Crime Fiction

Leon’s Legacy by Lono Waiwaiole

By L. E. Fitzpatrick

Lono Waiwaiole is the author of the successful Wiley series. Set in his adopted city of Portland, each book has been inspired by an actual event: the murder of a stripper launched Wiley’s Lament, the murder of an upper-class executive by a pimp became Wiley’s Shuffle, the murder of a Portland blues musician turned into Wiley’s Refrain, and the biggest drug bust in the history of the Big Island of Hawai`i was spun into Dark Paradise. But when it came to his latest instalment, the prequel LEON’S LEGACY, Waiwaiole draws on his personal experience as a teacher and coach to pay tribute to another tragic Portland crime.

LEON’S LEGACY addresses what must have happened to Wiley and Leon after their high-school collaboration to put them in their respective places twenty years later. Waiwaiole talks to me about his characters, the inspiration behind the series, and the places that motivate him.

LEON’S LEGACY is the prequel to your award-winning Wiley series. When writing the series did you always intend to go back in time?

The fact that the two protagonists met as hoopers during high school is referred to in all three books, so I guess it was natural to wonder what that meeting was like. At the same time, I started wondering if it would be possible to introduce the series to younger readers by putting the characters in high school.

How have Leon and Wiley developed from LEON’S LEGACY to the later entries in the Wiley series?

Wiley came first, and the idea for his character was sparked from a story in the Portland newspaper. The report said the nude body of a young woman was found in the dumpster behind a strip club during the night. I immediately saw her as somebody’s daughter, probably because I was the father of a young woman myself at the time. I began to wonder what kinds of things must have happened to put her in a strip club dumpster, and what it would be like to be her father and to get this kind of news.
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A Short Time to Die by Susan Alice Bickford

By Jaden Terrell

Born in Boston, Susan Alice Bickford grew up in Central New York, then moved to Silicon Valley to live a high-tech life. Not the background one might expect from a novelist, but then, Susan Bickford is full of surprises.

Her debut novel, A SHORT TIME TO DIE, is rooted in a rural community and, unlike many suspense novels, it centers on the perspective of the victim looking out, rather than that of an outsider looking in. The story starts strong, with a young woman fighting for her life against an opponent who should have been her protector. It’s one of the most intense openings I’ve read in quite a while, and the rest of the book didn’t disappoint.

Asked how she managed to pull off such a powerful beginning, Susan says, “I wanted to grab the reader by the throat right away with the initial confrontation and built up layers of action around it. The final touch was to make the physical setting vivid on every page.”

She writes almost every day, usually in the evening, and warms up with “some mental pencil sharpening to get the juices flowing.” Sometimes that means critiquing a short story or outlining her scene points. Waiting for inspiration, though, is not on the menu. She says, “When my mind is full of junk, I set the timer and do free writing without stopping. This pops the nonsense off the stack and good ideas start bubbling up.”
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Unpunished by Lisa Black

By Wendy Tyson

UNPUNISHED is New York Times bestselling author Lisa Black’s second novel in the popular Gardiner and Renner series. In this latest installment, forensic expert Maggie Gardiner investigates an apparent suicide in the newspaper industry. When evidence suggests foul play, Maggie must join forces with vigilante killer and homicide detective Jack Renner in order to catch a murderer. In anticipation of the release of UNPUNISHED, The Big Thrill sat down with Lisa to talk about her latest novel, her background in forensics, and her advice about the craft of storytelling.

What can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?

This book is really about Maggie coming to terms with what she has done, with what Jack has done, and how she is to move forward in this new reality.

Please tell us a little about Maggie. What events from Maggie’s past have helped make her the woman—and forensic investigator—she is today?

Maggie is a well-rounded and “normal” person, comfortable in her own skin, but a bit of a loner. She lost both her parents while in college but is close to her ever-traveling musician brother. She had a brief, unhappy marriage to a homicide detective but they are on amicable terms, so it seems that all is well. Without the distractions of a personal life she has indulged her workaholic tendencies until her job is everything.
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No Safe Place by Matt Hilton

Who does Andrew Clayton turn to for help when his wife has been murdered, his child is in danger, and the police think he is responsible?

Despite his mistrust of Clayton, Joe Hunter accepts the job of protecting young Cole. But who is he protecting the boy from? And why?

It’s clear Clayton knows more about his wife’s killer, but he isn’t saying. And when his silence places Cole in the killer’s sights there’s…no safe place.

Author Matt Hilton recently shared some insight into his latest novel, NO SAFE PLACE, with The Big Thrill:

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

I hope readers will enjoy a more thoughtful and logical Joe Hunter than the reckless vigilante he was in previous books, to enjoy the lengths he goes to in solving the mystery of Ella Clayton’s murder, and how far he’ll go to protect a vulnerable child.
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What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman

Gus Murphy and his girlfriend, Magdalena, are put in harm’s way when Gus is caught up in the distant aftershocks of heinous crimes committed decades ago in Vietnam and Russia. Gus’s ex-priest pal, Bill Kilkenny, introduces him to a wealthy businessman anxious to have someone look more deeply into the brutal murder of his granddaughter. Though the police already have the girl’s murderer in custody, they have been unable to provide a reason for the killing. The businessman, Spears, offers big incentives if Gus can supply him with what the cops cannot—a motive.

Later that same day, Gus witnesses the execution of a man who has just met with his friend, Slava. As Gus looks into the girl’s murder and tries to protect Slava from the executioner’s bullet, he must navigate a minefield populated by hostile cops, street gangs, and a Russian mercenary who will stop at nothing to do his master’s bidding. But in trying to solve the girl’s murder and save his friend, Gus may be opening a door into a past that was best left forgotten. Can he fix the damage done, or is it true that what you break you own . . . forever?

Author Reed Farrel Coleman recently spoke with The Big Thrill about his latest thriller, WHAT YOU BREAK:

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

A sense that they’ve read a realistic and exciting crime novel that makes them think about the weight of grief and the price we all pay for violent crime.
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Hardway by Hector Acosta

By Rick Reed

Hector Acosta was born in Mexico City and moved to the United States. He spent time in El Paso and Dallas before moving with his understanding wife and dog to New York. His time living on the border left an impression on him, and much of his writing revolves around that area and its people. In his free time he enjoys watching wrestling and satisfying a crippling Lego addiction.

Hector Acosta is a spinner of tales that will take your breath. His short stories have appeared in Weird Noir, Thuglit, and in three volumes of Shotgun Honey Anthologies.

HARDWAY is the story of fifteen-year old Spencer who loves professional wrestling. He and his brother Billy start their own wrestling promotion operation in their Dallas apartment complex. Soon after a rival promotion outfit run by Eddie Tornado opens in a nearby apartment complex. Eddie is an unhinged teenager with a connection to Billy’s girlfriend, and an axe to grind. The feud between teenagers heats up and Spencer finds the world of professional wrestling is more real and dangerous than depicted on television.

What was your first experience with being a published writer?  How did that experience influence your future writing?

It happened during my first year of college while taking an English class. One of the first assignments was to write a personal essay about an unusually strong memory. I wrote about the time my dad took my brother and I across the U.S border into Mexico to see a lucha show. Lucha is the Spanish word for fight. Lucha libre shows are underground wrestling entertainment events.

I thought my first essay was decent, and the teacher apparently thought so too, because a few days after I submitted it, she took me aside and asked me if it could be reprinted in the college newspaper. She was the editor.
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Co-Co-Caleevio by David Alexander

Dominick “Dee” de Venise’s textile warehouse has been in the family for generations, but he’ll have to torch it for the insurance money. De Venise has no other choice. The Mezzatesta family is into him for boo-koo bucks and if he doesn’t pay off, he’s history.

The only other option de Venise has is to stage a big-money heist planned by his crooked lawyer friend Arnie, but he’s already turned down that particular deal. Arnie’s plan is too risky, and besides, de Venise knows Arnie long enough and well enough not to trust him. De Venise doesn’t trust anyone to torch the business either. Wanting it done right, he plans to do it himself, then set up an ironclad alibi.

Everything goes like clockwork until the insurance company refuses to pay off on de Venise’s policy, leaving him with no business to run and no money to buy off his wise guy creditors.

With no more cards to play at this point, de Venise agrees to do the European heist. If nothing else, it will get him out of the country, and if de Venise is really lucky and really smart, there’s even an outside chance of him scoring the bucks he needs to get him straight with the mob and put him back in action.

Just like when he was a kid, the name of the game is CO—CO—CALEEVIO—single, double, triple. Catch the ball to win. Fumble the ball and … forget about it.
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The Last Collar by Lawrence Kelter & Frank Zafiro

The demons that drive John “Mocha” Moccia to obsess, to put absolutely everyone under a microscope, and scratch away at every last clue, make him the best hardnosed detective in Brooklyn homicide. But these same demons may very well write the final chapter in his career.

He isn’t the kind of detective to take no for an answer, but in his most recent case answers are damn hard to come by. Partnered with the conscientious Detective Matt Winslow, Mocha endeavors to solve the murder of the wealthy and beautiful Jessica Shannon, a woman who had every reason to live.

As Mocha and Winslow strive to push forward the hands of time and solve the murder, their imposing lieutenant breathes down their necks, suspects are scarce, and all of the evidence seems to be a dead end.

With the last precious grains of sand falling through the hourglass, Mocha pushes ever forward, determined to make an arrest, even if it means this collar will be his last.

Authors Lawrence Kelter and Frank Zafiro recently discussed their novel, THE LAST COLLAR, with The Big Thrill:

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

More than anything, we hope that they will be engrossed in a different world for a few hours, and care about the people in that world. If the idea that we have to live each day to its fullest lingers afterward, that’d be even better.
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In Defiance by John W. Mefford

A volatile hostage situation at a foster home reaches a bitter end: shots are fired, some die, some live to tell a sordid tale. In the midst of the anguish and confusion is one child who will bear the scars of this unbelievable turmoil.

As a special investigator for Child Protective Services, Ivy Nash lives by one rule: she’ll do anything to fight for the wellbeing of children. Something that was never done for her. As a “system” kid, she spent time in seventeen foster homes.

Very quickly, the facts of the case are blurred…accusations of sibling abuse, connections to drugs. Nothing lines up, and authorities want it all to go away. Their target? A ten-year-old boy. Unrelenting in her pursuit to find the truth, Ivy and her new friend Cristina uncover alarming new information to pinpoint who is at the root of the crime.

But evil knows no boundaries. Shockwaves of her most horrific childhood memories erupt into the present, and Ivy knows that she’s in the fight for her life.
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No Happy Endings by Angel Luis Colón

Fantine Park is not the woman her mother was—she’s certainly not the safecracker her mother was either. Hell, she’s not much of anything useful these days. Fresh off parole after a stint in the joint for a poorly thought out casino robbery, Fantine finds herself confronted by an old partner of her mother’s and right back in the thick of it.

Unfortunately, the man dragging her back to the life she left behind, one Aleksei Uryvich, is a complete bully and an idiot—content to believe he can get anything he wants with his brutish nature and the threat of a bullet for Fan’s elderly father, Jae.

The score: semen. Yes, semen. Gallons of it. Particularly, the genetic man-batter from supposed Ivy Leaguers and other elite. The material nets top dollar from Asia, and Aleksei is foaming at the mouth at the profit potential.

The plan: there is no real plan. Fantine has to get it out of Evensight Storage; a sperm bank situated right by the Battery Park Tunnel in Manhattan. A place barely anyone but a sad sack with an empty sack sees the inside of on a day-to-day basis.

There’s no guarantee anyone involved in this mess is getting out alive, especially when Fantine finds herself face to face with the psychopath known as O Leiteiro—The Milkman.

Angel Luis Colón recently spent some time discussing his latest novel with The Big Thrill.
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Scared to Death by Rachel Amphlett

By Dan Levy

At one point or another, every writer has questioned his or her commitment. Maybe it was when the alarm went off again at 4:30 AM because it’s the only writing time available. Maybe it’s after the latest rejection letter, because you lost count of how many you’ve received. Maybe it was during that moment when the words just wouldn’t come.

How serious am I about my writing? the struggling writer wonders yet again.

For Rachel Amphlett the question burned inside, Then, one day “I made the decision that my writing was more important than my job.” The Brisbane, Australia-based author decided the time was right for a five-week writing sabbatical. “My boss was really shocked. I think my friends and my family were too. I feel like this is it. I’m on the tipping point, and I want to make such a good go of this. I’ve got one chance at this. If I let it go, I don’t think it’s going to come around again.”

The end result was Amphlett’s Kay Hunter series, and the debut novel SCARED TO DEATH appeared on bookshelves last month.

With seven previous published novels to her credit—including the Dan Taylor espionage series—it could be argued that Amphlett had developed a good set of thriller-writing chops. But in her own mind, there was still a lot of untapped potential waiting to break out. “Writing in different sub-genres of crime, you do learn more. You give yourself stretch targets.”
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Pacific Homicide by Patricia Smiley

By Karen Harper

Davie Richards is a female Homicide detective, a petite redhead, a second-generation LAPD cop, an expert marksman who carries a Smith & Wesson .45, and a composite of every strong woman author Patricia Smiley has ever known.

She’s also the protagonist in a new hardboiled detective series that begins with PACIFIC HOMICIDE.

Most cops spend their entire careers without firing a weapon in the line of duty. Davie is an outlier, a cop who killed a suspect to save her partner’s life. While she waits for the police commission to rule on the shooting, she’s called out to probe the gruesome homicide of Anya Nosova, a nineteen-year-old Russian beauty whose body is found in the Los Angeles sewer system.

With her own case in limbo, Davie knows any mistakes in the investigation could end her career. As she hunts for the murderer, somebody begins to hunt her…and it’s no longer just her job that’s on the line.

In PACIFIC HOMICIDE, Smiley has crafted a tight story with a great female lead that seems destined for the big or small screen. In this interview with The Big Thrill she talks about her longstanding work with the LAPD and how it contributes to her career as an author.

This new series is considered “hardboiled,” whereas you have written  detective/amateur sleuth novels previously.  What do you see as the major differences in these subgenres, and is one more challenging to write than the other?

The difference in subgenres can be boiled down to tone, attitude, and subject matter. All writing is a challenge, but the bigger issue for me wasn’t switching subgenres, it was changing from first person narration to third person. My previous four novels are traditional mysteries with a first-person protagonist who has a sense of humor. It’s an intimate way to tell a story because we always know what the character sees, hears, and feels. The tone in PACIFIC HOMICIDE is darker and the writing is more serious, although for me humor is essential to a satisfying read, so you’ll find some of that in the new book too. The story is told in third person mostly in Davie’s point of view. I chose a less intimate POV to tell the story because of Davie’s stoic nature and her inclination to keep people at a distance. The change was an interesting learning experience.
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Duplicity by Ingrid Thoft

By Guy Bergstrom

Fina Ludlow is a Boston detective who debuted in Loyalty, then starred in Identity and Brutality, which won the Shamus Award for the best private investigator novel.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer describes the series as, “Sexy, modern noir… [with] a new generation kick-ass heroine” while the Associated Press said, “One could imagine Fina becoming fast friends and colleagues with Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone and Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan.” That last bit is funny, since Sara Paretsky is the one who presented that Shamus Award to Thoft at Bouchercon.

The latest novel, DUPLICITY, kicks off when a mother hires Fina’s firm to go after a hip new church, one that she claims brainwashed her daughter. Things only get worse from there, with the death of a prominent church member and the investigation turning complex and explosive, forcing her to face the true meaning of faith.

Thoft now lives in Seattle but grew up in Boston, making the setting completely natural and easy. The detective part wasn’t natural or easy, so she graduated from the University of Washington with a certificate in private investigation.

What do you hope readers take from DUPLICITY?

My top priority is always providing readers with a “good read.” I want them to close the book with a sense of satisfaction, having been engaged and entertained. In DUPLICITY, in particular, I would be thrilled if the themes of faith and loyalty prompt readers to reflect even just a little on their own allegiances. Fina is forced to grapple with the questions of what and who she believes in, and also, how best to respect those whose belief systems are so very different from her own.

As I was writing the book, it struck that in a time of enormous dissent and disagreement in our country, these are questions with which we are all forced to contend.
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Job’s Comfort by A.J. Davidson

By Austin S. Camacho

The best fiction goes beyond entertainment to make a statement or observation about society. A. J. Davidson does both jobs well in his latest novel, JOB’S COMFORT.

The book opens with Deputy Val Bosanquet returning from Guatemala planning to resign from the East Feliciana Sheriff’s Department. Before he can, he is drawn into two investigations that he can’t refuse. Pursuit of the hit-and-run killer of a thirteen-year-old girl, and help a friend framed for murder.

Bosanquet, a decorated former New Orleans homicide cop, has been a wayward and troubled detective for most of his career. After the loss of his unborn child he was eventually lured back to law enforcement as an East Feliciana deputy sheriff, where he puts his detective skills to good use.

“He prefers to work alone to protect those close to him,” Davidson says, “fearing a repeat of the earlier tragedy. Unlike the majority of his peers, Val does not view criminality in terms of black and white, appreciating that everyone is capable of acting out of character if sufficiently incited.”

Bosanquet does not see himself as a hero.  Rather, he suspects he has more in common with the criminals he pursues.
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The Naked Nymph in the Dark Flickers by Ray Dyson

naked-nymphBy David Swatling

Hollywood 1931. A place where bulls interrogate frails, and dewdroppers hang around waiting for their big break. A place where finishing a movie can take precedent over blackmail or even murder. These are some of the challenges that face film studio security chief Neil Brand, ex-cop and former stuntman, in Ray Dyson’s THE NAKED NYMPH IN THE DARK FLICKERS. This hard-boiled crime story is a dazzling mix of noir and Hollywood history, told with the gritty light and shade of a classic black-and-white motion picture.

Ray Dyson studied journalism at Ohio State University and spent many years as a newspaperman, covering crime and sports. I’ve met many thriller authors who began their writing careers in journalism. So that was where I started a spirited conversation with Dyson for The Big Thrill.

How did working as a crime journalist help your approach to crime fiction?

A good reporter must be a good observer. Those two things go hand-in-hand for investigative reporters. The same is certainly true—and to a far greater extent—for criminal investigators. There isn’t a homicide dick in the world worth a lick if he isn’t a first-class observer. Those boys understand a crime is solved by paying attention to the details. I’ve spent a great deal of time watching them at work—or at least exploring the details of those efforts—developing a good understanding of how they go about their duties. It can be a slow, painstaking affair as they work to crack a tough case, but when you talk to them afterward it can be fascinating to learn how they put the puzzle together. Hopefully, that carries over to my stories.
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Storey by Keith Dixon

storeyBy L. E. Fitzpatrick

Keith Dixon, UK author of the popular Sam Dyke tales, kicks off a new series with the story of a man trying to escape an event that ruined his professional life, and leaves him vulnerable to the kind of riff raff that put him in a tight spot in the first place.

But when he finds himself drawn to a manipulative con-woman and is dragged into a high-profile antiquities scam, Storey realizes escaping his past may not be as easy as he’d hoped. In fact, it could turn deadly.

In this interview with The Big Thrill, Dixon shares his inspiration for this new series, talks about his love for Elmore Leonard, and what it’s like to start with a fresh new character.

What can you tell us about your new series protagonist, Pail Storey?

Paul Storey is a man who has been extremely good at his job in law enforcement but an unfortunate event undermines his self-belief. Storey has come home to Coventry because he feels his professionalism has been compromised by what transpired in London, and he can’t get his head straight to function properly in that former role. He wants to reset, find something different to do—returning to Coventry to take care of his father’s property is a good prompt to do just that.

What’s your relationship with Coventry?

I was born in Yorkshire but raised in Coventry. When I was growing up it was a dynamic place, the home of many car manufacturing companies, and called a “boom town” by the press, partly because of the rebuilding it underwent after the German bombing of World War II. My previous crime novels had all been set in the North West of England, where I’d spent many years, and I thought it would be interesting to revisit my home town almost as a stranger. Because I had a new character to deal with, it seemed sensible to give him a different location to roam around in, a place where he could best the bad guys.
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Dark Fissures by Matt Coyle

dark-fissuresPrivate Investigator Rick Cahill fears the next knock on his door will be a cop holding a warrant for his arrest. For murder. La Jolla Chief of Police Tony Moretti is convinced Rick killed a missing person. No body has been found, but the evidence that’s piling up says murder and it all points to Rick. With Moretti on his tail and the bank about to foreclose on his house, Rick takes a paying case that will stave off the bank, but pits him against Moretti and the La Jolla Police Department.

Brianne Colton, a beautiful country singer, is convinced her estranged husband’s suicide was really murder. Rick is unconvinced, but the mortgage has to be paid. Each new piece of evidence convinces him she’s right. He breaks his number one rule and falls for Brianne, even as he begins to question her motives.

As Moretti cinches the vise tighter, with Rick unable to trust the FBI, evil forces emerge from the shadows who will do anything, including torture and murder, to stop Rick from uncovering the truth.

Author Matt Coyle recently sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss his latest novel, DARK FISSURES:

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

An enjoyable read. A greater sense of who Rick Cahill is, but to still have a few questions about what makes him tick. To put themselves in Rick’s place and wonder if they’d make the same decisions he did.
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The Thrill List: An Anthology of Crime Thriller Quick Reads by Catherine Lea

thrill-listBy Guy Bergstrom

Any fan of thrillers knows the appeal of a ticking clock. And it’s typical for an author to write one book a year, and for that book to get published in six months to a year.

Not the case with this anthology, the brainchild of New Zealand writer Catherine Lea, who recruited 11 other authors for the project.

“The whole process—including compilation, finding a suitable cover, formatting, tweaking, etc.—was completed within a two-and-a-half week period, during which I also designed the landing with links through to four retailers,” Lea said.

The authors with stories in the book, aside from Lea, are Diane Capri, Russell Blake, Cat Connor, Helen Hanson, Austin Camacho, Mark Bastable, Jerry Hatchett, Joe Konrath, Arthur Kerns, Ken Isaacson and J. H. Bográn.

What made you think of these specific authors for the collection, and how do the stories work together as a theme?

I initially reached out to authors I knew, then some I didn’t know but knew of. I’m so fortunate to have enlisted authors who not only cover a variety of sub-genres but who also keen to suggest other thriller authors who might be interested as well. It also helped that everyone who came on board was keen to see the project succeed, and brought in suggestions to get it up and running.

Is there something different about short stories and anthologies vs novels that made you want to do this?

One of the major considerations was the fact that I wanted the final collection to be free. It’s a marketing tool for everyone who contributed. Because I didn’t want to be responsible for payment of royalties to other authors, I included a clause in the contract which states that in the event of the book attracting any royalties while waiting to be price matched, those royalties would be put towards advertising and marketing costs. I’ve tried to be very transparent in this regard. These are friends and fellow authors who have put their trust in me. That trust is important to me.
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A Chaser on the Rocks by Simon Maltman

chaser-coverBy Jaden Terrell

Simon Maltman began his artistic career as a singer/songwriter, and his experience as a lyricist shows in his spare, cut-to-the-bone writing style, and the rhythms of his characters’ dialogue. His debut novel, A CHASER ON THE ROCKS, is set in Northern Ireland and is best described as a mystery noir with a twist ending worthy of Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island. The similarities are primarily in tone rather than content, though, so no spoilers here.

When asked about his writing journey, Maltman says, “I first started writing crime fiction shorts about four years ago. Before that I dabbled in different types of writing, though mostly in music. I started getting some stories published and gained a few nice reviews from bloggers and magazines. I’ve just been building it up really, trying to find a bit of an audience.”

The novel is structured as a story within a story, as modern-day private eye Brian writes a 1940s narrative about a character named Chapman. This narrative, undertaken at the suggestion of Brian’s therapist, contains echoes of and clues to Brian’s current circumstances.

Please join me in welcoming Maltman for a chat about A CHASER ON THE ROCKS.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your new book. Why don’t we start with how you decided on the parallel structure for this novel?

I had been approached by an agent to write a novel, and I had been trying out a few ideas. I particularly favored two protagonists that I had used in a number of shorts. The idea just hit me along the way that Brian could be writing the Billy story. It then just grew from there, that Brian writes stories as part of his mental health recovery. Then came the linking them together and trying to structure it so it’s not confusing for the reader.
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Blood on the Tracks by Barbara Nickless

bloodonthetracks-222036-cv-ft-finalBy Jon Land

Writing and publishing a first novel kind of reminds me of the great line from Samuel Johnson about a dog walking on its hind legs:  “It is seldom done well, but you are surprised to see it being done at all.”

Well, Barbara Nickless does it, and very well at that, in BLOOD ON THE TRACKS.  Her debut thriller makes splendid use of both primary and secondary research in fashioning a well-executed tale that features a unique backdrop.  Nickless’s style is reminiscent of Nevada Barr, but I also saw some traces of C.J. Box and even the late great Tony Hillerman.

Indeed, these days building your brand as a thriller writer means staking out a ground and making it your own.  That’s what Nickless does in taking us into the little known world of railroad cops, and the kind of work they do beyond securing AMTRAK stations from potential terrorists.  I sat down with Barbara recently to pick her brain about where the idea originated and how she assembled such diverse material into a coherent story.

I have to start with the whole notion of making your hero/heroine a railroad policeman.  Could you tell us why you did and where you got the idea?

A few years ago, I read a book by modern-day hobo Eddy Joe Cotton (called, appropriately, Hobo), and I became fascinated with the homeless people who catch out on freight trains and ride them all around the country. Every hobo is familiar with the bulls—the railroad cops. When I learned that railway police have the same jurisprudence as traditional police, it was a eureka moment. I’ve always loved crime fiction; now I had an idea for a police procedural, but with a gritty twist.

Plot wise, BLOOD ON THE TRACKS delves into the notion of a cultish band of killers, kind of like murderous hobos, who call the rails home.  That’s actually based on fact, isn’t it?

There really is a gang called the Freight Train Riders of America. FTRA was likely started by a group of Vietnam vets as a way to create camaraderie among rail riders. A wonderful idea. But at some point, the group was hijacked by criminal elements. A lot of FTRA’s members have been linked to crimes ranging from fraud and theft to serial murder.
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For Her Sins by Maynard Sims

for-her-sinsBy Alex Segura

The murder of a young nun would raise eyebrows during any time period, but is especially combustible in the late ‘50s, on the cusp of one of the most tumultuous decades in history. It’s December 1959 and Detective Jack Callum and his colleagues must discover the truth as the shadow of guilt falls on a local and dashing priest.

The case is a lightning rod for the small English town, mobilizing the local leaders and regular folk to speak out against the crime. The added attention only piles on the pressure on Callum: this case has to be solved, and quickly. Then the post-mortem results arrive, and the entire neighborhood is left spinning.

So begins FOR HER SINS, Maynard Sims’s third Jack Callum novel and perhaps her most taut and fast-paced. Unafraid to explore the complex and controversial, FOR HER SINS pulls back the curtains on Callum’s home, and what’s revealed causes more violence to erupt.

Callum’s sharp intellect and old school values take center stage in the book, which is smartly set in a time before forensics were able to reveal every minute detail of a crime. Sims (the pen name of co-writers Len Maynard and Mick Sims) manages to weave issues that are not only vibrant for the time but also extremely relevant today to create a compulsively readable mystery. We had the chance to chat with Mick Sims about the latest Callum book over email.

How would you describe the Jack Callum crime novels to a newcomer?

They are an ongoing series of crime novels set in the England of the 1950’s, moving into the 1960’s. They all feature Detective Chief Inspector Jack Callum, his family and his team of colleagues. They all have the twin focus of hard to solve, often violent crimes, and the developing family life of Jack and the changing morals and attitudes of the post War period.
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Skin of Tattoos by Christina Hoag

skinoftattooscoverBy George Ebey

New this month is author Christina Hoag’s SKIN OF TATTOOS, a harrowing thriller set in the world of inner-city gangs.

Los Angles homeboy Magdaleno is paroled from prison after serving time on a gun possession frame-up by a rival, Rico, who takes over as gang shotcaller in Mags’s absence. Mags promises himself and his Salvadoran immigrant family a fresh start, but he can’t find either the decent job or the respect he craves from his parents and his firefighter brother, who look at him as a disappointment. Moreover, Rico, under pressure to earn money to free the Cyco Lokos’ jailed top leader and eager to exert his authority over his rival-turned-underling, isn’t about to let Mags get out of his reach. Ultimately, Mags’s desire for revenge and respect pushes him to make a decision that ensnares him in a world seeded with deceit and betrayal, where the only escape from rules that carry a heavy price for transgression is sacrifice.

The Big Thrill checked in with Hoag to learn more about this story and her thoughts on the craft of suspense.

What first inspired you to write a thriller set in the gang underworld of Los Angeles?

The genesis for SKIN OF TATTOOS came from interviews I did for a magazine story in El Salvador on gang members deported from Los Angeles to San Salvador, which most of them really didn’t know because their families had emigrated when they were infants. It was a classic “fish out of water” story. They neither belonged in El Salvador nor in the United States. Their story stayed with me because I moved around the world as a child so I know the feeling of not really belonging anywhere. The novel grew out of that, plus my general interest in gangs as a subculture within our larger society. I also co-wrote a nonfiction book on gang intervention called Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence.

Tell us about your character, Magdaleno Argueta.  What has his journey been like up to this point?

When we meet Mags, he’s pretty hopeful about his future. After doing time, he wants to put his gang days behind him. He’s smart and he desperately wants something more out of life. But circumstances stack up against him: a criminal record, a lack of work experience and job skills, an unsupportive family. He becomes disillusioned. On top of that, he can’t escape the gang because not only are his homeboys around physically, but they’re his best friends. He misses them, he misses being somebody. The final nail is that his nemesis, Rico, has taken over as shotcaller, or gang leader. Mags, who had seen himself as shotcaller, falls victim to his pride. He wants revenge. And revenge doesn’t lead to good places.
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The Vanishing Year by Kate Moretti

vanishingBy Matt Ferraz

Kate Moretti’s THE VANISHING YEAR has been called a Dark Places meets The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—and though her story differs from both, Moretti says she was certainly influenced by the authors.

“This was actually the pitch we made to my editor for my next novel, The Remainders, and my agent liked it so much he put it in the Publisher’s Marketplace listing,” Moretti says. “I adored both of those books and my aim was to infuse the idea of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (a woman trying to extricate herself from a crime while in hiding) and the mood/concept of Dark Places (a woman is famous for a crime in her childhood.) The public comparison makes me horribly nervous, both books are somewhat both iconic in the genre. My agent has a lot of faith in me.”

Clearly so do her fans.  In this The Big Thrill interview, Moretti talks about her latest tale of suspense—the thrilling story of a wealthy woman with a mysterious past—and how her work as a scientist fits within her already successful writing career.

Did you ever expect to become a New York Times bestseller?

No. True story. I would not have checked the newspaper. I got a Facebook message from my (now) agent asking me to call him. I thought it was a joke, but I called. He asked if I knew my book had hit the New York Times bestseller list. Of course I hadn’t! He offered representation and I said I’d have to call him back. I called my mom. I called my husband. I waited (days!) for the list to be published and double checked to make sure I was actually on it. Then I called him back and accepted. It was still the craziest week of my life.

Have you already made the big move and quit your day job to become a full time writer? How was it like?

No. I like my job. I work for Johnson & Johnson and I enjoy it. I mostly do technical writing now. I work a lot from home. I’m part time, though. That was a nice reprieve, to actually be able to devote hours on my “days off” to writing and reserve the rest for my family. Before, I was shoving writing in the cracks of my life, early mornings and late nights and talking into a microphone while I commuted, to be transcribed later. It was choppy and inefficient.
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Mad Dog Barked by Rick Ollerman

maddog_ecoverRick Oller is on a roll with great reviews and great noir thrillers. The title of his new book—Mad Dog Barked— is enough to make someone pick it up out of curiosity, and then stay to appreciate the surprises and the story.

Oller chats with The Big Thrill this month to talk about the inspiration behind his new release, the meaning of “noir”, and his advice for aspiring writers.

Please tell us what MAD DOG BARKED is about.

I never want to write the same book twice (or more). MAD DOG is my private investigator book, about an arrogant man who gets results by doing things his own way. He prefers to work on cases where he’s going against an aggressive prosecution but here he finds his way onto something when he takes a large retainer from a rich man who then disappears, leaving behind a cryptic and mysterious letter.

Your excellent website pegs you as a dynamic noir author.  Do you see yourself that way and what does noir mean for your writing?

Noir to me means your protagonist starts out screwed and ends up more screwed. I don’t think I’ve written a noir book yet that fits my definition. The protagonists may not be in a good place at the end of the book but they’re often more messed up than they were in the beginning. But people, innocent and good people, have often been hurt by his actions. So there are elements but I agree with Bill Crider’s review of MAD DOG BARKED when he said it “wasn’t quite noir” to him. Not quite to me, either, but there are certainly elements.

I love the Ed Gorman review for your work: “This has the power to hurt you.”  What did he mean by that and how has that worked in your writing?

When I saw that I thought, “Ed so gets me.” I want to make the reader feel the characters’ pain in the books. In addition to increasing tension and suspense, involving the reader with an emotional response helps set the hook deeper and deeper. Ed wrote that about my previous book and if that book will “hurt” the reader, I want the reader to finish MAD DOG and feel like they want to come after me with a 2 x 4.
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Debt to Pay by Reed Farrel Coleman

The Art of Wreaking Revenge

debt to payBy Tim O’Mara

I had arranged to have Reed Farrel Coleman pick me up at the Ronkonkoma train station on Long Island. After all, this is where we first meet Reed’s ex-cop Gus Murphy in Where it Hurts (January 2016). I had taken the train to speak with Reed about the other series character he’s been working with, Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone, and I didn’t think either of us had the time or inclination to travel up to Boston to have this conversation half an hour or so from the fictional town of Paradise. So, Long Island it was. We’d talk—I hope—more about Gus some other day, but today was about Jesse Stone’s next adventure, ROBERT B. PARKER’S DEBT TO PAY.

One of the first things that stood out to me after reading the book was the length of the chapters—an average of about three-and-a-half pages each.

“Seven hundred and fifty to a thousand words,”Coleman says. “That’s the way Parker did it and the fans like it that way. I had to teach myself how to write like that, and if I do it right, each chapter is a story of its own. The shorter chapters build the story’s momentum, which is good because DEBT TO PAY is more of a thriller than mystery.”

So what’s the downside to shorter chapters?

“You get less time for exposition and less time for internal monologue. But I felt my main responsibility was to return to the tone of the first three Jesse books. I wanted them to be darker, more gritty, and I wanted to build up the body count. Fans of the series tend to conflate the books with the Tom Selleck movies, and I wanted to reestablish Parker’s original tone.

“I also felt the need to further develop the town of Paradise as a recognizable entity. I wanted it to be more of a character. I need setting in my stories and since a large percentage of this book takes place outside of Paradise—as opposed to the other Jesse Stone books—I wanted the feeling of the town to come through.”
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Grand Trunk and Shearer by Ian Truman

grand trunkBy Terri Nolan

Ian Truman is from a working-class family and proud of his origins. A native of the East End of Montreal, he writes fiction about what he knows. With nineteen boroughs in the province of Quebec and a large inland port, Montreal is a storyteller’s dream location.

The definition of noir is working-class tragedy and GRAND TRUNK AND SHEARER has it aplenty. The novel opens with every person’s nightmare: a phone call in the dead hours of night. D’Arcy Kennedy grasps the phone and hears, “Cillian’s in the canal.” His brother’s body is stuck in the pillars under the bridge. The police write off Cillian’s death as accidental. D’Arcy knows better. And he and a trio of friends are going to prove it. The quest takes them to notorious neighborhoods where they encounter skinheads, a racist organization, former gay bashers, the Irish mob, and the MMA circuit.

What was the genesis for GRAND TRUNK AND SHEARER?

Change and instability is a great setting for stories. GRAND TRUNK AND SHEARER is a street corner in Montreal. It’s the representation of a former working-class neighborhood being gentrified very quickly. It’s close to downtown and is being destroyed incredibly fast by glass towers and luxury condos. So there’s an incredible amount of pressure on the poor and the workers: people like me, my dad, and people we know—truck drivers, welders, warehouse workers, mechanics.

A place like Pointe-Saint-Charles is a unique setting in a unique time, which makes it a great place to set a story. It was one of the first places to be bilingual (French and English) in Canada. It was the Anglo (Irish, mostly) and Franco working class living together in this tiny, melting-pot neighborhood stuck between railroad tracks and a canal, shipping lanes, flour mills, and the port.

Your novel La Shop is in French and GRAND TRUNK AND SHEARER has English, French, and Gaelic. How do you balance different languages?

La Shop is a French translation of The Factory Line. I used chapters as homework in all my workshops in college. I worked on the translation for about a year later. It’s in what’s known as Joual French; an accent specific to Quebec. It’s not that far from Cajun because they were French settlers deported from Canada to Louisiana.

The story of The Factory Line is a true-ish account of life in a Montreal factory. My days in those workplaces happened in French, English, Spanish, Arabic, and Haitian Creole … that’s just the reality of Montreal and I try to incorporate it in my stories as much as storytelling arcs and language barriers will allow.

Mixing languages is probably easier in theater and film. The actors play out the accents. I found it really hard to integrate accents and languages. I sometimes stop to ask myself where the slang words go in order to make it as realistic as common speech. People will switch when the natural flow of the tongue warrants it or when you’re going into a new direction/idea.
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Triple Shot by Ross Klavan, Tim O’Mara and Charles Salzberg

triple shotBy Matt Ferraz

Three very different guys with lots of experience in crime get together after a job goes wrong, and decide to make a buck. If the next job goes according to the plan, all the planning won’t go to waste. One of them, who has the best contacts, finds someone willing to finance the project, and now the only question is how those three different minds will work together. That could very well be the plot of a crime story written by either Ross Klavan, Tim O’Mara or Charles Salzberg. But in reality Kavlan, Salzberg and O’Mara are the three guys, and this story actually happened after them. The three authors decided to put their stories together in TRIPLE SHOT.

“We had written these novellas for a website that was going to offer a new novella every month to subscribers,” says Salzberg. “It never got off the ground, so we decided to publish them in a collection.” TRIPLE SHOT came true after O’Mara got together with editor Eric Campbell, who liked the project. “Eric likes to say ‘yes’ to ideas that interest him,” says O’Mara. “When I told him it sounded so simple, his response was ‘It is simple. The big guys make it hard.’ ”

“We’re all friends and I’ve had lunch once a week practically every week with Ross and we’ll continue that,” says Salzberg. “And if Tim didn’t have an actual job, damn him, he’d be invited too.” Since the three novellas were already finished, there was little creative pressure involved in the project. “The only way they are connected is that they’re all crime stories with a definite noir feel to them,” says Klavan.

Klavan wrote the first novella in the book, THUMP GUN HITCHED, a gritty tale of corruption that draws inspiration from Western movies. “I wanted to write something where the desert would play a big part. Something that would be a Western, but not take place on the Old West.” The author claims to take his creative process really serious ever since his childhood. One of his first published stories was Some New Faces in the Oldest Profession, which he sold to Hustler magazine in 1975. The story started as a college paper about a prostitute Klavan had met, and one of his professors suggested that, with a bit more sex, it could be publishable in a gentlemen’s magazine.
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The Short List by Frank Zafiro and Eric Beetner

short listBy Guy Bergstrom

Two partners, working together—that’s the foundation of many crime novels.

THE SHORT LIST adds two more twists: there are alternating chapters from the heroes, Cam and Bricks, written by the partnership of authors Eric Beetner and Frank Zafiro.

Zafiro lives in Washington State and served as a police officer for 20 years. Beetner is a crime author based in LA. While they’ve both written a long list of other novels, this is the second time they’ve collaborated on a Cam and Bricks story.

Beetner took time to explain how this partnership happened and what they expect for the future.

What inspired you to team up for this project?

Frank and I have known each other online for a while, ever since I did a cover for him a few years back. Since then I’ve done several covers for Frank’s books and I really liked what I’d read of his. We started discussing collaborating since we’d both done it with other authors and had enjoyed the process. We hit on this idea and it flowed really well from there so the idea of a second book (and soon a third) was a no brainer.

For THE SHORT LIST we keep to the same basic structure of The Backlist with alternating chapters from Cam and Bricks, but now they are in a different place in their partnership. Cam is still a train wreck though, and Bricks is still smarter than he is.
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Storm Crashers by Richard Wickliffe

stormRichard Wickliffe was inspired by real-life crimes when he wrote his new crime-thriller STORM CRASHERS. The author answered a few questions for The Big Thrill on separating fact from fiction and on his unique route for acquiring a Hollywood option.

Tell us about STORM CRASHERS

The Storm Crashers are a team of high-tech burglars that target wealthy areas that are evacuated for approaching hurricanes. Imagine no electricity or police access. In my novel, STORM CRASHERS, one resident—a single mother—refuses to evacuate and witnesses the thieves. While trying to protect her daughter, she shoots and inadvertently kills one of them. When she reports what she saw to police, no one believes her story, and the crashers want to eliminate their only witness.

Concurrently, an investigator studies reports of thefts reported during the storm. He teams with a female detective who believes the woman’s story. Despite being reprimanded by their respective bosses, they unravel a mystery that exposes the origin of the thieves, and could ultimately impact our national security as a new Category 5 storm targets Miami.

As wild and unique as that seems, what were the seeds of truth behind the idea?

Hurricane Charlie had swept through Sanibel-Captiva islands off the coast of Florida, which is a primary setting in STORM CRASHERS. In the wake of Charlie, officials told residents they could not return to their homes due to damaged bridges, no power, or police access. I imagined how burglars could have a field day. I took that idea a step further, equipping them with night vision goggles, special gear, and so on.

In reality, many burglaries were reported during that period, including a pharmacy that lost a load of narcotics with a nearly priceless street value. I included that scenario in STORM CRASHERS. Police were amazed that criminals were so industrious during such harsh conditions.
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Stay Dead by Jessie Keane

stay deadThere’s something intoxicating about getting lost in a book, and since I hit pay dirt (at last!) eight years ago and started on my life as a professional writer, I’ve been busy getting lost in a whole series of them.

In 2008, I was flat broke, living in the suburbs of southern England with no heating and (after 20 years of rejection slips and forays into comedy crime and chick-lit) the firm idea that I had to give up on the idea of writing books and get a “Proper Job.”

Having a fractured home life, I left school without qualifications, missing my chance to go to art college. After that, I had loads of “filler” jobs—dental nurse, deli meat-slicer, clerical assistant. I taught myself to type (only so I could write books) and became a secretary for a short while. But what I really wanted to do was write.

I’ve always been obsessed with London, I think it’s the most beautiful city in the world, and so—obstinate to the last—I decided to give it just one more throw of the dice. If nothing happened, then that would be it. Finished.

I wrote Dirty Game, an underworld thriller set in 1960’s “swinging” London, home of the Krays and other big criminal gangs. I invented a villainous, charismatic hero called Max Carter who was hot as hell, and Annie Bailey who was a beautiful bad girl, unloved by her parents and envious of her good sister. Max and Annie came together. Fireworks!

Reader, I sent it off to agents. You know how it is at this stage. You’ll send it out into the world, your baby, to up to maybe 30 agents and few of them will even bother to answer. I sent it to six—and two answered! One demanded rewrites and said she might have someone who’d be interested, but not to hold my breath. Was she kidding? This was never going to happen. I knew it.

Only I was wrong. Next day the agent came back and said, “are you sitting down?” I had a three-book deal with a major publisher, for a six-figure sum, so I had to get on with writing book two, sharpish.
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