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by Virna DePaul

In Michelle Gagnon’s Kidnap and Ransom, the hero becomes the victim…

When the world’s foremost kidnap and ransom negotiator is snatched by a ruthless drug cartel, Jake Riley becomes ensnared in the effort to save him.  But he’s up against Los Zetas, an elite paramilitary organization renowned for its ferocity and skill.  Now he and his colleagues must navigate the dark underbelly of Mexico, from raging street wars to perilous jungles, in an effort to rescue him before time runs out. 

After nearly losing her life on her last case, FBI Agent Kelly Jones may never do fieldwork again.  Determined to regain her confidence, she joins Jake on his mission—and quickly realizes she’s in over her head.  Then in the slums of Mexico City, she encounters a former nemesis who’s enacting a nightmarish ritual on the weak and vulnerable.  Now she has one last, desperate shot to prove herself—by taking down a killer.

“High stakes, tension, excitement—I loved The Gatekeeper.” —NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR LEE CHILD

“Utterly gripping…an addictively readable thriller.” –CHICAGO TRIBUNE on BONEYARD

Recently, I interviewed Ms. Gagnon.  Here’s what she had to say about her writing journey, her story, and her upcoming release.

This is your fourth book with continuing characters Jake Riley and FBI Agent Kelly Jones.  Can you discuss the unique advantages and disadvantages you’ve encountered in writing a series revolving around these same two characters?

It’s funny, because I shifted gears recently to work on a standalone. I quickly realized that I’ve become spoiled, starting the past three books with characters I was already familiar with. Kelly and Jake have practically become family members. I can easily imagine how they’d respond to certain situations, and I know exactly what they’d say. Starting fresh has been challenging, and I’ve caught myself missing them. But I hope to pick the series back up after finishing this book.

At one time, you were a modern dancer and a model, and you also worked in a Russian supper club.  Have you been able to capitalize on previous personal experience in any of your books?

I wish! Sadly, I have yet to incorporate a scene where one of my characters leads Russian mobsters through a rousing performance of the Macarena. Someday, perhaps.

You chose a female FBI Agent as a heroine and your work has been compared to Silence of the Lambs.  Has your choice in heroines provided you with any challenges or thematic opportunities?

One of the reasons I chose to cast Kelly as an FBI agent was so she would have the capacity to go almost anywhere and do almost anything. It’s enabled me to set books in New England, the Southwest, and now Mexico City. My villains have ranged from serial killers to domestic terrorists, and the plots cover everything from dirty bombs to Aztec sacrificial rites.

Although I’m far from an expert, I’ve done a ton of research on FBI procedures, spent time at the FBI Citizens Academy and Quantico, and had an agent vet every one of my books for accuracy. The FBI agent who fact-checked BONEYARD once said that if I really wrote about what she did all day, the book would only be useful as a sleep aid. I stay true to their procedures as much as possible, but take license when the story calls for it.

Is there a message in your novels you want readers to grasp?

In a sense, every book has had a different message. With THE GATEKEEPER, I wanted to illustrate that the illegal immigration issue is so divisive because it is complicated, and there are no easy answers.

KIDNAP & RANSOM is all about moral quandaries: doing the easy thing, versus doing the right thing. At different points in the plot characters are confronted with a dilemma, and they’re all forced to choose a path. Some take the high road, and others don’t. And since I write without an outline, going in I had no idea who would rise to the challenge, and who would fall short. It was interesting to see how those choices affected the storyline.

How does Jake and Kelly’s romantic relationship progress over the books?  For readers who enjoy romance with suspense, is the romance central to your plots or secondary?

For me the romance tends to be secondary, although the books have proven to be popular with romance fans. In THE TUNNELS there wasn’t so much as a chaste kiss, and until KIDNAP & RANSOM, I hadn’t written a single sex scene. (Somehow I managed to destroy my previous record, incorporating not one but two into the plot this time around).

That being said, structurally speaking each book represents a leap forward in their personal relationship, usually over the span of about a year. In one, Kelly and Jake are trying to decide whether or not to take the next step in their relationship. In another, they’re debating whether or not to stay together. So the romantic arc is there. And I can promise that in KIDNAP & RANSOM, any remaining lingering questions are answered.

What fictional novels are you reading now?

I recently read THE PASSAGE by Justin Cronin, which completely blew me away. Other recent favorites were Patrick Lee’s debut THE BREACH and Lenny Kleinfeld’s SHOOTERS AND CHASERS.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging about writing?

Finding the time! These days, between family commitments and the amount of time I spend marketing the books, it’s a struggle to fit in long stretches at the keyboard. I’m not one of those writers who commits to cranking out a specific quota of words or pages a day, because that’s simply not feasible for me. Whenever possible, I put my nose to the grindstone. Consequently, completing a book a year has presented a serious challenge. At one point my publisher asked if I could bump it up to two or more a year, and the thought alone nearly reduced me to tears. Agreeing to that production schedule would mean sacrificing more than I’m willing to give up, especially with regard to my family. So I said no.

How has your writing process changed as your career has developed?

I’m much faster than I used to be. I might not work on the next manuscript at all while touring, but when I finally do set to it, I churn out the pages rapidly. I also have a much better sense of how to construct a plotline and build characters. If I had a chance to retool my debut, knowing what I know now, I suspect it would undergo some fairly dramatic changes. A lot of other authors probably feel the same way.

Do you have any advice for other authors seeking to write suspense for both male and female readers?

No matter what, it’s critical to know your audience. So if your dream is to write craft mysteries, you should keep them squarely focused on female readers, since that will be your base.

But I don’t believe that the vast majority of thriller writers need to worry about that. I’ve been accused of writing “boy books” ever since I incorporated a former Special Ops team into my cast of characters. In my opinion, that type of comment doesn’t give readers enough credit. My reading taste runs the gamut from Janet Evanovich to Clive Cussler, and I doubt I’m alone in that. Lee Child has at least as many female fans as male fans (probably more, truth be told). The important thing is to write characters who are believable regardless of gender.

Can you tell us a little about the next novel you’re working on?

The next book is tentatively entitled RENDER SAFE. Without giving too much away, it’s set in San Francisco, and the plot revolves around the fact that some pasts can never be outrun. It’s based on a true story: in 2006, a young woman jogging through the Presidio was killed in a hit and run accident. The police never tracked down the driver. On the anniversary of her death there’s usually a piece about her in the local newspaper, and family members renew their pleas for information.

I can’t imagine simply driving away from something like that. Going through life knowing that you killed someone, and got away with it, has to have some sort of terrible impact on a person.

So in RENDER SAFE, I explore three characters who committed a crime and got away with it, but how in the end it led to their downfall. More moral quandaries, in a way.

For more information, go to

Michelle Gagnon is a former modern dancer, bartender, dog walker, model, personal trainer, and Russian supper club performer. Her bestselling thrillers THE TUNNELS, BONEYARD, and THE GATEKEEPER have been published in North America, France, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Australia. Her upcoming book, Kidnap & Ransom, is about the recent rash of kidnappings by Mexican drug cartels. Michelle lives in San Francisco with her family.

Virna DePaul
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