Features Up Close: Elle Cosimano
From the Frying Pan to the Fire
Elle Cosimano’s third installment of her critically acclaimed Finlay Donovan series is one of those books where you don’t know you’re holding your breath until you start laughing out loud.
FINLAY DONOVAN JUMPS THE GUN picks up mere weeks after the end of Finlay Donovan Knocks ’Em Dead. Finlay is still reeling from the recurring attempts on Steven’s life and wrecking an insanely expensive stolen/borrowed sports car. Our heroine and her sidekick Vero have sunk from waist-deep to neck-deep in trouble with the Russian mob, and the contract killer EasyClean still has their eyes set on killing Finlay’s ex-husband, Steven. Also, Finlay’s toddler, Zach, is in the midst of potty training, which all parents know is the fifth circle of hell.
Clues found in Finlay Donovan Knocks ’Em Dead point to EasyClean being a cop. Finlay and Vero decide the only way to get close enough to investigate a police officer is to join the citizen’s police academy being organized by Hot Cop Nick, who also wants to date Finlay. Vero and Finlay go through ride-alongs, firearms training, forensic classes, and childcare shenanigans, while investigating their instructors and some fellow classmates.
FINLAY DONOVAN JUMPS THE GUN also begins to unveil tantalizing tidbits about Vero’s past, including introducing readers to an old flame and hinting that there’s a Big Bad looking for her.
Here, Elle Cosimano sits down with The Big Thrill to discuss pushing Finlay from the frying pan into the fire, an amazing program called the Writers Police Academy, and the beauty of friendship between women.
We meet Finlay in FINLAY DONOVAN JUMPS THE GUN just weeks after Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead. She’s dangerously bound to a mobster, is trying to save her annoying ex-husband from being murdered, and has to hide an impossible number of secrets from the hot cop she wants to date. Not to mention, she’s potty training Zach. It’s fair to say she has her hands full—perhaps more than other single moms.
It’s exactly what you said, we meet Finlay at this sort of pinch point in her life where she’s gotten herself out of one quagmire and completely dumped herself into another. They [her problems] just keep building on themselves and so stress levels are already high for her and Vero at the beginning of the story. And we quickly find out that Vero’s backstory is going to come back to bite them and add another layer and another element of stress to their lives.
The action, tension, and stakes are all building on themselves as we go [through the series]. We opened this story with Finlay facing a whole new dilemma. She is in obligation to a Russian mobster who has given her little choice but to continue her life of crime. Meanwhile, what she’d like to do is leave all that behind her so that she can move on with motherhood and her new life. And in the back of her mind, maybe, she’s thinking a little bit about a certain hot cop.
Your book can be very meta at times—Finlay talks about being a romantic suspense novelist while she’s a character in a thriller novel. You’ve said in past interviews that your writing style mirrors Finlay’s, to a degree. Are these moments where Finlay talks about writing your way of sharing truths, stereotypes, or assumptions about the craft?
I do think that one of the cool things about the meta elements of the book is that we see Finlay using her writing process as a means of reflecting on the problem in front of her. Finlay is exploring herself and her own fears and her own strength and her own goals and desires and weaknesses. The assassin that is the protagonist of her book, this antihero, really wants love and affirmation like everybody else. There are days when I’m also finding little bits and pieces of myself in her. I think that’s true for a lot of us.
None of us [authors] would be able to pull off or get away with the things that Finlay is doing in this book. And a lot of that is because publishing is very slow. It moves at the speed of molasses, and in a thriller, I don’t have the luxury of dragging that out. Just like in crime thrillers, we often have to speed up the forensic investigation and the DNA analysis, and all these things that take months and months and years to do in the real world. Here I have to speed up the publishing process, so we see a lot of Finlay writing an entire novel in a matter of weeks, or having to get the next idea to her editor immediately.
Finlay and Vero go to a citizen’s police academy in Virginia. I could picture the entire campus and all the activities you described in FINLAY DONOVAN JUMPS THE GUN. Did you go to a citizen’s police academy in order to bring the full experience to your readers, or is your imagination just that vivid?
Yes, I have been to a type of citizens police academy and yes, my imagination is that vivid. For a week in the summer [I attended] a program called the Writers Police Academy, which is specifically a citizen’s police academy for crime writers and thriller writers and mystery writers and romance writers—anyone who writes fiction and has questions about law enforcement, first response, and criminal investigations.
They run typically for four or five days in the summertime, and I was able to attend a lot of hands-on classes and workshops. They were instructed by first responders, police officers, undercover cops, firearms instructors, firefighters, EMTs, lawyers, judges, and forensic scientists. I got to take some really, really phenomenal courses with them.
There were things in Finlay and Vero’s experience that were very different from my own. Like they had a physical component that I didn’t have to endure … but the Writers Police Academy gave me a lot of great inspiration for this setting and the setup of the novel, and so it was really fun to play off of those experiences.
Steven claims he doesn’t like Vero living with Finlay because Vero’s background is a mystery to them. Is that the real reason, or does Steven see the iron-clad friendship between Vero and Finlay as an impediment in rekindling things with Finlay?
Vera was vocal in her dislike of him, and so of course they rub each other completely wrong, well, because he fired her in the first book. She knows who Steven is and the mistakes that he’s made, the kind of person he’s shown himself to be.
Finlay is in this uncomfortable situation of having to co-parent with him, not wanting to disparage him in front of the children, and wanting to have an amicable co-parenting experience with him. [But] regardless, she keeps her mouth shut, even when I’m sure she’d be tempted to say some rotten things—and certainly deservingly so.
Steven is certainly jealous, and he sees Vero as kind of taking his place. He feels threatened by [her]. So he’d rather paint her as a horrible criminal and a person that can’t be trusted than admit he was the one who shouldn’t have been trusted, and he’s kind of earned his place now. Sometimes it’s easier to point the finger at somebody else than to look inside and see the horrible, horrible parts.
In the previous two books, Vero has appeared confident and capable—someone who’s got it together, but in FINLAY DONOVAN JUMPS THE GUN, we get a glimpse of a different Vero. In her past, she found herself over her head, but instead of trying to clear things up, she ran and ended up getting in even more over her head. When are we going to get Vero’s full story?
I’m a big fan of peeling back layers. We don’t get all of the information up front. We’re sort of getting little bits and pieces, and I enjoy letting the reader put it together along the way. That’s also one of the things that makes it fun to write series. If I gave you all of Vero’s back story all at once, that story would be done.
I think that’s really fun, and I think it suits her voice and her personality too. Some poor choices that she’s made in the past are now coming back to haunt her, so it feels fitting to me that the little bits and pieces would come out more gradually and ideally a little bit more organically through the series. But here in [FINLAY DONOVAN JUMPS THE GUN] one of her poor choices has come back in a very abrupt and assertive way, and she and Finlay are forced to face it.
I think it tests their friendship, but in the most beautiful way because we really see what unconditional friendship is. Finlay was in a very hard place [in Finlay Donovan is Killing It], and she was struggling with her own confidence and her own strength, and Vero was the balance for that. Vero brought her strength and reminded her of what she was capable of and nudged her back into a place where she can make confident choices for herself. Sometimes those roles in long running friendships flip-flop, and women can become a source of strength for each other. So in this book in particular, we see that role reverse a little bit, and we see Finlay get to be the stronger one that is forgiving and encouraging and problem-solving and trying to get Vero back to a safe place. It brings what I think is a great balance to that friendship.
Finlay Donovan has been optioned for television! What can you tell us about the series?
We’re still very early in development, but Touchstone 20th Century television studios has the option, with I. Marlene King set to produce. She was the producer of the hugely successful Pretty Little Liars series, so I’m excited to see where she takes it.
What’s next for you?
Right now, I’m working hard on the fourth installment of Finlay Donovan. We don’t have a title yet, but I’m really excited about it. Unfortunately, I can’t say what the book will be about without spoiling the end of FINLAY DONOVAN JUMPS THE GUN.
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