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Murder is Never Trivial – A Mystery Inspired by the Gilgo Beach Murders

The Big Thrill Interviews Bestselling Author Kara Thomas

By Mindy Carlson

Kara Thomas’s second adult mystery novel, LOST TO DUNE ROAD, is a thrilling page-turner. When the mother of a young woman in trouble arrives on her doorstep, disgraced reporter Lee Ellerin is sucked back into a world she was unceremoniously kicked out of two years ago. Lee wrote an article accusing a man connected to privilege and power of the murder of waitress Jenna Mackey that ended in the man’s death and ended her journalism career.

Lee is reluctant to travel down those same roads again. But why would a pregnant woman in a coma have Lee’s name on a piece of paper tucked in her backpack? In the end, Lee can’t turn her back on a family in need or the chance to find out what happened to Jenna.

Laced with details inspired by the Gilgo Beach Murders, LOST TO DUNE ROAD has a true crime feel set inside a truly sleuthy novel. The Big Thrill was pleased to sit down with Thomas to discuss using true crime as an inspiration point, layering clues to create a compelling narrative, and the dark side of privilege.

What was it about the Gilgo Beach Murders that inspired you to write LOST TO DUNE ROAD?

I remember vividly when they found the victims in 2011 and the ensuing media frenzy around the idea of a serial killer on Long Island. When the women were identified as sex workers, the tone in the news changed. I was always so disturbed about the way many people talked about the Gilgo victims—as if being viciously murdered by a serial predator was some sort of normal conclusion to being involved in sex work. Robert Kolker’s brilliant book about the victims, Lost Girls, delves into how the families of the women fought to keep their cases active when police were dismissive of their disappearances. Their stories stuck with me, and I knew if I were ever to have shades of such a famous unsolved case in my work, I wanted to focus on the frustration those families felt, and their unfair burden to have to humanize their loved ones who had become tabloid headlines.

Author Photo: Kara Thomas

Kara Thomas © Charles Santangelo

When the Gilgo Beach murder suspect was arrested, did you feel like you had to, or wanted to, change anything? If so, what was it?

I was as shocked as anyone when there was a break in the case last summer. I had just turned in the final draft of LOST TO DUNE ROAD, so there wasn’t time to go back and change anything significant. However, the book was always very loosely inspired by Gilgo. I think if the case had remained unsolved, readers would have had to look closely to find the similarities. Now that the case is finally going to trial, some of the details that are emerging may feel familiar to readers who have been following the Gilgo developments—for example, the killer making a taunting call from a victim’s phone.

Tell us about your hero, Lee Ellerin. Who is she?

Lee was an investigative journalist whose promising career ended when her profile of a suspect in the disappearance of a young woman resulted in the suspect dying by suicide. A few years later, Lee works as a private investigator, surveilling people suspected of committing insurance fraud, when she is pulled back into the case that caused her to lose everything. Like most of my main characters, Lee is haunted by demons, both past and present.

Author Photo: Kara Thomas

Kara on the water

LOST TO DUNE ROAD is a layered mystery where you follow Lee as she peels back layer after layer of clues. Every time she thinks she’s about to get some answers, she leaves with more questions. Was it difficult to plot out such a complex mystery?

Absolutely. No matter how many outlines I write before, during, and after drafting, the plot threads never come together at the end for me until I’m several versions into the story. Troubleshooting a mystery is equally frustrating and rewarding, and I couldn’t do it without the guidance of my editors.

Privilege is a theme in LOST TO DUNE ROAD. The privilege of the press to seek out the truth going up against the privilege of money and power over those who lack the same money and privilege. What made you focus on these dynamics between truth and power?

It was really the story of the Gilgo victims and how they were portrayed in the media that drove the point I wanted to make with this book. I so rarely actively aim to make a point with my writing, but this book was a culmination of my frustrations at the time—with the backlash from the MeToo movement and with powerful men going on apology tours to get their careers back after abusing and hurting people.

You said in past interviews that you were heading back to writing YA after your adult debut, Out of the Ashes. What made you write another adult true crime mystery?

I’ve actually been contracted for my forthcoming YA novel since 2020 before I even sold Out of the Ashes. I had a two-book deal for my adult debut, so I knew I would need to deliver another mystery in a similar vein. I wound up putting my YA on hold to write LOST TO DUNE ROAD because both were multi-layered stories that required my full attention.

Author Photo: Kara Thomas

Kara and Friends

What’s next?

My aforementioned YA novel will be out October 1st—it’s called The Champions, and it’s a companion novel to The Cheerleaders. The Champions follows Hadley, a budding reporter who uncovers a scandal involving the high school football team that quickly turns deadly.


The Big Thrill Interviews Bestselling Author Kara Thomas

Mindy Carlson
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