How far wrong can a missing persons case go? You can find out, and truly enjoy the thrills and mystery in the process, in Harry Hunsicker’s latest novel, THE SHADOW BOYS.
This character-driven mystery follows former DEA contractor Jon Cantrell. As the story opens things are going well for Cantrell. He has a new job working for a law firm. But then his ex-girlfriend asks him to meet with a high-ranking police official. Cantrell is forced to take an off-the-books assignment to find a missing boy. And then, everything starts to unravel.
Cantrell is not a hero in the strict sense, but he is a fascinating character with, as Hunsicker says, a sharp wit, an eye for the quickest escape route, and a fascinating history.
“Jon Cantrell is a third-generation law enforcement officer, now in the private sector because of an altercation with a federal agent while he was a Dallas police officer,” Hunsicker says. “Cantrell thinks of himself as a cop even though he’s not wearing a badge in SHADOW BOYS.”
Cantrell’s client, Deputy Chief Raul Delgado, is an up-and-coming politico who bears his own tragic burdens. Forty years earlier, a racist cop killed Delgado’s brother. Now, Delgado works for the same department. Cantrell relates to Delgado, even though he’s not really a cop or even a private eye.
By J. H. Bográn
In DRESSED TO KILL, Victor Espinoza, a short, youthful LAPD patrol officer, is sent undercover as a cross-dresser to catch a serial killer. His ambition to become a detective gets snarled when, ignoring his captain’s orders, he goes it alone. He establishes himself at the Velvet Glove, a Hollywood bar that caters to transvestites. The secret nature of his assignment strains his relationship with his girlfriend, Jannine—who wants to marry and start a family—but also puts him hot on the trail of the killer. Victor gets a little too close and now is targeted as the next victim.
THE BIG THRILL recently caught up with Alvarez to ask some questions about his intriguing new thriller.
Let’s tackle the origins of the story first, shall we?
Let me give you a few words of background. Here in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles LAPD sent an undercover police officer into a high school to glean information about a drug operation rooted there. He was a very youthful looking man who passed as a student. That news piece was followed by an experience my wife and I had in Chicago.
My brothers and sisters (I have eight of them) and their spouses were attending the wedding of my nephew and we all stayed at a major hotel near O’Hare Airport. We noticed that there were a significant number of very big women also staying there. Turns out the Cross-dressers of America were holding their annual convention there. My younger brother whose fuse is very short got into an argument with a couple cross-dressers at the bar.
Several years later I read of the murder of a cross-dresser here in the Valley and everything clicked. The story almost wrote itself. I just added in the bar scene for dramatic binding of the novel’s topic.
In a special international interview, German thriller writer Kathrin Lange recently sat down with Switzerland’s breakout crime writer Monika Mansour, to talk about Mansour’s debut release, Liebe – Sünde – Tod (Love – Sin – Death).
Liebe – Sünde – Tod has two completely different settings. On the one side, the world of nightclubs and prostitution, on the other, the hard life of truckers. How did you decide on this contrast of settings?
It was clear from the beginning that my police team is from Lucerne, a very safe place, but I wanted a murder in a red light district. And therefore Zurich’s Langstrasse was an ideal setting. I grew up just outside Zurich and live now in Lucerne. So those two places were perfect for my first crime novel. And to connect these two places, the truckers were just what I needed.
Your protagonist Cem Cengiz is Turkish, but was raised and works in Switzerland. What prompted you to give him this background?
Switzerland is not only that cliché of mountains, lovely cows, and cheese. Around twenty percent of the people living in Switzerland are not native. Our little country is multicultural. And this is what I wanted to show. We have many people who grew up in Switzerland with parents from other cultures. We call them ‘Secondos’. Cem is one of them. I wanted to show that conflict of living and working as a Swiss, but still feel, in his case, as a Turkish, when he’s sitting with his family. I know this conflict myself. My husband is Egyptian. And where we live, there are families from Turkey, Iraq, Kosovo, Sri Lanka, Syria, and some Swiss too. A mix of cultures. And I love it. When you’re willing to meet all these people, it is really fascinating how it opens your eyes to the world.
By Don Helin
Les Edgerton’s novel, THE GENUINE, IMITATION, PLASTIC KIDNAPPING, is a mix of Cajun gumbo, a couple tablespoons of kinky sex, and a dash of unusual New Orleans settings. The reader follows the comic mis-adventures of Pete Halliday, busted out of baseball for a small gambling problem, Tommy LeClerc, a Cajun with a tiny bit of Indian blood who considers himself a “red man,” and Cat Duplaisir, a part-time hooker and full-time waitress. With both the Italian and Cajun mobs after them, a chase through Jazz Fest, a Tourette’s outbreak in a black bar, and other zany adventures, all seems lost.
Les Edgerton has an unconventional background in that he’s an ex-con, having spent a bit over two years in prison for burglary, armed robbery, strong-armed robbery, and possession with intent to sell. He’s since taken a vow of poverty (became a writer) with eighteen books in print.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Les the other day and ask him a few questions.
Is that anything special you’d like to tell us about your novel?
This novel began life as a short story titled, I Shoulda Seen a Credit Arranger published in The South Carolina Review, which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. I liked the story and the characters so much, I decided to expand it into a novel. I’ve also written a screenplay based on it. The screenplay was named a finalist in both the Writer’s Guild and Best of Austin’s screen writing competitions.
Did any particular event inspire the plot?
While much of my life was spent as an outlaw—did time in prison, etc.—I did have stretches of being a “straight” (regular guy on the street). During one of those periods, I sold life insurance and one of the tenets of that business is a concept called “the million dollars on the kitchen table.” It refers to the mindset that most folks have when they’re being sold a policy. The million dollar policy is just an abstract figure, and it’s a goal for salesmen to move as many of these as possible. The trick of the salesman is to get customers to imagine a million dollars sitting on the kitchen table, rather than just an abstract number… and that’s when you make the sale.
It seems mystery is more mysterious and thrills more thrilling if set in a foreign place and time. Anyone who doesn’t believe that hasn’t read Joe Gannon’s impressive debut novel, NIGHT OF THE JAGUAR.
The novel is set in Nicaragua in 1986, the mid-point for the Sandinista revolution. That volatile environment shaped Captain Ajax Montoya, homicide detective and classic man-without-a-country. Montoya, the novel’s investigator protagonist, was conceived in Nicaragua but born and raised in America. So even after fighting for years with the Sandinista revolutionaries he was still neither Nicaraguan nor American. Neither, yet both, and as Gannon explains, a classic noir hero.
“Like all such detectives he has a flawless moral compass,” Gannon says. “It always points true north, but that is both curse and, well, pretty much just curse. But he is the last one on earth who would view himself a hero. In fact, much of what others see as heroic he sees as a source of shame: killing and sending others to their deaths.”
Much of that killing was for a good cause, the overthrow of tyranny, but that is no solace to a man living with the damage done to his soul from so much sustained violence. So when a corpse turns up in a poor barrio it shakes Montoya to his core.
By Ian Walkley
DEATH SENTENCES (from Crime Wave Press) had me at page one, and not many other novels would I say that about. Michael Zimecki writes fiction, nonfiction and plays while continuing to work as an attorney. From inner-city Detroit, hehas been a steelworker, advertising copywriter, medical editor, and teacher before taking up law. He has written for Harper’s Magazine, The National Law Journal, College English, and The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, among other publications.
A novella, The History of My Final Illness (Eclectica Magazine, Jan/Feb 2011), about the last five days in the life of Joseph Stalin, appeared in Eclectica Magazine. A play, Negative Velocity, about the father of the atom-bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer, is a past winner of the New Playwright’s Contest of the Fremont Center Theatre.
In DEATH SENTENCES, we have the story of Peter “Pop” Popovich—an unemployed glazier, anti-Semite, and white supremacist who is pushed over the edge by his problem-plagued mother, an unresponsive lover, an uncaring stepfather, and the right-wing media hate machine that tells him liberals want to take away his guns and his liberty. While he waits to be executed for his crimes, “Pop” pens a novel about life on Death Row in which he reprises the crimes that landed him there.
Michael, you clearly have some views about American society and politics that you convey through your fiction (very cleverly, I might add). How did you come to choose “Pop” as the way to do this in your debut novel?
I wanted to get inside a mind that believes the lies broadcast by the American right-wing noise machine and see what it is like to inhabit it for a while. It’s a scary place. I can tell you that. It’s also very real. If it wasn’t, kids like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown wouldn’t be shot to death in places like Sanford, Florida and Ferguson, Missouri.
By Dan Levy
It was the late W.C. Fields who said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.” Fortunately, many writers never got that message and, as a result, wrote many great things after struggling to get published.
J.J. White is among the authors who either didn’t get the message from, or just plain ignored, Mr. Fields. In fact, after seven fiction manuscripts and over 250 short stories, PRODIGIOUS SAVANT is White’s debut novel. “You have to be persistent in everything you do, no matter what age you are.”
At 61, White would be the first to tell you that he’s not really wired toward the conventional. He still surfs in the ocean, has kept his liberal leanings, and listens to Top 40/Contemporary music (unless his wife hears Rihanna, then she changes it). What’s more, unlike most authors, White had neither a penchant for writing or a mentor to inspire him at a young age.
White wrote and submitted a short story to his high school composition teacher who, after grading the story, suggested to White, “Good story. Please learn how to write.” He didn’t.
Decades past, and one day White found himself out for a week with a back injury. “During that week, I said to myself Why don’t you start writing? I was like Forrest Gump who started running for no reason. I started writing for no reason and got hooked.”
And it paid off. PRODIGIOUS SAVANT is set in 1962 Burlington, Vermont, where seventeen-year-old Gavin Weaver survives a dreadful explosion, six hours of brain surgery, and thirty days in a coma. He wakes possessing not just one savant talent, but several, including art, music, mathematics, and memory, and all without suffering any of the usual mental disabilities associated with head trauma. Even in the pre-cable TV/Internet era, Gavin quickly becomes a global sensation. The notoriety puts a murderer on his tail, while his newfound abilities, which seem like a gift, are coalescing into a madness that is robbing Gavin of reason and reality. The odds are slim he will survive both the internal and external conflicts that keep him from the one thing he wants most, the girl he’s loved since childhood.
If there’s something readers love more than a fresh read in their favorite genre, it’s two fresh reads. Stark House Press has delivered just that for mystery fans with its double-shot combination now available by new author Rick Ollerman featuring a pair of crime novels, TURNABOUT and SHALLOW SECRETS. Recently, THE BIG THRILL caught up with Rick and asked him to share some of his thoughts about writing along with some tidbits about his two-for-one mystery debut.
Congratulations on the publication of your two novels, TURNABOUT & SHALLOW SECRETS (published in one combined volume by Stark House Press). It’s impossible not to notice that both of these stories are set in Florida. How important is setting to your writing?
I once read an introduction to a Ross Macdonald that described Southern California as if it were another character in his books. I think that’s really true. What I did with TURNABOUT was make it my “Florida book,” meaning it could only take place in Florida. You have the Ten Thousand Islands, the Everglades, alligators, crocodiles, seemingly every insect known to North America, and a rich “tradition” of smuggling, poaching, and other illegal moneymaking opportunities. Ninety percent of the birds in the Everglades were wiped out long ago, when there was a demand for feathers for women’s hats. After a hurricane and a flood, the governor of the state tried to actually drain the Everglades. Now you’ve got Big Sugar sucking the nutrients out of the soil upstream, you have Miami encroaching constantly into the edges of what is otherwise the last and greatest wilderness area in the country.
An FBI agent once told me that if you took all the drug money out of Florida, the city of Miami would collapse. That’s how important the drug trade was to that part of the state—the invention of air conditioning made the area livable and the importation of dope made it rich.
Setting is always important, no matter where it is, but in TURNABOUT I use the features of the state to follow a plot that could only happen there. SHALLOW SECRETS is a bit different; I’d already written my “Florida book.” The last kind of writer I’d like to be is one who writes the same book over and over again. You can’t hide from your style but you can keep from templating your plots and characters. SHALLOW SECRETS takes place across a span of years with a series of killings that bring down a cop when it turns out that not only did the killer know him personally, he’d been his roommate for a while. During the time of the killings. When he was caught, he tries to implicate the cop and the resulting mess just became something the cop needed to walk away from. It didn’t matter what he said or did, people would always wonder….
For New York Times best-selling novelist Alan Jacobson, creating his recurring protagonist FBI Agent Karen Vail was an accident.
“I needed an FBI agent in a novel I was writing and she kind of came right off my fingertips. She exploded from the pages and I couldn’t write her lines fast enough. I knew I had something special there. During that time, I had started doing research with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. A short time later, when I began writing THE 7TH VICTIM, the first book in the series, I knew the main character was going to be a female FBI profiler. Karen Vail was perfect for the role and once I started writing that first paragraph, I never looked back. Writing Vail excites me—and it shows,” explained Jacobson, a New York native.
In addition to THE 7TH VICTIM, Vail has also starred in CRUSH, VELOCITY, INMATE 1577, NO WAY OUT, and his latest SPECTRUM(due out Oct. 7). She and her supporting cast appeared in several chapters of HARD TARGET, which featured another one of Jacobson’s recurring characters: Department of Defense black ops agent Hector DeSantos (who debuted in THE HUNTED and joined forces with Vail in VELOCITY) and a new character FBI Agent Aaron Uziel, aka Uzi.
THE 7TH VICTIM was originally intended to be a standalone, according to Jacobson. However, his publisher asked him to consider making Vail a series character, something the author was reluctant about doing.
“I’d seen a number of colleagues get stale writing series, in that after a while they were inadvertently writing the same books over and over. That did not sound appealing to me, so I decided I’d stay away from series . . . until my publisher told me they really wanted me to make Karen Vail a recurring character because of the tremendous advance response they’d gotten from the sales reps and booksellers. I explained my concerns and told them I’d have to think about it,” recalled Jacobson. “After a week of navel gazing, I figured out a way to keep Vail—and thus me—fresh from book to book. My goal was to write a different story each year while remaining true to the character, retaining what we all love about Karen Vail yet allowing her to grow over time. Six years and six novels later, I’m very glad my publisher urged me to continue with Vail because I love each one of her stories. In many ways, that series has changed—and certainly defined—my career.”
Lisa Black writes what she knows. Like her heroine, Theresa MacLean, she is a crime scene investigator, a forensics specialist who collects and analyzes the physical evidence that will help convict the guilty. In her forensics thriller series, though, she lets Theresa take an active role in tracking down killers, while always striving to keep the stories as realistic as possible.
Lisa is now a forensic scientist for a police department in Florida, but she sets her novels in Cleveland, where she worked previously. In CLOSE TO THE BONE, the latest in the series, Theresa faces death and destruction in the one place where she’s always felt safest: the quiet coroner’s office where she has worked for the last fifteen years. Returning late at night with evidence collected from a crime scene, she finds one colleague missing and another dead—with the word “Confess” written on a wall in his blood. Deeply shaken but determined to do her professional best for her co-workers, Theresa throws herself into her job. Soon she finds a link to another death ten years before. As more staff members die, Theresa realizes she is an integral part of the killer’s scheme and must work against the clock to uncover the truth about what happened all those years ago and save herself from becoming another victim.
Recently Lisa talked to THE BIG THRILL about why she brought murder so close to home for Theresa, why she sets her books in Cleveland, and other aspects of her writing as well as her day job. She also provided a tantalizing hint of what might lie ahead for Theresa after the devastating events of this novel.
CLOSE TO THE BONE is a perfect title for a story in which Theresa MacLean’s workplace colleagues are being murdered and she could also be a target. What inspired you to start killing off people who work in the forensics department?
I try to keep the books very true-to-life, and give an accurate portrayal of how things actually work in the field of forensics. Despite that, my forensic scientist always seems to spend more time out of the lab than in it, which is not at all realistic, so I thought if I could set a story right in the lab, that problem would solve itself. Besides, what better way to make my character vitally, and very personally, involved?
By Azam Gill
Light-handed satire with a light touch within a noir framework held up by unforgettable characters and an original theme readies Rob Brunet’s STINKING RICH for possible cult status. To quote award-winning author Les Edgerton, Brunet’s novel is “part THE GANG THAT COULDN`T SHOOT STRAIGHT, part Serge Storms on LSD, part Raising Arizona.”
While the satire works its magic, at heart STINKING RICH remains a spellbinding yarn. Here’s a short summary: What could possibly go wrong when the backwoods Libidos Motorcycle Club hires a high school dropout to tend a barn full of high-grade marijuana? Plenty, it turns out. In a world where indoor plumbing is optional and each local wacko is more twisted than the last, drug money draws reprobates like moths to a lantern. And each and every one of them wants a shot at being stinking rich—any way he can get it.
Rob Brunet’s award-winning short crime fiction has appeared or will appear in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, and Out of the Gutter. Before taking up writing, Brunet produced award-winning websites for film and TV, including sites for Lost, Sin City, and the cult series Alias. In an exclusive interview for THE BIG THRILL, Brunet talks about himself, his writing, and his interests
Let’s start with a brief introduction.
An Ottawa native, I’ve spent my life living and working in central Canada, with a five-year stint in Montreal and the last two decades in and around Toronto. I grew up expecting to write. By the time I was eight, teachers told me I had a gift, but that’s true of most writers, isn’t it? It’s in us forever? As for work, to call me independent would be an understatement. I lasted all of six weeks in university, quitting to join an Internet start-up in some guy’s living room. In 1982, more than a decade before the “Web” was born.
Palumbo’s fourth novel in the series, PHANTOM LIMB, opens with psychologist and Pittsburgh police department consultant Daniel Rinaldi’s new patient: Lisa Campbell, a local girl whose lurid, short-lived Hollywood career sent her scurrying back to the Steel City. Now married to one of the city’s richest tycoons, she comes to Danny’s office with a challenge: talk her out of committing suicide. Though he buys some time, she’s kidnapped right outside his office. The search for Lisa pits the police—and Danny—against a lethal adversary. At the same time, he tries to assist a friend’s brother, a bitter Afghan vet who lost a leg in combat, whose own life now appears at risk. Or is it?
Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (including My Favorite Year and Welcome Back, Kotter), Dennis Palumbo is now a licensed psychotherapist and author. His acclaimed series of crime novels (MIRROR IMAGE, FEVER DREAM, NIGHT TERRORS and the upcoming PHANTOM LIMB) feature psychologist Daniel Rinaldi, a trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh police. All are from Poisoned Pen Press.
You’ve had a fascinating career—screenwriter to psychotherapist to novelist. As a psychotherapist, do you find this background provides insights into human behavior and/or helps develop the hero, villain, and perhaps the victim in your novels?
Definitely! I think the merging of my two careers—seventeen years as a TV/film writer and nearly three decades as a psychotherapist—has benefitted both the writing in general, and my exploration of human behavior in particular. Certainly my ongoing study of trauma has contributed to my understanding of the psychological issues with which the crime victims in my novels grapple. As for my hero, psychologist and trauma expert Daniel Rinaldi, my experience as a therapist in private practice—as well as time spent working in clinics and a psychiatric hospital—has given me a unique perspective on what might motivate a guy like him. As it turns out, he and I share a lot of the same ideas about the flaws in the mental health system and how psychotherapy is practiced. Go figure.
By J. N. Duncan
As the head of the crime news unit for Channel Three News in Finland, Jarkko Sipila has a unique perspective on the lives of those who work to fight crime, and offers this in his realistic procedural series, Helsinki Homicide. DARLING is now the fifth of his Finnish crime series to be published in English. So, let’s get to finding out more about Finnish crime.
Can you give us a quick sentence or two about what your new Helsinki Homicide story, DARLING, is about?
This is a ruggedly realistic, police procedural story about the murder of a twenty-six-year old, slightly mentally handicapped woman in her apartment in Northern Helsinki.
This is the fifth English Helsinki Homicide book to reach the U.S. While I understand the stories are stand-alone books, there is obviously some ongoing character stories and development that occurs. Can you tell us a little about that?
The main characters are the same in all the books. Detective Lieutenant Kari Takamaki is the leading character. He’s a work-oriented family man. The other two main characters are Anna Joutsamo, a single woman in her late 30s, who usually truly leads the investigation and an undercover cop, Suhonen, who really feels at home with thugs and bikers.
I try to describe the work of real policemen, so their private lives have never really been the main focus in the stories.
Interestingly in the Finnish tv-series on the books, Joutsamo and Suhonen had a relationship, although I’ve never written that into the stories.
Being (or having been) involved in reporting crime news in Finland, what do you feel this background brings to your crime writing? What sort of edge do you feel this gives you in developing your stories?
If I wasn’t a crime journalist, I would’ve never written crime novels. Following the real stories really helps with the realism and making the fiction believable. One of the main ideas in writing these Helsinki Homicide stories is that they are fiction, but could really happen.
Early on Ethan Cross knew he wanted to be a writer. With a partially finished screenplay in high school, he contemplated a move to California to pursue a career in the film industry, and then threw it over for a more promising profession—music. A parent’s nightmare! And, yet, he succeeded. Opening for national recording artists as a lead singer and guitar player, recording a few CDs—but the stories just wouldn’t leave him alone.
His dream came to fruition on a grand scale with the release of his first book, THE SHEPHERD. An international bestseller, he followed it up with four more great titles. Now, his latest book, the third installment of The Shepherd series, FATHER OF FEAR has hit the bookshelves.
To give you a snapshot, in FATHER OF FEAR a father returns home to find his family has been kidnapped and the only way to save their lives is for him to kill another innocent person.
So begins a journey that will force Special Agent Marcus Williams of the Shepherd Organization to question all that he believes, unearth his family`s dark legacy, and sacrifice everything to save those he loves. In order to stop the serial murderer whom the media has dubbed the Coercion Killer, Williams must enlist the help of one of the world`s most infamous and wanted men: the serial killer Francis Ackerman Jr.
The praise for the Shepherd series comes from greats such as #1 New York Times bestselling author Andrew Gross, who said about The Shepherd, “A fast paced, all too real thriller with a villain right out of James Patterson and Criminal Minds.” THE BIG THRILL was lucky enough to catch up with Ethan Cross to ask a few questions.
I read in your long bio that you grew up as the youngest in your family, so far behind your older siblings that you were in many ways raised as an only child. An only child myself, I know how you have to learn to entertain yourself. Was making up stories part of that entertainment?
By Tim O’Mara
“All right,” I said as we both settled into a new booth a few moments after the waiter spilled milk on the signed copy of his Robert B. Parker novel. “You’re probably tired of talking about it, so you get to make one statement about taking over the Jesse Stone series.”
Reed Farrel Coleman leaned back and smiled. “You know,” he began in that gravelly voice that sounds as if he’s ordering one more slice of pizza, “everyone loves Spenser. People look at him like he’s the Everyman: the boxer, the PI. But Jesse’s more like most people. He struggles with the stuff a lot of us struggle with: drinking, relationships, regrets. And he’s got the regrets most of us can relate to. His failed marriage, the baseball career cut short by injury, lost opportunities. We all have that woman who got away, that job we didn’t get, something we said that we wish we could take back.”
In the past six weeks, I’d read Coleman’s HOLLOW GIRL; the last Moe Prager novel; BLIND SPOT,his first in Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series; and ONION STREET, the novel that shows us how Moe became a cop. In that order. It’s very clear that Reed is a writer who understands regret.
“Man,” he said, “I took on all my parents’ foibles. I was a resenter, a regretter, I was jealous. It took me eight years of therapy to work that out. I moved to Milwaukee to to be with a woman. Probably the worst decision I ever made, but it made me realize at the age of twenty-one, I needed help.”
Twenty-one? That’s kind of early too figure something like that out.
“I was always introspective. I’ve been writing poetry since I was twelve. But I was a quitter.” His voice took on a retrospective tone. “Back in high school, I was the long snapper for the football team. I was good. One time in a big game, I snapped the ball over the punter’s head. And I decided it was time to quit. Like I said, I was good at it, but I was afraid of failure. I got that from my dad.”
I pointed out the obvious: quitters don’t become novelists.
By Steph Cha
J.T. Ellison is a seasoned thriller writer with more than a dozen novels holstered to her belt. She’s written both series and standalones, made bestseller lists and won accolades, including the 2010 ITW Thriller Award for best paperback original for her novel THE COLD ROOM. In her latest venture (one of them, anyway), she’s teamed up with the formidable Catherine Coulter, for the Nicholas Drummond series, about a Brit in the FBI. THE FINAL CUT came out last year and sold like thriller-stamped hotcakes, and the sequel THE LOST KEY hits stores this month.
J.T. took time out of her busy thriller-cranking schedule to talk collaboration, discipline, and White House gaffes.
I’ll start with the most obvious question—what’s it like collaborating on a novel, and with Catherine Coulter in particular? Enquiring lonely writers want to know.
It’s awesome. Absolutely one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. I wasn’t in the market to co-write, and I wouldn’t have done it with just anyone. But I’ve been a huge Catherine Coulter fan my whole life. I’ve been reading her books—both romances and thrillers—since well before I wanted to be a writer. The opportunity to work with one of my all-time favorite writers was impossible to pass up. And as it happens, it’s bigger and better than I could have ever hoped. Not only am I getting a Ph.D. in writing, we have a real synchronicity together that leads to heights of creativity we’d never find ourselves. We’re downright combustible together.
Writing is supposed to be a lonely occupation, but I’ve always had creative people around me that make me better, from my first critique group, to beta readers and editors, and now Catherine. They do it in screenwriting, so why not novels?
THE LOST KEY is the second in your Brit in the FBI series, featuring new agent Nicholas Drummond. How did you go about doing research for this novel? Did you and Catherine divvy it up?
I do a lot more research than Catherine simply because she’s got a Master’s in early 19th Century history, and a career of research behind her for both her historicals and her FBI thrillers, and I’m playing catch up. For THE LOST KEY, we spent a lot of time working on the story together, doing a pretty comprehensive outline, then I went off and worked on the actual writing, and did most of the research on the fly as I went. It was incredibly broad for this book, including a research trip to Scotland to get everything just right. My kind of research, actually, the hands-on work.
Kelli Stanley is easy to spot in any gathering, with her friendly smile and one of her trademark fedoras perched atop blond hair. She’s a thoroughly modern woman—but she has made her name as a novelist by living in the past.
Kelli arrived on the mystery scene with NOX DORMIENDA (“a long night of sleeping”), set in Roman Britain and featuring Arcturus, a half-British, half-Roman doctor who ferreted out killers as a sort of Philip Marlowe in ancient times. This “Roman noir” debut won the Bruce Alexander Award for Best Historical Novel and earned Kelli a Certificate of Honor for literary achievement from her hometown of San Francisco. Following THE CURSE-MAKER, the sequel to NOX DORMIENDA, she fast-forwarded in time to 1940 and created Miranda Corbie, the San Francisco-based protagonist Library Journal has called “one of crime’s most arresting heroines.”
With her beauty, her stylish suits and hats and impeccable grooming, she might be the femme fatale who shows up at Marlowe’s door in search of help, but in Kelli Stanley’s noir world Miranda is the one with the gun and the private eye license. She’s a woman with a troubled past that is far from dead, but she knows how to protect her vulnerable core and she doesn’t hesitate to stand up for those who can’t defend themselves.
In CITY OF GHOSTS, the third series entry (after CITY OF DRAGONS and CITY OF SECRETS), the time is June of 1940, France has fallen to the Nazis, and U.S. involvement in the war seems inevitable. The State Department official who helped Miranda get her P.I. license arrives in her office to collect on the debt: he wants her to track a San Francisco chemistry professor who may be spying for the Nazis. This assignment, which coincides with the murder of her latest client, could get Miranda killed, but she accepts because the payoff would be passage to bomb-ravaged England, where she believes she will find her long-missing mother. Her desire to find her mother, and learn the truth about her disappearance, drives Miranda on as she investigates her client’s death and Nazi activities on U.S. soil and eventually finds herself framed for murder.
Recently Kelli talked about her memorable heroine and the challenges of writing historical fiction set in her own hometown.
By George Ebey
Author Lee Thompson brings us a tale of crime and suspense in his latest novel, A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS.
The story unfolds when a Texas senator and his wife go missing … On the same day, their son is slaughtered by an enigmatic killer on the lawn of ex-Governor Edward Wood’s residence. Sammy, Wood’s drug dealing son, suspects his father of the crime. After all, his old man snapped once before and crippled his wife with a lead pipe. In direct opposition to Homicide Detective Jim Thompson, Sammy begins an investigation of his own, searching for the truth in a labyrinth of lies, deception, depravity, and violence that drags him deeper into darkness and mayhem with each step. And in doing so, brings them all into the sights of an elusive and horrifying killer who may not be what he seems.
We recently caught up with Thompson to find out more about A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS and to get his insight into what elements make up the best crime and suspense fiction.
Let’s talk about the genesis of your story. Where did your inspiration for A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS come from?
A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS started with an image of a rainy day and someone dumping a body on a shamed ex-governor’s lawn while he sits drinking beer on his porch.
From the beginning, I wanted to mess with perception by having my narrator, Sammy—who is biased and conditioned by the people he grew up around and his father’s dark history—share a story built from Sammy’s sister Delilah’s experience, along with a detective named Jim Thompson, and through pilfering the journal of a killer the police had dubbed the Wolverine. It’s all after-the-fact, although the reader doesn’t know how far into the future.
Writing just seemed like a natural career move for Alan Brenham, former U.S. Treasury special agent, patrol officer, criminal prosecutor, criminal defense attorney, and a current reserve deputy sheriff. His first novel, PRICE OF JUSTICE, received the Best in Police/Crime Fiction Award from the Texas Association of Authors 2012–2013 and was a finalist for the 2014 International Book Awards and the Eric Hoffer Award’s The da Vinci Eye, as well as the 2013 Beverly Hills Book Award.
Now, his second novel, CORNERED, due out in July, is launching to great acclaim. Kirkus Review, for one, praised it as “A rock-solid thriller….multiple scenes of nail-biting intensity…first-rate crime fiction…”
Perhaps the most gratifying comment comes from one of Brenham’s favorite authors, Michael McGarrity, New York Times bestselling author of HARD COUNTRY and BACKLANDS: “Alan Brenham’s CORNERED is a taunt thriller filled with murderous twists and turns that will satisfy readers who love good crime fiction. As a cop and a lawyer, Brenham has been there and done that and in this, his second outing, the authenticity of his storytelling ability continues to shine through.”
In CORNERED, not wanting history to repeat itself, Detective Matt Brady struggles to solve a case involving the disappearances of seven young women, but he quickly finds himself pitted against a criminal organization that knows as much about police procedure as he does—an organization that will do whatever it takes to stay one step ahead of him. Haunted by the memory of a kidnapping case gone wrong, Brady must now discover what happened to seven missing women, plus a murder. He is sure the cases were connected, but how?
By Dan Levy
During a time when the favored attire of anti-heroes can range from a wife-beater T-shirt soaked with blood and caked with gunshot residue to whatever the nearest Wal-Mart carries to militia gear and camo paint, it’s nice to see certain heroes emerge that still value a suit.
And not a jump suit, flight suit, or space suit. In the case of TERMINAL LIFE: A SUITED HERO NOVEL, the business suit is the hero’s attire of choice. You know, the kind that spawned the pejorative “a suit” to describe a group of men usually painted as ego-inflated idiots, inept law enforcement, or establishment types that are not to be trusted.
For Luke Stark, the protagonist in TERMINAL LIFE, author Richard Torregrossa explained the power of the suit: “[Exploring] the mythic quality of the suit interested me. It’s all [Stark] has, and it empowers him. It’s like Superman’s cape.”
By giving the business suit meaning, Torregrossa not only adds depth to a protagonist that is a composite of his favorite anti-heroes, it enabled him to tap into a subject for which he is already a bestselling author and expert. This is evidenced in his book, CARY GRANT: A CELEBRATION OF STYLE.
Following the success of his style book, Torregrossa moved into thriller fiction to pursue his love for action stories—Jason Statham movies and Ken Bruin novels among the most influential—and explore storytelling beyond the constraints of nonfiction. “Fiction is what I always wanted to write, but I didn’t have the skills. After years of being a journalist and then writing the Cary Grant book, I thought I was ready to take a shot at fiction.”
By Ethan Cross
Steve Attridge’s work has been described as “Brilliant…thought-provoking, dark, and very, very funny.”With THE NATURAL LAW, his fifteenth book, the bestselling and award-winning author continues the string of success with another exceptional book, this one featuring protagonist Paul Rook.
Rook is a philosopher and a crime investigator, but he only works for criminals. He finds them more interesting and he has a secret agenda. When a criminal client of his is brutally murdered his investigations take him into a murky world of government conspiracies and a bizarre community of lost souls living rough beneath a London Bridge.
Tell us about THE NATURAL LAW in one line.
The murder of a petty criminal leads Paul Rook, investigator and philosopher, into a world of murky politics, violence, personal crisis and strange friendships.
What kind of research did you conduct for THE NATURAL LAW?
I read and re-read key philosophical works which are important to the main character, the way he sees the world, and the crimes he deals with. The main one was Aquinas’s Natural Law, hence the title. I read a fair bit online and in newspapers about the abuse of arms and military security trades, especially in a political context. I revisited parliament to get the sensory detail. I also got out my Prague maps, holiday photos and diary to get a bit of local detail. I try to use background reading to inform character, not to impress the reader. As a reader, I like well chosen telling detail rather than pages of exposition and description, so I try to practice that in my own work. Less is usually more.
By Jeff Ayers
Fans of the AMC series The Killing will be thrilled to hear that Karen Dionne has written an original novel based on the critically acclaimed show. When firefighters respond to a suspected meth explosion at a trailer park, they discover a man’s body in a neighboring trailer, unburned but with terrible head wounds. The meth cooker lies in critical condition, and undercover narcotics officer Stephen Holder feels a kinship with the child the man leaves behind. Then another man’s body is discovered in a shipping container at the Port of Seattle, shot execution-style. For Homicide Detective Sarah Linden, two cases soon become one, and she must unravel a complex web of addiction, greed, and betrayal to reveal a killer.
Dionne’s riveting adaptation is sure to please The Killing’s many loyal fans, but it works just as well as a standalone if you’ve never watched a single episode. That should come as no surprise. Dionne’s skill as a storyteller and writer is well known. She’s the author of two incredible environmental thrillers (BOILING POINT and RT Book Reviews Best First Mystery nominee FREEZING POINT). And, among her many achievements, Dionne was previously the Managing Editor of THE BIG THRILL, helping build the magazine to what it is today. With THE KILLING: UNCOMMON DENOMINATOR, she’s once again receiving rave reviews. Aunt Agatha’s Bookstore, which doesn’t mince words, praised Dionne’s “smooth and meticulous story telling,” and called the book, “[a] terrific read . . . with good plot twists, red herrings, and heartbreaking details essential to any good noir.”
Dionne recently took some time to chat with THE BIG THRILL.
Could you talk about the “Point” novels? How did those come about?
I’ve always loved thrillers set in the real world that include a dash of science—Michael Crichton and Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child are early influences—so when I started writing, I naturally gravitated toward those kind of books.
My first novel, FREEZING POINT, is about a solar energy company that wants to melt Antarctic icebergs into drinking water to help alleviate the world’s fresh water shortage, but things go horribly wrong. Think Jurassic Park on ice.
BOILING POINT elevates two of the secondary characters from FREEZING POINT into major roles, and is about an erupting volcano, a missing researcher, and a radical scheme to end global warming involving geoengineering. I traveled to the Chaitén Volcano in Northern Patagonia, Chile, to research the book a year after the volcano erupted. The volcano was still on Red Alert, but my guide arranged lodging for me in Chaitén, even though the town was evacuated and without electricity and running water, and took me to within one mile of the new lava dome, where I saw steam vents, heard explosive noises coming from the caldera, and felt a small earthquake. It was an amazing and awe inspiring experience that really informed the book.
Berkley brought out both novels in mass-market paperback, and FREEZING POINT was also published in Germany and the Czech Republic. Both novels are currently available in electronic versions only.
When a lethal sniper kills four people on Boston Common, local homicide detective Mike Houston and his partner Anne Bouchard are sent to investigate the case. Amidst the blood and terror, detective Houston discovers similarities—the killer’s positioning, his choice of victims, and his apparent code of “ethics”—between the crime scene and his own training as a US Marine scout/sniper. And with the staging of the scene set for prime shock value, Houston has to wonder what it is this murderer intends to accomplish.
The connection is later confirmed in the worst possible way when the sniper strikes again, this time killing Houston’s ex-wife, severing what’s left of the bond between Houston and his estranged daughter, Susie. It’s time to settle scores, and as the death toll rises, Houston and Bouchard will stop at nothing to find the merciless killer who’s making a mockery of their department.
In a final gesture of cat and mouse depravity, the killer kidnaps Susie, luring Houston to an island on a remote lake in Maine for a sniper face-off.
Writing historical crime fiction obviously requires that a huge amount of time and effort be spent on researching the location and era your characters will be inhabiting before you can even come close to creating the lives they will be leading and the challenges, characters, and crimes they will encounter. Once you complete your research, you then have to toss most of it out the window, leaving just enough to convince your readers that what is happening is really happening in that place and time. Trying to cram most of that research in to the story to justify the time spent can kill a story deader than the girl they drag out of the lake at the start of ST KILDA BLUES.
ST KILDA BLUES, the third book in my Charlie Berlin series, is set in Melbourne, Australia, in 1967, taking place in and around the shabby, bayside, red-light district suburb that gives the novel its title. Charlie Berlin is a police detective and former World War II bomber pilot who served in combat in Europe with the RAF. An ex-POW, he survived not only the loss of his bomber and crew over Germany but also the horror of a forced march through winter blizzards in Poland in 1945. Today Berlin would be diagnosed as suffering from PTSD, but in 1945 he and men like him were simply demobilized and sent home, advised to forget what they had been through and witnessed and told to just get on with their lives. Charlie is mostly successful at this, but from time to time his tenuous grasp on reality slips and he finds himself back on a snow-covered road in Poland and witness to the shockingly casual murder of a young woman there. One reviewer summed Detective Sergeant Berlin up nicely as a decent but damaged man, but also a survivor.
In ST KILDA BLUES, Berlin finds stuck in a rut with little chance of further promotion, and gets roped into an unofficial investigation involving several missing girls because the father of the latest victim has political connections. While Charlie has his demons to fight, I decided early on in the series to give him a mostly happy home life with a supportive though independent wife and a couple of less-than-perfect kids to love and worry about. Woven through the story of the crime, the political infighting, the future of Berlin’s wife’s career as a photographer, his hopes and plans for his children, is the back story of the killer and some rather unpleasant facts about a post-war British child migration scheme that sent orphans to Australia, where many were exploited and abused. There is also a disturbing chance encounter along the way that threatens to unhinge Berlin, upsetting the delicately balanced life of denial he has constructed for himself and releasing sublimated self-destructive aspects of his character.
By J. H. Bográn
Handwriting expert Claudia Rose is back in another installment of the award-winning Forensic Handwriting Mysteries series. In INKSLINGERS BALL, Rose’s troubled young friend Annabelle Giordano has a secret tattoo that could get her killed. Claudia joins forces with her LAPD detective lover Joel Jovanic, who uncovers a tantalizing fragment of handwriting that has the potential to break several cases wide open. Meanwhile, Joel must also find a way to keep his personal life on track while facing a firebombing, a young girl found dead in a dumpster, and the disappearance of an investigative journalist.
Author Sheila Lowe gracefully agreed to let THE BIG THRILL probe her thoughts on her new release.
How did the idea for INKSLINGERS BALL come about?
I seem to always start with the title. Several years ago, my older son, a tattoo artist, asked me to order him some supplies online. Poking around the supplier’s website I noticed an announcement for a long-ago tattoo convention called the Inkslingers Ball. The “perfect title” light went on in my head. The phrase was a natural for my Forensic Handwriting Mysteries: POISON PEN, WRITTEN IN BLOOD, DEAD WRITE, and LAST WRITES. Notice a theme?
But writing the book took a lot longer than expected. While I was working on LAST WRITES, my editor left Penguin and her replacement dropped my series. My agent felt she wouldn’t be able to place a series in the middle with another publisher, so I took a detour and wrote WHAT SHE SAW, a standalone novel of suspense about a young woman with amnesia. Not wanting my readers to forget my series characters, I gave them a secondary but important role in the book. Then WHAT SHE SAW was released and it was time to resurrect that perfect title, INKSLINGERS BALL, and create a story around it. By then I had parted ways with my agent and bonded with Suspense Publishing, who was happy to pick up the next in the series.
By John Darrin
So far, I have counted thirty-one interviews of New Zealand author Cat Connor in the publishsphere. Every one of them starts with some derivative of “I’m really excited to …” That research got me pretty excited, too. Who was this woman who can get thirty-one jaded interviewers excited? And why did one of them refer to her as “bikini-less”?
So I was really looking forward to this interview. Brought my camera. I even tried to come up with some questions she hadn’t been asked before. That turned out to be easier than I thought because they all asked the same questions, and she only had to change the adjectives in her answers to be original. Not gonna work with me. So I asked my unique and probing questions, and you know what I found out? This: “I’m just me. The person who cleans up after kids and picks up dog poop while walking the hound.”
So there, all you other interviewers! I got the real Cat, on the record.
And when I pointed out the bikini-less thing, she just said she “certainly wasn’t wearing a bikini therefore, technically I am bikini-less.” Hard to argue with that, although I wanted to.
Cat has written a bunch of books and has been included in many anthologies, and the reason THE BIG THRILL dragged me away from my frenetic life in my trailer somewhere in Canada is the imminent launch of her seventh book in the Byte series, DATABYTE. Here’s the blurb:
This month Reed Farrel Coleman closes out one of the great private eye series. In Moe Prager’s ninth case, THE HOLLOW GIRL, Coleman takes his detective out in grand style.
The case appears simple at first. A woman from Prager’s past hires him to find her missing daughter, who was known as the “Hollow Girl” on the Internet. But the case becomes confusing when no one actually seems to be missing. Then Prager finds a woman’s dead body.
In some ways, Prager is a typical hardboiled private eye. After ten years as a New York City cop, an injury forced him into retirement so he decided to become a detective. But unlike many of his peers, Prager has grown and matured over the course of the series. And throughout, he is the deep, moral kind of protagonist we can both like and respect.
“He is fiercely loyal, loving, and tough,” Coleman says. “He struggles with his Judaism, and is extremely philosophical about life and death. I think anyone would be lucky to have him as a friend.”
However, Prager never sees himself as a hero. In Coleman’s words, Prager believes in heroic acts, and in heroism, but not heroes. He does, however, believe in villains, and in these stories they are always deep and three-dimensional.
By Sean Lynch
THE FOURTH MOTIVE was written as a sequel to my debut crime thriller, WOUNDED PREY, published in 2013. I wrote WOUNDED PREY in the mid1980s, when I was a young detective and struggling to come to grips with the depravity of the sexual predators I was hunting. It was both a catharsis and a challenge to write, and it wasn’t until many years later that I had the courage to submit the work to the top thriller agent around, Scott Miller of the powerhouse Trident Media Group. The relentless Scott found a home for my work, and I am eternally grateful to him. WOUNDED PREY is as hard-boiled a book as you’ll find, and not for the timid. As a result, I thought it was a stand-alone novel.
My editor at the time, bestselling author Emlyn Rees, convinced me that the characters and story I’d brought to life in WOUNDED PREY, a salty, burned-out rascal of a former big-city detective, and a green-as-guacamole rural rookie deputy, had some horsepower left in them. Emlyn felt they needed to be further inflicted on the literary world, and convinced me to take on a sequel. So more than a quarter century after writing WOUNDED PREY I completed THE FOURTH MOTIVE, the continuing saga of Farrell and Kearns.
Like WOUNDED PREY, THE FOURTH MOTIVE pays homage to my previous profession of nearly thirty years, and to the crime-thriller genre which influenced my writing.
I grew up on a diet of American-style crime thrillers. I devoured the works of authors like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Robert Parker and Mickey Spillane, and I cut my cinematic teeth on the films of Howard Hawks, John Milius, Walter Hill, and Sam Peckinpah.
Paige Dearth and I sat down at a virtual coffee shop on the streets of Paris (hey, why not?) to chat about her new book, WHEN SMILES FADE.
We want to know about the new book, WHEN SMILES FADE. What’s it about and why do you love it?
My story is about an innocent little girl.
Her name is Emma Murphy and she is unloved from the moment she is born. Her earliest memory is of being beaten by her father, Pepper, at just eight years of age. Beatings endured as a child ultimately lay the foundation of the person Emma becomes. As she matures into a resourceful teenager, she is unwilling and unable to stifle her desire to even the score. Reaching her breaking point, she can no longer control the impulse to take matters into her own hands. Follow Emma’s plight where her menacing thoughts become the answers to her survival. How far will a child go to protect herself and the people she loves? For Emma, it meant becoming a serial killer.
The reason I love WHEN SMILES FADE is because Emma never submits to abusive people. She does whatever it takes to stay alive and doesn’t dwell on the consequences of her actions against the ruthless predators who use cruelty and manipulation against their prey. As far as Emma is concerned, the killings are justified by the crimes her victims commit.
Readers love Emma because, while she is a serial killer, she is also a woman who is desperately seeking to be loved.
I cried and cheered for Emma throughout the writing process. This was a very emotional and exciting book to write.
Making Emma a killer can be tricky business as far as reader empathy. Did you worry about that aspect, and have you received any feedback on it?
Indeed! It was very tricky to make my protagonist a serial killer. In my initial draft, my editor felt there were two kills where the punishment wasn’t justified by the crime and thought my readers could lose empathy for Emma.
In MONTECITO HEIGHTS, Colin Campbell’s hero, Jim Grant aka the Resurrection Man, is drawn into a confluence of the strange spheres that help make up the contemporary American scene—drug cartels, reality television, politics and the porn industry. Thankfully the displaced British cop is up to the challenge.
That swirl of disparate components came about “by one of those happy accidents that often define a story” Campbell said recently. The first Grant adventure, JAMAICA PLAIN, brought the British cop to the U.S. to interview a prisoner in Boston. After being drawn into a race against time to avert a catastrophe, Grant was asked to stay on in the U.S., officially employed by the Boston P.D. but actually working for an unnamed government agency.
Campbell never wanted that stay to be in one place.
“The idea was that he could be used across the U.S., because they could always disown him if he overstepped the mark. So, after Boston it was a case of, where do I send him next? Somewhere different to the East Coast/New England vibe. So, West Coast.”
Campbell had been to Los Angeles for Bouchercon, so L.A. seemed like a nice place for Grant to visit, or a bad place for the sake of story.
“From there it was easy. The movie industry was the obvious first choice. Then I wanted an excuse to layer in added sex. Porn movies. Once those two were in the mix, I needed a reason why Grant was sent to L.A. Protect a senator’s daughter. Then add obstacles. I knew of the Steven Seagal show and thought having a TV producer pursue Grant as the next reality TV star would be a problem for him, but also a possible help. That’s when the strands turned into a rope and the plot took shape.”