The Big Thrill Discusses THE PRICE YOU PAY with Nick Petrie
Peter Ash must follow his closest friend, Lewis, into the criminal underworld when secrets from the past threaten everything they hold dear in this propulsive new thriller from the bestselling and award-winning series.
Lewis has helped Peter Ash out of more trouble than Peter cares to remember. So he doesn’t hesitate when Lewis asks a favor in return. Lewis has left his criminal past behind, but a former associate may be in trouble, and he and Peter must drive into the teeth of a blizzard to find him. When they discover blood in the snow and a smoldering cabin, both men know things are bad. Then they learn that someone has stolen notebooks full of incriminating secrets about Lewis’s long-ago crimes, and realize the situation is much worse than they’d thought.
To save Lewis’s wife, Dinah, and her two boys, Lewis and Peter must find the notebooks. With Peter’s longtime girlfriend, June Cassidy, they begin the search—facing ruthless and violent foes at each turn, including one powerful person who will stop at nothing for revenge. Will Peter and Lewis be able to keep that dark past buried? Or will they need to step into the darkness to save the people they love most?
Nick Petrie recently sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss his latest mystery, THE PRICE YOU PAY.
Can you pinpoint a moment or incident that sparked the idea for this book?
Actually, the idea for THE PRICE YOU PAY came from my readers. Since the very first Peter Ash thriller, readers have often asked me for a book about Lewis, the mysterious, mostly-retired career criminal who always seems to appear when Peter needs him most.
In THE PRICE YOU PAY, Lewis gets his turn in the spotlight. His criminal past returns with a vengeance, threatening everything he holds dear, and Peter must drop everything to help his friend. It was enormous fun to dive deeply into Lewis’s character, to not only learn what drives him now but also get a glimpse of who Lewis was before he met Peter. Writing this book, Lewis surprised me over and over again.
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 try very hard not to think about what other writers are doing – and I never look at the publishing marketplace to see what’s been done before or what might be new. Because it’s ALL been done before – after all, there are only a few basic stories on which to elaborate. The solution, it seems to me, is to elaborate in the way only you can. In other words, tell a heartfelt story from a very specific point of view that means something to you.
In my case, during my day job, I found myself meeting a whole bunch of military vets and hearing their stories – not about their time at war, but about their time after war. Some of them were overcoming significant challenges, and they generously shared some of their experiences with a guy they really didn’t know – and the idea of Peter Ash and Lewis emerged from that. Veterans now reach out to me all the time, telling me I’ve captured something about their experience, and I’m extremely grateful for those conversations.
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?
For me, beginning a book is always a leap of faith. I don’t outline or start with a big idea – I begin every project with a single character in a small, simple situation that interests or excites me. Sometimes it takes a few attempts to find something that really grabs me. I know I’ve found it when, after writing the first few chapters, I have a pretty good idea of what happens in the next few chapters. But I rarely know farther ahead than that. Even the ending might not appear until I’ve arrived at it. Overall, writing this way can be a fairly harrowing experience.
So the short answer is, I don’t know if a given book is the right project. I never know – I only learn in the writing of it. If I can allow the characters to move the story forward every day in a way that interests and excites me, I know I’m on the right track, however improbable the process may seem. I mean, it really is a horrible way to write a book. Unfortunately, it’s the only way I know how to do it!
What can you share about what you’re working on next?
After eight books in the Peter Ash series, I’m now working on a stand-alone novel about a convicted killer named Bobby Cruikshank who’s trying to put his life back together after getting out of prison. For course, it doesn’t go well. For him or anyone else. I’m having a lot of fun with this one, and I think readers will, too.
Were there any particular books, movies, or songs that were knocking around in your head while you were writing this one?
I wanted this book to have a kind of relentless forward momentum, so I started thinking about my favorite books and films that had that quality. There are many great books like this, but the biggest influence on me for THE PRICE YOU PAY was probably Blackhat, Michael Mann’s 2015 film. I ended up writing out a beatline of the film, a simple sequence of everything that happens. That process really helped me think about how to link events together with character to pull the reader through a story. Although I’d never gone through this process with a film before, over the years I’ve written beatlines for many books that I admire. It helps to read through once to experience the story, then read a second time with a pen in your hand. Just like mechanics learn how an engine works by taking it apart, writers can learn a lot about storytelling and character by dissecting a well-crafted novel.
Nick Petrie is the author of seven novels in the Peter Ash series, most recently The Runaway. His debut, The Drifter, won both the ITW Thriller award and the Barry Award for Best First Novel, and was a finalist for the Edgar and the Hammett Awards. A husband and father, he lives in the Milwaukee area.
To learn more about the author, please visit his website.
THE PRICE YOU PAY with NICK PETRIE