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In the small, sleepy town of Idyll, Connecticut, Police Chief Thomas Lynch assists police officer Michael Finnegan to uncover clues to his sister’s disappearance two decades ago.

Charleston, Massachusetts, 1972: Rookie cop Michael Finnegan gets a call from his mother. His youngest sister, Susan, has disappeared, the same sister who ran away two years earlier. Anxious not to waste police resources, Finnegan advises his family to wait and search on their own. But a week turns into two decades, and Susan is never found.

Idyll, Connecticut, 1999: In the woods outside of town, a young woman’s corpse is discovered, and Detective Finnegan seems unusually disturbed by the case. When Police Chief Thomas Lynch learns about Finnegan’s past, he makes a bargain with his officer: He will allow Finnegan to investigate the body found in the woods–if Finnegan lets the bored Lynch secretly look into the disappearance of his sister.

Both cases reveal old secrets–about the murder, and about the men inside the Idyll Police Station and what they’ve been hiding from each other their whole careers.

The Big Thrill caught up to author Stephanie Gayle to discuss her latest thriller, IDYLL HANDS:

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

An appreciation of the work that goes into identifying an unidentified corpse because it takes so much work: physical and mental, and so many hours of hunting down tiny details.

How does this book make a contribution to the genre?

It adds to the LGBTQ+ crime cannon and it’s a mystery that plays out between two policemen across multiple time periods.

Was there anything new you discovered, or that surprised you, as you wrote this book?

It reminded me how fallible human beings are, as witnesses, and it showed me that if you pursue the wrong line of inquiry or fail to consider what might seem an outlandish option, you may never discover the truth. I was also surprised to learn that there’s nothing illegal about faking your own death (provided you don’t do it for monetary gain that involves fraud).

No spoilers, but what can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?

An epic softball feud between Idyll’s policemen and firefighters. I can’t tell you who wins, but this was one of my favorite scenes to write.

What authors or books have influenced your career as a writer, and why?

Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh, and C. S. Lewis were huge influences when I was young. Now I devour books by Tana French, Natsuo Kirino, Attica Locke, and Kellye Garrett. I also like to read widely because reading books I admire, even if they aren’t in my genre or style, helps show me what’s possible in writing.


Stephanie Gayle is the author of Idyll Threats and Idyll Fears, the first and second Thomas Lynch novels, and My Summer of Southern Discomfort, which was chosen as one of Redbook’s Top Ten Summer Reads and was a Book Sense monthly pick. Gayle has also published stories and narrative nonfiction pieces, including two Pushcart Prize nominees.

Photography credit: Sharona Jacobs