New York Times-bestselling author Robert Dugoni writes legal thrillers with heart. “These aren’t what some might expect in a traditional thriller novel, all action and dialogue. I work hard to develop my characters. I try to write honest characters, people who have self-regard for their own well-being. If I can get my characters to care about themselves, readers will care also, and be more invested. Then I can put my characters in peril.”
Dugoni practiced law for thirteen years in San Francisco before becoming a full-time writer. His novels in the critically-acclaimed David Sloane series are THE JURY MASTER, WRONGFUL DEATH, BODILY HARM, THE CONVICTION and MURDER ONE, which was a finalist for the Harper Lee Award for literary excellence. He has also written the bestselling standalone novel DAMAGE CONTROL, and THE CYANIDE CANARY, a non-fiction book. His latest novel, MY SISTER’S GRAVE, landed the number one spot on Amazon’s Kindle Bestseller List, knocking out GONE GIRL, and was named as Library Journal’s top 5 thrillers of 2014.
In MY SISTER’S GRAVE, Dugoni introduces Tracy Crosswhite, a former high school chemistry teacher turned Seattle police detective. Tracy has spent twenty years questioning the facts surrounding her sister Sarah’s disappearance and the murder trial that followed. She doesn’t believe that Edmund House—a convicted rapist and the man condemned for Sarah’s murder—is guilty. Motivated by the opportunity to obtain real justice, Tracy has dedicated her life to tracking down killers.
When Sarah’s remains are finally discovered near their hometown in the northern Cascade Mountains of Washington State, Tracy is determined to get the answers she’s been seeking. As she searches for the real killer, she unearths dark, long-kept secrets that will forever change her relationship to her past—and open the door to deadly danger.
BLACK KARMA opens with a somewhat seedy police inspector asking for Bai Jiang’s assistance as a souxan (people finder) in tracking down Daniel Chen, a man they believe is behind a botched drug heist that resulted in the death of a police officer. Bai, who believes the police just want Chen dead, finds her investigation takes her into a world of international intelligence agencies and merchants of war that deal with death, drugs, and high-jacked information: A world where nothing is what it seems.
Against this backdrop, Bai is juggling a somewhat complicated love life. There is her ex—the father of her child and a triad assassin, the rather brazen young man who finds her irresistible, and a suitor for an arranged marriage whose mother thinks Bai would make an excellent successor to the family empire.
This is Bai’s compelling world of San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Thatcher Robinson, the man behind the WHITE GINGER series, has always been comfortable with the Asian culture. His friends since childhood have been Asian, he’s married to a Japanese woman, and has two Chinese godchildren. “I don’t know why I fit more comfortably in the Asian community. I just do.”
In BLACK KARMA, Bai weaves her way through boxing clubs, arranged marriages, and the power of the triads.
Robinson continues, “I did quite a bit of research on triads, which are mostly made up of street thugs who make their grift through extortion or kidnapping. When compared to the Yakuza of Japan, they have neither the organization nor financial infrastructure to be a major player in the criminal underworld.
Most writers excel at one genre, but E. Michael Helms has successfully tackled memoir, historical fiction, and mystery. He is not only versatile, but prolific as well, with four books published in the last two years. Helms is a former marine who served in Vietnam. He was awarded the Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, Presidential Unit Citation, Navy Unit Citation, and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, and was honorably discharged in 1969. His harrowing memoir of that war, The Proud Bastards, has been in print for over twenty years.
THE BIG THRILL caught up with Helms and talked with him about the writing life and his newest novel, DEADLY RUSE, a riveting page-turner and the second in the Mac McClellan mystery series, due for release this month by Seventh Street Books.
Your historical fiction and mysteries seem to have been published within weeks of each other. Do you work on both at the same time and, if so, what challenges does that pose?
That was simply a fluke, or good timing. My agent had been trying to place Of Blood and Brothers a while, and finally made a sale. Originally written as one long saga, the publisher asked me to break it into two sections; hence OB&B: Books One & Two. While that process was taking place, I decided to try my hand at mystery writing, something I’d wanted to do for quite some time. I completed Deadly Catch: A Mac McClellan Mystery in a few months and my agent quickly sold it to Seventh Street Books. OB&B: Book One was published in September 2013, and Deadly Catch followed in November. So, the answer is no, I don’t work on both at the same time (except for edits and other follow-up chores).
Do you prefer one genre to the other?
My first book, The Proud Bastards, was a memoir about my tour in Vietnam as a combat Marine. That was a very trying experience dredging up all those emotions and ghosts. Of Blood and Brothers is a Civil War saga, and I relied on my own combat experiences to bring reality to the battle scenes. That wasn’t a very pleasant experience either.
By E. A. Aymar
New York Times and USA Today bestselling novelist Vincent Zandri has been an important voice in crime fiction since 1999, when his debut As Catch Can (now titled The Innocent) was published to terrific reviews. Since then, he has written at an exceptionally prolific rate and has published fifteen novels, including eight in the Dick Moonlight PI series.
The latest thriller in that series finds Moonlight, along with an overweight Elvis impersonator as his sidekick, investigating the suicide of a young woman. But this suicide is especially troubling to Moonlight, since the victim may have been raped by the son of his new boss.
New readers to the series will find a lot to like in Zandri’s dark, formerly suicidal, pained-romantic protagonist as he hunts for answers through the streets of Albany. And new readers to Zandri will latch on to his tight plotting and noir-fused prose. He was kind enough to take the time to talk about his work as a writer, photographer, and musician, as well as what the future holds for Moonlight.
How do your different interests (particularly your work as a photographer and musician) influence your writing?
I fell into photography as a freelance journalist when editors seeking to save a few bucks would ask me if I didn’t mind taking pictures. Of course, this became more prevalent as the digital age took over, and a writer who can also take pictures is a far more valuable commodity than one who doesn’t have an eye. But in terms of art, the photos taught me to capture a moment in time that is then recreated in the mind of whoever looks at it. I try and do the same with my writing. Recreate a moment or moments in time that make the reader feel like what’s happening on the page is happening to them.
By Dawn Ius
Of the many ingredients that go into writing a great thriller, there is one that New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline believes is the key to her success—keeping things fresh.
Which might seem a tad ironic, since in her twenty-third novel, BETRAYED, Scottoline returns to the characters that first launched her career, the women of her popular Rosato & Associates series.
“I’m thrilled to be writing about these characters again—they feel like old friends,” she says. “It’s great to examine the way their personalities change over time and the way their life events change them. I love to write books that mirror the life of everyday people, on many different levels.”
Relating to readers is important to Scottoline, who makes herself accessible for feedback. She reads her reviews, albeit with the thick hide all authors must develop, and pays attention. Though she admits, no one could compete with her worst critic—herself.
“I’m always thinking of my readers, every page, every word,” she says. “I love love love books that move fast, have high stakes, and are told with an eye towards the listener or the reader. In other words, the pacing never lets up. I’d die before I would bore a reader.”
In BETRAYED, the second high-stakes, fast (and certainly not boring) thriller in the Rosato & Associates spin-off series, Rosato & DiNunzio, Scottoline turns the spotlight on one of her less-featured lawyers, Judy Carrier.
“She’s somebody that doesn’t get as much face time as she should as a main character, so I felt that was overdue,” she says.
More importantly, however, Scottoline felt no other character could tell this story. In her twenty-five years as a successful novelist, Scottoline has learned that character, plot, and voice are the same thing—which, when boiled down, really means that “when I think of the plot, the character chooses the plot.”
By J. H. Bográn
LAST WORDS opens with New York City on the brink of bankruptcy, rumbles in the Bronx, and newsman Coleridge Taylor roaming police precincts and ERs in search of a story that will rescue his career. A break comes at Bellevue, where Taylor views the body of a homeless teen picked up in the Meatpacking District. Taylor smells a rat: the dead boy looks too clean, and he’s wearing a distinctive Army field jacket. Time is not on Taylor’s side. If he doesn’t wrap this story up soon, he’ll be back on the obits pages—as a headline, not a byline.
Rich Zahradnik offers an interesting setup for a promising series set in a decade usually overlooked, probably due to its disco connection. Still, Zahradnik dives right into the middle of seventies and never looks back. THE BIG THRILL had the opportunity to question him about LAST WORDS.
What can you tell us about Coleridge Taylor?
Taylor was a top police reporter at the New York Messenger-Telegram until he was accused of inventing a story about a nine-year-old heroin addict. In fact, he was set up. He was demoted to the obituaries desk, an assignment where he deals with the dead all day but can’t pursue the real stories behind their deaths. He’s using all his spare time to find a crime story so good that his editors will give him his old job back. He’s also trying to track down the little addict he interviewed to prove the story was real.
Taylor, who’s thirty-four, joined the paper as a seventeen-year-old copy boy after growing up in Queens and moving up to reporter four years later, a traditional career path in newspapers still available in the late fifties. Now it’s 1975, and newspapers are hiring college grads from places like Columbia. These younger, better-educated reporters make Taylor insecure. Taylor isn’t sophisticated about the job. He doesn’t believe in the New Journalism or interpretive reporting. He believes in facts. If he can get all the facts, he’ll get the story. He quotes John Adams on this, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” He lost his brother in Vietnam and his mother to cancer. His father is an alcoholic English professor at CUNY he’s not very close with.
M. C. Grant is Grant McKenzie, an award-winning screenwriter, editor, and novelist. He is the author of SWITCH and NO CRY FOR HELP (both published by Bantam TransWorld UK).
His short stories have been featured in the FIRST THRILLS anthology edited by Lee Child (Tor/Forge), and Out of the Gutter and Spinetingler magazines. His first screenplay won a fellowship at the Praxis Centre for Screenwriting in Vancouver.
As a journalist, he worked in virtually every area of the newspaper business, from the late-night “dead body beat” at a feisty daily tabloid to editor at two of Canada’s largest broadsheets. Born in Glasgow, Grant currently resides in Victoria, British Columbia.
Here’s a short synopsis of M. C. Grant’s exciting new novel, BEAUTY WITH A BOMB.
After witnessing the gruesome death of an immigrant, Dixie Flynn is on a mission to tell the woman’s story. Acting on a tip, Dixie learns that young immigrants are vanishing…and they’re not runaways. Hooking up with a group of Polish women who are hell-bent on finding their sisters and cousins, Dixie is all too willing to wield a gun and stalk the shadows where human traffickers ply their trade. But crossing paths with smugglers takes its toll, especially when the desire to rescue becomes a thirst for retribution that leaves blood on Dixie’s hands.
What can readers expect from BEAUTY WITH A BOMB?
Thrills, chills and a few laughs along the way. This is Dixie Flynn’s third adventure, and picks up a short time after the events of DEVIL WITH A GUN. Like her first two adventures, BEAUTY WITH A BOMB starts out with what Suspense Magazine calls “one of the most dramatic and shocking scenes I have ever read.” Dixie is also quite a bit different from the stand-alone thrillers that I write as Grant McKenzie. For one, Dixie is written in first-person, present-tense, female perspective, while my thrillers are third-person, past-tense. I also try and have more fun with the Dixie books by including more humour and quirky, fun characters. With that said, however, the plots can be dark and dangerous, but only because I know Dixie can handle them.
By Ian Walkley
Rex Burns once said that he wanted to write about the people who wouldn’t rate a footnote in a book but whose stories portray the dark reality of the common man. Based in Boulder, Colorado, Burns is a first-rate storyteller and is still writing at a remarkable rate at age 79. Critics rate him among the best fictional police writers, with a hardboiled style, a keen eye for procedural detail, and superbly drawn characters.
His latest offering, CRUDE CARRIER (October, Mysterious Press), is the second in his current series, which follows the adventures of a father/daughter team of private investigators of James Raiford and Julie Campbell, operating as Touchstone Associates. Burns’ first series introduced Gabe Wager, the Denver police detective, and his debut novel THE ALVAEZ JOURNAL won an Edgar Award. A second series featured a private detective in Denver, Devlin Kirk, who specialized in industrial security. The Touchstone Associates series was launched in 2013 with BODY SLAM, which focused on the world of professional wrestling.
In CRUDE CARRIER, a sailor dies under unusual circumstances on a supertanker. When the shipping company stonewalls the investigation, the sailor’s parents contact Touchstone. James Raiford joins the “Aurora Victorious” as an electronics officer, and Julie digs into the proprietors’ shadowy background. They quickly discover that international oil shipping is a ruthless business, and its secrets run as deep as the ocean itself.
Firstly, Rex, why a story about international oil shipping?
I wanted a setting and case that would be somewhat unusual for Raiford and his daughter, so I gave her London and him an oil tanker. But also, I like ships and deep-water cruises—even on troop ships. And since I’d found fascinating information about the merchant marine in my research, I hoped to share that subject with readers. As for the London setting, well, it was a pleasure to re-visit some of my favorite corners of a city with so many literary echoes.
By Mary Kennedy
Recently, I sat down with Carolyn Hart to talk about GHOST WANTED, the fifth book in her Bailey Ruth series. Ms. Hart (who also writes the enormously popular Death on Demand series) has come up with an unlikely recipe for success: take one amateur sleuth who happens to be a ghost, add a heavenly supervisor who sends her on a mission to earth, and mix a healthy dose of humor and an engaging plot. Now stir well and enjoy this delicious concoction.
GHOST WANTED is the fifth in the Bailey Ruth series, and the heroine is as irrepressible as ever. I’m intrigued by her relationship with Wiggins, her straight-arrow supervisor at Heaven’s Department of Good Intentions. Bailey Ruth is known to be something of a loose cannon and I remember she was operating off the grid occasionally in book four, GHOST GONE WILD. I wondered if Wiggins is ever exasperated with her? Or is her feistiness part of her charm?
In GHOST WANTED, Wiggins hopes that Bailey Ruth’s imagination and kindness will rescue the reputation of the library’s resident ghost who has a special place in Wiggins’s heart. We discover the heartbreak of World War I and hope that Bailey Ruth can reunite lovers parted on the battlefield.
You once said that writers enjoy creating recurring characters because “the author knows the terrain and understands the characters’ mores.” I think you were talking about Annie and Max Darling in the Broward’s Rock series, but does it hold true for Bailey Ruth? Will she ever push the envelope on her missions to earth and defy Wiggins?
Bailey Ruth is always on the edge of catastrophe but so far she has managed through charm to avoid a precipitous return to Heaven when she incurs Wiggins’s displeasure. I am currently writing next year’s Bailey Ruth and she is at the moment fending off The Rescue Express.
By John Clement
Being the resident “cozy-ologist” here at THE BIG THRILL, I’m accustomed to talking with writers of cozy mysteries, so my questions tend to lean in the same direction as well, like “Where do you find your recipes?” or “What’s your favorite color?” But ten pages into James Lilliefors’s newest book, THE PSALMIST, and I knew I had to change my game. Lilliefors is an award-winning journalist and novelist who grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. His work has appeared in Runner’s World, The Washington Post, The Miami Herald, The Boston Globe, and The Baltimore Sun, and his novels include BANANAVILLE, a mystery, and THE LEVIATHAN EFFECT and VIRAL, both geopolitical thrillers.
Published by Harper Collins this past July, THE PSALMIST is the first installment in the new Hunters and Bower mystery series. It’s hard-edged, compelling, and just a tiny bit cozy, so I knew in this case I needed to get right down to the nitty-gritty.
Without giving too much away, what is the story of The Psalmist?
THE PSALMIST tells the tale of a small, close-knit community on Maryland’s Eastern Shore that is visited one morning by an inexplicable crime. Luke Bowers, head pastor at the old wooden Tidewater Methodist Church, discovers a dead woman seated in the sanctuary of his church, her eyes open, her hands clasped as if in prayer. The woman clearly was murdered, although there is nothing at the scene to identify her or to explain why she was left there—other than a series of numbers carved into her right hand, which Luke begins to think may be a reference to the book of Psalms. As the strong-willed homicide cop Amy Hunter investigates this bizarre crime, she begins to find links to other murders in the mid-Atlantic region—and eventually to a more sweeping crime targeting the United States government.
The Psalmist is really a story about predators, which may come in the form of an unknown killer who strikes after dark or a sinister idea spread invisibly by the government—but may also be the neighbor next door or the friendly clerk who sells us our groceries.
This debut novel never lets the reader off the edge of the seat—the mark of a great story. When college student Joe Talbert decides to interview a convicted rapist and murderer for a class assignment, he finds himself thrust into a web of lies and deceit that put his and other lives in grave danger. Talbert’s anguished relationship with an alcoholic mother and his deep tenderness for an autistic younger brother make him a sympathetic and fully formed protagonist. Eskens manages to weave intricacies of the justice and prison systems into the story while maintaining a tight grip on the pace and tension.
Eskens is a practicing criminal defense attorney with an undergraduate degree in journalism and a J.D. from Hamline University School of Law. He has participated in the Minnesota State University M.F.A. program as well as classes and seminars at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.
He took time from his busy practice and current writing project to speak with THE BIG THRILL.
Tell us how long you’ve been writing and what inspired you to write this first novel.
I began writing immediately after graduating from law school. Although I was a first-class legal writer, that didn’t translate into good fiction, so I started reading books like THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES by Joseph Campbell and ON BECOMING A NOVELIST by John Gardner. When books were no longer enough, I began attending classes at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis and the Iowa Summer Writers Festival. That eventually led to me enrolling in the MFA program at Minnesota State University.
By Daniel Friedman
Steph Cha’s feminist neo-noir novel FOLLOW HER HOME introduced Juniper Song, a Korean-American private investigator with an Ivy League degree, a troubled past, and a bottle within reach at all times.
In Cha’s second novel, BEWARE BEWARE, Song takes what seems like a simple surveillance job tailing the cokehead long-distance boyfriend of a worried New York artist. But the boyfriend gets tangled up in the murder of a movie star, and Song’s job gets more complicated as she delves into twisted celebrity affairs in order to try to exonerate her client.
Meanwhile, Song’s roommate Lori Lim is pursued by an amorous gangster who won’t take “no” for an answer.
Reviewing BEWARE BEWARE in the Los Angeles Times, novelist Paula Woods wrote that Cha conjures up “more diversely mean streets than the masters of noir could have imagined” and that “Nathanael West and Raymond Chandler would be proud.”
Cha agreed to answer some questions about Juniper Song and her new book.
James Ellroy said in the Paris Review that “Chandler wrote the kind of guy that he wanted to be, Hammett wrote the kind of guy that he was afraid he was.” Song idolizes Chandler’s detective, Philip Marlowe, but in this book, she makes some decisions that Marlowe, in a similar situation, probably wouldn’t. What kind of person is Song, to you?
I started writing Song as an amateur detective, and it was important to me that she retain some measure of authenticity as a person in the world who reacts to events in realistic, relatable ways. Obviously, there’s a wide spectrum of ordinary human behavior, but I didn’t want to write her into an action hero, or an incorruptible savior. I like Song. She’s far from perfect, but she’s smart and competent, with a good, loyal heart. She’s tough but not untouchable, and things wear down on her. Marlowe lived by a code, and I fell in love with that character because of his core integrity and bruised idealism. Song also admires Marlowe, but she is not above things like fear and compromise. She’s unsympathetic at times, but probably someone I’d want to be friends with in the end.
Grab a cup of coffee and settle in for a page-turning tale of murder and betrayal small town style. DEAD BROKE IN JARRETT CREEK is the third in the mystery series featuring the lovable Samuel Craddock, former chief of police. The fictionalized town of Jarrett Creek, Texas has its share of secrets and a cast of characters to rival any soap opera. Recent financial troubles have caused the town to totter on the brink of bankruptcy and left it unable to pay for a full-time police force. When Gary Dellmore, a man with as many flaws as enemies, turns up dead, the town looks to Craddock to return to work and solve the murder. Craddock’s investigation reveals that Dellmore was a philandering husband, a crooked businessman, and an indiscreet banker. The fun begins as we ride along with Craddock to the front porches and cozy kitchens of his Texas neighbors as skeletons fall from their closets and illicit liaisons are revealed.
THE BIG THRILL caught up with author Terry Shames and we chatted about her latest book and her life as a writer.
Samuel Craddock is a character you want to sit down and have coffee with. He’s smart, honorable, and doesn’t take himself too seriously. Is he based on a person you know or did he materialize completely out of your imagination?
Samuel presented himself to me full-blown. He’s a combination of many men I’ve known in my life. As a kid, I always liked to hang around men—I thought they were more interesting than women, because women always talked about babies, clothes, and dieting. When I grew up, I joined the ranks of the women, but my early education in hearing stories was through men. In particular, Samuel is a combination of my grandfather, my father, my husband, and my dear friend Charlie, who died a few years ago. Incidentally, my grandfather’s name was Samuel, but everyone called him Sam—and that’s one reason I never call Samuel Craddock “Sam.”
Born and raised in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, writer Adrian McKinty has lived across the globe. He left his home country to study politics and philosophy at Oxford. From there, he landed in New York where he spent seven years living, and struggling, in Harlem. Life then took another turn, this time to Denver, where he taught high school English. Today, McKinty lives in Australia.
Despite his travels, it was the return to his roots in Ireland that brought him success. McKinty is regarded as one of the brightest lights in Irish crime writing, garnering numerous literary awards and comparisons to storied crime writer Raymond Chandler. Publishers Weekly has called him “one of his generation’s leading talents.”
From 10,000 miles away at his home in St. Kilda, Melbourne, McKinty graciously agreed to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
First off, please tell us a little about your new book, THE SUN IS GOD.
It’s based on a true story of German intellectuals who set up a nudist colony on a remote South Pacific island in 1906. They believed that worshipping the sun and eating only coconuts would make them immortal. Alas, it didn’t and one of them was murdered on the island. The German authorities went to investigate and that was the basis for my novel.
Your Sean Duffy series has been so well received, why the departure from the series to write THE SUN IS GOD?
The story was just too crazy not to do. I was flabbergasted when I read it and amazed that no one had written it up as a true crime book or a novel. True crime seemed like a lot of work (getting all the facts right, etc.) so I wrote it up as a novel instead.
By Dawn Ius
LJ Sellers is no stranger to thrill. She’s an adrenaline junkie who has jumped from a plane multiple times and even—gasp!—performed a stand-up comedy routine in front of an unsuspecting audience.
While many of her thrill-seeking adventures make it onto the page, Sellers hasn’t yet found a place for comedy in her novels.
“I admire authors who do,” she says. “There are moments where my characters may do something funny, and I can play up on that, but personally, I haven’t found a way to merge the comedy and thriller genres.”
Instead, LJ focuses on plot, which she admits is her favorite part of the creative process. As a self-defined linear author, Sellers carves out a rough outline and then begins with the first chapter, continuously plotting and writing until the first draft is complete.
“I love writing complex plots,” she says.
Actually, she loves writing—period.
Her latest Detective Jackson novel, DEADLY BONDS, releases this month, but she’s already written two books since completing final edits, and has started a new story. Prolific, certainly, but perhaps partially out of necessity.
“It’s a competitive market out there,” she says. “One of the only ways to stay visual is to write a lot of books.”
DEADLY BONDS is the ninth novel in the Detective Jackson series, a thrilling story that will show readers a softer side of her beloved rough and gruff character. Inspired by a new development in her life, Sellers introduces a young boy into Jackson’s, drawing from him many of the emotions she has experienced since welcoming a new granddaughter into her world.
By Dan Levy
There’s a reason most of us write fiction—we don’t want to actually endure what we put our protagonists through. Sure, it’s fun to live that life in our minds for a few hours at a time and chronicle what we see. But as fiction writers, we revel in the comfort that we still get to play God on the page and are in total control.
Those who chose to live the life of a thriller protagonist—or antagonist—find their books to be welcome on the memoir, true crime or autobiography shelves. However, there are a few exceptions where fact and fiction merge—most notably the connection between Ian Fleming’s time in the British Secret Service and James Bond.
Add Mark Pryor to the list of people who seem to live the lives they write about. A former crime reporter in the UK, Pryor moved to the US, got his law degree and became an assistant district attorney in Austin, Texas. His prosecution wins include a Mexican mafia enforcer, murderers, rapists, robbers and a transvestite prostitute—to which he admits feeling a bit bad about. He prosecuted a cold case that got the attention of CBS’s 48 Hours and was the impetus for Pryor’s true crime story AS SHE LAY SLEEPING.
Turning Fascination to Fiction
So why does Pryor, an admitted adrenaline junkie (prior to having children, anyway), need to write thriller fiction? “I’m very interested in the criminal mind. I’ve never understood how, in a premeditated way, people do very bad things to other people.” Pryor noted that HELTER SKELTER was a “gateway book” for him. “I grew up on a farm in England, and had a very bucolic childhood. [In] reading that book, everything was so bizarre and twisted. I couldn’t understand it. I’ve been fascinated by it ever since.”
By Wendy Tyson
Raised on a farm in southwest Pennsylvania, author Annette Dashofy has had a variety of careers, including emergency medical technician, groom at a racetrack, and yoga instructor, and she has drawn on her interesting and varied past to create the Zoe Chambers mystery series. In the first Chambers novel, CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE, Dashofy introduces us to EMT and deputy coroner Zoe Chambers and Police Chief Pete Adams. In the second book, LOST LEGACY (due September 16), we follow Chambers and Adams as they investigate an apparent suicide that may be linked to a pair of forty-five-year-old suspicious deaths.
John Lawton (producer, director and author of the Inspector Troy series) said, “New York has McBain, Boston has Parker, now Vance Township, PA (“pop. 5,000. Please Drive Carefully.”) has Annette Dashofy, and her rural world is just as vivid and compelling as their city noir.” I have had the pleasure of meeting Annette in person and she is as captivating as the colorful characters she creates. I am so pleased that Annette agreed to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
LOST LEGACY is the second in the Zoe Chambers series. As with the first Chambers novel, CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE, the setting—a small town in rural western Pennsylvania—is a character in the story. You grew up in a similar environment. How did your own experiences in rural Pennsylvania influence your novel?
Southwestern Pennsylvania is very much my home and my heart. It’s second nature to add it to my books. Having grown up in a farm family, I was always keenly aware of the weather because a farmer’s livelihood depends on getting enough snow in the winter, having enough dry weather in the summer to get the crops in, but enough rain so everything doesn’t dry up. And goodness knows we have a wide variety of weather to work with here! It just makes sense to me to have the weather and my surroundings play a big part in the story.
With MARTINI REGRETS, the sixth installment of the Sherri Travis series, Phyllis Smallman brings you Sherri’s most frightening and spine tingling misadventure yet. The story transports you from a gritty crime scene in the Florida Everglades to a black-tie masquerade ball in Sarasota before reaching its shocking conclusion on a remote island in the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s almost midnight and Sherri Travis is about to take Alligator Alley across the Everglades when she realizes she’s low on gas. She turns off the main road and into the swamp to find a service station on Last Chance Road. Her pickup is carjacked and Sherri is left alone at night in the Glades. Hiding from dangerous men and in fear for her life, she stumbles across the body of a man. From alligators and snakes to the men called swamp rats, evil comes in many disguises and offers no second chances for Sherri.
Phyllis Smallman’s first novel, MARGARITA NIGHTS, won the inaugural Unhanged Arthur award from the Crime Writers of Canada. Her writing has appeared in both Spinetingler Magazine and Omni Mystery Magazine. The Florida Writer’s Association awarded CHAMPAGNE FOR BUZZARDS a silver medal for the best mystery and her fifth book, HIGHBALL EXIT, won an IPPY award in 2013. LONG GONE MAN won the Independent Publisher’s IPPY Gold Award as best mystery in 2014. The Sherri Travis mystery series was one of six chosen by Good Morning America for a summer read in 2010. Before turning to a life of crime, Smallman was a potter. She divides her time between a beach in Florida and an island in the Salish Sea.
Although you’re Canadian, several of your novels are set in Florida, more specifically the Everglades. What is it about this state and this area that makes for intriguing mystery settings, and why particularly for the Sherri Travis series and MARTINI REGRETS?
Thirty years ago my husband Lee and I took a little holiday in Florida and bought a house. Well, actually we bought a trailer, and while other properties have come and gone from our lives, we still have our little shack near the beach. I fell in love with Florida, not least of all because of the characters. The state is like a giant bug light for crazy people. They all rush down there with their schemes and dreams and start creating havoc. You just have to open the paper to read about grannies selling drugs out of the baby’s stroller or a developer cutting down a tree to get rid of an eagle that’s holding up a new condo site. Honest, I don’t make this stuff up. Pretty much any writer who sets a book in the Sunshine state is going to deliver eccentric characters.
If the fiction writer’s mantra is “write what you know,” then Kristi Belcamino has amassed a career’s worth of background material. A crime reporter by trade, the Minneapolis resident based her debut on a series of interviews she conducted with a convicted kidnapper who claimed to be a serial killer. BLESSED ARE THE DEAD is a gripping fictionalization of that encounter, putting the reader in the shoes of young Gabriella Giovanni, a San Francisco Bay Area newspaper reporter whose second adventure was released as BLESSED ARE THE MEEK on July 29.
I’ve known Kristi for three years. We met via Twitter, when she found out I was visiting the Twin Cities to research my second novel. Kristi threw me a wonderful dinner party with her writer’s group, set me up with contacts in the Minnesota PD, and hooked me up with tours of the locations I’d set out to research. BLESSED ARE THE DEAD was still searching for a publisher then, but in the years that followed, I’ve had the pleasure of watching Kristi find an agent and a home for her wonderful debut.
Recently, I lobbed a few questions at her about the series, the writing process, and just how many similarities she shares with her protagonist.
Kristi, your debut, BLESSED ARE THE DEAD, was just published by Harper-Collins. Congratulations! Tell us about the book.
Thank you! It’s been a dream come true for sure. The book, which features an Italian-American crime reporter and is the first in a series of at least four books, is inspired by my dealings with a serial killer while I was a reporter on the crime beat in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some of the actual jailhouse conversations I had with this man are in my book. When he died in prison a few years back, I was called for a comment.
By Stacy Mantle
Author Mike Resnick has a long history of success in the science fiction and thriller categories. Beyond earning five Hugo awards, he has taken home the Science Fiction Chronicle Poll Award, the Nebula, the Homer, the Alexander, the Golden Pagoda Award, and Dog Writers Association Awards.
Humor goes a long way toward breaking dramatic tension, and no one does it better than Resnick. Larger-than-life characters pump up the action. As a long-time fixture in science fiction, Resnick draws on over one hundred novels and short stories to make his stories successful.
We had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his process, co-writing with his wife, the writing habits that have made him a success, and the importance of loving what you do.
Please tell us a little about CAT ON A COLD TIN ROOF.
It’s the third mystery novel featuring a middle-aged divorced detective, Eli Paxton, who lives in Cincinnati. Unlike a lot of his fictional contemporaries, he doesn’t distrust the police, doesn’t use his fists to solve crimes, and doesn’t bed every good-looking woman he comes across. Since the first two in the series were DOG IN THE MANGER and THE TROJAN COLT, I felt it incumbent to have an animal in the title, as well as making it one of the keys to the plot. But unlike the first two books, which had to do with dog shows and horse racing, this doesn’t involve the cat in any sport.
By Dawn Ius
In the dark and ominous world of noir fiction, most heroes are looking for a light at the end of the tunnel. But for Jersey Leo, the albino bartender in John Florio’s SUGAR POP MOON and BLIND MOON ALLEY, sunshine is something to be avoided.
“Typically, people enjoy warm summer days, but in Jersey’s case, a bright, shining sun only brings more problems,” Florio says. “His albinism pits him against convention.”
In fact, the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation has documented the number of characters with albinism featured in pop culture, and with few exceptions, most are cast as the “evil bad guy.”
“When I started writing SUGAR POP MOON, I wanted to write about an outsider,” he says. “I considered a few options. But having a hero with albinism put a different spin on things—it added another set of conflicts, another layer of tension. Looking back, I guess it was a bit of a risk.”
The gamble paid off. After a successful run with SUGAR POP MOON, Seventh Street Books purchased BLIND MOON ALLEY based on its first chapter alone—a clear demonstration of the faith the publisher had in both the character and the world Florio had created.
Set in Philadelphia during Prohibition, BLIND MOON ALLEY finds Jersey “Snowball” Leo tending bar at a speakeasy the locals call the Ink Well. There, he’s considered a hero for saving the life of a young boy. But Jersey soon finds himself running from a band of crooked cops, hiding an escaped convict in the Ink Well, and reuniting with his grammar school crush—the now sultry Myra Banks, who has shed a club foot and become a speakeasy siren.
Historical mysteries can hold our attention with a good brain teaser, even while they teach us timeless lessons about humanity. That gives you two good reasons to read THE PALE HOUSE by Luke McCallin.
Set in Yugoslavia during the final days of World War II, THE PALE HOUSE centers on Captain Gregor Reinhardt, a German army intelligence officer assigned to a new, powerful branch of the military police. Reinhardt had been a police detective in Berlin and belonged to a resistance group secretly opposing the Nazis. His new position separated him from the group. An officer in an army he hates, Reinhardt is a haunted, tortured soul.
“There’s depth to Reinhardt,” McCallin says. “He feels his times very keenly. He feels his own inadequacies more keenly still. What I wanted to do in creating and writing Reinhardt was to make people think that he could be you. An ordinary man in extraordinary times, still trying to behave and believe in what makes sense, but so painfully aware of his own fears and limitations, and still knowing what is right and what is wrong.”
This novel is the story of what happens when this self-depreciating man with the dry sense of humor witnesses a massacre of civilians while he and the German army are retreating through Yugoslavia. While he does not consider himself a hero, he learns that there is more to the incident than anyone else believes. He is still a police detective at heart, so when five mutilated bodies turn up he is the one who sees the bigger picture. And he must decide what to do.
The foreign setting will certainly entice readers with the promise of adventure in the Balkans, a part of the world associated with intrigue and treachery. But McCallin admits that wasn’t the only reason.
By Dan Levy
As an admitted adrenaline junkie, one would think a day job as an ER nurse would give Beth Amos (writing under the name Allyson K. Abbot for the Mack’s Bar series) got her daily dose of excitement at work. Not so, even after more tha forty years in the business, “I have seen, smelled, touched, been doused in, and exposed to some very gross looking and smelling things. Only one thing has ever made me gag. Ear wax is my kryptonite.”
Since that isn’t enough action, Beth fills her free time creating interesting characters and then putting them through some adrenaline-inducing situations. Such is the case with Mackenzie “Mack” Dalton, owner and chief mixologist at Mack’s Bar in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Like every good protagonist, Amos gave Mack her own set of real and relatable flaws. But for that one trait that makes Mack special, Amos turned to her experience in the medical field.
“I first heard of synesthesia from a neurologist years ago,” said Amos. “A simplistic definition of synesthesia is that it’s a cross-wiring, or in some ways an overlap, between the senses. As a result, people may see things they hear as shapes, colors, or patterns. Or something they see might trigger a taste sensation. There are different types and degrees of synesthesia, and I think it’s much more common than many people realize.”
Ten-year-old orphan Libète has been hardened by the daily struggle to survive in Cité Soleil, Haiti’s most infamous slum. But when she and her best friend, Jak, discover a young mother and her baby brutally murdered in a nearby marsh, it’s unlike anything she’s encountered before. Though initially shocked, the adults of Cité Soleil move on quickly from the event; after all, death is commonplace in this community. Undaunted, Libète takes action with Jak in tow, plunging herself into a dangerous, far-reaching plot that will change her irrevocably and threaten everything she holds dear.
BECAUSE WE ARE is a profound and mesmerizing tale of a young girl’s search for justice in an unjust world, set against the vivid and tumultuous backdrop of modern-day Haiti.
What was the genesis for this novel? Why tell the story through the girl Libète?
The spark for the story was a little girl. Shortly after the 2010 earthquake that reduced so much of Port-au-Prince to rubble, I worked as a law student intern in Cité Soleil, a slum on the outskirts of Haiti’s capitol. During my days there, a girl of ten—incredibly bright, mischievous, and sharp-tongued—would flit through our office. Though she’d never solved a murder, I wouldn’t put it past her! The thought of casting a character inspired by her as the lead in a mystery became irresistible, and Libète, my protagonist, was born.
By Derek Gunn
Mystery and thriller writer…dog lover…dreamer—these are the words that greet you on Wendy Tyson’s website. The themes carry over into her writing and appeared in our correspondence during the writing of this article. I mean what’s not to like about this woman?
DEADLY ASSETS is the second book in the Allison Campbell mystery series but don’t let that worry you about jumping straight in. Allison Campbell is Philadelphia’s premier image consultant and helps others reinvent themselves. She is a gutsy woman who had to rebuild her life and her own confidence when an old case went wrong and she lost her practice and her husband. Today, she is well-heeled and polished and moves in a world of powerful executives, wealthy, eccentric ex-wives, and twisted ethics. And boy, are they eccentric!
Tyson’s background is in law and psychology and she lives near Philadelphia with her husband, three sons, and two of the aforementioned dogs, Labs Molly and Driggs. Tyson kindly supplied a concise summary of the first book for me, but DEADLY ASSETS is definitely a novel you can pick up and leap straight into. The characters introduce themselves quickly and the back story is revealed when background is needed.
The first thing that will strike you about this book is Tyson’s writing. I loved it from the first page; clouds bruising clear skies and ramshackle mansions that, similar to their owners, have seen better days, are just two of the well-crafted descriptions that had me breezing through the pages.
Elle Harrison is back in Merry Jones’s latest release, ELECTIVE PROCEDURES. Recovering from her husband Charlie’s death, Elle Harrison agrees to visit a fortuneteller with a girlfriend. The fortuneteller predicts that Elle will travel, meet a new man, and, oh, by the way—Elle’s aura is filled with death, the dead are drawn to her, and death will follow her everywhere.
Elle is shaken, but she tries to ignore the ridiculous prediction. She and her pals travel to Mexico where one of them has arranged cosmetic surgery, planning to recuperate in a plush hotel suite. But more is going on at the hotel than tummy tucks.
As dangers swirl, Elle is forced to face her unresolved issues with Charlie, even as she races to find the connections between the murders before more patients—including her friend—are killed.
And before she becomes prey herself.
Tell us something about ELECTIVE PROCEDURES that isn’t mentioned in the publisher’s synopsis.
Wow, there are so many things not mentioned. But the most important part to me is the psychological issues that the book deals with. For example, the protagonist, Elle Harrison, suffers from a mild dissociative disorder that causes her to mentally drift away when she’s under stress. So when things get dicey, Elle tends to go off into her thoughts, missing sometimes critical pieces of information. Her friends have learned to deal with this aspect of her character, and they call her dissociative incidents “pulling an Elle,” and they help her cope.
Some of the other characters in ELECTIVE PROCEDURES also deal with psychological issues such as body dysmorphic disorder, which causes a distorted self-image. Some of the people seeking cosmetic surgery in the book do so because they have this disorder and think they constantly need “fixing.”
Reporters make great fictional detectives: they are inquisitive, determined, and generally unarmed. James W. Ziskin proves how engrossing a journalist’s investigation can be in his latest novel, NO STONE UNTURNED: AN ELLIE STONE MYSTERY.
This charming tale, the sequel to Ellie’s first case, STYX AND STONE, is set in upstate New York. The story takes place in the 1960s when a young reporter who played by her own rules couldn’t count on computer analysis, cell phones, or 21st century CSI tools when searching for a killer. Ellie is a fascinating character and a strong protagonist, as her creator explains.
“She’s charming, witty, and magnetic,” Ziskin says. “She has a strong ethical compass, even if her personal mores are libertine. She knows she’s smart, probably smarter than anyone in the room, but she’s not arrogant.”
In fact, Ellie doesn’t see herself as a heroine, she just does what she feels a reporter should do. She learns of a twenty-one-year-old society girl found dead and half-buried in the woods. Ellie is the first reporter on the scene. Alone and far from her native New York City, Ellie sees this investigation as a chance to pull her career out of its downward spiral. In addition to a crafting a fine whodunit Ziskin uses the setting to good effect to reveal character in interesting ways. After all, upstate New York is itself an interesting character.
“I like the cultural conflicts and discoveries of a fish out of water at play in NO STONE UNTURNED,”he says. “Ellie is a sophisticated New York girl from a privileged, intellectual background. New Holland offers little of that world. But it does present many other challenges for her to surmount. “
Murder is once again the catalyst for mystery and P.I. intrigue in California as Karen Keskinen’s second novel, BLACK CURRENT, hits bookshelves, both real and virtual, this month. Denise Hamilton, author of DAMAGE CONTROL and editor of Akashic’s LOS ANGELES NOIR called Keskinen’s first book, BLOOD ORANGE, “[a]n impressive debut with echoes of Sue Grafton and Ross Macdonald featuring appealing characters, a twisty plot, buried family secrets, and a coastal California backdrop saturated in color and light.” Fans of that work will surely be eager to get their hands—and, more importantly, eyes—on the sequel, BLACK CURRENT, when it comes out this month.
THE BIG THRILL recently caught up with Karen so she could give us some insight into her latest entry in her mystery series, provide some clues to what readers should expect, and tell us a little about the story behind the stories.
Congratulations on your most recent novel, BLACK CURRENT! Tell us a little about your protagonist, P.I. Jaymie Zarlin, and how this second book picks up after BLOOD ORANGE lets off.
Jaymie moved to Santa Barbara, California, some three years before the events recorded in BLOOD ORANGE. She moved south to try to help her brother Brodie, who was living on the streets. When Brodie died in the downtown jail, Jaymie decided to remain in Santa Barbara and become a private investigator. The focus of her work was to find missing people. But that focus changed when she was hired to discover who’d killed Lili Molina, a Santa Barbara High School student found raped and murdered after the annual Solstice Parade. BLOOD ORANGE is the story of Jaymie’s investigation into Lili’s death and, subsequently, the death of Danny Armenta, a young man falsely accused of Lili’s murder.
By Karen Harper
Karen Harper caught up with very busy poet-turned-thriller-author, Erica Wright, just as she was getting ready to launch her debut novel. Erica is heading to New York City in June for events and publicity, and we wish her all the best—and to her intrepid heroine Kathleen Stone.
What is THE RED CHAMELEON about?
With a little help from the best wigmaker on the Atlantic seaboard, Kathleen Stone can take on a variety of personas, from a posh real estate agent to a petulant teenage boy. She was once a valuable undercover cop for the New York Police Department, but since her early retirement following a botched case, she has gone a little soft. These days, she mostly catches cheating spouses in flagrante. When one husband ends up not so much adulterous as dead, Kathleen must use her rusty skills to catch a killer.
You have two fascinating elements in your past: you are a poet and you have taught at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. What did you teach there? How have these experiences impacted your first novel?
I taught composition courses at John Jay, but snuck a little poetry onto the syllabus. Carolyn Forché’s “The Colonel” was always a favorite. My students definitely played a role in my interest in crime writing. They were mostly going into criminology, so I tried to educate myself on their career paths even if only to make our conferences more productive. I had no intention of writing a mystery novel when I started teaching, but looking back, it almost seems inevitable.
Poisoned Pen Press calls it “pet noir” and I assumed it was a cozy with cuss words and a cat. But no—author Clea Simon is back with another beautifully-written suspense story about a psychic with a penchant for animals who helps solve a local murder deep in a Massachusetts forest. For anyone interested in psychic phenomena, communicating with animals, and crime fiction—a much broader audience than one might imagine—you can count me in.
Simon recently agreed to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
Are you a pet psychic?
Ha! No, I am not! I wish I was a pet psychic. I started writing about Pru being one because I think any of us who loves our pets feels we can understand them. I mean, I have conversations with my cat all the time. I do think I can read her body language—but often I imagine her talking back to me and I hear her voice as having a snarky tone. And that interaction became the basis for Pru and her tabby Wallis.
Your “pet noir” series could easily have been a cozy. Why noir?
Cozies have gotten a bad rap—people think “cutesy.” I prefer the term “traditional mysteries” for my cozies, like my Dulcie Schwartz and Theda Krakow books. Little graphic sex or violence, and lots of focus on character. The Pru Marlowe books do have that noir edge, but I have the same goals for them. What interests me in books are the people, the characters. I like traditional mysteries because they focus on the people. I want to write books where everyone is, to some extent, someone you could sympathize with. Not that you would necessarily commit murder, but you could understand how a person could be driven to the edge by something. And, of course, I want readers to be able to relate to my protagonists, even when they’re a little bookish and unworldly (like Dulcie) or snappy and standoffish, as Pru can be.