As a thriller writer, my Judeo-Christian roots are on display every time I create the classic Good v. Evil scenario inherent in the genre. I love playing with the idea of justice, and choosing whether or not the good girl or guy will win in the end. And I really enjoy the process of creating a memorable bad guy or girl.
My goal as I craft thrillers is to come up with an antagonist worthy of Police Chief Jo Oliver—my protagonist. Nothing makes my heroine look better than pitting her against a skilled antagonist. Nothing makes my readers respect her more than watching her put herself in harm’s way in order to protect others from a cunning adversary. Creating bad guys—and girls—who are smarter, stronger, and maybe just a step or two ahead of Chief Josie makes my heart sing. And when my heart sings, my stories sing.
Ever wonder where ideas for creating killer characters come from? Join me for dinner sometime! One of my favorite conversational questions is this little beauty: if you could kill someone and get away with it, how would you do it? I’ve posed this question to dinner companions; seatmates on planes, trains, and automobiles; and recently to a man I met on an ocean kayak tour. Once the initial shock wears off, you’d be surprised at the number of thoughtful answers I’ve received over the years!
The killer in my second book came to me as a result of one such dinner conversation. I knew I wanted to create a seemingly trustworthy foe, and throw Chief Josie under the bus of suspicion early on. The killer instincts of this particular adversary unfolded as the story developed, contrasting nicely with unexpected character traits like loyalty, wisdom, and perseverance.
By Kay Kendall
THE PARIS LIBRARIAN is number six in the thriller series starring Hugo Marston, chief of security at the United States Embassy in Paris. The series debuted in 2012 with The Bookseller, which Oprah Winfrey called “un-putdown-able.” In his latest adventure, Marston searches for the killer of a friend who died in a locked room at the American Library in Paris, even though police say the death was from natural causes. To prove he’s right, Marston returns to the scene of a decades-old crime.
The Big Thrill recently checked in with Mark Pryor to learn more about his work and what lies behind his peripatetic life’s journey.
Even though I had read only two previous novels in your Hugo Marston series, I had no difficulty jumping into this sixth one. That is no mean accomplishment for the writer of a series—congratulations. How did you manage to let the reader know enough about Hugo’s background—former F.B.I. profiler and the current security chief at the United States Embassy in France—without dropping spoilers for previous books? Are you willing to share your tricks of the authorial trade?
Thanks for saying that, I try hard to make each book a stand-alone for anyone who happens across it and hasn’t read others in the series. I think that gets easier to do as I get to know the characters better and better. It feels so simple and natural to drop in a few little details about them to show who they are. And of course they do a lot of that revelation themselves in their interactions with each other.
The other thing, and more about this later, is that Hugo is one of those guys who’s not that easy to get to know. I think new readers can sense that pretty quickly, so they maybe don’t feel like they’re missing out. In each book, though, I try to tease more out of him, show more of his deeper character, so hopefully people will be drawn to him and then keep on reading the series to find out more.
Your books display an extensive knowledge of the look and feel of Paris. Where does your familiarity with France come from? Your biography states that you were a journalist in England, and I know you are now an assistant district attorney with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office in Austin, Texas. Did you perhaps have a gap year in Paris when you spent time hanging around iconic cafes smoking Galois cigarettes? Please share how you became so closely acquainted with Parisians and France.
When I was a kid growing up in England, my family used to spend the Christmas holidays in Switzerland, and we’d always drive through France on the way, staying the night in some small hotel along the route. Always an adventure. As the years passed, I grew to love France, and about twenty years ago, my parents moved to a lovely stone house in the Pyrenees Mountains. I suppose all told, I’ve been to Paris 15 times, and to France twice that many.
Of course, these days when I go I take a wee notebook and keep my eyes wide open for the moments I like to put in my books. Most of the snippets of atmosphere you see between the covers of a Hugo book are things that I’ve actually seen.
Susan M. Boyer’s Lowcountry romantic mysteries reflect both her childhood love of mysteries and a teenage flirtation with her mother’s romance novels. The fifth in her series, LOWCOUNTRY BOOK CLUB is a charming southern mystery that takes place on a small island near Charleston, SC, an area Boyer knows well. It’s a warm and cozy town, made no less familiar by the fact that you won’t find it on any real-world map.
Boyer describes protagonist Liz Talbot as “a private investigator with a weakness for Kate Spade bags and shoes”—but there’s so much more to her than that. Liz is capable and compassionate. Her relationship with her husband and business partner is refreshingly respectful. Boyer knows how to build tension and conflict without relying on bickering between characters.
This month, Boyer agreed to talk to The Big Thrill about her latest book. Please join me in welcoming her.
Congratulations, Susan! Why don’t we start with a little bit about your writing journey and how you came to be a mystery writer?
Thank you so much—and thank you for having me! I’ve loved reading mysteries my whole life, and have always wanted to write. When contemplating careers and college majors, I couldn’t see a clear path to a steady paycheck writing novels. I didn’t want to major in journalism—I’ve just never had an interest in reporting. So, like many, I chose something more “sensible.” Fast forward to 2003 when the company I worked for went out of business. My husband, who well knew my dreams, said, “Why don’t you give the writing thing a try?” I pulled the beginnings of a novel out of a drawer and never looked back.
Reviewers have called your books “Authentically Southern.” What do you think they mean by that?
I have never lived anywhere other than the Carolinas. Of course I’ve visited many other wonderful places. But I’m a product of my environment. I speak with the cadence and common turns of phrase used in the South, so I guess it’s natural that I write that way as well.
Kyoto, 1565: A ninja named Hiro Hattori brings murderers to justice, with the help of a Portuguese Jesuit priest, Father Matteo. This is the premise of the engrossing Shinobi Mystery Series written by Susan Spann. Her acclaimed 2013 debut, Claws of the Cat, was followed by Blades of the Samurai and Flask of the Drunken Master.
In the fourth book, THE NINJA’S DAUGHTER, an actress is found dead on the banks of Kyoto’s Kama River, and no one seems to want to get to the truth—except for Hiro and Father Matteo.
We caught up with California native Spann, whose interests range from martial arts to seahorses, to find out more:
For the setting of a novel, what drew you to mid-16th century Japan as opposed to other time periods in that country?
My original inspiration for the series was “most ninjas commit murders, but Hiro Hattori solves them.” Real, historical ninjas (also called “shinobi” in Japanese) reached the apex of their power during the 16th century, which made it a natural place to set the series. I also wanted to include a Portuguese Jesuit as Hiro’s partner sleuth and to offer a “Westernized” filter for Japanese culture. Japan was closed to foreigners for much of its history, but Portuguese priests and traders lived and worked in Japan during much of the 16th century. Fortunately for the series, the timing worked from both angles.
What do other novelists writing books set in Japan sometimes get wrong that drives you crazy?
Fortunately, many of the authors currently writing novels with Japanese settings have an excellent grasp of the history and culture, so I don’t find much to criticize. (In particular, I love Barry Lancet’s Jim Brodie novels and I mourned the end of Laura Joh Rowland’s Sano Ichiro series.)
One cultural issue I notice a lot in other places is the misrepresentation of ninjas in popular culture. Real ninjas were spies as well as assassins and weapons experts—much more interesting than the black-pajama-clad supermen you see in movies and TV. While the Hollywood variety is fun in its own way, I prefer to represent the shinobi more realistically in my novels. The truth is actually far more exciting than popular culture’s version!
Last summer, at the opening reception of ThrillerFest X, I noticed a young woman standing alone in the crowd with a somewhat lost expression on her face. “Is this your first ThrillerFest?” I asked. Her eyes widened in mock mortification. “Is it that obvious? I should’ve been here last year when my book came out but I didn’t know about it.” Two nights later at the awards ceremony, everyone in the room would know Laura McHugh when her book The Weight of Blood was named Best First Novel.
ARROWOOD, her second novel, will not disappoint the many fans of her debut. Set in a small Iowa town on the Mississippi River, Arden Arrowood inherits her run-down childhood home twenty years after she witnessed the kidnapping of her young twin sisters. Upon her return, she is confronted with a discovery that forces her to question her own memory of that traumatic summer. Some called McHugh’s first novel rural noir, while others referred to it as literary suspense. ARROWOOD could claim both labels as well, although an element of the paranormal has been added to the genre mix.
“I didn’t have any labels in mind when I wrote The Weight of Blood—I just wanted to write something that would keep the reader turning pages,” McHugh admits. “I didn’t plan any haunting in ARROWOOD aside from the sense that Arden is haunted by her past. But the story moved a bit in that direction and I didn’t shy away from it. I personally love books that blur the lines between mystery/suspense, science fiction, horror, paranormal.”
So it should come as no surprise to learn that McHugh counts works by Ray Bradbury and Stephen King as early influences, with a special nod to Shirley Jackson. “We Have Always Lived in the Castle has long been one of my favorite books,” she says, “and a house features prominently there as well. I love the narrator, the horrible family secret and the way it is slowly revealed, and the fact that the true surprise is not the revelation of who poisoned the family, but how the survivors reacted afterward. It’s one of the few books I go back and re-read periodically.”
I was struck by similar anthropomorphic qualities of Jackson’s Hill House and McHugh’s historic home Arrowood—although the two are very different. Whereas Hill House is a malevolent presence, Arrowood seems to bear an uncanny empathy for Arden. I wondered if McHugh had any personal experience with haunted houses.
By J. H. Bográn
Sara Sheridan’s mysteries have been published in the U.K., and they are now heading to America. In OPERATION GOODWOOD, a glamorous racing driving is found hanged in a burning flat on Brighton’s seafront. His neighbor, Mirabelle Bevan, finds herself conflicted by the apparent inconsistencies in the stories surrounding the driver’s death. His father is barely grieving, his friends appear to have fallen out with each other, and no apparent reason can be found for the golden boy’s suicide. Mirabelle follows the trail to Goodwood’s famous racetrack, where she uncovers a web of deceit, shameful secrets, and an unraveling family mystery that the people involved will go to any lengths to cover up.
How did the idea of OPERATION GOODWOOD originate?
It’s the fifth entry in the Mirabelle Bevan Mysteries series, so my antenna is honed for ideas that chime with 1950s England. When I visited the Goodwood Estate a couple of years ago and saw their collection of vintage photographs from the 1950s—especially those from the car racing track—I knew Mirabelle had to visit. It was just so glamorous—all the fast cards and aristocratic misadventures. Perfect!
What can you tell us about Mirabelle Bevan in her latest mystery?
Before I started writing the series I had never had returning characters before. I’ve got to know Mirabelle pretty well by now. She started, in 1951, at the age of 37 (which was considered well past the prime for women during that era). She was heartbroken and grieving and had had a tough war, from which she (like many women of the era) hadn’t really recovered. The series, in a way, is the story of Mirabelle cheering up. So by OPERATION GOODWOOD she has a nescient (if stormy) relationship with Detective Superintendent Alan McGregor and has gained a lot of self-confidence. In short, she’s blooming.
What has drawn you to the fifties?
It was a period we didn’t cover when I was in school—so when I started, my knowledge of the decade was drawn from Grease and some Agatha Christie. I love the 1950s now. I’m fascinated by it. It’s the decade my parents met (at Edinburgh at a tennis party), as well as the time my father did his national service and my grandparents’ heyday. It’s the era that founded my family, I suppose. That’s what fascinates me most about history—you can’t go forward, I think, without understanding where you came from.
Shaun Harris doesn’t like Hemingway. “I don’t like his stories. I don’t like the way he writes. I don’t like the way he treated women, or the way he treated his friends. I decided this guy needs to be taken down a peg or two. This guy should not be an American hero.”
Not that he wanted to do a hit job on Hemingway. “The guy had a lot of issues. People hold him up as this idea of masculinity… He was a PT Barnum type. He recut his Red Cross uniform so that it would look like a military uniform…Selling his writing meant selling himself.”
Harris was inspired to write THE HEMINGWAY THIEF , his debut novel, while watching the movie Wonderboys. Michael Douglas’s character has just lost a huge manuscript, and utters a throw-away line about how Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, lost a suitcase full of Hemingway’s stories. Harris researched the event: in Paris, 1922, Ernest Hemingway asks his young wife, Hadley, to pack up every last scrap of his work into a single suitcase and join him in Switzerland. While Hadley waited for her train in the Gare de Lyon, the suitcase containing a year’s worth of Hemingway’s stories, vanished, never to be seen again.
Harris’s novel, set in the present day, uses that event as a jumping off point. Henry “Coop” Cooper is a successful writer of vampire romances. He’s got the formula down but he’s sick of it. He’s hidden out in a flea-bag Mexican hotel to find a way to kill his pseudonymous self. Once the press reports his alter-ego’s death, Cooper plans to restart his career writing more great literary books under his real name..
He’s distracted from this plan when he and Doyle, the hotel owner, have to rescue another hotel guest from two goons who are beating him to death. The goons want the Hemingway suitcase, and the young man knows where it is.
The three men travel across the desert in search of the suitcase, in the process up-ending every manly trope we know from adventure novels and movies like Treasures of Sierra Madre and Indiana Jones. “Growing up, Indiana Jones was my hero. I’m afraid of snakes, like him. I wanted to be an archeologist, like him, until I figured out that [what Indy does] is not what archeologists do.”
Creating a Strong Character, Chanel Suits and All!
By Wendy Tyson
Cara Black first introduced us to the stylish, spirited Aimée Leduc in Murder in the Marais. In Cara’s most recent release, MURDER ON THE QUAI, readers go back in time to learn how Aimée began her career as an investigator. Booklist says, “Finally we have the prequel we’ve been craving… A treat for series fans.” Indeed, MURDER ON THE QUAI’s fast-paced, satisfying plot and evocative Parisian setting will keep readers turning pages long after dark.
Cara recently sat down with The Big Thrill to chat about her character’s evolution, researching the City of Light, and the next installment in the popular Aimée Leduc Investigation series.
Congratulations on the recent release of your new book, MURDER ON THE QUAI, the 16th book in your New York Times and USA Today bestselling Aimée Leduc Investigation series. The series has been a remarkable success, and Aimée has been hailed as a chic, openhearted, sassy heroine. In MURDER ON THE QUAI, readers learn how Aimée got her start as an investigator. What are the benefits of going back to your character’s origins? How did you know now was the time?
Great question. I never thought I would write a series, much less 16 books. I’m incredibly lucky. For me it’s become stimulating to keep Aimée’s Paris world (set in the 90s) familiar yet fresh. Actually at the end of Murder on the Champs de Mars life-changing things happened to Aimée Leduc and to someone close in her life. I couldn’t see much further ahead for her except from the emergency room in the hospital where this person close to her, who betrayed her (she believes) and was shot, is fighting for their life. Conflicted, heartbroken, all I knew was that Aimée was at a crossroads. I didn’t know where she’d go from there.
My editor asked me what would happen to Aimée, and I think I mumbled I hadn’t much of a clue where Aimée’s life would take her now. Perfect segue for a prequel, my editor said in that brilliant way she has. She said she’d always wondered about Aimée’s origin story, on her younger days, what made her into the private detective (apart from inheriting the agency from her father) she’d become. Where did her dog, Miles Davis, come from and how did she find her partner, René Friant, and how did her vintage Chanel style emerge? Also, she asked, couldn’t we have a chance to meet Aimée’s father, Jean-Claude, who we’ve heard about for 15 books and see him together with her mother and glimpse that love and attraction that drew these two very different people together?
So in MURDER ON THE QUAI, we get to meet her father, whose death has affected her in the rest of the series. We also meet her grandfather, Claude, who I’ve sort of fallen in love with—he’s a bon vivant, loves good food and haunting the art auctions and has a mistress. Plus the music! I made a playlist to take me back to 1989 including some songs which Aimée hears in the story:“99 Luftballoons,” “Oh Champs Elysèes,” “Love Shack” by the B-52’s, music by Duran Duran and Madonna. Also hearing wonderful old Parisian songs from the 1940s by Edith Piaf, Yves Montand, Charles Trenet that brought to me another era and had me dancing around the laptop.
Stephen Morrill was born into an army family, served there himself, and wandered the world for thirty years, living in twenty-one cities in six countries. He tried his hand as a reporter for a wire service, penned several thousand magazine articles, worked as a magazine editor, and wrote several Florida travel books.
“When it came time for me to pick a place to settle down, I wanted water activities and beaches,” Morrill said. “I also decided to live and work in a place everyone else dreams of retiring to. It’s a decision I’ve never regretted.” And settle down he did, “like a barnacle holding fast to a piling in Florida,” he proudly quipped.
A modern-day Hemingway, Morrill lives alone and writes on the Florida shores, where he sails almost every day, canoes the waterway, and scuba dives on just about every reef and shipwreck in the area.
With a veteran pen, he writes about a small Florida town called Mangrove Bayou, located in the heart of the Ten Thousand Islands/Everglades National Park region. DEATH AMONG THE MANGROVES (the second book in a series after Mangrove Bayou) promises to enthrall a loyal following with its plot twists and quirky characters. Troy Adam, mixed-race, ex-Army vet, is fired from his job as a Tampa cop. Mangrove Bayou’s reluctant town council hires him on probation. After surviving a hurricane and solving a crime involving a local citizen’s death, Adam figured the council would have a positive opinion of him, but they remained circumspect. Determined to prove his merit by solving a case involving a missing vacationing college student, Adam is forced to deal not only with a skeptical town council but also overwhelming press attention and a powerful judge.
In the following interview, Stephen Morrill shares with readers of The Big Thrill different aspects of his exotic personal and creative life.
DEATH AMONG THE MANGROVES is the second in your police procedural mystery series. How many more books do you foresee Chief Troy Adam starring in?
No idea. I have four more in the pipeline and I only paused because I was outrunning my publisher. I see no reason to stop at six, though. I collect news stories that I use to plot future books. Most of the plots are things that actually happened and I just save stories from the newspapers and modify them to my needs. In Florida there’s no need to invent crimes; there’s no end to odd crime or Florida weirdness. I also have a P.I. series in the works but not yet published, and that has some crossover with the police procedural series.
All mysteries, at their core, represent a puzzle to be solved. In the classic whodunit, the detective solves the crime by sifting through clues to find the thief or murderer. In the traditional thriller, the hero races against time to uncover the truth and prevent tragedy from striking anew.
Archaeology, the study of past peoples and how they lived, is also a puzzle, albeit one that can never truly be solved. Archaeologists walk fields looking for artifacts, excavate sites with trowels and shovels, and screen tons of soil in search of elusive bits of pottery, bone, and stone tools. And that’s just the start, as everything collected needs to be cleaned, labeled, measured, typed, and analyzed. The final report is usually published years after the final bit of fieldwork has ended.
Archaeology in the real world has very little to do with golden idols, lost tombs, or national treasures.
For me, the past has always held a great sense of mystery. Because of the similarities in detective work and archaeological research, I always thought that an archaeologist would make a fine amateur sleuth. SUNKEN DREAMS began, fittingly enough, while I was conducting archaeological fieldwork in eastern Wisconsin. In the project file, I read about another archaeologist who had drowned in a boating accident years earlier while conducting a survey in the area. I started to wonder what might have happened if it hadn’t been an accident. What if the archaeologist had been murdered, and the crime disguised to look like an accident? Who might be curious enough to investigate such a mystery, other than another archaeologist? I realized it would make an interesting premise for a mystery novel, and within a short time I began writing.
Archaeological fieldwork involves a lot of time on the road, spending days and weeks in hotels, far from home. It can get pretty boring. Fortunately, it does leave you lots of time for writing, in the evenings and when heavy rains keep you inside. At first, I focused on different scenes that I wanted to include in the novel, and then I developed a formal outline that tied the story together. Writing SUNKEN DREAMS became a major part of my off-duty hours, and it took many years of writing, editing, and revising before the manuscript was finished.
By R.G. Belsky
Ellie Stone—the feisty, funny reporter in James W. Ziskin’s highly acclaimed series of thrillers—is a young woman in her 20s who works at a small-town newspaper and solves murder mysteries back in the early 1960s.
Author Ziskin is a man who has worked mostly in cities like New York and Los Angeles and was barely alive more than half a century ago, during the time period of his books.
So what was Ziskin’s inspiration for creating such a unique character as Ellie—who is back this month with HEART OF STONE, the fourth book in the series?
“I loved the time period but only settled on it for some practical reasons involving the first book in the series, Styx & Stone,” said Ziskin. “I needed a setting close enough to the end of World War II to allow for memories that were still fresh, yet far enough removed to blur the focus.
“The decision to make my reporter a young woman was an easy one since I wanted constant conflict for my main character. So I thought of writing about a woman and giving her a job women didn’t often hold in those days. Men are constantly dismissing Ellie’s competence and reminding her that she’s ‘just a girl.’ But the fact that people underestimate her is actually an advantage for Ellie. She uses it to great effect in her investigations.”
Ziskin writes the Ellie books in the first personwhich certainly presents some challenges for a male author. But he says it’s the best way for him to connect with the character of Eleonora “Ellie” Stone, a self-described “modern girl” who—despite the straight-laced times of the early ‘60s—likes to drink and occasionally ends up in bed with a man.
“I’m trying get into her head,” he said. “If I wrote her in the third person, I doubt readers would have the same emotional connection with her. And of course all writers observe people and create characters from their experience. These characters can’t all be the same sex as their authors. So maybe it’s a good thing once in a while that a male author creates a female narrator and tries to climb inside her skin.”
By George Ebey
Annette Dashofy brings us the next installment in her Zoe Chambers mystery series, WITH A VENGEANCE.
Chambers and the rest of rural Monongahela County’s EMS and fire personnel are used to wading into the middle of trouble to rescue the sick and the injured. But when someone with an ax to grind seeks retribution by staging accident scenes and gunning down the first responders, Zoe finds herself forced to not only treat her own brethren of the front lines, but also, in her role as deputy coroner, seek out whoever is killing her friends.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Dashofy to learn more about her series and what it takes to write an effective suspense story.
What first drew you to writing stories involving mystery and suspense?
I’ve always loved writing stories and I’ve always loved puzzles. Writing mysteries seemed a natural progression for me. I’ve tried writing other genres, but I still always end up with a dead body, so why fight it?
Tell us about your character, Zoe Chambers. What has her journey been like up to this point?
Zoe’s a paramedic, and she’s been good at that job right from the start. But she’s also taken on the position of deputy coroner, which has been a challenge and not at all what she expected. Over the course of the series, she has struggled with whether or not to continue with the coroner’s office. It’s been fun for me to take that journey with her, and for the first three books, I honestly wasn’t sure of how it was going to work out either! And of course, she’s still trying to figure out her relationship with Police Chief Pete Adams. Will they or won’t they? Stay tuned!
What elements do you feel are essential for a good suspense story?
Above all else, I think emotion. If the reader doesn’t get emotionally involved in the characters and the circumstances surrounding them, the most intricate plot won’t mean a thing. Also, I like a smart villain. If the protagonist doesn’t have a worthy opponent, I tend to lose interest. And in my own writing, if my villain isn’t clever enough, I sense something’s wrong in the story.
Mark Adduci, writing as J. M. LeDuc, is a native Bostonian who transplanted to South Florida in 1985. His first novel, Cursed Blessing, won a Royal Palm Literary Award in 2008 as an unpublished manuscript in the thriller category and was published in 2010. Sin, the first book in his Sinclair O’Malley series, introduces an exciting protagonist. O’Malley, called Sin, was recruited by the FBI straight out of Quantico for her intelligence and attitude and released by the bureau for the same reasons. Then they needed her back! Sin returns in PAINTED BEAUTY.
Where did you get the idea for PAINTED BEAUTY?
When I began thinking of where to take Sinclair O’Malley in book 2, I knew I had to escalate the tension from the first book. Well, that was a tall order, considering Sin dealt with human trafficking and corrupt government officials in book 1. I wanted her to face a killer so twisted and psychotic that even the killer had no control over his or her actions. I wanted the villain to tread the fine line between genius and insanity. That’s where the “artistic vision” of the character came from. I also wanted to hint at more of Sin’s past and the reasons she had originally been kicked out of the FBI. Finding and entwining William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience was a God-send. The words and meaning behind his poetry ended up being the driving force of the novel. From those basic premises, the other plot lines wove themselves in as Sin and the rest of the characters spoke to me.
How did you get into the mind of a twisted killer to write that character?
It was difficult at first. I did a lot research on serial killers and psychoses, as well as what personality traits and quirks they had in common. Once I came up with the underlying MO, it was easier to get into the mind of the character.
What kind of research did you do with the FBI and police?
I’m lucky in that regard. I still have a few contacts within the agencies from way back when. I’ll just leave it at that. The toughest part for me was that Sin is not a rule follower, so I had to have her break from protocol, while making it realistic.
Connie DiMarco is well known for her Soup Lover Mystery series published by Berkley, writing as Connie Archer.
Now writing under her own name, she has started the Zodiac mystery series featuring professional astrologer and amateur sleuth Julia Bonati.
DiMarco is happy to turn from lighter cozies to “cozy noir.” It’s closer to the kind of books she liked to read when she was in high school: the James Bond series by Ian Fleming. She loved the James Bond character so much that she learned how to play baccarat.
Bond always finds a way out of any desperate situation. “James bond has all these gadgets and doodads,” she says. “But when push comes to shove, its always mano-a-mano for him. All the artificial things drop away and James is on his own.” The book that impressed her the most was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. ”That was the book in which James questions if he wants to continue [as a secret agent]. He falls in love and his wife is killed. It was so out of keeping with the usual fare, James was heartbroken and vulnerable. The shock of her death has always stayed with me.”
DiMarco found her agent, Paige Wheeler (at that time with Folio Literary), after cold-querying with an initial darker novel. While waiting for her own book to sell, Wheeler asked her if she would be interested in doing a work-for-hire. “I didn’t even know that that was,” says DiMarco. “But it was for Berkley, so of course I said yes.” Berkley sent her a concept, a one-page bible, and asked her to write some sample chapters. “They wanted the soup shop in Vermont, but the plot as they outlined it had a very dark tone. The protagonist had just lost her parents, it started in the darkest, deadliest part of winter. I decided that what the series needed was a little humor. They liked that and hired me to write the series.” She used the name Connier Archer, as Penguin retained the rights to the author name.
“In a series it’s important to have your characters evolve, not just chronologically, but emotionally.” The Soup Series amateur sleuth is Lucky Jamieson, the owner of a soup shop who has a personal relationship with most of the village’s residents. This gives her a natural “in” when it comes to solving murders. “I was a total novice when it came to writing a series. This is what I did, almost unconsciously: in each book, when evil arrived in the village it came from the outside. But it was connected to one of the core characters and some of [that character’s] secrets are revealed. A main character is introduced in the first book and some secondary characters, and one of the secondary characters becomes the lead in the next book and so on.”
By Dawn Ius
When a $4 million Stradivarius violin is stolen from the locked room of a bed and breakfast in Wisconsin, retired cop-turned private investigator Rushmore McKenzie is once again called into action.
But as he soon learns, this case is far from typical. Not only does the foundation that owns the violin refuse to buy it back from the thief (or thieves), the violinist who has played it for the past 12 years is desperate for its return—even if it means fronting the reward money himself.
To get back the invaluable instrument, McKenzie must go against the local police, the insurance company, the FBI’s Art Crime division, and his own lawyer’s advice. With his 13th novel in the series, author David Housewright pits his protagonist against some of his biggest challenges yet.
In The Big Thrill this month, Housewright takes us deeper into the world of his series protagonist, and shares what inspired this page-turning mystery.
Having not read the synopsis, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the “countess” is a $4 million violin. What was the inspiration for this book?
I wrote a book called Curse of the Jade Lilly dealing with art theft. During the course of my research, I learned about some of the things that so-called “cat burglars” like to steal including priceless objects like Stradivarius violins—that no one hears about because the victims often quietly make deals for the safe return of the objects. I just kept it in my pocket until I had a story to tell.
I had no idea a violin could be worth $4 million, certainly not one that would be played and not preserved in a museum. What kind of research was required for this story?
Actually, $4 million is at the low end. Some Stradivarius violins—and cellos—go for much more. And of course, I had to learn about that and many other things as well. It wasn’t that difficult, though. STEALING THE COUNTESS is my 18th novel, and over the years I’ve built a pretty reliable cadre of sources including cops, FBI agents, and district court judges that I can call on.
By Eyre Price
It’s not often that a writer is more heroic in real life than the characters he creates on the page, but E. Michael Helms is exactly that. A Vietnam combat veteran, it was his harrowing all-too-true adventures that first brought Mr. Helms to the printed page and earned him the critical acclaim and devoted readership that has followed him over the course of his career.
Recently, I had the pleasure and honor of asking Mr. Helms about his heroic past, his tough-as-nails fictional alter ego, and other topics.
Your debut as an author was with 1990’s The Proud Bastards, a memoir of your experience as a Marine in the Vietnam War. What are your reflections of that publishing experience?
That book was tough to write, and it was only after I sought help for PTSD in the mid to late 1980s that I was able to get it out. It began as journaling, part of the therapy I and other combat vets in our group underwent. I’d done some freelancing for a New York editor who oversaw several gun and ammo magazines, and also Vietnam Combat magazine. My “journal” had begun to take on a book form. I submitted a couple of chapters as standalone articles for the mag. He told me to send him the entire manuscript when I was finished. I didn’t know at the time that he also dabbled as a literary agent. He made a quick deal with Kensington/Zebra, and suddenly I was a published author
DEADLY DUNES is the latest in your Mac McClellan series. What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of writing a series?
I really enjoy the familiarity of the reoccurring characters, watching them grow into their roles as well as individuals. Not only the big players such as Mac and Kate, but also those regulars who give the writer the option to let them take on bigger or lesser responsibilities within any given story. Each has his or her own life outside the limelight of whatever particular case Mac is grappling with at the time.
As for the disadvantages of writing a series, keeping all your ducks (characters and details) in a row, remembering the “who, what, when, and where” of each, can be a challenge. There are readers out there who will remind the author if he stumbles or fumbles with even the smallest character or factual detail. But it’s fun and keeps you on your toes to fact check as you write.
Murder at the 42nd Street Library is Con Lehane’s first book in an irresistible new series that introduces librarian and amateur sleuth Raymond Ambler, a doggedly curious fellow who uncovers murderous secrets hidden behind the majestic marble façade of New York City’s landmark 42nd Street Library. The story opens with a murder in a second-floor office of the iconic, beaux-arts flagship of the New York Public Library. Ambler, the curator of the library’s crime fiction collection, joins forces with NYPD homicide detective Mike Cosgrove in hopes of bringing a murderer to justice. So we had to ask . . .
Libraries have always been special places for writers, but what inspired you to set a mystery in New York’s landmark 42nd Street Library?
On my web page is a short piece I wrote for Mystery Readers Journal called “On Becoming a (Fictional) Librarian.” In it, I describe my first visit to the New York Public Library. Scholar that I am, I went there to meet a girl, a lovely girl, whom I still remember. This isn’t the conscious reason I chose the 42nd Street Library as the setting and a librarian—actually, a curator—as my detective. I believe the idea was buried in my consciousness, waiting for the right time. The right time came when my publisher decided not to continue my Bartender Brian McNulty series. My editor, Marcia Markland, at Thomas Dunne Books suggested the 42nd Street Library as a setting and a librarian as a character. The rest was up to me.
We often think of amateur sleuths as falling into the “cozy” ranks of mystery writing, while you tend to add a bit of grit to your storytelling. Where does Murder at the 42nd Street Library lie on the scale from cozy to hard-boiled. And does it matter?
I’m not much of an analyzer of where I am on the crime fiction spectrum. I hold an MFA in fiction writing and at one time thought I was a literary writer (though I have no idea what one of those is either). I became a mystery writer—and a mystery reader—late in life, first as a fan of The Maltese Falcon, because of the movie. I finally read all of Hammett’s books in a row after that. A while later, I was working on a construction crew, building a bar in Hartford, Connecticut, where I would tend bar. I mentioned Hammett to one of the carpenters, who told me Raymond Chandler (whom I’d never heard of) was better, so I read The Big Sleep and then all of Chandler’s books one after the other. A year or two later, I discovered Ross Macdonald, and read … well, you get the picture. Those were my influences. I found many others since then. I’d say (with great trepidation) that I’m closest to Ross Macdonald in sensibility, though I wouldn’t say it out loud. However, my first book, Beware the Solitary Drinker, was first published in France by Rivages/Noir, so I was first categorized as a noir writer. I had to look that up, too, to find out what one was … and was pretty quickly disabused of the notion that I was a noir writer (though I love Jim Thompson, David Goodis, and most of the other noir writers) when I sat on a panel with Eddie Muller soon after my U.S. publication.
By George Ebey
Author Robert D. Kidera is back with GET LOST, the latest installment of his Gabe McKenna mystery series.
What do you do when the dead come back and your loved ones disappear? All Gabe McKenna wanted was a new floor for his barn. What he got was seven corpses, all long dead. Seven rich men, missing from New York. One of his closest childhood friends is gunned down in an Albuquerque casino. With time running out, McKenna must uncover the connection and prevent his loved ones from joining the growing ranks of the dead. From New Mexico to New York to a lonely cliff once home to an ancient people, McKenna struggles against a bloodthirsty criminal enterprise for whom money matters more than any man’s life.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Robert to learn more about his characters and what it takes to write good suspense fiction.
What first drew you to writing stories involving mystery and suspense?
I began reading mysteries as a child, all the way back with the Hardy Boys, Sherlock Holmes, etc. I like solving problems, riddles, puzzles. Later in my life I read Raymond Chandler. From then on, I knew my bent for writing would propel me in his direction and genre. I love tension and the resolution of tension, danger and uncertainty and how a person deals with the challenge. Those are the types of stories I find the most compelling as a reader. When I began my writing career, choice of genre was a no-brainer.
Tell us about your character, Gabe McKenna. What has his journey been like up to this point?
When we meet Gabe McKenna at the beginning of Red Gold, my first novel, he is a broken man. A widower, he is on leave from his teaching career, with no direction except for the shortest route to the nearest bottle. Red Gold is at heart the story of his rediscovery of himself along with the treasure he seeks. It ends on a hopeful note, with a new direction, new love, and new possibilities.
I met Larry Sweazy at the Southern Kentucky Book Fair, where we sat at adjoining tables and shared anecdotes while hoping to attract new readers. I left with a copy of Rattlesnake Ridge, his first western mystery featuring Texas Ranger Josiah Wolfe. It reminded me of my favorite Louis L’Amour novels, and I was hooked.
Sweazy’s latest project, SEE ALSO DECEPTION is a beautifully written and authentically researched mystery with a complex heroine. The sole caregiver for her severely disabled husband, Marjorie is a believable combination of strength and vulnerability, loneliness and stoicism. She’s someone I’d definitely like to see more of.
I asked Larry to talk with us about his new book and his writing process, and he generously agreed.
Thanks for joining us, Larry. Can you tell us a bit about your journey as a writer?
I fell in love with reading and stories early in my life. I had the requisite difficult childhood and I escaped into books whenever I could. After discovering theater in high school, I flirted with becoming an actor, but after reading so many great books, it occurred to me one day that I could write, I could tell stories for a living. From there, my journey was long and curvy. I wrote a lot, read a lot, worked a lot of different jobs, gathered a ton of rejection slips, and then managed to sell my first novel (the seventh one I had written) when I was forty-seven.
Your books are pretty research-intensive. What’s the most frightening thing that’s happened to you while researching a work-in-progress?
The difficult thing about research is knowing when to stop. I think you have to be completely obsessed with an idea for it to be worthwhile. And that’s the hard part for me. Becoming so obsessed about something that I lose sight of the book I’m writing. I wish I could give you an example of some harrowing adventure that went awry, but most of the time, I end being lost in a book instead hung out on a ledge somewhere.
A Reporter Who Storms Off the Ladies’ Page
By E.M. Powell
Reading a well-crafted historical mystery is always a pleasure and with A FRONT PAGE AFFAIR, Radha Vatsal delivers precisely that. The novel is set in 1915 in a New York City that is going through turbulent times, with shocking events on its own doorstep such as the shooting at J.P Morgan’s mansion, and tragedies abroad: the sinking of the Lusitania and the outbreak of the Great War. In this pre-television, radio and social media world, newspapers play a vital role in relaying the news of the day.
Enter Vatsal’s Capability “Kitty” Weeks, a young woman of privileged background who has little time for the restrictions of her class and gender, and who would love nothing more than to report on the important stories. But serious journalism is only for male reporters. A deeply frustrated Kitty is confined to writing about fashion and society gossip on the Ladies’ Page.
Fate provides Kitty with a gruesome opportunity when a man is murdered at a high society picnic on her beat. She is given the story and is soon embroiled in its solving and in a wartime conspiracy that threatens to derail the United States’ attempt to remain neutral in a world at war.
Kitty is a likeable and courageous heroine who isn’t afraid to push all sorts of boundaries. Vatsal says she partly drew inspiration for her from contemporary women who were real life boundary-pushers. “Kitty has characteristics like courage, persistence, and love of adventure that she shares with the action-film actresses of the 1910s, like Pearl White, whom she admires.”
The reader gets a real sense of Vatsal’s affection for the city and her deep interest in its past. And although she lives in New York, it hasn’t always been her home, which partly informs Kitty’s character. “Like me, Kitty went to boarding school and comes to New York with an outsider’s perspective.” Vatsal uses this to her advantage. “I think I ask more questions and I don’t take anything for granted. I want to know why things are the way they are and how they came to be that way—in that respect also, Kitty’s character is similar to my own. New York is a fantastic city to write about, because every little detail seems to have an unexpected story behind it.”
Writing From a Unique Perspective on Crime
By Dawn Ius
As millions of TV viewers settled in to watch history repeat itself, Marcia Clark considered hiding out somewhere for a few weeks to escape reliving yet another portrayal, another chilling perspective on the trial of the century, The People V. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story, produced by Ryan Murphy.
For the former prosecutor-turned bestselling author, re-witnessing the trial, even disguised as an at-arms-length bystander, made her miserable. In the end, curiosity won out.
“I wanted to see what they did, how they showed it, whether they got it right,” she says. “I was very glad to see that they did get it right to a great extent, at least when it came to the big issues. And the performances were stellar.”
Especially the work of actor Sarah Paulson, who Clark describes as “simply brilliant.”
“She was so good, her ability to show how I was feeling inside throughout the trial was so spot on . . . it was painful to watch.”
Indeed, Paulson’s compelling portrayal has once again cast Clark—and O.J. Simpson—into the spotlight, perhaps for better or worse.
“I think it’s good that the case has sparked some serious discussions about important issues. I just hope people will remember that these discussions come at a terrible cost,” she says. “Whenever people speak of the case, I hope they will remember that the reason they’re having that discussion is because Ron and Nicole were tragically murdered.”
Even years after leaving the L.A. District Attorney’s Office in pursuit of a new passion, this is still the Marcia Clark that resonates with people. A prosecutor that fought passionately, diligently, and tirelessly for justice against unsurpassable odds. But since 2011, Clark has been making a new name for herself writing thrillers that have earned her a loyal—and growing—fan base, not to mention well-deserved praise from masters of the genre.
Anne Rothman-Hicks and Ken Hicks have lived together in New York City since August of 1973, about a month before Ken began law school at Columbia University and Anne started working as an editor at a publishing house. Anne actually was born in New York City and lived there until (as she puts it) she was exiled with her family to the suburbs of Westchester for her teenage years. She came back as soon as she could.
During their 43 years as New Yorkers, Anne and Ken have walked the city from top to bottom and explored its neighborhoods, parks, museums, and bridges on an almost daily basis. So, guided by the adage “Write what you know,” they have featured New York City in each of their several, diverse books, from thrillers to mysteries to mainstream to ‘tween fantasies.
In their mainstream novel, Kate and the Kid, self-involved twenty-something Kate is duped into babysitting an emotionally needy six-year-old child as a favor for a friend in her building: a favor which is supposed to occupy only one short evening but turns into an overnight adventure and then a lot more. Initially, Kate thinks that taking care of a young kid is the last thing she needs, but gradually she realizes that a connection with the Kid is exactly what she needs to learn about truly generous, unconditional love. Location-wise, the story travels through Central Park and the playgrounds of the Upper East Side, and all across the city. New York is an integral part of the narrative; in fact, as one reader put it:
“It’s almost as though the city itself is another character in the book. The writer seems to know where all the best parks are, and the best playgrounds, and exactly how to get there. New York neighborhoods come alive is this novel so if you live in New York City or want to live in New York City or have even just thought about New York City, you’ll enjoy the way Kate And The Kid makes it all seem familiar.” Stanford Gal, Amazon Review, Feb. 8, 2015
Praise Her, Praise Diana is a thriller that the writers also set in New York City. In this novel, a mysterious purveyor of vigilante justice–a woman code-named Diana–starts to kill and castrate men in revenge for a rape that had occurred years before. As Diana evolves into a force that cannot be ignored, other women begin to support and even imitate her actions, and a wave of gender-based violence and tension sweeps through New York City. The action takes place all over the city, including the Upper West and East Sides, Chelsea, Central Park, TriBeCa and the courthouses on Centre Street, where a grand jury weighs the fate of one of the characters while a crowd grows outside, threatening to become a mob. At one point the main character, Jane Larson, considers leaving the city to live with her new lover in the peaceful countryside of exurban Connecticut. However, the city itself seems to call to her and draws her back.
By George Ebey
With MOOSE FEVER, author A.J Marcus brings us the third book in his mystery series featuring Colorado Parks and Wildlife Officer, Brock Summers.
This time around, Summers and his fiancé, wildlife rehabber Landon Weir, are preparing for their wedding when someone starts killing moose along a creek in the northern part of Teller County. As the moose casualties rise, human bodies turn up, and the case is taken over by the sheriff’s office. When a Forestry Service Ranger is killed, the service joins the hunt. All signs point to one of the many photographers who have been taking pictures of the moose.
Then Weir discovers a small piece of gold in the creek and while there now appears to be a motive, Summers and Weir still lack solid suspects. Bullets fly as the duo seek to track down the perpetrator while trying to get everything wrapped up in time for their wedding.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Marcus to discuss his series and what he has in store for readers next.
What first drew you to writing mysteries set in the parks and wildlife field?
In real life, I’m a falconer. I have regular interactions with our local Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers. I also have a degree in biology which I got many years ago due to my love of animals. When I started thinking about the types of mysteries I’d like to write, I first thought about things that would impact wildlife and the natural world around us. I’ve also worked in wildlife rehabilitation and I know some of the things we’ve encountered there that left us scratching our heads. It seemed like a great fit for a mystery book series. When I run out of ideas I hit Colorado Parks and Wildlife magazine for some of their stories, or just watch the news. Some of MOOSE FEVER came out of the news reports a couple of years ago.
One of the pleasures in doing interviews for The Big Thrill is getting the chance to meet new and interesting people, even if that meeting is over the net rather than face to face. Robin Yocum is my latest interviewee.
Robin, you’ve done quite a few jobs, especially in your formative years. Pumped gas, mopped floors, baled hay, and all the rest. Did any of them help you with your subsequent writing career?
I always had a job when I was a teenager. I don’t know if any of those jobs helped me with my writing career, but they sure motivated me to get an education. My dad worked at Weirton Steel, in West Virginia, and arranged for me to take a tour when I was a junior in high school. I think he did it to motivate me. If that was his plan, it worked. It was loud and hot and dirty, and I thought it was the most dangerous place in the world to work. I remember seeing a ladle of molten steel being poured and some guy standing a few feet away eating his lunch. I wanted nothing to do with that mill. If I screwed up at school, Dad would say, “That’s fine. Just keep it up, funny man, and instead of going to college you can come work next to me in the mill.” That was motivation.
It’s important to note that I’ve used the Ohio River Valley as a backdrop for two novels, and it’s also the setting for a third, which is due out later this year from Seventh Street Books. The industrial Ohio Valley of my youth makes for a rich setting. I use many of the people I knew from the valley as inspiration for my characters.
I am incredibly envious of your having met John Glenn. What was he like?
I interacted with John Glenn several times as a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch. He was a U.S. senator from Ohio during my eleven years at the paper. During every encounter, Glenn was always gracious and humble.
However, my first meeting—and it was very brief—came in the spring of 1971. I was a freshman in high school and walking down the alley to school when I saw a group of people in Bea Helmick’s back yard. Bea was a widow who lived seven doors down from us. She had a flat-topped garage upon which had been installed an air pollution monitor. Brilliant and Steubenville had been deemed two of the most polluted communities in the United States and the government was getting involved and trying to reduce the pollution.
Brain twisting murder mysteries can take place just about any place, but if you’ve never read one set in the genteel setting of a university campus, here’s your chance. The halls of academia host horrible deaths in THE SEMESTER OF OUR DISCONTENT.
In the book, English professor Lila Maclean takes a new assignment at a prestigious university. It’s a great opportunity but turns dark when she finds the corpse of one of her fellow professors. What’s worse, all of her coworkers think Lila is either the killer, or is protecting him. The only way to clear her name is for her to find the killer. That’s certainly a challenge in a small private school with many unspoken codes. Luckily, Lila is not your average college prof.
“Having had a rather unorthodox upbringing as the daughter of a famous artist, she doesn’t feel as though she fits in,” Kuhn says. “And she definitely does not think of herself as a detective. But she’s good-hearted and stands up for what she believes in.”
Lila does have an impulse to speak out which is not appreciated by some of her colleagues. But it is a useful quality for a person suddenly thrust into the role of detective.
“She’s a reluctant amateur sleuth at first,” Kuhn says, “and she doesn’t have the kind of existing methods that, say, a PI would have. But as a professor, she’s been trained to find and interpret textual evidence, and she approaches her sleuthing the same way—trying to gather and make connections among different types of evidence, beginning with questions and moving into searches and observations of various kinds.”
From the outset, Lila encounters a lot of opposition at the university: “She’s in a showdown with her new boss, and she goes on to clash with other people in her department,” Kuhn says. “She finds herself at odds with the detective working the case, and she even comes up against a secret society whose purpose is unknown.”
The woman that Private Investigator Eddie Shoes photographed kissing her client’s husband ends up dead. When Eddie’s client disappears, Eddie wonders if she is being stiffed her fee, if her client is in trouble, or if she is the killer. Solving this mystery leads Eddie straight into trouble, followed quickly by her adrenaline-junkie gambling mother. To make matters even more interesting, Detective Chance Parker, Eddie’s ex, has moved to Bellingham and is the lead investigator on the homicide.
While Elena Hartwell’s novel ONE DEAD, TWO TO GO (an Eddie Shoes mystery) is her first foray into the literary world, she has been a playwright for more than twenty years. “I’ve always wanted to write a novel,” Hartwell says. “I wanted something tangible. A book on a shelf instead of just the memory of a production.”
Hartwell is not only excited about the permanency of her new novel, but about the opportunity for growth a literary work offers. “Mysteries can be done onstage, but it’s not that common,” says Hartwell. “Whereas, mystery novels and series are huge in the literary world. I wanted that experience.” Readers can look forward to at least two more novels in the Eddie Shoes series.
Hartwell’s main character was born out of a road trip conversation with her husband John “JD” Hammerly. When he mentioned the name, “I said, that would be a great name for a Private Eye.” “If Kinsey Millhone (Sue Grafton’s P.I.) and James Rockford (The Rockford Files) had a love child, she would be Eddie Shoes,” Hartwell says. In contrast, two other characters in the Eddie Shoes series “do have their feet in the real world.”
Detective Chance Parker is modeled after Hartwell’s horse, Second Chance. Hartwell adopted Second Chance after he was saved from the kill pen. While initially physically and psychologically “far gone,” Hartwell says, “after a year of groundwork he became a completely different horse.” Detective Parker sports many of Second Chance’s characteristics, including his brown hair with red highlights and some of his physical attributes—such as “standing on his toes, vibrating with nerves.”
If you think you’d enjoy a wild ride through streets filled with quirky characters involved in every kind of hustle and caper, you’ll want to read J. L. Abramo’s, BROOKLYN JUSTICE.
There’s a lot going on in this book, including a good measure of bad behavior. What holds it all together is private eye Nick Ventura. Brooklyn born and raised, Ventura wanted to be an NYPD detective when he grew up. Unfortunately, by the time he realized the aspiration, his unscrupulous past disqualified him.
“Those who like a tough guy with a soft heart—who is loyal to his friends—would like Ventura,” says Abramo. “He’s a guy who knows trouble, but not how to keep his nose out of it.”
Ventura first appeared in a novella called Pocket Queens. The story ended, but as so often happens, the character would not let his author rest.
“He drove me to write five short stories involving him,” Abramo says. “They appear sequentially—covering a period of ten months—and feature many recurring supporting characters. Call it what you will—a collection of shorter fiction or a novel in stories.”
Or simply call it BROOKLYN JUSTICE. You’ll see a Buick plowing through a storefront with a dead detective aboard; a fatal rendezvous in the shadow of a Coney Island landmark; a man gunned down walking his dog in the wrong place at the wrong time; a mob boss assassinated leaving a neighborhood restaurant, and so much more. And Ventura is involved with all these events. As you can see, Ventura is not trying to save the world from total destruction, or dealing with villains who want to rule the world. This is a different kind of thriller.
Clea Simon has garnered a name for herself for using animals, and more particularly cats in her novels, now covering three series. THE NINTH LIFE is the first Simon book I read and it won’t be the last. I found myself agreeing with Joseph Finder’s assessment: “Forget everything you know about ‘cat mysteries.’ THE NINTH LIFE is a dark and gritty story of life on the streets told from the unique point of view of a narrator who sees things humans can’t. [It’s] a window into a world of constant and surprising dangers, frustrations, and almost unbearable tension, and it’s one I won’t soon forget.”
Blackie provides the narrative point of view and it is from his non-human perspective that we garner most of our information about a nightmarish urban landscape filled with drugs, abuse, and prostitution.
For each of her novels, Simon starts with a problem of some sort. For THE NINTH LIFE, Blackie can’t remember his past or what has happened to him. His memory begins with him being pulled from a flood. He has no recollection of how he got there or who would want to hurt him and until he finds out, he is vulnerable.
Blackie meets up with Care, a young woman who is also in trouble. For Simon, Blackie came first as a character, and his issues are at the core of the book. She sees him as the guiding mind, while his companion, Care, is the heart.
Simon shows not only an excellent command of language but considerable skill in creating tension and using an animal, more specifically a cat, as the protagonist, telling the tale in the first person. She relies on using cat characteristics as the means for conveying description.
“I simply work to get into that mindset, that persona,” she said of Blackie. “Blackie is a very rational, as opposed to emotional, creature—much like I imagine most animals to be. He has no room for sentiment in his life. It is very kill or be killed.”
After more than 40 published books in the erotic romance and young adult genres, author Karenna Colcroft is turning her pen to mystery this month, with the release of her new work, DAWN OVER DAYFIELD.
The Big Thrill interviewed Colcroft via email in January to get the scoop on this daringly different and powerfully written new release—and her answers are as intriguing as her thriller debut.
DAWN OVER DAYFIELD is a dramatic change of pace for you. What made you decide to branch into mystery/suspense?
To be honest, the story decided for me. It was originally intended to be a male/male erotic romance novel, but the plot of solving murders and almost being murdered, and exploring history and connections between two families, vastly overshadowed the romance. And, given that Andy and Weston’s lives were in danger during parts of the story, it didn’t seem reasonable for them to suddenly stop everything to have sex. In addition, I was going through some things in my life that made writing erotic romance difficult.
The hero in DAWN OVER DAYFIELD is a young gay man searching for his birth parents. What inspired this combination of characteristics—gay and adopted?
Andy is gay because my original plan for the novel was a male/male romance, meaning both main characters had to be gay men. He is adopted because the story was initially inspired by a friend of mine who had written his family’s genealogy. When he was telling me about the research he had done, and that much of it had involved traveling to small-town libraries and historical societies around Massachusetts, the first thing that popped into my brain was “I need to write a male/male romance; it would be kind of cool to have one guy be a historical librarian, and the other be looking into his family’s past for some reason.”
When a Ponzi Scheme Turns Deadly
J.A. Jance has reached national bestseller lists over and over with her multiple series, known for their fast-paced plots and appealing protagonists. CLAWBACK, her new novel, features Ali Reynolds. When the series began, Ali, a TV journalist, was bounced from her job by bosses who want a younger face and betrayed by her husband and moved to Sedona, where her parents own a diner. Twelve books later, Ali is happily remarried and involved in meaningful work, but her life turns upside down when her father is suspected for murder after a Ponzi scheme destroys his life savings. Jance knows firsthand the devastation of such financial crimes. She and her own husband lost half a million from their retirement fund because of a Seattle-area Ponzi scheme. As she says, “It’s a very bad idea to make a mystery writer mad.”
I loved the Sedona, Arizona setting for CLAWBACK. How do you think that city, with is particular mixture of retirees and wealth and natural beauty, plays into the plots of your writing?
Locale always plays an important part in my books and in my plots. By using places I know as the background for my stories, I don’t have to invent my own private universe. Invented things are a lot more difficult to remember and keep track of from book to book than real things are. Knowing the geography, the distances, the weather involved as I write a particular passage makes it possible for me to put all those things in the background while keeping an eye on what my characters are saying and doing in the foreground.
As for Sedona specifically? I love it. I love the scenery and the people. By the way, there is a homeless camp, summer and winter, far up on the edge of the Mogollan Rim, but the camp in the Ali books is a fictional creation.
And yes, Sedona does have its share of one-percenters who jet in and out of town, staying far above the fray as it were. But then there are all the “little” people, the ones who do the necessary jobs that keep all the wheels on the bus as far as the town’s tourism industry is concerned. They’re also the ones who keep the other necessary pieces of infrastructure in good working order. I think CLAWBACK shows those two parts of the community in an interesting juxtaposition.
I read CLAWBACK during the same week that “Madoff” was shown on television. You have been hurt by another financial criminal. Do you think robbing people of their investments and Ponzi schemes are a ripe fodder today for thriller plots?
Having been victimized by a Ponzi scheme—please note the words on CLAWBACK ‘s dedication page—I absolutely believe Ponzi schemers are “ripe fodder.” Unfortunately, the fictional outcome in CLAWBACK is much more satisfying to the victims involved than the “real world” outcome of ours has turned out to be.