Award-winning author JL Merrow describes herself as a rare beast, an English person who refuses to drink tea. But that’s not all that identifies her. She is also a prolific author. Case in point, TO LOVE A TRAITOR is her thirteenth novel, and she has also written seven novellas and more than fifty short stories. So, while she may eschew the art of drinking tea, her prolific writings clearly demonstrate her embrace of the authorial arts—much to the delight of her fans! She writes gay romance, mostly contemporary romantic comedies and mysteries, with an occasional foray into historical and speculative fiction. Ms. Merrow attributes her alternating between genres to having a short attention span, but anyone who can write that many books and short stories, and has garnered awards and nominations for multiple titles, does not suffer from that particular condition.
TO LOVE A TRAITOR falls into her historical category. Set in England shortly after World War One, Roger Cottingham is faced with a dilemma. He suspects Matthew Connaught spied for the Germans during the war, and that his actions led to his brother’s death during a patrol into no-man’s land. Though Roger worked in Naval intelligence during the war as a cryptographer, he’s certainly not trained to investigate a potentially dangerous traitor. Despite the risks, he is determined to uncover the truth, but what he doesn’t count on is falling in love with the very person he’s investigating. What is he to do if, as the mounting evidence suggests, he finds Matthew guilty? Is he TO LOVE A TRAITOR, or see that Matthew is punished for acts leading to his beloved brother’s death?
JL Merrow was kind enough to answer some questions for The Big Thrill.
I’m sure you’ve had to field this question before, but could you tell us why, as a woman, you tend to write stories with male protagonists?
Honestly? I just feel more comfortable writing about men, particularly for longer works. I think I find it easier to be objective about male characters—women in our society are basically taught to judge themselves against one another (as I’m sure men are too) so when I’m writing about a man and his motivations, I find I have a lot fewer hang-ups!
THE FLAWED DANCE is a story that has been simmering on my memory burner for 50 years. I finally decided that Erin Matthews, my protagonist, has been waiting too long. She literally demanded I tell her story. I’ve hesitated this long because, in essence, her story parallels mine.
Erin’s story begins in 1968 upon her arrival in Philadelphia, after convincing a co-worker at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress to drive her from New Jersey. She has run away from her long-time lover after hitting him over the head with an iron skillet, rendering him unconscious, if not dead. After being submissive and quiet most of the five years she spent with him, nursing him back to health after he experienced a fall that fractured both feet, and being his constant companion and lover, she is unable to cope with what she has done. Never mind that she was only 22 and Johnny was 52 and running from a hit man sent by the Mob—she never dreamed she would be capable of attempted murder. Guilt becomes her motivator as she seeks redemption.
Erin moves in, sight unseen, with the brother of her driver, an elderly African-American, who once had his own issues with the Mob. As the only white girl in the neighborhood in an era of racial unrest, Erin is determined to make a new life for herself. At the same time she must watch her back in case her past catches up with her.
The steps she has to climb to reach her destination are fraught with hidden dangers, exacerbated by her own naivety and being quick to trust the wrong people. After several missteps and bad decisions, she lands a few jobs, first as a waitress, then a medical transcriber at a hospital, and finally as a go-go dancer. The last pays more than the others but also brings her into the arms of the Mob. Intrigue, betrayal, and murder follow Erin and she must do some fancy footwork to avoid getting killed herself.
The year is 1290–twilight of the Crusades. War-weary Knight Templar, Jonathan St. Clair, is garrisoned in the port city of Acre and more interested in learning Kabbalah than fighting Moslems. He possesses an ancient scroll with a cryptic inscription, the key to unlocking the secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
But none of the Jewish scholars in Acre can decipher the inscription. And time is running out. Acre will soon come under siege, and the one man able to decipher the scroll’s meaning, Rabbi Samuel of Baghdad, has been targeted for assassination.
Deep in enemy territory, St. Clair apprentices himself to Rabbi Samuel as they travel to Jerusalem, risking everything to fulfill their shared and sacred destiny as guardians of the Temple Mount.
Their investigation into a series of claim-jumps near the booming mining community of Wallace, Idaho, suddenly turns deadly as one witness after another turns up dead. It turns out that the theft of land and mineral rights is only the beginning of a much deeper conspiracy…
Matthew and Chance follow the leads as best they can, knowing full well that their investigation has turned into a game of cat and mouse … but who is the cat in this deadly contest?
Starting in the deep woods of North Idaho and culminating in the finest, most exclusive ballrooms of high society in Seattle, Washington, follow Matthew and Chance Wilcox as they match wits against one of the worst criminals they have ever faced!
On the surface, my work doesn’t have much in common with contemporary medical novels. Today’s thrillers with medical themes often involve highly educated professionals—doctors, nurses, surgeons—while I’m invested in a peasant from the 14th century, whose medical education includes bleeding patients to balance their humors, the belief that water spreads disease, and the use of human anatomical charts based on pig dissections.
My adventure-based historical fantasy series, the Dark Apostle, which continues July 2 with ELISHA REX, began with reading far too many books about medieval medicine, until the facts and the anecdotes exploded into the idea for a story. My research began with a single title: Devils, Drugs, and Doctors by Howard W. Haggard, M. D. I have the Pocket Book edition of 1940, the fifteenth printing of a work that first came out in 1929.
This is a rambling and engaging popular volume which follows the history of medicine through a variety of approaches, none of which involve footnotes or a bibliography. It frames this history through the window of childbirth, a common biological event, yet one fraught with risk for both mother and child. I wouldn’t recommend this book as a sole reference, but as a source of inspiration for medical fiction, it’s a treasure trove. It doesn’t shy away from lurid tales and speculations, but includes lots of quotes from historical sources, including illustrations and broadsheets from the past. It is, in short, just the sort of work that gets a writer curious, then excited, to learn more.
Mid-way through reading Devils, Drugs, and Doctors, I had an idea for a character, a barber-surgeon, during a problematic childbirth. This is when the true research began. I drilled into Haggard’s text, searching for other references, finding more books, and running my interlibrary loan librarian a bit ragged in my quest for knowledge. It also led me to Kalamazoo, to the International Medieval Congress, an annual gathering of medieval scholars, and a great place to pick up ideas and research materials.
By Karen Harper
Colin Edmonds is a writer who wears many hats—including his unique debut novel, STEAM, SMOKE & MIRRORS. A successful script and comedy writer for British TV, he has written a steampunk thriller/mystery with brilliant characters. As an Anglophile and lover of Victoriana, I was amazed at the book’s range of plot and people, the real and the fictional. Ladies and gentlemen—sit back and enjoy (and be frightened) for the show is about to begin!
What is your novel about?
STEAM, SMOKE & MIRRORS is set in the swirling fog-filled streets of London in 1899. It’s a thriller-mystery which chronicles the adventures, often misadventures, of a couple of Music Hall/Vaudeville stage magicians who are reluctantly seconded by Superintendent William Melville of London’s Metropolitan Police Special Branch (the forerunner of the British Secret Service MI-5) to help solve the unsolvable. You know, those uncanny curiosities, unfathomable mysteries, bizarre and arcane crimes which defy logic and, frankly, baffle the authorities. My magicians, who also work a twice nightly show at The Metropolitan Theatre of Steam Smoke & Mirrors in West London’s Edgware Road, are the devastatingly handsome Michael Magister, Bronx-born conjuror who has performed in England for just over a decade, and his equally brilliant, drop-dead gorgeous British assistant Phoebe Le Breton.
Because magicians are masters of misdirection, deception, sleight of hand, and all manner of subterfuge, Michael and Phoebe are the Special Branch’s obvious go-to advisers when mysterious crimes start getting just a little too weird.
In this opening case, a former Music Hall hypnotist has escaped from Hanwell Asylum, vowing to murder all the performers who appeared in her final show. Michael and Phoebe must employ all their cunning and experience chasing down this mind-bending killer, whose gruesome revenge makes The Ripper look like a novice. Especially as Michael Magister’s name appears on her Death List.
As the murders mount up and the mystery unravels, history-changing secrets are revealed; not only magic trick secrets and state secrets, but the secrets Michael and Phoebe have been keeping from one another.
All this is set against an exotic backdrop of national conspiracies and steampunk. But is anything what it seems? Or is it all steam, smoke, and mirrors?
A spy flits from shadow to shadow across Oxford-town, pausing at last to study the doorway of the main library, wherein a secret that could threaten all of England may be found. There are two guards there, guns at the ready, and the spy knows that a single misstep could prompt them to open fire and spill his blood onto the cobblestone streets.
In the plus column: The spy is invisible.
In the minus column: The guards are zombies.
Had you there for a minute, I bet. The passage above is a quick-and-dirty summary of a scene in my latest book, THE VENUSIAN GAMBIT. That first paragraph could describe any number of thrillers—the last two lines winnow the matter down considerably.
Let’s go a bit further. What if I told you the guards’ guns were muskets? That the zombies were part of Napoleon’s army in 1809, an army that had successfully invaded England? And that the secret was something guarded by diminutive lizard-men living on Venus? Now we’re talking historical fantasy and space opera. But we’re also still talking about a thriller.
There can be a certain “get your chocolate out of my peanut butter!” mentality when it comes to crossing genres, but that’s never stopped me. Some of the best thrillers I’ve ever read are outright science fiction—particularly the ones dealing with nanoviruses or high-tech perils. More plausible than Napoleon’s zombies? Sure. But not happening in the present day. They’re speculative—and speculation is at the heart of science fiction and fantasy.
By John Darrin
Talking about bodice-ripper novels with a voluptuous women’s body from the neck down on the cover, Karen says, without guile: “The only time I’d want a headless character on a book cover is if the neck was gushing blood, her head having been chopped off in the story.”
Thus we begin my article on Karen Maitland and her latest medieval thriller, THE RAVEN’S HEAD.
What? Gushing blood? From this historian and member of a popular comedic speaker’s troupe?
When asked about this seeming contradiction, she says, “We go for ‘gallows humor.’ Years ago, when I worked in a hospital, I often had to go down to the morgue. The mortuary technicians were the funniest guys I’ve ever met before or since.” Maybe she should recruit some for a stand-up tour. They could call themselves “The Body Snickers” or “Embalmapalozza.”
To say I was taken aback would be an understatement. My research into this very knowledgeable and intelligent historian had led me to make a note that said, “She has a depth and intellect that seems to repel humor and sarcasm.”
You might recognize J. Sydney Jones as the author of the Viennese Mystery series. Or you might know him from his nonfiction. Whether you are familiar with Jones or not, you’ll want to check out his latest stand-alone novel, BASIC LAW.
According to Jones, “ex-pat American journalist Sam Kramer is burned out: too many dead bodies, too many wars covered, too little meaning in it all. He’s got a dead-end job at the Daily European as the correspondent in Vienna, where nothing happens now that the Cold War is over. And that’s exactly how Kramer likes it.
“But his private neutral zone is shattered with news of the suicide of Reni Müller, a German left-wing firebrand and Kramer’s long-estranged ex-girlfriend. To his surprise, Kramer suddenly finds himself the executor of Reni’s literary estate—but the damning memoir named in her will is nowhere to be found. Tracking down the manuscript will lead Kramer to the unsettling truth of Reni’s death, drawing him back into the days of the Cold War and showing him the dark side of the woman he loved.”
Jones reports that the idea for BASIC LAW is based on a personal real-life experience. As he tells it on his blog, Vienna in the late 1960s and early 1970s was a haven for spies. Not only were there the expected factions representing both East and West, Austria had a rather large intelligence service of its own. “It’s also vital to note Vienna had a lenient twenty-year statute of limitations against Nazi war criminals. Thus, as with one’s friends and spying, you never knew if your cheery landlord was a former SS or not.”
One day while writing at a “dive of a café,” he realized he wasn’t in Kansas anymore when a drunken man approached him, asking what he was writing. When told a short story about Vienna, the man sat himself down, bared his arm and whispered he had stories. It didn’t take Jones very long to realize the man was former SS.
One of the most appealing aspects of the thriller genre is its sheer breadth. Thrillers can be modern or historical, grounded in gritty realism or cloaked in supernatural fantasy, or any range of flavor in between. For thriller lovers who at least occasionally like their thrills served with a western flare, The Big Thrill recently caught up with Linell Jeppsen, previously the author of several works of science fiction, paranormal romance, and fantasy, to talk about her latest novel, LUCKY CHANCE, and how it fits into her more recent fictional universe of western action-thrillers.
Thank you for taking the time to join us at The Big Thrill and congratulations on your newest novel! While your latest books are action-adventure thrillers, they’re also very much westerns in the classic sense. What made you pick that type of genre and setting for your stories after having been writing in the fantasy and science fiction realm?
I really don’t know-—except for the fact that the first of the Deadman series percolated in my head for many years. It took about three paragraphs to realize that writing historical fiction was a whole different kettle of fish from my usual fantasy and science fiction! The first book starts in 1864… I mentioned “barbed wire” and thought, “Wait! Was barbed wire even invented then?”
Since then, I have gone on to write many more books in the series, I am far more comfortable with the research aspects of historical writing-—although it can still be a pain.
Tell us about LUCKY CHANCE, your most recent release. What do you think readers of The Big Thrill would find most intriguing about the book and its characters?
LUCKY CHANCE is meant to serve as a bridge between the Deadman and the Chance series. Many of the characters are the same—only seven years have passed and the age and circumstances of the characters have evolved.
LUCKY CHANCE is about boxing during the turn of the century. Chance Wilcox was a heavy weight boxing champion in the Army, so he is uniquely qualified to determine whether or not the culprits in this tale are guilty of “loading” their gloves with plaster of Paris. This was a fun little story but again… called for a TON of research.
By David Healey
Long before there was the Walther PPK or the Glock—long, long before—there was the handgonne. In an age of swords, knights in armor, and pikes, the arrival of firearms was both world-changing and sinister.
Though primitive by today’s firearms standards—handgonnes resembled metal pipes attached to broom handles—and so unwieldy that two men were required to fire them; they were deadly nonetheless.
When several bodies are discovered in London with strange new gunshot wounds in the year 1386, it falls to “middling poet” and purveyor of secrets John Gower to investigate the case. What are these strange new weapons, who is wielding them, and what secrets are at stake?
This is the premise of Bruce Holsinger’s intriguing new historical novel, THE INVENTION OF FIRE, recently selected as an Amazon Best Book of the Month. The novel follows on the heels of 2014’s A Burnable Book, in which readers first met the main character.
Though fictionalized, Gower is based on a real person, a fourteenth-century man of law and letters who was a close friend of Geoffrey Chaucer. Much more is known about the author of The Canterbury Tales, of course; and Chaucer figures prominently in both books. To put these novels in historical context, it may help to know that they are set during the reign of Richard II, near the onset of the Hundred Years War.
By Dawn Ius
Few eras inspire more passion—and controversy—than the Tudor Dynasty, a period of tumultuous change in England, and of course remembered for many of King Henry VIII’s exploits. Between denouncing his religion to marry Anne Boleyn and then beheading her, to his most well-known legacy of being somewhat of a (ruthless) womanizer, it’s no wonder the Tudors have front lined hundreds of books, TV shows and movies, and even today continue to feed the pop culture machine.
As an author entering the well-documented Tudor era, it might be easy to get lost in the milieu—but Nancy Bilyeau, author of the award-winning Joanna Stafford series, has carved out her own niche by writing thrilling plots set within the “real” time, while focusing not only on the more recognizable characters of the past, but also on some of the lesser knowns—like Sir Walter Hungerford, for instance, who was executed alongside Thomas Cromwell and, according to Bilyeau, may—or may not—have been a debauched madman.
“Almost everyone writes fiction in the Tudor era from the Protestant side of the Reformation,” she says. “I don’t. I have given a great deal of thought to how it felt to survive the Dissolution of the Monasteries when you were a committed Catholic. As a daughter of a Catholic mother and a Protestant father, I know what it’s like to be divided—I am drawn to stories of religious strife. An English friend of mine said, ‘This is so interesting, to hear about history from the losers.’”
Bilyeau’s fascination with these historical characters stems from a deep-rooted love of English history. While her library is well-packed with non-fiction texts, this is only the beginning of her extensive fact-finding mission for each book. As a trained Journalist, whose editorial credentials include Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly, Bilyeau understands the value—and importance—of a well-researched novel. Particularly in the case of her Tudor-inspired thrillers.
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.”
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 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.
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?