Jade Collins grew up on the seedy side of Los Angeles, but her tenacious nature pushes her to strive for a better life. After attending college and earning her medical degree, she feels good about where her life is going. But, bad things happen to good people, and Jade finds herself on death row after killing a man who had been abusing one of her patients.
Just three years after his marriage, Dr. Mark Brand’s wife passes away and his life is sent into a downward spiral. Depression steals everything from him—his medical license, his livelihood and his will to go on. Only a reunion with a powerful man he once knew gives Mark the strength to pick himself up again. He has a new job and a new life, but he is paying a steep price for his second chance. Nothing in life is free and this powerful man has plans for Mark.
Mark is sent to San Quentin to meet Jade and offers to get her off death row if she agrees to team up with him in a dangerous assignment. With no other choice, Jade agrees but aims to get out of the game at the first opportunity. Mark wants out too, but he’s sold his soul to the man who rescued him, and his only option is to follow orders and get the job done.
As danger mounts, Mark is pitted against the man who saved him and he’s forced to rely on Jade, a woman he hardly knows and doesn’t fully trust. The situation is made worse by the feelings he’s developing for her.
Will the opportunist destroy Mark’s life once more?
Will this game put Jade back on death row?
Author Peter Hogenkamp spent some time with TheBigThrill discussing the first book in his Jade Stryker Thriller series, THE WOMAN FROM DEATH ROW:
Were there any particular books, movies, or songs that were knocking around in your head while you were writing this one?
When I first read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I was totally blown away by LisBeth Salander. I grew up reading Alistair MacLean, who, although a brilliant novelist and the father of the modern thriller, wrote milk toast female characters who just waited around for the male lead to rescue them. (Of note, he started writing in the 1940s, when this sort of thing played quite a bit better.) Coming from this tradition, you can imagine how my eyes popped when I met LisBeth. And I said to myself, ‘This is how you write a female character.’ It was no surprise then, and no small delight, when an early reviewer of the book compared Jade Collins to LisBeth Salander. Jade is a lot different that LisBeth in many ways, but in many ways, they are very similar, especially when it comes to their tenacity.
When you first created your protagonist for this book, did you see an empty space in crime lit that you wanted to fill? What can you share about the inspiration for that character?
I wanted to go to medical school when I graduated from college, but my advisor ‘suggested’ that I take some time off before I matriculated. So, needing something else to do, I interviewed with the CIA when they came to the campus. I didn’t get a second interview, but the experience always made me wonder what would have happened if I had worked for the CIA instead of going to medical school. And that is how Dr. Mark Brand was created in my head. Brand starts off in medicine, but loses his medical license–and his will to live–when his wife dies, and ends up being recruited into a special branch of the CIA, but, deep down, he longs for the life that left him when his wife died.
Can you pinpoint a moment or incident that sparked the idea for this book?
I stumbled into an article about botched executions in the United States, and I was fascinated (and a little horrified) to learn that there have been many poorly-executed executions. In one case, more than ten minutes after the condemned was pronounced dead, he woke up, shocking all those in attendance and giving me the idea that an execution could be faked. From there it was just a question of figuring out what to do with the assumed to be dead person (and I thought of dozens of roles) and I had the start of the book, from which the rest of the book flowed very easily.
A novel is such a major undertaking; there’s the writing of it, of course, then you’re spending months and months revising, polishing, and then promoting it. How did you know this was the book you wanted to spend the next couple of years on?
The first draft of THE WOMAN FROM DEATH ROW had a third person limited omniscient narrator from the view point of Dr. Mark Brand, the lead male character. When I read it back a few weeks after I had written it, I liked the book, but I didn’t love it. There was a great book there, but something was missing. That’s when one of my Beta readers suggested I add a few chapters written from the female lead’s POV, to ratchet up the tension. And man did it work. It’s amazing how much a scene can change when you change the POV. And when I added more chapters from Jade Collins’ POV, the book just kept getting better and better. But the funny thing was, the new chapters made the chapters I hadn’t changed better without any changes to them, because of the contrast in the points of view. It’s a strategy I will continue to employ as I move forward with this series and future ones as well.
In addition to a great read, what do you hope readers will take away from this story?
I always balk at characters that are either totally good or totally evil. I don’t think people like that really exist, and, even worse, I find them uninteresting. In addition to battling the antagonist, wouldn’t it be so much the better for your protagonist to battle her own demons as well? And that’s what you have with THE WOMAN FROM DEATH ROW, two very flawed characters who have made a lot of mistakes and bad choices, and who continue to do so. (Which also adds to the suspense, because the reader can never be sure how Mark and Jade are going to react to the action.) It was very challenging to write Jade, especially in terms of making her a sympathetic character and still to be true to my initial vision of her. As I read the initial reviews coming in (which, happily, have been excellent) I am so interested in what people think of her. If you read the book (and I really hope you will) please let me know what your impression is.
What can you share about what you’re working on next?
I am working on the sequel to THE WOMAN FROM DEATH ROW that I have tentatively titled The Road Back to OZ, and I am writing a synopsis for The Birdwatcher, which I hope to make into a series. I love birds, and have been an avid birdwatcher since I was in grammar school, when my friend Dan Crane and I used to patrol the woods and fields trying to identify as many birds as possible. It has occurred to me—on my many walks—that the skills and traits that make a good birdwatcher would also make a good assassin, such as being precise, methodical and patient. The one big exception is the whole part about killing people, but I am working that out, and what a great way to create tension and internal conflict. Stay tuned.
Peter Hogenkamp is a practicing physician, public speaker and author of medical fiction and thrillers living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter’s writing credits include The Intern (TouchPoint Press, April 2020); The Vatican Conspiracy book and audiobook (Bookouture/HachetteUK, October 2020), The Vatican Secret (Bookouture/HachetteUK, April 2021), The Vatican Secret audiobook (Saga Egmont, March 2022) and Conspirazione Vaticano (Newton Compton Editori 7/2021.) The Woman from Death Row, book one of the new Jade Stryker thriller series, (Tirgearr Publishing, June 2023.)
He can be found on his author website, as well as his personal blog, Peter Hogenkamp Writes, where he writes about most anything. Peter is the creator, producer and host of Your Health Matters, a health information program, which airs on cable television, streams on YouTube and sounds off on podcast. Peter was a finalist for the prestigious 2019 Killer Nashville Claymore Award as well as the 2020 Vermont Writer’s Prize. He tweets—against the wishes of his wife, four children and feisty Cairn Terrier, Hermione—on Twitter.
He can be reached at his FaceBook Page and on his website.