No person is left unscathed, no family untouched. Death grows insatiable.
Alana Vaughn, an infectious diseases expert with NATO, is urgently summoned to Genoa by an ex-lover to examine a critically ill patient. She’s stunned to discover that the illness is a recurrence of the Black Death. Alana soon suspects bioterrorism, but her WHO counterpart, Byron Menke, disagrees. In their desperate hunt to track down Patient Zero, they stumble across an 800-year-old monastery and a medieval journal that might hold the secret to the present-day outbreak. With the lethal disease spreading fast and no end in sight, it’s a race against time to uncover the truth before millions die.
Author Daniel Kalla shared some insight with The Big Thrill about his 10th novel WE ALL FALL DOWN:
At first Dr. Caden Taggart fears for his freedom. Then for his ability to cope. Eventually, he fears for his life.
It begins when he spots two men sitting in his waiting room—and suspects that they aren’t patients. He’s right. And when they introduce themselves as agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency, things start to go bad.
Richard Mabry, author of GUARDED PROGNOSIS, is a retired physician who was encouraged by James Scott Bell to try his hand at writing fiction. His novels are based on his medical expertise and experiences.
In this latest work, Mabry says he intended to write about a physician whose father is diagnosed with a serious, often fatal condition, and the emotions and changes displayed by them both as things progressed.
Stepping into the darkened hospital clinic, Mackenzie (Mac) Dodd hears the faint click of a revolver before spotting the barrel pressed against the young marine’s temple. Unable to stop the suicide, Mac blames herself. Encouraged by her idealistic neighbor, she posts the incident on “Silent Survivor,” a blog in which she encourages veterans with PTSD to share stories. When the marine’s widow reveals there may be more to her husband’s suicide, Mac begins an investigation, risking her life to expose secrets and betrayals as she uncovers the unintended consequences of covert government research.
The Big Thrill caught up with the award-winning author of SILENT SURVIVOR, Deborah Shlian, to discuss her latest thriller:
Looking for a new medical thriller with a unique paranormal twist? It’s time for you to check out THE BONE CURSE by Carrie Rubin.
Western medicine clashes with Haitian Vodou when Ben Oris, a rational-minded Philadelphia med student, enters the occult world after a vengeful priest unleashes a centuries-old curse on him. Ben is touring the Paris catacombs when he cuts himself on a bone he feels compelled to touch. When his loved ones begin to succumb to a gruesome illness, Ben is forced to confront the fact that whatever entered his bloodstream when he picked up the bone can’t be explained by medical science.
Unlike many thriller protagonists, Ben is an introvert who is most comfortable with one-on-one interactions.
“On the surface he might seem standoffish, maybe even aloof,” says Rubin. “But like most introverts, he has a huge heart and cares deeply for the people in his inner circle. He would do anything for them—and does—even though he would not define himself as a hero. He’s just a guy with a life plan who has worked very hard to get where he is.”
Ben does not initially respond well to his life being derailed by something he doesn’t understand. It takes some time for him to be convinced that a Vodou curse could be behind the infection he’s spreading. But ultimately, if he wants to save those he loves, he must accept it.
Rubin, a physician, says the idea for THE BONE CURSE came to her while she was watching a TV show featuring supernatural phenomena.
By George Ebey
Author Richard L. Mabry, MD, brings his considerable expertise to his latest medical thriller, SURGEON’S CHOICE.
Dr. Ben Merrick and his fiancée, Rachel Gardner, can’t get her divorced parents to stay in the same room, much less attend their wedding together.
Added to the stress is that Ben is looking over his shoulder, expecting more trouble from a senior surgeon still smarting from a previous dust-up. Ben doesn’t know if a series of mishaps and accidents are caused by a disgruntled patient’s relatives, or represent more drama from his disgruntled co-worker.
Then, Ben’s prospective father-in-law approaches him, needing money for reasons Ben can’t fathom, and Rachel doesn’t want to accept it. But when the deaths begin, Ben and Rachel begin to wonder if they can escape unscathed…and alive.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Mabry to learn more about his exciting new tale.
Cardiologist Dr. Kirk Martin continually crosses swords with Dr. Cliff Hamilton, so he is surprised when Hamilton asks him to care for him after a heart attack. When he is ready for discharge, Hamilton is found dead in his hospital bed, and Martin is suspected of murdering him.
After another doctor is found shot to death, Martin’s girlfriend, nurse Janet Rush, reminds him to be careful because he may be next. Can he save his own life while searching for the identity of the real murderer?
Richard L. Mabry, author of CARDIAC EVENT, spent some time recently with The Big Thrill discussing his latest medical thriller:
Lisa Towles’ latest book begins with an intriguing premise: what would Big Pharma do if a scientist developed a cigarette to cure lung cancer? In CHOKE, Towles offers one scenario—inventor Adrian Calhoun is kidnapped by the “pharmaceutical mafia,” who want his formula.
Meanwhile, three thousand miles away in San Francisco, nurse Kerry Stine’s world is crumbling around her. As if her personal problems aren’t enough, her career goes into freefall when a patient under her care at San Francisco General Hospital disappears. She is fired and suddenly the police are after her. Two distinct lives under threat move forward and eventually intersect.
Towles takes time to talk about her newest work with The Big Thrill.
You have an impressive range of writing under your belt. How does writing about jazz compare with writing crime in a medical setting?
Thank you for saying so, but I don’t think I’m all that diverse. I wrote Straight Ahead, my jazz non-fiction book, almost twenty years ago because I’ve been a flautist all my life and I’m also a jazz musician. I was already well down the fiction path by then, so mystery fiction has been my mainstay as a writer and a reader all this time. I think it’s been interesting to observe the many different mystery genres that have evolved. What’s challenging is when the book you’re writing touches several of these subgenres at once, because that makes it harder to market and harder to sell.
Dr. Persephone Smith is a psychologist with a genetic gift. Her enhanced empathy allows her to feel on a primal level the emotions of others, which helps with her job as a counselor for the Dept. of Veterans Affairs. But Seph’s gift comes with a price. Plagued by nightmares and insecure in her work, she absorbs the suffering of her patients by day and swills tequila by night.
When Seph is deployed to an abandoned air hangar turned medical shelter during a massive hurricane, her worst nightmares come true. One by one, as the wind howls overhead, staff and evacuees disappear into the dark recesses of the vast space. The missing return as mutilated corpses. The living, trapped in the shrieking metal structure by the storm, descend into varying levels of paranoia and even madness. Seph must become both counselor and detective to determine who, or what, is calling them prey. Is the panic and mayhem just “shelter shock,” as the lead physician, Anne Parrish, insists? Or is everyone, Seph included, in danger of losing their minds—and their lives?
J. L. Delozier spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest thriller, STORM SHELTER:
If anyone tells you that authors are all alike, you have my permission to tear them off a strip. The members of ITW are a marvelously diverse group and Sandra Block illustrates that perfectly, being a practicing neurologist, with a wide range of genre strings to her authorial bow.
Sandra, writing poetry, fiction and medical articles are skills as unalike as chalk, cheese and chopsticks! What challenges did you find?
You’re right, they are quite different! I’ve always written both fiction and poetry, but through college, poetry was my true passion. I found working on rhythms and structure a joyful challenge. But after medical school, the desire just kind of dried up. I suspect having kids took its toll – I just didn’t have the time or mental energy for both. So I stuck with fiction. As for medical journals…alas, research writing is a skill I never mastered.
I fell in love with Arthur the minute he appeared on the page. They say never work with animals or children, but does the same apply to writing about them?
Arthur happens to be modeled after my own goofy and adorable dog, so it doesn’t surprise me that everyone loves him.
Biotechnology tycoon Morgan Finney is highly intelligent but shy and emotionally fragile. When his beloved wife Jenny dies of complications during a surgery led by Dr. Rita Wu, Finney’s grief turns to rage. He vows to kill Rita just as he believes she killed his wife.
But first he will systematically destroy her life. He will take what is precious to her just as she did to him. Aided by a mysterious man, Finney uses advanced medical technology to ruin Rita’s reputation and bring her to the brink of madness. Alone, fighting for her sanity and life, Rita reaches out to her to former lover, Dr. Spencer Cameron, for help. Together they must fight to uncover Finney’s horrific intentions and race to stop him before it’s too late.
Terrifying and captivating, Kelly Parsons’ UNDER THE KNIFE is a heart-pounding thriller that will have readers on the edge of their seats up to the very last page.
Parsons recently took some time out of his busy schedule to discuss UNDER THE KNIFE with The Big Thrill:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I simply hope readers will enjoy themselves and savor this story of what happens when a good doctor makes a bad mistake. Some of my most satisfying moments as an author occur when readers tell me they couldn’t put my book down.
RN Gina Mazzio and her long-time love, Harry Lucke, are deep into marriage plans when a particularly nasty murder intervenes—the bookkeeper in their friend Lolly’s office has been raped and carved up.
The worst part? The carving occurred before the murder.
And Lolly suspects her cardiologist boss, Dr. Mort Tallent. Gina might be tough, but she’s also a good friend—since she got Lolly “the job of a lifetime,” she feels it’s her, duty to investigate. And Mort is one unsavory cardiologist.
She discovers his ex-wife was murdered when she dumped him a year ago. And also some shady shenanigans of a business nature—the kind you might kill to keep secret. Worse, there’s that pal of his, the kind of person you never want to meet in a dark alley, or anywhere else.
Digging after-hours at Tallent’s office, Gina and Lolly never realize they’re under surveillance—until Lolly is horribly and brutally attacked, in much the same way the bookkeeper was. Only one possible conclusion: she knew too much. Which makes Gina the next target. And this guy’s a carver!
Embracing the Legacy—and Setting a New Mark
I’ve heard that varied experiences, an artistic temperament, or even genetics could predict writing talent. By any of those measures it’s no surprise that Daniel Palmer has turned out a steady flow of bestsellers. After earning his master’s degree from Boston University, he spent a decade as an e-commerce pioneer. He’s an accomplished blues harmonica player. And he’s the son of bestselling author Michael Palmer, whose legacy lives on because Daniel’s been asked to continue his father’s oeuvre. Which means now two of Daniel’s novels are being released at the same time.
MERCY is the second Michael Palmer medical thriller Daniel’s written in the tradition of his late father. In it, Dr. Julie Devereux is an outspoken advocate for the right to die—until a motorcycle accident leaves her fiancé, Sam Talbot, a quadriplegic. While Sam begs to end his life, Julie sees hope in a life together. But then Sam suddenly dies from an unusual heart defect, one seen only in those under extreme stress. It appears that Sam was literally scared to death. As Julie investigates similar cases, she finds a frightening pattern, and becomes the target of disturbing threats. As Julie discovers more cases, the threats escalate, until she is accused of a mercy killing herself. To clear her name she must track down whoever is behind these mysterious deaths, but someone has decided that killing Julie is the only way to stop her.
In FORGIVE ME Angie DeRose is a private investigator in Virginia, working to find and rescue endangered runaways. In the wake of her mother’s death, Angie makes a life-altering discovery. Hidden in her parents’ attic is a photograph of a little girl with a hand-written message on the back: “May God forgive me.” Angie doesn’t know what it means. Could she have a sister she never knew about? Angie sets out to learn the fate of the girl in the photo. But the lies she unearths drag the past into the present. Everything she holds dear is threatened by the repercussions of one long-ago choice, and an enemy who will kill to keep a secret hidden forever.
Beyond writing thrillers, Palmer is a lifelong Red Sox fan, and lives in New Hampshire with his wife and two children where he is hard at work on his next novel. Palmer has kindly agreed to share his thoughts on his two new books, his writing process, and what it means to be carrying on his father’s work.
FORGIVE ME seems to have a very personal theme. Did the story arise from a personal experience or did you snatch it from the reality of today’s society?
Angie DeRose’s search for a runaway girl named Nadine Jessup coincides with her quest to identify a girl in a photograph she finds hidden among the mementos in her parents’ attic.
What makes this book personal for me is my connection to the runaway girl. To my surprise, during the writing process, Nadine took over the story. I wanted her storyline to convey the danger facing all runaways, but the horror of her ordeal proved tough to convey. I did not want to write anything too graphic for my readers or myself. At the same time, I wanted to be faithful to the stories of the real-life victims of these crimes. Nadine herself showed me the answer: a journal of her captivity, giving the reader access to her private thoughts and fears. The question was whether I could meet the challenge. I’m a 40-something-year-old man. What do I know about being a teenage girl in such a terrible predicament?
As I began to write, however, Nadine Jessup came alive. I wrote the pages of her journal as quickly as if Nadine had penned them herself. The result is a story different from anything I’ve done before, and I believe Nadine’s journal is what makes this book special.
I read, with added delight, the thriller sub-genres that put an extra that could be me real-life layer of relatability in the story. Think about the espionage thriller that, as you read it, painted a picture of the dirty bomb taking out your hometown. Ever wanted to check your credit score after reading about a fictional hacker who steals identities? What about the trusted professionals in your life—policemen, firemen, physicians? Do you give them a second look after reading a novel where they use their training, and your trust, to do harm?
It’s the latter of those that give TYPE AND CROSS, from debut author J.L. Delozier, such intrigue. This is especially true when considering that the weapon of choice turns out to be blood cells—yours. According to Delozier, “I love medical anomalies—things that are on the cusp of being real or things that are real but have fantastical elements to them. I’m most comfortable in the realm of science. I never doubted that what I would write would be a science-based thriller.”
In TYPE AND CROSS, we’re introduced to Dr. Persephone Smith who battles a real-life medical anomaly of her own—enhanced (or pathologic) empathy. A person with enhanced empathy is, according to Delozier, “Much more perceptive than the average person, and they tend to take on the terrors of the world. They feel things so acutely that it’s distressful for them. I remember reading a case in medical school about a child who saw the news about starving kids in Africa, and she stopped eating. She starved herself to death. She had this pathologic empathy, and she felt it so terribly that she couldn’t put food past her lips.”
For fictional character Dr. Persephone Smith (Seph), her pathologic empathy means she can see inside the heads of criminals too twisted for other psychologists to unravel. But it also means, “Seph’s basic flaw is that she feels things so acutely, that she’s become this hardened—you could use the word criminal—soul herself.”
Someone is after Dr. Sarah Gordon. They’ve stalked her, set a fire at her home—and she has no idea what will come next. Her late husband’s best friend and a recovering alcoholic detective are trying to solve the mystery before it’s too late, but both appear to be vying for her affection as well. Who is doing this? Why are they after her? Will it mean her death? And whom can she trust?
You’ll have to read MEDICAL JUDGEMENT to find out.
In an interview with The Big Thrill, Dr. Richard L. Mabry answers a few questions about the inspiration behind his 10th medical suspense, and what readers can expect next.
Where did you get the inspiration for this story? Is there a real Dr. Gordon?
There was no one incident that made me think, “I should write about that.” I started with some of my feelings after the death of my first wife left me “single again,” and began to imagine how a younger doctor in this situation would react if her life was threatened. The story grew from that.
As for Dr. Gordon, there was no specific inspiration for her character. Over my three and a half decades of medical practice, I was privileged to know and work with numerous female physicians. I suppose I simply took characteristics from several of them to create her.
Why and how did you begin writing novels?
During my 36 years in medicine, I wrote or edited eight medical textbooks and over 100 published papers for medical journals, but never considered any other type of writing until my wife of 40 years died suddenly. I used the journaling from that episode as the basis for a non-fiction book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death of a Spouse. During the process of learning how to craft that book, I became interested in writing fiction. Like golf, bowling, or any other activity, once I took it up, I decided I not only wanted to try writing, but to become proficient at it. Since MEDICAL JUDGMENT will be my 10th published novel of medical suspense, perhaps I’ve succeeded.
The horror of a pathogen is that it’s an invisible killer, striking at random, dispassionately, ruthlessly. In Jodi McIsaac’s latest novel, A CURE FOR MADNESS, she takes that nightmare even further, with a pathogen that turns its victims into psychotic killers. The outbreak begins in Clarkeston, a small town in the backcountry of Maine. With the pathogen spreading like wildfire, everyone wonders if they might succumb to the disease and start killing friends and family.
When Clare Campbell’s parents are murdered, she must return to the place she has spent her adult life avoiding, her childhood home. She vows to get in, see that her parents are laid to rest, and get out again. But as soon as she arrives those plans begin to fall apart: She becomes the reluctant guardian of her schizophrenic, sometimes violent, older brother, Wes. The isolated acts of violence among the townspeople are multiplying at an alarming rate. And the psych ward where Wes is being treated is overwhelmed. Old friends are attacking their families.
Clarkeston is quarantined to stem the spread of the incurable pathogen, and the town descends into chaos. Meanwhile, Clare must care for her volatile brother, something she’s not emotionally prepared to handle, especially since they share a secret, the secret that drove Clare away just when Wes needed her most. Then, Wes draws the interest of a government agent, and Clare faces a horrifying choice: protect her brother or help save the world.
A CURE FOR MADNESS is both chilling and heartfelt— and I guarantee it will grab you and not let you go.
McIsaac was kind enough to answer some questions for The Big Thrill, and share her journey, her writing process, and the realization of a childhood dream.
A CURE FOR MADNESS is a departure for you after your well-received fantasy thrillers, the Thin Veil series. What inspired you to delve into a medical thriller?
I love my Thin Veil series but I didn’t set out to become solely a fantasy writer. Once that series was done I wanted to try something new. Because someone close to me has schizophrenia, I was inspired to write about the relationship between a mentally ill and a mentally well (but emotionally damaged) person, and to explore the value we as a society place on the mentally ill. Throw in a terrifying pathogen, and A CURE FOR MADNESS was born.
Amy Shojai’s successful September Day series continues the thrills with the release of SHOW AND TELL, again featuring her popular service dog viewpoint character Shadow, and animal behaviorist, September Day. The author answered a few questions for The Big Thrill about writing such unusual characters and what comes next in her writing career.
Tell us about SHOW AND TELL.
SHOW AND TELL is the third book in the series set in North Texas. The story begins in Lost And Found with September and her service dog. They evade a vengeful cop and race against time to rescue children from a deadly autism “cure.” Over the course of the three books, the relationship between woman and dog evolves from suspicion to trust and finally love, making them stronger—and more vulnerable—to outside forces determined to destroy them. In SHOW AND TELL, the drug ring resurfaces and not only threatens autistic children, but innocent animals as well.
That’s the short version but there’s so much more. I love to incorporate real-life issues in these stories. Over the course of the series, the characters address PTSD and service dogs, Alzheimer’s and autism, trained cats and dog fighting, and much more.
Most readers comment on the rollercoaster ride of the stories. I’m honored the series has been compared to the driving pace of James Rollins thrillers as well as dog-viewpoint characters featured in his Tucker Wayne novels and Robert Crais books with Maggie the war dog, and even to the emotional impact of The Art of Racing In the Rain. But this series is its own breed.
Readers love Shadow’s dog-viewpoint chapters because he is NOT a “talking dog” or trained war dog, but acts and reacts like a real dog, with his own story goals and character arc. And they root for the damaged September as she heals with the help of her furry partner. SHOW AND TELL has elements of mysteries, suspense, and romance but ultimately satisfies readers who enjoy strong, quirky characters, heart-pounding thrills, and stories ripped from the headlines.
By Wendy Tyson
FATAL COMPLICATIONS is John Benedict’s third crime novel. Kirkus Reviews called Benedict’s debut novel Adrenaline, “a mystery story rife with suspense,” and its popular sequel, The Edge of Death, was published to strong reviews. In anticipation of the release of FATAL COMPLICATIONS, The Big Thrill sat down with Benedict to talk about medical thrillers, sources of inspiration, and his (dead on) advice for aspiring authors.
Congratulations on the release of your newest novel. Your protagonist, Luke Daulton, is an anesthesiologist—a job that demands quick thinking and involves high human stakes. What inspired you to write medical thrillers?
This is a very good question—one that has a short answer and a long answer. I’ll give you both. The short answer goes something like this and deals more with the practicality of the question: The cool part about being a medical thriller author is that there are so many clever ways to kill people in a hospital setting. Plus there is always lots of drama, big egos, and life-and-death scenarios that play out on a daily basis in the operating room. This makes for great characters and exciting backdrops for my stories. Finally, most readers don’t exactly know what takes place in a modern OR, especially when it comes to the anesthesia end of things (where I specialize), so this can add realism and interest to a story.
The long answer delves into the heart of my inspiration and involves a little true-life story: One day it struck me—at two in the morning in the midst of another grueling twenty-four-hour shift. I had just finished interviewing a nice lady with an appendix about to burst—we’ll call her Linda. I had done my best not to yawn as I went through the routine questions that an anesthesiologist is obliged to ask. She appeared nervous, which soon gave way to tears. I did my best to comfort her, took her hand, told her I would take good care of her. That I would watch over her carefully in the operating room and see her through surgery. And I would be there when she woke up in the recovery room. She appeared to calm down a bit. I wrapped up my pre-op assessment and asked her to sign the anesthesia consent form, while assuring her the risks would be minimal. She raised her eyebrows at this and the fearful look returned. I wondered: What the hell does ‘minimal’ mean when you’re talking about life and death? More tears. She told me of her two young daughters at home that desperately needed a mommy. I felt my own throat tighten. I quickly buried my emotions, tried not to think about my own wife and three sons, and focused on the task at hand as we wheeled her litter back down the hall to the OR.
Kira Peikoff’s novels, such as No Time to Die and Living Proof, deliver a blend of cutting-edge science, deeply human characters, and explosive high-stakes controversies—and she doesn’t disappoint with her newest bio-medical thriller, DIE AGAIN TOMORROW .
In DIE AGAIN TOMORROW, Isabel Leon, the star of a survival reality show, thinks she can endure anything. But when she unwittingly gives an unscrupulous mogul a chance to profit from her murder, she becomes the target of a terrifying killer. At first left for dead, she awakens to find she’s the living proof of a breakthrough that can change the world. Some people would pay any price to control it. Others would simply steal the secret—even if it costs Isabel’s life. As powerful rivals pursue her, Isabel must risk everything to protect those she loves—or die again tomorrow.
Kirkus Reviews says, “Peikoff shows a deep understanding of the issues she explores,” and Mystery Scene Magazine hails her as creating “believable, well-rounded characters who represent both sides of a tough moral question.”
As a journalist, Kira covered street crime for The Daily News, Capitol Hill for The Orange County Register in Washington, D.C., business and technology for Newsday, and researched feature stories for New York magazine. With a master’s degree in bioethics Kira has clearly mastered how to twist potential science technology into scarily real thrillers.
DIE AGAIN TOMORROW is your third novel. Why this particular story for your third book, and how does it differ from your previous novels No Time to Die and Living Proof?
In graduate school studying for my bioethics degree, one of the hot topics we often discussed was death—how to define it, whether it’s possible to reverse it, and what moral dilemmas new technology is introducing by creating grey areas around the very permanence of death. In today’s era, someone who suffers a cardiac arrest can be pulseless and fit the criteria of “death”—no heartbeat, no respiration, no brainwaves—but still be resuscitated after minutes or hours via the proper technology and survive intact. This was a huge surprise for me, and one I felt would be exciting to explore in a thriller. DIE AGAIN TOMORROW differs from my other books in that the identity of the villain is a surprise, and there are more twists and turns than I’ve ever written before. I had a lot of fun with pacing and misdirection.
Was DIE AGAIN TOMORROW inspired by any true events or special cases?
In particular, yes, I interviewed a man who collapsed after a cardiac arrest and was pulseless –what we used to call “dead” in the old days—for a period of three to four hours altogether. But he received the highest quality of emergency care during this time, with therapeutic hypothermia, chest compressions, etc., and the doctors didn’t give up on him because he was the husband of a nurse. They finally got his heart back, and his brain survived because of the cooling measures. He has run triathlons every year since then.
Dr. Kyle Sommers is one of a team of CDC doctors deployed nationwide to find the cause. Along with his wife Gretchen and young daughter Lara, he travels to St. Joe, Minnesota to investigate after a particularly gruesome murder shocks the small town. Frantic to find the answer before more people die and haunted by the secret that destroyed his father, Dr. Sommers uncovers the shattering truth behind the seemingly unconnected crises. And when he does, he discovers his own family is in grave danger.
Something has gone horribly wrong with the food chain. And nothing will ever be the same.
Part medical detective story, part post-apocalyptic tale, BROKEN CHAIN examines what might happen if a major component of our food supply had to be destroyed and banned because of its malignant effect on those who consume it.
By Dan Levy
If there were more Dr. Gary Birken’s in the world, fiction writers wouldn’t have to worry about creating larger than life characters. Father. Grandfather. Avid basketball and tennis player. Black belt in martial arts. And he’s not just a physician; but the Vice Chief of Staff, Surgeon-in-Chief, and Chief of Pediatric Trauma at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in South Florida.
Oh yeah, and his sixth novel, ERROR IN DIAGNOSIS, debuted August 25. Perhaps what pushes Birken into the larger than life category, at least for me, is the “all in” nature that seems to define how he pursues everything. According to Birken, “I used to read everything in sight. One night, I had the idea for a story. I sat down at the word processor and began writing. My entire consideration of shifting from a reader to a writer took about an hour.” Since that night, writing has been on Birken’s list of passions.
Passion is not a word Birken uses lightly. He advises students in writing workshops that if they need tricks such as making appointments with themselves to write, or need to reward themselves after a writing session, then perhaps what they feel for writing isn’t truly passion.
“For me to go to Starbucks, put on my headphones and write for a couple of hours is not only something I truly enjoy, but serves as stress reduction from my normal life. I look forward to airplane travel now because I can write. When you’re a writer, your whole life changes in the sense that you’re (always asking), Where is my next opportunity to write going to come from?”
When Richard L. Mabry retired from medicine in 2002, he had spent twenty-six years in private practice and another ten as a professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. He had either authored or edited eight textbooks and more than a hundred professional papers, but he had no plans to continue writing. Instead, he intended to have a quiet life reading and playing golf. Of that plan, Mabry says, “God laughed and said, ‘Not so fast.’” The Almighty, it seemed, had other plans for Mabry’s retirement.
Shortly before his scheduled retirement, Mabry’s world was rocked by the death of his first wife. His journaling, done as part of the healing process, was the basis for The Tender Scar: Life After the Death of a Spouse, a nonfiction book that, ten years later, is still in print and serving as a ministry to others.
For Mabry, his faith is the cornerstone of both his life and his writing. His medical suspense novels have a strong spiritual component, and faith plays an important role in his most recent novel, MIRACLE DRUG. Asked how he balances the roles of science and faith in his plots, Mabry says, “I’ve been a person of faith since long before I began the practice of medicine. Thus, it’s natural that it would be a part of every book I write, even though in most there’s no overt Gospel message.”
In MIRACLE DRUG, Dr. Josh Pearson’s mentor is killed, leaving instructions for Josh to take his place as personal physician to the President of the United States. What appears to be the greatest honor of Josh’s career turns into his darkest nightmare when the President and the woman Josh loves are both dosed with a bacterial infection that is resistant to all known antibiotics and is one-hundred-percent fatal.
The book is a page-turner, which I ended up reading in a single sitting, so I was pleased when Dr. Mabry agreed to answer some questions about his writing life and MIRACLE DRUG.
As a weapons dealer, Mack Barton has spent the last four decades running from someone scary, and now is no exception. A crime boss in Las Vegas wants to kill him because of an overdue gambling debt (one of his bad habits—another is tequila). And is it the C.I.A. blaming him if some munitions fell into the wrong hands in a Syria deal? Or the last Colombia deal?
Thinking that it might help him get his mind off of those chasing him and trying to eliminate him, Mack accepted an invitation to a reunion with his four good friends from high school. He traveled to Golden, Colorado, where he and three others were wined and dined by their mutual buddy, Ace Strain, a psychiatrist and proprietor of a cryonics company. But, only one of the five was aware of the sinister plot being planned against the others.
“I enjoyed Stacy Childs’ debut novel, Block 10, and immediately became a fan. The Boys of the Dixie Pig is better. It displays Childs’ versatility within the medical thriller genre with a rapid-fire story that seems too fantastic to be true, but which sucks you in from page one and doesn’t let you go until the final word. I couldn’t put it down. Mack Barton is sure to become the Jack Reacher of medical thrillers.” ~Robert Dugoni, New York Times and #1 Amazon Bestselling Author, and author of My Sister’s Grave
By John Raab
Richard Mabry, MD has authored several medical thrillers, many of them having been nominated for various literary awards. He’s created a new genre within the genre by writing, what he calls, medical suspense—with a heart. Now, he’s back with his latest book FATAL TRAUMA.
Mabry has practiced medicine for thirty-six years, written more than a hundred papers, spoken around the world, penned several textbooks, served in the Armed Forces, and still has energy to write fantastic suspense books. His latest brings the same passion as his previous novels, giving fans exactly what they’ve come to expect.
In an exclusive interview with The Big Thrill, Mabry talks about the inspiration behind FATAL TRAUMA, the writing process, and what’s next for him.
Give us an inside look into your latest release, FATAL TRAUMA.
In the opening scene, a gun-wielding man bursts into the ER with a wounded patient in a wheelchair, saying that if the man dies, he’ll kill everyone in the room. The stakes get even higher for the ER doctor when he recognizes that the nurse pushing the wheelchair, a gun at her head, is the woman he’s been dating.
Can you tell us about Dr. Mark Baker—why was he the perfect person for this story?
Dr. Baker represents so many of us in the profession at some stage in our practice of medicine—we’re beset by self-doubt, we second guess our decisions and motivations, and it often takes someone like nurse Kelly Atkinson to shore us up and help us through these tough times.
By Rob Brunet
While Stu Strumwasser researched and wrote THE ORGAN BROKER, the waiting list for organs in the U.S. grew by more than thirty-five per cent. For most people, that means years of anxiety, diminished health, or even death. Where wealth meets entitlement, however, there’s an alternative: the global black market for body parts.
Like any market, each transaction takes a buyer and a seller, and both are featured in Strumwasser’s debut thriller, THE ORGAN BROKER. Doctors and other health care professionals are part of the cost, of course, but the serious money is made by middle men with the seemingly innocuous title of “transplant tourism director.” Jack Trayner is one of them, and THE ORGAN BROKER is his story.
Stu took time out as his debut novel launches to talk to The Big Thrill about Jack’s reality, and what’s driving a growth industry most people wish had no need to exist.
Stu, your story sits astride the very real need for organs and the desperation of those who would sell theirs. How much moral ambiguity do you find there?
A tremendous amount! The organ shortage crisis in America and other wealthy nations, combined with the fact that selling an organ is illegal in almost every country in the world, has created a black market. It leads to the exploitation of poor people in many third-world countries. While brokers charge American and European buyers perhaps $150K for “transplant tourism” (all-inclusive trips to go overseas and come home with a new kidney) the sellers usually receive little more than a thousand dollars. The money helps, for a time, but is rarely transformative. However, the after-effects of surgery and little or no aftercare can be. Many are left sick, crippled, or shunned by their communities, and some even die of infection or other complications. Nancy Schepper Hughes, the professor from Cal Berkely who often writes about the black market for organs, calls it “neo-cannibalism” because the most common reason given for selling an organ is “to feed my family.”
Warning: If you have a sore throat, a small skin rash, or a persistent headache, you might want to put off reading BLOCKBUSTER until you’re fully recovered. Lisa von Biela has written a frightening tale of rogue pathogens that can think, and BigPharma at its most chillingly corrupt. This techno thriller, published in January by DarkFuse, ratchets up the terror factor to its limits. This is a story you’ll race through, but the horror of a rampaging and flesh eating MRSA II bacteria will stay with you long after you’ve finished the last page.
Lisa von Biela worked in Information Technology for twenty-five years before graduating from the University of Minnesota law school. She now practices law in Seattle, Washington and serves on the editorial board of The SciTech Lawyer, a quarterly publication of the American Bar Association. von Biela is also the author The Genesis Code, The Janus Legacy, Ash and Bone, and Skinshift (June 2015).
Readers have called her stories “unputdownable” and thought provoking, and she recently received honorable mention in the Examiner’s list of 10 Best Books of 2014.
She took time from her busy work and writing schedule to talk to The Big Thrill.
BLOCKBUSTER explores both the ethics of the pharmaceutical industry and the terror of drug resistant pathogens. Do you believe drug companies’ seeming unlimited opportunity for profit compromises their integrity?
I believe in any industry, money can—and often does—corrupt. I don’t know if any drug company has pursued the business model in BLOCKBUSTER. But it could happen, couldn’t it? Maybe it has, at least to some extent, and that’s what scares me. Drug development is incredibly costly and time-consuming; profits from a blockbuster drug can be astronomical. Some degree of ethical lapse for the sake of the bottom line wouldn’t surprise me. I just hope it never rises to the level it does in BLOCKBUSTER!
After a fall on ice ends Laura Nelson’s career as a surgeon, she joins a major pharmaceutical firm as Vice President for Research. In AFTER THE FALL, the latest novel from Patricia Gussin, her task is to finalize the imminent approval of her new company’s groundbreaking drug.
Unfortunately there are opposing forces at work. At the center is Adawia (Addie) Abdul, an Iraqi scientist who discovered the drug and is in no hurry to return to Iraq. And Saddam Hussein’s henchmen are pressuring Nelson to finish her task. They want her home to take over their country’s bioweapon program from her dying father. As determined as the Iraqis are to get Addie home as quickly as possible, FDA bureaucrat Jake Harter is equally obsessed with keeping her near, and will stop at nothing, including murder to get his way.
In addition, Laura has to deal with a number of personal issues including some secrets from her past. No doubt, she has her hands full.
This comes as no accident. Gussin said the most challenging part of writing AFTER THE FALL was in creating a stand-alone novel that also addressed incidents that occurred in her previous three Laura Nelson books.
“I wanted to accomplish closure for the series, but make this a perfectly satisfactory read for those who had no insight into Laura’s past. I was conscious of this throughout the writing process, but used the editing process to make sure that there was the right amount of backstory so that it would all make sense to the new reader.”
Technically, Gussin found that the scenes in Baghdad at the Radwaniyah Palace complex were difficult and required “much research” since she has never been to Iraq. Emotionally, “Laura’s actual conversation with her son about his paternity was tough. I didn’t know how it would turn out.”
By John Raab
Allen Wyler, neurosurgeon and writer, returns with his latest page-turning thriller, DEADLY ODDS. Wyler’s writing career started in 2005 with his medical thriller, Deadly Errors. Since then, his work has transcended the medical thriller. And in DEADLY ODDS, he introduces readers to an intriguing new character, Arnold Gold, an awkward computer genius who uses his talent for gambling, and soon finds himself in over his head.
Wyler graciously agreed to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
Please tell us about DEADLY ODDS.
As the jacket cover says, Twenty-three year old Arnold Gold is a Seattle-based odds-maker and local computer genius (hence the title). Described as a “part-time hacker and full-time virgin” by his friends, the awkward young man flies to Vegas to try and get lucky—in more ways than one. But his high stakes gambling inadvertently thrusts him into a vortex of international terrorism.
Part of my research for the story dealt with the Darknet—a huge portion of the Internet (bigger than what most people commonly associate with the Internet). It was initially developed by the military for transferring classified information. Not only did the military want a bullet-proof, non-hackable, portal for transferring huge amounts of data, but they wanted to do so anonymously. However, this ability to conduct business anonymously also makes a perfect conduit to support serious criminal activity. Want to buy heroine? Go to the Darknet. Want to hire a hit man? Same thing. And if you are terrorists… Think of the possibilities. I initially discovered it in a Wired article and it immediately snagged my interest. After reading more about it, it was just too interesting to pass up, and I to incorporate it in a plot.
Armed with a journalism degree from New York University, an impressive resume of reporting for major media outlets, and a vivid imagination, Kira Peikoff is a writer of medical thrillers that seamlessly and relentlessly blend suspense with topical scientific themes. Her books have been praised for their excitement, plausibility, and timeliness.
Her debut novel, LIVING PROOF, a near-future tale of assisted reproduction and the ethical issues surrounding it, garnered rave reviews from the likes of Douglas Preston, Steve Berry, and Lisa Unger. Lee Child noted that LIVING PROOF makes “you think, makes you sweat, leaves you happy—everything a good book should.”
Now she returns with her second novel, NO TIME TO DIE, a white-knuckle yarn exploring the genetics of aging. The late Dr. Michael Palmer called NO TIME TO DIE an “intelligent, exciting tour d’ force” and a “crackling good read.”
Ms. Peikoff recently offered her thoughts on a range of topics including the art of crafting a medical thriller, Dr. Palmer’s mentorship, and the worst writing advice she ever received.
The biology of aging plays a central role in NO TIME TO DIE. How did you first get interested in this topic?
My interest in biology goes back to a fascinating science course I took in college that opened my mind to the exciting possibilities of biotechnology and the ways that researchers are innovating creative solutions to improve our health. I’ve also always been keenly aware of the aging process in a way that most people my age probably aren’t, because I have a dad who’s much older than the norm (he’s now eighty). So the biology of aging interests me on both a personal level and an intellectual level.
Stacy Childs and his wife, Diana, live in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where he is entering semi-retirement after practicing urology. He was editor-in-chief of a urology journal for eighteen years and has over seventy-five medical publications to his credit. He is in America’s Top Doctors and Best Doctors in America, and is a clinical professor of surgery at the University of Colorado. All of that he has funneled into his first medical thriller, BLOCK 10, with more to come. THE BIG THRILL sat down to talk thrillers, good and bad medicine, and hospital chills with the good doctor.
What can readers expect from BLOCK 10?
Block 10 is a wild ride for an unsuspecting neophyte orthopaedic surgeon with grandiose ideals and expectations about his career and the world. Luke Cooper is a has-been world cup athlete whose life was turned upside down by a terrible injury, the recovery from which leads him to the field of medicine. Out of admiration and gratitude, Luke returns to France to work for and be mentored by the world-famous sports medicine surgeon and researcher who repaired his injury a decade earlier, Doctor Henri de Salvo; but, de Salvo has a dark side, a mysterious origin, and tough and wealthy companions. The unsuspecting Luke is tossed into an environment of beautiful women and vintage cognac, which blinds him to what is going on around him, until he is led into the criminal side of medicine. His big decision is choose power and notoriety or face certain death from the Corsican mob. Miraculous surgical procedures to manipulate star athletes, exciting ski racing, fight clubs, murder, and enticing women—BLOCK 10 has it all.
You set the novel in the world of medicine. What do you find most appealing about that world?
The field of medicine is dynamic. Every decade new research brings exciting topics to write about. Think about it. Organ transplant and trafficking, genetic modification and manipulation, new viral outbreaks, robotics, artificial limbs, medical tourism, and more. Physicians have the opportunity to keep a society alive, kill it off, or manipulate it every single day by what we report, by the medicines we prescribe, or by the operations we perform. What a theater! What material! And it doesn’t go away—it keeps growing and growing.
Sadly, Michael Palmer, a wonderful writer, a pioneer of the medical thriller genre, and a revered member of the International Thriller Writers, passed away last October. Friends and colleagues of Michael universally praised his transcendent writing ability, his philanthropy, his sense of humor, and his willingness to mentor fledgling writers.
In Michael’s most recent book, RESISTANT, ER physician and professional counselor Dr. Lou Welcome must track down a kidnapped scientist in an effort to halt the spread of the aptly named Doomsday Germ. The shadowy Society of One Hundred Neighbors, a fringe group composed of some of the richest and most powerful people in America, developed and released the deadly bacteria. Their goal: eliminate what they see as the suffocating government programs of entitlement. Their means: meet their demands and they’ll provide the cure for the germ. But the Doomsday Germ proves too effective, becoming resistant to treatment and threatening America with an epidemic that will cause incalculable suffering and unprecedented loss of life.
Michael’s son, Daniel Palmer, graciously agreed to answer some questions about Michael and the novel.
RESISTANT explores bio-terrorism and the use of antibiotic resistant bacteria as a weapon of mass destruction. Was there any specific real-life development that triggered Michael’s decision to explore this idea?
My dad had a saying he made up and cited often. Finding what to write about is a little bit like following a recipe for rhinoceros stew that starts: Step one, find a rhino. He always looked for big ideas that could serve as a backdrop for his thriller novels. When he decided his “rhino” for RESISTANT would be a drug-resistant bacteria that had been weaponized by domestic terrorists he needed to figure out what that bacteria would be. He had read about the story of Aimee Copeland, the 24-year-old Georgia woman who waged a two-month battle against flesh-eating bacteria, and thought that would make for a terrifying terrorist threat.
The protagonist of RESISTANT is medical doctor Lou Welcome. He’s smart, loyal, compassionate, courageous—and flawed. What do you think drew Michael to the Welcome character?