The psychological thriller might be the most challenging type to write well, but Laurie Stevens has cracked that code as she demonstrates with her new release, THE MASK OF MIDNIGHT.
The story starts when Los Angeles homicide detective Gabriel McRay confronts an old enemy, Victor Archwood, at that killer’s trial. A surprise courtroom twist surfaces, putting Archwood in the position to get revenge on McRay. One of the sweet twists here is that McRay is a series protagonist who does not see himself as a hero because, as author Stevens says, he sees himself as too damaged. But he’s getting better.
“In the first book, The Dark Before Dawn, you probably would have found him abrasive and short-tempered,” Stevens says. “In THE MASK OF MIDNIGHT Gabriel has undergone some psychotherapy and is a pretty likable guy.”
In this type of fiction, it’s a great villain that makes a hero great. And the theatrical Victor Archwood fills that role to perfection.
“Vic approaches his ‘tasks’ with a certain flair that provides him a lot of entertainment,” Stevens says. “Also, he’s obsessed with the protagonist. Years before, the detective had babysat Vic as a boy, as a Big Brother type, only things went haywire. Now, Vic blames Gabriel for ruining his life. The past plays on Gabriel as well, which makes it easier for Vic to get at him.”
In fact, it’s a trap that combines Archwood’s theatrical skills and his criminal genius that forces Gabriel to face his psychological demons. But in addition to a strong psychological thriller plot, this novel has elements of a legal thriller, and even medical thriller overtones. The addition of the medical examiner, Dr. Ming Li, as Gabriel’s love interest brings in the forensic aspect.
Still, Archwood’s torture of Gabriel is deeply psychological, and Stevens worked to be sure she knew what that would mean. She says that people tend to stuff their fears away in dark corners and live life maneuvering around them, which is not at all a healthy practice.
“If I was going to write in this genre, I wanted to delve into those corners,” Stevens says. “In particular, coping with a childhood trauma. I did a lot of research and took many psychologists out for coffee to answer my questions. They were generous with their books, research materials, and insight. As with any subject to which you are dedicated, you can learn a lot. Sexual abuse involving males has been underserved in psychotherapy, and I wanted the character of Gabriel to take up the challenge.
“And Gabriel, like all great protagonists, is affected by his experiences. He has grown and changed from book to book. For example, in The Dark Before Dawn, Gabriel is a walking bit of road-rage. He’s so messed up, he actually thinks he’s the killer. But he realizes throughout the book that he is not a bad guy and he has a capacity for happiness. His next adventure builds on that big growth.
“In Deep into Dusk, Gabriel moves from being ashamed and icy in regard to women to desiring a solid relationship. The problem is, he gets involved with the wrong woman. In those books, each criminal case Gabriel works facilitates his healing. In the third book, THE MASK OF MIDNIGHT, Victor Archwood sets the stage to challenge that growth.”
The novel’s suspense also grows with each page-turning chapter. When asked about the key to creating that kind of tension, Stevens says, “If I tell you the secret, I’ll have to kill you. That generates some suspense, right? Seriously, a threat running throughout the plot is one method. Right from the get-go, when Vic is sitting in prison, he lets the reader know that he’s plotting revenge on Gabriel. The reader knows who the bad guy is but has yet to learn how the guy is going to execute his plan. The threat is evident, and each event slides another puzzle piece into place to form the bigger, more frightening picture.”
It would be easy to get hooked on Gabriel McRay’s journey.
Luckily, there’s a fourth book coming out in the series, based on a true cold case about a teenager who went missing in the 1980s. But that’s for later in the year. For now, settle in to watching a detective play this deadly cat and mouse game with a murderous opponent who will stop at nothing to destroy him, in THE MASK OF MIDNIGHT.
Laurie Stevens is the author of the Gabriel McRay psychological suspense novels. The book series has won twelve awards, among them Kirkus Reviews Best of 2011, a silver IPPY for Best Mystery/Thriller, Library Journal’s Self-E Award, and a Random House Editor’s Book of the Month. Laurie is an active member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and Sisters in Crime. She lives in the hills outside of Los Angeles with her husband, three snakes, and a cat.
To learn more about Laurie and her work, please visit her website.