Brenda Hill’s absorbing new novel, WITH FULL MALICE, begins in a restaurant parking lot when a woman, wearing a disguise and latex gloves, carries out an execution-style murder of a man named Jeff Hawley: two shots to the chest, one to the head. We don’t know the identity of the woman or why she targeted Hawley. All we know is that the woman had been mailed a letter with “today’s date stamped below an elaborately scripted header, The Ruby Red Society.”
Enter Madison Young, a newspaper reporter, usually the paper’s food critic, who is assigned to cover the crime. Still haunted by the murder of her own parents when she was a young girl, Madison is ill-suited for the assignment. She’s a fragile woman, afraid to come home to a dark house, afraid to take chances in life. But by happenstance she was at the restaurant the night of Hawley’s murder, and her editor insisted that she cover the gruesome crime scene.
As the story unfolds, we learn that the victim, Hawley, was a recently paroled child-rapist-killer. Who murdered Hawley? The mother of his young victim?His own mother? Or is a larger conspiracy at play?
As Madison investigates–with help from Dexter Quinn, a family friend who also is the homicide detective working the Hawley case – she realizes that the real question is not who killed Hawley, but the murder’s connection to a shadowy secret society that dispenses its own brand of justice. Along the way, Madison must not only find the strength to face her fears, but also the possibility that the secret society is linked to her past.
I won’t give away more, other than to say that the novel was gripping. Hill vividly explores the pain and trauma suffered by crime victims and their family members, frustrations with our justice system, and troubling questions about vigilantism. I particularly enjoyed her heroine, Madison Young, who Hill subtly transformed from a delicate woman driven by fear, to a force to be reckoned with. From its opening chapter to its stunning conclusion, WITH FULL MALICE is a thought-provoking, first-rate novel.
Ms. Hill kindly agreed to answer a few questions:
What sets WITH FULL MALICE apart from other suspense novels on the market today?
The story deals with a controversial subject in a personal way – how the penal system fails certain individuals. It’s a story about a young woman’s love and concern for her grandmother’s failing health. And that concern forces the young woman to deal with her traumatic past, which in turn, leads to the discovery of who’s committing the murders – and why.
The book, and your prior novels, are stories about women in crisis –is there a message you want readers to grasp?
I’m not overly fond of messages in the novels I read or write. I simply want to be entertained or, as a writer, to tell a good story. But if there are any messages at all in the stories I write, they’re based on my struggles to overcome difficult periods in my past and realize my own strengths. Many of us do not realize or recognize how strong we truly are – until faced with a crisis.
Vigilantism is a significant part of the story in WITH FULL MALICE. What inspired you to explore this controversial topic?
I was taught ‘The Golden Rule,’ and while I sometimes stumble, I try to follow it. Like most of us, I see bullies who violate others people’s rights in everyday life on the freeway, in malls as they ram their way through crowds, and I want to slap them upside the head. But because I’m ‘civilized,’ I don’t. And of course, the worst violators are the murderers and sex-offenders. So since I’m not ‘Super-Woman,’ I take them out in my stories and feel a certain satisfaction in seeing them get their comeuppance – even if it’s just on paper.
I was impressed by how aptly you made the main character, Madison Young, so fragile, yet so full of inner strength. How did you strike that balance?
By showing how her love for her grandmother, who’s also her mother-figure, helped her realize her own potential as a human being.
In addition to your novels, you’ve written two books about writing, WRITING YOUR NOVEL and PLOT YOUR WAY TO PUBLICATION. You also have a blog where you give tips to writers. If you could pick only two, what are your two most important tips to writers?
To learn all you can about the craft of writing and never give up.
I was so confident I could write a saleable novel the first time out, especially after taking a couple of creative writing courses, that with my first rejection, I had no clue where to go from there. But I dried my eyes and went on a quest to learn everything I could to improve those basic skills.
It takes patience and dedication to learn the craft of writing just as it takes to become proficient in any profession. A concert pianist has had years of training before performing in front of a paying audience, and crafting a novel is no different. Most anyone can write one, but it takes skill and knowledge to write a novel that people will pay to read. I’m still learning, always hoping to improve my craft.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
While I love the lights at night, the neons, the magical effects of moonlight on mundane things, I find that as I grow older, I concentrate just a bit better in the early mornings. So I rise early and begin work on my wip, then live my daily life in the evenings.
If you were given only one paragraph to convince people to buy your novel what would it say?
Yucaipa, CA, a quiet community in the foothills below Big Bear, hides secrets – extraordinary people, a deadly secret society.
To what lengths will a desperate person go to protect a loved one?
I’m working on my next novel, THE FACE ON THE SKETCHPAD:
To prepare for her work with a teenage victim of a brutal attack, sketch artist Dana MacFarland studies the police file and visits a crisis center to get a feel for working with battered women. But nothing prepares her for Cassy Walker – or the shocking portrait the sketchpad reveals.
Her first novel, Ten Times Guilty, about a single young mother struggling for worth after a vicious attack. garnered a half point below the top rating by RT Book Reviews. In Beyond the Quiet, a widow loses everything and fights her way back, and her latest, With Full Malice, features a traumatized food critic who finds strength after a deadly secret society targets someone she loves.
To learn more about Brenda, please visit her website.
- Anatomy of Innocence: Testimonies of the Wrongfully Convicted - February 28, 2017
- Far From True by Linwood Barclay - March 31, 2016
- Between the Lines Interview with New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds - December 30, 2015