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Rose Buckles, murdered near the Wyoming-Utah line in 1939, isn’t quite buried. Decades later, men from an FDR CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) camp cling to strands of hair.

Legends surrounding Rose’s death surface in, of all places, Ukraine during the Chernobyl disaster’s 25th anniversary. Deaths of old men and relatives researching what happened in 1939 have bizarre connections: Murder-suicides in retirement communities, so-called single vehicle accidents, a Chernobyl serial killer, a safe deposit box in one of the Twin Towers in 2001, heroin as a cough remedy, competition between crime families, and even agents working for Putin. The six-degrees-of-separation theory from Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy’s 1929 short story “Chain-Links” comes to life, connecting past and present.

The Big Thrill caught up to author Michael Beres and delved into his historical thriller, THE GIRL WITH 39 GRAVES:

What attracts you to this book’s genre?

My father, represented by a main character in the novel, escaped the Nazis because he was born in the US and taken back to Eastern Europe as a child. He returned to the US under the Fourteenth Amendment and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and then joined the US Air Force.

What was the biggest challenge this book presented? What about the biggest opportunity?

I wanted to demonstrate to modern readers the “can do” attitude surrounding many of FDR’s programs, as well as the spirit of unity brought about by World War II. Much of this seems to have been lost in history. During my research for the novel, I found myself trying to recapture these feelings of unity. The modern day investigators, too, search for unity despite pressures from domestic and foreign operatives. The opportunity for me, as a writer, was to instill at least some feelings of hope during these trying times.

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

Because the narrative moves back and forth between 1939 and modern times, I hope readers take away a feeling of suspense regarding what happens in the novel. But I also want readers to feel queasiness about how the back and forth in time plot provides warnings for where so-called civilized societies are headed in our modern world. Are we headed for a safe and secure world? Or are we headed, despite our best efforts, for collapse because of the greed of those chasing the money trail?

Without spoilers, are there any genre conventions you wanted to upend or challenge with this book?

The main genre convention I wanted to upend is the lack of serious viewpoint characters. Many of today’s thrillers seem to have hollow characters. What I mean by that is the reader is rarely allowed deeply in the mind of characters. For example, modern characters sometimes seem to act without volition. We, as readers, should demand more of this literary technique from times past. People are more complicated than is often demonstrated in today’s genre fiction.

What’s the one question you wish someone would ask you about this book, or your work in general?

I would like to be asked: How do the plot and the characters in my novel relate to what is going on in the world today?

My answer to the question is: I wanted my characters and the plot to be a reflection of the world, past and present. We have very serious problems in our modern world. It seems not only that we have not learned from history, but also in many ways, we want to change history to bend to selfish desires. Literature, yes, even thrillers, should examine the world and its problems. I hope I have done just a little of this in my novel.


In addition to novels, Michael Beres has published fiction in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Amazing Stories, Cosmopolitan, New York Stories, Playboy, Twilight Zone, and many others. Sierra Club honored his environmental writing and his suspense has been compared to The Manchurian Candidate. The Cold War, Eastern European roots, family history, security and scientific background, and environmental concerns shape his novels. His background includes government top-secret security work and computer software. Michael holds degrees in mathematics, literature, and engineering. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and Union of Concerned Scientists.

To learn more about Michael and his work, please visit his website.