If the fiction writer’s mantra is “write what you know,” then Kristi Belcamino has amassed a career’s worth of background material. A crime reporter by trade, the Minneapolis resident based her debut on a series of interviews she conducted with a convicted kidnapper who claimed to be a serial killer. BLESSED ARE THE DEAD is a gripping fictionalization of that encounter, putting the reader in the shoes of young Gabriella Giovanni, a San Francisco Bay Area newspaper reporter whose second adventure was released as BLESSED ARE THE MEEK on July 29.
I’ve known Kristi for three years. We met via Twitter, when she found out I was visiting the Twin Cities to research my second novel. Kristi threw me a wonderful dinner party with her writer’s group, set me up with contacts in the Minnesota PD, and hooked me up with tours of the locations I’d set out to research. BLESSED ARE THE DEAD was still searching for a publisher then, but in the years that followed, I’ve had the pleasure of watching Kristi find an agent and a home for her wonderful debut.
Recently, I lobbed a few questions at her about the series, the writing process, and just how many similarities she shares with her protagonist.
Kristi, your debut, BLESSED ARE THE DEAD, was just published by Harper-Collins. Congratulations! Tell us about the book.
Thank you! It’s been a dream come true for sure. The book, which features an Italian-American crime reporter and is the first in a series of at least four books, is inspired by my dealings with a serial killer while I was a reporter on the crime beat in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some of the actual jailhouse conversations I had with this man are in my book. When he died in prison a few years back, I was called for a comment.
By Stacy Mantle
Author Mike Resnick has a long history of success in the science fiction and thriller categories. Beyond earning five Hugo awards, he has taken home the Science Fiction Chronicle Poll Award, the Nebula, the Homer, the Alexander, the Golden Pagoda Award, and Dog Writers Association Awards.
Humor goes a long way toward breaking dramatic tension, and no one does it better than Resnick. Larger-than-life characters pump up the action. As a long-time fixture in science fiction, Resnick draws on over one hundred novels and short stories to make his stories successful.
We had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his process, co-writing with his wife, the writing habits that have made him a success, and the importance of loving what you do.
Please tell us a little about CAT ON A COLD TIN ROOF.
It’s the third mystery novel featuring a middle-aged divorced detective, Eli Paxton, who lives in Cincinnati. Unlike a lot of his fictional contemporaries, he doesn’t distrust the police, doesn’t use his fists to solve crimes, and doesn’t bed every good-looking woman he comes across. Since the first two in the series were DOG IN THE MANGER and THE TROJAN COLT, I felt it incumbent to have an animal in the title, as well as making it one of the keys to the plot. But unlike the first two books, which had to do with dog shows and horse racing, this doesn’t involve the cat in any sport.
By Dawn Ius
In the dark and ominous world of noir fiction, most heroes are looking for a light at the end of the tunnel. But for Jersey Leo, the albino bartender in John Florio’s SUGAR POP MOON and BLIND MOON ALLEY, sunshine is something to be avoided.
“Typically, people enjoy warm summer days, but in Jersey’s case, a bright, shining sun only brings more problems,” Florio says. “His albinism pits him against convention.”
In fact, the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation has documented the number of characters with albinism featured in pop culture, and with few exceptions, most are cast as the “evil bad guy.”
“When I started writing SUGAR POP MOON, I wanted to write about an outsider,” he says. “I considered a few options. But having a hero with albinism put a different spin on things—it added another set of conflicts, another layer of tension. Looking back, I guess it was a bit of a risk.”
The gamble paid off. After a successful run with SUGAR POP MOON, Seventh Street Books purchased BLIND MOON ALLEY based on its first chapter alone—a clear demonstration of the faith the publisher had in both the character and the world Florio had created.
Set in Philadelphia during Prohibition, BLIND MOON ALLEY finds Jersey “Snowball” Leo tending bar at a speakeasy the locals call the Ink Well. There, he’s considered a hero for saving the life of a young boy. But Jersey soon finds himself running from a band of crooked cops, hiding an escaped convict in the Ink Well, and reuniting with his grammar school crush—the now sultry Myra Banks, who has shed a club foot and become a speakeasy siren.
Historical mysteries can hold our attention with a good brain teaser, even while they teach us timeless lessons about humanity. That gives you two good reasons to read THE PALE HOUSE by Luke McCallin.
Set in Yugoslavia during the final days of World War II, THE PALE HOUSE centers on Captain Gregor Reinhardt, a German army intelligence officer assigned to a new, powerful branch of the military police. Reinhardt had been a police detective in Berlin and belonged to a resistance group secretly opposing the Nazis. His new position separated him from the group. An officer in an army he hates, Reinhardt is a haunted, tortured soul.
“There’s depth to Reinhardt,” McCallin says. “He feels his times very keenly. He feels his own inadequacies more keenly still. What I wanted to do in creating and writing Reinhardt was to make people think that he could be you. An ordinary man in extraordinary times, still trying to behave and believe in what makes sense, but so painfully aware of his own fears and limitations, and still knowing what is right and what is wrong.”
This novel is the story of what happens when this self-depreciating man with the dry sense of humor witnesses a massacre of civilians while he and the German army are retreating through Yugoslavia. While he does not consider himself a hero, he learns that there is more to the incident than anyone else believes. He is still a police detective at heart, so when five mutilated bodies turn up he is the one who sees the bigger picture. And he must decide what to do.
The foreign setting will certainly entice readers with the promise of adventure in the Balkans, a part of the world associated with intrigue and treachery. But McCallin admits that wasn’t the only reason.
By Dan Levy
As an admitted adrenaline junkie, one would think a day job as an ER nurse would give Beth Amos (writing under the name Allyson K. Abbot for the Mack’s Bar series) got her daily dose of excitement at work. Not so, even after more tha forty years in the business, “I have seen, smelled, touched, been doused in, and exposed to some very gross looking and smelling things. Only one thing has ever made me gag. Ear wax is my kryptonite.”
Since that isn’t enough action, Beth fills her free time creating interesting characters and then putting them through some adrenaline-inducing situations. Such is the case with Mackenzie “Mack” Dalton, owner and chief mixologist at Mack’s Bar in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Like every good protagonist, Amos gave Mack her own set of real and relatable flaws. But for that one trait that makes Mack special, Amos turned to her experience in the medical field.
“I first heard of synesthesia from a neurologist years ago,” said Amos. “A simplistic definition of synesthesia is that it’s a cross-wiring, or in some ways an overlap, between the senses. As a result, people may see things they hear as shapes, colors, or patterns. Or something they see might trigger a taste sensation. There are different types and degrees of synesthesia, and I think it’s much more common than many people realize.”
Ten-year-old orphan Libète has been hardened by the daily struggle to survive in Cité Soleil, Haiti’s most infamous slum. But when she and her best friend, Jak, discover a young mother and her baby brutally murdered in a nearby marsh, it’s unlike anything she’s encountered before. Though initially shocked, the adults of Cité Soleil move on quickly from the event; after all, death is commonplace in this community. Undaunted, Libète takes action with Jak in tow, plunging herself into a dangerous, far-reaching plot that will change her irrevocably and threaten everything she holds dear.
BECAUSE WE ARE is a profound and mesmerizing tale of a young girl’s search for justice in an unjust world, set against the vivid and tumultuous backdrop of modern-day Haiti.
What was the genesis for this novel? Why tell the story through the girl Libète?
The spark for the story was a little girl. Shortly after the 2010 earthquake that reduced so much of Port-au-Prince to rubble, I worked as a law student intern in Cité Soleil, a slum on the outskirts of Haiti’s capitol. During my days there, a girl of ten—incredibly bright, mischievous, and sharp-tongued—would flit through our office. Though she’d never solved a murder, I wouldn’t put it past her! The thought of casting a character inspired by her as the lead in a mystery became irresistible, and Libète, my protagonist, was born.
By Derek Gunn
Mystery and thriller writer…dog lover…dreamer—these are the words that greet you on Wendy Tyson’s website. The themes carry over into her writing and appeared in our correspondence during the writing of this article. I mean what’s not to like about this woman?
DEADLY ASSETS is the second book in the Allison Campbell mystery series but don’t let that worry you about jumping straight in. Allison Campbell is Philadelphia’s premier image consultant and helps others reinvent themselves. She is a gutsy woman who had to rebuild her life and her own confidence when an old case went wrong and she lost her practice and her husband. Today, she is well-heeled and polished and moves in a world of powerful executives, wealthy, eccentric ex-wives, and twisted ethics. And boy, are they eccentric!
Tyson’s background is in law and psychology and she lives near Philadelphia with her husband, three sons, and two of the aforementioned dogs, Labs Molly and Driggs. Tyson kindly supplied a concise summary of the first book for me, but DEADLY ASSETS is definitely a novel you can pick up and leap straight into. The characters introduce themselves quickly and the back story is revealed when background is needed.
The first thing that will strike you about this book is Tyson’s writing. I loved it from the first page; clouds bruising clear skies and ramshackle mansions that, similar to their owners, have seen better days, are just two of the well-crafted descriptions that had me breezing through the pages.
Elle Harrison is back in Merry Jones’s latest release, ELECTIVE PROCEDURES. Recovering from her husband Charlie’s death, Elle Harrison agrees to visit a fortuneteller with a girlfriend. The fortuneteller predicts that Elle will travel, meet a new man, and, oh, by the way—Elle’s aura is filled with death, the dead are drawn to her, and death will follow her everywhere.
Elle is shaken, but she tries to ignore the ridiculous prediction. She and her pals travel to Mexico where one of them has arranged cosmetic surgery, planning to recuperate in a plush hotel suite. But more is going on at the hotel than tummy tucks.
As dangers swirl, Elle is forced to face her unresolved issues with Charlie, even as she races to find the connections between the murders before more patients—including her friend—are killed.
And before she becomes prey herself.
Tell us something about ELECTIVE PROCEDURES that isn’t mentioned in the publisher’s synopsis.
Wow, there are so many things not mentioned. But the most important part to me is the psychological issues that the book deals with. For example, the protagonist, Elle Harrison, suffers from a mild dissociative disorder that causes her to mentally drift away when she’s under stress. So when things get dicey, Elle tends to go off into her thoughts, missing sometimes critical pieces of information. Her friends have learned to deal with this aspect of her character, and they call her dissociative incidents “pulling an Elle,” and they help her cope.
Some of the other characters in ELECTIVE PROCEDURES also deal with psychological issues such as body dysmorphic disorder, which causes a distorted self-image. Some of the people seeking cosmetic surgery in the book do so because they have this disorder and think they constantly need “fixing.”
Reporters make great fictional detectives: they are inquisitive, determined, and generally unarmed. James W. Ziskin proves how engrossing a journalist’s investigation can be in his latest novel, NO STONE UNTURNED: AN ELLIE STONE MYSTERY.
This charming tale, the sequel to Ellie’s first case, STYX AND STONE, is set in upstate New York. The story takes place in the 1960s when a young reporter who played by her own rules couldn’t count on computer analysis, cell phones, or 21st century CSI tools when searching for a killer. Ellie is a fascinating character and a strong protagonist, as her creator explains.
“She’s charming, witty, and magnetic,” Ziskin says. “She has a strong ethical compass, even if her personal mores are libertine. She knows she’s smart, probably smarter than anyone in the room, but she’s not arrogant.”
In fact, Ellie doesn’t see herself as a heroine, she just does what she feels a reporter should do. She learns of a twenty-one-year-old society girl found dead and half-buried in the woods. Ellie is the first reporter on the scene. Alone and far from her native New York City, Ellie sees this investigation as a chance to pull her career out of its downward spiral. In addition to a crafting a fine whodunit Ziskin uses the setting to good effect to reveal character in interesting ways. After all, upstate New York is itself an interesting character.
“I like the cultural conflicts and discoveries of a fish out of water at play in NO STONE UNTURNED,”he says. “Ellie is a sophisticated New York girl from a privileged, intellectual background. New Holland offers little of that world. But it does present many other challenges for her to surmount. “
Murder is once again the catalyst for mystery and P.I. intrigue in California as Karen Keskinen’s second novel, BLACK CURRENT, hits bookshelves, both real and virtual, this month. Denise Hamilton, author of DAMAGE CONTROL and editor of Akashic’s LOS ANGELES NOIR called Keskinen’s first book, BLOOD ORANGE, “[a]n impressive debut with echoes of Sue Grafton and Ross Macdonald featuring appealing characters, a twisty plot, buried family secrets, and a coastal California backdrop saturated in color and light.” Fans of that work will surely be eager to get their hands—and, more importantly, eyes—on the sequel, BLACK CURRENT, when it comes out this month.
THE BIG THRILL recently caught up with Karen so she could give us some insight into her latest entry in her mystery series, provide some clues to what readers should expect, and tell us a little about the story behind the stories.
Congratulations on your most recent novel, BLACK CURRENT! Tell us a little about your protagonist, P.I. Jaymie Zarlin, and how this second book picks up after BLOOD ORANGE lets off.
Jaymie moved to Santa Barbara, California, some three years before the events recorded in BLOOD ORANGE. She moved south to try to help her brother Brodie, who was living on the streets. When Brodie died in the downtown jail, Jaymie decided to remain in Santa Barbara and become a private investigator. The focus of her work was to find missing people. But that focus changed when she was hired to discover who’d killed Lili Molina, a Santa Barbara High School student found raped and murdered after the annual Solstice Parade. BLOOD ORANGE is the story of Jaymie’s investigation into Lili’s death and, subsequently, the death of Danny Armenta, a young man falsely accused of Lili’s murder.
By Karen Harper
Karen Harper caught up with very busy poet-turned-thriller-author, Erica Wright, just as she was getting ready to launch her debut novel. Erica is heading to New York City in June for events and publicity, and we wish her all the best—and to her intrepid heroine Kathleen Stone.
What is THE RED CHAMELEON about?
With a little help from the best wigmaker on the Atlantic seaboard, Kathleen Stone can take on a variety of personas, from a posh real estate agent to a petulant teenage boy. She was once a valuable undercover cop for the New York Police Department, but since her early retirement following a botched case, she has gone a little soft. These days, she mostly catches cheating spouses in flagrante. When one husband ends up not so much adulterous as dead, Kathleen must use her rusty skills to catch a killer.
You have two fascinating elements in your past: you are a poet and you have taught at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. What did you teach there? How have these experiences impacted your first novel?
I taught composition courses at John Jay, but snuck a little poetry onto the syllabus. Carolyn Forché’s “The Colonel” was always a favorite. My students definitely played a role in my interest in crime writing. They were mostly going into criminology, so I tried to educate myself on their career paths even if only to make our conferences more productive. I had no intention of writing a mystery novel when I started teaching, but looking back, it almost seems inevitable.
Poisoned Pen Press calls it “pet noir” and I assumed it was a cozy with cuss words and a cat. But no—author Clea Simon is back with another beautifully-written suspense story about a psychic with a penchant for animals who helps solve a local murder deep in a Massachusetts forest. For anyone interested in psychic phenomena, communicating with animals, and crime fiction—a much broader audience than one might imagine—you can count me in.
Simon recently agreed to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
Are you a pet psychic?
Ha! No, I am not! I wish I was a pet psychic. I started writing about Pru being one because I think any of us who loves our pets feels we can understand them. I mean, I have conversations with my cat all the time. I do think I can read her body language—but often I imagine her talking back to me and I hear her voice as having a snarky tone. And that interaction became the basis for Pru and her tabby Wallis.
Your “pet noir” series could easily have been a cozy. Why noir?
Cozies have gotten a bad rap—people think “cutesy.” I prefer the term “traditional mysteries” for my cozies, like my Dulcie Schwartz and Theda Krakow books. Little graphic sex or violence, and lots of focus on character. The Pru Marlowe books do have that noir edge, but I have the same goals for them. What interests me in books are the people, the characters. I like traditional mysteries because they focus on the people. I want to write books where everyone is, to some extent, someone you could sympathize with. Not that you would necessarily commit murder, but you could understand how a person could be driven to the edge by something. And, of course, I want readers to be able to relate to my protagonists, even when they’re a little bookish and unworldly (like Dulcie) or snappy and standoffish, as Pru can be.
When Otto Lidke got a tryout in pro football, he hired a lawyer friend named Jim Raiford to handle his contract. The negotiations were bungled, forcing both men into a career change. Trying to start a pro wrestling circuit in Denver, Lidke runs afoul of the national federation, which does everything it can—legal and otherwise—to stamp out his new venture. When shady business practices escalate into threats on his life, Lidke calls on Raiford, now a private investigator, to dig up some dirt on the men who are trying to put him out of business.
But instead he gets Raiford’s daughter, Julie—a whip-smart sleuth looking to prove she’s every bit as savvy as her father. As Julie and her dad dig into the vicious world of small-time wrestling, they find that though the fights may be fixed, the danger is all too real.
Perhaps I’m showing my age, but there used to be a commercial with the actor saying, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” So let me rephrase that line. I’m not a cop, but I write about one in my books, including my latest novel, CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE.
This can be a problem. How can I pull off a realistic characterization of a profession when my only exposure to it (thankfully!) has been television shows and other books that may or may not have gotten it “right”?
Time to do my homework. Research!
There are those who dread research and look on it as drudgery. My response to them is, “You’re not doing it right!”
My first plunge into the world of law enforcement officers was the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Citizen’s Academy. During the weekly sessions, I was able to watch police K-9s in action, tour the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) and the city’s crime lab, meet the SWAT team and see firsthand some of their cool “toys,” and I even got to shake the hand of the bomb squad’s robot. I hated to see it end.
A few months later, I went on a ride-along. Four hours patrolling with a wonderful police officer who willingly answered all my questions and shared part of his world with me. He took me into a house during a domestic dispute. Okay, I’m still not sure if that was a good idea or not, but it definitely showed what these brave men and women face every day. And when we responded to a call of “shots fired,” I learned about adrenaline. No, he didn’t let me out of the squad car for that one. Mostly, I tried to hide under the dash while peeking out to watch the cops in action. Enlightening, to say the least.
By Rick Reed
Donald Bain is the author and ghostwriter of more than 120 books. His novels in the Margaret Truman Capital Crimes series include MONUMENT TO MURDER, EXPERIMENT IN MURDER, UNDIPLOMATIC MURDER, and INTERNSHIP IN MURDER.
Now Bain brings back Jessica Fletcher for her most dangerous adventure yet in ALOHA BETRAYED, the latest entry in the wildly popular Murder, She Wrote series.
Jessica Fletcher visits Maui to participate in a law enforcement seminar. While there she learns of a controversial construction project that pits preservationists against progress, a plan to place the world’s largest solar telescope on the dormant, culturally treasured volcano Haleakla. When a body is found at the foot of a rocky escarpment Jessica becomes involved with the mysterious death. In the process she almost becomes part of the island’s lush scenery when someone, with a stake in the investigation, decides to send Jess to her death down the side of the famed crater.
It’s up to Jessica, and co-lecturer and legendary retired detective Mike Kane, to discover the truth behind the death.
ALOHA BETRAYED is the forty-first Murder, She Wrote novel written by the bestselling author of COFFEE, TEA OR ME? which with its three sequels sold more than five million copies worldwide.
We caught up with Bain in Cabot Cove, Maine, to find out what he has to say about the ALOHA BETRAYED—and what else we can expect from him and Jessica Fletcher.
Tell us about Jessica Fletcher. What kind of person is she?
I suppose the best answer is to indicate what kind of person Angela Lansbury is. Angela brought Jessica Fletcher to life on the TV screen, and infused the character with her own values and sensitivities. Angela is as nice a person as she is a talent, so no surprise that Jessica Fletcher is, too. She’s kind and loving, adores her hometown of Cabot Cove, her neighbors and friends, and refuses to abide injustice. She also possesses a keen analytic mind. When combined with her heightened inquisitiveness, that enables her to see through people, especially the bad guys. Of course she often annoys professional law enforcement officers like Cabot Cove’s sheriff Mort Metzger, but because she is invariably right they cut her some slack. I’m sure that in your distinguished career as a homicide detective, Rick, you’ve met a few folks like her.
By Don Helin
In her latest novel, THE JOHNSTOWN GIRLS, Kathleen George develops such an interesting plot that Author Stefannie Pitoff says, “George expertly pushes the boundaries of the mystery genre. I can’t wait for more superb novels to come.” In her novel, a woman of 103 tells the story of what really happened to her family in the Johnstown Flood, causing a journalist to investigate.
Kathleen George is the author of TAKEN, FALLEN, AFTERIMAGE, THE ODDS (Edgar finalist for best novel), HIDEOUT, SIMPLE, and A MEASURE OF BLOOD. She is also the editor of PITTSBURGH NOIR. A professor of Theatre Arts at Pitt, George has directed many plays, including several by Shakespeare. She credits her theatre background with giving her the tools to write thrillers.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Kathleen George the other day and ask her a few questions.
Is there anything special you’d like to tell us about THE JOHNSTOWN GIRLS?
Altogether it took twenty-five years to write! Yes. I started it a long time ago and have several versions. To tell the truth, I liked the impulse behind all the versions, but this is the one that seems to have the most steam. It has an engine that moves.
How did you get interested in the Johnstown Flood?
I was born and raised in Johnstown. We heard about the flood during those years, even though the Great Flood was too long ago for anyone to remember. My mother and father remembered the 1936 flood which was very bad, but of course nothing can compare to the flood of 1889. In that one over 2,000 people were killed in a matter of minutes. And the town was wiped out. Only to be rebuilt by determined survivors. We learned in school that Johnstown was now the flood free city. And of course that wasn’t true because there was another flood in 1977. I experienced that one, or the aftermath of it rather, because I went into town during the disaster-area recovery. But the novel is about women and their relationships. I had to do research into memory, twins, teaching, nursing, all kinds of things to flesh out these lives.
By Jeremy Burns
Many of us read and/or write thrillers, but Adrian McKinty’s own thrilling childhood has provided inspirational fodder for his latest book. IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE is the third book in the Sean Duffy trilogy by the award-winning Irish crime novelist, and it merges classic mystery tropes and modern thriller sensibilities with his first-hand experience in the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The author sat down with THE BIG THRILL this month to take readers behind the scenes of his latest project.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and grew up in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. I studied law and then philosophy at uni in England and then I moved to New York City. I was an illegal for my first few years in NYC working in bars, constructions sites, etc. Finally I married my girlfriend, got legal and I settled down with a job at the Columbia Med School library. In 2000, we moved to Denver, Colorado where I worked as a high school English teacher. My first novel, DEAD I WELL MAY BE, was written there. In 2004, DEAD I WELL MAY BE got short listed for the Dagger Award and was picked as the debut crime novel of the year by BOOKLIST.
Tell us about your new thriller, IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE.
It’s the 3rd book in my Sean Duffy trilogy that began with THE COLD COLD GROUND. It’s set in 1984, and it’s about a Catholic working in the largely Protestant RUC during the Troubles.
By Maynard Sims
LET DEATH BEGIN is the tenth published novel of writing duo Maynard Sims, and with another eight scheduled they are keeping busy. Thrillers are their favourite storyboard, be it supernatural or action. LET DEATH BEGIN is a mystery thriller set in the modern day around London, England. James Price is shot by a clown. Sara’s house is broken into. Mason is killed for what was stolen. Who is pulling the strings? Who wants James dead? What secrets do Sara and her brother need to stay hidden.
The story was inspired by the gangsters that held London to ransom. Unafraid of the police, and interested in power at whatever cost. In LET DEATH BEGIN two rival crime lords —Dyson and Moss — continue their battle even after death. Their families and loved ones are dragged into the bitter rivalries and thirst for revenge that threaten more lives.
James Price is involved whether he likes it or not. He is just coming to terms with being invalided out of the police after being shot when his new life of peace and quiet is shattered by his involvement with Sara. Her father was one of the crime bosses, and his secrets haven’t been buried with him.
By John Raab
Sandra Parshall’s latest book POISONED GROUND will be hitting shelves on March 4, 2014. It is the next book in her Rachel Goddard Mystery series. Sandra has been a writer for many years, working in the newspaper business as a reporter. You could say that she was born to write mysteries and suspense, since her first job was writing the weekend obituary for her hometown newspaper. From the SPARTANBURG HERALD to the BALTIMORE EVENING SUN to interviewing Hugh Hefner on his private jet, Sandra finally was able to pursue her passion in 2006 with the release of THE HEAT OF THE MOON and won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. She has served on the national board of directors of Sisters in Crime and is a regular contributor to our very own THE BIG THRILL. It is thus with great pleasure that we have a chance to ask her some questions for a change. But first, here’s a description of her compelling new novel, POISONED GROUND:
When a powerful development company sets its sights on Mason Country, Virginia, as the location for a sprawling resort for the rich, the locals begin taking sides. Many residents see the resort as economic salvation for the small Blue Ridge Mountains community, while others fear the county will become financially dependent on a predatory company.
Few oppose the development more vocally than veterinarian Rachel Goddard. She sides with locals reluctant to sell their land and, in the process, complicates the life of her new husband, Sheriff Tom Bridger.
When a beloved couple is gunned down on the very farm they refused to sell, it seems supporters will stop at nothing to ensure the success of the resort. Now disagreement in the community has exploded into civil war with both sides lashing out. As the violence escalates, Rachel discovers the attacks are more sinister than they appear.
Can she bring the truth to light before her community tears itself apart?
By Dan Levy
It’s fair to say that a protagonist who beats the odds when everything is against her inspires most thriller writers. Or, maybe a writer has painted an antagonist so vividly in her mind, the story to thwart him aches to be told. Not Wendy K. Webb. Yes, bigger than life protagonists and evil antagonists are critical to her stories. But her muse comes from a different place than most, “Setting is what inspires story for me,” she says. “When I start a new novel, I first think of where I want to set it.”
As a gothic suspense novelist, the place (and its secrets) becomes more than a rich backdrop, it’s a character in the story. In her latest novel, THE VANISHING, Webb describes the setting as moving the house from Downton Abbey to the Minnesota wilderness. But Webb said she didn’t stop there, wondering, “What sort of eccentric nobleman might have built it? And, what strange things might have happened there over the years?”
From that came THE VANISHING, where recently-widowed Julia Bishop’s life is collapsing around her, when a stranger appears on her doorstep with an intriguing job offer—he asks Julia to be a companion for his elderly mother, the famous and rather eccentric horror novelist Amaris Sinclair, whom Julia has always admired… and who the whole world thinks is dead. Too intrigued to decline, Julia accepts the position, hoping she has found her chance to start anew.But when Julia arrives at Havenwood, she begins to suspect her too-good-to-be-true job offer is exactly that. Mysteries and secrets haunt the halls of Havenwood and the forest beyond. Why did Amaris Sinclair choose to vanish from the public eye more than a decade earlier? What are the whispers Julia hears? And why, exactly, was Julia brought to Havenwood in the first place?
By Dawn Ius
Holly West enjoys moonwalking to old Michael Jackson songs, watching movies, cooking, drinking, and obsessive dog petting.
Okay, the moonwalking part is totally made up, but the rest—especially the dog petting bit—is all true. No, really.
“That isn’t a joke,” she says. “I pretty much have to pet every dog I see.”
West says each of these hobbies play a role in feeding her creative well, an important motivator for the pastime that truly owns her heart: writing.
Before West penned MISTRESS OF FORTUNE, a hardboiled historical mystery, West studied screenwriting, and even drafted a couple of scripts, now stuffed into a drawer while she navigates the similar, and yet vastly different, world of novel writing. The screenwriting lessons, however, remain top of mind, particularly when it comes to mastering the art of storytelling.
“Studying screenwriting and watching films is a great way to learn story structure,” she says. “I’d advise anyone writing novels—especially genre fiction—to sit down and watch a few films in your genre. Pay attention to the story elements: how and when characters are introduced, where the ‘turning point’ scenes occur, how the climax is paced, and so on.”
By Ian Walkley
Helen Smith was ranked as America’s most popular mystery writer on Amazon last summer.Her latest release, BEYOND BELIEF, the second in the Emily Castle mysteries published by Thomas and Mercer is an entertaining mix of humor, mystery, and British eccentricities.
Smith writes novels, children’s books, poetry, plays, and screenplays. Her books have reached number one on Amazon’s bestseller lists in the US, UK, Canada, and Germany. Her first book, ALISON WONDERLAND, was one of the top five bestselling books from Amazon Publishing when it was launched in the US in 2011.
In BEYOND BELIEF, famed psychic Perspicacious Peg predicts a murder will occur at England’s Belief and Beyond conference, prompting her science-minded colleagues to recruit twenty-six-year-old budding sleuth Emily Castles to attend the event as a “future crimes investigator.” The suspected victim: celebrated magician Edmund Zenon, who plans to perform a daring stunt at the conference—and is offering fifty thousand pounds to any attendee who can prove that the paranormal exists.
In the seaside town of Torquay, Emily meets a colorful cast of characters: dramatic fortune-teller Madame Nova; kindly Bobby Blue Suit and his three psychic dachshunds; Sarah and Tim Taylor, devastated parents mourning their late son; and religious cult members Hilary, Trina, and the Colonel. Tensions rise as believers in science, the supernatural, and the spiritual clash with one another. But once a body count begins, Emily must excuse herself from the séances and positivity circles, and use old-fashioned detective work to find the killer.
Agatha Christie proved that great mysteries are driven by great characters and an exploration of the community those characters live in. Today Terry Shames reaffirms that fact with her latest novel, The Last Death of Jack Harbin: A Samuel Craddock Mystery.
The community Shames explores is the fictitious town of Jarrett Creek, Texas. The story begins with two best friends who join the Army just before the outbreak of the Gulf War. One is rejected and stays home to marry the girl they both loved. The other, Jack Harbin, returns from the war badly damaged. The two men are about to reconcile when Harbin is brutally murdered.
Ex-police chief Samuel Craddock has to investigate the murder. Craddock is a fascinating character with a good sense of humor and a kindly appreciation for human foibles. He might not consider himself a hero, but readers will.
“He has a strong sense of justice,” says author Terry Shames, “and doesn’t like it when things go wrong in his community because someone has strayed off course. At the same time, he doesn’t have false modesty—he knows when he’s doing a good job. His sense of self-worth is more important than recognition from outside.”
Mark Pryor is the author of THE BOOKSELLER and THE CRYPT THIEF, the first and second Hugo Marston novels, and the true-crime book AS SHE LAY SLEEPING. An assistant district attorney with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office in Austin, Texas, he is the creator of the true-crime blog DAConfidential. He has appeared on CBS News’s 48 HOURS and Discovery Channel’s DISCOVERY ID: COLD BLOOD.
Here are just some of the quotes Mark has accumulated:
“Mark Pryor is one of the smartest new writers on the block. His new novel is a doozy.”—Philip Kerr, author of A MAN WITHOUT A BREATH, a Bernie Gunther novel
“A tale of a city that’s gritty, utterly real and filled with surprises both horrifying and tender. Much like a baguette, this fabulous story is crusty on the outside, sweet on the inside, and once you’ve had a bit, you can’t wait for more.”—OPRAH.com
“Enough intrigue to satisfy every reader…. A fantastic debut!”—RT BOOK REVIEWS
“The Hugo Marston series now belongs on every espionage fan’s watch list.”—BOOKLIST
“A good bet for Cara Black fans.”—LIBRARY JOURNAL
Mark kindly answered the following questions for me last week.
By Gary Kriss
Harry Dolan hasn’t killed anybody in well over two years.
Now he’s about to make up for lost time.
“I’ve been waiting quite a while for this, so in that sense it’s a relief,” Dolan says of what’s about to occur, which, he divulges, begins with the murder of a beautiful young law student. But there’ll be more deaths to come, all methodically planned by Dolan over the course of eighteen months.
The one saving grace? Dolan’s mayhem will be confined to the four-hundred-sixteen pages of his new novel, THE LAST DEAD GIRL (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam), which officially hits the shelves on January 9.
And while he can tranquilly create the most heinous of crimes on paper, Dolan isn’t quite as tranquil as he awaits publication day. “You always worry about how a book will do, how it’ll be received,” he says.
In the latest mystery from New York Times bestselling author Charles Todd, Inspector Ian Rutledge is summoned to the quiet, isolated Fen country to solve a series of seemingly unconnected murders before the killer strikes again
August 1920. A society wedding at Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire becomes a crime scene when a guest is shot just as the bride arrives. Two weeks later, after a fruitless search for clues, the local police are forced to call in Scotland Yard. But not before there is another shooting in a village close by. This second murder has a witness; the only problem is that her description of the killer is so horrific it’s unbelievable. Badgered by the police, she quickly recants her story.
Wisconsin coffeehouse owner Maggy Thorsen accompanies her main squeeze, Sheriff Jake Pavlik, to South Florida, where he’s been asked to speak at a mystery-writers’ conference. Maggy is anticipating a romantic arrival in their hotel suite, but when the opening night event turns out to be a re-enactment of Agatha Christie’s classic, Murder on the Orient Express, the couple reluctantly sets off on a night train into the Everglades. The idea is to solve the “crime” and return, but the troupe soon finds itself embroiled in a real-life murder mystery as creepy and baffling as any work of fiction.
By Basil Sands
Let me introduce you to a writer with a great read for your Mid-Winter’s reading list. Phyllis Smallman is the award winning author of the popular Sherri Travis mystery series. Dividing her year between the picture-perfect northern rainforest of Salt Spring Island BC in Canada and the sunny beaches of Florida, Phyllis writes some pretty darned good mysteries. Must be the combination of both coast’s worth of fresh sea air.
Phyllis, tell us about your newest mystery title, LONG GONE MAN.
LONG GAME MAN is the first book in a new series about a woman named Singer Brown, at least that’s name she gives the police. Singer left home at sixteen to join a rock band and almost made it to the top – except she had the bad luck of meeting Johnny. Now she lives in a beat-up old van, sings on the street for coins, and nurses an old hate.
One night she arrives on the last ferry to a small island in the Salish Sea, planning to kill the man who destroyed her life. At his mountain retreat a woman with a gun in her hand opens the door and says, “Come in.” On the floor behind her is a body. Someone else has already taken revenge on Johnny and now the murderer is coming after Singer.
How did you first get into writing, and what were the initial days of the journey toward publication like?
I wrote for nearly twenty years before I had a book published. Those first three manuscripts are still in a box somewhere. After being shortlisted for the Debut Dagger in the UK and the Malice Domestic in the US, I was published because I won an award, the Unhanged Arthur from the Crime Writers of Canada. That book, Margarita Nights, was nominated for best first novel the next year. The one thing I know is that I’d still be writing even if I’d never been published. I write because I have to, the same reason people play the piano or paint pictures. The process gives me pleasure.
Bestselling mystery author Beth Groundwater writes the Claire Hanover gift basket designer series (A REAL BASKET CASE, a Best First Novel Agatha Award finalist, and TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET). Her just released third novel in the series, A BASKET OF TROUBLE, blends her love for the outdoors once again with murder–this time in the horse-riding community. In A BASKET OF TROUBLE when Claire Hanover saddles up for the opening event of her brother Charley’s new riding stable, the last thing she expects is a murder investigation. Kyle Mendoza, one of the stable hands, is found dead in Gunpowder’s stall. Everyone thinks the horse trampled him, until it’s discovered someone killed Kyle before dragging him into the stall. Charley’s troubles worsen with Kyle’s family suing him and a rival stable owner wrangling up his clients, so Claire decides to find the real murderer before her brother’s business is put out to pasture.
Beth also writes the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner (DEADLY CURRENTS, an Amazon #3 overall bestseller, WICKED EDDIES, finalist for the Rocky Award, and just released, FATAL DESCENT). She enjoys Colorado’s many outdoor activities, including skiing and whitewater rafting, and loves talking to book clubs. Visit her at her website.
By Don Helin
In her novel, IN THE SHADOW OF REVENGE, Patricia Hale unleashes a plot so exciting that one review reads, “IN THE SHADOW OF REVENGE intrigued me from its first pages and kept me enthused with its rich descriptions, brutally honest depictions of realistic characters and small town life.”
Childhood friendships mold us into the adults we become. So it goes for three nine year old girls in Millers Falls, Maine after a ruthless attack hits close to home. The experience keeps them bound to one another even as adults. But when an opportunity for revenge offers to set them free, the friends run headlong after vengeance, quickly learning that even justice can cut to the bone.
Patricia Hale received an MFA degree from Goddard College in Vermont. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, NH Writers Project and Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. Besides writing, her interests include hiking, kayaking and yoga. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two German Shepherds.
Two other favorite reviews:
“Quite a powerful story and hard hitting from the start.”
“A gripping read.”