At the local ER, a battered and bruised teenage girl has been brought in by a mysterious man who claimed she’d fallen out of a car. The staff is suspicious, but while they attend to the teenager, the unidentified man slips out. Then the girl dies, but not before informing social worker Hildy Schneider that the man has her little sister as well.
Mattie’s exam reveals forensic evidence of long-term IV drug use and physical abuse, findings consistent with Hildy’s suspicion that the girl was a victim of human trafficking. They are able to confirm her identity as a teen who went missing six months ago, along with her sister—facts that are deeply unsettling to Mattie, who now shares a home with her husband’s teenage daughter.
Working closely with Hildy and Sorenson homicide detectives, including her husband Steve Hurley, Mattie delves into a dark underworld to stop the ruthless trafficking of human lives—before it’s too late for another young girl…
Here, bestselling author Annelise Ryan spends some time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest mystery, DEAD OF WINTER:
Which took shape first: plot, character, or setting?
Character, in more ways than one. To start with, DEAD OF WINTER is the 10th book in the series featuring nurse-turned-coroner Mattie Winston and the small Wisconsin town where she lives—a town that is a character in its own right. Plus, this book introduces social worker Hildy Schneider, who will be the main character in a new series scheduled for release later this year. Hildy’s stories will provide a more in-depth look into the lives of some of the peripheral minor characters that have appeared in the Mattie Winston series.
Without spoilers, are there any genre conventions you wanted to upend or challenge with this book?
Not really. I’m not a very genre-focused person. I simply enjoy a story well told, whatever genre it’s considered to be. Most of my books blur genre lines to some degree.
What attracts you to this book’s genre?
I love a good puzzle and in writing mysteries I get to reverse engineer some puzzles. It’s fun to think up clever ways to present the information in a way that plays fair to the readers who are trying to solve the mystery, but that doesn’t make it too easy. I also enjoy finding that small bit of laughter that helps to balance out the darker sides of life.
What was the biggest challenge this book presented? What about the biggest opportunity?
The biggest challenge for me was simply keeping track of all the history in the lives of these characters. Ten books into the series, it’s sometimes hard to remember who did what, when, and where. The biggest opportunity is the light it sheds on the dark underbelly of human trafficking, a growing and horrifying crime. If it makes even one person more aware of the potential threats and risks out there, I’d be a very happy person.
What’s the one question you wish someone would ask you about this book, or your work in general?
The one question no one has asked (and I’m glad they haven’t because I can’t answer it) is why I write. I dread this one because I have no clue as to why I do it beyond that it’s a compulsion and intrinsically rewarding for me on some level. I know I can’t NOT do it (because I’ve tried) but I can’t for the life of me figure out why I’m so drawn to it.
Annelise Ryan is the pseudonym for the USA Today bestselling author of the Mattie Winston Mysteries. She has written more than 200 published articles, worked as a book reviewer for Barnes & Noble, and is an active member of Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers. Ryan was named a Notable Wisconsin Author by the Literary Awards Committee of the Wisconsin Library Association. She currently works as a registered nurse in an ER.