PJ Parrish is the New York Times bestselling author of the Louis Kincaid and Joe Frye series. Parrish has won the Thriller Award, the Shamus and Anthony awards and has been an Edgar finalist. Last month Parrish released The Killing Song (Pocket Books), a globe hopping, chiller of a thriller perfect for summer and music aficionados.
Matt Owens is a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist, but at 35 he’s adrift, more inclined to hit the bottle alone than the Miami Beach club scene. But when his beloved younger sister Mandy comes to visit, Matt wants to show her a new world. It’s the trip of her dreams, but the nightmare begins when Mandy disappears from a crowded dance floor. When her lifeless body is found, one clue—a grisly rock song downloaded onto her iPod—may be the calling card of a serial killer.
Lee Child, New York Times bestselling author of the Jack Reacher thrillers states The Killing Song is Tense, thrilling…you’re going to bite your nails!” and New York Times bestselling author of Save Me, Lisa Scottoline states that, “P.J. Parrish, has crafted one of the best criminals ever…in a story so riveting you won’t be able to stop turning the pages.”
The Big Thrill chats with PJ Parrish about The Killing Song and where in the world is Louis Kincaid.
Why did you believe Matt Owens needed an Eve Bellamont? What makes this partnership great?
A classic theme of crime fiction is the “fish out of water,” the idea that the protagonist is out of his depth yet still triumphs. Matt is a seasoned investigative reporter, but he is essentially an amateur sleuth and when the case takes him to France, he knows he needs help. Eve is a Paris inspector obsessed with a cold case, which is dismissed by her superiors. Though polar opposites in personality, they are similar in that Eve, born of Algerian immigrants, is a bit of an outsider herself. Their relationship is prickly and wary but they come to form a respectful partnership born of their need to bring justice to their victims.
What are the themes of Killing Song?
There is one major one: What happens when you only look away for a moment? These are the first words in our book trailer in fact, which you can view here. The story begins with the theme in chapter two when Matt, watching his sister dance at a South Beach club, looks away for a second and then realizes she has disappeared. The theme reverberates throughout the book, notably when Matt remembers a story he covered: “I didn’t understand her grief then, that mother whose toddler had disappeared from the playground and was later found dead in a drainage ditch. I wrote the story but I never understood her pain when she told me, ‘I only looked away for a moment.'” But the theme has a deeper level for Matt because he has held the people he loves — and who love him — at arm’s length all his life, and in those “moments” he has lost them all.
Is the killer in Killing Song based on fact? If not, how did you come up with this killer?
It started with a song. Kris and her husband Daniel were sitting in a Paris cafe years ago and she was trying to think of a plot that would work in Paris. Daniel, a huge Rolling Stones fan, started reciting the lyrics to “Too Much Blood,” a Stones’ song about the real case of Issei Sagawa who murdered and cannibalized a Sorbonne student. The details of the actual case didn’t interest us, but we used the song itself as a clue. Matt discovers it was the last song downloaded on Mandy’s iPod right during the time she would have been murdered. As for the killer himself — we know how difficult it is to make a serial killer fresh, so we worked hard to make Laurent original. He is a refined man, a world-class cellist. But the line between genius and insanity is thin.
Why is this story set in Miami, Scotland, London, and Paris?
We wanted to work on a wider canvas. This is our first stand-alone and all our Louis Kincaid books have taken place primarily in one location. We were intending to stay with Miami and Paris, but as the story developed, we realized Laurent’s hunting grounds had to expand. And so did the story. Like a road trip, you can map out your plot but you must be open to the serendipity of detours.
Why is this a great summer read?
Ha! For all the usual reasons. It is escapism, even if it is an escape into the darkest parts of the human heart. Plus it features a hero — a bit arrogant and a bit selfish — but a man who you ultimately want to root for. Not only as he hunts his sister’s killer but as he attempts to vanquish his own demons. When Matt literally crawls his way to the climax in the dark (can’t spoil it by saying where!) we want the reader to feel this is very much a metaphor for his own personal journey, a finding a way to his own light again.
How does music play a role in solving this mystery?
We use both classical and rock music for different purposes. First, most serial killers have a “signature,” something they do or leave at (or take from) their crime scene. These signatures are their psychological markers, something they take great pleasure from. Our killer Laurent leaves fragments of rock lyrics with each victim, and he relishes the fact that no one has figured out what they mean. This is an elaborate intellectual game for him. He is quite astonished — amused even — when an American reporter rather than the best detectives in Europe — deciphers this. There is a secondary use of classical music throughout the book as well and Laurent’s love/hate relationship with it. And then there is the “wolf note” — but we can’t reveal here what that means, other than it is real and something all cellists dread.
Where is Louis Kincaid?
When we last left Louis, he was driving home to the west coast of Florida after wrapping up a case in Palm Beach (“The Little Death”). He was still working off the grid as a PI but was feeling increasingly at sea (he is also estranged from his lover Joe Frye who took a job in Michigan). But he is realizing he misses the weight of the badge on his chest because it was the one thing that always kept him grounded. I suspect we are going to have to put him back in uniform soon.
Will Matt Owen become a series?
No, definitely not. Some characters have only one story to tell you. Matt thinks at the end of the book, “there are a lot of things I need to take care of at home,” but we leave it to the readers’ imaginations to fill in what those things might be. You have to know when it’s time to stop following a character around and just go let him live out his life.
What interesting discovery did you make, while building this story?
How difficult it is to write a stand-alone thriller. On one hand, it is hugely invigorating in that you are working with fresh characters and no baggage. But you also don’t know them, you don’t have the advantage of a long marriage and a shared history. We know Louis inside and out. Matt was a stranger when we met him in that South Beach club two years ago. I don’t think we realized how much we were going to come to care for him. Oddly, we each think he is going in a different direction after the book ends. (Writers are weird in that we don’t leave our characters when we are finished writing the book; we still think about their lives after.)
What would you want The Big Thrill to share that I haven’t asked?
Only that we believe this is our strongest book yet. It is a rip-roaring thriller with vivid locations. And the villain is truly original. We had the help of several professional cellists for research and one felt compelled to tell us afterward, “You know, cellists really are the nicest people in the orchestra.” Which we duly noted in our acknowledgements.
To learn more, please visit PJ Parrish’s website.