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Vengeance, Villains, and a Missing Child

By Mindy Carlson

Candice Fox’s latest novel FIRE WITH FIRE, is a richly crafted story featuring “…a recently fired twenty-one-year-old police rookie and a deeply problematic victim of a botched undercover job…” who are thrown together to solve the cold-case disappearance of five-year-old Tilly Delaney after her parents take over a forensics laboratory and threaten to destroy crucial evidence from pending cases unless the LAPD finds their daughter.

The heart of this story is the unrelenting love parents have for their child. Two years ago, Tilly Delaney vanished during a beach outing. The officers who investigated declared her drowned, but many unanswered questions remained, and the police didn’t seem to care enough. The frustration Ryan and Elsie feel grows until it explodes out in a kind of rage reserved for the most desperate of souls.

The two officers who end up investigating this cold case are Lynnette Lamb, the freshly fired rookie, and Charlie Hoskins, the wounded undercover cop. Lamb and Charlie make a compelling buddy-cop pairing. Their individual quests to prove to themselves, their co-workers, and each other that they can be successful weave together to create an immersive experience for the reader.

Author Photograph by Steve Baccon
© Penguin Random House Australia

The Big Thrill was delighted to sit down with Candice Fox to talk about unlikely team pairings, writing sympathetic villains, and research tips for fellow authors.

FIRE WITH FIRE features the detailed inner workings of the Los Angeles Police Department and the Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center. How did you learn so much about LAPD procedure and their forensics lab?

You’d be surprised what people will tell you if you buy them a beer. I was lucky enough to secure time with a few different LAPD officers as I wrote FIRE WITH FIRE, and I’ve also hooked up with a few online. Police are usually pretty sketchy until you tell them you’ve got the cone of silence pulled down around them. I was actually in LA during COVID, so unfortunately, I couldn’t tour the lab itself, but B. Adam Richardson of the Writer’s Detective Handbook took me on a drive around the surrounds and gave me his two cents on how he’d respond to an incident like the one I have in the novel.

You and I met during one of your research trips to New York for a future novel. Do you have any words of advice for fellow authors who also want to make a similar research trip?

Swallow your fear and approach people. I was researching firefighters in New York, and while I’d made all the appropriate official moves to secure interviews, I’d, of course, had no luck. Approaching my first fire station cold was terrifying. They’re all there, and they turn around and look at you as you walk in, and you’re faced with trying to convince them that you’re not a groupie, or a buff, or a journalist, or someone from the FDNY’s ethics department there to give them an integrity test. You just have to say to yourself, ‘One, two, three – go!’ It only took me three stations to finally find guys who would talk.

Lamb and Charlie are an unlikely partnership. We meet Hoss in the ocean on the verge of death after having to escape from the biker gang who found out he was a mole, and we meet Lamb getting fired on her first day of work for accidentally allowing Charlie’s identity to leak. His anger and her guilt should prevent them from being a successful team, but that isn’t what happens. What is it about their personalities that make their partnership work?

I generally find the best partnerships start with someone having to earn someone else’s respect. Ideally, it goes both ways.

I generally find the best partnerships start with someone having to earn someone else’s respect. Ideally, it goes both ways. Across all my novels, I have pitted people against each other and given them a task to work out. You ever see a duck and a crab try to work together to get a cork out of a bottle? Neither is built for it or for interacting with each other. I think Charlie and Lamb end up working out because he’s got a sense of humour, and she’s dog-headed. It wouldn’t have worked without Charlie being willing to laugh at the bad things that have happened to him and Lamb refusing to be turned away from her mission.

Agatha Christie famously said, “A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity. It dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.” The parents of the missing child in FIRE WITH FIRE, Ryan and Elsie, definitely know no law or pity when it comes to having the LAPD find their child. It would be easy to see them as unhinged villains in this novel, but you give us moments where their frustration and anger seem justifiable. How hard was it to keep them from falling into the “cartoon villain” category and have them remain human to the reader?

I’m far more interested in ‘human’ villains, having met what was supposed to be a real-life cartoon villain. In 2018, I started up a friendship (although I probably wouldn’t call it that) with a serial killer, and what I expected was your Hannibal Lecter type. Full of mystery and genius and evil. What I found was a sad, simpering, self-obsessed old man. I’m the parent of a small child myself, and I’ve felt that crazy fury at someone threatening my child. I know that if anything ever happened to Violet, I’d go full John Wick on everybody. It’s much easier to imagine Ryan and Elsie’s state of mind than that of the cartoon villain.

The novel is punctuated with short moments where Charlie and Mina, the woman who saved Charlie from drowning in the first scene, seek each other out. How were you able to keep this seemingly unrelated thread from disrupting the flow of the action in the
main story?

I think there are natural ‘ad break’ moments in a novel, where everything is at stake, and you know that if you take a small breather you’re not going to lose the reader. It’s like when you’re telling a story on stage, and pause to take a sip from your water glass. If the room’s dead silent when you do that, you know you have them. So I just paid attention to when those times came, when I felt like it was safe to take a sip of water, and I always kept that sip short.

What are we going to see from you next?

What you’ll literally see from me next, I believe, is another Patterson collaboration. Murder Inn, the sequel to The Inn, is due out in August, I think… Then, in November, I have an Audible exclusive coming, Hunting Game, which has big exciting celebrity names attached I’m just bursting to share. My own next novel will hit shelves in December, maybe? I’m the wrong person to ask about timing. I can’t even get my social calendar right, let alone my work one.

Mindy Carlson
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