Lisa Back is a writer first and a forensic scientist second. These two passions came together for in a series of suspense stories of absolute perfection. The writer of unforgettable bestsellers starring forensic scientist Theresa MacLean (Trail of Blood, Evidence of Murder, and Takeover), Black takes her readers on fast-paced journeys, possibly sparked by a latent fingerprint or a spot of blood.
Black was kind enough to take time out and talk with The Big Thrill about her latest title, giving us a peek into her latest offering, her writing career, and even her thoughts on what the elusive Ripper might manage to pull off in the high-tech forensic world of 2016.
When did you have the desire to add writing to your resume along with forensic scientist? Did one overlap the other?
I’ve written since I was a kid, actually, so that “career” came first. I wrote amateur sleuth mysteries before I got into my current line of work, so once I had the training in forensics it just made sense to approach the murder mystery from that point of view.
Is there any particular thing you dislike about writing?
It’s hard. And after I spend months and months doing it, my agent—followed by my editor—want changes, and I have no idea if the changes make the book better or worse. No idea. And…it’s really hard.
By Andrew Case
We knew they didn’t care about us because they scheduled us during lunch.
Every spring, the New York City Council would hold budget hearings, asking every city agency to come forth, boast about their performance, and beg for a little supplemental funding. Each year, I would write the testimony for the board chair and executive director of the Civilian Complaint Review Board—the city’s official all-civilian agency dedicated to investigating police misconduct. All the criminal justice agencies—the NYPD, the District Attorneys, the Department of Corrections, and us—would be scheduled for the same day. And every year, year in and year out, we would be scheduled from 12:15 to 1:15, and every member of the city council save two would finish fawning over New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and go get a sandwich.
During my decade investigating police misconduct for the City of New York, the most important lesson I learned was that, during that time, almost no one cared about police misconduct. We issued reports about the geometric increase in the number of street stops years before the NYPD got sued over it, and it was a few graphs in the back of the metro section. We reported on an officer who had tried to get someone to cough up a few grams of heroin by whaling on him with a nightstick until his spleen was ruptured. Nothing. We reported on a cop who had dialed 911 on his own cell phone and pretended to report a crime so he could stop and search some kids he had a hunch about. No one cared. Broken bones, pepper spray, ethnic slurs—from 2001 until 2008, it was the kind of thing that a grateful city could easily forget. Didn’t you know? The cops are all heroes.
I left the CCRB in 2008, but it never left me. I wrote a play about my experience there in 2009, and it had healthy runs in Miami, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Chicago. And when I moved on from theatre and started writing fiction, I realized that my topic had been staring me in the face for years.
By Dan Levy
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And all things nice
That’s what little girls are made of.
But are they really?
This stanza from the poem (or nursery rhyme), credited to English poet Robert Southey, is a preeminent theme in Sheila Bugler’s third Ellen Kelly novel, ALL THINGS NICE. The book is more than an opportunity to evolve the series protagonist and create something new for fans to devour. For Bugler, it was the chance to explore how individual demons find new life through parenting.
“As a mother myself, I’m only too aware of how easy it is to mess up this important job. I always think loving your children is easy, but being a good parent? That’s the difficult part,” she says.
In an email interview with Bugler for The Big Thrill, we explore how this topic is embodied in the character of Charlotte Gleeson, how protagonist Ellen Kelly grows in her own right, as well as Bugler’s views on writing. Here’s an edited version of that interview:
Revelatory Stories from a Master of Crime Fiction
In spring 1959 the California newspapers were full of stories about a young woman’s disappearance. Linda Millar, a 19-year-old honor student, vanished from the University of California Davis campus. For more than a week, her distraught Santa Barbara parents, Kenneth and Margaret, tried to find her, hiring a private detective and asking the media to publish stories on the search. Linda read a written appeal from her father in one newspaper and telephoned home. She had been wandering through Northern California and Reno, Nevada. “She just wasn’t herself,” said a private detective.
The problems of Linda Millar ran deep. Three years earlier, driving drunk, she hit three pedestrians and killed one, a 13-year-old boy; she was on probation and under psychiatric care when she disappeared from college. After her father drove to Reno to reunite her with her family, Linda was hospitalized for emotional stress.
Leap forward to the early 1960s: Three novels in the Lew Archer detective series hit the stores: The Zebra Striped Hearse, The Chill and The Far Side of the Dollar. They were meticulously constructed mysteries, with spare yet eloquent prose and haunting Southern California atmosphere. And the plots of all three books revolved around the disappearance of a young woman or a young man, or the breach between a father and daughter. The author: Ross Macdonald, the pen name of Kenneth Millar. The author of 18 Lew Archer novels, Macdonald is today considered the third in the “holy trinity” of American crime fiction icons, with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Macdonald’s writing style has influenced writers from Sue Grafton to Michael Connelly.
Author and critic Tom Nolan selected these three books for the collection, published by the Library of America. “He was a brilliant writer in so many ways and these three are first-rate books representing a golden period.” (Macdonald aficianados debate whether The Chill or The Galton Case is his best book.) The connection between the personal traumas of Kenneth Millar and the professional work of Ross Macdonald is anything but news to Nolan. He wrote an acclaimed 2008 biography of Macdonald revealing the at-times unhappy life (an impoverished, fatherless Canadian childhood, a difficult marriage) of the deeply private writer, who had been known to make it a condition of press interviews that his daughter not be mentioned. He died of Alzheimer’s disease in 1983.
By Matt Ferraz
Known as the Queen of Crime in Denmark, Sara Blaedel is the author of the Louise Rick series, which just reached its seventh volume with THE KILLING FOREST. Louise Rick is a member of the Special Search Agency, an elite unite dedicated to finding the missing, and her search for a 15-year-old boy leads her to an ancient religious cult. We talked to Sara about the series, her writing career and the challenges she had to face as a woman writing about crime.
Introduce us to your main characters.
Louise Rick is a smart, hardworking, sometimes stubborn, independent woman, who takes her work as a police officer very seriously. She’s human; she’s been through her own struggles and very difficult times, some of which she continues to work through. She’s both extraordinary and an everywoman. She commits herself, completely, to searching for the missing in Denmark, while bringing those who victimize them to justice. Louise is curious and hungry to learn, like I am. Her partner in work and now in love is Eik, a wonderful and decent guy, who is far more laid back than she is. Louise adores her son, Jonas, once her foster child, and now a part of the family she can’t imagine living without. And she gets great support from her dear friend, Camilla, a bright and spirited journalist. Sometimes their professional paths cross and they join intellectual forces.
How much of you is in Louise Rick?
This is a really interesting question. When I first conceived of and starting writing Louise, there was quite little of me to be found in her. I was determined to ensure that she would be her own person, and so I was careful not to saddle her with all the things I wanted to be or already understood. But over the years, as she and I have evolved, more and more of my life has gone into hers. As more of her own life has come into mine. It works both ways. We now even have the same dog. But to be clear, we are two different women, doing two very different jobs.
Can you imagine the Louise Rick series existing if the protagonist was a man?
I can absolutely imagine Louise as a male protagonist. I really embrace and love writing male characters like Eik, but there’s something quite different that happens with the female figures I write. Frankly, I’m not sure Louise’s stories, as I envision them, are set up for a man to drive, and I’m certain they wouldn’t play out as organically.
Reporter Pete Fernandez’s life is in ruins when he makes his return in Alex Segura’s DOWN THE DARKEST STREET, the follow-up to his debut, Silent City.
As the book opens, Fernandez’s best friend is dead, his newspaper is career lost, and his ex-girlfriend is staying with him while her own marriage falls apart.
Despite those problems, Fernandez is drawn into an investigation involving a missing girl and is soon put in the path of a vicious and calculating killer who is “cutting a swath of blood across Miami.”
While the prospects are grim at the outset, Segura says his new novel “tells a tale of redemption, survival and the sordid backstreets of Miami — while asking the question that many are too scared to answer: When faced with pure darkness, would you fold or fight?”
Segura, a Miami native and critically acclaimed comic-book script writer, recently answered a few questions for The Big Thrill about DOWN THE DARKEST STREET.
Readers who encountered Pete Fernandez in Silent City got to know his troubles and his struggles. What new dimensions did you discover in writing this second adventure?
We find Pete in a rough spot at the beginning of DOWN THE DARKEST STREET. He hasn’t fully recovered from the evil he faced at the end of Silent City, and it’s starting to wear on him. His life is in shambles, and we accompany him as he tries to, somehow, get it in order. The Pete that readers see here is deeper and more self-aware, while curious and brave.
Jeffrey Hess’ debut novel, BEACHHEAD, employs three of this passions—a Navy veteran, a Florida setting, and a 1980s time period. Hess himself is a Navy veteran and has lived in Florida most of his life. He holds a master’s degree in creative writing and has taught military veterans and their family members creative writing for nine years.
I asked Hess to talk about his new book for The Big Thrill. Here, he shares his inspiration for his protagonist and how his personal life shaped the story.
The hero of BEACHHEAD, Scotland Ross, is a Navy-prison parolee who’s being manipulated by a shady gangster. What inspired you to create such an unlikely hero?
I knew he’d be a Navy vet with a set of principles he can never live up to, because of his temper and because that’s just how his luck runs. After a few “What-If” scenarios, the next thing I knew, he’d spent time in a Navy prison in Leavenworth, Kansas. That was a world that fascinated me, and quite frankly had scared the shit out of most of us when I was on active duty. Horror stories of spending the day breaking rocks and the nights locked up in cells with no windows were made more severe by the sheer extremism of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In our minds, military prisons weren’t subject to the same standards as civilian prisons and often skirt issues of basic human rights. Nobody wanted to be sent there, even though plenty of guys were.
How did your service in the U.S. Navy shape the world you created in BEACHHEAD?
The world of BEACHHEAD is the physical world I grew up in, but while serving aboard ship, I always carried a book in my back pocket and read at every opportunity. Being repeatedly immersed in fictional worlds while living in a world unfamiliar to most people formed endless possibilities in my mind.
Many of us outside of Florida were not aware of the fishing ban and how that affected people. How does this play a role in BEACHHEAD.
BEACHHEAD began as a short story, which I started after sitting at a bar on St. Pete Beach, where the bartender told me I should write a story about the fishing ban. His brother-in-law had been locked out of business and couldn’t pay back the loan on his boat. It was a great idea, but I knew nothing about grouper fishing. So I made the brother-in-law a tertiary character, but the fishing ban is still a major plot point. My main character is affected by the moratorium because he works in a tourist area.
For someone who nearly needed a bayonet in the spine to be encouraged to attend his English classes, no truer words were ever spoken.
You see, I was the kid in the heart of the Central Valley of California who was too smart for his own good. I thrived and reveled in hard sciences like physics, chemistry, and calculus. I loved the clean and simplistic world of numbers and facts. My analytical and type-A personality ravenously devoured facts and regurgitated them more readily than the world’s favorite mailman in a Boston bar.
I hated writing. I detested it. I loathed assignments that cramped my hand and offered no new information to further inflate my more-than-healthy ego.
I received my first glimpse into a dimension I’ve come to love exploring during my sophomore year of high school back in 1995. Mr. Thomas Craig patiently endured my reluctance to finish his weekly writing assignments. His constant pressure, combined with an amazing teaching style, frustrated me and, unbeknownst to me at the time, taught me the value of writing as an outlet to express oneself. I expressed my displeasure with his assignments in my weekly journal—and walked right into his trap.
Mr. Craig, if you read this… thank you.
Fast forward to college. Once again, while swimming in a vat of organic chemistry, microbiology, and calculus, I stumbled into an English class chock full of writing assignments we were required to pass. One such assignment involved free writing about a one-word topic picked by the professor. The third free write topic was “courage.” I thought back to Thomas’s teaching, and was surprised to find a smile on my face. I wrote, “This is.” And turned in the paper.
England’s Somerset Levels are a mainly flat, misty region of the county of Somerset, comprising an expansive area of marshes and waterlogged fields, criss-crossed by ditches, or rhynes, as they are called. As a local, I have got used to the sight of large-scale flooding around me. During the winter of 2013/14, however, the Levels suffered the worst floods in living memory. Vast tracts of countryside were submerged under several feet of water, which also cut off villages and main roads as well as destroying hundreds of homes and businesses.
It was a major catastrophe, but, as a professional writer, it also provided me with the inspiration for the latest novel in my local crime series, featuring feisty police detective sergeant Kate Lewis and her laid-back detective constable partner and husband, Hayden.
“What if?” is the question that is born in the minds of most crime writers when their imagination is stirred by an event that could provide the ingredients for a novel. My latest “what if?” kicked off with the sight of a village marooned by floodwater on the Levels. Its isolation was so complete it was accessible only by boat. As I lay awake in bed one night, I imagined the partially submerged body of a woman trapped amongst driftwood at the edge of a swollen river and a voice in my head asked, “Accidental drowning or murder?” Obviously, it had to be the latter! Immediately, SANDMAN was born—though at the start, I didn’t have a title; that came once the plot began to take shape.
So, I had the location and I had a body, but nothing else except the first burning question: who was the victim? It was a news broadcast about the flooding that gave me the answer. Seeing a TV reporter in wet weather gear, standing in the pouring rain with acres of flooded fields behind her as she provided an update on the situation, suggested the who.
The second, more difficult question, was why? Motive is always the key feature of any murder, so why had my journalist been killed? What had she done to merit such a violent end? That soon came to me too. What do journalists do? Like police officers, they investigate and they can make themselves unpopular as a result. My victim would be a journalist sent to report on the floods who is “silenced” after she stumbles upon a much more sinister news story.
From that point on, the story quickly gathered momentum. My imagination took over completely, racing on faster than my aching fingers could transfer the jumble of dark thoughts spinning round in my head to the keys of my laptop. At times, I came to a juddering stop when mental fatigue left me totally drained and bereft of ideas—a situation I have had to confront with all my novels. But this time, as on all the other occasions, the Somerset Levels, with their wild mystical beauty, were on hand to fire my imagination and restore my creative energy. And in a strange way, my key characters also provided the additional stimulus to keep going.
A popular UK quiz show recently posed this question to a contestant: “Author Linwood Barclay is known for writing fiction novels in which genre—A) Science Fiction, B) Crime, C) Romance?”
The contestant guessed, “C) Romance.”
When I spoke to Barclay recently, he laughed at the episode. “Such are the highs and lows of being a writer. I think ‘I’ve made it’ because I’m a question on a quiz show, then I’m pushed back down to earth when the contestant has no idea who I am.”
The humorous reaction probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, before leaving the newspaper business to write novels full time, Barclay was a humor columnist for the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest newspaper. And his first novels, the Zack Walker series, were hailed as the funniest crime fiction around.
But it wasn’t his more comedic side that led to breakout success. In 2008, Barclay’s standalone thriller, No Time for Goodbye, shot to number one in the UK and stayed there for the entire year. It was a validation for Barclay, one that “remains one of the high points of my career,” he said. The book’s success also convinced Barclay that it was time to leave the newspaper job he loved to focus on fiction.
Today, Barclay is a New York Times and international bestselling author. He includes in his fan base none other than Stephen King, and his books have been repeatedly optioned and adapted for the screen. His latest, FAR FROM TRUE, the second entry in his Promise Falls trilogy, is already an international bestseller.
“FAR FROM TRUE kicks off with a bizarre collapse of a drive-in movie theater screen that leaves several people dead,” Barclay said. “One of the victims also had his home broken into. Private detective Cal Weaver is hired to see what’s been stolen. But it’s not what’s missing that catches his attention, but what he finds.” The story tracks Weaver and other familiar faces from Barclay’s prior books set in the creepy upstate New York hamlet of Promise Falls.
By Anne Tibbets
The idea for CROSSWISE first came to S.W. Lauden while doing a crossword puzzle on vacation in Florida.
“I can clearly remember sitting on the porch at the rental house where we were staying and watching the story unfold,” Lauden says. “I’m not much of an outliner, so I just started typing…The four main characters in that first scene—Tommy Ruzzo, Shayna Billups, Jesse Lee Cavanaugh and Sgt. Badeaux—sprang to life and took over.”
A stand alone novella, CROSSWISE follows disgraced police detective Tommy Ruzzo, who now holds a security job at a retirement community in Florida, as he unravels a murder mystery amongst a slew of former wise guys.
CROSSWISE is full of twists, turns, and mystery. Those who loved Lauden’s previous short fiction will enjoy another round of his quick prose and taut descriptors.
“Short fiction,” Lauden says, “whether it’s flash fiction, a novella, or anything in between—is an interesting challenge because it forces me to jump right into the action and keep the plot moving if I want to tell a complete story. It’s also very satisfying to be able to finish a short story and see it published less than a year later—which hasn’t been my experience with longer works.”
An accomplished drummer and Word.doc believer, Lauden confesses to not always feeling organized.
“…my process is pretty scattered,” Lauden says. “I’ll jot down ideas on Post-It Notes, send myself text messages, and leave voicemails—whatever it takes to capture the idea before it disappears.”
When New Hampshire rich girl Mindy Hollis gets lost in Los Angeles, her big sister hires private detective Ed Traynor to find her. Traynor and Hollis’s security chief, Jack McMahon, take off for Tinseltown to track down the aspiring actress—but soon discover the only part she ever got, was the one that killed her.
Their hunt for her killers takes them from the bowels of Mexico City, to the glitz of Los Angeles, north to a movie set in Vancouver, and then back again to Hollywood, where the angels are dying in the dark. It’s up to Ed and Jack to save them before the film fades to black.
Where did you get the idea for THE BLACK ORCHID?
I’ve always been intrigued by The Black Dahlia murder case. Elizabeth Short, a young woman from the Boston area, went to California in 1946. On January 15, 1947, her mutilated nude body was discovered in a vacant lot. In THE BLACK ORCHID, another young New England woman travels to L. A. to make it in the movie industry. Her mutilated body is dumped on a hillside in the Santa Susanna Pass, in the Simi Mountains near the San Fernando Valley.
Some of the reviews suggest that this book is not for the faint of heart, that it’s a violent book. Is it?
The short answer is yes, there is violence. My protagonists find themselves wading through the worlds of drug dealers, sexual perverts, and purveyors of the worst kinds of pornography imaginable.
Your book is set in several locations, but you live in Northern Maine, so how did you research your settings?
Before I started writing full time, I worked for a number of hi-tech firms and travelled extensively. The case takes my protagonists from an exclusive neighborhood in New Hampshire to California, and then south to Mexico City, and north to British Columbia. I have been to all the locations in the book. The place I’ve visited cover a wide spectrum: Warsaw, Poland; Paris, Lannion and the Loire Valley, France; Singapore; Seoul, South Korea; Tokyo and Iwakuni, Japan; Sydney and Melbourne, Australia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Vietnam. I am working on several plots that will utilize these locations.
A climb in the Olympic Mountain is just the first challenge for the hero of Glen Erik Hamilton’s new thriller, HARD COLD WINTER. Van Shaw’s search for a missing girl leads to the scene of a brutal murder and forces the ex-Army Ranger to delve into corners of his own criminal past.
Dead bodies are found, including a member of one of Seattle’s most prominent families. Soon more dangers arise. Then a fellow Ranger from Afghanistan turns up at Van’s doorstep, seeking support.
While Van struggles with PTSD symptoms, his investigation leads him into a struggle that includes a billionaire businessman, vicious gangsters, and a betrayal that forces him to seek help from a surprising source.
HARD COLD WINTER blends suspense and tension, with a mystery at its heart.
Hamilton recently answered a few questions for The Big Thrill about his new book.
In HARD COLD WINTER, Shaw is faced with another action-packed mystery. Tell us a little about the puzzle-to-thrills ratio you strive for.
I love action scenes—both reading them and writing them—but there’s nothing quite as compelling as an unsolved problem that torments the hero, and by extension, the reader. Learning “whodunit” is an almost primal urge. If there’s a murderer lurking about the village, can we rest until we know which of our tribe can’t be trusted? That’s the urgency that drives Van, a fellow with more than a few secrets himself, to go where he’s not wanted and demand answers from rough people. Which of course leads to more action. Win-win.
By Dawn Ius
These days, you’re apt to find retired teacher Ronnie Allen poolside in sunny Florida, iPad in hand, deep at work on her next thriller. The setting is a fascinating juxtaposition—the bright light warring against the dark themes woven into Allen’s The Sign Behind the Crimes novels.
ARIES, the second book in the series, takes readers—and the author—down a shadowy path indeed. Lies. Deception. Death. That’s what waits for rookie NYPD detective, Samantha Wright when an Aries-obsessed killer combines black magick rituals, knives…and murder.
“I try not to bring my fictional dark into my real life,” she says. “But writers sometimes get even with people who upset them…in their novels.”
All kidding aside, the characters in Allen’s first two books do somewhat mirror her own life, at least when it comes to some specific skillsets—as a former school psychologist who later obtained her PhD in Parapsychic Sciences, Allen epitomizes the old adage, “write what you know.”
The Sign Behind the Crime series was born by combining her love of the crime genre with her vast career background. What she couldn’t find in textbooks or from past experience, Allen researched—extensively.
“Because I have a green personality, I have to know everything,” she says, noting that often Google doesn’t cut it. For ARIES, she interviewed a knowledgeable and generous detective who gave her the low down on certain aspects of of the job that would increase the novel’s authenticity. “Forensics and weaponry—you have to get those right.”
But she’s quick to remind readers that her books are works of fiction, and despite the fairly grim nature of her stories, she’s far more upbeat in person. Just ask her curious poolside companions who not only ask her questions about her writing, but also were instrumental in pushing her to finish her book.
Tell us about HIDE AND SEEK.
There are certain criminal cases that are talked about generations after the investigation is closed. I’m talking about the big ones, the OJ Simpsons, Scott Petersons, and the Grim Sleeper type of investigation, the big news media type of case. They are biopsied, broken down, with every move by the detective analyzed. These cases can make legends or goats out of the investigators.
In HIDE AND SEEK, such a case lands in Detective Jake Skinner and his partner, Detective Dan Rico’s, laps. Having just transferred from South Bureau Homicide, Jake thought taking down an armed bank robber on his first day was as wild as the ride got. He was wrong.
The kidnapping of the wife of the mayor of Los Angeles, who also happens to be a federal prosecutor, threatens the core of one of the world’s most famous cities. An internal power struggle, false leads, meddling media, the victim’s own family, and Jake’s personal struggles all threaten to derail the investigation, an investigation that leads to pure evil.
By Matt Ferraz
Things are not looking good for detective Sean Duffy, and not just because a dead body was found. It’s 1980’s Belfast, bombs and assassinations are a daily occurrence, and Duffy is a Catholic detective working for the largely Protestant RUC (Northern Irish police force.) This doesn’t make him the most popular guy in the precinct. Intrigued by the apparent suicide of a journalist in the courtyard of Carrickfergus castle, Duffy decides to investigate further, which leads him to a huge case of corruption that might reach the highest levels of power in the UK.
RAIN DOGS is the new crime novel by Irish author Adrian McKinty, and the fifth adventure of detective Sean Duffy. With this series, which started in 2012 with The Cold Cold Ground, and has produced a book a year ever since, McKinty creates a dense and engaging noir tale that takes places during the most critical period of the Troubles. To create a series based on a character he calls “a man of time and place”, the author relies on references to music and pop culture.
“I do a lot of research for the Duffy books, but I remember a lot from that time. You have to keep the series fresh by developing the characters and putting them in believable situations. Otherwise, you’re just doing it for the money.” To make the setting even more believable, Duffy lives in the house the author grew up in. “People in that neighborhood would go crazy at the idea of having a Catholic, bohemian, middle class cop from Derry living next to them,” says McKinty.
Though writing about a specific time and place, McKinty states that his job is not teaching history, but to use the facts as a skeleton to frame the fiction narrative. “You won’t find a lesson on the Troubles by reading the Sean Duffy series,” he says. “But sometimes fiction is a way of conveying the atmosphere of a place better than history ever can.” As a writer, McKinty owes a lot to the examples set by crime masters such as Thomas Pynchon, James Ellroy and Dashiell Hammett, but when asked about his greatest influences, he mentions Jane Austen and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “the two greatest novelists of the last 200 years.”
As a longtime lover of cinema, Italian author Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli began her writing journey with screenplays. From there, she progressed to fan fiction based on movies—in fact, her first novel was a piece inspired by The Mummy.
Today, the pacing she learned from these iconic films is reflected in her novels. As one might expect from a woman who writes in multiple genres, her reading tastes are eclectic, ranging from Little Women to The Silence of the Lambs.
Although her degree is in biology, Monticelli works as a researcher, scientific and literary translator, freelance web copywriter, and author. Her novels, all of which were originally written in Italian, include L’isola di Gaia (The Isle of Gaia), Affinità d’intenti (Kindred Intentions), Per caso (By Chance), and a science fiction series, Deserto rosso (Red Desert), set on Mars. Her sixth and latest book, THE MENTOR, features a Scotland Yard detective who is both moral and morally flawed, a dichotomy that drives the narrative and gives the story dimension.
Monticelli took time from her busy schedule to answer some questions for The Big Thrill about her writing—and especially about THE MENTOR.
You began your writing journey with screenplays and fan fiction. Where did you go from there?
My first attempt to write original fiction dates back to 2009. I’m a science fiction and thriller fan, so I started writing a cyberpunk techno-thriller titled L’isola di Gaia (The Isle of Gaia). It took me nearly three years to finish that first draft and then I put it aside for a long while. Instead, my adventure in the publishing industry started in 2012 and 2013, when I wrote and self-published a hard science fiction series set on Mars titled Red Desert (the original title is Deserto rosso, but this series is also available in English), which became a Kobo and Amazon bestseller in Italy.
THE MENTOR came just after Red Desert. It was originally published in Italian (IL MENTORE) in May 2014 and immediately started selling very well—so well that in September 2014 Amazon Publishing requested that I sell the English translation rights. Before the end of the same year, I finally published L’isola di Gaia, after a long editing process. Two more novels were published in Italian in 2015.
As you can see, I’m quite a prolific writer. I’m one of the few independent fiction authors in Italy currently living off of their writing.
By Paul McGoran
Paul McGoran is no academic, but his volume of short stories from New Pulp Press, PAYING FOR PAIN, is prefaced with an essay on the noir genre that displays a thoughtful and deeply-considered interest in the theoretical side of crime fiction. In the essay, he identifies five essential elements of noir—crime, obsession, fatalism, perversion, and betrayal. He then announces the theme of his collection as the “geography of noir”—McGoran’s term describing the genre’s predilection for urban settings.
As with any book of short fiction, however, it’s the stories that matter. And PRAYING FOR PAIN contains a quartet of suspenseful noir tales and a 100-page novella titled, No Good Deed. It’s a world peopled with ex-cons, Mafiosi, common thugs, killers, accountants, clerics, models, yachtsmen, society dames and trust-fund layabouts. The upper, middle and lower classes collide in San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami, Newport, Boston and Puerto Vallarta. You’ll be caught in a twisted travelogue that conjures up a dark and peppery vision of the urban experience. Noir fans should love it.
McGoran’s first novel, Made for Murder came out in August 2015, and was featured in the November issue of The Big Thrill. PAYING FOR PAI N is his follow-up volume. A sequel to Made for Murder will debut sometime in 2016.
We noticed none of your stories were set in New York or Los Angeles. How come?
Good catch. Well, those cities are the great instruments fingered and bowed by Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich, Robert Crais, Lawrence Block, and any number of others. I knew I couldn’t improve on their work.
Do you have a different mindset when writing a short story versus a novel?
You know, writing often takes you in unexpected directions. But when I begin what I think will be a short piece, I go for a limited theme, limited setting, and limited time frame. Even so, I have a hard time keeping within the expected word limit. I’ve done short stories as long as 6,500 words. That’s partly why I put a collection together. Magazines seldom want more than 2,500 words, even though every story has its own proper length.
Following two critically acclaimed collections of short fiction, Justin Bog’s novel WAKE ME UP has arrived from Gravity Books. It’s a psychological thriller that unfolds from the point of view of Chris, a small-town teenager who’s sunk into a coma due to a brutal beating.
Set in 2004 in a college-town in Montana, the story unfolds in Chris’s voice from the depths of his coma. He sees how his own wrath and other circumstances led him into harm’s way.
Chris wants—needs—the reader to hear his story so he can wake up.
Just as he did in his award-winning short fiction, which includes the Suspense Magazine award-winning anthology Sandcastle and Other Stories, Bog deploys a deft and thoughtful approach to crime and its aftermath.
Tell us a little about the novel’s origins. What inspired you to tell the story from the point of view of a crime victim in this way?
The narrative conceit came, after a bit of experimentation, with a bolt-of-lightning epiphany, the best kind of creative moment. I began the story with the narrator’s father contemplating something dark in a moment of weakness. I began to answer the question: What brings a husband and father to such a precipice?
The teenage son comes into focus alongside the father’s secretive nature. Because of his father’s powerful secret, Chris acts out in a rage and becomes the victim of a heinous crime. He lays comatose in a small, college-town hospital, and begins to tell the story as a phantom from a black limbo state. With a conscience wise beyond his fifteen years, Chris sees everyone around him and how they dance around their own little secrets. Will he wake up? If he does, whose justice is fair?
Your conceit suggests literary fiction to me. How did it work in a crime-suspense-oriented story?
You’re right, it leans heavily towards literary crime fiction. My favorite novels like The Secret History, The Lovely Bones, and the twisty psychological novels of Gillian Flynn inspired me to take risks with the narrative structure. I call the book a psychological “why-done-it” rather than a “who-done-it,” where revelations of character drive the narrative.
By Anne Tibbets
CITY OF ROSE brings to life the winding streets and wet alleys of Portland, Oregon, where former thug Ash McKenna struggles to rebuild his life, away from his dark past in New York City.
The second installment of Rob Hart’s Ash McKenna series, CITY OF ROSE takes place less than a year after New Yorked, pulling the reader along on a noble quest to find a lost little girl.
CITY OF ROSE is full of action, witty dialogue, and interpersonal struggle. Readers who loved Ash’s direct, and at times brutal tactics in New Yorked will be pleased to see how Ash has learned from his big city trials and tribulations…Mostly.
“The important thing is, he’s always got to believe he’s doing the right thing,” says author Rob Hart. “And the reader has to believe that, for all his poor decisions, Ash is the kind of guy who’s going to throw down and get you back in a bad situation. He means well, and he’s open to growth. I think if I can get that across, the reader will forgive the fact that he’s a bit of an idiot.”
“The big bar fight I like a lot,” Hart adds, “because it’s Ash cutting lose and accepting things about who he is. It’s the first time in CITY OF ROSE that he’s really being honest with himself, and that honesty is pretty ugly.”
CITY OF ROSE, however, is not all fists and fights—there is also heart. “I love the final chapter,” Hart says. “I hit an emotional beat there I wasn’t even expecting. Again, a moment of truth, and this one snuck up on me. It was the moment the book really came into focus for me.”
Aside from the action and characters, readers will also appreciate Hart’s attention to setting in CITY OF ROSE, which serves as a vividly-detailed and often visceral mirror into Ash’s mental state—but the thug with a heart of gold won’t stay limited to the murky underbellies of Portland and The Big Apple.
From the bestselling author of the Home Repair is Homicide series comes a thriller about an escaped kidnapper and rapist who once held three girls prisoner for fifteen years. In THE GIRLS SHE LEFT BEHIND (Bantam Hardcover; On Sale 1/12/16) Sarah Graves ventures in an edgier, darker direction and takes readers inside the mind of a twisted killer.
In the remote backwoods of Bearkill, Maine, a forest fire rages out of control. As embers swirl dangerously in the smoke-filled air, a teenage girl with a history of running away has dropped out of sight again. Lizzie Snow, a prickly but effective female deputy, thinks Tara Wylie is up to her old tricks—until her mother receives a terrifying text message. And when news gets out that convicted kidnapper Henry Gemmerle has escaped from a nearby prison clinic, Lizzie’s fears for Tara’s safety take on even greater urgency.
Following a trail of grisly clues—a bloodstained motel room, a makeshift coffin in a shallow grave—Lizzie races to save an innocent and corner a monster. On top of it all, someone else is desperately seeking Tara Wylie and the escaped convict, though, for reasons that have nothing to do with mercy or justice. And when they all meet, the inferno threatening Bearkill will pale in comparison to the hell that’s about to break loose.
With a fast-paced plot and a dark, bloodcurdling setting, THE GIRLS SHE LEFT BEHIND is sure to please new and longtime fans of Sarah Graves alike.
Jarkko Sipila maintained a successful career as a crime reporter for Finland’s leading newspaper and television station before turning his fingers to the keyboard for fiction.
BEHIND CLOSED DOORS is the 15th in the Helsinki Homicide series, the sixth to be translated into English. As he watches his townhouse burn up in flames, Detective Lieutenant Kari Takamaki recalls an old saying: the most dangerous are those who plot their revenge in silence. As the game gets tougher for both the authorities and the criminals, Takamaki and his team are put on the defensive. But how do a Finnish gangster living in Bangkok and a raped woman in Helsinki fit into the picture?
In your short synopsis, you mention a rape trial and a bitter case of revenge— Detective Takamaki’s townhouse in flames. Can you give us another detail about BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, perhaps a clue about how these seemingly random events are linked?
Detective Anna Joutsamo is almost run over by a car on her evening run. A clue?
The main theme in BEHIND CLOSED DOORS is revenge.
Your novels have been labeled Nordic Noir. Do you agree with that designation and if so, what drew you to that style?
Definitely they can be labeled Nordic Noir. When I started the Helsinki Homicide series in Finnish in 2001 I wanted to write realistic crime novels. Some of the books that I had read at that time didn’t describe the police work or the criminals in the way that they really are.
I think my background in journalism influenced me a lot. Crime reporters also hear good stories that don’t make the news.
Years ago, when I was working on the book that would become Turnabout, the manuscript drew interest from several publishers. One of them ultimately turned the book down because they didn’t like the makeup of the protagonist. This was at a time where all heroes had to be versions of alcoholic Vietnam vets who accidentally killed a child while under the influence of some substance and working as a police officer. Whew. Lawrence Block and James Lee Burke did their own versions of that and I wasn’t going to do it any better.
Instead, what I wanted to do was take an ordinary guy, mess him up a bit, then at the end let him get back to his somewhat ordinary life. This is a perfectly valid sort of character, I think. As long as you can get the reader to care about him, to be invested, you can let the plot blender puree him into a slurry that can still pour him out whole in the end. It was the trip in the blender that I wanted to write about. That was what was interesting.
For Shallow Secrets, I took a character who thought he had a good life going but then had it taken away from him through no fault of his own. The problem was, no one around him fully believed him. There wasn’t definitive evidence one way or the other and while he could try to go back to his life, he knew he’d be in shadow, a cloud perpetually hanging over him. He was caught in the slurry.
Years later it worked out that another case came along, this one with evidence that seemed to tie him to an entirely new series of crimes. Reluctantly he decides to go along to see how this can be, never dreaming that it could ultimately lead to the redemption of his past. Too much time has gone by, though, and he learns that he can never truly go back, and that the life he’d been leading in a sort of self-imposed state of disgrace wasn’t so bad after all. At the end there’s the possibility, just a chance, for happiness of a kind that he never expected could come his way. Hell, he might even get the girl.
The Zodiac Killer murdered a number of victims in Northern California in the late sixties and early seventies and was never caught. What if that unknown and unnamed serial killer had a son?
That’s the question that drives THE GAF KILLER-SON OF ZODIAC by Jerry Otis. In this new novel, The Gaf is an interstate killer whose murders have brought him to the top of the FBI’s most wanted list.
Special Agent David Drake and his hand-picked team of agents drop everything and form a taskforce with one purpose—to track down this psychopath and bring him to justice.
The story jumps across the country from one crime scene to the next, as Drake and his team pursue leads and hope the killer gets careless and makes a mistake.
Since he’s his father’s son, that’s not likely for The Gaf. His father has taught him well, and Drake and his team are forced to race the clock to keep the body count from rising.
It’s a page-turning story that earned high praise from one early reviewer, Regan Murphy:
“Otis’s characters are interesting, and I like the fact that he tells the story form both the hero’s POV as well as the villain’s. It’s a fast-paced, edge of-your-seat crime thriller that should keep you up at night for more than one reason.”
Otis, a SAG actor who makes his home now in the rural Northern California town of Pollock Pines has come a long way since earning “crappy grades” in English class, and he answered a few questions recently for The Big Thrill about his book, his research on the real Zodiac murder case, and his road to publication.
A Master of Crime Fiction Tells All
There are few contemporary authors I respect as much as Lawrence Block, and I’m not the only one who feels that way, as his list of honors indicates: Grand Master Award from Mystery Writers of America, four Edgars and four Shamuses, Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America, Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement Award from the Crime Writers Association . . . and I’m just getting started.
The length of Larry’s career is equally impressive—more than five decades. Read that again. More than five decades. Longevity isn’t as important as quality, though, and he just keeps getting better, never disappointing in the four (count them, four) splendid series that demonstrate the depth of his talent, featuring cop-turned-detective Matthew Scudder, globetrotting insomniac Evan Tanner, introspective assassin Keller, and hilarious bookselling burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr (my personal favorite).
Among Larry’s more than 100 books, there are two non-fiction volumes that ITW members should consider required reading: his collection of essays about his friendships with such crime-writing legends as Donald E. Westlake and Evan Hunter/Ed McBain (The Crime of Our Lives) and his writing book (Write for Your Life).
But it’s Larry’s latest, THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES, that we’re here to talk about—an amazing update on the scorchers that James M. Cain pioneered with The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity..
Hard Case Crime published THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES, giving it one of their fabulous covers that re-create the classic look of crime novels in the 1950s and 1960s. The cover is hot, but your novel is even hotter. What inspired you to take a new look at this powerful sex-and-murder subgenre?
Hard Case reissued an early pseudonymous book of mine, Borderline, and damned if it didn’t get far better reviews than I felt it deserved. And I was telling my wife that it might be fun to write something similar—fast-paced, pulpy, with the narrative drive more important than the plot. “It might,” she said, and 15 seconds later—no joke—I sat up and said, “I’ve got an idea.” Now most ideas wither on the vine, and that’s probably just as well, but this one stayed with me and grew, and less than two months later I was writing it.
Yet when he’s passed a file detailing a particularly gruesome murder, Michael knows that this is no ordinary killer at work.
The removal of the victim’s eyes and the Latin inscription carved into the chest is the chilling calling-card of the ‘soul jacker’: a cold-blooded murderer who struck close to Michael once before, twenty-five years ago.
Now the long-buried case is being re-opened, and Michael is determined to use his inside knowledge to finally bring the killer to justice. But as the body count rises, Michael realises that his own links to the victims could mean that he is next on the killer’s list…
The gripping first novel in a thrilling new crime series by Matt Brolly. Perfect for fans of Tony Parsons, Lee Child and Angela Marsons.
By John Darrin
“The crime thriller, TARGETED, co-authored by debut author Donna Warner, and award-winning mystery author, Gloria Ferris, reminds us that danger lurks in unexpected places.”
That is the description of the book that Donna Warner suggested I use in this article, and I have no problem doing just that, as you can see because you just read it. Now, let me add a little of my take on that. Danger in unexpected places for me lurks in asking questions of authors that elicit answers like this:
- “I confess that I have a pin head.”
- “I don’t think it’s necessary to stand up to cast from a boat.”
- “Blue Jays? Is that a hockey team?”
- “Nobody wants to look at an Elderly Goth.”
How do I work that stuff into an article about their book? Oh, never mind, I just did.
They couldn’t be total loons (living on the shores of Lake Huron, they certainly know all about loons) because they did write a book together. And I give them enormous credit for the fact that they are still friends and intend to do it again. I burned my co-author in effigy.
Enough frivolity. Here are some words about TARGETED:
Looking forward to a week of sipping mojitos and moonlight walks on a Caribbean beach, Jordan Blair and her friend, Ellie, arrive in Le Ceiba in Honduras, unaware that they have attracted the attention of The Watcher, and are at that very moment framed in the receiving side of his high-powered binoculars.
And then things turn sinister. The previous occupant of their hotel room has vanished. No one seems concerned, but the police presence says they should be.
By Ian Walkley
Bob McClure was reading pulp fiction as a kid when he should have been studying schoolbooks, but he ultimately cracked down enough to graduate with a B.S. in Criminology from Murray State University and a law degree from the University of Louisville.
Now an attorney and crime fiction writer who lives and works in Louisville, Kentucky, McClure’s debut novel DEADLY LULLABY is based on his short story My Son, which was originally published on ThugLit.com and appeared in Best American Mystery Stories 2009.
DEADLY LULLABY is published by Penguin-Random House’s Alibi imprint in North America, and will be published next year by Calmann-Lévy in France, by Euromedia in the Czech Republic, and by Ikar in Slovakia.
DEADLY LULLABY is at heart a father-son story with a twist—in this case, the father is a career hitman and the son is a flawed cop. As might be expected, this makes for some great conflict and character interaction, which is helped along by McClure’s gritty prose, strong dialogue, and dual first person narrative by the father and the son. And there’s much that goes on between them to spur talk: Fresh off a nine-year stint in San Quentin, Babe Crucci plans to finally go straight and enjoy all life has to offer—after he pulls one or two more jobs to shore up his retirement fund. More than anything, Babe is dead set on making up for lost time with his estranged son, Leo, a rising star in the LAPD.
The road to reconciliation starts with tickets to a Dodgers game. But first, Leo needs a little help settling a beef over some gambling debts owed to a local mobster. This kind of thing is child’s play for Babe–until a sudden twist in the negotiations leads to a string of corpses and a titanic power shift in gangland politics. With the sins of his father piling up and dragging him down, Leo throws himself into the investigation of a young prostitute’s murder, a case that makes him some unlikely friends—and some brutally unpredictable enemies.
Robert McClure took some time to answer a few questions for The Big Thrill about his thrilling debut.
Earl Javorsky’s psychological thriller TRUST ME comes on the heels of his truly strange noir detective novel, Down Solo. Although the two books are entirely different in style, they share a common theme: addiction and recovery. As a self-identified member of what he labels “an abstraction called the recovery community,” Javorsky knows the environment and digs deep into a trove of harrowing, sometimes absurd, events from his own experience.
TRUST ME is an ensemble piece centered around two lost souls: Jeffrey Fenner, an alcoholic drug dealer who finds out that his sister has committed suicide, and Holly Barnes, whose past abuse has brought her to a self-help group with a charismatic leader. Jeff, who has hit bottom but doesn’t know it yet, doesn’t believe his sister would take her own life, and his relentless pursuit of the truth leads him to some unlikely allies, jail, and the same group Holly attends. When their paths converge, Jeff discovers that Holly might be the next target of a serial killer.
Your lead character is not easy to sympathize with. Why should readers care about someone they don’t like?
Ha! Great question. Jeff is a selfish, clueless loser with few redeeming qualities. One of my favorite tricks in literature and film is when a character turns my sympathies upside down—think Al Swearinger in Deadwood. The hard part is engaging the reader long enough to become interested in an individual’s evolution.
Is there a factual basis for any of the events in TRUST ME?
Yes and no. There was a guy up in LA (I’m in San Diego now) who seduced women inappropriately—he was in his late 60s and liked them in their 20s. Hypnosis was in his arsenal, but his real power was in his congenial mentor act: he would take them under his wing and help them out. He was actually a nice guy, but it was creepy. The opening scene at Lilah’s apartment may or may not have happened pretty much as described. And Holly’s history of seizures and her subsequent diagnoses and problems with prescription medicine are borrowed from a dear friend’s personal history (she just finished the book and loved it).
By Jeff Ayers
When the mob finds itself on hard times and has to lay people off, the boss decides to give two different hitters separate lists of “overdue accounts”—a backlist—to see who distinguishes themselves enough to remain on the payroll.
In their first collaborative effort, Eric Beetner and Frank Zafiro bring readers the sharp-tongued Bricks and the hapless, eager-to-please Cam—two very different protagonists who find themselves faced with challenges they never imagined when they got into the business.
THE BACKLIST is a fast-paced crime novel full of action, twists, verbal jabs, and mayhem. Lots of mayhem.
This month, Beetner and Zafiro chatted with The Big Thrill about the book that appears to be the beginning of a thrilling partnership.
Frank, could you talk about River City? Also, why the pseudonym for your crime writing?
River City is a thinly-veiled Spokane. Spokane is a city of about two hundred thousand peple. We’re the second largest city in the state and the biggest city between Seattle and Minneapolis…all of which means that we have all of the problems of a large city and yet still retain some of the small town attitude (which can be good and bad, depending).
I started calling Spokane River City, and using a pseudonym for crime fiction, because I was an active law enforcement officer in Spokane at the time my first book was coming out. I wasn’t really sure what my bosses would think of my work, since there are some dark events and not every cop is portrayed in a positive light. So I went with the pen name. As it turned out, the brass were very supportive, but by that time I had a few dozen short stories and two books out under this name, so I decided to keep it for crime fiction. The last name Zafiro comes from the name a few of us used to name our film “production” company during a high school independent study on filmmaking.