By Ian Walkley
Rex Burns once said that he wanted to write about the people who wouldn’t rate a footnote in a book but whose stories portray the dark reality of the common man. Based in Boulder, Colorado, Burns is a first-rate storyteller and is still writing at a remarkable rate at age 79. Critics rate him among the best fictional police writers, with a hardboiled style, a keen eye for procedural detail, and superbly drawn characters.
His latest offering, CRUDE CARRIER (October, Mysterious Press), is the second in his current series, which follows the adventures of a father/daughter team of private investigators of James Raiford and Julie Campbell, operating as Touchstone Associates. Burns’ first series introduced Gabe Wager, the Denver police detective, and his debut novel THE ALVAEZ JOURNAL won an Edgar Award. A second series featured a private detective in Denver, Devlin Kirk, who specialized in industrial security. The Touchstone Associates series was launched in 2013 with BODY SLAM, which focused on the world of professional wrestling.
In CRUDE CARRIER, a sailor dies under unusual circumstances on a supertanker. When the shipping company stonewalls the investigation, the sailor’s parents contact Touchstone. James Raiford joins the “Aurora Victorious” as an electronics officer, and Julie digs into the proprietors’ shadowy background. They quickly discover that international oil shipping is a ruthless business, and its secrets run as deep as the ocean itself.
Firstly, Rex, why a story about international oil shipping?
I wanted a setting and case that would be somewhat unusual for Raiford and his daughter, so I gave her London and him an oil tanker. But also, I like ships and deep-water cruises—even on troop ships. And since I’d found fascinating information about the merchant marine in my research, I hoped to share that subject with readers. As for the London setting, well, it was a pleasure to re-visit some of my favorite corners of a city with so many literary echoes.
By Mary Kennedy
Recently, I sat down with Carolyn Hart to talk about GHOST WANTED, the fifth book in her Bailey Ruth series. Ms. Hart (who also writes the enormously popular Death on Demand series) has come up with an unlikely recipe for success: take one amateur sleuth who happens to be a ghost, add a heavenly supervisor who sends her on a mission to earth, and mix a healthy dose of humor and an engaging plot. Now stir well and enjoy this delicious concoction.
GHOST WANTED is the fifth in the Bailey Ruth series, and the heroine is as irrepressible as ever. I’m intrigued by her relationship with Wiggins, her straight-arrow supervisor at Heaven’s Department of Good Intentions. Bailey Ruth is known to be something of a loose cannon and I remember she was operating off the grid occasionally in book four, GHOST GONE WILD. I wondered if Wiggins is ever exasperated with her? Or is her feistiness part of her charm?
In GHOST WANTED, Wiggins hopes that Bailey Ruth’s imagination and kindness will rescue the reputation of the library’s resident ghost who has a special place in Wiggins’s heart. We discover the heartbreak of World War I and hope that Bailey Ruth can reunite lovers parted on the battlefield.
You once said that writers enjoy creating recurring characters because “the author knows the terrain and understands the characters’ mores.” I think you were talking about Annie and Max Darling in the Broward’s Rock series, but does it hold true for Bailey Ruth? Will she ever push the envelope on her missions to earth and defy Wiggins?
Bailey Ruth is always on the edge of catastrophe but so far she has managed through charm to avoid a precipitous return to Heaven when she incurs Wiggins’s displeasure. I am currently writing next year’s Bailey Ruth and she is at the moment fending off The Rescue Express.
M. C. Grant is Grant McKenzie, an award-winning screenwriter, editor, and novelist. He is the author of SWITCH and NO CRY FOR HELP (both published by Bantam TransWorld UK).
His short stories have been featured in the FIRST THRILLS anthology edited by Lee Child (Tor/Forge), and Out of the Gutter and Spinetingler magazines. His first screenplay won a fellowship at the Praxis Centre for Screenwriting in Vancouver.
As a journalist, he worked in virtually every area of the newspaper business, from the late-night “dead body beat” at a feisty daily tabloid to editor at two of Canada’s largest broadsheets. Born in Glasgow, Grant currently resides in Victoria, British Columbia.
Here’s a short synopsis of M. C. Grant’s exciting new novel, BEAUTY WITH A BOMB.
After witnessing the gruesome death of an immigrant, Dixie Flynn is on a mission to tell the woman’s story. Acting on a tip, Dixie learns that young immigrants are vanishing…and they’re not runaways. Hooking up with a group of Polish women who are hell-bent on finding their sisters and cousins, Dixie is all too willing to wield a gun and stalk the shadows where human traffickers ply their trade. But crossing paths with smugglers takes its toll, especially when the desire to rescue becomes a thirst for retribution that leaves blood on Dixie’s hands.
What can readers expect from BEAUTY WITH A BOMB?
Thrills, chills and a few laughs along the way. This is Dixie Flynn’s third adventure, and picks up a short time after the events of DEVIL WITH A GUN. Like her first two adventures, BEAUTY WITH A BOMB starts out with what Suspense Magazine calls “one of the most dramatic and shocking scenes I have ever read.” Dixie is also quite a bit different from the stand-alone thrillers that I write as Grant McKenzie. For one, Dixie is written in first-person, present-tense, female perspective, while my thrillers are third-person, past-tense. I also try and have more fun with the Dixie books by including more humour and quirky, fun characters. With that said, however, the plots can be dark and dangerous, but only because I know Dixie can handle them.
This debut novel never lets the reader off the edge of the seat—the mark of a great story. When college student Joe Talbert decides to interview a convicted rapist and murderer for a class assignment, he finds himself thrust into a web of lies and deceit that put his and other lives in grave danger. Talbert’s anguished relationship with an alcoholic mother and his deep tenderness for an autistic younger brother make him a sympathetic and fully formed protagonist. Eskens manages to weave intricacies of the justice and prison systems into the story while maintaining a tight grip on the pace and tension.
Eskens is a practicing criminal defense attorney with an undergraduate degree in journalism and a J.D. from Hamline University School of Law. He has participated in the Minnesota State University M.F.A. program as well as classes and seminars at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.
He took time from his busy practice and current writing project to speak with THE BIG THRILL.
Tell us how long you’ve been writing and what inspired you to write this first novel.
I began writing immediately after graduating from law school. Although I was a first-class legal writer, that didn’t translate into good fiction, so I started reading books like THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES by Joseph Campbell and ON BECOMING A NOVELIST by John Gardner. When books were no longer enough, I began attending classes at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis and the Iowa Summer Writers Festival. That eventually led to me enrolling in the MFA program at Minnesota State University.
By Daniel Friedman
Steph Cha’s feminist neo-noir novel FOLLOW HER HOME introduced Juniper Song, a Korean-American private investigator with an Ivy League degree, a troubled past, and a bottle within reach at all times.
In Cha’s second novel, BEWARE BEWARE, Song takes what seems like a simple surveillance job tailing the cokehead long-distance boyfriend of a worried New York artist. But the boyfriend gets tangled up in the murder of a movie star, and Song’s job gets more complicated as she delves into twisted celebrity affairs in order to try to exonerate her client.
Meanwhile, Song’s roommate Lori Lim is pursued by an amorous gangster who won’t take “no” for an answer.
Reviewing BEWARE BEWARE in the Los Angeles Times, novelist Paula Woods wrote that Cha conjures up “more diversely mean streets than the masters of noir could have imagined” and that “Nathanael West and Raymond Chandler would be proud.”
Cha agreed to answer some questions about Juniper Song and her new book.
James Ellroy said in the Paris Review that “Chandler wrote the kind of guy that he wanted to be, Hammett wrote the kind of guy that he was afraid he was.” Song idolizes Chandler’s detective, Philip Marlowe, but in this book, she makes some decisions that Marlowe, in a similar situation, probably wouldn’t. What kind of person is Song, to you?
I started writing Song as an amateur detective, and it was important to me that she retain some measure of authenticity as a person in the world who reacts to events in realistic, relatable ways. Obviously, there’s a wide spectrum of ordinary human behavior, but I didn’t want to write her into an action hero, or an incorruptible savior. I like Song. She’s far from perfect, but she’s smart and competent, with a good, loyal heart. She’s tough but not untouchable, and things wear down on her. Marlowe lived by a code, and I fell in love with that character because of his core integrity and bruised idealism. Song also admires Marlowe, but she is not above things like fear and compromise. She’s unsympathetic at times, but probably someone I’d want to be friends with in the end.
Grab a cup of coffee and settle in for a page-turning tale of murder and betrayal small town style. DEAD BROKE IN JARRETT CREEK is the third in the mystery series featuring the lovable Samuel Craddock, former chief of police. The fictionalized town of Jarrett Creek, Texas has its share of secrets and a cast of characters to rival any soap opera. Recent financial troubles have caused the town to totter on the brink of bankruptcy and left it unable to pay for a full-time police force. When Gary Dellmore, a man with as many flaws as enemies, turns up dead, the town looks to Craddock to return to work and solve the murder. Craddock’s investigation reveals that Dellmore was a philandering husband, a crooked businessman, and an indiscreet banker. The fun begins as we ride along with Craddock to the front porches and cozy kitchens of his Texas neighbors as skeletons fall from their closets and illicit liaisons are revealed.
THE BIG THRILL caught up with author Terry Shames and we chatted about her latest book and her life as a writer.
Samuel Craddock is a character you want to sit down and have coffee with. He’s smart, honorable, and doesn’t take himself too seriously. Is he based on a person you know or did he materialize completely out of your imagination?
Samuel presented himself to me full-blown. He’s a combination of many men I’ve known in my life. As a kid, I always liked to hang around men—I thought they were more interesting than women, because women always talked about babies, clothes, and dieting. When I grew up, I joined the ranks of the women, but my early education in hearing stories was through men. In particular, Samuel is a combination of my grandfather, my father, my husband, and my dear friend Charlie, who died a few years ago. Incidentally, my grandfather’s name was Samuel, but everyone called him Sam—and that’s one reason I never call Samuel Craddock “Sam.”
By John Clement
Being the resident “cozy-ologist” here at THE BIG THRILL, I’m accustomed to talking writers of cozy mysteries, so my questions tend to lean in the same direction as well, like “Where do you find your recipes?” or “What’s your favorite color?” But ten pages into James Lilliefors’s newest book, THE PSALMIST, and I knew I had to change my game. Lilliefors is an award-winning journalist and novelist who grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. His work has appeared in Runner’s World, The Washington Post, The Miami Herald, The Boston Globe, and The Baltimore Sun, and his novels include BANANAVILLE, a mystery, and THE LEVIATHAN EFFECT and VIRAL, both geopolitical thrillers.
Published by Harper Collins this past July, THE PSALMIST is the first installment in the new Hunters and Bower mystery series. It’s hard-edged, compelling, and just a tiny bit cozy, so I knew in this case I needed to get right down to the nitty-gritty.
Without giving too much away, what is the story of The Psalmist?
THE PSALMIST tells the tale of a small, close-knit community on Maryland’s Eastern Shore that is visited one morning by an inexplicable crime. Luke Bowers, head pastor at the old wooden Tidewater Methodist Church, discovers a dead woman seated in the sanctuary of his church, her eyes open, her hands clasped as if in prayer. The woman clearly was murdered, although there is nothing at the scene to identify her or to explain why she was left there—other than a series of numbers carved into her right hand, which Luke begins to think may be a reference to the book of Psalms. As the strong-willed homicide cop Amy Hunter investigates this bizarre crime, she begins to find links to other murders in the mid-Atlantic region—and eventually to a more sweeping crime targeting the United States government.
The Psalmist is really a story about predators, which may come in the form of an unknown killer who strikes after dark or a sinister idea spread invisibly by the government—but may also be the neighbor next door or the friendly clerk who sells us our groceries.
Born and raised in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, writer Adrian McKinty has lived across the globe. He left his home country to study politics and philosophy at Oxford. From there, he landed in New York where he spent seven years living, and struggling, in Harlem. Life then took another turn, this time to Denver, where he taught high school English. Today, McKinty lives in Australia.
Despite his travels, it was the return to his roots in Ireland that brought him success. McKinty is regarded as one of the brightest lights in Irish crime writing, garnering numerous literary awards and comparisons to storied crime writer Raymond Chandler. Publishers Weekly has called him “one of his generation’s leading talents.”
From 10,000 miles away at his home in St. Kilda, Melbourne, McKinty graciously agreed to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
First off, please tell us a little about your new book, THE SUN IS GOD.
It’s based on a true story of German intellectuals who set up a nudist colony on a remote South Pacific island in 1906. They believed that worshipping the sun and eating only coconuts would make them immortal. Alas, it didn’t and one of them was murdered on the island. The German authorities went to investigate and that was the basis for my novel.
Your Sean Duffy series has been so well received, why the departure from the series to write THE SUN IS GOD?
The story was just too crazy not to do. I was flabbergasted when I read it and amazed that no one had written it up as a true crime book or a novel. True crime seemed like a lot of work (getting all the facts right, etc.) so I wrote it up as a novel instead.
By Dawn Ius
LJ Sellers is no stranger to thrill. She’s an adrenaline junkie who has jumped from a plane multiple times and even—gasp!—performed a stand-up comedy routine in front of an unsuspecting audience.
While many of her thrill-seeking adventures make it onto the page, Sellers hasn’t yet found a place for comedy in her novels.
“I admire authors who do,” she says. “There are moments where my characters may do something funny, and I can play up on that, but personally, I haven’t found a way to merge the comedy and thriller genres.”
Instead, LJ focuses on plot, which she admits is her favorite part of the creative process. As a self-defined linear author, Sellers carves out a rough outline and then begins with the first chapter, continuously plotting and writing until the first draft is complete.
“I love writing complex plots,” she says.
Actually, she loves writing—period.
Her latest Detective Jackson novel, DEADLY BONDS, releases this month, but she’s already written two books since completing final edits, and has started a new story. Prolific, certainly, but perhaps partially out of necessity.
“It’s a competitive market out there,” she says. “One of the only ways to stay visual is to write a lot of books.”
DEADLY BONDS is the ninth novel in the Detective Jackson series, a thrilling story that will show readers a softer side of her beloved rough and gruff character. Inspired by a new development in her life, Sellers introduces a young boy into Jackson’s, drawing from him many of the emotions she has experienced since welcoming a new granddaughter into her world.
By Dan Levy
There’s a reason most of us write fiction—we don’t want to actually endure what we put our protagonists through. Sure, it’s fun to live that life in our minds for a few hours at a time and chronicle what we see. But as fiction writers, we revel in the comfort that we still get to play God on the page and are in total control.
Those who chose to live the life of a thriller protagonist—or antagonist—find their books to be welcome on the memoir, true crime or autobiography shelves. However, there are a few exceptions where fact and fiction merge—most notably the connection between Ian Fleming’s time in the British Secret Service and James Bond.
Add Mark Pryor to the list of people who seem to live the lives they write about. A former crime reporter in the UK, Pryor moved to the US, got his law degree and became an assistant district attorney in Austin, Texas. His prosecution wins include a Mexican mafia enforcer, murderers, rapists, robbers and a transvestite prostitute—to which he admits feeling a bit bad about. He prosecuted a cold case that got the attention of CBS’s 48 Hours and was the impetus for Pryor’s true crime story AS SHE LAY SLEEPING.
Turning Fascination to Fiction
So why does Pryor, an admitted adrenaline junkie (prior to having children, anyway), need to write thriller fiction? “I’m very interested in the criminal mind. I’ve never understood how, in a premeditated way, people do very bad things to other people.” Pryor noted that HELTER SKELTER was a “gateway book” for him. “I grew up on a farm in England, and had a very bucolic childhood. [In] reading that book, everything was so bizarre and twisted. I couldn’t understand it. I’ve been fascinated by it ever since.”
By Wendy Tyson
Raised on a farm in southwest Pennsylvania, author Annette Dashofy has had a variety of careers, including emergency medical technician, groom at a racetrack, and yoga instructor, and she has drawn on her interesting and varied past to create the Zoe Chambers mystery series. In the first Chambers novel, CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE, Dashofy introduces us to EMT and deputy coroner Zoe Chambers and Police Chief Pete Adams. In the second book, LOST LEGACY (due September 16), we follow Chambers and Adams as they investigate an apparent suicide that may be linked to a pair of forty-five-year-old suspicious deaths.
John Lawton (producer, director and author of the Inspector Troy series) said, “New York has McBain, Boston has Parker, now Vance Township, PA (“pop. 5,000. Please Drive Carefully.”) has Annette Dashofy, and her rural world is just as vivid and compelling as their city noir.” I have had the pleasure of meeting Annette in person and she is as captivating as the colorful characters she creates. I am so pleased that Annette agreed to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
LOST LEGACY is the second in the Zoe Chambers series. As with the first Chambers novel, CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE, the setting—a small town in rural western Pennsylvania—is a character in the story. You grew up in a similar environment. How did your own experiences in rural Pennsylvania influence your novel?
Southwestern Pennsylvania is very much my home and my heart. It’s second nature to add it to my books. Having grown up in a farm family, I was always keenly aware of the weather because a farmer’s livelihood depends on getting enough snow in the winter, having enough dry weather in the summer to get the crops in, but enough rain so everything doesn’t dry up. And goodness knows we have a wide variety of weather to work with here! It just makes sense to me to have the weather and my surroundings play a big part in the story.
With MARTINI REGRETS, the sixth installment of the Sherri Travis series, Phyllis Smallman brings you Sherri’s most frightening and spine tingling misadventure yet. The story transports you from a gritty crime scene in the Florida Everglades to a black-tie masquerade ball in Sarasota before reaching its shocking conclusion on a remote island in the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s almost midnight and Sherri Travis is about to take Alligator Alley across the Everglades when she realizes she’s low on gas. She turns off the main road and into the swamp to find a service station on Last Chance Road. Her pickup is carjacked and Sherri is left alone at night in the Glades. Hiding from dangerous men and in fear for her life, she stumbles across the body of a man. From alligators and snakes to the men called swamp rats, evil comes in many disguises and offers no second chances for Sherri.
Phyllis Smallman’s first novel, MARGARITA NIGHTS, won the inaugural Unhanged Arthur award from the Crime Writers of Canada. Her writing has appeared in both Spinetingler Magazine and Omni Mystery Magazine. The Florida Writer’s Association awarded CHAMPAGNE FOR BUZZARDS a silver medal for the best mystery and her fifth book, HIGHBALL EXIT, won an IPPY award in 2013. LONG GONE MAN won the Independent Publisher’s IPPY Gold Award as best mystery in 2014. The Sherri Travis mystery series was one of six chosen by Good Morning America for a summer read in 2010. Before turning to a life of crime, Smallman was a potter. She divides her time between a beach in Florida and an island in the Salish Sea.
Although you’re Canadian, several of your novels are set in Florida, more specifically the Everglades. What is it about this state and this area that makes for intriguing mystery settings, and why particularly for the Sherri Travis series and MARTINI REGRETS?
Thirty years ago my husband Lee and I took a little holiday in Florida and bought a house. Well, actually we bought a trailer, and while other properties have come and gone from our lives, we still have our little shack near the beach. I fell in love with Florida, not least of all because of the characters. The state is like a giant bug light for crazy people. They all rush down there with their schemes and dreams and start creating havoc. You just have to open the paper to read about grannies selling drugs out of the baby’s stroller or a developer cutting down a tree to get rid of an eagle that’s holding up a new condo site. Honest, I don’t make this stuff up. Pretty much any writer who sets a book in the Sunshine state is going to deliver eccentric characters.
If the fiction writer’s mantra is “write what you know,” then Kristi Belcamino has amassed a career’s worth of background material. A crime reporter by trade, the Minneapolis resident based her debut on a series of interviews she conducted with a convicted kidnapper who claimed to be a serial killer. BLESSED ARE THE DEAD is a gripping fictionalization of that encounter, putting the reader in the shoes of young Gabriella Giovanni, a San Francisco Bay Area newspaper reporter whose second adventure was released as BLESSED ARE THE MEEK on July 29.
I’ve known Kristi for three years. We met via Twitter, when she found out I was visiting the Twin Cities to research my second novel. Kristi threw me a wonderful dinner party with her writer’s group, set me up with contacts in the Minnesota PD, and hooked me up with tours of the locations I’d set out to research. BLESSED ARE THE DEAD was still searching for a publisher then, but in the years that followed, I’ve had the pleasure of watching Kristi find an agent and a home for her wonderful debut.
Recently, I lobbed a few questions at her about the series, the writing process, and just how many similarities she shares with her protagonist.
Kristi, your debut, BLESSED ARE THE DEAD, was just published by Harper-Collins. Congratulations! Tell us about the book.
Thank you! It’s been a dream come true for sure. The book, which features an Italian-American crime reporter and is the first in a series of at least four books, is inspired by my dealings with a serial killer while I was a reporter on the crime beat in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some of the actual jailhouse conversations I had with this man are in my book. When he died in prison a few years back, I was called for a comment.
By Stacy Mantle
Author Mike Resnick has a long history of success in the science fiction and thriller categories. Beyond earning five Hugo awards, he has taken home the Science Fiction Chronicle Poll Award, the Nebula, the Homer, the Alexander, the Golden Pagoda Award, and Dog Writers Association Awards.
Humor goes a long way toward breaking dramatic tension, and no one does it better than Resnick. Larger-than-life characters pump up the action. As a long-time fixture in science fiction, Resnick draws on over one hundred novels and short stories to make his stories successful.
We had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his process, co-writing with his wife, the writing habits that have made him a success, and the importance of loving what you do.
Please tell us a little about CAT ON A COLD TIN ROOF.
It’s the third mystery novel featuring a middle-aged divorced detective, Eli Paxton, who lives in Cincinnati. Unlike a lot of his fictional contemporaries, he doesn’t distrust the police, doesn’t use his fists to solve crimes, and doesn’t bed every good-looking woman he comes across. Since the first two in the series were DOG IN THE MANGER and THE TROJAN COLT, I felt it incumbent to have an animal in the title, as well as making it one of the keys to the plot. But unlike the first two books, which had to do with dog shows and horse racing, this doesn’t involve the cat in any sport.
By Dawn Ius
In the dark and ominous world of noir fiction, most heroes are looking for a light at the end of the tunnel. But for Jersey Leo, the albino bartender in John Florio’s SUGAR POP MOON and BLIND MOON ALLEY, sunshine is something to be avoided.
“Typically, people enjoy warm summer days, but in Jersey’s case, a bright, shining sun only brings more problems,” Florio says. “His albinism pits him against convention.”
In fact, the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation has documented the number of characters with albinism featured in pop culture, and with few exceptions, most are cast as the “evil bad guy.”
“When I started writing SUGAR POP MOON, I wanted to write about an outsider,” he says. “I considered a few options. But having a hero with albinism put a different spin on things—it added another set of conflicts, another layer of tension. Looking back, I guess it was a bit of a risk.”
The gamble paid off. After a successful run with SUGAR POP MOON, Seventh Street Books purchased BLIND MOON ALLEY based on its first chapter alone—a clear demonstration of the faith the publisher had in both the character and the world Florio had created.
Set in Philadelphia during Prohibition, BLIND MOON ALLEY finds Jersey “Snowball” Leo tending bar at a speakeasy the locals call the Ink Well. There, he’s considered a hero for saving the life of a young boy. But Jersey soon finds himself running from a band of crooked cops, hiding an escaped convict in the Ink Well, and reuniting with his grammar school crush—the now sultry Myra Banks, who has shed a club foot and become a speakeasy siren.
Historical mysteries can hold our attention with a good brain teaser, even while they teach us timeless lessons about humanity. That gives you two good reasons to read THE PALE HOUSE by Luke McCallin.
Set in Yugoslavia during the final days of World War II, THE PALE HOUSE centers on Captain Gregor Reinhardt, a German army intelligence officer assigned to a new, powerful branch of the military police. Reinhardt had been a police detective in Berlin and belonged to a resistance group secretly opposing the Nazis. His new position separated him from the group. An officer in an army he hates, Reinhardt is a haunted, tortured soul.
“There’s depth to Reinhardt,” McCallin says. “He feels his times very keenly. He feels his own inadequacies more keenly still. What I wanted to do in creating and writing Reinhardt was to make people think that he could be you. An ordinary man in extraordinary times, still trying to behave and believe in what makes sense, but so painfully aware of his own fears and limitations, and still knowing what is right and what is wrong.”
This novel is the story of what happens when this self-depreciating man with the dry sense of humor witnesses a massacre of civilians while he and the German army are retreating through Yugoslavia. While he does not consider himself a hero, he learns that there is more to the incident than anyone else believes. He is still a police detective at heart, so when five mutilated bodies turn up he is the one who sees the bigger picture. And he must decide what to do.
The foreign setting will certainly entice readers with the promise of adventure in the Balkans, a part of the world associated with intrigue and treachery. But McCallin admits that wasn’t the only reason.
By Dan Levy
As an admitted adrenaline junkie, one would think a day job as an ER nurse would give Beth Amos (writing under the name Allyson K. Abbot for the Mack’s Bar series) got her daily dose of excitement at work. Not so, even after more tha forty years in the business, “I have seen, smelled, touched, been doused in, and exposed to some very gross looking and smelling things. Only one thing has ever made me gag. Ear wax is my kryptonite.”
Since that isn’t enough action, Beth fills her free time creating interesting characters and then putting them through some adrenaline-inducing situations. Such is the case with Mackenzie “Mack” Dalton, owner and chief mixologist at Mack’s Bar in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Like every good protagonist, Amos gave Mack her own set of real and relatable flaws. But for that one trait that makes Mack special, Amos turned to her experience in the medical field.
“I first heard of synesthesia from a neurologist years ago,” said Amos. “A simplistic definition of synesthesia is that it’s a cross-wiring, or in some ways an overlap, between the senses. As a result, people may see things they hear as shapes, colors, or patterns. Or something they see might trigger a taste sensation. There are different types and degrees of synesthesia, and I think it’s much more common than many people realize.”
Ten-year-old orphan Libète has been hardened by the daily struggle to survive in Cité Soleil, Haiti’s most infamous slum. But when she and her best friend, Jak, discover a young mother and her baby brutally murdered in a nearby marsh, it’s unlike anything she’s encountered before. Though initially shocked, the adults of Cité Soleil move on quickly from the event; after all, death is commonplace in this community. Undaunted, Libète takes action with Jak in tow, plunging herself into a dangerous, far-reaching plot that will change her irrevocably and threaten everything she holds dear.
BECAUSE WE ARE is a profound and mesmerizing tale of a young girl’s search for justice in an unjust world, set against the vivid and tumultuous backdrop of modern-day Haiti.
What was the genesis for this novel? Why tell the story through the girl Libète?
The spark for the story was a little girl. Shortly after the 2010 earthquake that reduced so much of Port-au-Prince to rubble, I worked as a law student intern in Cité Soleil, a slum on the outskirts of Haiti’s capitol. During my days there, a girl of ten—incredibly bright, mischievous, and sharp-tongued—would flit through our office. Though she’d never solved a murder, I wouldn’t put it past her! The thought of casting a character inspired by her as the lead in a mystery became irresistible, and Libète, my protagonist, was born.
By Derek Gunn
Mystery and thriller writer…dog lover…dreamer—these are the words that greet you on Wendy Tyson’s website. The themes carry over into her writing and appeared in our correspondence during the writing of this article. I mean what’s not to like about this woman?
DEADLY ASSETS is the second book in the Allison Campbell mystery series but don’t let that worry you about jumping straight in. Allison Campbell is Philadelphia’s premier image consultant and helps others reinvent themselves. She is a gutsy woman who had to rebuild her life and her own confidence when an old case went wrong and she lost her practice and her husband. Today, she is well-heeled and polished and moves in a world of powerful executives, wealthy, eccentric ex-wives, and twisted ethics. And boy, are they eccentric!
Tyson’s background is in law and psychology and she lives near Philadelphia with her husband, three sons, and two of the aforementioned dogs, Labs Molly and Driggs. Tyson kindly supplied a concise summary of the first book for me, but DEADLY ASSETS is definitely a novel you can pick up and leap straight into. The characters introduce themselves quickly and the back story is revealed when background is needed.
The first thing that will strike you about this book is Tyson’s writing. I loved it from the first page; clouds bruising clear skies and ramshackle mansions that, similar to their owners, have seen better days, are just two of the well-crafted descriptions that had me breezing through the pages.
Elle Harrison is back in Merry Jones’s latest release, ELECTIVE PROCEDURES. Recovering from her husband Charlie’s death, Elle Harrison agrees to visit a fortuneteller with a girlfriend. The fortuneteller predicts that Elle will travel, meet a new man, and, oh, by the way—Elle’s aura is filled with death, the dead are drawn to her, and death will follow her everywhere.
Elle is shaken, but she tries to ignore the ridiculous prediction. She and her pals travel to Mexico where one of them has arranged cosmetic surgery, planning to recuperate in a plush hotel suite. But more is going on at the hotel than tummy tucks.
As dangers swirl, Elle is forced to face her unresolved issues with Charlie, even as she races to find the connections between the murders before more patients—including her friend—are killed.
And before she becomes prey herself.
Tell us something about ELECTIVE PROCEDURES that isn’t mentioned in the publisher’s synopsis.
Wow, there are so many things not mentioned. But the most important part to me is the psychological issues that the book deals with. For example, the protagonist, Elle Harrison, suffers from a mild dissociative disorder that causes her to mentally drift away when she’s under stress. So when things get dicey, Elle tends to go off into her thoughts, missing sometimes critical pieces of information. Her friends have learned to deal with this aspect of her character, and they call her dissociative incidents “pulling an Elle,” and they help her cope.
Some of the other characters in ELECTIVE PROCEDURES also deal with psychological issues such as body dysmorphic disorder, which causes a distorted self-image. Some of the people seeking cosmetic surgery in the book do so because they have this disorder and think they constantly need “fixing.”
Reporters make great fictional detectives: they are inquisitive, determined, and generally unarmed. James W. Ziskin proves how engrossing a journalist’s investigation can be in his latest novel, NO STONE UNTURNED: AN ELLIE STONE MYSTERY.
This charming tale, the sequel to Ellie’s first case, STYX AND STONE, is set in upstate New York. The story takes place in the 1960s when a young reporter who played by her own rules couldn’t count on computer analysis, cell phones, or 21st century CSI tools when searching for a killer. Ellie is a fascinating character and a strong protagonist, as her creator explains.
“She’s charming, witty, and magnetic,” Ziskin says. “She has a strong ethical compass, even if her personal mores are libertine. She knows she’s smart, probably smarter than anyone in the room, but she’s not arrogant.”
In fact, Ellie doesn’t see herself as a heroine, she just does what she feels a reporter should do. She learns of a twenty-one-year-old society girl found dead and half-buried in the woods. Ellie is the first reporter on the scene. Alone and far from her native New York City, Ellie sees this investigation as a chance to pull her career out of its downward spiral. In addition to a crafting a fine whodunit Ziskin uses the setting to good effect to reveal character in interesting ways. After all, upstate New York is itself an interesting character.
“I like the cultural conflicts and discoveries of a fish out of water at play in NO STONE UNTURNED,”he says. “Ellie is a sophisticated New York girl from a privileged, intellectual background. New Holland offers little of that world. But it does present many other challenges for her to surmount. “
Murder is once again the catalyst for mystery and P.I. intrigue in California as Karen Keskinen’s second novel, BLACK CURRENT, hits bookshelves, both real and virtual, this month. Denise Hamilton, author of DAMAGE CONTROL and editor of Akashic’s LOS ANGELES NOIR called Keskinen’s first book, BLOOD ORANGE, “[a]n impressive debut with echoes of Sue Grafton and Ross Macdonald featuring appealing characters, a twisty plot, buried family secrets, and a coastal California backdrop saturated in color and light.” Fans of that work will surely be eager to get their hands—and, more importantly, eyes—on the sequel, BLACK CURRENT, when it comes out this month.
THE BIG THRILL recently caught up with Karen so she could give us some insight into her latest entry in her mystery series, provide some clues to what readers should expect, and tell us a little about the story behind the stories.
Congratulations on your most recent novel, BLACK CURRENT! Tell us a little about your protagonist, P.I. Jaymie Zarlin, and how this second book picks up after BLOOD ORANGE lets off.
Jaymie moved to Santa Barbara, California, some three years before the events recorded in BLOOD ORANGE. She moved south to try to help her brother Brodie, who was living on the streets. When Brodie died in the downtown jail, Jaymie decided to remain in Santa Barbara and become a private investigator. The focus of her work was to find missing people. But that focus changed when she was hired to discover who’d killed Lili Molina, a Santa Barbara High School student found raped and murdered after the annual Solstice Parade. BLOOD ORANGE is the story of Jaymie’s investigation into Lili’s death and, subsequently, the death of Danny Armenta, a young man falsely accused of Lili’s murder.
By Karen Harper
Karen Harper caught up with very busy poet-turned-thriller-author, Erica Wright, just as she was getting ready to launch her debut novel. Erica is heading to New York City in June for events and publicity, and we wish her all the best—and to her intrepid heroine Kathleen Stone.
What is THE RED CHAMELEON about?
With a little help from the best wigmaker on the Atlantic seaboard, Kathleen Stone can take on a variety of personas, from a posh real estate agent to a petulant teenage boy. She was once a valuable undercover cop for the New York Police Department, but since her early retirement following a botched case, she has gone a little soft. These days, she mostly catches cheating spouses in flagrante. When one husband ends up not so much adulterous as dead, Kathleen must use her rusty skills to catch a killer.
You have two fascinating elements in your past: you are a poet and you have taught at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. What did you teach there? How have these experiences impacted your first novel?
I taught composition courses at John Jay, but snuck a little poetry onto the syllabus. Carolyn Forché’s “The Colonel” was always a favorite. My students definitely played a role in my interest in crime writing. They were mostly going into criminology, so I tried to educate myself on their career paths even if only to make our conferences more productive. I had no intention of writing a mystery novel when I started teaching, but looking back, it almost seems inevitable.
Poisoned Pen Press calls it “pet noir” and I assumed it was a cozy with cuss words and a cat. But no—author Clea Simon is back with another beautifully-written suspense story about a psychic with a penchant for animals who helps solve a local murder deep in a Massachusetts forest. For anyone interested in psychic phenomena, communicating with animals, and crime fiction—a much broader audience than one might imagine—you can count me in.
Simon recently agreed to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
Are you a pet psychic?
Ha! No, I am not! I wish I was a pet psychic. I started writing about Pru being one because I think any of us who loves our pets feels we can understand them. I mean, I have conversations with my cat all the time. I do think I can read her body language—but often I imagine her talking back to me and I hear her voice as having a snarky tone. And that interaction became the basis for Pru and her tabby Wallis.
Your “pet noir” series could easily have been a cozy. Why noir?
Cozies have gotten a bad rap—people think “cutesy.” I prefer the term “traditional mysteries” for my cozies, like my Dulcie Schwartz and Theda Krakow books. Little graphic sex or violence, and lots of focus on character. The Pru Marlowe books do have that noir edge, but I have the same goals for them. What interests me in books are the people, the characters. I like traditional mysteries because they focus on the people. I want to write books where everyone is, to some extent, someone you could sympathize with. Not that you would necessarily commit murder, but you could understand how a person could be driven to the edge by something. And, of course, I want readers to be able to relate to my protagonists, even when they’re a little bookish and unworldly (like Dulcie) or snappy and standoffish, as Pru can be.
When Otto Lidke got a tryout in pro football, he hired a lawyer friend named Jim Raiford to handle his contract. The negotiations were bungled, forcing both men into a career change. Trying to start a pro wrestling circuit in Denver, Lidke runs afoul of the national federation, which does everything it can—legal and otherwise—to stamp out his new venture. When shady business practices escalate into threats on his life, Lidke calls on Raiford, now a private investigator, to dig up some dirt on the men who are trying to put him out of business.
But instead he gets Raiford’s daughter, Julie—a whip-smart sleuth looking to prove she’s every bit as savvy as her father. As Julie and her dad dig into the vicious world of small-time wrestling, they find that though the fights may be fixed, the danger is all too real.
Perhaps I’m showing my age, but there used to be a commercial with the actor saying, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” So let me rephrase that line. I’m not a cop, but I write about one in my books, including my latest novel, CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE.
This can be a problem. How can I pull off a realistic characterization of a profession when my only exposure to it (thankfully!) has been television shows and other books that may or may not have gotten it “right”?
Time to do my homework. Research!
There are those who dread research and look on it as drudgery. My response to them is, “You’re not doing it right!”
My first plunge into the world of law enforcement officers was the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Citizen’s Academy. During the weekly sessions, I was able to watch police K-9s in action, tour the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) and the city’s crime lab, meet the SWAT team and see firsthand some of their cool “toys,” and I even got to shake the hand of the bomb squad’s robot. I hated to see it end.
A few months later, I went on a ride-along. Four hours patrolling with a wonderful police officer who willingly answered all my questions and shared part of his world with me. He took me into a house during a domestic dispute. Okay, I’m still not sure if that was a good idea or not, but it definitely showed what these brave men and women face every day. And when we responded to a call of “shots fired,” I learned about adrenaline. No, he didn’t let me out of the squad car for that one. Mostly, I tried to hide under the dash while peeking out to watch the cops in action. Enlightening, to say the least.
By Rick Reed
Donald Bain is the author and ghostwriter of more than 120 books. His novels in the Margaret Truman Capital Crimes series include MONUMENT TO MURDER, EXPERIMENT IN MURDER, UNDIPLOMATIC MURDER, and INTERNSHIP IN MURDER.
Now Bain brings back Jessica Fletcher for her most dangerous adventure yet in ALOHA BETRAYED, the latest entry in the wildly popular Murder, She Wrote series.
Jessica Fletcher visits Maui to participate in a law enforcement seminar. While there she learns of a controversial construction project that pits preservationists against progress, a plan to place the world’s largest solar telescope on the dormant, culturally treasured volcano Haleakla. When a body is found at the foot of a rocky escarpment Jessica becomes involved with the mysterious death. In the process she almost becomes part of the island’s lush scenery when someone, with a stake in the investigation, decides to send Jess to her death down the side of the famed crater.
It’s up to Jessica, and co-lecturer and legendary retired detective Mike Kane, to discover the truth behind the death.
ALOHA BETRAYED is the forty-first Murder, She Wrote novel written by the bestselling author of COFFEE, TEA OR ME? which with its three sequels sold more than five million copies worldwide.
We caught up with Bain in Cabot Cove, Maine, to find out what he has to say about the ALOHA BETRAYED—and what else we can expect from him and Jessica Fletcher.
Tell us about Jessica Fletcher. What kind of person is she?
I suppose the best answer is to indicate what kind of person Angela Lansbury is. Angela brought Jessica Fletcher to life on the TV screen, and infused the character with her own values and sensitivities. Angela is as nice a person as she is a talent, so no surprise that Jessica Fletcher is, too. She’s kind and loving, adores her hometown of Cabot Cove, her neighbors and friends, and refuses to abide injustice. She also possesses a keen analytic mind. When combined with her heightened inquisitiveness, that enables her to see through people, especially the bad guys. Of course she often annoys professional law enforcement officers like Cabot Cove’s sheriff Mort Metzger, but because she is invariably right they cut her some slack. I’m sure that in your distinguished career as a homicide detective, Rick, you’ve met a few folks like her.
By Don Helin
In her latest novel, THE JOHNSTOWN GIRLS, Kathleen George develops such an interesting plot that Author Stefannie Pitoff says, “George expertly pushes the boundaries of the mystery genre. I can’t wait for more superb novels to come.” In her novel, a woman of 103 tells the story of what really happened to her family in the Johnstown Flood, causing a journalist to investigate.
Kathleen George is the author of TAKEN, FALLEN, AFTERIMAGE, THE ODDS (Edgar finalist for best novel), HIDEOUT, SIMPLE, and A MEASURE OF BLOOD. She is also the editor of PITTSBURGH NOIR. A professor of Theatre Arts at Pitt, George has directed many plays, including several by Shakespeare. She credits her theatre background with giving her the tools to write thrillers.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Kathleen George the other day and ask her a few questions.
Is there anything special you’d like to tell us about THE JOHNSTOWN GIRLS?
Altogether it took twenty-five years to write! Yes. I started it a long time ago and have several versions. To tell the truth, I liked the impulse behind all the versions, but this is the one that seems to have the most steam. It has an engine that moves.
How did you get interested in the Johnstown Flood?
I was born and raised in Johnstown. We heard about the flood during those years, even though the Great Flood was too long ago for anyone to remember. My mother and father remembered the 1936 flood which was very bad, but of course nothing can compare to the flood of 1889. In that one over 2,000 people were killed in a matter of minutes. And the town was wiped out. Only to be rebuilt by determined survivors. We learned in school that Johnstown was now the flood free city. And of course that wasn’t true because there was another flood in 1977. I experienced that one, or the aftermath of it rather, because I went into town during the disaster-area recovery. But the novel is about women and their relationships. I had to do research into memory, twins, teaching, nursing, all kinds of things to flesh out these lives.
By Jeremy Burns
Many of us read and/or write thrillers, but Adrian McKinty’s own thrilling childhood has provided inspirational fodder for his latest book. IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE is the third book in the Sean Duffy trilogy by the award-winning Irish crime novelist, and it merges classic mystery tropes and modern thriller sensibilities with his first-hand experience in the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The author sat down with THE BIG THRILL this month to take readers behind the scenes of his latest project.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and grew up in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. I studied law and then philosophy at uni in England and then I moved to New York City. I was an illegal for my first few years in NYC working in bars, constructions sites, etc. Finally I married my girlfriend, got legal and I settled down with a job at the Columbia Med School library. In 2000, we moved to Denver, Colorado where I worked as a high school English teacher. My first novel, DEAD I WELL MAY BE, was written there. In 2004, DEAD I WELL MAY BE got short listed for the Dagger Award and was picked as the debut crime novel of the year by BOOKLIST.
Tell us about your new thriller, IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE.
It’s the 3rd book in my Sean Duffy trilogy that began with THE COLD COLD GROUND. It’s set in 1984, and it’s about a Catholic working in the largely Protestant RUC during the Troubles.
By Maynard Sims
LET DEATH BEGIN is the tenth published novel of writing duo Maynard Sims, and with another eight scheduled they are keeping busy. Thrillers are their favourite storyboard, be it supernatural or action. LET DEATH BEGIN is a mystery thriller set in the modern day around London, England. James Price is shot by a clown. Sara’s house is broken into. Mason is killed for what was stolen. Who is pulling the strings? Who wants James dead? What secrets do Sara and her brother need to stay hidden.
The story was inspired by the gangsters that held London to ransom. Unafraid of the police, and interested in power at whatever cost. In LET DEATH BEGIN two rival crime lords —Dyson and Moss — continue their battle even after death. Their families and loved ones are dragged into the bitter rivalries and thirst for revenge that threaten more lives.
James Price is involved whether he likes it or not. He is just coming to terms with being invalided out of the police after being shot when his new life of peace and quiet is shattered by his involvement with Sara. Her father was one of the crime bosses, and his secrets haven’t been buried with him.