What links a terror attack on Washington, D.C., missing girls, coded price lists, and a rogue Interpol operator? It’s up to FBI Special Agent Ellie Conway to figure that out in Cat Connor’s new novel ERASERBYTE, seventh in the “Byte” series. That’s if she can survive helicopter crashes and other threats.
It’s a tale that sets the U.S. capital on fire with a series of explosions, and Ellie has to reach out to controversial connections to try and stop further terrorist attacks and horrifying deaths.
It’s a great, page-turning challenge for the agent from the FBI’s Delta A, who has already won over fans in previous adventures and should earn new ones in this outing.
Connor, who is from Cantabria, New Zealand, saw databyte, Number 6 in the Ellie Conway series, long listed for the 2015 Ngaio Marsh best crime novel award. Amid that and other excitement including a fortnightly writing workshop, Connor is busy with the launch of ERASERBYTE and other travels. Happily she had time for a few questions with The Big Thrill.
Inspiration can come at a writer from any direction, but for Rachel Howzell Hall the stories that resonate most deeply are drawn from her own life and the lives of people close to her. SKIES OF ASH, her second thriller featuring Los Angeles Detective Elouise “Lou” Norton, reflects some of the turmoil she witnessed in her friends’ lives over the past few years.
In a recent interview, Rachel said, “I remember having the realization about five years ago that my friends, and friends of friends, were starting to divide into two groups—still married (like me) or now divorcing. Everyone had hit those hard patches in life, late thirties, early forties, kids, private school bills, taxes owed, jobs, lay-offs, failing health, deaths.” At the same time, she noticed a stream of news stories about domestic violence. “Husbands killing their wives, moms killing their kids, and on and on. Everyone was pissed off and frustrated and broke and suicidal. And then, our economy tanked and all these smart bankers were outed as crooks.”
Rachel blended those elements into an intense tale that begins with Lou Norton responding to the scene of a house fire in which a woman named Juliet Chatman has perished with her two children. The grieving husband and father, Christopher Chatman, is hospitalized after supposedly trying to rescue his family. Neighbors and friends call the Chatmans a perfect family living a dream life. Lou doesn’t take long to uncover the sordid truth about Juliet and Christopher’s marriage and to suspect that one of their perfect children set the fatal fire. Lesson: People are never what they seem to be.
By E. M. Powell
Of course I love thrillers (don’t we all?!), but I especially love a thriller that brings something new and different to the table. In DOUBLE VISION, Colby Marshall does just that. Her heroine, Dr. Jenna Ramey, is an FBI forensic psychiatrist whose brain is wired very differently to most of us. Jenna also comes to this book, the second in the series, with a heck of a backstory that I’m sure will bring new readers rushing to catch up on the first one too. DOUBLE VISION is a fast-moving, intriguing read that grabs the reader from the off and refuses to let go.
Marshall is a multi-talented creative: writer by day, ballroom dancer and choreographer by night, and acting on stage when she has a spare moment. She lives in Georgia with her family and a collection of furry friends.
Exclusive to The Big Thrill, I caught up with Colby to find out more about her latest release.
This is the second outing for your heroine, Dr. Jenna Ramey, who debuted in the first book of the series, Color Blind. For readers coming new to her, there’s something that marks her out as very different: synesthesia. Can you explain what that is?
Different types of synesthesia manifest differently, so I can’t claim I know what every type is like to experience. In the case of grapheme-color synesthesia, the hardest aspect to describe is how the associations a synesthete makes are the same as those anyone makes in the way that they manifest. If a person hears the word “cake,” the image of a cake might flash in their mind. The difference is, their word/image reference was learned. Somewhere along the way, someone or something taught that person what cake is, showed him or her what it looks like, and so the association of the picture and word developed. Color associations are not limited to known things. Often a synesthete will lay eyes on something for the very first time, and immediately have a color association for it—that’s actually why it’s so useful to Jenna when she analyzes a crime scene.
Although he was born in Cumbria, England in 1968, author Mike Craven grew up in the northeast and attended the same school as Newcastle and England center-forward, Alan Shearer, before running away to join the circus army. He believes, but has no proof, that his little sister moved into his bedroom before the train had even left the station. He trained for two years as an armourer (that’s gunsmith to you and I) before spending the next ten being paid to travel the world and drink ridiculous amounts of alcohol.
In 1995, sick of writing postcards and having fun, he decided it might be time to do something a bit more sensible. And it doesn’t get more sensible than getting a law degree. So, he did social work instead. Two years later, he started working in Cumbria as a probation officer. Sixteen years, and a few promotions later, he is still there; although as a crime writer, he now has different motivations for trying to get inside the minds of criminals.
In between joining the army and securing a publishing deal, Mike found time to nurture a pet crocodile, survive cancer, get married, and buy a springer spaniel named Bracken. He wanted to call him Gimli, but was told to grow up. He lives in Carlisle where he tries to leave the house as little as possible and gets annoyed by people who say “it’s too cold to snow” and “watch that swan, its wings can break your arm”.”
Craven took time out of that busy schedule to talk to The Big Thrill about his new release, ASSUME NOTHING, BELIEVE NOBODY, CHALLENGE EVERYTHING, a collection of short stories that explores betrayals of trust, poker cheats, ambitious barristers, cyber bullies, lost diplomats and revenge.
Nicholas and Victoria Foulkes’ children are kidnapped to force repayment of a gambling debt, but when the couple are unable to raise the ransom money in time, they turn to crime. The stakes are raised when their crime spree catches the attention of Harry Evans, a childless and recently bereaved detective trying to dodge enforced retirement.
Smith writes tough-as-nails prose and delivers a page-turner that will leave you high on adrenaline.
Graham took some time this month to answer a couple of key questions about what inspired his latest release, and the motivating factors behind his protagonist Harry Evans and the family that opens old wounds.
How well does childless Harry Evans understand the plight of the central characters in SNATCHED FROM HOME?
I think he fully understands their desire to save their children. Being the swine I am, I have him mourning the loss of his own wife and unborn child. This gives him the perspective needed to put himself in their shoes. Also, he believes (wrongly) he could have done things differently and saved them.
By Linda Davies
James O. Born has had a long and distinguished career as an agent for the Drug Enforcement Agency, and is still employed as an agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement where he has worked in a number of areas, including the Special Operations Team. This has given him experience that many writers would die for (figuratively, and probably literally too, if we ever stumbled into the path of clear and present danger!)
After years trying to get published, Born hit the big leagues when Putnam published his first novel Walking Money in 2004. This year marks his ninth book, SCENT OF MURDER. It focuses on the use of canine units in law enforcement and detection:
Two years after being tossed from the detective bureau for his questionable tactics catching a child molester, deputy Tim Hallett’s life is finally on track. Assigned to a special K-9 unit with the best partner in the world, a Belgian Malinois named Rocky, Hallett has finally learned to balance police work with his family life. But that all changes in the heat of a Florida sugarcane field.
The wealth of Born’s experience shines through in the novel in a way that is never allowed to bog down the narrative. He manages to combine background detail with a gripping and compelling plot that speeds along. I particularly enjoyed passages from the dog’s perspective.
Born also manages to create a very real and powerful microcosm of life with all the characters extremely well drawn and the dialogue snapping along with the ring of authenticity. This is a class act.
By Kurt Anthony Krug
David Levien has a reputation for exhaustive research in order to authenticate his fiction.
For instance, Levien (pronounced “Levine”) and frequent collaborator Brian Koppelman entered the dangerous world of underground poker halls when writing the screenplay to 1998’s Rounders, starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton.
For his latest novel, SIGNATURE KILL—the fourth featuring private investigator Frank Behr—Levien researched serial killers.
“Wouldn’t it be off the charts insane if I admitted to becoming a serial killer in the name of research? Well, I didn’t do that. I did read dozens of biographies, case histories, non-fiction and clinical books on killers of all different types. I also spoke pretty extensively with a couple criminal psychiatrists. The process took a few years,” said Levien.
In SIGNATURE KILL, Behr takes on a cold case to find a woman whose face is plastered all over billboards throughout Indianapolis and collect the $100,000 reward. At the same time, bodies of murdered women start piling up and before too long, Behr realizes his cold case is connected to these brutal murders and a serial killer is on the loose. However, this man has the ability to blend in with polite society, which makes tracking him down difficult, forcing Behr to go to dark places.
“I’m highly interested in the iteration of evil that walks the streets amongst us, unrecognized. Certain real-life killers like Dennis Rader, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, going all the way back to Albert Fish and H.H. Holmes—these people led quiet, normal lives, for all intents and purposes, but their real existences were far from quiet or normal. The ‘regular’ way this type of killer conducts himself makes him extremely difficult to discover and stop,” said Levien. “It would take someone, I posit, singular of purpose, with extreme determination, toughness, and ingenuity—like Behr—on a sort of quest, to hook into the mind and actions of a killer like this.”
Researching SIGNATURE KILL disturbed Levien.
By David Healey
David Hodges is a British crime writer whose long career in law enforcement informs his fiction with rich details of police procedure.
STRAWFOOT is his newest novel set on the moody Somerset Levels, a coastal area with a penchant for marshes and murders. The case will be the biggest challenge yet for Detective Sergeant Kate Lewis, the main character in the series. In this new release from Hale Books, a murder has the locals wondering if Strawfoot, a sort of bogeyman from local legend, could be behind the killing.
Hodges answered some questions from the perspective of a veteran police officer and crime writer from “across the pond.”
The main character in your thrillers is Detective Sergeant Kate Lewis. Was it challenging to put yourself in the head of a female police officer?
I suppose it was a bit of a challenge making my main character a female detective instead of the usual male stereotype. But I have worked a lot with female officers and have not found them any different in the way they do their job than male officers. I wanted to create a character who was pretty, sexy, but competent at her job, without offering a sop to the feminist brigade by making her a butch-type superhero who can best the men at every stage or fall into the male chauvinist trap of creating a simpering girlie type who needs male protection all the time. Kate is an ordinary “copper” who makes mistakes and achieves successes like everyone else; the only difference being that while she is a brash, forceful and very outspoken character, her partner (now her husband), Hayden, is a more reserved, old-fashioned ex public schoolboy, who often acts as a brake on her activities. (Role reversal of the sexes?)
Before I wrote my first novel, I was a print journalist for four decades, spending many of those years editing investigative stories that won every journalism prize including the Pulitzer. It’s not surprising, then, that the fiction writers I most admire are the ones who use the popular form of the crime novel as a platform to talk to mass audiences about serious social issues—novelists such as George Pelecanos, Laura Lippman, James Lee Burke, and Richard Price.
The last major story I edited before I fled journalism exposed the plight of child workers, some of them as young as five years old, laboring in the gold mines of West Africa. The story traced the gold as it moved through a series of middle men to Swiss smelters and banks, and then on to some of the world’s most prestigious producers of luxury goods. The author, Rukmini Callimachi, was a Pulitzer finalist for that one. I have nothing but admiration for the journalists who continue do such work. But over the last couple of decades, the decline of print journalism has made it increasingly difficult for them to do so.
Most newspapers are circling the drain. A handful of big ones, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, still do a solid job of reporting important national and international news, but even they aren’t as aggressive and comprehensive as they once were. Meanwhile, TV broadcast news organizations, never all that good to begin with, have slashed their reporting staffs. Cable news has deteriorated into a platform for partisan propaganda, shouting talking heads, and celebrity trivia. And, few online news websites do much in-depth reporting, culling much of their news from declining newspapers.
By Basil Sands
Does crime pay? Rick Mofina might say yes. He has been making his living writing about it since he sold his first short story to a magazine at age fifteen. During college he walked in Hemingway’s shoes as a rookie reporter for The Toronto Star launching a career in journalism that spanned three decades. He’s been face-to-face with murderers on death row, covered a horrific serial killing case in California, an armored car heist in Las Vegas, and the murders of police officers in Alberta. He’s flown over Los Angeles with the LAPD, and gone on patrol with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police near the Arctic. And he’s reported from the Caribbean, Africa, and Middle East. All of it helped prepare him for his work as a successful crime novelist.
Today we’re here to talk about his latest novel FULL TILT.
Rick, please tell us a little about FULL TILT.
FULL TILT is the second book in the new series featuring Kate Page, a reporter with a global wire service based in New York City. Kate was orphaned as a child and had a hard life. But she’s a fighter and a survivor. We find Kate, now a single mom, working in Manhattan, when she receives a heart-stopping call from a detective. A guardian angel charm found at a horrific crime scene fits the description of the one belonging to Kate’s sister, Vanessa, who washed away after a car crash in a mountain river twenty years ago. Kate has spent much of her life searching for the truth behind her little sister’s disappearance. Now Kate is faced with one last chance to either mourn Vanessa’s death—or save her life.
How do you come up with the story lines you write?
I like to start with a “seed of ‘reality,’” to help shape a story. A larger part of my news reporting experience involved working the police beat. It put me face-to-face with the best and worst of the human condition. I was expected to write about it, to make some sense out of horrible incidents that made no sense at all, then present it in a story to readers on deadline. Sadly, the true horrors that happen everywhere every day seldom end well, if they end at all. This is something I bear in mind in writing crime fiction. I try to apply the fundamental code of most crime fiction, which is the restoration of order to chaos. And I try to start with a ‘grain of truth,’ to build on a solid foundation for a compelling story, from there I’ll apply the “what if,” this happened element, and off we go.
By Ian Walkley
Glen Erik Hamilton’s debut thriller introduces readers to an exciting new protagonist, Van Shaw, whose military and thieving skills inevitably find him immersed in the high-stakes and violent underworld of ruthless criminals where right and wrong aren’t defined by the law.
In PAST CRIMES, former thief and now Army Ranger Shaw receives a call from his criminal grandfather Dono to come home to Seattle. But when he arrives at Dono’s house in the early hours of the morning, Van discovers the old burglar bleeding out on the floor from a gunshot to the head. With a lifetime of tough history between him and the old man, the battle-tested Ranger knows the cops will like him for the crime. Diving back into the illicit world he’d sworn to leave behind, Van reconnects with the ruthless felons who knew Dono best. Armed with his military and criminal skills, he follows a dangerous trail of clues that leads him deeper into Dono’s life—and closer to uncovering what drove his grandfather to reach out after years of silence.
The book already is creating buzz: Lee Child described it as “a home run off the first pitch,” and J.A. Jance called Hamilton “a gifted writer with a sure hand.”
Glen, first tell us what made you come to write this type of story.
The story evolved by blending my favourite aspects of mystery literature. I’m never quite sure what to call it. It’s definitely intended to be thrilling, with a lot of action scenes. It has many characters who are crooks tangled up in their various schemes, but it’s not strictly a crime thriller. And there’s a fair amount of good old-fashioned whodunit in the recipe. Add a dash of memoir, since we see Van at different ages as he’s growing up with Dono. A bouillabaisse thriller, perhaps? Mystery smorgasbord?
Speaking of Dono, tell us a little about the relationship between Van Shaw and his grandfather—how is that background an important element in the changing nature of Van Shaw?
Van came to live with his grandfather Dono—a career criminal—at six years old after his mother died. Dono and Van’s mother had a falling out, and Dono may be trying to make that right by giving his grandson a home. But of course, Dono’s approach to raising a child is a little outside the norm. Van grew up with a very skewed sense of right and wrong. As an adult and as a soldier, he’s worked hard to reset that moral compass.
In David Putnam’s new novel, THE REPLACEMENTS, ex-cop Bruno Johnson is drawn into a deadly, twisted game to save two kidnapped girls. They’re in the hands of Jonas Mabry, a man Johnson once saved from death—as a child, Mabry was shot by his own mother. Now, seeking a warped form of revenge, he’s demanding a $1 million-dollar ransom for the girls.
Following the events of 2014’s The Disposables, Johnson is living in Costa Rica when the book opens. He’s hiding out from the FBI, tending bar and supporting eight children he illegally rescued from abusive homes. Johnson agrees to help a former colleague and risk arrest back in L.A. to help track Jonas down.
To write THE REPLACEMENTS Putnam, who’s now retired, draws on his former law enforcement experience. During his career, he worked primarily in California on teams for patrol, investigations, S.W.A.T., narcotics, violent crimes, criminal intelligence, internal affairs, detective bureau, and as child protective services coordinator. His final assignment in law enforcement was as a Special Agent working in Hawaii.
He took some time out from growing organic California avocados and spending time with his wife, Mary and their two dogs, to answer a few questions about THE REPLACEMENTS, and writing contemporary thrillers.
Your hero from The Disposables returns in THE REPLACEMENTS to work on a case for which he has a strong personal tie. How important do you believe a link between the hero and his goal is in a contemporary thriller?
I believe the goal is only the vehicle or framework to display character. What is more important is how the character evolves within that framework. In order for the story or novel to be a success, the character has to be three-dimensional. I believe this is accomplished through voice: consistent, strong, emotional, unique and with nuance of point of view. A long-time mentor of mine, Jerry Hannah, has always drilled into me that: story is not story; character is story.
By John Raab
Stephen Edger started out like thousands of other authors today and self-published his first novel, Integration in 2010. By 2014, he’d not only had several other successful titles on Amazon, but was picked up by Endeavour Press, which published Crosshairs, the first in his The Cadre series.
The Big Thrill recently had a chance to catch up with Stephen to talk about his second book in the series, COMPLICIT .
COMPLICIT is your latest book, can you give us the inside scoop, not on the back cover?
COMPLICIT is the second book in The Cadre series and follows on from where the first book (Crosshairs) finished. It is now November 2014. The current Prime Minister has been executed by ‘The Cadre’ a secret organization fronted by the heads of industry (media, finance, security services etc.). They have plans to start a new war on the Middle East, with a view to driving forward a New World Order, with Britain at the head of the table. The trouble is: the man hired to kill the PM, Dylan Thomas, is a petty thief who has just ripped off a loan shark, drug dealer and the Russian Mafia, and is on the run. The group identify Dylan’s oldest friend, Connor Price, as their best chance of silencing Dylan before he reveals their plans.
It’s a political thriller with a ‘man against the world’ plot.
There is a debate between Character Driven vs. Plot Driven, which side do you stand on?
Definitely plot driven. I always start with a plot and build characters around it. You can write the strongest character, but if the plot is weak, you will upset your readers.
You have published over a dozen books, when someone meets you for the first time where do you suggest they start?
Of the eight novels I’ve published, three of them are part of a trilogy (Integration, Redemption and Shadow Line), three of them are standalone stories (Remorse, Snatched and Trespass) and the final two (Crosshairs and Complicit) will be part of a series when I publish the final part (Double Cross) in June this year. Despite this, the time periods for each story mirror the order they were published in. Although the main characters can vary from book to book, a number of the background characters (e.g. police officers) appear in several of the stories and I make references to previous stories in later books. I guess what I’m trying to say is people should start with my first book Integration and work forwards.
Oh, what a sorry sight we must have looked, two New York writers of Irish descent, staggering from bar to bar along Seventh Avenue on a cold night in January. But it was the first night of the NFL playoffs and the Patriots versus Ravens had every bar with a television packed. Tim O’Mara and I finally found a relatively quiet table in the back of one of those fine establishments and ordered something medicinal—we were both fighting colds. Tim is the author of three mysteries featuring ex-cop turned public school teacher, Raymond Dunne. Sacrifice Fly, which introduced the series, was nominated for the Barry Award, followed by Crooked Numbers, and his latest, DEAD RED, published by St. Martin’s Minotaur in January. The New York Times has called his work “authentically gritty.”
Tim, the police are New York’s finest, the firefighter’s, the bravest. What are the public school teachers? The toughest?
I love working with kids. I started out as a camp counselor and still feel a bit like one now.
But, twenty-seven years in the New York school system? You’ve been a mainline middle school teacher, a Special Ed teacher, a dean, and now you work in an Upper West Side school. How do you think this has molded you?
I’ve seen so many changes. It’s the things that remain the same, though, that blow my mind. We still have folks who’ve never stood in front of a group of teenagers, but have the whatever to try to teach my colleagues and me the best way to do it. I have a pretty simple philosophy about that: the farther you work from an actual classroom with real live kids, the less you know what you’re talking about. And the kids—they’re great. Sure there’ve been societal and technological changes since 1987, but the kids are amazing. They never bore me, they occasionally crack me up, and they are a constant source of inspiration for my writing. Which I will deny if I’m ever sued.
There’s more than a bit of you in Raymond. You made what I think is a great choice to have him be an ex-cop from a cop family—his uncle is the Chief of Detectives. It gives him immediate credibility—both with readers and with other characters. Where does that come from? Are you from a police family?
Yes and no. Not the same, at any rate. My brother is a Sargent with the Nassau County Police out on Long Island. But he’s the only one of us to go in that direction. But you’re right, Raymond is a combination of the two of us.
By Dawn Ius
After a two-year hiatus, Thomas Perry returns to his bestselling Jane Whitefield series with, A STRING OF BEADS—a fast-paced thriller about how abandoning the past can sometimes be the hardest thing to do, even when your life—and the life of those you love—depends on it.
It’s a book Perry has wanted to write for some time, but it wasn’t until he received a letter from a fan that he found true inspiration.
“I acquired a friend who might be called my ‘culture guide,’ an expert in Senca culture,” he says. “He’s a Canadian lawyer specializing in rights issues concerning the Iroquois nations, who live on both sides of the border.”
He’d read all of Perry’s books, and while he enjoyed the stories, he was able to share expertise that not only helped Perry understand some of the more intricate parts of the Seneca culture, but also got him fired up to return to this series.
“He had a lot to say that was new to me, and new to readers, and so, I knew it was time to write,” Perry says. “I could hardly wait.”
In A STRING OF BEADS, Jane Whitefield is enlisted by the eight clan mothers of her tribe to find one of her childhood friends who has been accused of murdering a local white man. But as she retraces the steps of a walking trip she and her fellow tribesman took together at age fourteen, she soon realizes the police aren’t the only ones after him—and bringing Jimmy back before he is killed or arrested might be much more dangerous than she anticipated.
By Basil Sands
Lee Weeks is a prolific thriller writer who has been called “The female James Patterson.” Her books seem not only to tell tales of adventure but to bring them alive. And that lively adventure is something she is more than a little familiar with. Born in Devon, England she left school at seventeen and, armed with a notebook and very little cash, spent seven years working her way around Europe and South East Asia. She returned to settle in London, marry and raise two children. She has worked as an English teacher and personal fitness trainer. And her books have been Sunday Times bestsellers.
Her seventh novel, FROZEN GRAVE, is third in the riveting Willis/Carter series that follows two detectives in a London murder investigation squad. Full of excellent police drama, I found the well-written dialogue moved the story seamlessly, it reminded me of the BBC series Spooks (MI-5 in the US).
Lee graciously agreed to answer a few questions for The Big Thrill.
Lee, tell us about FROZEN GRAVE.
FROZEN GRAVE is the story of love lost, longed for or imagined—and a killer’s cold heart.
What was your inspiration for detectives Willis and Carter?
Willis and Carter, are a miss-match—I chose them so that they could view the world differently; they come from very different backgrounds. Together they form an interesting and unique investigative team.
By Wendy Tyson
DOING THE DEVIL’S WORK is Bill Loehfelm’s fifth novel and the third book in the Maureen Coughlin crime fiction series. His first two books in the Coughlin series, The Devil She Knows and The Devil in Her Way, were published to strong reviews. And Bill’s first novel, Fresh Kills, won the 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. A prolific author, Bill’s essays and short stories can be found in a number of anthologies, including Year Zero, Life in the Wake, and Soul is Bulletproof (which feature his work about post-Katrina New Orleans) as well as Staten Island Noir and Books to Die For. Bill, who was born in Brooklyn and raised on Staten Island, makes his home in New Orleans. In anticipation of his upcoming release, Bill sat down with The Big Thrill to answer a few questions.
Booklist called your main character, Maureen Coughlin, “as compelling a character as this reviewer expects to see this year.” The New Orleans Times-Picayune called her “unforgettable” and “the character of the year.” Can you tell us a little more about Maureen and some of the elements of her past that have made her the woman she is today?
I like to save the real juicy stuff for the books, but there certainly are things about her that keep me coming back. Like a lot of crime fiction heroes, she’s a loner. She’s thirty now and has been making her own way since she was eighteen. But in joining the NOPD she’s found a place and a career where she desperately wants to fit in and belong—and of course she’s not very good at fitting in. I really enjoy writing someone who’s trying to be happy, and to be the best version of herself that she can, and who has virtually no clue how to do those things.
Also, there’s the issue of power. All her life, she’s never had any. She’s a small woman, who’s not particularly attractive and who’s always been broke. When she wasn’t getting overlooked she was getting pushed around. Her history has made her tough and wily and angry, and now she has a badge and a gun. Taking her through her struggles with having some real power over other people has been really interesting. She makes some mistakes.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.