How far will she go to catch the killer—and make her podcast a hit? Idealistic journalist Petra Kovach launches a true-crime podcast to investigate the murder of an alt-right YouTuber she loved like a little sister, despite their political differences. Petra’s passionate quest for justice rockets her to the top of the podcasting charts, but her just-barely-legal tactics backfire, and she loses everything: her job, her love, and her reputation. Now she must fight to get her life back—and catch the killer.
Here’s what true-crime podcasters are saying about KILLER STORY:
“A slick, smart crime thriller for the Internet age! As true crime podcasters, we couldn’t put down this dive into the exciting, seedy, and sometimes dangerous world of an infamous unsolved mystery! KILLER STORY reads like something out of a crime journalist’s fever dream—and it’s a must read for anyone who’s ever become obsessed with a case!” – Áine Cain and Kevin Greenlee, hosts of The Murder Sheet.
“Everyone loves a thrilling whodunit, and KILLER STORY delivers! Exploring the unsolved murder of a girl she once knew, Petra launches a true crime podcast, hunts down a killer–and risks losing everything she loves. You won’t guess the ending!” – Nic Edwards, host of True Crime Garage.
Here is what other writers are saying:
“Riveting and irresistible–an absolute page-turner! KILLER STORY is authentic and all-too-realistic—a deep dive into journalists’ tactics, ambition, and cut-throat passion, as well as the relentless pressure to produce… I can’t stop thinking about this story.” — Hank Phillippi Ryan, Emmy-winning investigative reporter and USA Today bestselling author of Her Perfect Life.
“A brilliantly observant, engrossing thriller that reveals the dark, deadly side of podcast fame…and that the most frightening mysteries reside within ourselves.” – Lee Goldberg, bestselling author of Movieland.
Matt Witten recently spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing his latest thriller, KILLER STORY.
Which took shape first: plot, character, or setting?
I began writing this novel because I’m a huge fan of crime podcasts like Serial and Accused and crime documentaries like Making a Murderer and Jinx. At the same time, I’m a skeptic of these shows. I’m intrigued by how reporters sometimes omit key details or distort the truth in order to tell a better story. In this ultra-competitive era, getting clicks and followers can be more important than getting the truth.
Another inspiration for KILLER STORY is all the men and women I know in their twenties who are fiercely dedicated to going into journalism despite the huge obstacles they face. Journalism is such a rapidly changing field, with newspapers dying, Internet news sites unable to find workable economic models, and decent paying jobs increasingly hard to get. These aspiring young journalists have a sense of mission that I admire. Their passion refuses to be denied.
I also found inspiration in my own life. All TV writers get fired at least once in their careers, or to use the industry parlance, they “don’t get their contracts renewed,” and that has happened to me as well. There are many reasons TV writers don’t get renewed–often it’s as simple as there’s a new head writer who wants to hire people they’ve worked with before. But whatever the reason, losing your job is painful.
And it happens all the time in the newspaper industry. Will Doolittle, a reporter for the Glens Falls Post-Star, told me that when he started out twenty years ago, they had fifty reporters; now they’re down to eight. All over the country, newspapers are laying people off or going under.
So I created a main character in KILLER STORY, Petra Kovach, who is about to get laid off from yet another journalism job. She obsesses about all the things that just about everyone I know who’s ever lost their job, including myself, stresses about: Did I choose the right path in life? Is what happened somehow my fault? Will I ever get a job in the industry again?
But Petra gets back up off the mat and keeps on fighting.
As I’ve indicated, Petra is based partly on me; I identify with her feelings and forgive all her flaws. She’s a young woman who’s trying to make it in a very difficult business. Petra is also inspired by a brilliant young woman I know who, like Petra, is a first-generation immigrant with big dreams from an economically disadvantaged family. She’s working her way through law school now.
The murder victim in this novel, Olivia, is inspired by the alt-right media figure Tomi Lahren. While I’m not a fan of Olivia’s politics, I found it intriguing to speculate about all the pressures that might have transformed this sweet, caring young girl into somebody who is, on the surface at least, a pretty unlikeable person.
Writing KILLER STORY gave me a renewed, healthy skepticism of the news media, along with a new appreciation for journalists like Petra who overcome all kinds of obstacles to bring us the truth about the world. I hope you are as captivated by Petra as I am, and that you don’t guess the killer until the very end!
What attracts you to this book’s genre?
I’ve always loved crime fiction! Every subgenre from noir to cozy. I don’t know why, it’s just what I’ve always gravitated toward since I read Sherlock Holmes in fourth grade.
What was the biggest challenge this book presented? What about the biggest opportunity?
I love Petra Kovach, the main character of KILLER STORY. But I must confess that she does some things in this book that are very questionable morally. I think even the best, kindest people among us are capable of doing the wrong things if you put us under enough pressure. The biggest challenge, and the biggest opportunity, was to keep readers rooting for, or at least fascinated by, Petra when she slides down a slipper moral slope. My strategy was to show the tremendous ethical and financial obstacles that Petra and other journalists face and also to show Petra’s unique passions and pain that lead her down a road that sometimes gets pretty dark. A related challenge, and opportunity, for me as a writer was how to redeem Petra in the end, how to have her face the consequences for her actions while at the same time turning toward the light.
Was there anything new you discovered or that surprised you as you wrote this book?
I enjoyed tracing Petra’s journey from young, idealistic journalist to ambitious reporter willing to do anything to solve a case, including burning sources and breaking laws, to the end of the novel when she reclaims her old idealism.
No spoilers, but what can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?
KILLER STORY is set in Boston, where I lived for six years, and the murder victim is a Harvard freshman.
The victim is an an alt-right YouTuber, and I spent a lot of time thinking: Why do young kids join the alt-right, especially in its most virulent forms? I believe for many of them, they get seduced into it in much the same way that other kids their age have gotten seduced into joining groups like Isis.
What authors or books have influenced your career as a writer, and why?
Throughout my life, two writers have inspired me the most: Dr. Seuss and Elmore Leonard. Dr. Seuss wrote with such freedom and wealth of imagination and I believe has had a tremendous, underappreciated impact on so many writers who came after him. Elmore Leonard wrote with such economy of language, and such wonderful realistic dialogue, that I still marvel when I reread his work today.
In the past five or ten years, when I’ve been gobbling down psychological thrillers like candy, there are so many writers who have inspired me. Here’s a partial list: Gillian Flynn; Harlan Coben; Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen; Laura Lippman; Jessica Knoll; A.J. Finn; Paula Hawkins; Shari Lapena; Karin Slaughter; Mary Kubica; Lisa Lutz; Ruth Ware; Linwood Barclay; Fiona Barton; Lisa Jewell; JP Delany; Steph Cha; Antoine Wilson; Lisa Gardner; Meg Gardiner; Lee Goldberg; Alice Hunter; Hank Phillippi Ryan; and Hollie Overton.
Matt Witten is a novelist, TV writer, playwright, and screenwriter who has written for many TV shows including House, Pretty Little Liars, Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Medium, JAG, The Glades, Homicide, Judging Amy, Homicide, and Women’s Murder Club. His latest novel, KILLER STORY, will come out from Oceanview Publishing in January, 2023. His novel The Necklace came out last year from Oceanview, received a Bronze Award from the Foreword Indies for Best Thriller of the Year, and is optioned for film by Leonardo DiCaprio. He has also written four mystery novels set in Upstate New York that were published by Signet: Breakfast at Madeline’s, Grand Delusion, Strange Bedfellows, and The Killing Bee. He wrote the movie Drones, produced by Whitewater Films. His plays Washington Square Moves, The Deal, The Ties That Bind, Hadleyburg, USA, and Sacred Journey have been published by Samuel French and Dramatists Play Service and produced throughout the world. He has been nominated for two Edgars and an Emmy, and his debut novel won the Malice Domestic Award. Currently he is writing his next novel, Brainstorm. He is also writing a drama pilot for NBC, 51%.
To learn more about the author, please visit his website.