In J.R. Scott’s newest thriller, THE HORSE HIDE, murder at a racetrack draws ace reporter Alie McCull into the dark underworld of the horse business. But that’s only the start of her problems. She’s blindsided by infidelity, and the untimely appearance of an old flame serves to complicate both her personal life and her investigation. As she creeps through a labyrinth of deception and misdirection, every uncovered truth brings her closer to mortal danger.
In this Q&A with The Big Thrill, Scott talks about his inspiration for his protagonist—and explains the background behind his intriguing bio. Scroll down for the full story!
Alie McCull is an interesting protagonist. Is she based on someone you know? What brought her about and why do you keep returning to her as a protagonist?
I fashioned Alie as a character who has a little bit of all of us in her. Or how deep down the way we’d like to be; loud, brash and impatient with a world that seems unjust. But tempered with empathy for the little guy trampled on by society. Alie is not always “politically correct”—she’s not too concerned about offending people. Just because you tick someone off doesn’t mean you’re not right. As a woman, Alie has a strong sense of empowerment and equality. Using her as a recurring character is a literary tool to examine the world through a microscope. All the people under the lens are creatures just trying to make sense of events in their daily lives.
THE HORSE HIDE, with its backdrop of horse racing, reminded me of the late Dick Francis. Did his work influence you?
I must confess that I’ve never read a Dick Francis novel. I’ve always been fascinated by the old ‘50s and ‘60s hardboiled mystery novels I read as a kid, Ross MacDonald and Mickey Spillane being on the hit list. And the classic noir films that pop up on TMC every so often. The backdrop of THE HORSE HIDE came from the hours spent on tedious research that most writers do, but afterwards always gives me that pesky brain-damaged feeling.
Allen Eskens’ debut novel, The Life We Bury, was a breakout hit for Seventh Street Books in 2014. His second novel, THE GUISE OF ANOTHER, releases October 6, 2015. I sat down with Allen to talk about his writing, his success, and THE GUISE OF ANOTHER.
First, congratulations on the success of The Life We Bury, which won the Rosebud Award at Left Coast Crime and was a finalist for the Edgar for Best First Novel and ThrillerFest Best First Novel. If that weren’t enough, Suspense Magazine and MysteryPeople named it one of the best books of 2014. And a starred review from Publishers Weekly and a movie option, all in less than a year. Tell us how you keep yourself grounded and in the saddle writing more books.
Thank you, Jim, for this interview and for the kind, congratulatory introduction. It has been a terrific year, no doubt, far exceeding my wildest dreams. For a while after The Life We Bury launched, it seemed like there was some new review or internet post every day that pulled at my attention. I didn’t have quite the discipline I’d hoped to have, but I have a multi-book deal and in order to remain on pace I’ve had to create discipline.
THE GUISE OF ANOTHER is a heart-pounding thriller, a game of cat and mouse between a cop and a ruthless assassin. The Life We Bury is more of a mystery. Are you moving in a new direction or will we see more of both from you?
My first two books are similar in some ways, but they do have clear differences. The Life We Bury is more character driven and has a stronger emphasis on literary writing. THE GUISE OF ANOTHER is more reliant on thriller elements and plot. This came about because after I completed The Life We Bury, I started the arduous process of seeking an agent. After the first couple weeks, I realized that agents weren’t clamoring to get me as a client, so I distracted myself by starting a second novel (THE GUISE OF ANOTHER). Because I didn’t have a readership, I decided to write something a bit different than The Life We Bury.
Before The Life We Bury hit the store shelves, I had submitted THE GUISE OF ANOTHER to Seventh Street Books and signed a three-book deal. I like playing with the spectrum of plot and character (and scene) and plan to keep adjusting those elements depending on what I think the story calls for.
By E. M. Powell
The first novel featuring cops’ reporter Gabriella Giovanni, Blessed Are The Dead, is nominated for both a Macavity and an Anthony Award. Now author Kristi Belcamino has brought Giovanni back for a fourth time in her latest release, BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN.
Although she’s in a happy relationship with Detective Sean Donovan, one that has given them their beloved daughter, Grace, Giovanni can’t let go of her traumatic past. When a string of young co-eds start to show up dead with suspicious Biblical verses left on their bodies—the same verses that the man she suspects kidnapped and murdered her sister twenty years ago had sent to her—Giovanni fears the killer is trying to send her a message.
It’s already a taut, fast-moving read. But when Grace’s life is threatened, the novel becomes a nerve-jangling hunt for her, with Giovanni increasingly terror-fueled in her desperate attempts to save her daughter.
A mother herself, Belcamino acknowledges that she is extremely fortunate that she has never had to deal with anything as serious as Giovanni has in her books, describing it as “absolutely the worst nightmare I can imagine.” She does however convey that visceral fear of motherhood under one of its most extreme challenges with great skill. At one point she has Giovanni musing that if anyone had told me that motherhood leads to this: your heart ripped to shreds while you are willing to beg the devil to take your soul in exchange for the safety of your child—if I had been magically given a glimpse of my life right now by the Ghost of the Future, I would’ve said, “Fuck that.”
But as a newspaper reporter covering crime, Belcamino has spent time growing close to parents who have lost their children in the most horrendous ways imaginable. She alludes to the tragic case of Xiana Fairchild, a little girl who was kidnapped and murdered. Belcamino maintains a friendship with Xiana’s family to this day, and believes she lost a lot of objectivity writing those very difficult stories.
If you’ve ever wondered what goes on in the minds of police officers, pick up one of Ellen Kirschman’s books. Her latest, THE RIGHT WRONG THING, takes psychologist Dot Meyerhoff behind closed doors and into her sessions with cops in crisis. It is a world where outsiders are unwelcome and closed ranks are the norm. When rookie officer Randy Spelling shoots an unarmed pregnant teen, it is the catalyst for a series of events that tears the community and the department apart.
For over thirty years you’ve worked with police and first responders. What first made you interested in specializing in this area?
I was working as a social worker in an outpatient psychiatric clinic. Several of my clients were married to cops who were struggling with depression, nightmares, post-traumatic stress, angry outbursts, and alcoholism. These women needed help and there was none available. I decided to start a support group for police wives and the response was so overwhelming it drove me back to school for my doctorate and later on to write I LOVE A COP. Today police families have a lot of support and acknowledgement. I’m gratified to have been part of that beginning effort.
Is there anything you would like to see changed in the way police departments handle the psychological health of their officers?
I would like to see every agency, big or small, have a confidential peer support program including family members as peers, family orientations at first hire and again every five years, a chaplaincy program, supervisors who are knowledgeable about spotting mental health issues and compassionate when talking to their officers, and easy access for officers and their families to culturally competent, confidential, low-cost counseling. I’d like to see police academies devote more time to teaching officers and their families how to manage stress and develop resilience, and I’d like to see field-training programs incorporate behavioral science principles and promote wellness, both physical and psychological.
By David Healey
You might expect a Washington, D.C., lawyer to write a legal thriller filled with intrigue and conspiracies. Robert Palmer has done just that … except for the part about it being a legal thriller. Instead, Palmer’s debut novel THE SURVIVORS features a more unusual protagonist, therapist Cal Henderson. He is privy to some of Washington’s biggest secrets, and as it turns out, he has a few of his own.
Palmer’s thriller is the fascinating story of the therapist and a client who have a shared and tragic past. Together, they uncover a past that takes them both by surprise and puts them at deadly risk. While Cal is more used to talking things out than taking action, he soon finds himself dodging FBI agents, mysterious black SUVs, and powerful figures in the defense industry as he and his client search for the truth about their mutual past.
In THE SURVIVORS your main character is a therapist whose troubled client becomes the catalyst for the novel. What kind of research did you do to get the details of therapy right?
I’m a lawyer and happen to have a lot of clients who are health care professionals, including a number of psychologists (and psychiatrists). That gave me a ready-made pool of experts for my many, many questions. One thing I learned early on: psychologists are a very diverse group. If I asked a few people the same question I almost never got the same answer twice. As an example, some psychologists have “patients.” Others will never, ever, use that term and claim instead to have “clients.” And some use both terms and can’t see why it’s a problem. The best way to explain that is that psychologists work to their own personal beats. Some are warm and full of stories; some are much more clinical and distant. They are a fascinating and wonderful bunch.
By George Ebey
In Linda Thorne’s exciting debut, JUST ANOTHER TERMINATION, a career human resources manager flees bad bosses and guilt-ridden memories due to her coerced role in a wrongful termination that prompted a suicide. She finally lands a job with a good employer, but her new workplace is spun into turmoil when a young female employee is found shot to death. Then another murder occurs, and there’s a connection—both are linked to a double homicide twenty-five years earlier. Knee-deep in the investigation, the protagonist finds information that draws her back into the life of one evil, prior employer, and keeps the memory of the suicide heavy on her mind.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Thorne to learn more about her and her debut JUST ANTOHER TERMINATION.
How did you first get bitten by the writing bug?
I think it may have been in sixth grade. I have a clear memory of a homework assignment to write a poem based on any subject we’d studied that year. I chose what we’d learned about the planets. After several drafts, I finalized Mrs. Earth So Pretty. My parents seemed impressed and I pictured my teacher scrawling a large A in red ink at the top of the first page. Instead, she called me to the front of the class, gave me an airy “tsk-tsk,” and returned my assignment in a sealed envelope addressed to my parents. When my mom opened it, to our dismay, the only thing scribbled over the paper was a message stating I’d obviously copied the poem or had someone else write it. Grade: Incomplete. My mother hauled me back to school where I pleaded my case to the teacher, my mom backing up my every word. I got the A, but more importantly I felt my first rush of success and brandished a grin for creating a poem that a teacher thought was too good to have been written by an eleven-year-old.
By E. A. Aymar
Grant McKenzie doesn’t pull punches, but they’re not thrown without purpose. His new thriller, SPEAK THE DEAD, opens with three different people experiencing brutal encounters; splits time between a mortician and a hardened detective; and involves a misguided, bloodthirsty cult, none of which is gratuitous. The book moves at a fast clip, and McKenzie does a terrific job of weaving the tension into the plot; one element is never abandoned in favor of another.
McKenzie cut his teeth on five thrillers before SPEAK THE DEAD, as well as the three books in the Dixie Flynn series (under the pen name M. C. Grant) including the Shamus-nominated Beauty with a Bomb. He was kind enough to discuss his new thriller, his craft, and his journey (both the past and what comes next) in the interview below.
How did you end up working with Polis Books? Can you describe your path to that publishing house, and the experience of working with them?
My publishing journey, like a lot of authors today, has been a rollercoaster ride. I have been published by Random House, Penguin, Heyne in Germany, and others, but always, for some bizarre reason, outside of the U.S. This is especially puzzling as all my novels are rip-roaring, U.S.-based thrillers. Jason Pinter at Polis Books read my novel No Cry for Help—which was published in the U.K. and Germany by Random House—and loved it. He contacted me about U.S. rights and we ended up signing a five-book deal that is bringing one of my most popular books, Switch, to the U.S. for the first time, plus four new novels. Switch was released in trade paperback in August, and SPEAK THE DEAD arrives in hardcover in September. This will be followed by two trade paperbacks, K.A.R.M.A. and The Fear in Her Eyes, in 2016, and a brand new hardcover next September. The relationship with Polis has been wonderful as Jason and the gang truly believe in the nail-biting stories I’m telling, and they really, really want to share them with as wide an audience as possible. I’m excited for a whole new audience of readers to discover what my U.K. and German readers already know: you can’t put these thrillers down.
By Basil Sands
Laurie Moore is a cop turned investigator turned lawyer turned thriller writer. At the age of six, Moore wrote her first novel in orange crayon on blue construction paper and gave the mystery-horror hybrid to her father for his birthday.
Since then this sixth-generation Texan has come a long way. Reared in South Texas and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. degree, she rebelling against her parents’ wishes that she become a Spanish teacher, Moore joined the police department. For six years, she worked street patrol and criminal investigations until the brass decided to promote her to the rank of sergeant (their way of getting a maverick officer to comply with standard operating procedures). Bad move.
She later worked as a DA Investigator in Austin, Lockhart, and San Antonio before moving to Fort Worth in 1992 to attend law school at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law. She is currently in private practice and lives with her husband and two rude Welsh corgis, and recently retired as a licensed, commissioned peace officer after thirty-four years in law enforcement.
Tell us about your fourth book in the Deb series, DAWN OF THE DEB.
Dainty Prescott is a privileged celebutante, broadcast journalist for WBFD-TV, and the owner of the Debutante Detective Agency. In need of money, she accepts and squanders a retainer from oil baron, Avery Marshall, and becomes obligated to groom his awkward stepdaughter, Dawn, for the upcoming, uber-exclusive Rubanbleu ball. To kick off the training, Avery sends Dainty, Dawn, and Dainty’s socialite friends away for a spa weekend, but the trip goes terribly wrong when the girls witness killers storm the lodge and execute the owners and staff. As they run for their lives, Dainty quickly discovers that Dawn is mentally ill and un-medicated, making her as dangerous as the men they’re fleeing. Celebutante Dainty and her socialite friends must move quickly to unravel the reason behind the resort murders, while staying one step ahead of four men in black ski masks who want them dead.
DAWN OF THE DEB is a fast-paced thriller that offers a look into the world of Dissociative Identity Disorder, what was formerly known as multiple personality disorder.
By Amy Lignor
There are interesting lives; there are interesting authors. Then, there are interesting authors who’ve led interesting lives. Alice Loweecey is one of those people.
From hearing the “call” and heading to the convent to, in her words, “jumping the wall” and moving on to become an actress, wife, mom and, of course, beloved author, Alice Loweecey has become a literal godsend to her fans. Vivacious, fun, and as entertaining in real life as her characters are in her books, this interview is time spent with one of the coolest minds out there, who will go on your list—if she’s not already there—as being the author you most want to have lunch with. Perhaps she’ll even bring along her “mascot,” which you will most definitely want to see.
You have gone from ex-nun to on-stage prostitute to accepting a marriage proposal on the second date from a very lucky husband. The question here should be “Huh?”, but instead I’m going to ask, with all this action, when did the writing bug enter your world?
Actually, I got the writing bug at the wee age of nine. I’m one of those fortunate people who hit adolescence before the Internet came along, so all of my “angsty” teenage poetry and short stories have long been shredded and burned.…You’re welcome.
The Falcone & Driscoll series is spectacular suspense: humorous, charming, and the mystery within to be solved is riveting. Is it easier for you to create these novels having the background of being a nun? There is no guilt factor, I would assume, having a character who is a whole lot fun, yet ceased to be a nun.
Writing Giulia is both easy and a little stressful. Some situations she gets into bring on convent flashbacks for me, more so than for her. She’s getting tougher with more PI experience. My family, on the other hand, gets weirded out by the oddest parts of the books. My oldest son said he felt uncomfortable reading a scene where Giulia and Frank sit down to a normal dinner and then snog, as married adults are wont to do. I laughed at him rather than apply sympathy. He was not amused.
The voice that came first: “World weary, and sad, but also sharply funny.” This is the beginning of Stephanie Gayle’s novel IDYLL THREATS.
The voice belongs to the main character, Thomas Lynch, a former New York City policeman who is the new Chief of Police for the town of Idyll. He brings baggage to his new position—baggage that affects his ability to do his job.
Lynch’s journey toward peace is played out against the murder of a young girl, Cecilia North, who is found shot to death at the local golf course. On the surface it should be a slam dunk for the Idyll police department, but just hours before her death, Lynch found Cecilia and an older man seeking privacy for sex in an old cabin. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem for Lynch, except he was at that cabin for the same reason.
With the discovery of the dead girl, Lynch is left wondering whether the man recognized him and how to steer his detectives toward the cabin and the man Cecilia was with without revealing his own secret—he’s gay.
Not trusting his detectives with his secret, Lynch is forced to seek help from unlikely sources including a Goth teen and a UFO-conspiracy theorist while contending with pressure from the mayor to solve the crime before the town’s premier tourist event takes place. On a daily basis Lynch must cope with the suspicions of his men, casual homophobia, and difficult memories of his partner’s recent death.
It all makes Lynch realize Idyll, Connecticut, is not safe, especially for a man who holds secrets that threaten the thing he loves the most—his job.
When New York journalist and recently bereaved mother Charlotte “Charlie” Cates begins to experience vivid dreams about children she’s sure that she’s lost her mind. Yet these are not the nightmares of a grieving parent, she soon realizes. They are messages and warnings that will help Charlie and the children she sees, if only she can make sense of them.
After a little boy in a boat appears in Charlie’s dreams asking for her help, Charlie finds herself entangled in a thirty-year-old missing-child case that has never ceased to haunt Louisiana’s prestigious Deveau family. Armed with an invitation to Evangeline, the family’s sprawling estate, Charlie heads south, where new friendships and an unlikely romance bring healing. But as she uncovers long-buried secrets of love, money, betrayal, and murder, the facts begin to implicate those she most wants to trust—and her visions reveal an evil closer than she could’ve imagined. A Southern Gothic mystery debut that combines literary suspense and romance with a mystical twist, THE GATES OF EVANGELINE is a story that readers of Gillian Flynn, Kate Atkinson, and Alice Sebold won’t be able to put down.
What’s better than watching one of your favorite detectives work a complex case? How about two of them, teaming up to catch a killer. That’s what J. A. Jance gives us in her latest mystery, DANCE OF THE BONES.
In this new novel, Brandon Walker of Jance’s Walker Family series joins forces with J. P. Beaumont. Beaumont’s cold case in Seattle is somehow connected to a cold case Walker is working on in Arizona.
The two sleuths bring this character-driven mystery to life. Jance describes Beaumont and Walker as two homicide workhorses who have been put out to pasture. Of course, being a homicide cop was never just a job to either of them. But Beaumont calls the Pacific Northwest his beat, while Walker calls Tucson home and has close ties to the Tohono O’odham reservation and its people. So how do they find themselves working related cases, and cold cases at that?
“Brandon has been involved with a volunteer cold case squad, The Last Chance (T.L.C.), for many years,” Jance says. “Recently Beau’s agency, the Washington State Attorney General’s Special Homicide Investigation Team, S.H.I.T., has been dissolved, leaving Beau at loose ends. He’s not especially enthusiastic about being recruited into T.L.C., but what’s a guy gonna do?”
By Rob Brunet
With something like four percent of the people taking psychopathy tests scoring “psychopathic,” you might be inclined to wonder why the world isn’t harsher than it is. Fortunately, most socio- or psychopaths find meaningful work as CEOs, politicians, lawyers, and in other demanding high-profile roles where a lack of empathy can come in handy.
In HOLLOW MAN, Mark Pryor takes us into the mind of one such character and shows us what can happen when personal controls fail and the wheels start to come off.
Dominic’s world is tightly managed, to the point of being manipulated. He fakes his way through human interaction so well, his peers in the district attorney’s office are oblivious. He uses his side gig as a guitarist to hook up with college students who are afraid of hurting the presumably emotional artist when their crushes wear off.
None of which suggests he’s going to actually care when a beautiful young woman presses her way into his life then cries wolf. And Dominic doesn’t care. But he’s intrigued enough to step off his carefully crafted track and see where this unexpected development takes him.
Where it leads him is on a rough ride through some of Austin’s less-traveled roads and into the criminal mind of a man who knows both sides of the game.
In this interview for The Big Thrill, Mark Pryor gives us a peek at Dominic, at Austin, and at his own more empathetic place in the world.
By J. H. Bográn
In the early days of my journey learning to streamline the voices in my head and convert them to stories, I took many online writing courses. In one of those courses we had an aspiring writer who complained about his inability to write longer works and getting stuck with short stories. The teacher offered some life-changing advice: Think of a novel and its chapters as a succession of short stories as each chapter by itself must have a beginning, middle and ending. Shocking, right? Fast forward fifteen years and I meet Art Taylor who wrote this wonderful novel told, you guessed it, in short stories. Each of these stories tell the adventures and misadventures of Del and Louise, one of those couples you know always find trouble even when they’re not looking. In Taylor’s own words this is kind of a “different project,” but one that is bound to find an audience.
Taylor graciously agreed to answer a few questions for The Big Thrill.
What can you tell us about ON THE ROAD WITH DEL & LOUISE?
Del’s a small time crook with a moral conscience. He robs convenience stores only for tuition and academic expenses. Louise is brash and sassy, and she goes pretty quickly from being a holdup victim to Del’s lover and accomplice. Together, the two of them are trying to make a fresh start and an honest life, and trying to build a family together, but fate conspires against them time and again. Fate maybe, or maybe they’re just their own worst enemies.
Their adventures cover a fair amount of territory. A real estate scam in recession-blighted Southern California. A wine heist in Napa Valley. A Vegas wedding chapel holdup. A kidnapping in an oil-rich North Dakota boomtown. Along the way, the question keeps coming up whether they can stay on the right side of the law? Or even whether they can stay on one another’s good side? And when they head back to Louise’s hometown in North Carolina, there’s even more trouble in the form of Louise’s nagging mama, who’s been hovering over the story from the start and may be the biggest adversary of all to them.
How about the character’s themselves?
While Del’s name is first on the cover, these stories really belong to Louise: She’s the narrator and it’s her voice—Southern, smart-alecky, a little brassy—that drives the storyline. Originally from North Carolina, Louise went West—to New Mexico—in hopes of building a fresh life for herself. After the convenience store she worked in was robbed, she found a new direction: with Del, the man who held her up. As it turns out, he’s after a fresh life of his own, and the two of them try to go straight but keep getting pulled back into various kinds of crime—as the folks committing them or as victims themselves—in place after place: Victorville, CA; Napa Valley; Las Vegas; Williston, ND; and finally back in Louise’s home state of North Carolina.
Lynne Raimondo’s debut, Dante’s Wood, introduced readers to blind psychiatrist Mark Angelotti. The book was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and earned Raimondo comparisons to Agatha Christie, John Grisham, and Sara Paretsky. Her second book, Dante’s Poison, has Mark investigating the pharmaceutical industry as he undergoes experimental drug therapy. DANTE’S DILEMMA, released last month, turns up the heat on Mark’s personal and professional life.
In DANTE’S DILEMMA, Mark is asked to evaluate Rachel Lazarus, estranged wife of a slain University of Chicago professor. The professor’s body was discovered during the school’s world-famous annual scavenger hunt. Though she’s confessed, Rachel is pursuing a battered woman’s defense. Mark must testify against Rachel while he’s mired in a legal dispute of his own for custody of his son. He then uncovers evidence that Rachel may be innocent after all. In the midst of a brutal Chicago winter, Mark must battle the elements, the ghosts of his past, and a killer intent on making sure Rachel is found guilty.
I recently got a chance to talk to Lynne about DANTE’S DILEMMA.
DANTE’S DILEMMA is the third in your Mark Angelotti series. Are the books easier to write as you delve further into the series? Or are their limits to writing a series book?
A little bit of both. The character is certainly easier. At this point, I have a fairly good idea of how my protagonist will think and act, and I’ve sketched out a character arc for Mark that spans several installments into the future. The hard part for me is plotting the mystery and overcoming my perfectionist tendencies. I can’t move ahead in a manuscript until I’m 80 percent satisfied with what I’ve written so far, so I sometimes get stuck polishing scene after scene when I should just be getting the damn thing done! The challenge of writing a series is including enough backstory so that a reader can understand where the character has been, and at the same time not give everything away. Each book should stand on its own, but ideally entice someone new to the series to go back and read earlier books.
Detective Chief Inspector Kate Simms is on assignment in the United States with St Louis PD, reviewing cold cases, sharing expertise. Forensic expert Professor Nick Fennimore follows her, keen to pick up where they left off after their last case – but the last thing Simms needs is Fennimore complicating her life. A call for help from a sheriff’s deputy takes Fennimore to Oklahoma: a mother is dead, her child gone – and they’re not the only ones. How many more young mothers have been killed, how many more murders unsolved, children unaccounted for?
As Fennimore’s abduction-murder leads back to Simms’s cold case, the investigations merge. Meanwhile, nine-year-old Red, adventuring in Oklahoma’s backwoods, has no clue that he and his mom are in the killer’s sights. But soon the race is on to catch a serial killer and save the boy.
“Fine attention to forensics and investigative techniques distinguishes this stellar thriller.” ~Publishers Weekly STARRED review
“Garrett evoke(s) not only the suspense of serial killings, but an emotional triangle and a tantalizingly unresolved crime that keep the pages flying.” ~Kirkus Reviews
Fifteen years later, the building is scheduled for demolition. When a salvage team discovers a skeleton curled up in a locker, a hole in the left temple, Lockport’s chief of police, Neil Redfern, is called in to investigate.
When Redfern learns that his girlfriend, Bliss Moonbeam Cornwall, also graduated that fateful year, he reveals details of the grisly discovery. She insists she knows who his victim is, but before any headway can be made in the case, another grad is killed. Could the two murders be connected?
Despite being warned against meddling in police affairs, Bliss enlists the help of two former classmates to find the killer. But digging into the past proves to be a dangerous pastime. Her unconventional methods jeopardize the investigation, her relationship with Redfern, and her own life.
Sarah Hilary is writing a detective series set in London and her second book, NO OTHER DARKNESS, is published in August by Penguin. Alex Marwood writes standalone crime novels and her latest, THE KILLER NEXT DOOR, is out now.
SH: I wanted to start by talking about the difference between writing a series and writing standalone novels. Your first two books, The Wicked Girls, and THE KILLER NEXT DOOR are standalones. I tend to think I’ve got the easier gig—writing a series—as I know my central cast of characters, which gives me a starting point, although each book does have its own distinct mystery to be solved. Do you start with the mystery, or the characters?
AM: Yes, it’s swings and roundabouts, I think. Personally I have huge admiration for people who can pull series off. Just the thought of persuading my butterfly mind to keep it all together for years on end gives me hives. For me, it’s a bit of both: I’ll get an idea for a situation that will cause massive fallout, and then start exploring what sort of people might cause that situation, who the innocents caught up in it might be and how they would respond.
One of the things I love about your Marnie Rome books is the fact that you carry your main characters’ personal issues over from book to book with such subtlety. Marnie, who’s been scarred by a piece of family history so horrific it would destroy most people, spends so little time overtly thinking about her parents’ murder, but it clearly influences her every decision and makes her a better copper—or at least a more dedicated one. I loved how little interaction she has with murderous foster-brother in NO OTHER DARKNESS, and yet he looms over the whole thing like a vampire. Are we going to see more of him? Find out what warped him so terribly?
SH: I think so. Stephen is Marnie’s foster brother, and I absolutely love writing the scenes with him and Marnie. I think book four is going to be all about Stephen and Marnie…
Coleridge Taylor is searching for his next scoop on the police beat. The Messenger-Telegram reporter has a lot to choose from on the crime-ridden streets of New York City in 1975. One story outside his beat is grabbing all the front page glory: New York teeters on the brink of bankruptcy, and President Ford just told the city, as the Daily News so aptly puts it, “Drop Dead.” Taylor’s situation is nearly as desperate. His home is a borrowed dry-docked houseboat, his newspaper may also be on the way out, and his drunk father keeps getting arrested.
A source sends Taylor down to Alphabet City, hang-out of the punks who gravitate to the rock club CBGB. There he finds the bloody fallout from a mugging. Two dead bodies: a punk named Johnny Mort and a cop named Robert Dodd. Each looks too messed up to have killed the other. Taylor starts asking around. The punk was a good kid, the peace-loving guardian angel of the neighborhood’s stray dogs. What led him to mug a woman at gunpoint? And why is Officer Samantha Callahan being accused of leaving her partner to die, even though she insists the police radio misled her? It’s hard enough being a female in the NYPD only five years after women were assigned to patrol. Now the department wants to throw her to the wolves. That’s not going to happen, not if Taylor can help it. As he falls for Samantha—a beautiful, dedicated second-generation cop—he realizes he’s too close to his story. Officer Callahan is a target, and Taylor’s standing between her and some mighty big guns.
After the sudden loss of her husband, Joe, Nora Cooper makes a startling discovery: shortly before his death, Joe secretly sold their newly purchased dream home on Martha’s Vineyard, where the couple had planned to retire.
Nora doesn’t know what to think. As she searches for answers, she is tormented by grief and doubt—until she starts receiving mysterious and inexplicable messages in Scrabble letters, messages that Nora believes could have been written only by Joe.
Using a strength she didn’t know she had, Nora follows these strange clues to discover the truth about Joe and their life together—and navigates the danger inherent in her new, special gift.
The dead man had something of great importance; but was he killed because he was part of a conspiracy, or because he had discovered the conspiracy?
The third book in the Ian McBriar Murder Mystery series takes readers back to Toronto in the 1970’s, this time starting with a death that should not have happened, and a trail of bodies going back a decade.
“Another great book in the series!”
“Meet my newest friend, Ian Mc Briar.”
“Is Azzano on to a new form in crime fiction?”
Lori Rader-Day’s debut novel, The Black Hour (2014), was an instant critical and commercial success. In addition to the starred-review hat trick (Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal), The Black Hour garnered nominations for several prestigious awards, including the Mary Higgins Clark, the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, the Barry for Best Paperback Original, and the Left Coast Crime Rosebud Award for Best First Mystery. It won the Lovey Award for Best First Mystery at the Love Is Murder conference.
Rader-Day’s second novel, LITTLE PRETTY THINGS (starred review from Booklist), tells the story of two former high school friends and track rivals, who have taken very different paths since their graduation. Maddy Bell, always a step faster on the track, is beautiful and rich. Juliet Townsend, forever second to her friend, cleans rooms in a forsaken motel. When they run into each other ten years later, bitter memories and lingering questions poison their reunion. Then the drama of their shared past comes rushing back to the present when Maddy is found murdered at the motel, and Juliet is the prime suspect.
I had the pleasure of talking to Lori about her latest book.
Your first book, The Black Hour, was a critical success. LITTLE PRETTY THINGS is your second novel. Are you approaching the publishing experience differently? Have your expectations changed this time around?
I’ve had an embarrassment of riches in launching my first book, so I think my expectations are actually lower. What I learned this past year is that my favorite part of the business is the writing, so while I’m launching LITTLE PRETTY THINGS what I’m actually working on most ardently is writing my next project. I enjoy the whole process of publishing, but what I really like is the sound of the keys on my keyboard and coaxing forward an idea that brings the story together. I’m really excited to have a second book, though, because what I want most is a long future of writing mysteries.
By Abby Normal
HOUSE OF HOMICIDE is a battle between good and evil. Our protagonist, Cindy Fairbank, tries to do right by her family but unwittingly puts them in danger when she buys a suburban house that seems to be perfect.
When Cindy hears about an urban legend that centers on her house, she dusts off her investigative journalist skills and begins to research the stories. She discovers that there is much more to the history than expected, with a series of gruesome homicides spanning over forty years and restless souls of murder victims who are clamoring for revenge. As Cindy gets close to uncovering the killer, the killer gets close to her and the ones she loves.
To find out more, let’s talk to the author, Eileen Magill.
Is it true that you almost bought the house that HOUSE OF HOMICIDE is based on?
I did! When I was looking to buy a house, my agent, Dawn, sent me a list of houses that fit my needs. One stood out well above the rest, and I was pretty much set to buy it without seeing it. Thank goodness I didn’t. When we got into the house, we both got a very bad feeling. Truly, my hair on my arms stood up. Not good! Dawn went into the kitchen to look at the disclosure documents, and I went into the first bedroom. It was in horrible shape. There were holes in the floor and the walls. Windows were broken. And that bad feeling I had when I first entered the house? It was overpowering in that room. Back in the kitchen, Dawn reminded me that if anyone had died in the house in the last three years, it had to be listed in the disclosure documents. And there had been. Quite a few, including ones that were listed as “violent, non-disclosed.” I got the heck out of there, but the house “haunted” me. My brain couldn’t let it go. It became the basis for HOUSE OF HOMICIDE.
I met Julia Dahl when we shared a panel at Bouchercon Long Beach. I’d heard rumors and whispers about her first novel Invisible City—all of them extremely positive—but hadn’t yet read it.
After meeting Dahl and listening to her on the panel, I had no choice but to immediately purchase the novel. To say I wasn’t disappointed is a huge understatement. Invisible City is one of those rare first novels that gets everything right—from character to setting to plot to tone to emotion, Dahl nailed it. Her exploration of the Hasidic community and of herself is all there on the page.
We have since become pals and I’m now reading her excellent follow up, RUN YOU DOWN.
I recently asked Dahl some questions that will give readers insights into the novels—and the author behind these great books. Here, she answers for The Big Thrill.
How does a woman from Fresno end up in Brooklyn living over a custom-made cutlery shop?
Getting out of Fresno was essentially the motivating factor of my childhood and adolescence, and for as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to live in New York. I visited once as a nine-year-old and fell in love—plus all my favorite movies as a girl (Working Girl, Big, Splash, Baby Boom, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, etc) took place here. It just seemed like anything was possible in NYC. So, after college, I got an internship at Entertainment Weekly, a roommate, and an apartment on East 39th Street. I’ve been living the dream ever since.
The knife shop is also a love story: I met my husband when we were both getting MFAs at the New School in 2003. Both of us had written novels and neither of us could sell them. I turned my focus to building my career as a reporter, while my husband decided to start working with his hands. One day, he used one of his grandfather’s old tools to make a knife. And then he made another. Eleven years later, people all over the world are dying to get their hands on his knives. We opened a little shop in Gowanus and rent the apartment upstairs. Again, living the dream.
By Lori Roy
What’s in a Title?
It’s August 12, 2014, midmorning on a Tuesday. Here in Florida, I have my most recent novel up on my computer screen. Denise Roy, Dutton Senior Editor, has the same pulled up in her New York office. Looking for phrases that might inspire a title, we’re paging through the text together. Some of our ideas are too familiar. Others, too forgettable. Yet others have been used too recently or too frequently. Today is the day we must, absolutely must, decide on a title for my third novel. Our deadline is noon.
Titles are tricky business. Many theories exist as to what makes a good title. There’s even a website that will quantify a title’s chances of becoming a bestseller. As to my own theory, I’m searching for those perfect few words that will intrigue a reader as her eyes scan the bookshelves of her favorite bookstore, and that will further offer insight once she has read the book.
By late morning, I have filled a page in my spiral notebook with ideas. Denise and I decide to hang up and work separately to see what new possibilities we might shake loose. I stare down on my list and let out a sigh. A few are of the titles are intriguing but not necessarily insightful. I would call them trite. Others are insightful but not intriguing. These, I would call befuddling. I continue scanning the manuscript for the one perfect phrase that will capture the heart of my 95,000-word novel, and approximately forty-five minutes before our deadline, I receive an email from Denise. While googling a phrase from the book, she stumbled upon a Bob Dylan song titled LET ME DIE IN MY FOOTSTEPS. What do you think of this direction, she asks.
Reformed public relations executive Kay Kendall was an ITW debut author at ThrillerFest in 2013 with Desolation Row, the first in her Austin Starr Mystery series. Set in 1968, it explores murder and mayhem in the draft resister community. Now RAINY DAY WOMEN introduces amateur sleuth Austin Starr to women’s liberation when she helps a friend suspected of murdering a leading feminist. The author answers a few questions for The Big Thrill about rediscovering the chaotic sixties and what comes next in her writing career.
Tell us about how you came to write about the era that Mad Men has made trendy again.
Three years before the advent of Mad Men, I sent query letters to agents suggesting that aging boomers would be eager to read my novel set during the days of their youth. I even wanted to call my first manuscript—a wannabe literary novel—by the title of Boom. But I was too far ahead of the curve. In 2007 when Mad Men began, television viewers were shocked to see the sixties recreated. But then the show became a darling of critics and fans alike and rejuvenated interest in the time period. Tom Brokaw even swiped my intended title and published his book called Boom. All the while, I felt “called” to write about the sixties, believed in my vision, and figured it was an historic niche that needed filling. So I persevered.
Have you gotten any blowback for writing about such contentious subjects—Vietnam War protestors and now women’s liberation activists? How have these subjects been received by your readers?
I was prepared to get nasty remarks hurled at me, especially online when comments can be made anonymously. So far that has not happened. The closest I’ve come to negative remarks is when a few readers said that living through the sixties was difficult enough and so they preferred to keep their memories buried. On the other hand, at my best bookstore event, forty readers delved spontaneously into the effects of the Vietnam War on themselves and their loved ones. After an hour, the discussion showed no signs of flagging but had to stop so I could sign books. Deep wounds had surfaced, and this audience wanted to talk about them.
Conversely, I expect to find little or no resistance to reading about the women’s movement. When I began writing RAINY DAY WOMEN, I had no idea that women’s issues would become as timely as they are right now.
COLD MOON, Book 3 in my Huntress/FBI series, is out this month worldwide in ebook, print, and audio. Anyone who’s read the first two books, Huntress Moon and Blood Moon, knows that I’m very passionate about this series. More than passionate.
I’m writing these books because I’ve had enough of violence against women in fiction and film. Last summer I was at Harrogate, the international crime writing festival. And prominently displayed in the book tent was a new crime fiction release that featured a crucified woman on the cover.
A crucified woman. On the cover.
It’s not like I’ve never come across a crucified woman in a crime novel before. In fact, I’ve had to stop reading three or four novels in the past two years when variations of this scene came up. But on the cover, now? The selling image of the novel?
Last year was also the year of the highly praised TV miniseries True Detective, which featured two complex male detectives and a female cast made up entirely of hookers, dead hookers, little dead girls, a mentally challenged incest victim, and the female lead: a wife who cheats on her husband with his partner because she’s too weak to just freaking leave him. Oh right, there was a female love interest who was a doctor—but she had, I believe, one line in the entire show. Maybe two.
Defenders of the show argue, “But the detectives weren’t sympathetic, either.” No, they weren’t, always, but unlike the entire female cast, they were actual, developed characters, not play toys for the male characters or—well, corpses.
Scotland, 1831. After a tumultuous courtship complicated by three deadly inquiries, Lady Kiera Darby is thrilled to have found both an investigative partner and a fiance in Sebastian Gage. But with her well-meaning-and very pregnant-sister planning on making their wedding the event of the season, Kiera could use a respite from the impending madness.
Commissioned to paint the portrait of Lady Drummond, Kiera is saddened when she recognizes the pain in the baroness’s eyes. Lord Drummond is a brute, and his brusque treatment of his wife forces Kiera to think of the torment caused by her own late husband.
Kiera isn’t sure how to help, but when she finds Lady Drummond prostrate on the floor, things take a fatal turn. The physician called to the house and Lord Drummond appear satisfied to rule her death natural, but Kiera is convinced that poison is the real culprit.
Now, armed only with her knowledge of the macabre and her convictions, Kiera intends to discover the truth behind the baroness’s death-no matter what, or who, stands in her way…
As Josh and four others struggle to piece together their new reality, they discover the museum’s main building has been razed and the place is boarded with no obvious exit. Who left them in the museum and why? How can they escape? The only link that binds them together is a mysterious woman named Blair, who they each encountered before blacking out. Josh unexpectedly finds himself drawn to one of the other captives, a long-time fan named Sophia. Their attraction plunges the group into a dark pool of suspicion. When allegiances shift and pieces connect, the strangers are forced to reassess their situation. Is the real danger inside or outside of the museum?
Suspenseful, romantic and filled with drama, Awake will keep you up all night.
Andy Crowl barely knew his recently deceased cousin, Craig Moore, so he’s especially surprised to be named as the sole beneficiary in Craig’s will. Not that there’s much to inherit: just an empty bank account and a run-down house.
Once Andy arrives in the town of Mortom, however, he’s drawn into his puzzle-obsessed cousin’s true legacy: a twisted and ominous treasure hunt. Beckoned by macabre clues of dead rats and cemetery keys, Andy jumps into the game, hoping to discover untold wealth. But unsavory secrets—and unanswered questions about Craig’s untimely demise—arise at every turn, leading Andy to wonder if he’s playing the game . . . or if the game is playing him.