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.
By Don Helin
Bob Doerr’s sixth mystery in the Jim West series finds Jim heading to the Texas Hill Country to attend the grand opening of a friend’s winery and vineyard. Upon arriving in Fredericksburg, Jim witnesses a brutal kidnapping at a local coffee shop. The next morning while driving down an unpaved country road to the grand opening, he comes across an active crime scene barely a quarter mile from his friend’s winery. A policeman who talked to Jim the day before at the kidnapping scene recognizes Jim and asks him to identify the body of a dead young woman as the woman who was kidnapped. Jim’s vacation is thrown into complete disarray, and Jim and a female friend are soon drawn into the sights of a killer.
Award-winning author Bob Doerr grew up in a military family, graduated from the Air Force Academy, and had a career of his own in the Air Force. Doerr specialized in criminal investigations and counterintelligence, gaining significant insight to the worlds of crime, espionage, and terrorism. His work brought him into close coordination with the security agencies of many different countries and filled his mind with the fascinating plots and characters found in his books today. His education credits include a Masters in International Relations from Creighton University. A full-time author with eight published books, Doerr was selected by the Military Writers Society of America as its Author of the Year for 2013. The Eric Hoffer Awards awarded No One Else to Kill its first-runner up to the grand prize for commercial fiction. Two of his other books were finalists for the Eric Hoffer Award in earlier contests. Loose Ends Kill won the 2011 Silver medal for Fiction/Mystery by the Military Writers Society of America. Another Colorado Kill received the same Silver medal in 2012 and the silver medal for general fiction at the Branson Stars and Flags national book contest in 2012. Bob wrote two novellas, The Enchanted Coin and The Rescue of Vincent, with his granddaughter for middle grade readers. In May 2014, he released an international thriller titled The Attack. Doerr lives in Garden Ridge, Texas, with Leigh, his wife of 42 years, and Cinco, their ornery cat.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Doerr the other day, and ask him a few question.
By Rob Brunet
Each summer, more people visit Glacier National Park in northwest Montana than live in the entire state. They come for the wild, and if Christine Carbo’s debut THE WILD INSIDE is any indication, they get what they came for. Rugged mountains, pristine lakes, adventure tourism, and wildlife. Lots of wildlife.
Not every visitor is looking for a grizzly to photo bomb their mountain shot, but nature in the raw is what it’s about. And keeping nature wild while packaging it for the tourism industry is a tricky business. There’s winners and losers and people who fall between the cracks, like anywhere else.
Carbo moved to Montana from Florida as she became a teenager. She traveled away from the state for school and work before being drawn back to its rural beauty. Life’s rhythms are different with constant access to nature and it shows in both her writing and how she describes life there.
She took the time to give The Big Thrill in depth answers about her love for what her part of the world has to offer, the challenges that exist there, and some of the inspiration for THE WILD INSIDE.
For city dwellers, a peek inside a national park can seem idyllic. Carbo looks behind postcard perfection to where human stories are told. Sure, there’s wildlife in the woods. But sometimes, it’s hard to figure out who the real animals are.
By Dawn Ius
In a small Midwestern town, on a cold March day, a man plunges to his death off a high, rocky cliff, setting in motion a string of events that will rip open the long-hidden secrets of the town’s most prominent family—secrets that haunt amateur sleuth Thea Browne and will change her entire worldview.
WHAT HAS MOTHER DONE is the first in a new mystery series by bestselling author Barbara Petty, and perhaps, the most challenging story for this veteran of three previous standalone thrillers.
“I have wanted to write a mystery series for a long time,” she says. “But I knew I would have to create a protagonist that I could live with. Not an easy challenge.”
Petty knew she wanted a female lead with a compelling career, but was quick to dismiss “professional detective” for something more familiar. Leaning on her background in the newspaper industry, Petty made Thea an investigative journalist, naturally transitioning her into a somewhat reluctant amateur sleuth after her mother is accused of a murder she didn’t commit.
“My protagonist’s reporter’s scepticism and loyalty to her family propel her to carry out the investigation the local police have dropped,” she says.
Petty describes Thea as a kaleidoscope, encompassing aspects of friends, family, and even Petty herself. “She starts as an unwilling champion for her mother, but ends up as her fiercest warrior,” she adds.
For our international readers, in a rare departure from our usual format, we shine a spotlight on this Austrian-based writer. A companion piece on German author Kathrin Lange can also be found in this issue. —The Editors
BLUNZENGRÖSTL is a traditional Austrian meal consisting of fried potatoes and black pudding—not for the faint of heart. It’s also the title of the first book in a thrilling new mystery series by Ines Eberl.
The hero is a food journalist on the hunt for regional recipes—but as he makes his way across the world, he encounters much more than an enhanced palate: danger, mystery, and even murder.
“The knife on the cover is an allusion to the murder, but also the tool of chefs,” Eberl says, noting that for this first book in the Murder a la Carte series she worked with the Red Bull Media House to be able to include recipes throughout the story.
For the sequel, Eberl will be working with a famous German chef, who she teases may play a nefarious role in the underlying mystery.
Unfortunately, English readers may have to wait a while to dip into this literary buffet. Eberl and her publisher are currently working on the translation of her first crime novel set in Salzburg, and continue to look for an American publisher. If genetics play a part, Eberl’s chances are pretty good.
Inspired by an event from her childhood, author SJI Holliday’s thrilling debut BLACK WOOD, hits the streets this month with a splash.
Something happened to Claire and Jo in Black Wood: something that left Claire paralyzed and Jo with deep mental scars. But with Claire suffering memory loss and no evidence to be found, nobody believes Jo’s story.
Twenty-three years later, a familiar face walks into the bookshop where Jo works, dredging up painful memories and rekindling her desire for vengeance. At the same time, Sergeant Davie Gray is investigating a balaclava-clad man who is attacking women on an abandoned railway, shocking the sleepy village of Banktoun.
But what is the connection between Jo’s visitor and the masked man? To catch the assailant, and to give Jo her long-awaited justice, Gray must unravel a tangled web of past secrets, broken friendship and tainted love. Can he crack the case before Jo finds herself with blood on her hands?
Holliday is eager for you to find out!
Holliday grew up in East Lothian, Scotland. She works as a Pharmaceutical Statistician, and as a life-long bookworm has always dreamt of becoming a novelist. She has several crime and horror short stories published in anthologies and was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham Prize.
After travelling the world, she has now settled in London with her husband. She took some time to chat to The Big Thrill about her debut, the event that inspired this story, and a personal fact that may surprise you.
Gerry Porter provides magical experiences for his granddaughter Maddie when a SuperKrafts manager takes them to New York City for a huge crafts fair.
Gerry and his granddaughter get to work on both making miniatures and solving crimes, the detecting duo’s favorite pastimes. All this, plus Rockefeller Center and Radio City, too.
But a crafty murderer wants to make sure they don’t make it safely home again to California.
What draws you to the mystery genre?
The darkness. Even the coziest mystery has an element of the darker side of life. I write light, but I read dark. I can’t stay in the light too long.
Your book cover has a snow globe on it, which attracted me right away as I collect snow globes. Tell us the significance of the snow globe with relation to the plot and/or characters.
I love snow globes, also. Maddie, Gerry Porter’s eleven-year-old granddaughter, is obsessed with souvenirs of New York City. She’s given this special one by an NYPD detective.
By Ian Walkley
J. L. Abramo was born in Brooklyn on Raymond Chandler’s fifty-ninth birthday. Abramo earned a BA in Sociology at the City College of New York and a master’s degree in social psychology at the University of Cincinnati. He is the author of Catching Water in a Net (2001), winner of the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America prize for Best First Private Eye Novel; and the subsequent Jake Diamond mysteries Clutching at Straws and Counting to Infinity.
In CIRCLING THE RUNWAY, an Assistant District Attorney is murdered in his high-rise apartment building and Detective Sergeant Roxton (Rocky) Johnson suspects his lieutenant may have something to do with it. He can think of no one to turn to for help—no one he can trust—except Jake Diamond. If the mismatched duo can avoid stepping on each other’s toes long enough, they may be able to stop circling the runway and land on the villain’s doorstep.
Jake Diamond is back after a ten-year hiatus and his reappearance was well worth the wait. Why the wait, and why bring him back?
Before Jake Diamond popped up, I had been working on a novel set in Brooklyn. The attempt at writing a mystery novel was instigated by something I had stumbled across on the Internet, a contest sponsored by St. Martin’s Press and the Private Eye Writers of America appropriately called the Best First Private Eye Novel Contest. I set the novel in San Francisco and Los Angeles, inspired by those atmospheric locations so well employed by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Catching Water in a Net won the contest and was published by St. Martin’s.
By J. H. Bográn
In a world where private detectives risk their lives for what amounts to small change, it’s obvious they do it for more than the money. Liz Talbot is one such detective. However, she’s found a rather unusual partner in crime from the ethereal world—her long-dead friend Coleen keeps guard over her and her family. Just don’t go calling her a ghost, for she has a whole different name for her condition. Susan Boyer’s latest book, LOWCOUNTRY BONEYARD is the third installment in the popular Liz Talbot series.
Boyer graciously took time out of her schedule to answer a few questions for The Big Thrill.
What is LOWCOUNTRY BONEYARD about?
When a father hires PI Liz Talbot to find his heiress daughter, Liz suspects the most difficult part will be convincing the overbearing patriarch she left town. That’s what the Charleston Police Department believes. But behind the garden walls South of Broad, family secrets pop up like weeds in the azaleas. The neighbors recollect violent arguments between Kent and her parents. Eccentric twin uncles and a gaggle of cousins covet the family fortune. And the lingering spirit of a Civil-War-era debutante may know something if Colleen, Liz’s dead best friend, can get her to talk. Liz juggles her case, the partner she’s in love with, and the family she adores. But the closer she gets to what has become of Kent, the closer Liz dances to her own grave.
By Basil Sands
Ladies and gents I present to you Robert Kidera, author of the awesome new release RED GOLD. A first-person crime thriller that felt like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Lawrence Block all rolled into one.
After an early fling in the motion picture industry and a long and successful career in academia, Kidera retired in 2010. With his desire to play major league baseball no longer a realistic dream, he chose to fulfill his other lifelong ambition and became a writer. He is a member of Southwest Writers, Sisters in Crime, and the International Thriller Writers organizations.
RED GOLD is his debut novel, the first installment in the McKenna Mystery series. He is currently working on its sequel, Get Lost, with a third book to follow.
Robert lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with his wife and Otis the cat. He has two daughters, a grandson, and granddaughter.
Welcome Robert. Tell us about RED GOLD.
Red Gold is the first volume of the Gabe McKenna Mystery Series. It’s the story of a shattered man who finds himself swept up in a lethal struggle for a lost fortune in nineteenth-century gold. More than that, it’s about a lost soul resurrecting himself, getting up off the canvas of personal despair and self-pity, and continuing The Fight. And giving himself a second chance at life and love.
If you prefer your suspense-driven mysteries solved without all of the high-tech CSI wizardry we see today, your next read should be STONE COLD DEAD.
The story starts in mid-winter. 1960. A fifteen-year-old junior high school student wanders away from her school bus for a few minutes. When the bus takes off, just a few minutes later, it leaves her behind and the girl is never seen again. On New Year’s Eve, the missing girl’s mother, Irene, turns to newspaper reporter Ellie Stone for help. The local police have told Irene that her daughter has just run off with some boy. Ellie’s stories in the paper on an earlier murder case convince Irene that Ellie is her last hope. A good choice for several reasons. Ellie Stone is the smartest person in the room, great with puzzles and detecting patterns; she’s a crossword whiz and a savant at identifying classical music pieces. But her author says there’s more to his sleuth.
“She’s also got something to prove, to her father, to the men she works for, and even to herself,” James Ziskin says. “She’s also fearless. Well, perhaps ‘fearless’ isn’t quite right. She definitely experiences moments of fear, even terror. But she’s courageous, stands firm and fights through them. For instance, she will ask a suspect a pointed question, even when she fears a violent reaction. Then, when the suspect uses anger to deflect the question, she’ll ask it again, risking his wrath.”
Even more telling, Ellie just doesn’t give up. She proved that in Styx & Stone, when she was drawn into a murder investigation soon after moving upstate from her native New York City. In her second, No Stone Unturned, she helped out in another case in her adopted small town home. STONE COLD DEAD finds her still adapting to the culture and environment of New Holland, New York.
By Dawn Ius
Wendy Tyson loves determined, gutsy women. Women who go after what they want. Women who aren’t afraid to speak up, to laugh, to fight for the underdog, to fall in love. Women, she says, who aren’t afraid to live. Tyson aspires to be that kind of woman every day. In the meantime, she writes about them.
Allison Campbell, an image consultant on the wealthy Main Line of Philadelphia, is one such woman. A complex character, Campbell grew up in a small town, born to an abusive father and a loving, but chronically ill mother. After a tragedy with a client during graduate school, Campbell is forced to find a new calling—and a new identity.
“Allison uses her education and her own haunting experiences to do her job—and to solve crimes,” Tyson says of her protagonist. “And while she helps others reinvent themselves, her best transformation was her own. Throughout the series, Allison never forgets her roots, and it’s the fact that she never quite fits in with the Main Line crowd that makes her so good at her job—and detective work.”
In DYING BRAND, the third of the Allison Campbell mysteries, Campbell attends an awards ceremony to honor a friend, but ends up investigating the brutal murder of her former boyfriend. Although Campbell hasn’t seen or spoken to him in years, damaging evidence begins to surface, making it appear as though she had more to do with him than she’s led everyone to believe.
By Carolyn Hart
I penned A Farewell to Death on Demand this spring, but a funny thing happened on the way to Life Without Annie and Max. A knock on my door. There stood Annie, a glint in her steady gray eyes, a determined tilt to her chin.
“What are you thinking?”
Max was right behind her, his usual easy-going smile absent. “No more island sunshine? No alligators basking on a bank? No more laughter?”
Annie and Max looked me in the eye and said, “We’re here to stay.”
Do I want to see the displays at Death on Demand, catch up on the new mysteries, talk about old favorites? Or drop into Confidential Commissions and have a slice of Barb’s lemon pie?
Oh, yes. The scent of the ocean, the rattle of magnolia leaves, the grace and elegance of Spanish moss, hot heavy summer days, windy walks on a chilly winter beach, all await on the small sea island of Broward’s Rock.
I’ll see everyone again, ebullient Annie, charming Max, curmudgeonly author Emma Clyde, mystery maven Henny Brawley, ditzy mother-in-law Laurel Darling Roethke, intense reporter Marian Kenyon, stalwart police chief Billy Cameron, observant officer Hyla Harrison . . .
By Jeff Ayers
In Larry Sweazy’s first book in a new series, SEE ALSO MURDER, the year is 1964. Life on the North Dakota farm hasn’t always been easy for Marjorie Trumaine. She’s begun working as a professional indexer to help with the bills-—which have only gotten worse since the accident that left her husband, Hank, blind and paralyzed. But when her nearest neighbors are murdered in their beds, Marjorie suddenly has to deal with new and terrifying problems.
Sheriff Hilo Jenkins brings her a strange amulet, found clutched in the hand of her murdered neighbor, and asks her to quietly find out what it is. Marjorie uses all the skills she has developed as an indexer to research the amulet and look into the murders, but as she closes in on the killer, and people around her continue to die, she realizes the murderer is also closing in on her.
This month, Sweazy chatted with The Big Thrill about SEE ALSO MURDER and his other works.
What sparked the idea for your new mystery, SEE ALSO MURDER?
I’ve been a freelance indexer (I write back-of-the-book indexes for academic, reference, and technical books) for seventeen years, along with being a fiction writer. A source of education for indexers is a correspondence course offered by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). The course, along with many others, was designed to give farm wives a skill outside of farming that would generate an income in the off- season. Indexers have curious, organized minds, are methodical, well-read, and relentless in their pursuit to divine the most important information from a text—all great attributes of a good detective. Marjorie Trumaine was born from that course and its purpose, along with my experience as an indexer and love of mystery novels. Mixing the two was just natural, but the idea sparked in 2005 as a short story, and is just now a novel, ten years later.
By J. H. Bográn
There’s a reason why some authors prefer to write stand-alone novels: penning a series is no picnic. Readers demand fresh new adventures, but at the same time, the character must stay the same, but show a degree of change from one book to the next. In other words, it is a balancing act. In BRIDGES BURNED, the third entry in the Zoe Chambers series, Annette Dashofy walks that tightrope, and she graciously agreed to answer a few questions for The Big Thrill about her series, her writing, and her life.
What can you tell us about your new book?
In BRIDGES BURNED, paramedic Zoe Chambers is used to saving lives, but when she stops a man from running into a raging inferno in a futile attempt to rescue his wife, Zoe finds herself drawn to him, and even more so to his ten-year-old daughter. She invites them both to live at the farm while the grieving widower picks up the pieces of his life.
Vance Township Police Chief Pete Adams, of course, is not happy with this setup, especially when he finds evidence implicating Zoe’s new houseguest in murder times two. When Zoe ignores Pete’s dire warnings, she runs the very real chance of burning one too many bridges, losing everything—and everyone—she holds dear.
Tell us about Zoe Chambers.
Zoe loves her job as a paramedic. It’s a perfect fit with her natural caregiver tendencies. However, she continues to be conflicted regarding her future with the Coroner’s Office. She likes the idea of investigating crimes, but she’s struggling with the whole autopsy thing.
When L. J. Sellers isn’t writing the fast-paced, complex novels that have made her a name in the crime fiction world, she devotes a lot of time to Housing Help, a foundation she created to prevent homelessness. She combines her two passions in WRONGFUL DEATH, a compelling story that explores a unique aspect of the Detective Wade Jackson series setting: the lives of the homeless in her hometown of Eugene, Oregon, and their vulnerability when the police start looking for a killer in their midst.
WRONGFUL DEATH, available now, is the tenth entry in the Jackson series—a two-time Readers Favorite Award winner.
Sellers hopes that while she entertains her readers she can also show them homeless people are “individuals with unique personalities and circumstances.” She cautions against the common tendency to lump all of them together under one stereotype. “Everyone has a different story about how they ended up on the streets. Some are there for life. For others, it’s a temporary setback.”
The more fortunate citizens who support those on the streets also have their own stories to explain their commitment. She drew on both communities to create the characters in WRONGFUL DEATH.
The novel begins with the murder of a police officer who is passing out blankets to the homeless on a cold night. The primary suspects are homeless people, including a couple of brothers with mental health problems. Sellers is aware that some people feel afraid of street people, viewing them as potentially dangerous, and she realized she was tackling a sensitive and complex issue.
“Anyone who thinks a college campus is a haven of scholarship and civility hasn’t been paying attention,” says Bourne Morris, former journalism professor and author of THE RED QUEEN’S RUN, the first in a trilogy about campus violence published by Henery Press.
Morris was Chair of the Faculty Senate and taught for twenty-six years at the University of Nevada, Reno. The emeritus professor uses her experience as a professor and campus leader to shape her writing. “Murder, sex, plagiarism, betrayal and binge drinking—all the major academic food groups—found a place in my story,” says Morris. “Furious debates about tenure and curriculum become the stuff of drama. I am now able to live in and call all the shots in a fictional university. It’s heaven.”
THE RED QUEEN’S RUN opens with a faculty quarrel that ends in homicide. A famous journalism dean is found dead at the bottom of a stairwell. The police suspect members of the faculty who had engaged in fierce quarrels with the dean —distinguished scholars who attacked the dean with the brutality of schoolyard bullies. When Meredith “Red” Solaris is appointed interim dean, the faculty suspects are furious. Will the attractive red-haired professor be next?
By Diane Kelly
I first got the idea for my IRS Special Agent Tara Holloway series while sitting in a three-day tax seminar. At the time, I worked as a tax advisor, but was also an aspiring novelist. After listening to speakers drone on for hours about the minutiae of partnership tax rules, I was ready to climb under the table and take a nap.
But then a criminal defense attorney took the podium—and he proceeded to blow my mind.
The attorney represented defendants who were accused of financial crimes. He explained how difficult it can be to defend such people, because the Internal Revenue Service has a group of people in its Criminal Investigations Division who are not only business savvy, but are trained in law enforcement as well.
Instantly I was intrigued. Most “numbers” people I know are rule followers, not risk takers. Who were these special agents who could handle a gun as well as a calculator? I had to find out.
I contacted the IRS and later had the pleasure of interviewing a group of these agents. I can’t begin to tell you how impressed I was. Each of them was incredibly smart, personable, and in good physical shape. All were clearly dedicated to their jobs too, sacrificing their personal lives to spend weeks or months away from home in training.
They’ve got a hard job to do. Financial crimes can be extremely complicated and complex, and putting together a case that a jury can understand can be a challenge. Fraud is often disguised as a white knight riding in to purportedly help struggling homeowners keep their houses or to offer investments with “guaranteed” above-market returns. By the time victims realize they’ve been taken, the perpetrators have disappeared with their life savings.
When Hallie Ephron was ten years old, living in Beverly Hills with her screenwriter parents and three sisters, an extraordinary event in her own community seized her imagination: Cheryl Crane, the 14-year-old daughter of Lana Turner, stabbed her mother’s lover, Johnny Stompanato, to death.
Young Hallie devoured all the information she could find about the case—“My parents never censored our reading; they just encouraged us to read and ask questions,” she said in a recent interview—and decades later it became the starting point for NIGHT NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT, a thriller coming out this month.
NIGHT NIGHT, set in 1986, isn’t a retelling of the Cheryl Crane story, but a similar murder figures prominently in the background of main character Deirdre Unger. When Deirdre arrives in Beverly Hills to help her father sell his dilapidated house, she finds him dead in the swimming pool. At first, his death appears accidental, but soon the police are calling it murder—and Deirdre is a prime suspect. In search of the truth, Deirdre follows threads that lead back to 1958, when her best friend, Joelen Nichol, confessed to killing her movie-star mother’s boyfriend. Deirdre was in the Nichol house that night, and suffered a personal tragedy in the aftermath of the murder. The more she digs into the past, the more she suspects those distant events are related to her screenwriter father’s death.
Library Journal called NIGHT NIGHT an “entertainingly suspenseful read with its mix of movie stars, scandal, gossip, and mystery.” Booklist praised the author’s vivid recreation of old Hollywood in a “fast-moving tale, with building suspense and the price of fame at its center,” and Kirkus Reviews described it as a “page-turner with juicy Hollywood insider details.”
Hallie emphasizes that she didn’t know Lana Turner and her daughter, yet the story had a strong effect on her. “Of course, I wasn’t mature enough to fully grasp it, [but] I was in awe of Cheryl Crane. I thought she was courageous, heroic even, to take on a bully to protect her mother. And then, of course, she paid the price. Imagine, after that every person she met would know the story and what she’d done. She sacrificed her privacy and anonymity, precious commodities even in Hollywood where fame is so highly prized.”
The Hollywood era in which Hallie set the novel is one she knew well. “I grew up there in the 50s and 60s and went back from time to time. I saw the impact of the collapse of the studio system—my parents were screenwriters at 20th Century Fox and overnight they were out of work. By the 80s most of the studio had been bulldozed and turned into Century City. So it’s an interesting place and time period to set a story.”
STIFF PENALTY, released in February by Kensington, is the sixth book in the Mattie Winston mystery series by Annelise Ryan (the pen name of author Beth Amos). Like so many writers, as a child Amos usually had her nose in a book and dreamed early on of being a writer. Like perhaps not so many, she wrote hundreds of short stories and has saved all her rejection letters to prove it. Doubting her ability to support herself through writing, Amos decided to pursue a career in nursing. She never stopped writing, however, and at the age of forty sold her first full-length novel, Cold White Fury, to Harper Collins. Amos was off to the races. In addition to her first novels with Harper Collins and the Mattie Winston series, she writes the Mack Dalton mystery series under the pen name Allyson K. Abbott.
STIFF PENALTY is edgy, smart, and crisp, the characters distinctive, sometimes quirky, but always believable. The tension and suspense so expertly crafted by Amos are enhanced by a good dose of wry humor, and her medical knowledge lends rich credibility to her story. When you visit her website, be sure to take a look at her workshops on building characters, suspense, and other valuable writing tips. She’s got a lot of good advice!
Amos took time to talk with The Big Thrill about the writing life.
Medical Examiner Mattie Winston, your central character, is six foot tall, insecure about her looks, politically incorrect, and has a quite active libido—somewhat different from most female protagonists. What was the inspiration for her character and is there a message you want your readers to grasp?
Despite her differences, I think Mattie is in many ways the universal woman. We all have insecurities about how we look, and we all have naughty, politically incorrect, or even mean-spirited thoughts at times. Mattie is tall because I’m tall and the difficulties and insecurities that go along with that are something I know. Mattie often says the things I wish I could say. And I think Mattie’s desire to be loved and appreciated is a universal need that most women can relate to. Mattie has insecurities, but she’s a strong, independent woman who learns to trust her instincts, live with her shortcomings, and make the most of her strengths. She has a strong sense of who she is and what she wants, and she’s not afraid to go after it. Okay, maybe she’s a little afraid, but her fear empowers her in many ways. If there is a message of any sort in there, it’s that we’re all okay the way we are, and we shouldn’t be afraid to reach for those goals and desires.
By Dawn Ius
Jack DeWitt knows hot rods and custom cars.
From the likes of Duane Steck’s homebuilt Moonglow ’54 Chevy to Bob McCoy’s Raked and Flamed ’40 Ford Sedan, and almost everything in-between, DeWitt has researched cars, driven them, customized them, and written about them in various articles, blog posts, books, and even, poems.
His latest published work, DELICIOUS LITTLE TRAITOR, featuring Varian Pike, has little to do with hot rods, but it is certainly written with the same meticulous research for which DeWitt is known.
DELICIOUS LITTLE TRAITOR begins quietly in December 1953 when rugged WWII vet and now private investigator Varian Pike looks into the disappearance of a missing young girl and lands in the middle of a war between federal agencies. Along the way he finds that almost everyone has a deep secret and a grudge to settle—especially the girl.
Pike isn’t much of a talker but “he is very good at what he does, not because he has any special mental or physical abilities, but because he just hangs in there,” DeWitt says. “He has tried hard to simplify his life: Do the job. Be loyal to those who deserve loyalty. Stay in the shadows. Hide the scars. He loves jazz and movies. In fact, his worldview is almost entirely taken from Hollywood.”
An intriguing perspective, given that the book is set in the fifties, a period in time that represents a distinct dividing line in culture. As DeWitt notes, the fifties hardly age.
“James Dean, Elvis, and Marilyn Monroe are still used to sell stuff without any sense they are historical figures,” he says. “The clothes I wore in the fifties, I still wear today and I don’t look weird—khakis, boat shoes, crew neck sweaters, tweed sports jackets. Johnny’s motorcycle jacket from The Wild One is still in fashion. People are modifying fifties cars or building earlier models as fifties hotrods. This is an odd and fascinating phenomenon.”
THE LYNCHPIN is the second novel in Jeffrey B. Burton’s Agent Drew Cady mystery series. Its predecessor, The Chessman, came out in 2012 to some excellent reviews, including a starred one in Publishers Weekly, and went on to sell to publishers in Germany, The Netherlands, Turkey, and the U.K.
The novel begins with Agent Cady having turned his life around. He’s waved goodbye to Washington, D.C., and ten-plus years of chasing violent felons for the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. He’s moved to Minnesota to be with his fiancée, and now works on the FBI’s Medicare Fraud Strike Force. Life could not be better.
However, Cady’s tranquility is short-lived. He is ordered to help the local authorities investigate the murder of a young woman whose body was pulled from Lake Superior, then his workload doubles when his former boss kills a fellow agent and stands accused of being a spy. Cady’s plans of living the dream dissolve into a nest of killings and foreign intrigue.
Jeffery Burton sat down for an interview with THE BIG THRILL to discuss the second entry into his series.
What does THE LYNCHPIN refer to?
The term refers to a high-level traitor—a mole that’s burrowed his or her way deep into one of our intelligence services and runs numerous cells from that perch. I grew up during the Cold War and, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, figured it might be a bit of wishful thinking to assume that those involved in the spy trade handed the ball back to the referee, shook hands, and went their merry way.