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.
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.
“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?
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.
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.”
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.
By Jeff Ayers
Jon Wilson dives head first into the mystery/thriller genre with his latest novel, CHEAP AS BEASTS.
Like most soldiers, Declan Colette lost his fair share in the war—in his case a sailor, drowned off Iwo Jima. Since then he’s been scratching out a living as a cut-rate PI, drinking too much, and flirting with danger. Then a girl arranges to consult him, only to be murdered en route, and the cops tag Colette as their prime suspect. To save his neck he’ll need to find the real killer, a quest that pits him against a rival detective firm, a dangerously rich family, and a desperate foe whose murdering ways started back during the war.
Could this be the case he’s been waiting for? Catching the killer could make his reputation. Failing, could cost him his life.
Either way: win-win.
Jon took some quality time to chat with The Big Thrill.
What compels you to write?
An innate inability to do anything else. Life has shown me to have no aptitude for any job that requires I rise at a decent hour.
Also, I’ve always written stories and loved books—or at least since I was old enough to know what they were. I’ve actually dreamt my whole life of becoming a published author and I’m a little perturbed that it took so long. Well, better late than never I suppose.
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.”
By Wendy Tyson
In Merry Jones’s newest thriller, IN THE WOODS, Harper Jennings and her husband are enjoying a child-free camping trip in a Pennsylvania State Park when Jennings stumbles on a body in the woods. Neither she nor the park ranger believe the death was an accident, and when a fellow camper’s husband goes missing, Jennings begins her own reluctant hunt for the killer.
Jones, who lives near Philadelphia, has authored a number of works, including the Zoe Hayes mystery series, and the Elle Harrison and Harper Jennings thriller series, as well as several humor and nonfiction books. I recently had the good fortune to catch up with Jones for The Big Thrill.
Congratulations, Merry! What can you tell us about IN THE WOODS that is not on the back cover?
IN THE WOODS is densely plotted. It’s partly about personal betrayal and revenge. But, it’s also about “larger” issues—issues of the environment, use of energy resources, weapons control, even domestic terrorism. It touches on legends and superstitions about Yeti/Bigfoot-type creatures. And, as tension and danger escalate, all of these elements combine, so that the plot attains an undertone of semi-absurdity.
Through it all, the protagonist, Iraq war veteran Harper Jennings, remains strong and resilient. But readers will also see her softer side emerge as a mother and wife who needs to redefine herself as her family grows.
By Diane Kelly
Characters with Claws
Developing unique, realistic, and engaging characters is always a challenge. When has quirky gone too far? How “real” do fictional people have to be to maintain credibility? Just how flawed can a writer make a character before the person becomes too irritating or unlikable? As I discovered when writing my K-9 cop series, developing a realistic and engaging non-human character poses these same challenges.
Recognizing that animals are sentient creatures with emotions and the ability to reason is critical to creating a well-developed non-human character. Both instinct and intellect are common to all creatures great and small, from dogs and cats to goats and horses and humans. While those who are unfamiliar with animals might accuse a writer of anthropomorphizing their non-human characters, they would be wrong. Anyone who has spent any appreciable amount of time around animals know that each animal, while sharing some traits with others of its species, will have its own individual behavior patterns, preferences, and idiosyncrasies, just as we people do.
As with their human characters, writers must be careful not to make their non-human characters too stereotypical. My shepherd-mix K-9 cop Brigit has many of the typical shepherd traits. She’s smart. Protective. Loyal. Had these been her only characteristics, though, she would have been a rather bland and predictable secondary character. To give the canine character some teeth, I gave the dog flaws that became critical points of contention between her and her human partner, Officer Megan Luz.
“There was no reason for Elizabeth Knoebel to suspect that this was going to be the last day of her life.” That’s how L. T. Graham’s THE BLUE JOURNAL begins: a promise of a murder, but this taut and exciting psychological thriller delivers so much more.
Knoebel’s body is found naked in bed and it’s clear to Lieutenant Detective Anthony Walker that the victim knew whoever put a bullet in her brain. Walker, a former NYPD detective, now works for the Darien PD, a wealthy bedroom community in Connecticut, where a year’s worth of crime would barely fit into a twenty-four-hour timespan in the Big Apple. With ten years on the job in NYC, Walker has seen it all, and at first this case seems to be a straightforward homicide. But like the well-heeled people in this town, appearances are not what they seem. And after reviewing the victim’s salacious diary, he finds he has more murder suspects than a country club cocktail party.
Elizabeth Knoebel’s diary lays out in explicit detail all her sexual exploits—including the husbands of the women in her group therapy sessions. She would pick her prey, seduce them, humiliate them, then throw them away. Knoebel had made lots of enemies. The murderer could be any one of her jilted lovers. Or one of the vengeful wives. With little concrete evidence to go on, Detective Walker must unravel the tangled relationships, decipher fact from fiction, all the while navigating the shifting sands of small-town politics and gossip, the power plays and treachery.
I took Jeanne Matthews’ new novel, released January 2015, to read with me on an idyllic family holiday. You know the kind: everything is perfect but by the end you all want to throttle each other. Escaping into someone else’s dysfunctional family was sheer delight.
This is the author’s fifth novel in the Dinah Pelerin series, featuring the globetrotting cultural anthropologist. The title refers not to physical bones but the lies that Dinah and her family and her heroic new boyfriend, Thor, flounder through, embellish and accommodate. These are not just any old lies. They range from the domestic to those laden with potentially fatal freight.
I hadn’t read any of Jeanne’s prior books and I found myself chuckling away as aspects of her characters’ lives are dropped in with deadpan aplomb: “Margaret Dobbs had aged considerably since her murder trial…” and “…maybe she was reluctant to speak ill of the man she’d killed.” I love the acerbically twisted Margaret: “She exuded a bitterness that lowered the ambient temperature like a block of dry ice…” And of Dinah: “Some people aspire to crime, some have crime thrust upon them.” The heroine has a liberating streak of larceny through her soul.
All the central characters are extremely well drawn, from the charming, kitten-heeled and elusive mother, Swan, to the bitter Margaret, to the playgirl-centerfold-handsome Thor. We’ve all had a scary but handy caretaker-figure in our lives like Matthews’ nocturnal Geert, whose helpfulness extends to offering to rip people’s eyes out.
By Ovidia Yu
Before coming to NUN TOO SOON, let me say I love the personalities in your earlier books—Giulia, her boss/ partner/husband, and the rest of their friends and office staff. Do they all reappear in NUN TOO SOON, which is being marketed as the first in the Giulia Driscoll mystery series rather than the fourth in the Falcone & Driscoll series? Are these characters based on real people? And why the change in the series name?
Thank you! Yes, Giulia, Frank, Sidney, and their friends and significant others are all in the new series. When Henery Press and I discussed the series, we decided on a reboot, in essence. We have a short story available for free on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and Kobo that bridges the gap between Veiled Threat, the last in the old series, and NUN TOO SOON. It’s called “Changing Habits.” Giulia has a mystery to solve, of course, and (SPOILER ALERT!) at the same time she’s dealing with all the craziness of her upcoming marriage to Frank.
In the new series, Frank’s rehabbed his knee and is back as a detective on the police force. Giulia is running Driscoll Investigations on her own, with Sidney as her assistant and a near-genius MIT geek named Zane as her new admin.
Frank and Giulia are both strong personalities, and jointly running the business caused a lot of friction. Sidney was about to give them boxing lessons as a Christmas gift. So they came up with the current solution, which has saved both the business and their marriage. That’s why the new series uses Giulia’s name alone—she’s in charge.
None of the characters are based on real people. Well, the Superior General in Back in the Habit may possibly have been loosely based on my former Superior General. But without the drug-running and other nasty illegal goings-on. But other than that, no. The characters are all out of my crowded head.
Demystifying the Mystery
What makes a good mystery? Could there be a simpler question? On the flipside, could there be a more broad-based question? Each reader has his or her tastes and opinions, as does every writer. I can’t—and won’t— presume to have the answers. What I will do is share some aspects of what I believe, as a reader, makes a good mystery, and what works for me as a writer.
A good mystery is plot-driven.
Without a well-paced and intriguing plot (storyline), the mystery is dead in the water. You’ve heard it a million times, but it’s worth repeating again: you must pull the reader into the story, and the sooner the better. In my first Mac McClellan Mystery, Deadly Catch, the opening sentence sets the stage:
The first cast of the day turned my dream vacation into a nightmare.
Short and sweet, but doesn’t it make you want to read more and find out why?
Had I opened with back-story, how Mac had recently retired from the Marine Corps and traveled to the Florida panhandle for a fishing vacation, you might have kept on reading for a while hoping the pace picked up. Personally, I would’ve thought, “Ho-hum.” Before the third chapter of Deadly Catch ends, Mac discovers a body, is suspected of murder, and warned not to leave the area by the local sheriff. Information important to back-story can be fed in by piecemeal as the story progress, but keep that plot moving! And speaking of moving, it’s the characters that drive the plot! Every scene, every action, every sentence or phrase of dialogue, must be used to reveal character or propel the storyline forward. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t belong.
By Jeremy Burns
Jana Hollifield may be a new name to the mystery field, but it shouldn’t remain an unknown one for true fans of the genre. Hollifield’s follow-up to her debut The Problem with Goodbye, THE PROBLEM WITH SECOND CHANCES, just hit store shelves, and the second in her Ryan McCabe series looks to make quite an impression on fans new and old alike. The author sat down with THE BIG THRILL to take readers behind the scenes of her latest book.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I live in a tiny coastal town in picturesque northern California where five cars ahead of you at a stoplight is considered heavy traffic. The natural environment here is a steady draw for artists of all kinds, including my relatives. I was born into a family of very creative people and for many years pursued an interest in painting until my desire to write became irresistible. The Problem with Goodbye, first in the Ryan McCabe series, was my debut novel.
Tell us about your new book, THE PROBLEM WITH SECOND CHANCES.
With his girlfriend out of town, lonely Ryan McCabe never expects ex-flame Holly Kemp to show up at his doorstep begging him to persuade his best friend, Portland homicide detective Ollie O’Neill, to clear her cousin in the brutal slaying of his fiancée. Holly’s cousin Sam seems a viable murder suspect, until he and Ryan meet. Convinced of Sam’s innocence, Ryan and Ollie find themselves embroiled in a disturbing murder mystery that claims yet another life. As they narrow in on the truth, inexplicable acts of violence begin to plague Ryan, and Ollie worries his closest pal may be next on the killer’s list.
It has been said that there is no story that has not already been told, that is not old and familiar. It is in the telling, however, that a story is raised to a higher level. That is precisely the kind of story telling Suzanne Chazin has accomplished with her latest novel LAND OF CAREFUL SHADOWS. With pitch perfect prose, she offers an intimate glimpse into the world of undocumented immigrants in a moving and psychologically complex murder mystery. The tension never stalls in this unflinching and searing examination of the human heart.
Suzanne Chazin is a former journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Ladies Home Journal, People, Money, and other publications. She is a former senior editor and writer for Reader’s Digest and has taught writing at New York University, Sarah Lawrence College, and the Smithsonian. Her Georgia Skeehan mystery series, published by Putnam, is about a New York City female firefighter turned fire marshal. LAND OF CAREFUL SHADOWS is the first in the new Jimmy Vega series.
Your volunteer work with Hispanic immigrants became the inspiration for your latest novel, LAND OF CAREFUL SHADOWS. Was there a story or common refrain that particularly touched you?
I live in Westchester County, New York, in a suburban area that has seen a very large increase in Latino immigrants over the past two decades. I live three miles from a train station where day laborers often gather, and I was struck by this obviously needy group of people so desperate for work. As the daughter of immigrants myself, I felt drawn to their situation and began volunteering at outreach centers in the area. I got to know some of the immigrants and found them to be humble, decent, and resourceful people who went about their struggles with quiet determination. I felt their story hadn’t been told––or at least not in a readily accessible way to mainstream audiences.
Hope Clark, author of The Carolina Slade Mysteries, has a new release and a new series. MURDER ON EDISTO is book one of The Edisto Island Mysteries from BellBooks. When her husband is murdered by the Russian mob, Boston detective Callie Jean Morgan suffers a mental break and relinquishes her badge to return home to South Carolina. She has no idea how to proceed with her life, but her son deserves to move on with his, so she relocates them to the family vacation home.
But the day they arrive on Edisto Beach, Callie finds her childhood mentor and elderly neighbor murdered. Her fragile sanity is threatened when the murderer taunts her, and the home that was to be her sanctuary is repeatedly violated. Callie loses her fight to walk away from law enforcement as she becomes the only person able to pursue the culprit who’s turned the coastal paradise into a paranoid patch of sand where nobody’s safe. But what will it cost her?
MURDER ON EDISTO is a new series for you. What made you decide to change venues and characters instead of continuing your Carolina Slade series?
Actually, my publisher strong-armed, um, suggested that I create a new series to more clearly demonstrate the depth of my talent. I was flattered and scared to death at the same time, because I adored Carolina Slade. I had envisioned myself writing her stories like Sue Grafton and her alphabet mysteries, until I ran out of little communities in South Carolina to set each Slade escapade. My editor gave me sort of a full rein on the direction of the series but asked that I design the second series at least around three issues: (1) the protagonist could not be an amateur sleuth (she had to be law enforcement), (2) the story had to include a heavy-handed dose of family drama like any good Southern family, and (3) the series had to take place in one locale in South Carolina. The Carolina Slade series took place all over the state. So I set the Edisto Island Mysteries completely on Edisto Beach, a place I’ve escaped to many times. I went into the project begrudgingly, just ask my editor.
I was surfing the Internet looking for ideas for my third book when I came across this sentence: “There are more slaves in the world today than at any other time in human history.” It was followed by a number: thirty million.
As a writer, I’ve learned to listen to the little voice that says pay attention to this. Even though my books are set in Nashville and seemed far away from the things I reading about, I knew there was something here I needed to explore.
The number was an estimate, for obvious reasons. Modern-day slavery takes place in the shadows, with many of its victims unaccounted for in any census. But other experts and law enforcement agencies reported similar numbers, and a detailed document published by the International Labor Organization in 2005 reported ten million slaves in Asia alone. A UN report released in 2004 showed 700,000 children forced into domestic labor in Indonesia, more than half a million in Brazil and more than a quarter of a million in Haiti and in Pakistan. In Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Benjamin Skinner, the author of A Crime So Monstrous, was offered a ten-year-old girl for fifty dollars.
Human trafficking is not only a third-world problem. Victims of both sexual and domestic servitude have been discovered throughout the United States, with high-profile cases in Florida, California, New York, and even sleepy New England. Nashville isn’t immune. A report released by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation revealed that trafficking cases have been identified in almost every county in the state. Nashville, with its convergence of three major interstates, is a hub for all manner of trafficking—drugs, guns, and humans.
Did you ever have one of those days? You know the kind, when nothing seems to go right? Richie has.
In DEATH AND WHITE DIAMONDS, Richie’s girlfriend suggests a romantic getaway, promising him a weekend he will never forget. So why can’t he remember what happened, when he finds her lifeless body on the beach? Richie is fairly certain he didn’t kill his girlfriend, but his memory is hazy. One thing, however, is clear. When Lorraine’s body is found, he’s going to be the prime suspect in a murder investigation. Disposing of the body turns out to be harder than Richie could have imagined. Losing it, however, is easy.
When he’s not writing or at his day job, you can find Jeff Markowitz blogging. In doing a little research, I stumbled upon a most interesting post. On March 3, 2014, he wrote:
Some of you are familiar with a writing exercise that I refer to as finding the dead body. It is an exercise in finding story ideas. Over the years, I have found dead bodies in all sorts of settings—an elevator at the Kennedy Center, a middle-eastern bar on M Street in Georgetown, at O’Hare, floating in the water off of Fells Point, on Amtrak, and on the beach in Cape May. Each time that I find a body, I write a couple of sentences and file it away. Later, it might become a story. Or not.
New York Times-bestselling author Robert Dugoni writes legal thrillers with heart. “These aren’t what some might expect in a traditional thriller novel, all action and dialogue. I work hard to develop my characters. I try to write honest characters, people who have self-regard for their own well-being. If I can get my characters to care about themselves, readers will care also, and be more invested. Then I can put my characters in peril.”
Dugoni practiced law for thirteen years in San Francisco before becoming a full-time writer. His novels in the critically-acclaimed David Sloane series are THE JURY MASTER, WRONGFUL DEATH, BODILY HARM, THE CONVICTION and MURDER ONE, which was a finalist for the Harper Lee Award for literary excellence. He has also written the bestselling standalone novel DAMAGE CONTROL, and THE CYANIDE CANARY, a non-fiction book. His latest novel, MY SISTER’S GRAVE, landed the number one spot on Amazon’s Kindle Bestseller List, knocking out GONE GIRL, and was named as Library Journal’s top 5 thrillers of 2014.
In MY SISTER’S GRAVE, Dugoni introduces Tracy Crosswhite, a former high school chemistry teacher turned Seattle police detective. Tracy has spent twenty years questioning the facts surrounding her sister Sarah’s disappearance and the murder trial that followed. She doesn’t believe that Edmund House—a convicted rapist and the man condemned for Sarah’s murder—is guilty. Motivated by the opportunity to obtain real justice, Tracy has dedicated her life to tracking down killers.
When Sarah’s remains are finally discovered near their hometown in the northern Cascade Mountains of Washington State, Tracy is determined to get the answers she’s been seeking. As she searches for the real killer, she unearths dark, long-kept secrets that will forever change her relationship to her past—and open the door to deadly danger.