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.
Ryan Sayles has over two dozen short stories in print in anthologies and online, including the Anthony-nominated collection Trouble in the Heartland: Stories inspired by the music of Bruce Springsteen. He is the author of The Subtle Art of Brutality, Goldfinches, That Escalated Quickly! and Disordered Mullets. He is a founding member of Zelmer Pulp.
His upcoming novel, WARPATH, continues The Subtle Art of Brutality series with PI Richard Dean Buckner’s latest case. A real estate mogul is lying about something. His wife’s dead by her own hand, the case has gone cold, and the mogul starts dropping cash into former Saint Ansgar homicide-detective-turned-private-eye Buckner’s wallet to find some answers. Pile on his grandmother’s death in a drive-by shooting and Buckner finds himself at war with the worst gang the city has to offer as well as a slithering rapist who has resurfaced just to tie the loose ends from a twenty-year-old crime. Buckner’s response? People that stupid need to be taught harsh lessons, and vengeance just happens to be one of Buckner’s finer skills.
PI Buckner has a new cold case—and a hot button chase. Tell us something about WARPATH that isn’t in the jacket copy.
Well, this is my first run at an actual sequel for Buckner, so, really the stuff that isn’t in the jacket copy is all the pressure I felt trying to live up to the first book and carry the story forward without simply rehashing the first one. Here Buckner faces harsher consequences to his actions; and of course there’s no drama or tension if he pays with his own blood. While with most cases he steps in and out of other peoples’ lives, in this novel one of his cases revolves around people in his own life. The title “Warpath” describes where Buckner realizes his actions have taken him, and what he will have to do in order to make amends.
Did you plan to write a series when you wrote The Subtle Art of Brutality?
Oh yeah. Actually, The Subtle Art of Brutality wasn’t my first book about Richard Dean Buckner. I originally wrote him into a horror novel. This was in 2006. I read a short story collection called Shadows Over Baker Street edited by Michael Reeves and John Pelan, where they asked their contributors to place Sherlock Holmes and all of his logic into H. P. Lovecraft’s insane world. I had just gotten done reading a novel with a stern, hardboiled voice and thought I should place a character with that hardboiled tone into a similar insane world. That’s where I developed Buckner.
By E.A. Aymar
Here’s what I did after finishing Richard Godwin’s newest novel, WRONG CROWD: I immediately sent an e-mail to Eric Campbell, the head of Down and Out Books, and thanked him for publishing it. WRONG CROWD is uncompromising and brutal, and I have to imagine other publishers would be hesitant to sell it. But Godwin’s prose is so beautiful, particularly in its patience and timing, that you can’t help but admire it as you read, even as he takes you through the dark emotions and rough scenes other writers avoid.
I’d never read Godwin before, although I had come across his name; writers I admire had expressed their respect for him and, like them, I’m determined to read everything else he’s written. But prior to starting his other work, I had the chance to ask him a few questions for The Big Thrill about his views on violence, art, and what he plans to work on next.
You don’t shy away from the cruelty of violence, but you don’t glamorize or celebrate it. Is there a “code” that defines your approach to writing about violence?
I try to be realistic. Violence is ugly and effective, it exists at all levels, from the street right through to politics—accurate description is necessary, mollifying the blows is more glamorization than accurate representation, and a form of making it palatable, which may ultimately be a way of encouraging the aspiration towards violence. I am writing about the Russian Mafia. That is hard core and I wrote it hard core.
You don’t seem terribly concerned about making your characters overtly empathetic—they’re engaging enough to follow to the end of the book, but their dark sides are pretty dark. Have you ever faced resistance to that approach from publishers, agents or readers?
Of course. But I battle for verisimilitude.
By David Healey
Harry Hunsicker’s third book in the Jon Cantrell thriller series could be described in many ways as a twenty-first century Western. For starters, THE GRID is set in Texas. Cantrell is a lawman but also a drifter, having found employment as a rural county sheriff after a prickly history as a DEA contractor. He wears boots and carries a gold-plated star. Instead of a violent death in a saloon brothel, he is soon investigating a killer who knocks off cheating husbands looking for hookups online.
Cantrell’s challenges don’t end there. However, in THE GRID, it’s not a cattle rustler or a train robber who rides into town, but rather a terrorist that is attacking power-generating stations.
It’s all in a day’s work for a lawman in the New West, and Cantrell is more than up to the task. He’s savvy, tough, and has a lot of compassion—but he’s definitely got a burr under his saddle. He’s always ready with a quick-draw quip: “Not counting the power plant, I figured the town’s three biggest industries were food stamps, bass fishing, and diabetes.”
This lawman is also something of a philosopher: “On some level we all live in a special world filled with mirrors that flatter the image of how we’d like things to be.” Well said, Cantrell.
Recently, author and native Texan, Harry Hunsicker answered a few questions about Cantrell, terrorists, and cowboy boots.
Percentage-wise, how much of Jon Cantrell is you?
According to FreudOnLine.com, 9.8 percent.
I’m joking. I think the actual percentage is much higher, at least in terms of personality, maybe thirty to forty percent. Neither Jon nor myself like to see the bad guys win, but we both have a certain pragmatic outlook on life. Sometimes the bad guys do triumph, and the best you can do is just keep going, hoping to fight another day. Physically and career-wise, we’re pretty different. Jon has a military background while I’m allergic to camouflage and taking orders. Jon is younger than I am, too.
For Reed Farrel Coleman it’s been quite a year. Not only has the Long Island author ended one series and begun another but he’s also continuing a beloved series with ROBERT B. PARKER’S THE DEVIL WINS.
“I have come to be a Parker fan in the last 10 years or so,” says Coleman. “Hey, I was late to the party, but I’ve sure enjoyed it. Parker was an unusual and exceptional talent in that he was a writer’s writer and a reader’s writer. As a pro myself, I could see the techniques he used to make it look easy. How his prose was disarming, straightforward, economic, sometimes poetic, but never self-conscious. His prose never screams ‘Look at me!’ or goes out of its way to be pretty. But writers understand what looks easy isn’t always so. I came to appreciate his craftsmanship and his deep understanding of the connection between his characters and his audience.”
Protagonist Jesse Stone is a departure from Parker’s private eye Spenser, his best known character. Stone is a damaged man, fired from the Los Angeles Police Department because of his drinking problem, a demon he struggles throughout the series. He also has a complicated relationship with his ex-wife Jennifer. However, despite his issues, Stone is a good cop, as proven in his job as chief of the Paradise Police Department, located in the fictional town of Paradise, Mass.
Stone debuted in 1997’s Night Passage and has been played by Tom Selleck in a series of tele-films (the latest, Jesse Stone: Lost in Paradise, debuts in mid-October). Parker completed the ninth novel, Split Image, but didn’t live to see it published. After Parker’s death in 2010, Michael Brandman penned three Stone novels until the baton was passed to “hard-boiled poet” Coleman in 2014 with Robert B. Parker’s Blind Spot.
Strangely enough, Coleman wasn’t deterred by the Herculean task of taking over the adventures of a renowned author’s beloved character. Looking back, he supposed he might’ve been–had he thought about it too much.
Many writers have hidden (or not so hidden) “other” lives. There are times you read an authors’ website and think, “Oh! How interesting, I wonder what that’s about?” In Baron Birtcher’s case, my curiosity related to his interest in music: I mean, not many authors can have founded an independent record label. Normally, unless you’re brave enough to mail the person concerned (and they have the time to respond), you don’t get the chance to have that inquisitiveness rewarded. One of the true delights of conducting interviews for The Big Thrill is having licence to be nosey.
Baron, ever since reading your website, I’ve been humming “Ruby Tuesday” to myself. I can remember the original Rolling Stones track coming out—are you a fan of the band?
I am a fan. In fact, I always have a sort of “soundtrack” playing while I am writing. I endeavor to have my books take on the “flavor” of the tunes as I go along. The Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” was a staple for me as I wrote my second Mike Travis thriller, Ruby Tuesday. Of course, the Doors music was prominent for the first one, Roadhouse Blues; very early Stephen Stills tunes and some Eagles cropped up in Rain Dogs. Pink Floyd sort of crept into HARD LATITUDES.
You’re clearly a bit of a rocker. Can you tell readers a bit about your music career?
I began my creative career as a guitarist, songwriter, and singer. Had a band that did fairly well, but came to the realization that I was probably better suited for the “business” side of the music industry. I founded an independent record label, sold it, and am now an artist manager and executive producer for several musical acts when I’m not writing. I have always believed that there is a significant crossover between the reading of engaging prose, and the experience of listening to great music. There should be rhythm to the words, and an overall “tone” or “vibe” that a finished novel should contain—much like one’s favorite music. Both mediums of entertainment should, in my opinion, take you somewhere.
Newly minted FBI Agent Lucy Kincaid is settling into her job in San Antonio, Texas, when the corpse of Harper Worthington, the husband of a sitting congresswoman, is found naked in a motel on the wrong side of town. It’s up to Lucy to locate the last person to see him alive: a teenage prostitute who seems to have vanished into thin air.
When forensics determines that Harper was poisoned, Lucy and her new by-the-book partner dig deep into his life to find out who might want him dead. Why did Harper lie to his wife and his staff? Was he involved in an illicit affair? Embezzling money? Laundering money for a drug cartel? Or was he simply a pawn in someone else’s dangerous game?
Lucy’s boyfriend Sean Rogan is hired by Harper’s company to run a security audit, causing friction between Lucy and the FBI. But when Sean finds a high-tech bug in Harper’s office, an entirely new threat emerges–a far-reaching conspiracy run by a ruthless killer who will do anything to get what he wants, and kill anyone who gets in his way. And the person between him and victory is Lucy Kincaid.
Fire Cop tells the story of two police officers working in a typical Wisconsin city dealing with the resurgence of methamphetamine. Officer Ben Graystock takes the law into his own hands when he starts to set dealer’s homes on fire. Meanwhile police officer and volunteer firefighter Stuart Thompson is assigned to investigate these arsons.
Interview by Scott Adlerberg
Born and raised in New Jersey, Wallace Stroby had a long career as a journalist before turning to novel writing. He worked for the Asbury Park Press as a police reporter, and was a Sunday features editor for the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger. His years writing and editing for newspapers helped him develop the razor-sharp prose, compelling sense of character, and precise attention to detail that mark his books.
THE DEVIL’S SHARE, Stroby’s new novel, is his seventh overall and the fourth about professional thief Crissa Stone, who debuted in 2011’s Cold Shot to the Heart. The Big Thrill talked with Stroby about his early books and his latest effort.
Your first two books, The Barbed-Wire Kiss (2003) and The Heartbreak Lounge (2005), were set along the Jersey Shore and featured a male former state trooper named Harry Rane. Then your third book, Gone ‘til November (2010), focused on a Florida sheriff’s deputy, Sara Cross, doing her job and facing dangers in an overwhelmingly male world. What was the impetus behind you creating Harry Rane, and why did you decide after the Rane books to switch perspectives, first to a female law enforcement figure, then to a woman who’s a professional criminal?
With Harry, I essentially wanted to write about the area I grew up in, and where I continue to live, the Jersey Shore, specifically Monmouth County. It was changing a lot at that time, a lot of development going on, and I wanted to capture that a little. Harry’s house is based on my grandmother’s farmhouse in Englishtown, N.J., where I spent a lot of time as a kid (the farm was sold a few years back, the house razed).
In Heartbreak Lounge though, I ended up telling a lot of the story from the point of view of the villain, an ex-con named Johnny Harrow, and I found myself intrigued with that. He was a bad guy who did some evil things, but he had his reasons.
“It reads like a movie script. . . . Only this was no blockbuster action film. It was a real-life crime drama straight from the streets of Miami.” Those aren’t James Grippando’s words. They come straight from the FBI’s official website, the bureau’s own description of one of the biggest airport heists in history—$7.8 million in cash stolen by a band of amateur thieves. That real life caper is the inspiration for James Grippando’s twenty-fourth thriller, CASH LANDING, released from HarperCollins.
Who were the real-life crooks?
The mastermind, Karls Monzon, teamed up with his uncle, an ex-con; his cocaine-addicted brother in law; and an insider who worked for Brinks Security, Onelio Diaz. Diaz was Monzon’s neighbor and friend since childhood, and he drove one of the armored trucks that regularly shuttled millions of dollars in cash from Miami International Airport to the Federal Reserve Branch just four miles from the airport.
How much cash are we talking about?
Every week a 747 leaves Frankfurt and lands at MIA with anywhere from $80 million to $100 million in U.S. dollars in the cargo belly. German banks don’t need all those fifty- and hundred-dollar bills, and much of Miami’s economy runs on cash.
How did this rag-tag group pull off the heist?
The cash is shipped in 38-pound bags, each holding almost $2 million in bricks of bills. The bags have to be opened to clear customs in a warehouse at MIA. Diaz, the security guard, told Monzon about the security failings inside the warehouse: the bills lay exposed; the security cameras didn’t work; the guards removed their guns before entering the building; and most alluring of all, the warehouse’s enormous bay doors led directly onto the street, which meant that any getaway vehicle could bypass the perimeter fence and the airport gatehouse. For an even cut of the haul, Diaz signaled to Monzon when it was time to strike. The gang drove up to the loading dock in a pickup, covered their faces with bandanas, brandished a handgun, and hurried to grab as many bags of cash as they could carry. They dropped one of the forty-pound bags on their way out, but they still managed to speed away with Monzon’s cokehead brother-in-law at the wheel and $7.8 million in the bed of the pickup.
REMEMBER MIA is a thriller that puts you in the midst of every mother’s worst nightmare: her baby has disappeared. When Estelle Paradise’s baby daughter is taken from her crib, she doesn’t report her missing. A week later, Estelle is found in a wrecked car miles from home, with a gunshot wound to the head and no memory. The only thing she can recall is the blood…so much blood. She knows she holds the key to what happened that night—but what she doesn’t know is whether she was responsible.
Tell us about your background. You are originally from Europe?
I was born in Germany. I read English literature in high school—I remember Bram Stoker’s Dracula, C. S. Forester’s African Queen, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein—but other than that I read books exclusively in my native language. Days after graduating from college I boarded a plane to the U.S. I ended up in Texas, I married, and explored a career in corporate America. I eventually started reading English novels, gluttonously, day in, day out. After the birth of my daughter I became a freelance translator and even though the projects I worked on were mostly commercial, I really wanted to break into literary translations. The union never panned out and I so decided to tell my own stories instead. I took a few writing classes and eventually published my short fiction.
Tell us how you came up with the idea for REMEMBER MIA?
I eventually took a novel-writing class, and on the first day of class I was asked to post twenty-five pages. Needless to say, I hadn’t put a single word on paper. So later that night, I sat down and a sentence popped into thy head: “Tell me about Mia.” I imagined a woman, ravaged by postpartum depression, being confronted by a psychiatrist working to unravel the ball of yarn that is the disappearance of her infant daughter. The title may changed over the years, but the story remained the same; a tale of motherhood, shortcomings, and isolation. There were many revisions, many workshops, but eventually the story took shape.
The stakes soar both professionally and personally for Austin PD Detective Jason Scarsdale as he finds himself in a race against time to hunt down a vicious gang hell-bent on murder. Realizing that his new partner, the attractive divorcee Tatum Harper, could be trouble in more ways than one, he tries to run her out of Homicide. Will their partnership destroy his romantic relationship with long-time girlfriend Dani Mueller? Will they both survive their harrowing face-off with the increasingly unhinged gang leader?
“Precise and unequivocally gripping; an edge-of-your-seat ride from beginning to end.” ~Kirkus Reviews
“This gritty crime thriller is an absolute gift to fans of the genre…[a] tale of murder, Texas style…an
intriguing set of crimes…a man and a woman working long, tense hours together, and its fallout for those around them – a masterpiece.” ~BestThrillers.com
“…a promise of chaos and confrontation which doesn’t disappoint. [It’s] more than a cut above the
ordinary…” ~Midwest Book Review
With its breakneck pacing and fascinating characters on display from the first page, EENY MEENY opens with a compelling and terrifying premise. A young couple wakes up trapped in an abandoned diving pool without food or water. There’s no escape. Instead there is a loaded gun with a single bullet, and a phone with enough battery life to receive one message: to walk free, one of them must kill the other.
Kill or be killed—no choice.
When other pairs are given the same orders in increasingly twisted ways, the brilliant but damaged Detective Inspector Helen Grace (reminiscent of Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennison or Stella Gibson in the TV series The Fall) finds herself racing against time and confronting dark chapters of her own past.
Published in the UK last summer, EENY MEENY was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick, an instant Sunday Times bestseller, and a reviewer favorite.
“Readers will look forward to seeing more of this strong, intelligent, and courageous lead.”
By George Ebey
Jane Isaac is the author of several works of crime and suspense including, An Unfamiliar Murder and The Truth Will Out. Her latest book, BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE, is due out this June and introduces us to her new character, Detective Inspector Will Jackman.
Following an argument with her British boyfriend, Chinese student Min Li is abducted while walking the dark streets of picturesque Stratford-upon-Avon alone. Trapped in a dark pit, Min is at the mercy of her captor. Detective Inspector Jackman is tasked with solving the case, and in his search for answers, discovers that the truth is buried deeper than he ever expected.
The Big Thrill recently checked in with Isaac to discuss her book and what elements are needed to tell a good suspense story.
What first drew you to writing about crime and psychological suspense?
Raised on Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie, sitting around the television with my family on a Sunday evening watching Poirot, and trying to guess whodunit. I guess I’ve always loved the twists and turns of thrillers and mysteries, so the genre felt the natural choice with my own writing.
You book features a new character, Detective Inspector Will Jackman. Did you learn anything interesting about his profession when you were developing your story?
In BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE, a Chinese student is abducted from the dark streets of Stratford upon Avon and kept in a disused pit in the surrounding Warwickshire countryside. We follow her story as she is held captive, and the rest of the novel is through the eyes of Will Jackman as he seeks to find her.
For me, research is one of the most fascinating parts of writing detective fiction and police procedural research is key, as it gives the story authenticity. As this is my third book, I was already aware of the basic ground rules of a police investigation. However, every case is different and for this novel I spent time with a former Chief Superintendent of Police who was able to help me with the protocol associated with kidnappings, and the procedure for international liaison with China, and how this affects a case.
Greek Heroes, Shutter Island and Why I Love Thrillers
Perseus was a big draw for me. An assassin outfitted with all sorts of gadgetry, including winged sandals and an invisibility cap, I think of him as the James Bond of Greek heroes. My favorite was Theseus, because he had the most interesting villains. Look beyond the Minotaur; he defeated Procrustes, who tortured travelers on an iron bed. If they were too short, he stretched them to fit the bed. If they were too tall, he cut off body parts until they fit. Unsettling stuff.
The tone and tropes of some of these myths live on in today’s thrillers. Often, you have a hero who needs to outwit and ultimately defeat a monster, human or superhuman. Sometimes heroes have specialized tools, and sometimes they have little more than brains and courage. Thrillers embody the same sense of adventure and justice, and if I’m being honest, the fantasy that I can be the hero by inserting myself into the story as its reader.
Since part of my career has been spent working on social issues, I also admire thrillers’ ability to delve into important social topics using the framework of suspense.
Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island is one of my favorite books from the past decade. Not only did it entertain me, but the book also covered the state of mental health care and the flaws of the penal system. Instead of pounding me over the head with social advocacy, it provoked thought through a compelling story.
I begin this article with the background of the Instruments of Death series, of which MEAT CLEAVER is the fifth entry. I lived in Chicago and worked at the American Society of Clinical Pathologists’ Chicago headquarters, directly across West Harrison Street from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office, when I wrote Claw Hammer. My ASCP job was to sell continuing education classes to pathologists, and I got to sit in on many of those classes because I was the person who registered pathologists and medical technologists for various courses. I set up microscopes in classrooms at conference centers, ran the overheads and slide projectors, hawked new books published by the Society or the College of American Pathologists, and hosted elaborate cocktail parties for the Docs at national medical conferences. One of those ASCP classes featured the latest techniques of tool mark analysis available to forensic pathologists interested in identifying the instrument of death, and I was fascinated to learn about the variety of ways people quite often used common household implements to kill beloved family members and friends.
That class reminded me of several terrible tragedies that had happened to grade-school classmates of mine in my own hometown of Rockford, Illinois. I recalled awakening one dawn to the sound of sirens when I was only about eight or nine. I learned that a neighbor had allegedly gone crazy during the night and killed his entire family—all but one daughter who survived–with a claw hammer. The milkman, the same milkman who had just delivered milk to my house, discovered the bodies when he entered the neighbor’s house to put milk in the refrigerator as he normally did twice a week. In those Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver days of the early 1950s, people were very trusting and nobody ever locked their back doors. All that changed, of course, after an entire family was killed in our close-knit suburban neighborhood. It never dawned on us that locking the doors would do no good if the killer lived inside the house and had keys.
Not long after that first tragedy, the mother of another female grade-school friend was electrocuted in her bathtub. Supposedly, a radio fell off a shelf and added 110 volts to an afternoon bubble bath and fried the lady like a lobster. Police arrested the lady’s husband and charged him with her murder. My young friend had to leave school to go live with her grandparents. I never saw her again.
Because I love to read widely in a variety of genres, I often find myself crossing genres in writing my own novels and short stories. AXES TO GRIND, the sixth novel in The Instruments of Death series from Crossroad Press, is both a police procedural and a supernatural suspense story. I didn’t intend it to be that way when I began writing the novel, but elements of the preternatural suddenly appeared. That’s the way the cookie sometimes crumbles.
AXES TO GRIND introduces Merritt County Sheriff’s Deputy Dan Edmonds. Dan will appear in later novels of the series that tie together murders in northern Wisconsin with murders in Illinois, but this story belongs to Dan Edmonds and Sandy Beech and it can be read as a stand-alone novel. None of my usual suspects make guest appearances. You can probably guess that the instrument of death is an axe. Both the title and the cover give that away, but there are a few surprises along the way that readers won’t suspect.
When I was researching northern Wisconsin for both AXES TO GRIND and Winds, my supernatural thriller series featuring completely different characters, I uncovered an unusual number of Bigfoot sightings within a three-county area of north-central Wisconsin. Of course, I had to include that fact in one of my novels. AXES TO GRIND seemed the perfect vehicle. Maybe someday I’ll write a novel about Bigfoot, but AXES TO GRIND is primarily about demons—personal demons and mythological demons. It’s also about trust and belief and searching for clues outside of one’s normal experience. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Anna Curtis fans rejoice! She’s back, this time on the other side of the legal system, as she fights to prove her sister’s innocence when the beloved football coach from their high school turns up murdered. When Anna first arrives in town, she’s confident that her sister could have had nothing to do with the coach’s death. As she becomes involved with the investigation though, she begins to wonder if she knows her sister as well as she thought.
Be prepared to lose sleep as you find yourself turning page after page to get to the startling finish.
This month, The Big Thrill caught up with author Allison Leotta to talk about her what inspired A GOOD KILLING, and her process for writing the book.
You write about the complexities of the sister relationship with authority, and you’ve dedicated this book to your own two sisters. How much do your sibling relationships affect your stories?
A lot. Anna has a little sister named Jody and although she is a very different person than my two sisters, I used our fights, our shared interests, and most of all the fact that we always have each other’s backs as a guide to Anna and Jody’s relationship. Jody played a more minor role in my first three books. Fans have been asking for “more Jody,” and this is really her book.
You alternate between Anna’s and Jody’s points of view. Did you feel more of a kinship with one over the other?
I am intimately familiar with Anna’s job. We were both sex crimes prosecutors in Washington, D.C. But I have written three books about her before this.
I felt a freshness that came from writing a new POV, Jody’s. The chapters from her perspective came very easily. With Anna, I work hard to get the legal details right. It is definitely work. Writing Jody was pure pleasure. I wrote the chapters from her POV in two weeks—the fastest writing I’ve ever done.
By Josie Brown
Like J.T. Ellison’s other thirteen critically acclaimed novels—including The Cold Room (Taylor Jackson Series), which won the International Thriller Writers Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original—the next book in her Sam Owens series, WHAT LIES BEHIND, will certainly have both fans and reviewers singing its praises, and sleeping with one eye open.
Formerly Nashville medical examiner but now based in Washington D.C. as a pathology consultant with the FBI, the life journey of Ellison’s protagonist, Sam, has been fraught with personal loss, emotional complexities, and professional challenges. Ellison explains how intricately woven plots and well-formed characters keep readers coming back for more.
Bioterrorism is at the heart of WHAT LIES BEHIND, as it was in Book 2 of the Sam Owens series, Edge of Black. However, each book tackles it differently—and gives readers very different reasons for staying up at night, biting their nails. You’ve obviously done a lot of research on the very real problem. How did you come to choose this book’s threat? (I’ll be darned if I give it away here…)
I knew early on I wanted to write about something that was possible to spread by casual contact (great band name, that.) Something virulent and unstoppable, that if released into our world could create a hysteric response and become a serious problem. I chose an Ebola-esque hemorrhagic fever, and got to work. You can imagine my surprise and dismay when the Ebola outbreak began in Africa. I was three-quarters of the way through the book, and my story was coming alive nightly on the TV screen. I had to do a lot of scrambling to make sure what I was writing was still unique, considering all the attention this was getting. By contrast, in Edge of Black, my villain uses ricin in the subway—equally deadly, but not as personal, because of the nature of how the attack manifests. I find the idea of someone infected with a virus, taking planes and spreading a disease, terribly scary. Of course, that’s the best topic to write about in a thriller, what scares you the most.
By Basil Sands
From his secret lair just outside of London where he experiments with advanced highly-classified military weapons systems and teleportation devices, Andy Boot is an author to be reckoned with in more ways than one. He’s spent most of his career in the shadows as one of the writers behind the Deathlands series, as well as my teenaged literary addiction The Executioner—he’s written twenty-eight novels in these franchises.
Boot also created the Dreams Of Inan series for Abaddon, co-created three other series, wrote one novel, and was a series consultant. He’s written four non-fiction books under his own name, including a seminal work on British Horror films, Fragments Of Fear. And he’s worked in TV and new media, although several years of his career are listed by MI6 as “Unavailable For Comment Until Year 2115.”
He claims he writes simply because he loves it… or has he turned to writing because fiction is the only way he can tell his story?
All kidding aside, NO DOVES is an intense crime novel that had me up late into the night hoping the bad guys got their due, but sometimes feeling sorry for them when they did. It’s a dark and gritty journey into London’s underbelly that can leave you glancing over your shoulder and stepping wide of shadows on the street.
Andy, can you tell us more about NO DOVES?
It has a long history. Back when I was freelancing as a journalist, I had a few ideas for which I’d written a couple of chapters and a synopsis while I was trying to get into non-fiction books. At the time in the U.K., this represented my best chance of progressing from newsprint to hard covers One of those was NO DOVES.
Vaughn C. Hardacker is a writer of five novels and numerous short stories. Sniper, his first novel, was selected as a finalist in the Crime Fiction category of the 2015 Maine Literary Awards.
In THE FISHERMAN, homicide detective Mike Houston returns for a second outing. When an elderly couple recruits his partner, Anne Bouchard, to help locate their missing granddaughter, the two take up the hunt. Where they expect to learn that the girl has gone off on a romantic interlude, they soon discover that there is much more than meets the eye. Not only is the granddaughter missing, but dozens of women have disappeared before her—and each disappearance is somehow linked to someone called The Fisherman. The case will lead Houston and Bouchard from the streets of Boston to the wilderness of the north Maine woods.
Where did you get the idea for THE FISHERMAN?
The idea came from my late wife Connie. She had accompanied me to Vancouver and fell in love with the city. She came across the case upon which the book is loosely (very loosely) based.
Some of the reviews suggest that this book is not for the faint-of-heart, that it’s a violent book. Is it?
My protagonists are former police officers who have dealt with violence for most of their adult lives, and another of my major characters, Jimmy O’Leary, is a gangster. These are all people who live with violence. The challenge was to make their world as realistic as possible without including a lot of gratuitous violence. So, the short answer is yes, there is violence. Which I tried to offset with a more human side of each of the major characters. Heck, even my antagonist has some, no matter how minor, redeeming features.
By John Raab
It’s a busy time for author Paul Gitsham, who in addition to launching book three in his popular DCI Warren Series, has also released a short novella called BLOOD IS THICKER THAN WATER.
The Big Thrill caught up with Gitsham to talk about the long and short of writing, plus, the inside scoop on SILENT AS THE GRAVE, the third instalment of the series featuring DCI Warren Jones. In this book, things get personal for the gritty cop as he investigates the grisly murder of a former gardener. To find the killer, Jones must go up against criminal conspiracy, a ruthless gangster, and the haunting truth of his past.
You have two new books out—one is a short story called BLOOD IS THICKER THAN WATER. Is this a prequel to your full length novel, SILENT AS THE GRAVE?
BLOOD IS THICKER THAN WATER is a stand-alone DCI Warren Jones story, set between book two, No Smoke Without Fire, and book three, SILENT AS THE GRAVE. Like many writers, I have a file of story ideas that I’d like to share, some of which need a full novel to tell properly, and others, which are naturally shorter. BLOOD IS THICKER THAN WATER serves two purposes, really. First, it’s a little something for my readers to keep them happy until the next book is available. And second, it’s a way into the series for readers new to Warren Jones. I decided to include a short preview of SILENT AS THE GRAVE, both as a teaser for my fans, and as a taster of my writing for those deciding if they want to commit their time to an unknown character.
Mark Pryor shines a light on his newest novel in the Hugo Marston series.
Mark Pryor is currently an Assistant District Attorney with the Travis County DA’s office. He is also author of the popular crime fiction Hugo Marston series. He grew up in Hertfordshire, England, and currently lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and three young children. Before taking pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), Mark worked at various jobs: ski instructor, personal trainer, and bra folder (I’m not making this up, I swear). But the job that largely formed his future as a writer was that of newspaper reporter in Colchester, Essex, where he covered the police and crime beat for nearly two years. In 1994, Mark moved to America, according to him, “mostly for the weather.”
Mark, thanks for taking a few moments of your time to share some thoughts and insight on your new book, your process and the life of an author. To get things started, could you tell us a few things about yourself—a little bit about your background, where you live, a day in the life of Mark Pryor.
Absolutely, and thanks for having me. Originally I’m from England, I lived there until I was twenty-five years old. My mum is from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, so I took a trip there in 1992 just to visit family, travel around the country a little. But I fell in love with the place and never really left. I went back to school in Chapel Hill and ended up in law school at neighboring Duke. I met my wife there and she brought me to Texas, where she has family.
I’ve been in Austin for almost ten years, and I work here as a state prosecutor. Right now I’m in the juvenile division prosecuting kids, although, in truth, we try to fix their problems, not prosecute them.
What links a terror attack on Washington, D.C., missing girls, coded price lists, and a rogue Interpol operator? It’s up to FBI Special Agent Ellie Conway to figure that out in Cat Connor’s new novel ERASERBYTE, seventh in the “Byte” series. That’s if she can survive helicopter crashes and other threats.
It’s a tale that sets the U.S. capital on fire with a series of explosions, and Ellie has to reach out to controversial connections to try and stop further terrorist attacks and horrifying deaths.
It’s a great, page-turning challenge for the agent from the FBI’s Delta A, who has already won over fans in previous adventures and should earn new ones in this outing.
Connor, who is from Cantabria, New Zealand, saw databyte, Number 6 in the Ellie Conway series, long listed for the 2015 Ngaio Marsh best crime novel award. Amid that and other excitement including a fortnightly writing workshop, Connor is busy with the launch of ERASERBYTE and other travels. Happily she had time for a few questions with The Big Thrill.
Inspiration can come at a writer from any direction, but for Rachel Howzell Hall the stories that resonate most deeply are drawn from her own life and the lives of people close to her. SKIES OF ASH, her second thriller featuring Los Angeles Detective Elouise “Lou” Norton, reflects some of the turmoil she witnessed in her friends’ lives over the past few years.
In a recent interview, Rachel said, “I remember having the realization about five years ago that my friends, and friends of friends, were starting to divide into two groups—still married (like me) or now divorcing. Everyone had hit those hard patches in life, late thirties, early forties, kids, private school bills, taxes owed, jobs, lay-offs, failing health, deaths.” At the same time, she noticed a stream of news stories about domestic violence. “Husbands killing their wives, moms killing their kids, and on and on. Everyone was pissed off and frustrated and broke and suicidal. And then, our economy tanked and all these smart bankers were outed as crooks.”
Rachel blended those elements into an intense tale that begins with Lou Norton responding to the scene of a house fire in which a woman named Juliet Chatman has perished with her two children. The grieving husband and father, Christopher Chatman, is hospitalized after supposedly trying to rescue his family. Neighbors and friends call the Chatmans a perfect family living a dream life. Lou doesn’t take long to uncover the sordid truth about Juliet and Christopher’s marriage and to suspect that one of their perfect children set the fatal fire. Lesson: People are never what they seem to be.
By E. M. Powell
Of course I love thrillers (don’t we all?!), but I especially love a thriller that brings something new and different to the table. In DOUBLE VISION, Colby Marshall does just that. Her heroine, Dr. Jenna Ramey, is an FBI forensic psychiatrist whose brain is wired very differently to most of us. Jenna also comes to this book, the second in the series, with a heck of a backstory that I’m sure will bring new readers rushing to catch up on the first one too. DOUBLE VISION is a fast-moving, intriguing read that grabs the reader from the off and refuses to let go.
Marshall is a multi-talented creative: writer by day, ballroom dancer and choreographer by night, and acting on stage when she has a spare moment. She lives in Georgia with her family and a collection of furry friends.
Exclusive to The Big Thrill, I caught up with Colby to find out more about her latest release.
This is the second outing for your heroine, Dr. Jenna Ramey, who debuted in the first book of the series, Color Blind. For readers coming new to her, there’s something that marks her out as very different: synesthesia. Can you explain what that is?
Different types of synesthesia manifest differently, so I can’t claim I know what every type is like to experience. In the case of grapheme-color synesthesia, the hardest aspect to describe is how the associations a synesthete makes are the same as those anyone makes in the way that they manifest. If a person hears the word “cake,” the image of a cake might flash in their mind. The difference is, their word/image reference was learned. Somewhere along the way, someone or something taught that person what cake is, showed him or her what it looks like, and so the association of the picture and word developed. Color associations are not limited to known things. Often a synesthete will lay eyes on something for the very first time, and immediately have a color association for it—that’s actually why it’s so useful to Jenna when she analyzes a crime scene.
Although he was born in Cumbria, England in 1968, author Mike Craven grew up in the northeast and attended the same school as Newcastle and England center-forward, Alan Shearer, before running away to join the circus army. He believes, but has no proof, that his little sister moved into his bedroom before the train had even left the station. He trained for two years as an armourer (that’s gunsmith to you and I) before spending the next ten being paid to travel the world and drink ridiculous amounts of alcohol.
In 1995, sick of writing postcards and having fun, he decided it might be time to do something a bit more sensible. And it doesn’t get more sensible than getting a law degree. So, he did social work instead. Two years later, he started working in Cumbria as a probation officer. Sixteen years, and a few promotions later, he is still there; although as a crime writer, he now has different motivations for trying to get inside the minds of criminals.
In between joining the army and securing a publishing deal, Mike found time to nurture a pet crocodile, survive cancer, get married, and buy a springer spaniel named Bracken. He wanted to call him Gimli, but was told to grow up. He lives in Carlisle where he tries to leave the house as little as possible and gets annoyed by people who say “it’s too cold to snow” and “watch that swan, its wings can break your arm”.”
Craven took time out of that busy schedule to talk to The Big Thrill about his new release, ASSUME NOTHING, BELIEVE NOBODY, CHALLENGE EVERYTHING, a collection of short stories that explores betrayals of trust, poker cheats, ambitious barristers, cyber bullies, lost diplomats and revenge.
Nicholas and Victoria Foulkes’ children are kidnapped to force repayment of a gambling debt, but when the couple are unable to raise the ransom money in time, they turn to crime. The stakes are raised when their crime spree catches the attention of Harry Evans, a childless and recently bereaved detective trying to dodge enforced retirement.
Smith writes tough-as-nails prose and delivers a page-turner that will leave you high on adrenaline.
Graham took some time this month to answer a couple of key questions about what inspired his latest release, and the motivating factors behind his protagonist Harry Evans and the family that opens old wounds.
How well does childless Harry Evans understand the plight of the central characters in SNATCHED FROM HOME?
I think he fully understands their desire to save their children. Being the swine I am, I have him mourning the loss of his own wife and unborn child. This gives him the perspective needed to put himself in their shoes. Also, he believes (wrongly) he could have done things differently and saved them.