Sherry Knowlton, author of the Alexa Williams suspense novels, was born and raised in small-town Pennsylvania, where she developed a lifelong passion for books. Like so many authors, she was the kid who snuck a flashlight to bed at night so she could read beneath the covers.
Knowlton’s interest in the written word never faded. Her novels focus on contemporary issues and DEAD OF SPRING, her new release, is no exception. An environmental crisis is at the heart of this latest story, which deals with fracking and government corruption. As the current crisis unravels, a parallel historical story tracks the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear incident.
In researching her novel, Knowlton drew on her personal experience living in Pennsylvania during the Three Mile Island episode. Written material on the Internet, state regulations, news clips, and interviews of experts provided additional background material. Knowlton said, “One of my most useful bits of research came when I visited a landowner in northern Pennsylvania who had leased his land to an energy company for fracking. He leased in the early days of fracking in Pennsylvania and was unaware of the problems he might encounter.” This man shared his experience, showing the process that transformed his property from a beautiful woodland into an acre of gravel and machinery. Pristine drinking water now requires constant filtering for showers and bathing, and his life is a constant battle with the energy company for compensation.
Buddy and Martha Whitacre, a blue-collar couple, celebrate early retirement with a trip to Spain. They return home to discover that they’ve been wiped out by the investment fund that made retirement and travel possible. DAMN NEAR BROKE is the tale of how they deal with impending poverty, each other, and especially the shame of it all.
Seniors fleeced by a phony investment scheme, why did you choose this story line?
Since I’m far too young to be an AARP member, I steal the monthly magazine out of a neighbor’s mailbox. Nearly every issue has horror stories of people who’ve fallen victim to a variety of scams and articles warning of new twists in impoverishing seniors.
You’ve labeled this as a cautionary tale, rightfully so. Is this based on a true story or did it almost hit anyone close to home?
Fortunately, I’ve experienced nothing of this sort up close and personal.
This Jim West mystery/thriller, the seventh in the series, finds Jim traveling to Fabens, TX, in an effort to locate an old acquaintance who had written Jim a cryptic letter asking for his help in finding a briefcase. In Fabens, he discovers that someone has murdered his friend. Jim provides a copy of the letter to the local police explaining that he has no idea where the briefcase is or how to decipher the sets of numbers provided in the letter. Figuring there is nothing more he can do, Jim starts his trek home. He plans to spend a night or two relaxing at the Lodge in Cloudcroft, NM, on his way, only to find that he is being followed. An ominous, unidentified phone caller gives Jim an order—find the briefcase and turn it over to him within a week. A violent confrontation in Cloudcroft verifies Jim’s worst suspicion, a Mexican drug cartel wants the briefcase. The confrontation also brings the FBI into the picture. They also want Jim to continue his search. The search takes Jim to the New Mexican ghost town of Chloride where the final confrontation takes place and Jim finds out who the bad guys really are.
Author Bob Doerr spent some time discussing his latest novel, GREED CAN KILL, with The Big Thrill:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I hope readers find that this book tells an interesting and fun to read story. They should find the use of Fabens, Texas, Cloudcroft, NM, Truth or Consequences, NM, and the ghost town of Chloride, NM, as seldom used but fascinating settings for a mystery. Finally, I hope readers take away a hunger to read other Jim West books they may not have already read.
Baltimore police officer Fia Mckee is suspended for excessive use of force. Given a second chance, she’s sent to work undercover for the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (TRPB) at Gulfstream Park in Florida, where her assignment is to spy on two racetrack workers suspected of illegal activities and whose horses continue to outperform all expectations.
To complete her cover story, Fia moves in with her semi-estranged brother, Patrick, and his daughter, Jilly. Fia’s investigations become twofold when Jilly disappears after an off the grid Cuban gang steals her beloved pony for horse meat. Along the way, Fia encounters, a (very handsome) do-gooder who’s close on their trail, and a cabal of super wealthy gamblers who will stop at nothing to ensure they always win.
The Big Thrill caught up with Sasscer Hill to discuss her latest novel, FLAMINGO ROAD:
By Karen Harper
Karen Katchur writes suspense novels that beautifully blend a compelling setting with a realistic story. Her background in criminal justice makes her work feel “you-are-there” authentic. The focus on family also moves her novels into the realm of psychological fiction.
This month, Katchur took time out of her busy schedule to provide insight into her thrilling new release, THE SISTERS OF BLUE MOUNTAIN, and share with The Big Thrill some of the secrets behind her success.
Please tell us what THE SISTERS OF BLUE MOUNTAIN is about.
For Linnet, owner of a Bed and Breakfast in Mountain Springs, Pennsylvania, life has been a bit complicated lately. Hundreds of snow geese die overnight in the dam near the B&B, sparking a media frenzy, threatening the tourist season, and bringing her estranged younger sister, Myna, to town. If that isn’t enough, the women’s father has been charged with investigating the incident. But when a younger expert is brought in to replace him on the case and then turns up dead on Linnet’s property, their father becomes the primary suspect. As the investigation unfolds, the sisters will have to confront each other, their hidden past, and a side of Mountain Springs not seen before.
Dark, gritty, disturbing. Those are the types of characters you’ll encounter in the award-winning stories within this collection. Tough people in a tough world. But also real people, struggling with difficult decisions when faced with unthinkable circumstances. What happens when you discover a dead body but can’t go to the police because of your own dark past? Or your father’s dark past? What might a woman resort to when her husband doesn’t hold up his end of a bargain? What frightening surprises lie buried beneath the beaches of North Carolina? Or in the desolate hills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains? Or in the swamps of the New Jersey Pine Barrens?
These are stories that are as dark, gritty, and disturbing as the characters who inhabit them, yet there is a pervasive humanness which forces us to empathize. That asks us to understand why people sometimes do what they do. Perhaps that’s the reason these stories have been chosen for the Best American Mystery series, honored by The Atlantic Monthly’s Student Writing Contest, not to mention various other awards and honors. Perhaps that’s why these stories will stick with you well after the reading has commenced. Always gnawing at you, unrelenting, asking, “What would you have done in that situation? Would you have behaved any differently?”
Scott Loring Sanders took some time to discuss his latest book, SHOOTING CREEK AND OTHER STORIES, with The Big Thrill:
When the Jarrett Creek Fire Department is called to douse a blaze on the outskirts of town, they discover a grisly scene: five black young people have been murdered. Newly elected Chief of Police Samuel Craddock, just back from a stint in the Air Force, finds himself an outsider in the investigation headed by the Texas Highway Patrol. He takes an immediate dislike to John Sutherland, a racist trooper.
Craddock’s fears are realized when Sutherland arrests Truly Bennett, a young black man whom Craddock knows and respects. Sutherland cites dubious evidence that points to Bennett, and Craddock uncovers facts leading in another direction. When Sutherland refuses to relent, Craddock is faced with a choice that will define him as a lawman—either let the highway patrol have its way, or take on a separate investigation himself.
Although his choice to investigate puts both Craddock and his family in danger, he perseveres. In the process, he learns something about himself and the limits of law enforcement in Jarrett Creek.
A tried and true adage is to write what you know. The difficult part is taking what you know and making it interesting reading for an audience. This is well executed by Lynn Chandler Willis in her latest novel, TELL ME NO LIES, the debut Ava Logan Mystery.
The heroine of TELL ME NO LIES, Ava Logan, is the publisher of the newspaper for the small town of Jackson Creek, North Carolina set in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. Like her character, Willis has lived her entire life in North Carolina and owned a small-town weekly newspaper. Both Ava and Willis have two children, are single mothers, and have dogs named Finn.
TELL ME NO LIES finds Ava in the middle of covering the local election, just weeks before Election Day. Then the simple act of dropping off her friend’s toddler after a night of babysitting changes everything. Her friend is dead, and Ava wants to know why. Juggling her two teenage children, her friend’s orphaned toddler, and her own muddied past, Ava’s digging for the truth puts her and those she loves in danger. It is imperative the killer is found before either Ava or someone she loves ends up dead.
Ava Logan stands as her own person. She brings a backstory that is “tragically realistic” according to the author with “enough struggles to help shape her character without defining it.” Willis wanted to make sure that Ava was not “broken” and sees Ava as “that magical combination of strength and vulnerability. She’s not perfect. She’s many things, but she is not broken and she’ll be the first to tell you that!”
Sebastian Snow is the owner of Snow’s Antique Emporium. With an encyclopaedic knowledge of the 1800s, Sebastian and his Emporium seem to be a magnet for murderous mysteries. After The Mystery of Nevermore, Sebastian is now happily dating lead homicide detective, Calvin Winter, but when a brick is thrown through the Emporium window, Sebastian finds himself swept up in a series of grisly murders.
Author C. S. Poe tells me about her latest novel THE MYSTERY OF CURIOSITIES, the second instalment of the Snow and Winter series, as well as about her inspiration for the story and what drives her to write gay mysteries.
THE MYSTERY OF THE CURIOSITIES is Book 2 of the Snow & Winter series. Where is Sebastian Snow after the events of The Mystery of Nevermore?
Sebastian Snow is in a much healthier place after Nevermore—physically, mentally, and emotionally. He came out of an intense murder mystery relatively unscathed, and he and lead homicide detective, Calvin Winter, are happily dating. If it wasn’t for the fact that he’s become prone to trouble, Sebastian may have gotten through Valentine’s Day without having to put his sleuthing hat back on.
Katie Taylor is the perfect student. She’s bright and funny, she has a boyfriend who adores her and there are only a few months left of school before she can swap Banktoun for the bright lights of London. Life gets even better when she has an unexpected win on a scratch card. But then Katie’s luck runs out.
Her tragic death instead becomes the latest in a series of dark mysteries blighting the small town. The new school counsellor Polly McAllister, who has recently returned to Banktoun to make amends in her own personal life, is thrown in at the deep end as the pupils and staff come to terms with Katie’s death. And it’s not long before she uncovers a multitude of murky secrets. Did Katie have enemies? Is her boyfriend really so squeaky clean? And who is her brother’s mysterious friend?
With Banktoun’s insular community inflamed by gossip and a baying mob stirring itself into a frenzy on social media, DS Davie Gray and DC Louise Jennings must work out who really murdered Katie before someone takes matters into their own hands…
The Big Thrill recently discussed THE DAMSELFLY with author S. J. I. Holliday:
Rookie cop Laura Mori catches her first investigation when the fiery crash of a sports car lights up the night sky. The fire burns the body beyond recognition, but the police are able to identify the car as that of Kent Jameson, celebrity author and benefactor of Sunrise Lake. And Jameson fears that the unidentified body is his seventeen-year-old daughter Lucy, who stormed out of the house that night after an argument.
When lab reports reveal that the body was not Lucy, but a teen runaway named Kyra whose disappearance has been linked with other missing persons—more than half a dozen “lost girls” who disappeared while living on the streets of Portland—the investigation takes a drastic turn. How did Kyra come to land at the Jameson estate in rural Oregon, and what was she doing driving their car? And who cut the brake lines on the vehicle?
Just when Laura is making progress in the case, she comes across a suspicious lane in the forest that uncovers new evidence that will once again alter the course of the investigation and rock Sunrise Lake to its core. R. J. Noonan’s electrifying mystery will resonate with fans of Lisa Gardner and Lisa Jackson.
Author R. J. Noonan took some time to discuss her thriller, WHERE THE LOST GIRLS GO, with The Big Thrill:
As the single mom of an energetic toddler and an investigator working for the medical examiner’s office in small-town Sorenson, Wisconsin, Mattie is used to her life being a juggling act. But now that she’s moved in with Detective Steve Hurley and his teenaged daughter Emily, and has started planning their wedding, her home life is looking more like a three-ring circus. And with her boss and friend, Izzy, suddenly having a health crisis, she could not be more grateful for the newest staff member in the ME’s office, Hal Dawson.
All too quickly her gratitude turns to shock when a floating body found trapped against a dam turns out to be Hal, but the cause of death isn’t drowning—his throat’s been slashed. Hal was supposed to be fishing on his day off with his girlfriend. And when their empty boat is found in a nearby lake, the whereabouts of the woman becomes an even more urgent question.
To find out what really happened to her coworker, Mattie may need to rock the boat. But a killer is just as determined to keep the truth from ever surfacing, even if that means making Mattie the next one to go under.
Annelise Ryan recently discussed her novel with The Big Thrill:
Award winning criminologist R. Barri Flowers is a bestselling author of both fiction and nonfiction. This month he makes all his fans happy with the release of two new books: a true crime volume called SERIAL KILLERS AND PROSTITUTES, and a cozy mystery — MURDERED IN THE GOURMET KITCHEN.
In MURDERED IN THE GOURMET KITCHEN, Riley Reed is the suspect in a murder because the victim was beaten to death with Riley’s casserole dish. Protagonist Riley Reed is a single, spunky and humorous interior designer who somehow finds herself in the middle of murder investigations.
“Riley would be a hit at a cocktail party,” Flowers says, “as she is the type of person one gravitates toward for her affable nature, perkiness, and willingness to engage on a seemingly endless variety of topics. Riley is definitely a heroine in the true sense of the word, as she is more than willing to step out on a limb to catch a killer.”
Of course, Riley doesn’t see herself as a heroine, just a proud citizen of Cozy Pines, Oregon, who does her best to help others any way she can — including the police when they fall short in the pursuit of a culprit.”
During Mac’s first paranormal investigation, the group’s leader is found dead at the bottom of a staircase, his neck broken. On the next outing, another group member falls to her death from the observation deck of a “haunted” lighthouse. Mac suspects there might be more to these deaths than a vengeful spirit. His launches an investigation that takes him for a true hair-raising ride.
Author E. Michael Helms recently sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss DEADLY SPIRITS:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
The satisfaction of taking part in an exciting adventure, knowing the time invested was well-spent.
How does this book make a contribution to the genre?
By living up to the standards set by many predecessors: hooking the reader and keeping him/her guessing; and by book’s end, leaving the reader satisfied yet wanting to spend more time with the main characters.
Before the criminals they were tracking headed underground, evidence pointed toward two organizations as key to an epic art heist. Despite their best efforts, Laurel Beacham and her team haven’t caught a break in months—even Jack Hawkes’s unofficial intel stuttered to a halt. But on New Year’s, as Big Ben’s bell tolls midnight, the guilty return and nowhere is safe. A source in Rome is killed within hours. Other allies are attacked in Rome and London, and a contact in Germany reports dangerous shadows closing in. The nearer the answers, the higher the stakes. Worse, Jack may not be the only one Laurel must learn to trust to avoid another brush with death.
Author Ritter Ames recently discussed ABSTRACT ALIASES with The Big Thrill.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Because the character is an art recover expert who operates primarily in Europe, I hope readers see art in new ways. The books are fast paced and the dialogue witty (and sometimes a bit snarky), so I hope readers enjoy these characters and love to see how they solve the crimes they’re charged to solve. I also hope readers love the settings used in the story, as much of the information on locations and culture are not made up just for the story.
Haunted by the disappearance of his mother when he was eight years old, detective Hud Matthews begins his own investigation to find out what really happened so many years before. When a rare murder occurs in the lakeside community, Hud’s veteran skills are called upon to capture the killer. Pulled deep into the threads of the community with ties to the past, Hud quickly becomes a target, not only of the killer, but of those who wish the past to be left alone. As Hud gets closer to discovering the truth about the crimes, he has to face a choice of enforcing the law, or stepping outside of it to make sure that his version of justice is served.
Larry D. Sweazy recently discussed WHERE I CAN SEE YOU with The Big Thrill.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Detective Hud Matthew’s mother disappeared when he was eight years old and was never heard from again. That loss not only changed his life in a deep, inexplicable way, it also taught him how to ask questions and to look differently at the world from a very young age. He had no choice but to grow up to become a detective. So, I hope readers will root for Hud and see a little of themselves in his story. The experiences of our entire lives puts us where we are now.
By Don Helin
Phyllis Smallman’s debut novel, Margarita Nights, won the inaugural Unhanged Arthur Award from the Crime Writers of Canada, and was short-listed for the Debut Dagger in the U.K. She has been awarded both silver and gold medals by the Independent Publishers book awards in the U.S. Her work has appeared in Spinetingler and Omni Mystery magazines. She was a potter before turning to a life of crime. She lives on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia.
Smallman has written seven novels that were traditionally published, six in the Sherri Travis mystery series, and one in the Singer Brown mystery series. BEACH KILL the second in the Singer Brown mystery series, but the first to come out as an ebook as well.
I asked Smallman a few questions.
Is there anything special you’d like to tell us about BEACH KILL?
The setting is a small island off the west coast of British Columbia. At the very edge of the continent, and straddling the border of two countries, the Gulf Islands are playgrounds for the very rich. Policed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, with only six officers to handle ten thousand residents and a few thousand visitors, resources are stretched thin. On this May holiday weekend, the town of Kilborn is full of tourists and pleasure boats for the round-the-island regatta.
By Anne Tibbets
“WALK INTO SILENCE is the debut in a series featuring Texas police detective Jo Larsen,” says thriller writer Susan McBride. “I wrote it almost a decade ago, but put it aside. I was deep in the midst of my Debutante Dropout Mysteries for HarperCollins at the time, and had also signed with Random House to do a non-mystery series about debutantes in Texas. So I forgot about WALK INTO SILENCE until last spring, when I dusted it off and did a major rewrite. A lot had changed in ten years, particularly regarding technology, but the plot felt pretty timeless: a missing woman with a tragic past and a detective determined to find her.”
“Jo Larsen is kind of my own Jack Reacher without the military background and the penchant for drifting,” McBride goes on to add. “She’s had a lot of bad things happen in her life, but she hasn’t let them destroy her. They’ve made her incredibly strong and empathetic. She truly feels for the victims and fights for them, because no one fought for her. I love that she’s very controlled on the outside, but roiling with emotion on the inside. Those who know her well—and there are few—understand her need for privacy but keep knocking on the door, asking to be let in. When she believes something, she believes it fiercely, which is why the term ‘dogged’ comes up so often when other characters in the book address her. She is like a dog with a bone: she won’t let go.”
As with any thriller, research and accuracy can be a key component to the book’s success and authenticity.
“I definitely do a lot of Internet research, and I kind of go wherever Google takes me when I have a particular question come up. While researching WALK INTO SILENCE, I needed to know about quarries and what happened to them when they weren’t viable anymore. What does one do with a gigantic pit? I also looked up various laws relating to missing persons, gun ownership, et cetera. Since the book is set in Texas, and I don’t live there any more (although I did for twenty years), I checked back on locations and directions. But I do love hands-on research as well and returned to the Dallas area to talk to folks at the Frisco police department and get a tour of the facilities. I put my notes to good use when I set up my fictional Plainfield P.D. So I do whatever it takes in order to feel like I’m getting things right.”
Even with research and craft, a writer can still have favorite scenes in each of their books.
Step into 1920s Hollywood, where murder awaits . . .
RENTING SILENCE, the third in the Roaring Twenties mystery series by Mary Miley takes Jessie from silent films back into the world of vaudeville to track down a performer with something to hide. At the request of her silent film star boss, Mary Pickford, Jessie uses her vaudeville talents to investigate the murder of an extra by a Hollywood actress already sentenced to death for the crime. Her inquiries lead to the discovery of a blackmailer and more than a dozen actors facing ruin or even death if their secrets are exposed. If the convicted actress is innocent, then who killed the blackmailer?
WILL THEY DIG UP THE TRUTH?
When a rash of college students falls seriously ill after ingesting Molly, a “club drug” also known as ecstasy, Officer Megan Luz and her K-9 partner Brigit are tasked with tracking down the dealers. Going undercover at the university leads Megan closer and closer to infiltrating the drug trafficking ring. But when the investigation implicates her former partner and workplace nemesis, Officer Derek Mackey, Megan’s powers of discernment are put to the test.
OR ARE THEY BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE?
Thwarted when the Feds seize control of the investigation and frustrated by the lack of attention the DEA is putting into the case, Megan continues her own unofficial investigation with Brigit’s help. But when the trail leads them in an unexpected and dangerous direction, Megan and Brigit find their own lives at risk. Can the K-9 team take down those in power? Or are some criminals simply above the law―and paw?
ABOVE THE PAW is the fifth book in Diane Kelly’s series featuring Police officer Megan Luz and her K-9 dog partner, Brigit.
Author Diane Kelly took time out of her busy schedule to discuss her latest book with The Big Thrill:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I hope readers will learn some fun and interesting things about K-9s and their handlers. I also hope the funny parts will brighten their day.
Detective Sam Lagarde of the West Virginia State Police must solve another grisly murder—this time of a lawyer and horseman who bedded every woman he’d ever laid eyes on, swindled anyone he had ever had business dealings with, and ignored and ostracized his children. One person said it was time for Grant Wodehouse to meet his maker. But who?
When Grant Wodehouse went to the barn that fine morning, he had no idea what good, bad, or ugly would happen—saddle a couple of horses, a little S&M with his neighbor, get a pitchfork rammed through his chest, pinning him to the wall…He never expected the latter.
Here, author Ginny Fite spends some time discussing her latest novel with The Big Thrill:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I hope readers will be thoroughly entertained, sometimes moved to tears or laughter, and perhaps provoked to think about the ways in which we are careless with the people we love.
How does this book make a contribution to the genre?
The Detective Sam Lagarde books are “many-voiced” stories that allow the reader to work with the detective to figure out who the killer is. Seeing into the minds of the killer and victim, the reader becomes a partner rather than a mere observer.
New York Times Notable Book of the Year author Carole Nelson Douglas’s cast of four human crime solvers must not only stop a massive Las Vegas conspiracy involving international terrorism and the FBI, but feline sleuth Midnight Louie’s roommate, PR powerhouse Temple Barr, is contemplating marriage. Will syndicated radio counselor and ex-priest Matt Devine’s inside track lose out to the return of that wily dark horse, magician Max Kinsella? The suspense is killing somebody.
Meanwhile, a Strip-wide resurgence the long-vanquished Las Vegas mob could have Temple in search of an undertaker rather than a Justice of the Peace. Luckily, Midnight Louie and the Las Vegas Cat Pack are planning their finest moments to bring down the baddies. But no one can help Temple find which direction her wayward heart must go.
Author Carole Nelson Douglas took some time out of her busy schedule to speak with The Big Thrill:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
It’s set in Vegas, baby, so expect closure, some fears, tears, and laughter. This is the last book in a 28-book series written like a three-year television series. It ties up all the continuing cold cases, crime arcs, and personal issues involving four human crime solvers: two men, two women: two pro, and two amateur detectives as they face their flaws and find their strengths throughout the series.
…but not for Sheriff Piper Blackwell. Fifty-eight minutes into her first day on the job she’s faced with a murder—the victim artfully posed amid the decorations on his lawn.
Fresh out of the military, 23–year-old Piper is in charge of a manhunt during the most brutal winter sleepy Spencer County Indiana has experienced. Her opponent in the recent election–Chief Deputy Oren Rosenberg–doesn’t like her; she has no experience working in a sheriff’s department, and he wants her to fail. Piper doesn’t like him either, but she needs him to help catch the killer.
In a deceptively peaceful county where everyone seems to know everyone else, a murderer hides in plain sight, and Piper and Oren are thrown together in the hunt.
Jean Rabe took time out of her busy schedule to discuss THE DEAD OF WINTER with The Big Thrill:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
That eeriness and happiness can be found in rural communities, and that blink-and-you’ll-miss-it towns can be great places to set a mystery.
There’s a hex on Charley Howard’s Hot Links Emporium, and Charley, a.k.a. the Hot Sauce King, is furious. He suspects the Jamaican psychic who’s been “advising” his gullible wife Mabel is a phony, and he asks choir director Bertie Bigelow to do a little amateur sleuthing to help him prove it.
But Bertie’s already got all the drama she can handle.
The high-profile concert she’s doing with The Ace Of Spades, an ageing (but still sexy) rap star, has Metro College in an uproar. Her on-again, off-again flirtation with attorney David Mackenzie has hit a dead end, and her best friend Ellen Simpson has been seduced and abandoned for the third time this year.
When a Chicago Zoning Commissioner is rushed to the emergency room after filling up on the Soul Food Special at Charley’s restaurant, Bertie is forced to take action. She doesn’t need a crystal ball to know that there’s trouble on the horizon.
On the South Side of Chicago, a murderer lies in wait for Bertie Bigelow. To solve this case, she’s going to need all the mojo she can get.
Will Bertie get her mojo working in time?
By E.M. Powell
Thrillers set in the world of sport can be among the most exciting. But if that thriller is about the biggest prize in US horseracing and is penned by a writer with the surname Francis, then you know you’re on to a winner. And so it is with TRIPLE CROWN, the third outing for Felix Francis’s Jeff Hinkley.
Hinkley is an investigator for the British Horseracing Authority who has been seconded to the fictional US Federal Anti-Corruption in Sports Agency (FACSA). There’s a mole in FACSA who is tipping off those under suspicion of illegal practice, and Hinkley’s task is to find out who it is. But things take a lethal turn when three of the most favored Kentucky Derby horses fall sick and a FACSA raid linked to the Derby ends in murder. Hinkley goes undercover as a groom to try to find answers—and discovers far more than he bargained. His life is now on the line as those who seek one of the biggest prizes in world sport, the Triple Crown, will stop at nothing to win it. It’s a fast, gripping read and immerses the reader deep into the complex world of professional horseracing.
For those who don’t know, the Triple Crown consists of a trio of races—The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes— for three-year-old horses and it’s run in May and early June of each year. Only twelve horse have won in nearly a century. As Francis explains, “The Triple Crown is the absolute pinnacle of American horse racing. To win a Kentucky Derby is the stuff of dreams, to add the Preakness and the Belmont as well is beyond dreamland, it makes history and puts the horse into the ‘legend’ status.’” Francis had been to three Kentucky Derbies and this provided his inspiration. “Having decided to set my 11th novel in the United States, it was the obvious event to include and the other two followed naturally.”
While we’re on the subject of legends, Felix Francis is the son of the late Dick Francis, the bestselling author of horseracing thrillers for more than 40 years who achieved worldwide sales of well over 60 million books before his death in 2010. Francis took over writing books under the Dick Francis brand and provides a fascinating personal account of how this came about.
“Back in 2005 my father’s literary agent asked me to lunch to tell me that we had a major problem—my father’s backlist was going to go out of print. Not that the 39 novels weren’t good enough, just that there had been no new novel for five years and people were forgetting. What we needed, the agent said, was a new novel, to stimulate backlist sales. Well, I said, you aren’t going to get one. My father was now 85 and my mother, who worked on the novels with him had died. The agent was actually asking me if I would give my permission for him to approach an existing crime writer to write a new ‘Dick Francis novel’ by so-and-so.”
By Don Helin
Edgar-finalist Lisa Turner is a Southern mystery author who is fascinated by good people who do wicked things. She explores human nature set against the rich backdrop of Memphis and the Mississippi Delta. Her second novel, The Gone Dead Train, delves into long buried secrets of Memphis’s civil rights struggles and the power of Santeria magic.
In the third book, Homicide Detective Billy Able is called to a bizarre crime scene on the outskirts of Memphis. A high-society attorney has been murdered—while dressed in a wedding gown. When her death exposes illegal practices at her family’s prestigious law firm, the scandal is enough to rock the very roots of the southern city’s social world. Turner’s third outing is a tale about the remnants of Old Southern aristocracy and entitlement, twisted by greed and vengeance. Detective Able must confront the secrets of his own past to solve the murder of the girl he once knew.
Turner’s characters fall victim to the tentacles of their Southern identity and are dragged into a world of blues, murder, and heartbreak. “I’m a story archaeologist,” she says. “I keep digging into my characters until I strike the bone.” Which she does with skill and insight.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Turner the other day and ask her a few questions.
Is there anything special you’d like to tell us about DEVIL SENT THE RAIN?
I was all set for my detective to learn toward the end of the book that he had a half brother. By the second draft, I realized the brother idea was too much, like eating a second piece of pie after a big meal. Cutting out the brother was going leave me with a weak ending, and my detective would gain nothing personally.
The solution came when a friend told me she’d spent the summer reconstructing a cabin that had been in her family for a hundred years. There’s a lot of strength in the act of reclaiming a home, especially when your only relative has kicked you out, which is what had happened to my detective. Having him reclaim his childhood home was a better ending and it made the book. That and the instructions I’ve included for a world-class mint julep.
By Don Helin
Gigi Pandian’s latest book covers a lot of ground, from a lost work of art linking India to the Italian Renaissance and a killer hiding behind a centuries-old ghost story, to a hidden treasure in Italy’s macabre sculpture garden known as the Park of Monsters. Moving from San Francisco to the heart of Italy, treasure-hunting historian Jaya Jones is haunted by a ghost story inexorably linked to the masterpieces of a long-dead artist and the deeds of a modern-day murderer.
Pandian is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. She spent her childhood being dragged around the world, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She writes the Jaya Jones mysteries, the Accidental Alchemist mysteries, and locked-room short stories. Her fiction has been awarded the Malice Domestic Grant and Lefty Awards, and been nominated for Macavity and Agatha Awards.
I had the chance to meet with USA Today Bestselling author Pandian and ask her a few questions.
Is there anything special you’d like to tell us about MICHELANGELO’S GHOST?
The book is my sixth mystery novel, and the one that brings me full circle in my mystery-writing career. When I was a little kid, I loved Scooby-Doo so much that I wrote my own Scooby Doo stories. Remember how in those cartoons the Scooby gang always unmasked a bad guy who was pretending to be a ghost? As I wrote MICHELANGELO’S GHOST, I realized it was my Scooby Doo book. There’s even a midnight chase scene at a spooky sculpture garden.
Did any particular event inspire the plot?
It wasn’t an event, but a place: the Park of Monsters. The Renaissance sculpture garden is located in Bomarzo, Italy, a small town between Florence and Rome.
The sculpture garden was built by Italian nobleman Vicino Orsini in the 1500s. He oversaw the creation of macabre stone sculptures set across a desolate Italian forest, with oversize creatures ranging from fighting giants to my favorite—a giant ogre whose mouth is a doorway that leads into a stone room with a picnic table.
For years, Stephanie Osborn wanted to write a ghost story along the lines of The Hound of the Baskervilles. In her mind, the ideal setting was a haunted castle somewhere in Europe. Then came a trip to New Orleans.
“I suddenly realized ‘the most haunted city in the USA’ was right in front of me. Why did I need to set the ghost story in a European castle?”
FEAR IN THE FRENCH QUARTER is the sixth adventure in Osborn’s Displaced Detective series. The series begins with Dr. Skye Chadwick observing alternate realities often populated by those we consider only literary characters. One of her favorites to view was continuum 114 where a certain Victorian detective was to have died along with his arch-nemesis. Reflexively Skye intervenes, rescuing her hero who inadvertently flies through the wormhole that connects his universe to ours.
Osborn has this to say about FEAR IN THE FRENCH QUARTER: It’s a fun romp through New Orleans with Sherlock Holmes as all hell is about to break loose—exponentially increasing paranormal activity, strange interactions with said paranormal events, and an impending cosmological disaster, all complicated by an approaching Category 4 hurricane! And realize—this is not your father’s Sherlock Holmes!
When asked how much of the novel she had before starting to write, Osborn replied, “Okay prepare to laugh—the night our friends took my husband and me on a whirlwind tour of the Quarter about three years ago, we were walking down Pirates’ Alley hard by the cathedral…when I suddenly “became aware” that the Holmeses were also walking along the Alley in their universe, and having a bit of an adventure with a would-be fortune teller. As we progressed down to Bourbon Street and thence to our restaurant for dinner, so did they…and I was “aware” of their experience along the way!
“The next day, I pulled out some note paper and a pen and started scribbling down what I’d “seen” as we walked. That’s all I had at that point—just the realization that they were visiting New Orleans. A quick discussion with some fellow writers, and I had the book’s title—FEAR IN THE FRENCH QUARTER.
“I knew I was going to take that modern haunting idea and transfer it to America, to New Orleans…that was it—the book had shape.
Set in New York, 1976, police reporter Coleridge Taylor is about to uncover a new wave of crime in the third book of author Rich Zahradnik’s Coleridge Taylor series.
“Taylor is investigating the murder of a Westchester housewife whose body is pulled from New York Harbor with bricks of heroin strapped around its waist,” Zahradnik says. “Taylor thinks he’s on to a war between the Italian mob and a Chinatown tong over heroin distribution in the city. This is going on as the massive Bicentennial celebrations are taking place in the harbor and around the city, celebrations that keep pulling Taylor from the crime story he really wants to peruse.”
The Big Thrill chatted with the author this month to get his story, along with his thoughts on writing award-winning thrillers.
Coleridge Taylor has been described by reviewers as “a reporter with a heart”—what sort of man is he?
Taylor wants to get the stories no one else is going after—about the victims no one cares to cover. He thinks if he writes their stories, the victims will have some kind of a voice. He is pretty single-minded in his focus, but at the same time can to talk with anyone. Because that’s what great interviewing is—a great conversation. He’s been chastened since Last Words. In that book, he had to get his job back by proving he didn’t invent a story about a nine-year-old heroin addict. In book 2, Drop Dead Punk, the paper he’s worked for his whole career folds. That shakes him up pretty good.
Taylor has the help of his now girlfriend Samantha Callahan. How does their relationship change the dynamic of this book compared to Drop Dead?
Samantha is an ex-cop whose own story was wrapped up in Drop Dead Punk. In that book, she doesn’t trust him for the longest time—most cops don’t trust reporters—and they don’t really work together until late in the book. Now they’re in a relationship and she helps him out (as she will continue to), since she’s better at the physical end of handling bad guys.
The series is set in New York in the 70’s. What was it about this setting that drew your series here?
I lived north of New York and was there as a teen in the 70’s. But really, I wanted to write a story that didn’t have any of the instant-DNA typing, video cameras everywhere and facial recognition in nine seconds of the modern mystery. Television in particular has trained the audience this is all real, even though much of it is sci fi. I wanted a shoe-leather investigation. Phone booths not cell phones. That being my guiding philosophy, I picked 1975 for the first book simply because that’s the year the Vietnam War ended. Since book 1, I’ve brought other events into play as I’ve moved forward in the decade: the near bankruptcy of New York City, the punk rock revolution, the Bicentennial.
When you’re writing a fast-paced crime thriller, how do you balance excitement and mystery? Is it important for you to keep your readers guessing, or do you concentrate on keeping them on the edge of their seats?
I want them to be in pursuit of the mystery along with Taylor without figuring it out before him. I want there to be shocks of action and excitement throughout with a real edge-of-seats finale. In this book I tried something new. Almost the entire third act is a chase, rather than having the big boom come in the last two chapters, as I did in books 1 and 2. That took some work, given that mystery resolution was going on during the long chase.
Both Last Words and Drop Dead received fantastic praise and recognition. Did you find this put pressure on you when writing A BLACK SAIL, or does the success of the earlier books spur you on?
Confidence as a writer is hard to come by when you’re toiling by yourself with no agent, editor or audience. The awards were one of those nice signals that said, “you got it right this time,” which then gave me confidence as I wrote. Confidence improves craft, if not overdone. I will admit that writing A BLACK SAIL had me a little worried because I did some things in Drop Dead Punk I could not do again.
Which authors have inspired you in the past and are there any you’re currently excited about?
Michael Connelly, Derek Raymond, Tony Hillerman, Georges Simenon, Ray Bradbury, William Gibson, Charles Dickens, Graham Greene.
I just read Patrick Lee’s The Runner, the first book in his Sam Dryden series (and his fourth overall). A great thriller. Radha Vatsal’s first book, A Front Page Affair, is excellent, as is R.G. Belsky’s Shooting for the Stars. They both feature journalists as protagonists—in different eras than the 70’s—so I guess you could say I’m a little journalism obsessed.
What’s next for Rich Zahradnik? Are you planning on another instalment in the series?
I’m just finishing a thriller set in the present day called The Causeway, in which three people witness a drug murder as a hurricane is about to strike a barrier island off of New Jersey. With the storm wreaking havoc, they race to get to the Causeway off the island before the bad guys can get them.
The next Taylor novel will be set during the months in 1977 when the serial killer Son of Sam was on a killing spree and a July blackout resulted in thousands of arrests and millions in damage. Exactly what crime Taylor will be chasing I’m working out.
Rich Zahradnik is the award-winning author of the critically acclaimed Coleridge Taylor Mystery series (A Black Sail, Drop Dead Punk, Last Words).
The second installment, Drop Dead Punk, won the gold medal for mystery/thriller ebook in the 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPYs). It was also named a finalist in the mystery category of the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Last Words won the bronze medal for mystery/thriller ebook in the 2015 IPPYs and honorable mention for mystery in the 2015 Foreword Reviews IndieFab Book of the Year Awards.
“Taylor, who lives for the big story, makes an appealingly single-minded hero,” Publishers Weekly wrote of Drop Dead Punk.
Zahradnik was a journalist for 30-plus years, working as a reporter and editor in all major news media, including online, newspaper, broadcast, magazine and wire services. He held editorial positions at CNN, Bloomberg News, Fox Business Network, AOL and The Hollywood Reporter.
In January 2012, he was one of 20 writers selected for the inaugural class of the Crime Fiction Academy, a first-of-its-kind program run by New York’s Center for Fiction.
Zahradnik was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1960 and received his B.A. in journalism and political science from George Washington University. He lives with his wife Sheri and son Patrick in Pelham, New York, where writes fiction and teaches kids how to publish newspapers.
By Kent Lester
What is the price of justice? That is the question posed in Allen Eskens’s new novel, THE HEAVENS MAY FALL. In the case of two longtime friends, detective Max Rupert and attorney Boady Sanden, the price may be too high to bear. Max is convinced that Genevieve Pruitt was killed by her lawyer husband, Ben Pruitt. Boady, having worked with Ben in the past, is equally convinced of his innocence. In the normal course of a murder investigation, their difference of opinion would matter little. But in this particular case, tragic circumstances from both men’s pasts will make it hard for them to maintain their professional objectivity.
Max Rupert is still struggling with the death of his wife four years earlier, and the mysterious nature of the Pruitt murder has stirred up painful memories for him. Meanwhile, Boady Sanden hasn’t tried a defense case in years, ever since the death of an innocent client, a man Boady believes he could have saved but didn’t. Now, he returns to court in hopes of redeeming himself for his past failure. But to reach a successful verdict, Boady may have to expose the pain of Max’s loss, which could endanger their friendship forever. It’s the type of delicious conundrum that keeps the story moving and the reader guessing.
THE HEAVENS MAY FALL is Allen Eskens’s third novel, and it shows. The story is told with a taut and realistic style honed by his previous two best-sellers, The Life We Bury, and The Guise of Another. THE HEAVENS MAY FALL is a sequel of sorts, reintroducing three characters from The Life We Bury. The story is told through the unique perspectives of Max and Boady. This change in point of view gives the reader an intimate sense of each character’s logic and illustrates how context and bias can lead to wildly different conclusions about guilt and innocence. Allen keeps readers guessing until the last possible moment.
As a practicing defense attorney, Allen Eskens brings a reality to the story in the best tradition of other practicing legal thriller authors like Scott Turow or John Grisham. His journey from lawyer to writer took a circuitous path. Growing up in the hills of central Missouri, Allen’s propensity for writing was first noted by his first grade teacher when she wrote an assessment to his parents saying, “Allen daydreams too much when work needs to be done in school.”