Running away is what Zak Skinner does best, and he’s just done it again, having transferred from NYU to University of Chicago. His fresh start goes south when he accidentally uncovers evidence of an on-campus organized crime scam involving drugging students, getting them to commit crimes on camera, and blackmailing them to continue under the threat of expulsion. Digging deeper, Zak discovers that the university scam is just the tip of the iceberg, connected to a broader ring of crimes linked to a darkweb underworld. Following clues proves too dangerous. They know, and they’re watching him. But he’s in too deep now to turn back. Zak is led to a compound within Chicago’s abandoned Steelworker Park, only to discover that he’s being hunted. Following the path toward the truth transforms him from a nerdy academic to a rabid activist hell-bent on exposing the most elaborate and expensive scam on the US economy and its unsuspecting victims. While trying to find a way out alive, Zak discovers there’s something much more personal he’s been running from: his past. And now there’s nowhere to hide.
Lisa Towles recently spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest thriller, NINETY-FIVE:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
With this and all of my books, I hope to give readers a sense of escape, adventure, to pull them into this new crazy world and rabbit hole.
What attracts you to this book’s genre?
I love both writing and reading thrillers. What attracts me now is the fact that NINETY-FIVE is part spy-thriller and part political-thriller. I love the speed of how the action typically unfolds with thrillers, and I also enjoy how most thrillers have two disparate threads that typically come together in some way at the end.
What was the biggest challenge this book presented? What about the biggest opportunity?
Outlining and executing the complex plot and keeping all the details straight.
Was there anything new you discovered, or that surprised you, as you wrote this book?
Zak Skinner, my main character, really surprised me as this story evolved. Investigating an organized crime ring transformed him from a nerdy academic to a rabid activist hell-bent on exposing the most elaborate and expensive scam on the US economy and its unsuspecting victims. Zak is such a young person, but he turned out to be so brave and wise.
No spoilers, but what can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?
This book was entirely inspired by a trip to a Tommy Hilfiger store.
What authors or books have influenced your career as a writer, and why?
Stephen King’s On Writing—because that book gave me permission to write without an outline (though I do outline somewhat).
Naomi Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones—because that book gave me permission to write without worrying that I was writing something good, helped me trust and allow my creativity, and I read that book immediately before I wrote my first book when I was 20 years old.
Is there a question that you feel is important to you or your novel? Write it in below, but be sure to answer it too!
Q: Will there be a sequel to this book?
A: I’ve started one, so still considering that. It’s really ultimately up to Zak Skinner.
Lisa Towles has six mystery/thrillers in print with a new contemporary thriller forthcoming by Indies United in November 2021. Her 2019 thriller, The Unseen, was a Finalist in the Thriller category of the Best Book Awards by American Book Fest, and her 2017 thriller Choke won a 2017 IPPY and a 2018 NYC Big Book Award for Thriller. Lisa’s published books include The Unseen, Choke, and the following titles published under her previous name, Lisa Polisar: The Ghost of Mary Prairie, Escape, Blackwater Tango, and Knee Deep. She is an active member and frequent panelist/speaker of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She has an MBA in IT management and works full-time in the tech industry in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lisa is also a passionate graphic designer and video creator.
To learn more about the author and her work, please visit her website.