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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Private 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.
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.
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.
By 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.
By 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.
By 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.
By 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.
Rick 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.
The Art of Wreaking Revenge
By 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.”
By 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.
By 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.
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.
Richard 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.
There’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.
By Rick Reed
Bill Loehfelm is the author of the critically-acclaimed crime fiction series about New Orleans police officer Maureen Coughlin. In LET THE DEVIL OUT Coughlin has had a brutal year as a rookie cop with New Orleans Police Department. In one year she has experienced her first arrests, her first black eye, and, after a stinging brush with the corrupt heart of her adopted city, her first suspension. She is waiting out the suspension, hoping to keep her badge, hoping to turn things around. Unfortunately, things are about to get much worse.
The FBI is in town on the trail of a ruthless anti-government militia group, the Watchmen Brigade. Nobody in the NOPD wants any part of working with the feds. Guess which suspended rookie is told she doesn’t have a choice.
With the FBI and a white supremacist militia on the loose in New Orleans, the city is one big powder keg. Find out what happens when a brilliant but reckless young cop lights a match. In LET THE DEVIL OUT you will feel the experience of a police ride-along, but you will be at a safe distance.
Mr. Loehfelm spoke with The Big Thrill about his newest novel and his writing career.
How did you catch the writing bug? What authors influenced your writing style?
I first realized I liked writing and had a knack for it early, in grammar school. High school, though, was when I caught the bug for good. I took a creative writing class at a branch of the New York Public library on Saturday mornings. That class set the hook.
As for influences, James Lee Burke is probably the reason I write crime fiction; him, John D. McDonald, and Dennis Lehane are the first crime writers I got into. Them and a childhood spent reading Batman. Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series has been a huge influence, so big I named a character in the Maureen Coughlin series after her. The Brodie series is what I hold up as a goal or a target. Mystic River was a game-changer for me. I admire the way Laura Lippman makes it seem so effortless. Megan Abbott makes it breathless; her books are like diamonds. Richard Price is a master. James Ellroy is so intense and weird.
Frank De Blasé’s new novel, A COUGAR’S KISS, takes readers on a journey back to a gritty mid-20th century world of dark deeds and mean streets. It’s that territory of pulp and noir with dangerous mobsters and beautiful women who might be even more dangerous.
In this second adventure for his crime scene photographer Frankie Valentine, following Pine Box for a Pin-Up, the hero gets called back from Hollywood glamour photography to his more treacherous New York stomping grounds.
A body has turned up, that of a childhood friend who’s been missing 10 years. Soon Frankie finds himself dealing with a hidden stash of money and remnants from his past including the mother of a junkie stripper who once led him into manhood.
De Blase sat down recently to answer a few questions about the book for The Big Thrill.
A COUGAR’S KISS is set in 1960. What about that era made it intriguing as the setting for your series and this book in particular?
I’ve always dug everything retro/classic from that era; the music, the movies, the fashion. As a crime writer, I also get a kick out of showing readers that there were no good old days. Love, lust, greed, and murder are all universal themes and like catsup, they’re good everywhere. Also, the capers I create are solved psychologically with guts and instinct rather than science. It’s hard to be a liar in a DNA world.
How do you immerse yourself in that time period as you write? Any particular music that sets the tone? Do you watch old TV series?
The immersion is more in the story once it gets rolling. I’m already immersed in music and classic movies, and the patter of the parlance that pops up throughout.
“Graduate school in creative writing can teach discipline, it can help a writer make contacts, and it can put a writer in a supportive environment,” says associate professor David Bell, who holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in creative writing. “But it’s not a magic bullet,” adds the bestselling author. “A writer still has to be able to tell a good story and have the discipline to keep writing when school ends.”
David Bell’s latest suspense novel is SINCE SHE WENT AWAY, a fast-paced page-turner that Romantic Times has named a Top Pick for June. Women are disappearing in Hawks Mill, including Jenna Barton’s best friend and her teenage son’s new girlfriend. Jenna begins to wonder how many secrets one small town can hold as she desperately tries to untangle the truth.
Although Bell and I both attended ThrillerFest X last summer, we didn’t manage to meet until now. But I knew we’d get along when I discovered our shared fondness for cemetery walks.
Your first published works were short stories. How did writing them prepare you for the transition to writing novels?
Most writers start out writing short stories for practical reasons. In the length of time it takes to write one novel a writer could produce five, ten, or fifteen short stories. And short stories can teach useful skills for the suspense novelist—efficiency, concision, control. But, in the end, the only thing that can teach someone to write a novel is to write one. I tell my students they have to write a bad novel before they can write a good one, so get started on that bad one before it’s too late.
You’ve written eight novels in as many years. I saw a BBC documentary in which Scottish crime-fiction author Ian Rankin explained his strictly detailed schedule for writing a novel a year. Do you have a regulated routine?
In order to write a book every year—and continue to work my day job as a college professor—I have to be disciplined. Since I have summers and holidays mostly free from my teaching job, I do a lot of writing then. During the academic year, I spend time generating ideas, working on outlines, and revising. I’m a creature of habit. I like routine, so this works for me.
I always make an outline. I can spend as much time on an outline as I spend writing a draft of the book. By working out as many character and plot issues in the outline, the writing of the book is a little easier. It’s a road map to where I want to go. Still, surprises crop up. My outline for SINCE SHE WENT AWAY had a totally different ending. The ending of the published book just came to me as I wrote. If I’m surprised then I figure the reader will be surprised as well.
A Blistering Collection of Short Stories
By Alex Segura
Jen Conley is a closer. Her short stories–packed with bite and meaningful and evocative twists–don’t just impress you, they stick with you. As someone who has hosted a handful of Noir at the Bars, I can attest to this. When you put together a lineup of short story readers, you’d be foolish to put Conley anywhere but last. She’s that good. She’s a closer.
CANNIBALS: STORIES FROM THE EDGE OF THE PINE BARRENS takes readers on a tour of the New Jersey you thought you knew. Not the Jersey gleaned from too many episodes of The Sopranos, but the Jersey you’d find near its center, where the mundane lives of many can be disrupted in a moment through violence.
Music, murder, extramarital affairs, blood, lies and double-crosses are front and center in this collection of Conley’s best and most eyebrow-raising tales, and you’ll be left shell-shocked and looking around for the next volume.
It was a pleasure to get a chance to talk with Conley about the book and what inspired here.
Jen, what motivated you to put together a short story collection?
I’ve always loved short stories–reading and writing them–and putting a collection of my stories together was just something I always wanted to do. But I wanted to make sure my collection was something I could be proud of, and that means loving each and every story, so it took a long time until each story came to me. I didn’t want any filler stories–because that’s a major problem with story collections if a writer is just writing to put together a collection.
How did DOWN & OUT become the right fit in terms of publishing?
Most of my stories fall under crime fiction, or at least gritty, something DOWN & OUT does. Short story collections are a hard sell and I was concerned when I pitched it that they wouldn’t be interested, but luckily they were. The stories are loosely connected, if not by characters but by geography and class. DOWN & OUT is established, they do gritty crime fiction, it’s also a good indie publisher. It seemed like a perfect place for me.
Although still recovering from a recent abduction, vulnerable but strong-willed Delilah Price takes a job as a substitute art teacher to quell some of her recent financial pressures. Her desire to lay low, recuperate, and try to figure out her ever changing relationship with Detective Quick is thwarted by her uncanny ability to find trouble—or rather, for trouble to find her.
While Quick is busy working on a serial rapist case that seems to pull him away from her, a series of events offers Delilah clues regarding his case. Her inability to wait for police support draws the attention of a dangerous adversary. Reminiscent of the suspenseful twists and turns of Israel’s first novel, Over My Live Body, the second in the Delilah Price series, STUDENT BODIES, will keep readers guessing until the end.
Having previously written short stories, Israel says “I wanted to delve into something that allowed a longer lasting relationship with my characters.” While she didn’t initially plan a series, Price’s character has continued to grow, and Israel plans at least one more book featuring Price, Foreign Bodies. “I am certainly not averse to writing more as long as my characters have the opportunity to grow. Delilah and Quick’s relationship is an on and off one and they will continue to decide whether they should stay together or not. Several other characters, particularly Freddie, will make appearances.”
Israel describes Delilah’s character as a bolder, braver version of herself.
“I’ve shared a lot of her self-doubt and discomfort when doing something out of my comfort zone. I’ve taught classes and wondered if I made a difference. I’ve waitressed and once dropped a tray of roast beef dinners at a banquet,” she says, noting that many of her other characters were inspired by “walk-ons,” or people she’s seen in passing.
In order to get into the mindset of her teenage characters, Israel reads Seventeen and Girls Life. And she acknowledges a secret affinity for gossip magazines, “to get a feel for who [teens] listen to on their iPods, who they’d like.” As for Israel’s other reading choices, she admits that they are all over the map. “Lately I’ve read books by Gillian Flynn, Linda Fairstein, and Julia Dahl. I also want to reread my collection of Raymond Chandler books.”
For three years, Detective Jude Fontaine was kept from the outside world. Held in an underground cell, her only contact was with her sadistic captor, and reading his face was her entire existence. After her experience with isolation and torture, she is left with a fierce desire for justice—and a heightened ability to interpret the body language of both the living and the dead.
Author Anne Frasier recently sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss her latest book, THE BODY READER.
How did you create the character Jude Fontaine, and at any point did you find it difficult to write from her perspective?
She was difficult because it was important that she be removed and shut off. It’s hard to make that kind of character sympathetic, regardless of what she’s been through.
Would you ever consider writing a sequel to this book and if so, do you have any ideas on what you would focus on?
I’d love to write a sequel. It would be a bigger story, with a bigger canvas. Last year my editor was eager for me to sign on for a second book, but since I’m still writing the Elise Sandburg series I suggested we wait to see how readers respond to The Body Reader.
Broken family dynamics seem to play a large role in this book. What inspired you to include this topic in your story?
I came from a pretty damaged family, so it’s hard to keep that kind of thing out of my books no matter how I try. 😀
Jerry Keneally is a native San Franciscan—a rare breed nowadays. He’s been a policeman, fireman, and licensed private investigator for more than twenty years, and also served as past vice president of the Private Eye Writers of America.
His first books were all first-person private eye adventures, including ten in the Nick Polo series, in which most of the action took place in San Francisco. The following eight thrillers moved around from London, Madrid, Russia, and so on, but often containing a scene or two in San Francisco, along the lines of the write what you know.
Keneally is back in the city with a new series, stating with Jigsaw, featuring an offbeat hero, Mr. Carroll Quint, an entertainment editor for the San Francisco Bulletin. Keneally talked with us about this new release for Down and Out Books.
Tell us about Screen Test.
The idea for SCREEN TEST had been rambling around my little gray cells for years. My older brother, Don, was an inspector for the San Francisco Police Department in the Sexual Assault Division. When Steve McQueen came to town to film Bullitt, Don and his partner were assigned as bodyguards to McQueen and were told by the powers that be—the mayor and the Chief of Police—to assist him in any way possible in making the movie.
At that time, 1968, McQueen had a reputation as a bit of a cop-hater, but Don said the actor could not have been friendlier, and was interested in learning all he could about real cops and how they worked. They drove McQueen around on “night runs” and showed him different locations that could be used in the film. McQueen responded by using several cops parts in the movie.
So I had the McQueen angle, but needed more for a book, so I folded in a case involving the murder of a transsexual cabaret singer that I’d worked on as a private investigator.
By Matt Ferraz
Having traveled around the word for twenty years as a DEA special agent, J. Todd Scott knows the drill when it comes to law enforcement procedures. With his upcoming debut novel THE FAR EMPTY, Scott creates a modern western environment, set in the small town of Murfee, in the Big Bend area of Texas. There, two men join forces to take down an untouchable figure that commands the town. Chris Cherry is a once promising high school football hero who has to come back to Murfee and become a deputy under the orders of Sheriff Standford “Judge” Ross. Caleb Ross, on the other hand, is Judge Ross’ son, and believes his father might be responsible for the death of his mother. Together, Chris and Caleb form an unlikely partnership to defy the sheriff, and find many skeletons in the town’s closets.
Scott already had the book’s opening line (My father has killed three men…) written down for quite some time, but only managed to carry on after deciding to set the story in the Big Bend. Instead of creating a straightforward period piece western, Scott decided to set THE FAR EMPTY in modern days, in order to tackle many of the issues he got to know during his years as a law enforcement agent, such as drug and alien smuggling and corruption. That meant a lot of research on the region, which also served the book’s two upcoming sequels, one of which is already finished.
Westerns being a cinematic genre by definition, Scott draws lots of influence from classic and spaghetti western, and also later movies like Unforgiven, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Appaloosa, as well as the True Grit and 3:10 to Yuma remakes. William Fridekin’s To Live and Die in L.A., adapted from a book by former U.S. Secret Service Agent Gerald Petievich was also an inspiration. The author wanted to do for the Big Bend what that movie did for Los Angeles.
But can all this roughness and grit affect the literary quality of a novel? “Ultimately, I want the places in my books to feel real, to seem truly three-dimensional, even if the characters that inhabit these places make dramatic and often unwise decisions,” the author explains. “I also try to capture some lyricism in language, even when I’m writing about darkness and violence. The descent of Duane Dupree in the course of the narrative as he succumbs to meth addiction is a prime example. In order to really show his mind’s inexorable disintegration, I put him through several vivid, dramatic hallucinations. It’s tough at times for Duane to know what’s real, and I imagine that’s true for the reader as well.”
By Amy Lignor
“Writing is hard!” may have been one of the best lines ever stated by someone in this industry. But when it comes to author Bryon Quertermous, the “hardhat” of writing comes hand-in-hand with that of being an editor for others.
Quertermous chatted with The BigThrill this month to share his advice on writing, his future thoughts regarding the cyberpunk genre, a writer’s take on the benefits of the “Golden Arches,” as well introduce new work that will definitely have suspense/thriller fans begging for more.
Being an author and an editor, you wear two very different hats. Can you describe how easy/difficult it is for you to step away from your own work when it’s completed and let another editor take over?
It’s not difficult because I know when I’m too close to a manuscript for my own editing instinct to be of any value. If I had the luxury of putting every manuscript away for a year and then looking at it with fresh eyes, I might be more inclined to only trust myself. I’ve been lucky to have an editor in Jason Pinter who is great and mostly pushes me to try harder on the stuff I want to be lazy about, and who provides a different POV from the reader and industry side that I usually find inspiring.
Can you please tell readers a bit about your new release, RIOT LOAD, and what to expect from the tale?
On the surface, RIOT LOAD is about a sperm bank robbery. Failed grad student, lazy writer, and all-around trouble magnet, Dominick Prince, is guilted into a scheme to steal the frozen sperm of a dead man that quickly blows up into a turf war between violent factions of a fading Michigan crime family. But it’s really about fatherhood and the weight of legacies we put on ourselves. It’s also about how to deal with the boredom and expectations of actually achieving a major life goal too early in life.
Say there was a time capsule being put together by writers. What advice would you put in for the future author who happens to find that treasure and dig it up?
The best writing advice is timeless. It also borders on absurdly common sense. But I would imagine a writer of the future would be even more bombarded by technology and technological and societal distractions than even we are now, so I would give two variations on the best writing advice. Read a lot and read widely, and keep your head down and write a lot. I don’t care what they’ve invented in the future, this is still the only way to get better as a writer.
By George Ebey
Christine Carbo brings us her second thriller set in the Glacier National Park. In this story, a wildlife biologist’s body is found at the base of a ravine, prompting rookie investigator Monty Harris to take on the case. He’ll soon learn that the truth is buried in the gorgeously terrifying wilderness surrounding him. And the wilderness does not give up its secrets easily.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Carbo to learn more.
What first drew you to writing stories involving mystery and suspense?
I didn’t begin to dabble with writing until I was in college—a short story or two and a little poetry. After college, while teaching English and Linguistics at the community college in my hometown in northwest Montana, I wrote two non-genre novels that I simply put aside. Then, in my early thirties, I became a single mom, continued to teach as an adjunct instructor, but also supplemented my income by doing technical writing. Creative writing took a back seat for some time because I was focused on lesson plans, grading essays and working on technical documents late into the night after my little boy went to bed. Eventually, I took up Pilates as a hobby, began teaching it and opened a studio and quit technical writing. I found myself with much more flexibility—no pun intended—to return to what I now understand is my true passion: writing fiction.
Once I decided to return to novel writing, I chose the world of crime because I love reading crime fiction, especially those steeped in a strong sense of place: Denise Mina’s Glascow; Elizabeth George’s mysterious English countryside; Tana French’s Dublin; Dennis Lehane’s Boston, John Connelly’s Los Angeles… the list goes on. At first I thought, I just live in Montana with no sexy, dynamic, bustling cities around me. How was I supposed to write what I knew so that it was credible, but still interesting? Then it dawned on me that I lived only a half hour from a place that people from all over the nation and the world come to visit. And that place— Glacier National Park—is not only stunning, it’s haunting at times. Plus, some of the local areas around Glacier are economically depressed and tend to have their share of crime.
Automatically, when I began to think of Glacier, the awe and fear-inspiring grizzly came to mind, and I began to ponder what would happen if my main character had issues with bears at the very park he needed to conduct an investigation in. Hence, my first book, The Wild Inside, is as much about whether the protagonist will find some emotional peace as it is about who committed the crime. My second book, MORTAL FALL, featuring a secondary character from the first book, also takes place in Glacier. The park, in essence, remains a strong secondary character.
By Marcus Sakey
Rather than ask each other the same questions via email, authors Marcus Sakey and Johnny Shaw decided to have a conversation on the phone with no set plan. No prepared questions. They just let the conversation go in whatever direction it headed and made notes as they went.
This had nothing to do with both of them being unprepared for the interview or forgetting the deadline until the last minute. Absolutely nothing to do with that.
The following is a sampling of a conversation that was mostly laughing. Attribution didn’t seem necessary as neither author was great at keeping notes or really wanted to take credit for what they said.
ON THE PROCESS
“The process sucks. It’s also awesome. That’s the baseline, I think.”
“The thing is, I’m not really talented. I’m not a good writer. Honestly, my first draft reads like an illiterate ogre just started typing with their thumbs.”
“You’re a shitty first drafter.”
“Oh. Oh, man. Yeah. But with that draft I get the shape of the thing. Which is what I need to fix it. Then I just do a ton more drafts.”
“I’ll go 30 pages in the wrong direction. It’s part of my process. It sucks, but it’s part of my process.”