After losing her military K-9, former Marine Maya Thompson swears she’ll never work with dogs again. But when she returns home to Colorado and accepts a job with US Forest Service law enforcement, fate brings K-9 Juniper into her life just as another tragedy unfolds.
Juniper, a beautiful two-year-old Malinois, isn’t the only new addition to Maya’s life. Josh Colten, the handsome and mysterious deputy sheriff, insists on helping with her new case, but Maya can’t let herself like him, let alone trust him.
When Maya’s grandfather goes missing amid a growing drug war, Maya must put her faith in Josh, and her own battered instincts, to find him. But there’s a web of secrets tying her grandfather to the tragedy that brought Juniper into her life—secrets someone would kill to keep hidden.
Kathleen Donnelly recently spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest thriller, CHASING JUSTICE:
Which took shape first: plot, character, or setting?
My main character, Maya Thompson, took shape first with the setting a close second. Being a K-9 handler, we all experience human moments when we know we have made an error working our dogs, but with the everyday training we put in, we strive to have very few mistakes, and our dogs often cover up human blunders. This led to me thinking about the challenges of being a military handler and working with an explosives dog. Maya’s character was quickly formed with those thoughts of what would happen if a K-9 team missed a bomb. The setting emerged quickly after, because being a Colorado native, I knew that I wanted Maya to return home from the military to her small mountain town.
What was the biggest challenge this book presented? What about the biggest opportunity?
The biggest challenge was realistically incorporating a K-9 character into the book with real-life skills including narcotics detection, evidence/article searches, tracking, and apprehension. This challenge was also an opportunity to write scenes I might not have otherwise created. For example, I had a scene where I wanted Maya and K-9 Juniper to go back to a crime scene to do an evidence/article search and track a suspect, but the crime scene was about three days old. In real life, there probably wouldn’t be a good odor remaining for a dog to track. I changed the scene plot points and gave Juniper a solid, fresh scent to follow, and in the end, I think this improved the twists in the story.
Was there anything new you discovered, or that surprised you, as you wrote this book?
I’ve been a K-9 handler for a private narcotics dog business since 2005 and part-owner in the company since 2010, so I thought it would be easy to portray the K-9 work in my book. I soon found out that explaining terms like air scenting and scent cone wasn’t easy. To help achieve my goal of showing the reader what it’s like to team up with a K-9, I started carrying a small notebook with me and wrote down descriptions as I worked my dogs. This helped me depict the K-9 work.
No spoilers, but what can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?
Most people think working dogs are well-trained (and they are—for their job), so therefore they are easy to live with. That’s a myth. I wanted to show that bringing these high-energy, high-drive dogs home at night is part of the challenge facing a K-9 handler. They are difficult to keep entertained on a day off and don’t have regular pet privileges—for good reason. Your couch would never survive! Throughout the book, I show the trials my main character, Maya Thompson, faces as she bonds with her new K-9, Juniper.
What authors or books have influenced your career as a writer, and why?
The first thriller I ever read was a Mary Higgins Clark book. I remember checking the book out of my school library and from page one, I was hooked. As I read more in the genre, I realized that some of my favorite authors are female writers, and if they could be mystery/thriller writers, so could I. From Mary Higgins Clark to Lisa Gardner to Lisa Jackson—they’ve all inspired me to sit down, weave a story with lots of twists, add in my love of working dogs, and be brave enough to join them in the publishing world.
What’s the one question you wish someone would ask you about this book or your work in general? And please answer the question too!
Q. Why did you use a US Forest Service law enforcement officer and K-9?
A. When I created my character, I wanted to use a K-9 team and agency that I hadn’t seen in other books. My dad worked for the forest service as a researcher, and I grew up hiking and exploring the national forests with him, fascinated by his knowledge of the environment. When I discovered the forest service had law enforcement officers and a K-9 program, I knew I had to use this agency in my book. I feel lucky that the forest service connected me with one of their K-9 teams. The officer generously shared information about his job and his dog. My dad has also contributed to the book by helping me brainstorm how the mountains can become a strong, unpredictable character.
Award-winning author Kathleen Donnelly is a K-9 handler for a private narcotics dog detection company based in Colorado. She enjoys using her K-9 experience to craft realism into her fictional stories. Kathleen loves the beauty of the mountains, which inspired her choice of setting for her series. She lives near the Colorado foothills with her husband and her four-legged co-workers.
To learn more about the author and her work, please visit her website.