Did you ever have to talk to a weasel? Not that shifty guy in accounts receivable, a ferret. What about a naked mole rat? With her very special psychic ability, such conversations are not unfamiliar to Dr. Shelley Morgan. She’s the heroine of GUARDED, the second paranormal thriller in Mary Behre’s Tidewater series, following SPIRITED.
That’s right, Dr. Morgan is a veterinarian whose patients can tell her where it hurts. That’s not all that animals can tell her, so her ability comes in handy when she stumbles on an exotic animal-kidnapping ring and becomes a suspect in a zoo keeper’s murder.
This is a romantic thriller too, so fortunately Detective Dev Jones is involved in the case and promises to be a big help. He’s a really big help. Some have found his “bear-like physique” intimidating. Shelley knows he’s an intelligent, capable man, however.
To help Shelley, Dev might need all of his wits, and he might just have to put his career on the line as the case unfolds.
Since the Tidewater books mix mystery and thrills and humor, let’s just end this introduction by saying that in the Q&A that follows THE BIG THRILL posed a few guarded questions to Behre.
GUARDED is your second Tidewater installment. Tell us a little about the series and the Tidewater universe. The books focus on a different Tidewater resident each time, but there’s a connection between the heroine of GUARDED and the heroine of the first book in the series, SPIRITED, right?
The fictional city of Tidewater is set in beautiful coastal Virginia. It was inspired by my time living in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Chesapeake, Virginia. The residents in these cities (as well as Portsmouth and Suffolk) often refer to the region as Tidewater, though the name doesn’t appear on a map.
In the Tidewater series, certain members of the city are endowed with unique, cursed gifts, or “crifts.” Each one has a different psychic ability.
In the first several books, the readers meet the Scott sisters. Three women, separated by the foster care system, are finding their way back to Tidewater and back to each other after more than a decade apart.
Shelley Morgan is a veterinarian but has a very special animal whispering ability. What prompted Shelley’s special brand of psychic ability, and what helped shape it in your imagination?
Shelley is an animal empath. She can communicate telepathically with animals. In GUARDED, the animals talk to her through universal communication. She can ask them questions and they send her mental images in reply.
I wanted to expand on this idea of communication for the story. Give the animals their own voices and their own personalities without going over the top.
Big men often get kind of a raw deal in fiction. They’re often the bad guys or they’re portrayed as something less than Mensa candidates. Your Dev Jones breaks that stereotype a bit. Tell us a little about his genesis.
Dev definitely balks at stereotypes. He’s a big guy, but not the biggest in his family. Still, he is a character who is aware of his size. He’s also worked hard for success in his chosen field.
In some ways, he was inspired by the actor Michael Clarke Duncan. He came to fame after The Green Mile hit theaters. He was a man who spoke with intelligence, wit, and warmth. I couldn’t help but see those traits in Dev the first time Dev stepped onto the page.
The core of the case in this story focuses on animal kidnappings, which is interesting territory. What prompted that as a focal point? Did you want to weave in themes about animals and their place in the world?
This story started to take shape while I was on a trip to Florida. We stopped for gas and there was a sign for a traveling private zoo. For a nominal fee we could stare at snakes in aquariums too small to allow them to stretch out, birds in cages too small to allow them to do more than chirp, and a gator that may or may not have been dead and stuffed.
Because none of the animals were in a protected class, there was nothing to be done. Had it been a mammal or an animal on the threatened species list, someone could have intervened. In the end, the next time we passed through, the private zoo had closed up and moved on to the next town. Still, it gave me an idea for a story.
What if there was a zoo that had a protected animal in it? And what if someone decided to get into the underground market of selling exotic creatures as pets? Who would help them? And GUARDED was born.
You’ve mentioned in interviews that Agatha Christie was a favorite author while you were growing up. Are there other favorites, or are their any film or television influences that have fueled your imagination?
Agatha Christie is definitely my all-time top mystery writer. But I do love a few others. Alfred Hitchcock films were brilliantly lit, skillfully written, and stand the test of time. I grew up watching the old movies with Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes. And all through high school and college, I was addicted to Murder, She Wrote.
Humor plays a big part in your books. Do you find that adds an extra wave of energy to a story? Does it surprise readers?
I love to laugh. I love to make people laugh. So it makes sense that I’d have laughter in my stories. When you laugh, it breaks the tension, which can amplify the anxiety or drama in the next scene. It can surprise readers, so I try to warn everyone with my tagline: Humor, suspense, and a psychic love-connection—The Tidewater Series.
With the animal focus in your novel and the fact that many, perhaps most writers, have animals in their lives, I have to ask this question. Is there a companion animal that serves as your muse? Or is there an animal friend that’s using you as a conduit to share his or her vision with the world?
The idea of animal/human telepathy was inspired by my dog, Chester. He’s a playful pup who often uses visual cues to indicate what he wants. Either he’ll bring me a ball to indicate he wants to play fetch, or he’ll do circles by the front door to indicate he wants to be let outside. My favorite is when he noses his bowl, then looks at me, then at the bowl, then me again. Bet you can guess what he wants there. LOL
Unfortunately, there are also times when I have absolutely no idea what he wants. It’s these moments that really make me wish I could read his doggy mind.
Chester isn’t just my muse, he’s my writing buddy. When it’s time for me to work, he’ll follow me down to the basement and hop onto his daybed (set up next to my computer) and sleep while I work. He follows me around the house if I take took long of a break. Basically, he keeps me in line. LOL
What’s next in the Tidewater universe?
I’m working on book three in the series, ENERGIZED (the working title). This entry is about the third Scott sister, Hannah. She possesses the power of psychometry, the ability to pick up psychic visions from metal objects. Her crift has always been a bit of a lark to her, until the day she touches something handled by a serial killer.
Is there anything else BIG THRILL readers need to know about your novel?
Reviews of GUARDED are coming in and so far RT Book Reviews and Publishers Weekly really like it.
Mary Behre is the author of The Tidewater Series. Stories with humor, suspense, and a psychic love-connection. Her debut novel, SPIRITED (Tidewater Novel #1) was an award-winning manuscript before it sold to Berkley Sensation. GUARDED (Tidewater Novel #2), is already receiving praise from reviewers and readers. The Tidewater Series features three sisters separated years before in the foster care system. They search for love, each other, and a way to live with their psychic abilities. In each book, they’re tossed into the middle of mysteries that only their unique gifts can help solve.
To learn more about Mary, please visit her website.