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No longer content to rumble in anger, the great mountain warriors of New Zealand’s central plateau, the Kāhui Tupua, are preparing again for battle. At least, that’s how the Māori elders tell it. The nation’s leaders scoff at the danger. That is, until the ground opens and all hell breaks loose. The armed forces are hastily deployed; NZDF Sergeant Taine McKenna and his section are tasked with evacuating civilians and tourists from Tongariro National Park. It is too little, too late. With earthquakes coming thick and fast and the mountains spewing rock and ash, McKenna and his men are cut off. Their only hope of rescuing the stranded civilians is to find another route out, but a busload of prison evacuees has other ideas. And, deep beneath the earth’s crust, other forces are stirring.

A stand-alone sequel to award-winning military thriller Into the Mist, INTO THE ASHES is the latest must-read title in Murray’s Taine McKenna adventure series. The Big Thrill caught up with author Lee Murray to gain some insight into his latest thriller:

Which took shape first: plot, character, or setting?

Since the series’ key characters were already well developed, the focus of INTO THE ASHES was its New Zealand setting, a mountainous, volcanic plateau which offers up its own challenges to NZDF Sergeant Taine McKenna and his team. It’s a brutal desolate region, with craggy mountains, small lakes and terrain that ranges from tussocked desert to dense forest. Great for an adventure! More importantly, in our Maori culture, significant landscape features such as mountains and lakes are not only considered taonga (treasures), they also represent the spiritual ancestors of the people and this was a concept I wanted to explore more deeply in the story.

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

While I was writing this book, the dramatic 2018 eruption was occurring on Kilauea. Like the rest of the world, I followed the daily reports on television, and I learned that the island was being sprayed with tiny green gems called olivine, a mineral closely related to peridot, which occurs in Hawaii’s lava and which can be separated from the melt by the violent force of an eruption. In fact, a large proportion of the earth’s mantle is made up of the olivine mineral, but it takes rather exceptional circumstances to cause the little gemstones to rain from the sky. Fascinated by this, I was prompted to learn more, coming up with a major plot twist for INTO THE ASHES.

What attracts you to this book’s genre?

I love the thrill of writing a narrative that is so fast the reader can’t catch a breath. It’s a difficult genre to write well, since an author must not only develop the characters and their backstory, describe the setting, and provide the plot events / information which will resolve the story, but these aspects must delivered in a way that doesn’t slow the pacing. It’s a balancing act, and hugely challenging. However, when readers tell me they were up all night, or that they were compelled to read the story in a single sitting, then I know I’ve come close to achieving that.


Lee Murray is a multi-award-winning writer and editor of science fiction, fantasy and horror (Sir Julius Vogel, Australian Shadows) and a double Bram Stoker Award-nominee. Her works include the Taine McKenna adventure series, and supernatural crime-noir series The Path of Ra (co-written with Dan Rabarts). She is also the editor of ten dark fiction anthologies, the latest being Hellhole: An Anthology of Subterranean Terror (Adrenaline Press). Lee lives with her family in New Zealand where she conjures up stories from her office overlooking a cow paddock.

To learn more about Lee and her work, please visit her website.