) Like John, I adored Mexico. The country was so colorful, so different from staid New England where I grew up. Soon after, I won a year-long grant to return. I studied in Guadalajara and then landed in San Miguel de Allende. A decade later, I spent a sabbatical year in Oaxaca. Mexico always calls me back.

Much of the story revolves around masks. Why?

Even in our lowest moments, it is possible, often required, that we put on our game face and carry on. Friends and co-workers often haven’t a clue that we’re hurting. I remind myself of this when people are rude or distant. Who knows what’s going on in their lives? Maybe their dog died or they fought with their husband or they are worried about money.

That was one piece. Also, in my English classes, I teach essay writing. The founder of the modern essay, Michel de Montaigne, has this quote I adore: “We must remove the mask.” A good essay, or any creative writing, requires revelation, risk, digging below the surface. This isn’t easy. Most of us prefer to gloss over uncomfortable subjects and avoid conflict. In the opening paragraph of DANCING WITH THE TIGER, the looter notes: “Few people have courage or imagination to dig.” At the risk of sounding grandiose, I believe a willingness to dig, to expose, to talk openly about hard subjects, would help society solve many ills.
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Brain Storm by Elaine Viets

brain stormBy Joe Moore

Changing course in the middle of a successful writing career is a big gamble. Especially moving from light, humorous novels to much darker, serious subject matter. When I heard that my friend Elaine Viets was doing just that with her new novel, BRAIN STORM, I had to find out why. It came as no surprise that her motivation grew from events in her life. Now I know that this course change will be just as successful as her previous path. Here’s what I learned.

Elaine, why write a dark psychological suspense novel? You’re best known for your funny Dead-End Job mysteries and cozy Mystery Shopper novels?

I started writing dark novels, the Francesca Vierling newspaper mysteries for Bantam Dell. Then the publisher’s division was wiped out, and I spent two years working dead-end jobs in Florida, where the work is weird and the customers are weirder. I met witches buying a book of spells in a Barnes & Noble, very old men buying skimpy outfits for very young women, and bridezillas who wanted their bridesmaids’ dresses to match the hotel carpet. They inspired the funny, traditional mysteries in the Dead-End Job series for Penguin. That series did well, and Penguin asked me to write the cozy Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper series. The series got off to a good start when Dying in Style tied for first place with Stephen King on the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association bestseller list. Meanwhile, I kept writing dark short stories for anthologies edited by Lawrence Block, Charlaine Harris and others. Josie was supposed to be a three-book series, but by book ten I felt I’d done all I could with that series. My agent rolled the last Josie book into the 15th Dead-End Job mystery.

But I’d gone through some very dark times, and my writing was turning dark. I wanted to explore the one fear that we cannot escape: our own mortality. Brain Storm is a deeply personal mystery, with hardheaded forensics.

What research did you do for BRAIN STORM?

I took the Medicolegal Death Investigators Training Course for forensic professionals given by St. Louis University’s School of Medicine. Here are the topics for just one day of the two-credit college course: We started with gunshot fatalities, explosion-related deaths, motor vehicle fatalities and drowning–before lunch. During lunch we watched a teen driving and alcohol video, which made me want to buy an armored personnel carrier. After lunch it was alcohol-related deaths, suicide, blunt trauma fatalities and more. So much more I was a vegetarian for about six weeks.
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Tag, You’re Dead by J. C. Lane

Tag You're Dead cover art - by PCBy Matt Ferraz

In TAG, YOU’RE DEAD, author J.C. Lane presents a chase around the city of Chicago, where the innocent game of tag becomes a matter of life and death. Writing from the point of view of six different characters, the author decided to do something radically different from her previews books, published under the name of Judy Clemens. No spoilers here, though. You can see the result this month, when the book comes out.

Your book is set in Chicago. What’s the importance of this city in your story?

I have always loved Chicago. I grew up in northern Indiana, so when our family went to “the city,” it was Chicago, where we visited the Field Museum, Orchestra Hall, The Museum of Science and Industry, and The Berghoff Restaurant, with its amazing rye bread. I also lived in Evanston for a year while my dad was getting his doctorate at Northwestern University, so I have good memories from that time. A few years ago my husband took me to Chicago to celebrate my birthday, and we stayed at The Palmer House, a National Historical Landmark hotel, went to a play, and attended a recording session of my favorite NPR show, “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” The trip was a reminder of how much I love the city, and when the idea for TAG, YOU’RE DEAD came to me, Chicago was automatically the place I wanted it to be set. The characters end up in so many of my favorite places, including the Adler Planetarium, Wrigley Field, and the Art Institute, just to name a few.

Could you picture your book taking place somewhere else?

I suppose the story could have taken place in a different big city, but Chicago has a special place in my heart, and I hope that affection comes through in the writing. I would have had to research other cities, and with Chicago’s blend of downtown, a river, a lake, two baseball teams, and all of its special buildings and museums, another city would have a completely different feel. We spoke about characters earlier, and my hope is that the city of Chicago has its own place as a character in the book!
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