By Tracy March
Top-ranked reviewer Harriet Klausner calls Allison Brennan’s latest novel, IF I SHOULD DIE, an “exhilarating FBI suspense thriller.” Readers have plenty to anticipate in the next installment of the Lucy Kincaid series.
Aspiring FBI agent Lucy Kincaid and her P.I. boyfriend, Sean Rogan, are heading to the Adirondack Mountains for a pleasant romantic getaway when they detour to help troubled friends, owners of a new resort who are battling malicious vandals. After Lucy and Sean pursue an arsonist into an abandoned mine shaft, Lucy stumbles upon an even more heinous crime—and the perfectly preserved remains of its victim.
The only thing more disturbing than the discovery of the corpse is its sudden disappearance. While the local police remain skeptical, Lucy is dead certain that there’s a connection between the sabotage at the resort and the murder—one that the less-than-neighborly citizens of Spruce Lake seem to have a stake in keeping hidden. Then, when a cold-blooded sniper targets Sean and Lucy, FBI agent Noah Armstrong enters the fray to ensure that more bodies don’t hit the ground. Now three outsiders race to untangle a violent conspiracy before they end up like the rest of Spruce Lake’s secrets: dead and buried.
I recently chatted with Allison about IF I SHOULD DIE and her riveting Lucy Kincaid series.
The novels in the Lucy Kincaid Series tackle complex and current issues in law enforcement. What issue did you tackle in IF I SHOULD DIE, and why did you select that issue to write about?
There are two primary issues in IF I SHOULD DIE, but one I can’t mention without spoilers! The other issue is what happens to small towns when the sole industry leaves or dries up, leaving the community severely economically depressed. Sometimes, the community might turn to crime, either actively or by remaining silent because they benefited from the criminal activity. I wanted to look at the different types of people who do the wrong thing for the right reasons—and what decisions they make when lives are at stake.
I really enjoy exploring the psychology of crime and criminals. Because IF I SHOULD DIE has a large secondary cast of characters—the people who populate the fictional town of Spruce Lake, NY—I could have a variety of motives, guilt, and limits. I also created one of my favorite villains, blending narcissistic personality disorder with a hair-trigger temper and complete lack of accountability. If something goes wrong, it’s always someone else’s fault.
The heroine in IF I SHOULD DIE, and the namesake of your current series, Lucy Kincaid, was your favorite character from your No Evil Trilogy. How and why did she inspire you to create a series about her, and when did you know she had affected you in such a way?
The first sign that Lucy Kincaid was my favorite character was when my former editor, the amazing Charlotte Herscher, sent me a revision letter for FEAR NO EVIL, the book where Lucy is kidnapped and raped live on the Internet. At one point, the story was no longer Dillon and Kate’s story, but as my editor pointed out, “It’s now the Lucy Show.” I’d deviated from the main plot for over forty pages near the end and focused only on Lucy, with no action. I managed to edit that down to one scene and the book was better for it.
But I knew then that Lucy needed not only her own book, but her own series. I aged her a few years, though she’s still my youngest protagonist to date. She inspires me because she’s a fighter. After what happened to her, she could either remain a victim, or be a hero. Bad things happen to good people, and I wanted to explore how she survives and why she has joined the fight against predators of all stripes.
But more than the subject matter, I’m fascinated by Lucy’s moral dilemmas. She killed her rapist when he was unarmed. She remained silent when she learned that her mentor killed a violent criminal in cold blood. She battles her own need for law and order and justice with her darker side—the need for vengeance. I realize now that she’s far more layered than I thought.
You have had some extraordinary research experiences—a couple of your favorites being a tour of the Sacramento County morgue (complete with autopsy), and attending an 8-week FBI Citizen’s Academy—and keep a unique library of research books including THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF HELL. What interesting research experiences did you have with IF I SHOULD DIE and the Lucy Kincaid Series?
Two years ago I toured the FBI Academy at Quantico. I was just about to write the first Lucy Kincaid book, and I originally thought it would start with her as an FBI recruit. But when I began LOVE ME TO DEATH, I realized I had several stories for Lucy to share before she steps foot in the FBI Academy. (I hope to return to Quantico early in 2012 while writing STALKED, the book that takes place almost wholly at the Academy.) I spent a week in DC getting a feel for the area, since it had been twenty years since I’d spent any time in the city.
One of the most interesting facts I’d learned prior to starting Lucy’s series was that no one has ever been convicted who’d been exposed on NBC’s TO CATCH A PREDATOR, and that because of prison overcrowding, most parolees have to break a new law to be sent back to prison. Of course this varies from state to state, but those tidbits gave me the premise of LOVE ME TO DEATH.
Most of my previous books have been clearly right versus wrong, good versus evil. With the Lucy series, I wanted to explore all the shades of gray. Lucy’s new mentor, FBI Special Agent Noah Armstrong is very “law & order” while Lucy’s boyfriend Sean Rogan has a deep distrust of law enforcement and the encroachment on rights and privacy. And Lucy, a bit like me, is in the middle.
You have written many exciting novels set in a variety of places—from San Diego, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Seattle, to Gallatin County and Centennial Valley, Montana. IF I SHOULD DIE is set in Spruce Lake, a small town in the Adirondack Mountains. What special challenges do you face when writing a small-town setting versus a big-city one?
Small-town settings often become a character in their own right, and it’s important to create a town readers will see and feel, even if they’ve never been there. Big cities are sometimes easier because everyone has seen New York and Washington and Los Angeles on television and in the movies. But most people have never been to small town America. I’ve never been to Bozeman, Montana, but my husband went to college there and I had plenty of pictures and his editorial eye to make sure I didn’t get anything majorly wrong. I wanted to travel to the Adirondacks before writing IF I SHOULD DIE, but unfortunately didn’t have the time. So I relied on history books, the Lawrence County website, and Google Earth to give me a feel for the area. Then I created a fictional town, which is easier than trying to stay faithful to an existing location. (And since the people in the town were all being very naughty, I didn’t want to use a real place!)
The Lucy Kincaid Series includes LOVE ME TO DEATH, LOVE IS MURDER (electronic novella), KISS ME, KILL ME, and IF I SHOULD DIE, with SILENCED to be published next year. Readers of IF I SHOULD DIE can look forward to seeing LOVE IS MURDER, formerly available only in electronic format, as bonus material included with all print and electronic versions of the book. Tell us a little about LOVE IS MURDER and how it relates to the series.
LOVE IS MURDER takes place a year before the events in LOVE ME TO DEATH and features Lucy and her brother Patrick. It’s a mystery—After Lucy breaks up with her long-time boyfriend, Patrick takes her to the Sierra Nevadas to teach her to ski; unknown to them, the lodge where they are staying is a couples’ retreat. There’s a blizzard, they’re snowed in, and one of the newlyweds ends up dead. When Patrick turns ill, Lucy realizes they’re all in jeopardy, and puts the clues together to find the killer. I loved writing a straight mystery; it was challenging and fun at the same time.
Originally, I wrote LOVE IS MURDER as a promotional novella to help build my digital readership. But I received a lot of mail and email from readers who don’t read e-books, and wanted to know when the story would be out in print. I assured them that the story had no impact on the series—meaning, nothing that happened in the story affected Lucy’s character going forward. I made sure of that when I wrote it, not expecting that it would ever be printed. However, with my publisher’s permission, I produced 1500 copies to hand out at the RWA and ITW conferences and to send to some loyal readers. I’m very happy that Ballantine decided to print the novella in IF I SHOULD DIE.
For those of us who are eager for more of Lucy’s story, SILENCED will be published in April 2012. At the MURDER SHE WRITES blog, where you are a contributor, you mentioned that you have plans to write three books a year. (Good gracious!) What can readers expect in future novels?
SILENCED, which will be out on April 24, 2012, takes Lucy back to Washington DC where she’s working as an analyst with the FBI while waiting to enter the FBI Academy. She’s working closely with her training agent, Noah Armstrong, on a case involving prostitutes, Congress, and murder. STALKED, tentatively scheduled for fall 2012, takes Lucy to the FBI Academy where one of her professors dies and Lucy is the only one who thinks it’s murder. Then, STOLEN will be released in spring 2013. While Lucy is still at the Academy, her boyfriend Sean and her brother Patrick take a case in Louisiana. But when Sean disappears, Lucy defies orders and leaves the Academy to find him.
I also have two other ideas for non-Lucy books that I’ve been playing with, including one series with a completely different type of character, someone not in law enforcement. Since the next three books will be published six months apart, rather than in a shorter timeframe like my previous novels, I’ll have time to play with these new ideas!
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Allison Brennan is the New York Times bestselling author of 17 romantic thrillers, including the Lucy Kincaid series. A five-time RITA finalist and Daphne du Maurier Award winner, Allison enjoys spending her free time reading, playing games, watching high school sports, and researching her novels. She lives in Northern California with her husband, Dan, and their five children.