Writing historical stories without falling into cliché takes a bucketload of skill. Tom Lowe demonstrates that dexterity in his latest thriller, DRAGONFLY.
The ninth book in the Sean O’Brien series finds the former Miami homicide cop matching wits with an assassin who’s killing off retired CIA agents. When the killer sets his sights on one of Sean’s closest friends, Sean lands himself squarely in the middle of a deadly plot that stretches across borders—and into the past.
The Big Thrill caught up with Lowe to talk about the challenges of weaving together fact and fiction, the demands of juggling three ongoing series, and the benefits of giving his longest-running character an unconventional sidekick.
Interweaving real events and characters with a fictional story risks ending up with a finished product that’s unconvincing. (I call it the “Oh dear, I see the Titanic’s sunk” effect.) How do you guard against that?
By its very nature, historical fiction is an oxymoron. History, especially well-known history, is set in stone. That doesn’t mean the ripples from it can’t be fictionalized in the novel form. Historical events can provide exceptional leverage for the writer to use as background to base a story. I believe authors have a creative license to whisper, “What if?” and then follow the wellspring of their imagination as it flows from an event in history that will give the story added credence. That, of course, can be a double-edge sword. The creative liberty can’t cross the line and paint history with brushstrokes that will alter it. But the author can work along the seams and create characters and events that possibly could have had a connection to the background of that specific point in history. For example, my novel The Jefferson Prophecy deals with Thomas Jefferson before he was president and then from when he authorized the nation to go to war against the Barbary pirates. I knew I couldn’t change any event involving Jefferson in terms of what he did or didn’t do, as it was documented in history. However, I knew that Jefferson was a gifted cryptographer, a man who’d invented the cipher-wheel used for decades after his death to send and receive covert messages. That’s where I whispered, “What if?” and let the story begin.
When Lily Ross learns that her husband, Daniel Ross, the town’s widely respected sheriff, is killed while transporting a prisoner, she is devastated and vows to avenge his death.
But just hours after Daniel’s funeral, a stranger appears at Lily’s door: Marvena Whitcomb, a coal miner’s widow, who is unaware that Daniel has been killed and begs to speak with him about her missing daughter.
Soon Lily and Marvena realize that Daniel was not the man that either of them believed him to be—and that his murder is far more complex than either of them could have imagined.
Set in 1920s’ Ohio against the backdrop of coal mining, prohibition and women’s rights, THE WIDOWS is inspired by the true stories of two women: Maude Collins, the first female sheriff in the state of Ohio, whose husband died in the line of duty in 1925, and Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, the prominent labor and community organizer.
Award-winning author Jess Montgomery spent some time with The Big Thrill sharing some insight into her latest work of historical fiction, THE WIDOWS:
With the arrival in 2017 of Edinburgh Twilight, a historical mystery featuring as its protagonist Detective Inspector Ian Hamilton, Carole Lawrence won a large, enthusiastic readership. Also writing as C. E. Lawrence and Carole Bugge, she has nine published novels, six novellas and a dozen or so short stories and poems to her credit. Her work has received starred reviews from Kirkus, The Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, The Boston Herald, Ellery Queen—the list goes on.
In her newest release in the series, EDINBURGH DUSK, Lawrence weaves a delicious mystery yet again. A female physician, Sophia Jex-Blake, calls on Detective Inspector Ian Hamilton to investigate the suspicious death of one of her patients—a railroad lineman who may have been poisoned. For the first time since a fire killed his parents, Hamilton enters the Royal Infirmary to ask for the insights of a certain brilliant medical student named Arthur Conan Doyle.
Lawrence took The Big Thrill behind the scenes of her writing process, to show just how she evokes a dark-tinged page-turning story set in the middle of a Scottish winter in the late 19th century.
By Wendy Tyson
E. M. Powell, author of the bestselling Fifth Knight medieval thrillers, has returned with the second installment of her Stanton and Barling Mysteries, THE MONASTERY MURDERS.
In THE MONASTERY MURDERS, Aelred Barling, clerk at the court of Henry II, along with his assistant, Hugo Stanton, are sent to investigate a brutal murder in a remote abbey in the Yorkshire Moors. It’s Christmastime, and the monastery, with its isolated location and unyielding culture, is the perfect backdrop for murder—or, in this case, a series of murders.
“The setting of my fictional Fairmore Abbey is integral to the plot,” Powell says. “The vast majority of the action takes place there.”
But the setting presented challenges too. “In some ways, that was very restrictive in that everything has to take place within the confines of the abbey walls.” It wasn’t only the physical structure of the setting that offered obstacles. “The medieval monastery was like a mini society,” Powell says, “with its own rules and laws, and was rigidly structured with almost every moment of every day accounted for. I had to make sure I reflected that. Developing distinct secondary characters was also quite a challenge as, unsurprisingly, almost everyone is a monk.”
The monastery setting, like a great locked-room mystery, only adds to the suspense of THE MONASTERY MURDERS. Indeed, it lends a deep sense of intrigue and foreboding. “The challenges also became, I think, one of the novel’s greatest strengths,” Powell admits. “Readers have said how much they like its claustrophobic atmosphere and the tense, volatile internal dynamics—as well as all the other murders, of course.”
In 1936, life on the road means sleeping on the bus or in hotels for blacks only. After finishing her tour with Nobel Sissel’s orchestra, nineteen-year-old Lena Horne is walking the last few blocks to her father’s hotel in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. She stops at a lemonade stand and meets a Lebanese American girl, Marie David. Marie loves movies and adores Lena, and their chance meeting sparks a relationship that will intertwine their lives forever. Lena also meets Josiah Conner, a charismatic teenager who helps out at her father Teddy’s hotel. Josiah often skips school, dreams of being a Hollywood director, and has a crush on Lena. Although the three are linked by a determination to be somebody, issues of race, class, family, and education threaten to disrupt their lives and the bonds between them.
Lena’s father wants her to settle down and give up show business, but she’s entranced by the music and culture of the Hill. It’s a mecca for jazz singers and musicians, and nightspots like the Crawford Grill attract crowds of blacks and whites. Lena table-hops with local jazzmen as her father chaperones her through the clubs where she‘ll later perform. Singing makes her feel alive, and to her father’s dismay, reviewers can’t get enough of her. Duke Ellington adores her, Billy Strayhorn can’t wait to meet her, and she becomes “all the rage” in clubs and Hollywood for her beauty and almost-whiteness. Her signature version of “Stormy Weather” makes her a legend. But after sitting around for years at MGM as the studio heads try to figure out what to do with her, she isn’t quite sure what she’s worth.
Marie and Josiah follow Lena’s career in Hollywood and New York through movie magazines and the Pittsburgh Courier. Years pass until their lives are brought together again when Josiah is arrested for the murder of a white man. Marie and Lena decide they must get Josiah out of prison—whatever the personal cost.
Bestselling author Kathleen George spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest thriller, THE BLUES WALKED IN:
The truths that have been erased from history come to life in this thriller about the nation’s ugly and forgotten chapter.
Still haunted by the death of this wife and son during childbirth, psychologist and WWI vet Samuel Taylor accepts a position at Western Valley Hospital. Superintendent Joseph Dejarnette leads the movement to purify humanity by exterminating anyone the Society, led by the kings of industry, deemed to be “defective” or “unfit.” Sam begins to question his sanity as the mysteries of the area emerge from the shadows, compelling him to dig deeper into the horrors of the movement, realizing how complicit he is in the deaths around him. The proof he ultimately uncovers may doom everyone he holds close while influencing the world’s most heinous act in history.
The Big Thrill spent some time with author David Simms, gaining new insight to his second novel, FEAR THE REAPER:
Twenty-nine year old Abraham Lincoln has spent his entire adult life running from his past — from the poverty of the dirt-floor log cabin where he was raised, from the dominion of his uneducated father, and from a failed early courtship. But now, in FINAL RESTING PLACE, the third book in the Lincoln & Speed Mystery series, Lincoln’s past is racing back to haunt him.
It is the summer of 1838 and Springfield is embroiled in a tumultuous, violent political season. When a prominent local politician is assassinated and his political rival is arrested, young lawyer Lincoln and his best friend Joshua Speed are on the case to investigate.
It’s no ordinary trial, however, as Lincoln and Speed soon face unwelcome complications. Lincoln’s ne’er-do-well father and stepbrother appear in town and threaten Lincoln’s good name and political future. And before long, anonymous letters start appearing in the local newspapers, with ominous threats that make Lincoln fear for himself and his loved ones. As the day of reckoning arrives, the threats against Lincoln continue to escalate. Lincoln and Speed must identify the culprit and fast, before Lincoln loses the race to outrun his past.
Author Jonathan F. Putnam spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing the third installment of his Lincoln and Speed Mystery series, FINAL RESTING PLACE:
By David Healey
Set in 1933, THE FAIRFAX INCIDENT by Terrence McCauley seems at first to be a traditional noir detective story with a Raymond Chandler-like vibe. However, it soon becomes apparent that Charlie Doherty is an evolved and nuanced private eye. Imbued with a sense of history and complex characters, there’s more than meets the eye at first glance in this novel—much like the case that Doherty takes on.
The novel begins with Doherty interviewing the widow of a wealthy New Yorker who appears to have committed suicide. However, the widow insists that her husband did not shoot himself. Thus begins a case that leads Doherty through a twisty plot filled with politics and intrigue.
The author’s earlier trio of thrillers was actually set in the near future, with some futuristic predictions that have already come to pass. In Sympathy for the Devil, for example, he incorporated the kind of fingerprint recognition technology that exists today but that was more predictive of the future when the book came out.
Now, he’s delving into the past with a series of novels set in the 1930s.
February, 1922. Hollywood is young but already mired in scandal. When a leading movie director is murdered, Irish-American investigator Tom Collins is called in by studio boss Mack Sennett, whose troubled star, Mabel Normand, is rumoured to be involved.
But Normand has gone missing. And, as Collins discovers, there’s a growing list of suspects. His quest leads him through the brutal heart of Prohibition-era Los Angeles, from speakeasies and dope dens to the studios and salons of Hollywood’s fabulously wealthy movie elite, and to a secret so explosive it must be kept silent at any cost…
Inspired by the unsolved real-life murder of movie director William Desmond Taylor, THE LONG SILENCE is the first in a richly evocative, instantly compelling series of new noir mysteries set in Hollywood’s early days.
The Big Thrill caught up to novelist Gerard O’Donovan to discuss his latest thriller, and his first in a new series of historical crime thrillers set in 1920s Hollywood, THE LONG SILENCE:
It’s autumn of 1881, and Inez Stannert, still the co-owner of Leadville, Colorado’s Silver Queen saloon, is settled in San Francisco with her young ward, Antonia Gizzi. Inez has turned her business talents to managing a music store, hoping to eventually become an equal partner in the enterprise with the store’s owner, a celebrated local violinist.
Inez’s carefully constructed life for herself and Antonia threatens to tumble about her ears when the badly beaten body of a young musician washes up on the filthy banks of San Francisco’s Mission Creek canal. Inez and Antonia become entangled in the mystery of his death when the musician turns out to have ties to Leadville, ties that threaten to expose Inez’s notorious past. And they aren’t the only ones searching for answers. Wolter Roeland de Bruijn, “finder of the lost,” has also been tasked with ferreting out the perpetrators and dispensing justice in its most final form. Leadville’s leading madam Frisco Flo, an unwilling visitor to the city with a Leadville millionaire, is on the hook as well, having injudiciously financed the young musician’s journey to San Francisco in the first place.
Time grows short as Inez and the others uncover long-hidden secrets and unsettled scores. With lives and reputations on the line, the tempo rises until the investigation’s final, dying note.
Award-winning author Ann Parker spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest novel, A DYING NOTE:
Leanna Renee Hieber brings Victorian London and New York to life and fills both cities with ghosts and monsters. Two groups of paranormally talented investigators discover that the Eterna compound—thought to be the key to immortality—is, instead, a powerful protective charm. That protection is sorely needed, for both England and the U.S. are under attack by dark forces.
Having vanquished the demonic pretender to the British throne, the now-united forces of the Eterna Commission and the Omega Department reach America ready to take on a new menace. But like the United States itself, this evil is rapidly spreading from sea to shining sea. Will the new magic our heroes have discovered be strong enough to defeat it?
With its blend of Victorian details, complex plots, and compelling characters, Hieber’s fascinating historical fantasy continues to earn critical acclaim.
Award-winning author Leanna Renee Hieber recently spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest novel, THE ETERNA SOLUTION:
Writing in a comfortable studio surrounded by books, the scenes playing in the mind of Mark Ellis are not nearly as peaceful: German dive bombers machine gunning troops on the run, war-torn London, a woman’s bloody body in a hotel room.
The British author’s latest effort is MERLIN AT WAR, in which much of the plot centers around a mysterious letter left behind by an officer killed by those dive bombers. Interestingly enough, the main character is not a soldier, but Chief Inspector Frank Merlin. While war rages, there is no shortage of home front crimes for Merlin to solve.
“People carried on,” Ellis said. “Life carried on.”
And so did crime.
England, 1919. Verity Kent’s grief over the loss of her husband pierces anew when she receives a cryptic letter, suggesting her beloved Sidney may have committed treason before his untimely death. Determined to dull her pain with revelry, Verity’s first impulse is to dismiss the derogatory claim. But the mystery sender knows too much—including the fact that during the war, Verity worked for the Secret Service, something not even Sidney knew.
Lured to Umbersea Island to attend the engagement party of one of Sidney’s fellow officers, Verity mingles among the men her husband once fought beside, and discovers dark secrets—along with a murder clearly meant to conceal them. Relying on little more than a coded letter, the help of a dashing stranger, and her own sharp instincts, Verity is forced down a path she never imagined—and comes face to face with the shattering possibility that her husband may not have been the man she thought he was. It’s a truth that could set her free—or draw her ever deeper into his deception…
Award-winning author Anna Lee Huber recently discussed her latest thriller, THIS SIDE OF MURDER, with The Big Thrill:
As a new century approaches, Edinburgh is a city divided. The wealthy residents of New Town live in comfort, while Old Town’s cobblestone streets are clotted with criminals, prostitution, and poverty.
Detective Inspector Ian Hamilton is no stranger to Edinburgh’s darkest crimes. Scarred by the mysterious fire that killed his parents, he faces his toughest case yet when a young man is found strangled in Holyrood Park.
With little evidence aside from a strange playing card found on the body, Hamilton engages the help of his aunt, a gifted photographer, and George Pearson, a librarian with a shared interest in the criminal mind. But the body count is rising. As newspapers spin tales of the “Holyrood Strangler,” panic sets in across the city. And with each victim, the murderer is getting closer to Hamilton, the one man who dares to stop him.
The Big Thrill had an opportunity to discuss EDINBURGH TWILIGHT with author Carole Lawrence:
By David Healey
Veteran author Peter Tonkin has written a number of books, thanks in part to his hard-driving writing schedule. (If you want some motivation as an author, follow Peter on Facebook and try to keep up with the pages written that he posts daily.) His most recent novel is AFTER THE IDES: CAESER’S SPIES THRILLER BOOK 2, set in ancient Rome in the wake of Julius Caesar’s assassination.
This busy writer, retired teacher, and world traveller took some time out recently to answer some questions about Romans, research, and writing in general.
Thrillers such as yours require a tremendous amount of research to make them plausible. What fact did you discover in your research that stood out for you?
It’s difficult to pin down just one. I love the fact that Artemidorus really gave Caesar a list of his murderers on the way into the fatal Senate meeting. That Antistius the physician carried out on Caesar’s body the first recorded post mortem in history. And that Antony’s wife Fulvia drove pins (and a stylus?) through Cicero’s tongue when his head was spiked in the Forum 22 months later – because of the terrible damage his speeches had done to her husband, her family and their fortunes in the interim.
As a writer, how do you get the voice right for characters who lived thousands of years ago?
“Right” is not really the correct term. I try and make them credible and convincing. As Lindsey Davis said when discussing her brilliant Falco novels, it is the suspension of disbelief that’s important. I love to get my facts right, including events, characters and relationships, so Antony has a particular ‘voice’ and Octavian another–extensions of their characterisation in my stories. Reflections of their characters in history as presented by the most up-to-date research I can find.
When an earthquake devastates San Francisco in an alternate 1906, the influx of geomantic energy nearly consumes Ingrid Carmichael. Bruised but alive, the young geomancer flees the city with her friends, Cy, Lee, and Fenris. She is desperate to escape Ambassador Blum, the cunning and dangerous bureaucrat who wants to use Ingrid’s formidable powers to help the Unified Pacific—the confederation of the United States and Japan—achieve world domination. To stop them, Ingrid must learn more about the god-like magic she inherited from her estranged father—the man who set off the quake that obliterated San Francisco.
When Lee and Fenris are kidnapped in Portland, Ingrid and Cy are forced to ally themselves with another ambassador from the Unified Pacific: the powerful and mysterious Theodore Roosevelt. But even TR’s influence may not be enough to save them when they reach Seattle, where the magnificent peak of Mount Rainier looms. Discovering more about herself and her abilities, Ingrid is all too aware that she may prove to be the fuse to light the long-dormant volcano . . . and a war that will sweep the world.
Author Beth Cato spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest novel, CALL OF FIRE:
Marine Corporal Sean Nichols is wounded in a devastating ambush that takes the lives of his three friends and leaves him an amputee. If not for the heroism of his sergeant, Deke Tilman, who pulled him out of the road, Sean would have surely died with his fire team. With the help of Deke, Sean now embarks on his next mission—recuperate from his serious injuries, and visit the families of his fallen comrades as he tries to make peace with such profound loss.
BATTLE SCARS is a thought-provoking drama with compelling characters that illustrates the resiliency and strength of the human spirit, the power of love and friendship, and the ability to overcome even our darkest moments. Gritty realism and original storytelling breathe life into BATTLE SCARS as it inspires us with a surprising tale of heroism and the great sacrifice made by our modern war fighters. A novella you can read in a few hours, but will think about for days.
Author of BATTLE SCARS, David M. Salkin, discussed his latest book with The Big Thrill:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Unlike my usual thrillers, which are written simply to entertain my readers, BATTLE SCARS is written to tell the important story of the wounded warrior, and the experiences of today’s modern war fighter. A tale of patriotism, heroism and brotherhood, BATTLE SCARS will leave the reader thinking about the story long after they close the last page.
When a crooked card game leads to murder, young Abraham Lincoln, and his real-life best friend Joshua Speed, are forced to solve the crime. They soon discover, however, that far more than the identity of the criminal is at stake.
The murder takes place aboard a steamboat owned by Speed’s father, and Speed enlists Lincoln to defend the young artist accused of the crime. As the day of judgment hurtles toward them, Lincoln and Speed must fight to save not only the life of Lincoln’s client but also the merit of Speed’s good name.
PERISH FROM THE EARTH also involves a real-life murder that, while nearly forgotten today, was one of the most infamous crimes of the 19th century, provoking newspaper headlines from coast-to-coast and playing a key role in plunging the nation toward civil war. This murder upends Lincoln’s case and forces him to make a fateful choice—one on which the future of the nation may hang. If his client doesn’t first.
The Big Thrill caught up to PERISH FROM THE EARTH author, Jonathan F. Putnam, to discuss the second Lincoln & Speed Mystery:
Lily Saint James grew up traveling the European continent, learning languages as she went. In 1938, her mother’s abrupt death brings her back home to Washington, D.C., and after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Lily comes to the attention of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Her knowledge of German, French, and Italian makes her the perfect OSS Agent, and her quick thinking places her as a nanny in the household of an important German Army Colonel, where she is able to gather intelligence for the Allies. After her marketplace contact goes missing, she makes a late-night trip to her secondary contact only to find him under interrogation by the SS. When he commits suicide, she flees into the frigid winter night carrying false identification papers that are now dangerous and a mini film cartridge with vital strategic information. In order to survive, Lily must make it out of Germany, into the hands of Allied-controlled France, through a path fraught with peril.
The Big Thrill caught up with author, Ellen Butler, to discuss her novel, THE BRASS COMPASS:
By E.M. Powell
For many writers, the excitement of being a published debut novelist is quickly followed by the enormous challenge of the second novel. Some really struggle with writing a second book or sequel in a series, particularly when that debut has been successful, which Radha Vatsal’s historical mystery, A Front Page Affair, most definitely was. Yet for Vatsal, writing her new Kitty Weeks novel, MURDER BETWEEN THE LINES, was easier then book one.
“Being a debut author is fun but also scary,” she says. “There’s a steep learning curve. Everything you’re doing, it’s for the first time. For me nerves were baked right in to the experience.’ When it came to writing the second book, those anxieties had lessened. “It was very freeing and I felt like it flowed easily compared to the first one.”
And flow it does. Vatsal’s young female journalist protagonist Kitty Weeks returns in this pacey, cleverly-plotted story set in New York in 1915-16. Kitty, who works for the New York Sentinel Ladies’ Page is tasked with writing a piece about Westfield Hall, a prestigious girls’ boarding school. Kitty expects to find an orderly establishment teaching the safe, standard fare for schoolgirls in 1915, such as French and dancing. But she’s surprised and intrigued to see the work of students like Elspeth Bright, the daughter of a scientist heavily involved in naval technology, who has inherited her father’s interest and talent for scientific inquiry.
A terrible tragedy strikes soon after their meeting when Elspeth is found frozen to death in Central Park. The doctors proclaim that the girl’s sleepwalking was the cause, but Kitty isn’t convinced. Determined to uncover the truth, the intrepid Kitty’s investigations involve her in a dangerous scenario—a murder that may involve Elspeth’s scientist father and a new invention by Thomas Edison. As with Kitty’s first outing, there are plenty of plot twists and turns to keep the reader guessing right to the conclusion.
The year is 1973, and the last of America’s soldiers are returning home from Vietnam, often shouted down and spat upon by protesters, while the first toxic cracks of mistrust have begun to appear at the highest levels of government. The American Indian Movement has entered into a bloody occupation of Wounded Knee, gas shortages have pushed the economy into deep recession, and violent civil unrest is captured in living color and broadcast nightly on the evening news. But rural Meriwether County, tucked away amid the sweeping river valleys and serrated mountain ridges of southern Oregon, has been left largely untouched by time. Until now. South California Purples is part contemporary western, and neo-noir, a novel of loyalty, passion and murder, crafted with lyrical prose and unforgettable dialogue that weaves together the sometimes poignant, often violent, strains of the 1970s, and the human cost of a nation in transition. This is the first of a new series.
Author of SOUTH CALIFORNIA PURPLES, Baron R. Birtcher, recently spent some time discussing his latest novel with The Big Thrill:
For these American POWs, the war is not over. Abandoned by their country, used as political pawns by Stalin, their last hope for getting home again is backwoods sniper Caje Cole and a team of combat veterans who undertake a daring rescue mission prompted by a U.S. Senator whose grandson is among the captives. After a lovely Russian-American spy helps plot an escape from a Gulag prison, they must face the ruthless Red Sniper, starving wolves, and the snowy Russian taiga in a race for freedom.
In a final encounter that tests Cole’s skills to the limit, he will discover that forces within the U.S. government want the very existence of these prisoners kept secret at any price.
David Healey sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss his latest novel, RED SNIPER:
1399. York is preparing for civil war, teeming with knights and their armed retainers summoned for the city’s defense. Henry of Lancaster is rumored to have landed on the northeast coast of England, not so far from York, intent on reclaiming his inheritance—an inheritance which his cousin, King Richard, has declared forfeit.
With the city unsettled and rife with rumors, Eleanor Clifford’s abrupt return to York upon the mysterious death of her husband in Strasbourg is met with suspicion in the city. Her daughter Kate is determined to keep her distance, but it will not be easy—Eleanor has settled next door with the intention of establishing a house of beguines, or poor sisters. When one of the beguines is set upon in the night by an intruder, Kate knows that for the sake of her own reputation and the safety of her young wards she must investigate.
Author Candace Robb spent some time discussing A TWISTED VENGEANCE with The Big Thrill:
By David Healey
The West Coast in the year 2017 may seem a long way from the English countryside of 1946, but in THE SECRET OF BRAMBLE HILL, California-based mystery author Sue Owens Wright has authored a classic English cozy right down to the tea, crumpets, and drafty manor house.
There are dark secrets best swept under his lordship’s rug, and perhaps a ghost lurking in the forgotten rooms of Bramble Hill.
There is also a dog, Gemma, who steals a scene or two. This makes sense, considering that Wright is best known for a slew (or is that a pack?) of mysteries featuring a basset hound.
Wright is a true dog lover and is active in pet welfare organizations in California. Her Beanie & Cruiser basset hound mysteries include Howling Bloody Murder, Sirius About Murder, Embarking On Murder and Braced For Murder. (The term “braced” has to do with a team of basset hounds working a trail together.) Her nonfiction books include several titles for dog owners (150 Activities for Bored Dogs) and she also writes for magazines for pet owners. She has been nominated 11 times for the Maxwell, awarded by the Dog Writers Association of America.
Armed with a healer’s skill and a witch’s art, Elisha hurries to warn the Holy Roman Emperor and discover how to stop the mancers’ plans. A one-eyed priest, a seductive traitor, a stern rabbi, a merchant of bones—how can he tell friend from foe when he no longer recognizes himself? Every blow Elisha strikes draws him toward the wrong side of the battle. When the enemy retaliates in blood, he fights to keep his humanity lest he be consumed by the spreading darkness and become. . .Elisha Mancer
The Big Thrill recently had the opportunity to discuss ELISHA MANCER with author E. C. Ambrose:
How does this book make a contribution to the genre?
ELISHA MANCER combines historical research with a fast-paced thriller approach—and an approach to magic that exploits the beliefs and fears of the Middle Ages.
Annabel Taylor, a beekeeper’s daughter, grows up wild and carefree on the moors of England in the late 1860s, following in the footstep of her mother, a beautiful witch. Annabel’s closest friend is Jevan Wenham, the son of the blacksmith, who lives his life on the verge of destruction. His devotion to Annabel is full of twists and turns as brutality melds with deepest desire. But when Jevan is forced to travel to London to receive an education, Annabel is devastated. Then Alex—the heir to the Saltonstall legacy and son of Cerberus Saltonstall, the wealthy landowner of the foreboding Gothelstone Manor house—comes into her life.
Alex is arrogant and self-assured, although he cannot stop thinking about the outspoken girl he encounters on the road to Gothelstone. Not only is he bewitched by Annabel’s beauty, he feels drawn to her by something he can’t explain. Alex and Annabel are worlds apart socially, but that doesn’t stop him from demanding her hand in marriage. When Annabel refuses, she is forced into an impossible situation, which leads Jevan to believe she has betrayed him, regardless of the fact that her decision saves him from the hangman’s noose.
As a devastating love triangle unfolds, disturbing revelations thrust Annabel into a startling reality, where nothing is as it seems. Now both her life and Jevan’s are in danger, and her fledging powers may not be enough to save them…
Author Jane Jordan recently took time to discuss her latest novel with The Big Thrill.
By E. M. Powell
Even those who don’t know a great deal of history can guess that they are in for a lively read when it’s a thriller set in London in the reign of the Henry VIII. In DEATH AT ST. VEDAST, the latest in Mary Lawrence’s Bianca Goddard series, they can expect that and more.
Bianca is an alchemist by profession. In her previous two outings, The Alchemist’s Daughter and Death of an Alchemist, she witnessed first-hand what keeps a man alive and what can kill him. This time, she has to use all her skill and knowledge to keep a friend away from the gallows, and time is running out. It’s a fast-paced mystery that has plenty of satisfying twists and turns. Throw in colorful characters and a real sense of the murkiness so characteristic of Tudor London and it’s easy to see why Lawrence has attracted loyal readers.
The idea for the series grew out of Lawrence’s long-standing love for Tudor history. “I was a science major in college,” she explains, “so I never got to take all of the literature and history courses that I wanted to. Top on my list was learning more about Shakespeare’s works. I started reading his plays and became smitten with his use of language and humor. I wanted to learn more about the time in which he lived.”
Like with every writer of historical thrillers, the commitment to research was huge. Fortunately for Lawrence, she loves that aspect. “I could have spent more than a year just researching.” And as always, she found fascinating nuggets that didn’t find their way into the novel. “I read an article on the use of wills as religious propaganda, specifically about William Tracy. Tracy was a wealthy country gentleman who espoused his Protestant views in his testament in 1531 and used them to avoid leaving money to the church. His testament was held up in probate and caused a firestorm of debate resulting in his body being exhumed from consecrated soil and being burned as a heretic. But his testament survived and was widely distributed in pamphlets. If you were caught in possession of one, it was grounds for heresy. They were a bit touchy about details back then.”
Robert Flynn abandoned a sterling military career when his best friend and fellow soldier, Wesley Pike, died under his command. More than a decade later, Flynn’s quiet life is disturbed by the troubles of a fledgling CIA and Alexander Grant, a flashy agent with a lot to prove.
As the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union heats up and the body count rises, the two men fight to find common ground. Grant knows Flynn believes in the cause, but all Flynn sees is the opportunity to fail someone like he failed Wes.
An attack by a Soviet agent spurs Flynn to action and a reluctant association with the agency, and tilts Flynn’s world on its axis with a shocking discovery: Wesley Pike may be alive and operating as a Soviet assassin.
Author J.T Rogers took time out of her busy schedule to discuss IN FROM THE COLD with The Big Thrill:
How does this book make a contribution to the genre?
Set in a world very much like our own, IN FROM THE COLD walks between the raindrops of real history. In conducting research for the novel, I was constantly surprised and delighted by the diversity of the men and women who served in the intelligence community. COLD therefore seeks to play with and deconstruct the James Bond model of spy, and offers up an alternative to his brand of stoic, ironical detachment. The characters in my novel feel—deeply so—and the personal stakes are as important to the plot as the global ones.
The Search for Transformation
What does mention of the year 1918 mean to you?
To Cat Winters, it means the Spanish Influenza, the devastation that was WW I, and the new social spaces that developed for women as a result.
These concerns, leavened with a healthy but skeptical interest in Spiritualism, color all her books to date, starting with In the Shadow of Blackbirds, a supernatural mystery for young adults that featured all of the above.
“I always wanted to write historical fiction. When I started my journey toward publication, I’d written one that I was shopping around. It was set in the 1890s and I was madly in love with it. I submitted it to agents, rewrote it, got rejected. Finally I signed with one agent who sent it out, but historical fiction was a tough sell at the time.”
Winters parted ways with her first agent and tried her hand at contemporary fiction, a suburban satire for adults about a woman married to a vampire. This book led her to Barbara Poelle, the agent she has now. “The plot was a commercial idea, but no one knew what to do with that book. It crossed several genres. It pitched like chicklit but I’d written it in this literary voice. A lot of editors gave me feedback, I rewrote following their notes, but none of them bought it and I ended up hating the book.”
But one of those editors said the only paranormal she was taking was historical paranormal. Winters pitched a book she has already started about WW I, the Spanish influenza, and spiritualism, a book for adolescents. That became In the Shadow of Blackbirds, the first of a series of similarly themed books for young adults (she’s just handed in the manuscript for her fourth, Odd and True).
After she’d written two of the young adult books, an editor from Harper Collins picked up In the Shadow of Blackbirds, read it on the plane, then contacted her agent and asked for an adult book. “That became The Uninvited – the book I was invited to write. And that’s how I started publishing adult fiction. It sounds like an overnight success story, but in reality, it took me two decades to break in.”
Winter’s adult books have their own flavor, different from young adult, which have more of a horror bent (Blackbirds was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award). “My YA books are more traditional horror, my adult books are more psychological horror.”
The Uninvited has now been followed by YESTERNIGHT. Both of her adult books have a few elements in common: “They really focus on people who don’t have the best past. They are trying to reconcile with their past and make new futures for themselves” at a time of great historical turbulence.
By Ron Parham
FESTIVAL OF FEAR is my third novel in the Paxton Brothers Saga, a series about an ordinary American family who find themselves caught up in extraordinary circumstances. FESTIVAL OF FEAR is actually a prequel to the first two novels in the series, a story about the Paxton brothers as kids growing up in rural Iowa in the early sixties. It’s unusual in that the protagonist in the first two novels, Molly’s Moon and Copperhead Cove, is only three years old in FESTIVAL OF FEAR. Thus, the reader of the first two novels starring Ethan Paxton will get to witness what his childhood was like. Confused? Let me explain further.
Molly’s Moon, my first published novel released in 2014, takes place during 9/11, in 2001. It follows Ethan Paxton as a businessman in his early forties that was stuck in Europe when the World Trade Center buildings came down. With America’s airports closed for days, he had to find a way to get into Mexico where his teenage daughter had been kidnapped by sex traffickers.It’s a fast-paced thriller with multiple points-of-view, including that of the kidnapper and the kidnapped daughter. My second novel, published in 2015, was Copperhead Cove, which takes place in 2003, two years after Molly’s Moon. Ethan Paxton is now in his mid-forties, helping his older brother, Bo, through a nightmare involving the Chicago mob, dead college basketball coaches, deadly snakes and all sorts of redneck characters.
Got it yet? Here’s where it gets a little weird, and hopefully interesting. My third novel, FESTIVAL OF FEAR, takes place in 1962, during the Cuban Missile crisis, when the fear and anxiety of the Cold War has the entire country on edge. Ethan Paxton, only three years old, is the youngest child of Clint and Eloise Paxton, who live in a small town in southwest Iowa. Ethan has two older brothers. Bo, who we met in Copperhead Cove, is seven, and oldest brother Nick, a new character to the series, is fifteen, a sophomore in high school and a football star. He is in love with a pretty blonde cheerleader who, unfortunately, is targeted as the next victim of a serial killer of young teenage girls that has been terrorizing the area. Nick is the protagonist, with his football coach, John Walters, playing a prominent role. Little Ethan and Bo are in the background, doing what small children do, even during a crisis. But their personalities are showcased so that the reader of the first two novels can relate to them. Like I said before, it’s a prequel to the first two novels.