Warrant Officer Jan Magson, of the South African Police Service, looks down at the decomposing body of a teenage girl. She was tortured and hanged, and she wasn’t the first. Trapped in a dark place following his wife’s death after a battle with cancer, the pursuit of a serial killer who will not stop threatens to suffocate Magson. While the killer fantasizes about his next victim, Magson nurtures his own dark fantasies, his service pistol in his hand.
Author Martin Steyn recently discussed his latest novel, DARK TRACES, with The Big Thrill:
Sixty-one-year-old Shelby Truman, a bestselling romance novelist, receives a request to visit her childhood friend, Eddie, who is on death row. Though mentally ill, Eddie is scheduled to be executed for murder. As Shelby travels home to Texas for the unnerving reunion, she recalls her stormy five-decade-long relationship with Eddie in order to understand what led the beautiful and talented, but troubled, boy who lived across the street to become a killer. Her flashbacks, whether they occurred in the nearby public park or Eddie’s bomb shelter–their “secret hiding place” where they could escape Eddie’s abusive father–begin to reveal shocking truths. Most significant is the tragedy one summer, which set in motion a lifelong struggle against an Evil, with a capital “E,” that corrupted their all-American neighborhood.
The Big Thrill caught up with award-winning novelist Raymond Benson to discuss his latest novel, THE SECRETS ON CHICORY LANE:
Former Pittsburgh narcotics detective Trevor Galloway has been hired to look into the year-old homicide of a prominent businessman who was gunned down on his estate in Central Pennsylvania. When Galloway arrives, he determines the murder could have only been committed by someone extremely skilled in two areas: skiing and shooting. He believes the assailant should not be too difficult to identify, given the great amount of skill and athleticism needed to pull off the attack. When he discovers the victim’s property is next door to a biathlon training camp, the situation becomes significantly more complicated.
Galloway makes plenty of enemies as he sifts through stories about lucrative land deals, possible drug connections, and uncovers evidence suggesting the homicide may have been an elaborate suicide. As he attempts to navigate through an unfamiliar rural landscape, he does his best not to succumb to an old drug addiction, or become confused by one of his occasional hallucinations. Oh, and a Pittsburgh drug gang enforcer known as The Lithuanian—if he’s even real—is tracking Galloway and wants to take his eyes. Galloway would rather keep those.
In BOLT ACTION REMEDY, the typically quiet streets of Washaway Township, Pennsylvania become the epicenter of a mystery involving elite athletes and old grudges. For Galloway, the problems keep piling up and somebody out there believes problems should be dealt with by employing the most permanent of remedies.
BOLT ACTION REMEDY author, J. J. Hensley, took time out of his busy schedule to discuss his latest book with The Big Thrill:
Beatrice Stone came to the West Coast young and delectable, with high hopes and big plans for a long career on the silver screen. It hasn’t worked out. She has a secret… She loves someone she isn’t allowed to. It’s a love that’s forbidden, and it ruins her. Pretty dreams don’t always come true, and she descends into the streets, living for the next bottle of gin. A prostitute and a thief, she gets by any way she can. She steals something without knowing how valuable it is, and the people she stole it from want it back badly enough to kill her.
The last man Beatrice Stone ever propositions is private eye Nate Crowe. He turns her down, but something about her touches him. He gives her five bucks and watches her walk away, not knowing that she’s going to haunt him, or that he’s going to haunt her murderers.
Author Bob Bickford spent some time discussing his novel, HAU TREE GREEN, with The Big Thrill:
In the early hours of a Thursday morning in August 1963, one of the UK’s most famous crimes was committed when a Royal Mail train, heading from London to Glasgow, was robbed of £2.6 million. Over five decades later, the real mastermind behind the robbery, a man who got no credit, but who wants it, is determined to top the original robbery by stealing the entire wealth of a fleeing Glasgow crime lord from a train—in exactly the same spot that the original crime took place.
Meanwhile, Charlie Wiggs, a small-time unassuming accountant, discovers that his friend, Tina, has stolen a drawing worth £400,000 in a bid to get out from under crushing debt—and it’s now in that same Glasgow crime lord’s collection, on that very train.
If Tina can’t get the drawing back she’ll go to jail—or worse. Desperate, she asks Charlie to help.
Charlie has only one solution: team up with the violent, bitter mastermind and steal the drawing back—and in the process, become one of the most notorious train robbers in British history.
The Big Thrill caught up with author Gordon Brown to discuss his latest novel, FALLING TOO:
By George Ebey
CRAZED is the second installment in Jacob Stone’s new thriller series featuring former LAPD detective turned consultant, Morris Brick. Brick has come face to face with the grisly handiwork of a deranged sadist known as SCK—the Skull Cracker Killer. But he isn’t the only one with a keen interest in SCK’s activities. A crazed lunatic has become obsessed with following the killer and vows to outdo him. The mounting body count has Brick on edge, and even as he lays his trap, he has no idea of the new horrors he is about to face.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with the author to learn more about his latest book.
How has Morris Brick evolved since the last time we saw him?
At the beginning of the first book, Deranged, Morris is a retired LAPD homicide detective who has started his own investigation firm Morris Brick Investigations (MBI) with several other former LAPD detectives. He’s happily married to Natalie, has a daughter Rachel who is in law school, and a bull terrier Parker. So in many ways, Morris comes into the series fully baked. Not a lot has changed with CRAZED other than that Morris has formed a closer friendship with the actor Philip Stonehedge, who had forced his way onto the serial killer hunt in the first book, and that the killer in CRAZED has made things far more personal by targeting Morris’s clients.
His last job a disaster, a professional thief teams with an old partner eager for one last score—a safe in the home of a wealthy Philadelphia politician. But they are not the only ones set on the cash. His partner dead and the goods missing, he hunts for his money and the killer to find out that this may have been a job best left undone.
To learn more about THREE HOURS PAST MIDNIGHT, The Big Thrill met with author Tony Knighton:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
That a protagonist in a crime novel needn’t be Superman. There are far too many crime fiction “heroes” who know everything and are the baddest men alive. Or, they have a best friend who is the baddest man alive, whose only purpose is to save the hero. Yawn.
When a woman’s body is found in the grounds of a ruined priory, Detective Imogen Evans realises she is dealing with a serial killer—a killer whose victims appear to die in a state of bliss, eyes open, smiles forever frozen on their faces.
A few miles away, single dad Ben Hofland believes his fortunes are changing at last. Forced to move back to the sleepy village where he grew up following the breakdown of his marriage, Ben finally finds work. What’s more, the bullies who have been terrorising his son, Ollie, disappear. For the first time in months, Ben feels lucky.
But he is unaware that someone is watching him and Ollie. Someone who wants nothing but happiness for Ben.
THE LUCKY ONES author, Mark Edwards, spent some time discussing his latest thriller with The Big Thrill:
When a top-secret weapon goes missing on Colonel Maggie Black’s watch, her honor and her career are on the line. There were airmen who said the Air Force’s best female combat pilot would never be the same after losing her arm in Iraq, but state-of-the-art prosthetics have made Maggie better than new, and she’s not about to lose what she battled so hard to regain.
But finding her experimental missile won’t be easy—thanks to the revenge-fueled ambitions of Asdrubal Torres, whose hallucinatory encounter with the Great Spirit challenges him to refill Lake Cahuilla, the ancient inland sea that once covered much of southern California. To fulfill his blessed mission, Torres needs wizardry and weaponry, and the Great Spirit provides both: Magic, in the form of a celebrated shaman’s basket returned to the tribal museum by San Diego reporter Jordan Scott; Might, in the form of Maggie Black’s top-secret weapon that falls from the sky.
From that moment, it’s a race against time for Maggie and Jordan, who together must stop Torres from destroying Hoover Dam—and turning the Colorado River into a tsunami that would kill hundreds of thousands and wipe out the Southwest’s water supply. In the final showdown, it’s Maggie who must disarm the stolen missile’s trigger—one-handed or not—and save the day.
Author by Jack Getze took time out of his busy schedule to discuss his latest release, THE BLACK KACHINA, with The Big Thrill:
After 11 novels featuring private eye Nick Polo—the latest being POLO’S LONGSHOT—and 22 books overall, you might think Jerry Kennealy has this author thing licked. He’d be the first to tell you otherwise.
“I’ll never get it licked, but this was a fun book to write: expensive wine, glider crashes, and interesting characters,” Kennealy said. “And, as in all of my books, it never would have been written without the help of my Shirley, my beautiful wife and in-house editor. She’s a very detail-minded person. I’m not. So, I ramble along and she will come up with some interesting findings, like, ‘Jer. The character Polo is talking to on page 223, died on page 110.’ Oops.”
This time around, Polo is enlisted by billionaire Paul Bernier to find a kukri, a priceless golden jewel-encrusted 14th century dagger, designed by the Emperor of India. The dagger has a long, bloody history, passing between warlords throughout the ages, including Saddam Hussain. The search has Polo bumping heads with Bernier’s vindictive stepdaughter, his eccentric household staff, a Miami con man, a crooked private investigator, a drug dealing nightclub owner, a New York Mafia Don, and two vicious murderers.
What is it about Nick that keeps drawing you back to him?
I like the character. Polo is tough and savvy, but he’s also compassionate, and has a bit of a laidback, live-and-let-live attitude, something that I find is all too rare today.
When an old acquaintance of Van Shaw’s late grandfather—a terminally ill ex-con—shows up in Seattle, he offers the broke veteran a money-making opportunity that sounds like a thief’s dream: an easy fortune in gold, abandoned and nearly forgotten after its original owner died. The grandson of a career thief who taught him all the tricks of his trade, Van knows that nothing is ever quite as easy as it seems. The safe holding the fortune turns out to be a trap—deadly bait set by a malevolent player armed with tremendous resources, an army of hunters, and a lifetime of hatred. For Van, every day above ground is a good day, and all the better if he can stay on the right side of the law, even though crime is his gift . . . and in his blood.
Glen Erik Hamilton discussed his latest thriller, EVERY DAY ABOVE GROUND, with The Big Thrill:
Jon Catlett and Paul Frank have turned their once-failing used bookstore into one of the most thriving businesses in the Highlands. But they paid in blood for their success, for Second Story Books is not just another dusty thrift shop, but a front for the largest heroin distribution network ever based in Louisville.
The two eccentric intellectuals-turned-gun thugs enlist the help of an unscrupulous narcotics cop nicknamed Mad Dog, and a former marine importing dope through Fort Knox from Afghanistan that is purer than anything the city has ever seen. Inbetween trading muzzle flashes with a corrupt and psychotic DEA agent and thwarting two crusading homicide detectives, Catlett and Frank plan to corner the market…or at least everything South of Cincinnati.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Jonathan Ashley to discuss his latest thriller, SOUTH OF CINCINNATI:
Michael Skellig is a limo driver waiting for his client in the alley behind an upscale hotel. He’s spent the past twenty-eight hours ferrying around Bismarck Avila, a celebrity skateboard mogul who isn’t going home any time soon. Suddenly the wind begins to speak to Skellig in the guttural accent of the Chechen torturer he shot through the eye in Yemen a decade ago: Troubletroubletrouble. Skellig has heard these warnings before—he’s an Army Special Forces sergeant whose limo company is staffed by a ragtag band of wounded veterans, including his Afghan interpreter—and he knows to listen carefully.
Skellig runs inside just in time to save Avila from two gunmen but too late for one of Avila’s bodyguards—and wakes up hours later in the hospital, the only person of interest in custody for the murder. As for Avila? He’s willing to help clear Skellig’s name under one peculiar condition: that Skellig become Avila’s personal chauffeur. A cushy gig for any driver, except for the fact that someone is clearly trying to kill Avila, and Skellig is literally the only person sitting between Avila and a bullet to the head.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Hart Hanson to discuss his new release, THE DRIVER:
Once a police detective in St. Paul, Minnesota, Rushmore McKenzie has become not only an unlikely millionaire, but an occasional unlicensed private investigator, doing favors for friends and people in need. When his stepdaughter Erica asks him for just such a favor, McKenzie doesn’t have it in him to refuse. Even though it sounds like a very bad idea right from the start.
The father of Malcolm Harris, a college friend of Erica’s, was found murdered a year ago in a park in New Brighton, a town just outside the Twin Cities. With no real clues and all the obvious suspects with concrete alibis, the case has long since gone cold. As McKenzie begins poking around, he soon discovers another unsolved murder that’s tangentially related to this one. And all connections seem to lead back to a group of friends the victim was close with. But all McKenzie has is a series of odd, even suspicious, coincidences, until someone decides to make it all that more serious and personal.
Author David Housewright was kind enough to discuss his latest thriller, WHAT THE DEAD LEAVE BEHIND, with The Big Thrill:
By George Ebey
Fast-paced thrills await in author Tom Pitts’s latest novel, AMERICAN STATIC.
After being beaten and left for dead, Steven finds himself stranded alongside the 101 freeway in a small Northern California town. When a mysterious stranger named Quinn offers a hand in exchange for help reuniting with his daughter in San Francisco, Steven gets in the car and begins a journey from which there is no return. Quinn has an agenda all his own and he’s unleashing vengeance at each stop along his path. With a coked-up sadist ex-cop chasing Quinn, and two mismatched small town cops chasing the ex-cop, Steven is unaware of the violent tempest brewing.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Pitts to learn more about this supercharged new tale of crime and suspense.
Tell us a little about your main character, Steven. What’s his journey been like up until now?
In many ways, Steven is like all of us were at his age. He’s naive, but he thinks he knows everything about anything. He grew up in a hip but sheltered household, raised by hippies in the deep woods of Northern California—the kind of parents who thought they were doing their boy a favor by keeping him from the world’s evils.
By Karen Harper
Brian Klingborg comes to this first novel with screenwriting and publishing credentials. Even reading about KILL DEVIL FALLS, I’m impressed with the fantastic setting for a rural noir, as well as the irresistible title. This premier book is prime for screen treatment.
And as a former teacher of writing, I must say, any writer could learn a lot from Klingborg’s take on dialogue, and the discipline it takes to get a book written.
In this interview with The Big Thrill, Klingborg shares some of that expertise and provides insight into his debut, KILL DEVIL FALLS.
Please tell us what your book is about.
KILL DEVIL FALLS is about a U.S. Marshal, Helen Morrissey, who travels to a remote, and nearly abandoned mining town high in the Sierra Nevada mountains to collect a fugitive. Soon after she arrives, her car is sabotaged and the fugitive is murdered. Now she’s trapped in this godforsaken place, surrounded by a handful of menacing oddballs and outcasts, while she tries to figure out who the killer or killers are, and why the murder was committed.
Even as the excitement over Susie Steiner’s first crime novel, Missing, Presumed, is reaching new peaks, the author’s second book in the series featuring Detective Manon Bradshaw, PERSONS UNKNOWN, hits stores this month. Missing, Presumed was recently shortlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, one of the UK’s most prestigious awards for crime fiction.
If anything, however, the new book ramps up the stakes for Steiner’s protagonist, with those she loves among the suspects in a high-profile murder case. Add to that a detective who is five months pregnant while trying to be a good mother to her two children, and the complications multiply.
“The story is based on a real miscarriage of justice, which took place following a stabbing in London in 2011,” Steiner says. “I heard the story—or the remarkable ‘twist’ in the story—from a lawyer friend of mine over dinner. I then contacted the barrister in the case, and interviewed him, then the solicitor, and got a copy of the pathology report. So the spine of my story took place in real life.”
A former journalist for The Guardian, Steiner took time out of her busy schedule to share some additional insights with The Big Thrill into her character and her writing life.
In Iraq, a shipment of $9 billion in cash goes missing. Each effort to find it ends in death. In Southern California, a mercenary’s murder, a severed head, and a bloody hand-written message spark a massive manhunt.
The man connecting these two events is William Butcher, aka: The Butcher. Those who stole the money want him dead. The cops want him for murder. Butcher’s only hope is his former NCIS colleague and closest friend, Linus Schag.
Torn between loyalties, Schag walks the thin line between doing his job or betraying his friend. Working from opposite ends, Schag and Butcher peel back the layers of conspiracy, revealing a criminal enterprise reaching into the highest levels of government.
Torn from today’s headlines, the plot of THE BUTCHER’S BILL ranges from the California mountains to the waters of the Pacific, and will keep readers on edge until its final, explosive climax.
Martin Roy Hill spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing his novel, THE BUTCHER’S BILL:
Storey takes the job but soon finds himself involved in more than driving. There’s a murder. And conspiracy. And another murder.
And then the real trouble starts.
ONE PUNCH continues the series begun by Storey, described by one reviewer as a “highly intelligent, witty and well-plotted thriller”, and by others as “very entertaining”, “a great read” and “an unusual thriller.”
If you like thrillers with surprising characters, intricate plots, lots of humor and exciting action, then ONE PUNCH should fit the bill.
Author Keith Dixon sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss his novel, ONE PUNCH:
Times are tough. Cabbie Lester Banks can’t pay his bills. His gorgeous young neighbor, Chelsea, is also one step from the streets. Lester makes a sordid business deal with her. Things turn out worse than he could ever have imagined.
“Alec Cizak demonstrates in DOWN ON THE STREET that he remains among the top fiction writers alive, regardless of genre. This is a crime story, but it’s so much more. Words like sharpened blades cut out the reader’s heart, emotionally and otherwise. I read this novella in a burst. A week later, I’m still absorbing it.” —Rob Pierce, author of Uncle Dust and With the Right Enemies.
Alex Cizak spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing his latest novel, DOWN ON THE STREET:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Being poor sucks.
Gambini is back! Hot on the heels of rescuing his cousin Bill and Bill’s friend, Stan from an Alabama electric chair, our wildly inappropriate hero, Vincent Gambini heads home to Brooklyn where he attempts to establish a successful law career. Meanwhile, Lisa aches to have a wedding band placed around her finger and her biological clock is still ticking away like mad. Vinny and Lisa have been together ten long years. She’s waited so very patiently for him to complete law school and pass the bar. Winning his first case was the last piece of the puzzle, and now nothing can stand in the way of true love, except that between them they don’t have two nickels to rub together, and Vinny is about as romantic as a box of frogs.
In the course of building his practice, Vinny is reunited with Joe, his walking, talking embarrassment of a brother, Lisa’s nudging parents, Ma and Augie, and his dear old friend Judge Henry Molloy, who refers him the mother of all capital murder cases.
Theresa Cototi is young and pretty but far from innocent, and darn her luck … her boyfriend has just been scraped off the pavement after taking a header from eight- stories up. You’d better believe she’s going to trial, charged with murder one.
Aided by Lisa and a ragtag team of misfits, Vinny defends his client against overwhelming odds. Our endearing neophyte attorney must match wits with a cunning DA and a formidable influence peddler, who appears to anticipate his every move. In the balance hangs the life of a woman he believes to be innocent. Or is she?
Yes, Vinny may have finally won his first case but his and Lisa’s story is far from over.
Am I sure?
Yeah! I’m pos-i-tive!
Once a police detective in St. Paul, Minnesota, Rushmore McKenzie has become not only an unlikely millionaire, but an occasional unlicensed private investigator, doing favors for friends and people in need. When his stepdaughter Erica asks him for just such a favor, McKenzie doesn’t have it in him to refuse. Even though it sounds like a very bad idea from the start.
The father of Malcolm Harris, a college friend of Erica’s, was found murdered a year ago in a park in New Brighton, a town just outside the Twin Cities. With no real clues and all the obvious suspects with concrete alibis, the case has long since gone cold. As McKenzie begins poking around, he soon discovers another unsolved murder that’s tangentially related to this one. And all connections seem to lead back to a group of friends the victim was close with. But all McKenzie has is a series of odd, even suspicious, coincidences until someone decides to make it all that more serious and personal.
Author David Housewright recently sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss his novel, WHAT THE DEAD LEAVE BEHIND:
When a packed commuter train runs over a body on a stretch of track known to locals as “Suicide Mile,” it soon transpires that the man was a victim of a calculated murder.
As the investigation evolves and a pattern of murders is uncovered, Detective Sergeant Kay Hunter realizes the railway’s recent reputation may be the work of a brutal serial killer.
With a backlog of cold cases to investigate and while attempting to uncover who is behind a professional vendetta against her, Kay must keep one step ahead of both the killer and her own adversaries.
When a second murder takes place within a week of the first, she realizes the killer’s timetable has changed, and she’s running out of time to stop him.
WILL TO LIVE is the second book in a new crime thriller series featuring Kay Hunter—a detective with a hidden past and an uncertain future.
Author Rachel Amphlett chatted with The Big Thrill to discuss her latest novel, WILL TO LIVE:
The first was a low level gangster named Carlo “Carly Nickels” DeCenzo—lying on a slab in the Blount County morgue with Sam’s name and phone number written on a scrap of paper in his pocket.
Next there’s Gino Musucci, infamous Northeast crime boss who says he wants to retire and relocate—to Sam’s town of Prospect, Tennessee.
And there’s Dixie Foster, Sam’s former secretary and the woman who wanted to steal him away from his wife. Sam wonders why she’s turned up after eighteen years.
With DeCenzo’s murder unsolved, another body shows up in a Prospect motel—that of a retired detective and co-worker from Sam’s past.
When Sam receives a letter from an old mobster who warns him about a contract on his life, he wonders: Is this any way for a cop to spend his time on the “peaceful side of the Smokies?”
Uriel E. Gribetz was born and raised in the Bronx, New York, and served nearly thirty years in the public defender’s office in that borough. He took up creative writing at the age of eighteen, at the Bennington Writers Workshop, and has published short stories and essays, along with two novels. His first novel, Taconic Murda, was released in 2014.
HUNTS POINT, Gribetz’s new release, was actually the first book he worked on. Set in his beloved Bronx, the story revolves around a damaged hero named Sam Free who seeks justice for the weak, this time a young man called Jonah who is wrongfully convicted of a grisly murder. HUNTS POINT was released this April by Perfect Crime Books. The Big Thrill interviewed Gribetz about the novel.
Your latest publication centers on a wrongful conviction. Tell us about the young man, and how your life as a public defender helped you create this character.
Sometimes things happen to people that they have no control over and these events shape their lives. Recently I had a seven-year-old client whose mother’s boyfriend murdered his mother and his siblings. The client was stabbed fifteen times, but he survived. How do you get past something like that? I see horrible, awful things that happen to people, yet they are able to survive and go forward.
In the book, Jonah, as a child, was nearly murdered by the Super’s helper in his building. That event shaped him. Jonah’s story is his quest to no longer be a victim of his circumstances. In fact, when Sam Free visits Jonah in prison, Jonah tells Sam that he refuses to be a victim anymore. The strength and resiliency of the human spirit is truly amazing, and I try to capture that with Jonah.
By George Ebey
In her book THE WEIGHT OF NIGHT, Christine Carbo brings us the latest installment in her Glacier Mystery Series.
As a devastating fire rips through the magnificent and brutal terrain of Glacier National Park, a shallow grave containing human remains is found. At the same time, a teenager suddenly goes missing from one of the campgrounds. Could the two cases be connected? Park Police Officer Monty Harris and crime scene investigator Gretchen Larson are determined to find out, no matter what dangers lie ahead.
The Big Thrill checked in with Christine to learn more.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
This is the third in a series called Glacier Mystery Series: however, each book stands alone, similar to Tana French’s Dublin Murder Mystery Series. Because each book stands alone, I try to play out the complete arch of the main character(s). And in that process, I try to shoot for something that ends up transcending the central mystery. Therefore, I hope that readers will feel that THE WEIGHT OF NIGHT is more than a mystery to be solved, and that it’s also a novel of friendship, survival and redemption set against a stark and stunning landscape
Southern California, 1986. Detective Ben Wade has returned to his California home town of Rancho Santa Elena for a quieter life. Suddenly, the town, with its peaceful streets and excellent public schools, finds itself at the mercy of a serial killer who slips through windows and screen doors, shattering illusions of safety. As Ben and forensic specialist Natasha Betencourt struggle to stay one step ahead of the killer, Ben’s own world is rocked again by a teen’s suicide. Ben must decide how far he is willing to go, and how much he will risk, to rescue the town from a long buried secret, as well as from a psychotic murderer. Shadow man brings us into the treacherous underbelly of a suburban California town, and a community confronted with the heart of human darkness.
Author Alan Drew was kind enough to spend some time with The Big Thrill discussing his latest novel, SHADOW MAN:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
The serial killer in the novel is loosely based on Richard Ramirez, The Night Stalker, who terrorized Southern California the summer of 1985. While this book is a thriller, it is also an investigation of a place. The book is set in master-planned Rancho Santa Elena, a community that feels insulated from the crimes that happen in other towns. There’s another crime in this book, a more subtle and in some ways more devastating one, that complicates the narrative—it also complicates the life of detective Benjamin Wade as he goes deeper into the investigation of it. A crime that is caused by something dark within Rancho Santa Elena that suggests that the things we should fear the most are not outside, hiding in the dark, but are perhaps much closer to home.
Danny Gardner first made a name for himself as a stand-up comedian on HBO’s Def Comedy Jam. So, what’s he doing scribing dark, gritty tales of crime in 1950s Chicago? Turns out the author of A NEGRO AND AN OFAY has also toiled in scriptwriting, acting, and directing—a real Renaissance Man of the literary arts.
“When you take them separately, it seems like a lot,” he says. “But be it stand-up, or screenwriting, or acting, it all comes from my deep, spiritual love for words. First, comedy and acting gave me a career and, eventually, a small place in pop-culture. Now that I’m a published novelist, it’s the ultimate expression of that love. I’m always going to write, be it the next Elliot Caprice novel, or just doing improv on stage for ten minutes. That’s who I am. That’s how I love myself the most.”
In addition to his comedy bits, Gardner is a frequent reader at “Noir at the Bar” events nationwide, and blogs regularly at 7 Criminal Minds.
Fortunately, the transition from the stage to the keyboard wasn’t hard.
“Once I gave myself a chance, I realized my talent was suited for long-form writing,” Gardner says. “I’ve found the proper outlet for my creative desires. I could finally stop cramming all the world building and multiple points of view into screenplays and comedy bits.”
In this interview with The Big Thrill, Gardner shares details about A NEGRO AND AN OFAY, its genesis, and his story of success.
By Karen Harper
I learned a lot interviewing Dana King, since he writes books that are more hard boiled than mine, but I also learned we have a lot in common. We are both drawn to small town settings where the enemy is often us—someone we know—and life is definitely not glitz and glamor. His unique career background has prepared him well for writing both long and short fiction.
Read on to learn more about his new thriller, RESURRECTION MALL.
Please tell us what your book is about.
RESURRECTION MALL is the story of a town fallen on hard times. Various solutions promise grand results, but the profits always go to a select few pockets. There seems to be no downside to a televangelist’s efforts to rebuild an abandoned shopping center into a mall that caters to religious-themed businesses, with his new church and TV studio serving as the anchors. The problem is that low-profit enterprises not only have trouble raising seed money, they often can’t afford to do the research needed to fully understand why no one else has found a good use for this location. The book is about what happens when an event totally unrelated to the mall’s construction might bring down the entire project.
Is the setting of Penns River based on a place you know or, if not, how does it work well for your story?
I grew up in Penns River. Well, the three small towns near Pittsburgh that make up my Penns River. I was struck one day about how big cities have always been well represented in crime fiction, and now writers like Daniel Woodrell are giving voice to more rural areas, but I couldn’t think of anyone writing about the problems of the towns that bridge the two, and what happens when industry leaves and never comes back to a place that lacks the population density to attract new businesses. Pittsburgh reinvented itself as a center for medicine, education, and finance, but that prosperity never seems to make it up the Allegheny River.
You have a varied career background as musician, school teacher, and systems analyst. Have any of these pursuits contributed to your writing?
Teaching has to some extent. I taught in a high school close to the border between Washington, DC and Hyattsville, MD that was 80 per cent minority. I grew up in a working class small town that had no more than half a dozen black kids out of 900 in my high school. Teaching those couple of years developed my sense of empathy, and showed how similar most people are despite superficial differences. It’s been a great help with my characters.
More than that, though, is the musical background. Besides exposing me to things and people I never would have been aware of, it developed my ear. Not only is that essential for good dialogue, but it allows me to know if I’m capturing the voice I’m looking for. There are times when I’ll replace a word the dictionary says would be more appropriate because the one I chose sounds better.
Your excellent reviews and websites describe your work as mystery and thriller. Do these two terms fit only certain of your novels, or are these book genres reflected in each of your books, especially RESURRECTION MALL?
I can’t say there’s a lot of mystery in my books. Even in my private eye novels, where the reader learns the clues as Nick Forte discovers them, Forte often solves the mystery well before the end of the book. After that it’s a matter of finding out what he’s going to do about it.
RESURRECTION MALL has a similar element. The cops have a pretty good idea who they’re looking for less than halfway through the book. The suspense lies in seeing what they can do about it, and how timely they’ll be.
There are certainly elements of noir in RESURRECTION MALL—I doubt anyone would describe the ending as happy—but I don’t really think of myself as a noir writer. I know people who disagree, so I could be wrong. To me, true noir has a bad outcome for the protagonist. Most of my stuff has a bittersweet ending for the main character, so I think of it as noir-ish. (Or gris, as my Francophile daughter and I decided one day.) My writing style is clipped and hard-boiled, which lends itself to noir, which may be what some are picking up on.
Speaking of the fascinating concept of a “religious themed mall,” did a particular place inspire that idea? I’m thinking of Kentucky’s Creation Museum or the Holyland Experience outside Orlando.
I first got the idea to “resurrect” a mall when I lived near Chicago and occasionally drove past the abandoned Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, IL, where they filmed the great chase scene in The Blues Brothers. The idea of something left for dead like that combined with the evangelical Christian concept of being born again, then placing the entire operation in an impoverished location, appealed to me.
As well as novels (including a Shamus Award), you have also written highly-praised short fiction. Do you prefer one format or the other? What (other than writing time) are the pros and cons for you of these different forms?
Sorry to disagree, but I have to set the record straight: I haven’t won any Shamuses. I have been nominated twice, each of which was a great thrill. I believe that P.I. fiction done well is the highest form of crime writing, so to have a group like the Private Eye Writers of America think that highly of my work is beyond flattering.
To your question, short stories are much harder for me. They’re in an area between writing a flash piece—which I enjoy—and a novel, which I love. The problem with short stories is that if I like a mix of idea, characters, and location enough to write five thousand words, my mind naturally keeps thinking of what happens next and pretty soon I’m outlining a novel. That’s not a problem for a flash piece, because of the natural limitations in scope of a story of fewer than a thousand words.
I find myself needing to write more short stories of late, and I have to confess, about half of them are either flash pieces that lent themselves well to expansion, or bits excised from novels that stand alone well. Even then I write on the short side for almost all my stories, around 1,500 to 2,000 words, or about the length of an average chapter in one of my novels.
You are also adept at writing a series, something I find more challenging than single title books. Are continuing characters a challenge for you or a boon, as in your Nick Forte series?
A boon, absolutely. No question. I constantly find myself watching TV or a movie and wondering, “What would Nick do here? What would Doc do?” It even happens when I’m out places. Say I’m meeting someone in a deli and I’m there first. (Which I almost always am. I’m pathologically punctual.) If I forgot to bring a book I’ll kill the time casing the joint, trying to look at it as one of my characters might.
I enjoy being in the characters’ worlds so much I crossed the two series over and brought Nick Forte to Penns River as a “guest star” in Grind Joint. I had a need for a character just like him and decided he was actually first cousins with Ben Dougherty and grew up in Penns River. It was great fun to write him in the third person to show how other people viewed him.
You have a great blog on how well the classic TV series NYPD Blue holds up over time. Why does that series still work for you, even though, as you say, the police methods are dated? Any current “cop shows” that pass your muster?
NYPD Blue holds up so well for three critical reasons. As I said in the blog, the execution is almost flawless. That goes a long way toward carrying off anything else that might show a little age.
Second is the situations the characters find themselves in. The show is largely about cops’ perspectives on interpersonal dynamics that have been true probably since before language developed. This is why shows like The Honeymooners and All in the Family are still popular. They’re about people, and people as a species don’t change that much.
From the cop angle the show continues to work because, for all the cool CSI stuff we see now, cases are still broken using much the same techniques cops use on the show: paying attention and talking to people. Fibers and DNA may seal a conviction, but someone has to catch the bad guy first. One of my proudest moments as a writer came on a Bouchercon panel a couple of years ago when Jim Born, a retired cop and that day’s moderator, inserted a comment when I gave that answer to a question, saying, “Listen to that. He’s absolutely right.” Made my day.
As for current cop shows, I have to confess that I don’t watch any. That’s not to rip them. I just don’t have time. The little bit of television I watch is spent on things that have already passed muster, either revisiting favorites of mine (The Wire, The Shield, Justified) or something else that people I trust keep telling me I really, really, really, need to see. Which is how I came to “discover” NYPD Blue a mere 22 years after it first aired.
As a busy writer, can you give other authors advice on how to balance writing time with “real life?” Any hints of getting the words on the page?
I can, but it probably won’t help. It’s a matter of butt in seat, fingers on keys. Some days are better than others, but get something done every day, even if it stinks. That’s what rewriting is for. I do five or six drafts of each book, so bad days don’t concern me that much. My idea is I won’t have bad days every time I work this section. Over time I’ll get it where I want it.
I also have two advantages a lot of writers don’t. I’m a classically trained musician and played professionally well into my thirties. Musicians are used to spending hours a day locked in small rooms practicing. The primary difference is that writing is creative and playing music is interpretive. Both activities cut you off from outside contact, so you need to be comfortable with it.
The other advantage I had, and have, is that by the time I got serious about writing I had no small children around the house. That’s not a rap on children. If my daughter were little and around when I started out as a writer, damn right I’d spend the time with her. Kids are always more important. I’ll never criticize those who can’t find time to write because they’re doing things with their kids. My luxury has been in never having to choose.
Dana King has two Shamus Award nominations, for A Small Sacrifice and The Man in the Window. His Penns River series of police procedurals includes Worst Enemies and Grind Joint, which Woody Haut, writing for the L.A. Review of Books, cited as one of the fifteen best noir reads of 2013. A short story, “Green Gables,” appeared in the anthology Blood, Guts, and Whiskey, edited by Todd Robinson. Other short fiction has appeared in Spinetingler, New Mystery Reader, A Twist of Noir, Mysterical-E, and Powder Burn Flash.
To learn more about Dana, please visit his blog, One Bite at a Time. He lives in quiet near seclusion with The Beloved Spouse.
In 1946 Archeologist and former SOE operative Duncan Forrester returns to his wartime haunts in Greece to retrieve an inscription which may be the key to Minoan civilisation. But Greece is on the verge of civil war, and when a Greek poet is murdered, Forrester finds himself in the middle of a clash between communism and democracy, on a mysterious Aegean island haunted by a mythical past.
THE AGE OF OLYMPUS author, Gavin Scott, recently spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing his novel:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I hope readers will take away not just the satisfaction of a mystery solved, but the feeling that they’ve actually spent time in the Greece and Crete of 1946 and magical Aegean islands in the era before mass tourism, exploring Crusader Castles and ruined temples and hidden coves where the ghosts of ancient gods still linger.