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The Big Thrill Discusses THE UNEXPECTED HOSTAGE with Allison McKenzie

Nothing has seemed normal since Tess’s fiancé Kyle died in a tragic accident. To obliterate her pain, she jets between high-stakes meetings and frequents punk clubs. It was working—almost—until she and her colleagues are taken hostage by violent Eastern European terrorists. Trapped, Tess and fellow captive Mark rely on one another to survive, enduring a brutal journey toward freedom and forging a bond neither can forget.

Faced with another international cybercrime, Tess uncovers the shocking truth about Kyle’s death. This time, she’ll need Mark’s help to avenge her losses as she races to save her company…and their lives.

Allison McKenzie recently spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest thriller, THE UNEXPECTED HOSTAGE.

Can you pinpoint a moment or incident that sparked the idea for this book?
Years ago, I attended an executive meeting in London where we did a leadership exercise simulating how to survive a plane crash in a remote area. The theme of a business event turning disastrous intrigued me. How would a group of smart people survive a dangerous ordeal if collaborating determined whether they’d live or die? I scribbled the idea on a British Airways cocktail napkin and the concept stayed with me.

Allison McKenzie

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?
This is my first novel. When I started writing, I had no plot or outline…only the desire to write a thriller blended with romance and an empty Word doc. I could visualize the first scene, but the rough draft was very “pantser,” which is unlike me! I wore a mantra bracelet engraved “Trust the Journey” and ran with the story to see where it would take me.

Were there any particular books, movies, or songs that were knocking around in your head while you were writing this one?
After touring Scottish castles where the television series Outlander was filmed, I wanted to integrate Scottish history with modern technology in a fresh way. I re-watched a few James Bond movies, particularly Skyfall. For songs, I loved the moody longing of “Somewhere in Summertime” by Simple Minds and “Under the Milky Way Tonight” by The Church. Also, Ann Patchett’s novel Bel Canto has always inspired me.

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?
Yes! As a former techie who worked at Microsoft for twenty years, I felt a duty to create an intelligent female heroine adept with technology. The number of women in technology jobs, especially cybersecurity, remains regrettably low at 25%. In the leadership ranks, it’s even lower. Despite Tess’s wounded psyche, she’s fundamentally a powerful, polished executive who knows her industry. The world needs more strong women like her.

In addition to a great read, what do you hope readers will take away from this story?
Hopefully, readers will find hope that healing from the unthinkable and finding joy again is possible–there is life and love beyond loss. At its heart, The Unexpected Hostage is a survival story. However, it’s also an international thriller, a mystery, a romance, and a hopeful story of healing.

What can you share about what you’re working on next?
I’m plotting (not pantsing!) a new thriller about a female intelligence agent on a mission that goes seriously wrong with catastrophic consequences. Ultimately, she must decide whether to abandon her undercover work for a safe, normal life or fight for another round to clear her name and seek justice.


Allison McKenzie has never shied away from adventure. She is at home skiing Canadian glaciers, exploring Scottish castles, and retrieving cultural artifacts from a Rarotongan jungle as she is at her writing desk. After graduating magna cum laude from Wellesley College with honors in English literature, she attended the University of Cambridge’s International Art History Programme in England. Allison spent most of her career in the software industry, including an intriguing stint in cybersecurity.

Allison is the winner of the 2020 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Contest, and a Finalist for the 2021 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, from RWA’s Kiss of Death Chapter, for The Unexpected Hostage.

She lives in Seattle with her husband, daughter, and two rambunctious cats. She loves theatre, skiing, travel, and indulging in New Wave music on the Peloton. THE UNEXEPCTED HOSTAGE is her first novel.

To learn more about the author and her work, please visit her website.


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