John Connell spent years working as a cameraman on some of the biggest films and television shows in the country, including Jurassic Park and NYPD Blue. He loved the travel, the excitement, and the art of bringing stories to the screen. He also learned a lot about storytelling from some of the best in the business. Though he loved the work, he longed to move from behind the scenes helping bring to life someone else’s story, to writing his own. So, he left the industry, and began writing full time.
He was not an overnight success.
It took a decade, four defunct novels, and countless rejections before Connell landed a publishing deal. But the hard work and determination paid off. His novel, RUINS OF WAR—a unique, historical thriller set in postwar Germany—is already garnering national acclaim. And Connell, well, he’s considered a debut-to-watch.
The Big Thrill caught up with Connell at his home in Paris, where the author graciously agreed to answer a few questions.
What prompted the idea for a thriller set in postwar Germany? Do you have a personal connection to the period?
I’ve been a WW2 buff since I was a kid. I’ve read tons of books about the strategies, the politics, the rise and fall of Nazi Germany, though it’s the personal accounts of the individual soldiers that are my favorites. I felt I knew a good deal about the years leading up to and during the war, but I had neglected one vital part of that incredible era: its aftermath. My previous notions of relative peace and order were turned upside down while I was researching the backstory of the antagonist in an earlier, now defunct, novel.
By Basil Sands
Thomas F. Monteleone is a writer who has not been wasting his time. Thomas has published more than 100 short stories, 5 collections, 7 anthologies and 27 novels including the bestseller, New York Times Notable Book of the Year, The Blood of the Lamb. A four-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award, he’s also written scripts for stage, screen and TV, as well as the bestselling The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Novel (now in a 2nd edition) which sits on the bookshelf of this reviewer. His latest novel is a global thriller, SUBMERGED, and I must say I found myself Immersed in Submerged.
He lives in Maryland with his wife, Elizabeth, and all the high taxes. He is also co-editor of the award-winning anthology series of imaginative fiction, Borderlands. He is well-known as a great reader of his own work, and routinely draws SRO at conventions. Despite being dragged kicking and screaming into his sixties and losing most of his hair, he is still in many circles considered to be one who thinks he is dashingly handsome—let’s humor him.
Thomas, tell us about SUBMERGED.
It’s a thriller in the tradition of the best Ken Follett novels that use recent historical events that somehow still have great influence on us today. Having always had an abiding interest in World War II, and especially the astounding technologies of the German war machine, I have admired the novels of Frederick Forsyth and Greg Iles and Jack Higgins. I Like the challenge of using historical facts to make fiction ring true with credibility. So what if . . . . the Kriegsmarine had launched a super-sub—and underwater aircraft carrier with the ability to launch a bomber over the USA?
Jess Faraday, to list everything she has done professionally would leave you reading for a while. To name a few, Faraday is the author of the Ira Adler series, which includes The Affair of the Porcelain Dog, a Lambda short-listed book, and Steam-punk thriller The Left Hand of Justice, as well as, some short stories, non-fiction articles, and she’s even worked as a mystery editor for Elm Books.
Faraday realized that she wanted to try writing when she found herself more focussed on finishing all her tasks quickly so she could create stories. Her newest novel, FOOL’S GOLD, continues with Ira Adler finally in a better place until something upsets the balance and then puts him on the trail of a larger scale plot, and leaves him questioning his choices. Faraday was kind enough to take time out to talk to The Big Thrill.
Tell me about FOOL’S GOLD.
FOOL’S GOLD is the third historical mystery featuring accidental sleuth Ira Adler. In this instalment, Adler, a confidential secretary, has just gotten his life together—financially, personally, and professionally—when an explosion turns everything upside down. With his London life falling down around his ears, he accepts an invitation to accompany friends to California, where he uncovers a plot that stretches from the back streets of Whitechapel to the dusty dirt roads of Porterville. In addition, some chance encounters make him question whether he wants to return to London at all, or to pursue a new life in a new country.
How can you tell if a historical mystery is going to be as exciting and suspenseful as any futuristic technothriller? Well, if it’s crafted by Thriller Master David Morrell, you can count on it. He proves that with INSPECTOR OF THE DEAD, brilliantly merging historical fact and fiction.
Set in Victorian England, Morrell’s latest novel brings us eye-to-eye with a killer who targets the highest levels of British society. To battle this brilliant murderer, Morrell plucks one of the most sensational personalities from the 1800s and brings him to vibrant life. That protagonist is Thomas De Quincey, whose notorious Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, was the first book about drug addiction.
“It made De Quincey so famous that for the rest of his life he was called the Opium-Eater,” Morrell says. “Because of his opium dreams, he theorized that the mind had caverns and abysses, layer upon layer, with secret chambers in which alien natures could hide undetected. Basically, he anticipated the theories of Freud by three-quarters of a century. In fact, he invented the word ‘subconscious.’ He also influenced Edgar Allan Poe, who inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create Sherlock Holmes.”
Adding to his accomplishments, De Quincey created the modern true-crime genre. In his On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts,, he dramatized the first media-sensation mass killings in English history, the shocking Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811. Morrell says De Quincey’s blood-soaked depiction of those killings hooked him into writing about De Quincey.
“The premise of my first De Quincey novel, Murder as a Fine Art, is that someone uses his detailed essay as a blueprint for committing the murders anew,” Morrell says. “INSPECTOR OF THE DEAD continues De Quincey’s adventures when the Crimean War is raging. For a week, the shocking mismanagement of the war actually caused the fall of the English government. The premise of INSPECTOR OF THE DEAD is that someone uses this crisis as the ideal time to try to assassinate Queen Victoria.”
In reality, there were eight attempts to assassinate Queen Victoria, and Morrell incorporates elements of those attacks into his story.
De Quincey works with Scotland Yard detectives in the fascinating early days of crime-scene investigation, but even more interesting is the role played by his twenty-one year-old daughter, Emily, who provides an affectionate view of her opium-eater father, persuading readers to sympathize with him as much as she does. But writing from a female perspective can be a challenge for a male writer, and writing that character in a historical period is even harder, as Morrell says.
By James Ziskin
M. J. Rose is the New York Times bestselling author of fifteen novels, including the Butterfield Institute and Reincarnationist series. Her latest novel, THE WITCH OF PAINTED SORROWS, is the first book of a new trilogy from Atria Books/Simon & Schuster: The Daughters of La Lune. An opulent tale of destiny and reinvention, relentless passion and cabalistic mysticism, of love lost and the pursuit to regain it across death and the ages, THE WITCH OF PAINTED SORROWS is set against the backdrop of Belle Époque Paris.
Sandrine Salome is the wife of a New York banker. And though she enjoys wealth, social position, and a profound, spiritual bond with her adoring father, her marriage is passionless. When her husband betrays her father and drives him to suicide, Sandrine flees secretly to Paris, where she enters her grandmother’s world, a demimonde of courtesans and their wealthy patrons. Here, Sandrine discovers her own burning passions and a promising new life as a painter studying at the École des Beaux-Arts. She resolves never to return to the life she left behind. But an ancestral malevolence lurks in the walls of her grandmother’s mansion. And it wants Sandrine’s heart and soul.
I sat down with M. J. Rose to discuss her career and her latest novel, the gripping and luxuriant THE WITCH OF PAINTED SORROWS.
You have a passion for art, with roots going back to your formative years when you haunted New York’s greatest museums. Painting is at the heart of THE WITCH OF PAINTED SORROWS, from beginning to end. You present remarkable critical insight and knowledge of art, art history, and the mechanics of painting. Can you tell us something about your background in the world of art?
My grandmother was a painter and my mother a photographer. I loved painting and drawing from the time I can remember and started taking art classes when I was six years old—at the Metropolitan Museum of Art—no less. From there, it was the Art Students League in high school and then onto college where I got a fine arts degree with a minor in art history. I would still be painting if there had been a way for me make a living at it, but try as I might, I just wasn’t very good.
By Karen Harper
If anyone proves that ITW is international, it is Cecilia Ekback. Her parents are from Lapland; she was born in Sweden, lives in Canada, and has traveled all over the world in her earlier career. The setting and plot of WOLF WINTER are as unique as the author.
What is your novel about?
WOLF WINTER is set in Swedish Lapland, in 1717, on Blackåsen Mountain where a group of disparate settlers struggle to forge new lives. There are six settlements on the mountain. A day’s journey away is an empty town that only comes alive twice a year when the Church summons her people. Maija, her husband, and two daughters arrive in Blackåsen from Finland to escape past traumas and start over.
Not long after their arrival, the daughters stumble across the mutilated body of a fellow settler, Eriksson. The locals are quick to dismiss the culprit as a wolf or bear. But Maija is unconvinced and compelled by the ghosts of her own past. She just cannot let it rest.
As the seasons change and a harsh winter descends on the settlers, Maija finds herself on a dangerous quest to unearth the secrets of her neighbors and of the Church. But it’s a dangerous pursuit for everyone who has come to Blackåsen, because each of them has come there to escape someone or something.
The setting for WOLF WINTER seems unique and intriguing. Did you start with setting and grow plot and character from there, or did you conceive of this novel in another way?
“Wolf winter,” or Vargavinter, as the word is in Swedish, is a really cold, long, and bitter winter. But it is also how we talk about the worst period in a human being’s life: brought on by loss, or illness. The kind of period that reminds us we are mortal and, ultimately, always alone. My father was my best friend. The period preceding and just after his death was my wolf winter, and the book was written as a riposte to that event. Thus, I started with the idea of characters passing through their wolf winters.
From escaping the marriage clutches of a Spanish beauty to being taken in the night and dumped in an Indian village deep inland along the shores of Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela, debut author Ken Oxman has lived a thrilling life of adventure.
Back in his days as a Navy officer, Oxman became fascinated with the dark and dangerous. This, coupled with the stories told to him by his father, a WWII RAF navigator on the British Mosquito and Sunderland Flying Boat, sparked the idea for RELUCTANT ASSASSIN, and his protagonist, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Nathan Blake.
Blake is a hard-wired up-close assassin and bound by his duty to serve—but, as Oxman points out, it’s not the career he really wants. His dream is to be a sea-going officer.
“I know people who are very good at something and yet choose to make a life doing something else,” Oxman says. “It’s as if they can’t believe they could get by doing something they love. The antithesis of that is someone doing what they are good at but wanting to do something else. For example, I know someone who is a very clever engineer, but really he wants to paint. He would like to make a living as a painter but he’s just not good enough.”
The idea of that intrigued Oxman—the notion that someone could be an assassin, for instance, and yet live another life. This fact is brought out in the book when after sidelining a group of thugs, Blake’s girlfriend asks of him, “Who are you?” His reply, “Someone else, sometimes.”
By George Ebey
A group known as The Order has been watching college professor Luci de Foix for years, waiting for the day that a diary written in the fourteenth century would be delivered to her—a book that contains a key to a lost codex—and they would do anything to get it. Plagued by panic attacks, Luci struggles to overcome her fears, avenge her family, and search for the lost codex written by Thomas. But who can she trust? Everyone seems intent on betraying her, even the gorgeous, enigmatic Max, a man with secrets of his own.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Linda to discuss her work on THE BLACK MADONNA.
Your novel includes aspects of religion and history. What interests you most about these subjects?
It sounds cliché but I believe by having a deep understanding of the past and that includes the daily impact religion had on people we can learn from it and grow as a society. If we fail to learn we are destined to repeat and obviously we keep making some of the same aspects. We don’t appreciate the differences that we have, we try as societies to make people conform to our own beliefs, it has never worked.
Historical mysteries pack an extra punch when they are set in a time of turbulence and danger, and in her first mystery, E.M. Powell selected the conflict-riven 12th century reign of King Henry II for her fast-paced story. The Fifth Knight begins as a quintet of tough, ruthless knights are on their way to Canterbury Cathedral to seize its defiant archbishop, Thomas Becket. Powell gives a fascinating twist to the legend of the murder of Becket, one that pulls in her two fictional main characters, Sister Theodosia, a sheltered but feisty nun, and Sir Benedict Palmer, a mercenary knight who grows a conscience. In the sequel, THE BLOOD OF THE FIFTH KNIGHT, Powell once again blends history with fictional weavings as Sir Benedict investigates attempts on the life of King Henry’s delectable mistress, Rosamund Clifford. In the U.K. THE BLOOD OF THE FIFTH KNIGHT reached the Number One spot on Amazon’s list of historical fiction bestsellers. The novel will be released on January 1, 2015 in North America.
For The Big Thrill, Powell, born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins, reveals her inspiration, historical insights, and the craft behind creating a true page-turner.
What came first, your desire to write a mystery or your interest in medieval England?
Like all writers, the reading came first. I’ve always been a huge thriller and mystery fan and that includes historicals. As a teenager, I read Agatha Christie’s Death Comes As the End, her only historical, which is set in Ancient Egypt. I loved the way it took me to a different world so far in the past but it felt completely real. It was such a revelation.
I studied Middle English as part of my degree. And yes, tales such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight were wonderful. But it was a one-off lecture about the everyday life of a medieval tanner that grabbed me. It would have been a stinky, back-breaking existence, complete with a full complement of body-plaguing parasites. Most of my fellow students were mildly appalled/bored and couldn’t wait to get back to their analysis of the blending of the Germanic and Romance traditions. Me? I wanted to know who lived next door.
By Jeff Ayers
J. Sydney Jones is the author of numerous books of fiction and nonfiction, including the novels of the critically acclaimed Viennese Mystery series, The Empty Mirror, Requiem in Vienna, The Silence, The Keeper of Hands, and A Matter of Breeding. He lived for many years in Vienna and has written several other books about the city, including the narrative history, Hitler in Vienna: 1907-1913, the popular walking guide, Viennawalks, and the thriller, Time of the Wolf. Jones is also the author of the stand-alone thriller Ruin Value: A Mystery of the Third Reich (2013).
In his latest stand-alone, THE GERMAN AGENT, it is February 1917. A lone German agent is dispatched to Washington to prevent the British delivering a telegram to President Woodrow Wilson—by any means possible. For this is the Zimmermann telegram: it contains a devastating piece of news that is sure to bring the United States into the war on the side of Britain and her allies.
Having fought in the trenches himself, Max Volkman knows that America’s involvement will only prolong the slaughter of innocents and is implacable in his determination to kill the British envoy carrying the telegram. But when his pursuit of the Englishman leads him to the home of American heiress Catherine Fitzgerald, wife to one of Washington’s most powerful politicians, he is presented with a terrible choice: loyalty to his comrades in the trenches or the loss of the one woman he has ever truly loved.
His decision will determine the outcome of the First World War.
J. Sydney Jones chatted with THE BIG THRILL about his vast work plus the inspiration for THE GERMAN AGENT.
Why the love of Vienna? What appeals to you to write about it in your Vienna mysteries and the majority of your books?
I grew up a small-town boy on the coast of Oregon that was largely populated by loggers and fishermen at the time. Pure serendipity took me to Vienna. I studied there on a junior-year-abroad program in college and fell in love with the Austrian capital as only a first-time lover can, for it was first big city I had ever lived in.
By Dawn Ius
Samurai detective Sano Ichiro is working his last—and most dangerous—case.
For the many fans of bestselling author Laura Joh Rowland, this is perhaps bittersweet. Because after more than twenty years and seventeen books, THE IRIS FAN marks the stunning conclusion to Rowland’s series of thrillers set in feudal Japan.
“[These characters] are like family, and saying goodbye to them is heart-wrenching,” Rowland says. “But I’m happy as well as sad, because I think it’s the right thing to do. In such a long series, the later books can never be as original and fresh as the first few. Some of the later books are better works of art and craft than the earlier ones, but my initial creative excitement has diminished over the years.”
That doesn’t mean readers aren’t in for a triumphant conclusion, though. In THE IRIS FAN, Sano Ichiro is restored to the rank of chief investigator to find the person responsible for stabbing a shogun with a fan made of painted silk and sharp-pointed iron ribs. If he fails, his family and his life are at risk.
“Sano and his long-time enemy, Yanagisawa, make a deal from hell,” Rowland says, admitting that this novel is one of her favorites in the series—not only because it’s the “end” but also because it’s a culmination of everything she’s learned about the craft of writing.
“When I wrote the first book (Shinju, published in 1994), I was still learning how to juggle the elements of fiction, and some basic things about the mystery genre slipped by me,” she says. “I forgot that a series needs, in addition to a detective, a cast of recurring characters. In subsequent books I gave Sano a boss, a sidekick, an enemy, a wife, and two kids, who all have important roles in the stories. One of the challenges of writing a series character is making him change and grow over time, like a real-life person. That happened to Sano, although I didn’t plan it out when I first created him.”
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“I tried to concentrate on where I was going and the reason for the trip, but everything around me conspired to catapult me into the dramatic event that placed me on this particular train in this unique moment in time. The clack of the wheels, the hum of the rails, the ebb and flow of the sound of rushing air as the train passed trees, buildings and fields rang in my ears, growing louder and louder with every passing mile, until it transformed into the buzzing of planes, the roar of flames and the cacophony of exploding munitions. Breathing in the air, I inhaled the scent of worn leather upholstery, the musky odors of previous passengers, even a trace of the sweet aroma of fruit eaten by an earlier traveler. The jumbled fragrance was overcome by the noxious scent of fire that incinerated fuel, rubber, and human flesh.”
Inspiration is a funny thing—there’s no telling when it’s going to pop up and take you by surprise. Once I was sitting in Gruene Hall listening to a performance, focused on the lead guitarist when, without warning, my imagination asked: “Can you kill someone with a guitar string?” I talked to a few musicians and found out that, yes, you can. They even told me the best string to use. That became the starting point of a novel, BITE THE MOON.
My latest work of fiction, SCANDAL IN THE SECRET CITY, was inspired less by a flight of fancy and more by hard, cold reality. I was researching a true crime book about Raynella Dossett Leath. She claimed one of her two husbands died in a cattle stampede and the other in a three-shot suicide. The story was tragic and bizarre and included the accidental death of a child, a sordid love affair, an attempted murder, and two medical examiners threatening law enforcement with firearms. But what really stirred up my creativity was learning out that Raynella spent a chunk of her childhood living in the Secret City.
By Wendy Tyson
DEATH WORKS AT NIGHT, the recently-released novel by Mauro Azzano, is the second installment in the Ian McBriar series. In the first book, THE DEAD DON’T DREAM, readers met homicide police detective McBriar as he investigated the brutal assault of two young boys, one of whom the son of a local underworld figure. In the new book, a fast-paced police procedural, McBriar is back, only this time he’s faced with an even more puzzling set of circumstances: a string of murders that span a continent.
Mauro was kind enough to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
DEATH WORKS AT NIGHT is described as “the story of a Metis police detective who conquered bigotry, prejudice, and his own personal tragedies to succeed.” Can you tell us a little more about Ian McBriar and some of the elements of his past that have made him the man he is today?
In the first book, we learn that Ian was studying to be a priest. His mother was killed tragically, and the anger he felt at the person who had caused her death led him to realize he had neither the self-control nor the self-denial required to be a priest. Becoming a police officer was the best compromise for him, allowing him to punish the guilty while staying true to his principles.
In my books, Ian is Scottish/French/Cree Indian. The stories are set in the 1970s, a time when political correctness did not exist, and few positions of trust were available to people of an aboriginal background.
This is the second in the Ian McBriar series. Like the first McBriar novel, DEATH WORKS AT NIGHT is set in Toronto, Canada. You were born in Italy, and you have lived in Australia and Canada, where you currently make your home. How have your own experiences traveling and living in such varied international locales affected your novels?
Ian is a “fish out of water.” I moved from Italy to Australia at age three, then back to Italy at age eleven, then to Canada a year later. I had three separate and very jarring culture shocks, and I’m certain that this was the genesis for Ian’s difficulties. I briefly thought of making the character an Italian-Canadian, but Ian came to me almost completely formed, and the more I investigated the difficulties faced by Metis, the more this felt like the right way to go.
Both books are set in the 1970s. What inspired you to write historical thrillers?
I am a people-watcher. I also tend to remember details that I witness; THE DEAD DON’T DREAM came from a half dozen snippets of scenes I remember seeing over the past twenty years, and I needed to write it to get the story out of my head.
The reason I set the first book in the 1970s was initially technical: there were some things one could do in the era before computer databases that one cannot do today. Once the first book was underway, I realized that the characters were a lot more alive, more vibrant, as a result of NOT being able to pick up a cell phone or Google an answer. They had to communicate—talk to each other—and I think this human interaction comes through in the story.
In DEATH WORKS AT NIGHT, McBriar is confronted with a perplexing case—a murder with no obvious motive and a suspect with no alibi. When writing the novel, did you outline the plot before you wrote the first draft, or did the plot develop during the writing process itself? What else can you share a about your writing process?
I never write down outlines or flow charts or anything, and I never know where the story is going to go. Often, I type away and am as surprised as anybody at what the characters do. Those scenes are usually the ones I need to tweak the least, the ones that I really enjoy seeing in print.
I research everything, from the score of the hockey game in one scene, to the make of car and type of gun the police used in 1974. My biggest fear is that someone will say that I got some important point wrong. I have heard from a number of retired and active police officers who read THE DEAD DON’T DREAM; to my immense pride they all said that I got the atmosphere of the police department right, that reading the dialog, they could hear the banter in their heads.
For the first three or four rewrites of THE DEAD DON’T DREAM I was not sure just “whodunit,” but once the next rewrite was done, I was certain that this was the story that I wanted to share.
When I write, I don’t use the “1000 words per day” rule or anything like that, but I do try to keep the momentum going. It’s very easy to leave the work for a while and never get back to it, but you have to press on until it’s finished. Once you have, you can decide whether it’s good enough to proceed with, but until it’s finished, it’s like an unbaked cake. You’ll never know whether it’s delicious or not unless it’s baked.
As to how I get my ideas, the central plot twist in the first book came from a casual comment I heard on the radio about “tombstoning”—identity theft from a graveyard. The second book’s plot contains an interesting psychological condition that I thought would be a really great red herring. Both of these felt right from the first time I wrote them down.
What would you like your readers to take away from your books?
Mystery books are not actuarial tomes. They should be easy to read, entertaining and interesting. If they are also informative, all the better. But the feedback I get is that people see Ian, Frank, and the others in my books as real, solid human beings who are alive to them. If these characters give people a nice warm feeling, then I have done my job well.
What’s next for you? Can readers look forward to another McBriar thriller?
The third book in the series, DEATH BY DECEIT, has been sent to the publisher for first edit. It takes place in 1977, and has the same humor and fun banter as the first two books, but the threat in this book comes far closer to home for Ian; the body count is higher, and the culprit is more devious and determined than before.
The fourth book is in the planning stage. That said, the central plot of this book had been in my mind ever since I started writing the second book. I am superstitious, though, so I won’t discuss it until I finish the first draft.
Mauro Azzano was born in the Veneto in Northern Italy. He has received recognition as an educator, a communicator and also as an author. The Ian McBriar series of books is still growing, and he is currently working on the fourth in the series.
To learn more about Mauro, please visit his website.
Click here to watch the booktrailer for DEATH WORKS AT NIGHT.
By Karen Harper
If anyone doubts that the International Thriller Writers is International, this interview with European author Bob Van Laerhoven should help erase those doubts. He has lived and worked all over the world, and his latest prize-winning novel is now available in the US. Van Laerhoven calls himself a Belgian (Flemish) author, but his work is universal.
What is your book about?
BAUDELAIRE’S REVENGE is a crossover between literature and the mystery-novel, mixing a tale of murder and extraneous passions with literary history and history. It goes back to Paris, September 1870, and the Franco-Prussian war. The first Prussian shrapnel hits the city. The workers are starving to death. The nobility seeks refuge in orgies and séances. Artists denounce the impending civil war in France and call for unity in defense against the Prussian armies. The Parisians are trapped in their besieged city.
However, the horror of war is surpassed by a series of gruesome and mysterious murders that makes them forget about everyday reality. Commissioner Lefèvre, a veteran from the French-Algerian war, has to resolve these lurid crimes. On or near each of the corpses, verses out of the contentious anthology THE FLOWERS OF EVIL of the recently deceased Charles Baudelaire are found, written in his exact handwriting. Commissioner Lefèvre’s investigation uncovers a plot with ramifications extending as far as the court of the emperor, Napoleon III. It also leads him to discover a bizarre family secret with far-reaching consequences. And to the knowledge that evil is everywhere, and he is not excluded.
BAUDELAIRE’S REVENGE has a unique premise. How did you come to use the French poet Charles Baudelaire—who was already dead at the time of your story—and why did you choose the thriller genre?
To answer this shrewd question, I have to go back in time, more than four decades. At seventeen, by chance—by Fate?—I picked up a volume of poems in the library of the small Flemish village near to the Dutch border where I grew up. It was the Dutch translation of LES FLEURS DU MAL (THE FLOWERS OF EVIL) by Charles Baudelaire. I read those thrilling, enticing verses and I was wowed. I bought the French edition to be able to read those enthralling poems, describing a universe of weird, entangled passions in the original language they were written in. I remember clearly that I read LES FLEURS DU MAL at night in bed with the help of a French-Dutch dictionary. I also began to read more about Baudelaire’s twisted and dramatic life, and I vowed that I would become a writer and publish a book about him. At twenty-seven, I tried for the first time, but after a few months I had to admit that the topic was, at that moment, way above my head. I was just a beginner, having recently published my first novel NIGHT GAMES. The complexity of Baudelaire’s themes and the decadence of his life, defied my longing to write a novel about him. I moved on, published more and more books, and, to be honest, forgot about the project of that seventeen year old boy who dreamed of becoming an author, a very uncommon goal in my social class: my parents were poor working people.
Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy follows the fortunes of five intertwined families—American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh—as they make their way through the twentieth century. It has been called “potent, engrossing” (Publishers Weekly) and “truly epic” (Huffington Post). USA Today said, “You actually feel like you’re there.”
EDGE OF ETERNITY, the finale, covers one of the most tumultuous eras of all: the 1960s through the 1980s, encompassing civil rights, assassinations, Vietnam, the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, presidential impeachment, revolution—and rock and roll.
East German teacher Rebecca Hoffman discovers she’s been spied on by the Stasi for years and commits an impulsive act that will affect her family for generations… George Jakes, himself bi-racial, bypasses corporate law to join Robert F. Kennedy’s Justice Department and finds himself in the middle of not only the seminal events of the civil rights battle, but also a much more personal battle… Cameron Dewar, the grandson of a senator, jumps at the chance to do some espionage for a cause he believes in, only to discover that the world is much more dangerous than he’d imagined… Dimka Dvorkin, a young aide to Khrushchev, becomes an agent for good and for ill as the Soviet Union and the United States race to the brink of nuclear war, while his twin sister, Tania, carves out a role that will take her from Moscow to Cuba to Prague to Warsaw—and into history.
These characters and many others find their lives inextricably entangled as they add their personal stories and insight to the most defining events of the 20th century. From the opulent offices of the most powerful world leaders to the shabby apartments of those trying to begin a new empire, from the elite clubs of the wealthy and highborn to the passionate protests of a country’s most marginalized citizens, this is truly a drama for the ages.
With the Century Trilogy, Follett has guided readers through an entire era of history with a master’s touch. His unique ability to tell fascinating, brilliantly researched stories that captivate readers and keep them turning the pages is unparalleled. In this climactic and concluding saga, Follett brings us into a world we thought we knew, but now will never seem the same.
By Jeremy Burns
The Middle Ages were full of fascinating and often shocking episodes, and few authors are as talented at bringing readers into this intriguing period of history as Karen Maitland. A veteran thriller writer and a member of the Medieval Murderers, Maitland digs into the political intrigue, sabotage, subterfuge, revolutions, conflicts, and secrets of the medieval era like few others. Her latest book, THE VANISHING WITCH, looks to thrill fans once again with her unique take on this tempestuous period of history.
The author recently sat down with THE BIG THRILL to give readers a glimpse into her upcoming medieval thriller.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’ve been writing full-time since 2000, and THE VANISHING WITCH is my fifth medieval thriller to be published. As well as my own historical thrillers, I also write a joint medieval crime novel ever year with five other authors—Philip Gooden, Susanna Gregory, Michael Jecks, Bernard Knight, and Ian Morson. Together we are known as the Medieval Murderers and our tenth book, THE DEADLIEST SIN, is also published this summer.
I’ve recently moved to the beautiful county of Devon in England, not far from Dartmoor, the wild moor that was the inspiration for the famous Sherlock Holmes case—‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’. When the mist comes down, you can almost hear the terrible black hound baying across the moors. I’ve converted an old blacksmith’s workshop in which to write, which still has the old anvil and I’ve filled it with things that inspire me like an old witch ball, a saxon drill, and stuffed owl.
Tell us about THE VANISHING WITCH.
The book is set in Lincoln, England in 1380/81, during the reign of the boy-king Richard II. It was summer of the Peasants’ Revolt when thousands of men and women marched on London and seized the Archbishop of Canterbury who was Chancellor of England. They hacked off his head, starting an orgy of rioting, murder and destruction that swept across England. But Robert, a wealthy wool-merchant in Lincoln has his own problems the rebels want him dead, the sheriff questions his loyalty and when people around him start being murdered, who can he trust—his impetuous son, the dark-haired widow, her bewitching daughter or his superstitious servants?
By Rick Reed
Ken Kuhlken’s short stories, features, essays and columns have appeared in Esquire and dozens of other magazines and anthologies, been honorably mentioned in Best American Short Stories, and earned a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.
His novels have been widely praised and honored by awards such as the Ernest Hemingway Best First Novel, the St. Martin’s/Private Eye Writers of America Best First Novel, and the Shamus Best Novel.
His latest Tom Hickey California Crime novel, THE GOOD KNOW NOTHING, is the seventh in a series of Tom Hickey novels and will be released on August 5:
During the summer of 1936, destitute farmers from the Dust Bowl swarm into California, and an old friend brings L.A. police detective Tom Hickey a book manuscript, a clue to the mystery of his father Charlie’s long-ago disappearance.
In his relentless effort to find out what became of Charlie, Tom lures the novelist B. Traven to Catalina Island and accuses him of homicide. Traven’s tale is that the Sundance Kid, having escaped from his reputed death in Bolivia, killed Charlie.
Tom crosses the desert pursuing the legendary outlaw. What he learns in Tucson sends him up against newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst.
Kuhlken recently answered a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
Tell us about Tom Hickey? What kind of person is he, and how did you create his character?
Tom is a dreamer with an artistic nature who grows up quite aware of the darkness around him and whose essential motive is to help lighten the darkness. He sets out to become an architect and a musician, but circumstances lead him into police work and later to private investigation.
By Jeremy Burns
She’s a veteran novelist. He’s a professor in Rome. Together, they write as Sam Cabot, whose debut novel BLOOD OF THE LAMB drew comparisons to THE DA VINCI CODE and THE HISTORIAN. The two members of this writing duo, S. J. Rozan and Carlos Dews, sat down with THE BIG THRILL to discuss SKIN OF THE WOLF, the sequel to BLOOD OF THE LAMB.
Tell us a little about yourselves and how you came to be a writing team.
Rozan: We met in Italy, through a writing workshop where we both teach. I was between projects and Carlos had an idea…
Dews: I was living my life as an expat in Rome and had a dream to write a thriller set here. I had too much respect for the thriller genre to try one on my own. Mutual friends introduced me to S. J., and the dream team (at least from my point of view) was born.
Tell us about your new thriller, SKIN OF THE WOLF.
Rozan: SKIN OF THE WOLF picks up after BLOOD OF THE LAMB, though you don’t have to have read the first to read this one. Set in the present in New York city, it involves art collectors, a ritual mask, Native Americans, and a murder at Sotheby’s. Oh, and vampires and werewolves.
Dews: SKIN OF THE WOLF sees the team we introduced in last year’s BLOOD OF THE LAMB (set in Rome) this time in New York where they race against time to prevent the catastrophic misuse of an important Native American mask. Oh, and did I forget to mention that there are vampires and shape-shifters involved?
By Brian Knight
October, 1901. Lawyer and private-inquiries agent Karl Werthen accepts an assignment to protect the famous Irish writer Bram Stoker while on a speaking tour of Vienna. Meanwhile, his colleague, criminologist Dr. Hanns Gross, has been called away to advise on a bizarre series of murders near his hometown of Graz in the Austrian province of Styria. Three women have been killed with strange mutilations and scarring patterns left on their bodies. The third and most recent victim has had her unborn baby cut from her womb. Back in Vienna, Werthen’s wife Berthe is investigating what seems to be a fraudulent breeding scheme involving the prized Lipizzaner horses. Could these investigations possibly be connected?
Matters become complicated with Werthen and Stoker’s arrival in Graz. For, having read wild newspaper accounts of vampire killings, the author of DRACULA insists they investigate.
Welcome Mr. Jones, and thanks for stopping by to visit with us.
Call me Syd, please. And it is a pleasure to chat with you.
Tell us a bit about your new historical thriller, A MATTER OF BREEDING.
In my fifth installment of the Viennese Mystery series, A MATTER OF BREEDING, to be published this month, I again use characters and events inspired by history, primary among them Georg Ritter von Schönerer, the German nationalist whose right-wing rhetoric later influenced the young Hitler when he lived in Vienna (yes, I will include Hitler in an installment in due course). Schönerer is the inspiration for Christian von Hobarty, a primary suspect in the gruesome killings of several young women in the Austrian province of Styria, a place once much associated with vampirism. Indeed, the murders are for a time touted in the press as the work of a vampire. Damned handy that Bram Stoker, author of DRACULA, is in Austria on a speaking engagement and wrangles his way into the investigation with my ongoing protagonists, lawyer and private inquiries agent Karl Werthen and real-life father of criminology, Hanns Gross. Another intriguing—for me, at least—historical tip of the hat is to the so-called Blood Countess, Elizabeth Bathory, accused of killing hundreds of young women at her castle hideaway and bathing in their blood. Von Hobarty is an anagram of the Bathory name; he is, in fact, a distant relation of that infamous clan.
By George Ebey
In this seventh book in the acclaimed Ethan Gage adventure series, William Dietrich brings us the further exploits of Napoleonic adventurer Ethan Gage.
THE THREE EMPERORS finds our hero traveling to Venice, the battlefield of Austerlitz, and Prague in search of his wife Astiza and son Harry. The two have been taken prisoner by a secret society seeking the Brazen Head, a medieval machine capable of forecasting the future, and first described in the previous novel, THE BARBED CROWN. Rich with historical detail such as castles, and personalities such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Joachim Murat, the novel combines thrilling adventure with an authentic sense of time and place. Can the Gage family reunite and prevent terrible powers from falling into the wrong hands?
THE BIG THRILL recently checked in with William to learn more about Ethan Gage and what it takes to sustain a popular series over the long haul.
THE THREE EMPERORS is the seventh novel in the Ethan Gage series. Please tell us a little about the character and what the series is about?
Ethan is an American adventurer whose hunts for ancient relics play a role in the career of Napoleon and his wars. In addition to being a protégé of Benjamin Franklin, our hero is an electrician (an exotic occupation at the time), a gambler, trader, and a bit of a womanizer until he meets the woman who will become his wife. Unlike some deadly thriller heroes, Ethan has a wry, self-deprecating sense of humor and an opportunistic instinct for self-preservation. The books are funny, as well as exciting. The series begins in 1798 and follows Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, and then goes chronologically through the period, taking our hero from the frontiers of America to Notre Dame. Using an American with no special rank allows me to give an outsider’s view of great events, battles, and historical personalities.
How did the Ethan Gage series get its start?
I’m a fan of dashing swashbuckler stories with a humorous touch, such as George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series about the British Empire or Richard Lester’s irreverent movie take on THE THREE MUSKETEERS back in the 1970s. I wanted an American character with a skeptical view of one of my favorite periods of history, the Napoleonic Wars. Ethan has the perspective I had as a journalist—that of perennial outsider. Readers enjoy him because he is imperfect—although always conscious of Franklin’s homilies—and determined to (someday) reform. He’s likeable because he’s so human.
By Jeremy Burns
Every fiction author has a debut novel, and while some authors slowly make their way onto the scene, perfecting their craft and slowly gathering acclaim, debut author Gary Kriss looks poised to launch into the limelight with THE ZODIAC DECEPTION. A journalist, professor, history enthusiast, and magician, Kriss’s intriguing bio has several similarities to that of that of his equally fascinating protagonist, a con man-spy sent to infiltrate Hitler’s inner circle. With THE ZODIAC DECEPTION poised to make a splash this month, Kriss sat down with THE BIG THRILL to give readers a glimpse into his extensive bag of tricks.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Let’s see: I was born in Brooklyn but spent the early part of my life in Tennessee, so in many ways I’m still a transplanted Southerner. Growing up in the South, with its great literary tradition, gave me a love for reading and writing. It also sparked my social consciousness, which, in turn, significantly influenced my own creative endeavors. I started writing for newspapers when I was 11 and pursued this, on and off, for most of my life, largely for The New York Times. I also served my time as a college administrator and as a professor. And since the book involves astrology, I’m a Libra with Capricorn Rising.
Tell us about your new thriller, THE ZODIAC DECEPTION.
If pressed for a logline, it would go something like this:
Espionage, romance, religion and the paranormal collide in 1942 Berlin when the Allies send an American con man, trained by Houdini, to pull off the greatest scam in history: pose as an astrologer, gain the confidence of SS chief Heinrich Himmler by playing on his fascination with the occult, and then persuade him to kill Adolf Hitler.
By Stacy Mantle
A former media maven, MJ Rose left the advertising arena to write fiction in the late 90s. It wasn’t long before she found herself back in the ad business when she realized marketing is a required activity for authors.
Her novels combine multiple genres to create an eclectic collection of breathtaking heroines, mysterious heroes, and a deep understanding of history. She takes the reader on a passionate, dangerous journey through time with a writing style that is riveting. The release of her newest novel, THE COLLECTOR OF DYING BREATHS, comes in a hail of critical acclaim.
I was able to catch up with her for a look at the details about being an author, running a business, and how she created the character of Rene’ le Florentine while portraying the magical court of Catherine de Medici.
How much of THE COLLECTOR OF DYING BREATHS is based on historical events?
As with most of my work, there is a lot of fact mixed in with this fictional tale.
My story starts at the real life Officina Profumo–Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, one of the world’s oldest pharmacies, which was founded in 1221 in Florence by the Dominican Friars who made herbal remedies and potions. The first “eau de Cologne” has been attributed to the pharmacy’s 1500s citrus and bergamot scented water created for Catherine de Medici.
René le Florentin, my main character in the past story, was indeed an apprentice at the monastery and there created scents and creams for the young Catherine de Medici. When the fourteen-year-old Duchessina traveled to France to marry the prince, she took René with her. He and Catherine are credited with bringing perfume to their newly adopted country.
I used René’s perfume store in Paris and along with perfume he was credited with inventing creative poisons like the ones in the book, which his queen and her subjects used on their enemies.
I stayed true to Catherine de Medici, her aspirations, issues, and superstitions, family as well as her reliance on the astrologer Cosimo Ruggieri and René le Florentin.
By George Ebey
Michael Kurland’s latest novel, WHO THINKS EVIL, represents the fifth in his series featuring Sherlock Holmes’ famed nemesis, Professor James Moriarty.Moriarty is awaiting trial for murder when Queen Victoria’s grandson mysteriously disappears. In exchange for his release and the murder charges (of which he’s innocent) being dropped, the so-called “Napoleon of Crime” must track down the missing prince and find out who is behind his disappearance and the brutal murders left in his wake.
I recently checked in with Michael to learn more about how this series came to be and where it is going from here.
WHO THINKS EVIL is told from the point of view of Sherlock Holmes’ archenemy James Moriarty. How did this series begin?
This is the fifth novel in the series, along with a bunch of short stories. It began when Bernie Geis, a New York publisher, needed someone to ghostwrite some star’s autobiography. My agent recommended me and sent along a sample of my writing, including the portion and outline of THE INFERNAL DEVICE, the first Moriarty book, which I’d been thinking of submitting to the paperback house that had published a bunch of my science fiction novels. Bernie loved that so much that he bought it for vast amounts of money—at least by the standards of someone who’d been writing paperback science fiction—and found someone else to do the ghosting
THE INFERNAL DEVICE was nominated for an Edgar and an American Book Award, which made me think that perhaps science fiction wasn’t my field after all.
By J. N. Duncan
I’d like to welcome Jess Faraday to ITW’s THE BIG THRILL. She’s the author of TURNBULL HOUSE, a Victorian era mystery released this month. TURNBULL HOUSE is the second book in the series which began with THE AFFAIR OF THE PORCELAIN DOG. Jess graduated from the University of Arizona and UCLA, andshe works as the mystery editor for Elm Books. In the past, she’s worked as a copyeditor, lexicographer, and book translator. She even taught high school Russian. Let’s find out what she has to say about her upcoming mystery.
Your series takes place in the late Victorian age. What sparked your interest about 1890s London that made you want to set a story here?
I’ve always had an affinity for that era. It’s hard to explain. It’s a fascinating time culturally, scientifically, and politically. It was a time of unprecedented technological development and savage social inequality. Scientific discoveries abounded and philosophy flourished. The detective story was born. A great society surged forward on the backs of multitudes of forgotten laborers—many of them children—who eked out short, difficult lives under the most shocking conditions.It was a time of incredible contrasts—contrasts that must have been reflected both in society and within the individual.
And of course the frock coats =)
By A.J. Colucci
Following up on the success of his debut novel, THE MIDWIFE’S TALE, Sam Thomas revisits seventeenth century England with midwife Bridget Hodgson and her brassy servant Martha Hawkins in his second novel, THE HARLOT’S TALE.
It is August 1645, one year since York fell into Puritan hands. As the city suffers through a brutal summer heat, Bridget Hodgson and Martha Hawkins are drawn into a murder investigation more frightening than their last. In order to appease God’s wrath—and end the heat-wave—the city’s overlords have launched a brutal campaign to whip the city’s sinners into godliness. But for someone in York, this is not enough. First a prostitute and her client are found stabbed to death, then a pair of adulterers are beaten and strangled. York’s sinners have been targeted for execution. Bridget and Martha—assisted once again by Will, Bridget’s good-hearted nephew—race to find the killer even as he adds more bodies to his tally.
You probably get this a lot, but I have to ask; how does a male college professor get so interested in midwifery?
It was the first of many coincidences. I was working on my doctoral thesis—which was about religious toleration in seventeenth century England—when I stumbled across the will left by the midwife upon whom I based my protagonist, Bridget Hodgson. As it happened, at the very moment I found the will, the history of midwifery was being rewritten and I was able to get in on a hot topic.
Lisa Morton’s new novel, NETHERWORLD takes readers back to nineteenth-century Victorian England, where a young widow finds that she has inherited more than her late husband’s property: The Furnavals serve as the ancestral keepers of supernatural portals scattered around the globe. When demonic entities begin crossing over from the Netherworld, Lady Diana realizes that a war is brewing, and she must be the one to confront it.
Morton graciously agreed to answer some questions from THE BIG THRILL:
Your story is rich with details about the fantastic and the gothic, which showed your interest in supernatural fantasy. What is your attraction to the genre?
I’ve always loved the darker side of fantasy—as a child I was hopelessly obsessed with the Universal monster movies. But as an adult, I think one of the things I most enjoy about writing within the genre is the way it can be used to comment obliquely on contemporary or relevant topics. In NETHERWORLD, for instance, I got to use a trip around the globe in search of demonic forces to comment on the Industrial Revolution, imperialism, and gender roles.
By J. H. Bográn
Here’s a brief description of Antonio Garrido’s new novel THE SCRIBE: The year is 799, and King Charlemagne awaits coronation as the Holy Roman emperor. But in the town of Würzburg, the young, willful Theresa dreams only of following in the footsteps of her scholarly father—a quiet man who taught her the forbidden pleasures of reading and writing. Though it was unthinkable for a medieval woman to pursue a career as a craftsperson, headstrong Theresa convinces the parchment-makers’ guild to test her. If she passes, it means access to her beloved manuscripts and nothing less than true independence. But as she treats the skins before an audience of jeering workmen, unimaginable tragedy strikes—tearing apart Theresa’s family and setting in motion a cascade of mysteries that Theresa must solve if she hopes to stay alive and save her family.
Mr. Garrido agreed to response a few questions posed to him in Spanish. I trust I kept the spirit of the ideas from his responses, with a bit of luck, nothing got lost in the translation.
How extensive was the research for THE SCRIBE?
Almost as extensive a thesis for a PH.D. You have to consider that in spite of the exciting events told, THE SCRIBE is inspired in real life, which meant that all the data was thoroughly crosschecked. The research lasted four years and took me to various museums and libraries in places like Germany, France, United Kingdom, and Italy.
By J. H. Bográn
In Judith Rock’s latest book, THE WHISPERING OF BONES, the last thing Jesuit Charles du Luc and his elderly confessor expect to find on an autumn day in 1687 when they go to pray in an ancient church crypt outside Paris is a murdered man—a very young man who was about to enter their order. Then another Jesuit disappears from the school Louis le Grand, where Charles teaches. And Charles discovers that a forged document from Poland, source of the dark myth gathering around the Society of Jesus, is circulating illegally in Paris. In the midst of this, the soldier who once saved Charles’s life enters the Jesuit Novice House, bringing Charles’s most shameful battlefield secret back to haunt him. As he tries to untangle this web, he sees that his efforts may well destroy his Jesuit future.
I must confess I fell in love with this book from the moment I first read it. I had the privilege to pose some questions to the author.
What can you tell us about Charles Du Luc, and his development for the fourth book in the series?
Charles was wounded in the battle of St. Omer in 1677. While recovering, he read about the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, and decided to become a Jesuit. He’s now twenty-nine and nearing the end of the long Jesuit training. After a lot of questioning and risking of his vocation, he knows that he wants to be ordained a priest—even though obedience has always been hard for him, and still is. As he faces the terrible secret from his army past, and is overtaken by the consequences of finding the body at the beginning of this book, he discovers that freedom is the unexpected other side of humility.
Tasha Alexander is the NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of the Lady Emily series and the novel ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE. She attended the University of Notre Dame, where she studied English and Medieval History. Her work has been nominated for numerous awards and has been translated into more than a dozen languages. She and her husband, novelist Andrew Grant, divide their time between Chicago and the UK.
The victim makes a grand entrance at a social gathering and falls dead in the opening pages. You get the reader’s attention quickly don’t you?
The opening of this book came to me long before I had settled on the overall story. From there, I had to start asking questions about the gentleman in question to figure out what had happened to him…
As the 8th book in the Lady Emily series does it seem the give-and-take between Lady Emily and her mother over a grim topic—such as murder–is something readers have come to anticipate?
Emily and her mother have, at best, a sometimes-peaceful standoff. Their views on most things—women’s suffrage, education, appropriate social behavior, and child-rearing—clash, but there is a great deal of humor in their exchanges, and readers are kind enough to tell me they enjoy them. Lady Bromley, however, might not find them quite so amusing.
Dublin and New York 1939
Raymond Chandler said that one of the characteristics of crime fiction (for want of a better name) is the unnatural squeezing up of timeframes. The same thing applies to history when it is dragged, willingly or otherwise, into the world of crime writing. But why squeeze all that up at all? The answer to why any of us write anything is always that we all write what we love writing. We take what interests us and intrigues us and we try to turn that into a story. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t usually a bit more to it as well.
We probably spend too much time putting fiction into genres and sub-genres these days, but the historical crime novel is clearly a genre of some kind, combining as it does two resiliently popular areas of fiction: history and mystery. But it has an odd quality that a contemporary setting doesn’t demand. You can’t play fast and loose with the past the way you can with the present. Readers expect their history to be historical! Especially if your detective is going to stumble into real events and real people along the way.
When I started the first of a series of crime novels set in Ireland in the 30s and 40s, THE CITY OF SHADOWS, part of the pleasure and part of the purpose was to explore that time, in particular the way the Second World War touched Ireland, and over the series to ‘visit’ a number of cities that were sometimes at the heart of that war and sometimes at its compromised periphery: Dublin, Danzig, New York, Lisbon, Paris, Berlin, London, Rome.