As a longtime lover of cinema, Italian author Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli began her writing journey with screenplays. From there, she progressed to fan fiction based on movies—in fact, her first novel was a piece inspired by The Mummy.
Today, the pacing she learned from these iconic films is reflected in her novels. As one might expect from a woman who writes in multiple genres, her reading tastes are eclectic, ranging from Little Women to The Silence of the Lambs.
Although her degree is in biology, Monticelli works as a researcher, scientific and literary translator, freelance web copywriter, and author. Her novels, all of which were originally written in Italian, include L’isola di Gaia (The Isle of Gaia), Affinità d’intenti (Kindred Intentions), Per caso (By Chance), and a science fiction series, Deserto rosso (Red Desert), set on Mars. Her sixth and latest book, THE MENTOR, features a Scotland Yard detective who is both moral and morally flawed, a dichotomy that drives the narrative and gives the story dimension.
Monticelli took time from her busy schedule to answer some questions for The Big Thrill about her writing—and especially about THE MENTOR.
You began your writing journey with screenplays and fan fiction. Where did you go from there?
My first attempt to write original fiction dates back to 2009. I’m a science fiction and thriller fan, so I started writing a cyberpunk techno-thriller titled L’isola di Gaia (The Isle of Gaia). It took me nearly three years to finish that first draft and then I put it aside for a long while. Instead, my adventure in the publishing industry started in 2012 and 2013, when I wrote and self-published a hard science fiction series set on Mars titled Red Desert (the original title is Deserto rosso, but this series is also available in English), which became a Kobo and Amazon bestseller in Italy.
THE MENTOR came just after Red Desert. It was originally published in Italian (IL MENTORE) in May 2014 and immediately started selling very well—so well that in September 2014 Amazon Publishing requested that I sell the English translation rights. Before the end of the same year, I finally published L’isola di Gaia, after a long editing process. Two more novels were published in Italian in 2015.
As you can see, I’m quite a prolific writer. I’m one of the few independent fiction authors in Italy currently living off of their writing.
By Paul McGoran
Paul McGoran is no academic, but his volume of short stories from New Pulp Press, PAYING FOR PAIN, is prefaced with an essay on the noir genre that displays a thoughtful and deeply-considered interest in the theoretical side of crime fiction. In the essay, he identifies five essential elements of noir—crime, obsession, fatalism, perversion, and betrayal. He then announces the theme of his collection as the “geography of noir”—McGoran’s term describing the genre’s predilection for urban settings.
As with any book of short fiction, however, it’s the stories that matter. And PRAYING FOR PAIN contains a quartet of suspenseful noir tales and a 100-page novella titled, No Good Deed. It’s a world peopled with ex-cons, Mafiosi, common thugs, killers, accountants, clerics, models, yachtsmen, society dames and trust-fund layabouts. The upper, middle and lower classes collide in San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami, Newport, Boston and Puerto Vallarta. You’ll be caught in a twisted travelogue that conjures up a dark and peppery vision of the urban experience. Noir fans should love it.
McGoran’s first novel, Made for Murder came out in August 2015, and was featured in the November issue of The Big Thrill. PAYING FOR PAI N is his follow-up volume. A sequel to Made for Murder will debut sometime in 2016.
We noticed none of your stories were set in New York or Los Angeles. How come?
Good catch. Well, those cities are the great instruments fingered and bowed by Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich, Robert Crais, Lawrence Block, and any number of others. I knew I couldn’t improve on their work.
Do you have a different mindset when writing a short story versus a novel?
You know, writing often takes you in unexpected directions. But when I begin what I think will be a short piece, I go for a limited theme, limited setting, and limited time frame. Even so, I have a hard time keeping within the expected word limit. I’ve done short stories as long as 6,500 words. That’s partly why I put a collection together. Magazines seldom want more than 2,500 words, even though every story has its own proper length.
Following two critically acclaimed collections of short fiction, Justin Bog’s novel WAKE ME UP has arrived from Gravity Books. It’s a psychological thriller that unfolds from the point of view of Chris, a small-town teenager who’s sunk into a coma due to a brutal beating.
Set in 2004 in a college-town in Montana, the story unfolds in Chris’s voice from the depths of his coma. He sees how his own wrath and other circumstances led him into harm’s way.
Chris wants—needs—the reader to hear his story so he can wake up.
Just as he did in his award-winning short fiction, which includes the Suspense Magazine award-winning anthology Sandcastle and Other Stories, Bog deploys a deft and thoughtful approach to crime and its aftermath.
Tell us a little about the novel’s origins. What inspired you to tell the story from the point of view of a crime victim in this way?
The narrative conceit came, after a bit of experimentation, with a bolt-of-lightning epiphany, the best kind of creative moment. I began the story with the narrator’s father contemplating something dark in a moment of weakness. I began to answer the question: What brings a husband and father to such a precipice?
The teenage son comes into focus alongside the father’s secretive nature. Because of his father’s powerful secret, Chris acts out in a rage and becomes the victim of a heinous crime. He lays comatose in a small, college-town hospital, and begins to tell the story as a phantom from a black limbo state. With a conscience wise beyond his fifteen years, Chris sees everyone around him and how they dance around their own little secrets. Will he wake up? If he does, whose justice is fair?
Your conceit suggests literary fiction to me. How did it work in a crime-suspense-oriented story?
You’re right, it leans heavily towards literary crime fiction. My favorite novels like The Secret History, The Lovely Bones, and the twisty psychological novels of Gillian Flynn inspired me to take risks with the narrative structure. I call the book a psychological “why-done-it” rather than a “who-done-it,” where revelations of character drive the narrative.
By Anne Tibbets
CITY OF ROSE brings to life the winding streets and wet alleys of Portland, Oregon, where former thug Ash McKenna struggles to rebuild his life, away from his dark past in New York City.
The second installment of Rob Hart’s Ash McKenna series, CITY OF ROSE takes place less than a year after New Yorked, pulling the reader along on a noble quest to find a lost little girl.
CITY OF ROSE is full of action, witty dialogue, and interpersonal struggle. Readers who loved Ash’s direct, and at times brutal tactics in New Yorked will be pleased to see how Ash has learned from his big city trials and tribulations…Mostly.
“The important thing is, he’s always got to believe he’s doing the right thing,” says author Rob Hart. “And the reader has to believe that, for all his poor decisions, Ash is the kind of guy who’s going to throw down and get you back in a bad situation. He means well, and he’s open to growth. I think if I can get that across, the reader will forgive the fact that he’s a bit of an idiot.”
“The big bar fight I like a lot,” Hart adds, “because it’s Ash cutting lose and accepting things about who he is. It’s the first time in CITY OF ROSE that he’s really being honest with himself, and that honesty is pretty ugly.”
CITY OF ROSE, however, is not all fists and fights—there is also heart. “I love the final chapter,” Hart says. “I hit an emotional beat there I wasn’t even expecting. Again, a moment of truth, and this one snuck up on me. It was the moment the book really came into focus for me.”
Aside from the action and characters, readers will also appreciate Hart’s attention to setting in CITY OF ROSE, which serves as a vividly-detailed and often visceral mirror into Ash’s mental state—but the thug with a heart of gold won’t stay limited to the murky underbellies of Portland and The Big Apple.
From the bestselling author of the Home Repair is Homicide series comes a thriller about an escaped kidnapper and rapist who once held three girls prisoner for fifteen years. In THE GIRLS SHE LEFT BEHIND (Bantam Hardcover; On Sale 1/12/16) Sarah Graves ventures in an edgier, darker direction and takes readers inside the mind of a twisted killer.
In the remote backwoods of Bearkill, Maine, a forest fire rages out of control. As embers swirl dangerously in the smoke-filled air, a teenage girl with a history of running away has dropped out of sight again. Lizzie Snow, a prickly but effective female deputy, thinks Tara Wylie is up to her old tricks—until her mother receives a terrifying text message. And when news gets out that convicted kidnapper Henry Gemmerle has escaped from a nearby prison clinic, Lizzie’s fears for Tara’s safety take on even greater urgency.
Following a trail of grisly clues—a bloodstained motel room, a makeshift coffin in a shallow grave—Lizzie races to save an innocent and corner a monster. On top of it all, someone else is desperately seeking Tara Wylie and the escaped convict, though, for reasons that have nothing to do with mercy or justice. And when they all meet, the inferno threatening Bearkill will pale in comparison to the hell that’s about to break loose.
With a fast-paced plot and a dark, bloodcurdling setting, THE GIRLS SHE LEFT BEHIND is sure to please new and longtime fans of Sarah Graves alike.
Jarkko Sipila maintained a successful career as a crime reporter for Finland’s leading newspaper and television station before turning his fingers to the keyboard for fiction.
BEHIND CLOSED DOORS is the 15th in the Helsinki Homicide series, the sixth to be translated into English. As he watches his townhouse burn up in flames, Detective Lieutenant Kari Takamaki recalls an old saying: the most dangerous are those who plot their revenge in silence. As the game gets tougher for both the authorities and the criminals, Takamaki and his team are put on the defensive. But how do a Finnish gangster living in Bangkok and a raped woman in Helsinki fit into the picture?
In your short synopsis, you mention a rape trial and a bitter case of revenge— Detective Takamaki’s townhouse in flames. Can you give us another detail about BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, perhaps a clue about how these seemingly random events are linked?
Detective Anna Joutsamo is almost run over by a car on her evening run. A clue?
The main theme in BEHIND CLOSED DOORS is revenge.
Your novels have been labeled Nordic Noir. Do you agree with that designation and if so, what drew you to that style?
Definitely they can be labeled Nordic Noir. When I started the Helsinki Homicide series in Finnish in 2001 I wanted to write realistic crime novels. Some of the books that I had read at that time didn’t describe the police work or the criminals in the way that they really are.
I think my background in journalism influenced me a lot. Crime reporters also hear good stories that don’t make the news.
Years ago, when I was working on the book that would become Turnabout, the manuscript drew interest from several publishers. One of them ultimately turned the book down because they didn’t like the makeup of the protagonist. This was at a time where all heroes had to be versions of alcoholic Vietnam vets who accidentally killed a child while under the influence of some substance and working as a police officer. Whew. Lawrence Block and James Lee Burke did their own versions of that and I wasn’t going to do it any better.
Instead, what I wanted to do was take an ordinary guy, mess him up a bit, then at the end let him get back to his somewhat ordinary life. This is a perfectly valid sort of character, I think. As long as you can get the reader to care about him, to be invested, you can let the plot blender puree him into a slurry that can still pour him out whole in the end. It was the trip in the blender that I wanted to write about. That was what was interesting.
For Shallow Secrets, I took a character who thought he had a good life going but then had it taken away from him through no fault of his own. The problem was, no one around him fully believed him. There wasn’t definitive evidence one way or the other and while he could try to go back to his life, he knew he’d be in shadow, a cloud perpetually hanging over him. He was caught in the slurry.
Years later it worked out that another case came along, this one with evidence that seemed to tie him to an entirely new series of crimes. Reluctantly he decides to go along to see how this can be, never dreaming that it could ultimately lead to the redemption of his past. Too much time has gone by, though, and he learns that he can never truly go back, and that the life he’d been leading in a sort of self-imposed state of disgrace wasn’t so bad after all. At the end there’s the possibility, just a chance, for happiness of a kind that he never expected could come his way. Hell, he might even get the girl.
The Zodiac Killer murdered a number of victims in Northern California in the late sixties and early seventies and was never caught. What if that unknown and unnamed serial killer had a son?
That’s the question that drives THE GAF KILLER-SON OF ZODIAC by Jerry Otis. In this new novel, The Gaf is an interstate killer whose murders have brought him to the top of the FBI’s most wanted list.
Special Agent David Drake and his hand-picked team of agents drop everything and form a taskforce with one purpose—to track down this psychopath and bring him to justice.
The story jumps across the country from one crime scene to the next, as Drake and his team pursue leads and hope the killer gets careless and makes a mistake.
Since he’s his father’s son, that’s not likely for The Gaf. His father has taught him well, and Drake and his team are forced to race the clock to keep the body count from rising.
It’s a page-turning story that earned high praise from one early reviewer, Regan Murphy:
“Otis’s characters are interesting, and I like the fact that he tells the story form both the hero’s POV as well as the villain’s. It’s a fast-paced, edge of-your-seat crime thriller that should keep you up at night for more than one reason.”
Otis, a SAG actor who makes his home now in the rural Northern California town of Pollock Pines has come a long way since earning “crappy grades” in English class, and he answered a few questions recently for The Big Thrill about his book, his research on the real Zodiac murder case, and his road to publication.
A Master of Crime Fiction Tells All
There are few contemporary authors I respect as much as Lawrence Block, and I’m not the only one who feels that way, as his list of honors indicates: Grand Master Award from Mystery Writers of America, four Edgars and four Shamuses, Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America, Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement Award from the Crime Writers Association . . . and I’m just getting started.
The length of Larry’s career is equally impressive—more than five decades. Read that again. More than five decades. Longevity isn’t as important as quality, though, and he just keeps getting better, never disappointing in the four (count them, four) splendid series that demonstrate the depth of his talent, featuring cop-turned-detective Matthew Scudder, globetrotting insomniac Evan Tanner, introspective assassin Keller, and hilarious bookselling burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr (my personal favorite).
Among Larry’s more than 100 books, there are two non-fiction volumes that ITW members should consider required reading: his collection of essays about his friendships with such crime-writing legends as Donald E. Westlake and Evan Hunter/Ed McBain (The Crime of Our Lives) and his writing book (Write for Your Life).
But it’s Larry’s latest, THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES, that we’re here to talk about—an amazing update on the scorchers that James M. Cain pioneered with The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity..
Hard Case Crime published THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES, giving it one of their fabulous covers that re-create the classic look of crime novels in the 1950s and 1960s. The cover is hot, but your novel is even hotter. What inspired you to take a new look at this powerful sex-and-murder subgenre?
Hard Case reissued an early pseudonymous book of mine, Borderline, and damned if it didn’t get far better reviews than I felt it deserved. And I was telling my wife that it might be fun to write something similar—fast-paced, pulpy, with the narrative drive more important than the plot. “It might,” she said, and 15 seconds later—no joke—I sat up and said, “I’ve got an idea.” Now most ideas wither on the vine, and that’s probably just as well, but this one stayed with me and grew, and less than two months later I was writing it.
Yet when he’s passed a file detailing a particularly gruesome murder, Michael knows that this is no ordinary killer at work.
The removal of the victim’s eyes and the Latin inscription carved into the chest is the chilling calling-card of the ‘soul jacker’: a cold-blooded murderer who struck close to Michael once before, twenty-five years ago.
Now the long-buried case is being re-opened, and Michael is determined to use his inside knowledge to finally bring the killer to justice. But as the body count rises, Michael realises that his own links to the victims could mean that he is next on the killer’s list…
The gripping first novel in a thrilling new crime series by Matt Brolly. Perfect for fans of Tony Parsons, Lee Child and Angela Marsons.
By John Darrin
“The crime thriller, TARGETED, co-authored by debut author Donna Warner, and award-winning mystery author, Gloria Ferris, reminds us that danger lurks in unexpected places.”
That is the description of the book that Donna Warner suggested I use in this article, and I have no problem doing just that, as you can see because you just read it. Now, let me add a little of my take on that. Danger in unexpected places for me lurks in asking questions of authors that elicit answers like this:
- “I confess that I have a pin head.”
- “I don’t think it’s necessary to stand up to cast from a boat.”
- “Blue Jays? Is that a hockey team?”
- “Nobody wants to look at an Elderly Goth.”
How do I work that stuff into an article about their book? Oh, never mind, I just did.
They couldn’t be total loons (living on the shores of Lake Huron, they certainly know all about loons) because they did write a book together. And I give them enormous credit for the fact that they are still friends and intend to do it again. I burned my co-author in effigy.
Enough frivolity. Here are some words about TARGETED:
Looking forward to a week of sipping mojitos and moonlight walks on a Caribbean beach, Jordan Blair and her friend, Ellie, arrive in Le Ceiba in Honduras, unaware that they have attracted the attention of The Watcher, and are at that very moment framed in the receiving side of his high-powered binoculars.
And then things turn sinister. The previous occupant of their hotel room has vanished. No one seems concerned, but the police presence says they should be.
By Ian Walkley
Bob McClure was reading pulp fiction as a kid when he should have been studying schoolbooks, but he ultimately cracked down enough to graduate with a B.S. in Criminology from Murray State University and a law degree from the University of Louisville.
Now an attorney and crime fiction writer who lives and works in Louisville, Kentucky, McClure’s debut novel DEADLY LULLABY is based on his short story My Son, which was originally published on ThugLit.com and appeared in Best American Mystery Stories 2009.
DEADLY LULLABY is published by Penguin-Random House’s Alibi imprint in North America, and will be published next year by Calmann-Lévy in France, by Euromedia in the Czech Republic, and by Ikar in Slovakia.
DEADLY LULLABY is at heart a father-son story with a twist—in this case, the father is a career hitman and the son is a flawed cop. As might be expected, this makes for some great conflict and character interaction, which is helped along by McClure’s gritty prose, strong dialogue, and dual first person narrative by the father and the son. And there’s much that goes on between them to spur talk: Fresh off a nine-year stint in San Quentin, Babe Crucci plans to finally go straight and enjoy all life has to offer—after he pulls one or two more jobs to shore up his retirement fund. More than anything, Babe is dead set on making up for lost time with his estranged son, Leo, a rising star in the LAPD.
The road to reconciliation starts with tickets to a Dodgers game. But first, Leo needs a little help settling a beef over some gambling debts owed to a local mobster. This kind of thing is child’s play for Babe–until a sudden twist in the negotiations leads to a string of corpses and a titanic power shift in gangland politics. With the sins of his father piling up and dragging him down, Leo throws himself into the investigation of a young prostitute’s murder, a case that makes him some unlikely friends—and some brutally unpredictable enemies.
Robert McClure took some time to answer a few questions for The Big Thrill about his thrilling debut.
Earl Javorsky’s psychological thriller TRUST ME comes on the heels of his truly strange noir detective novel, Down Solo. Although the two books are entirely different in style, they share a common theme: addiction and recovery. As a self-identified member of what he labels “an abstraction called the recovery community,” Javorsky knows the environment and digs deep into a trove of harrowing, sometimes absurd, events from his own experience.
TRUST ME is an ensemble piece centered around two lost souls: Jeffrey Fenner, an alcoholic drug dealer who finds out that his sister has committed suicide, and Holly Barnes, whose past abuse has brought her to a self-help group with a charismatic leader. Jeff, who has hit bottom but doesn’t know it yet, doesn’t believe his sister would take her own life, and his relentless pursuit of the truth leads him to some unlikely allies, jail, and the same group Holly attends. When their paths converge, Jeff discovers that Holly might be the next target of a serial killer.
Your lead character is not easy to sympathize with. Why should readers care about someone they don’t like?
Ha! Great question. Jeff is a selfish, clueless loser with few redeeming qualities. One of my favorite tricks in literature and film is when a character turns my sympathies upside down—think Al Swearinger in Deadwood. The hard part is engaging the reader long enough to become interested in an individual’s evolution.
Is there a factual basis for any of the events in TRUST ME?
Yes and no. There was a guy up in LA (I’m in San Diego now) who seduced women inappropriately—he was in his late 60s and liked them in their 20s. Hypnosis was in his arsenal, but his real power was in his congenial mentor act: he would take them under his wing and help them out. He was actually a nice guy, but it was creepy. The opening scene at Lilah’s apartment may or may not have happened pretty much as described. And Holly’s history of seizures and her subsequent diagnoses and problems with prescription medicine are borrowed from a dear friend’s personal history (she just finished the book and loved it).
By Jeff Ayers
When the mob finds itself on hard times and has to lay people off, the boss decides to give two different hitters separate lists of “overdue accounts”—a backlist—to see who distinguishes themselves enough to remain on the payroll.
In their first collaborative effort, Eric Beetner and Frank Zafiro bring readers the sharp-tongued Bricks and the hapless, eager-to-please Cam—two very different protagonists who find themselves faced with challenges they never imagined when they got into the business.
THE BACKLIST is a fast-paced crime novel full of action, twists, verbal jabs, and mayhem. Lots of mayhem.
This month, Beetner and Zafiro chatted with The Big Thrill about the book that appears to be the beginning of a thrilling partnership.
Frank, could you talk about River City? Also, why the pseudonym for your crime writing?
River City is a thinly-veiled Spokane. Spokane is a city of about two hundred thousand peple. We’re the second largest city in the state and the biggest city between Seattle and Minneapolis…all of which means that we have all of the problems of a large city and yet still retain some of the small town attitude (which can be good and bad, depending).
I started calling Spokane River City, and using a pseudonym for crime fiction, because I was an active law enforcement officer in Spokane at the time my first book was coming out. I wasn’t really sure what my bosses would think of my work, since there are some dark events and not every cop is portrayed in a positive light. So I went with the pen name. As it turned out, the brass were very supportive, but by that time I had a few dozen short stories and two books out under this name, so I decided to keep it for crime fiction. The last name Zafiro comes from the name a few of us used to name our film “production” company during a high school independent study on filmmaking.
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.”
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.
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.
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.