The legal thriller genre has transcended the contours of Mary Higgins Clark’s thrill killings and John Grisham’s courtroom drama to combine history, adventure, fantasy, and Gothicism in ways that realistically represent the essence of human conflict.
Award-winning mystery writer and former trial attorney John Dobbyn, who is a professor of law at Villanova Law School, has been instrumental in expanding this genre to uncharted terrains that redefine truth and justice.
Dobbyn’s latest nail-biter, HIGH STAKES, connects a pair of 21st century attorneys with the era of Prince Vlad Tepes Dracula, a tyrannical 15th-century Romanian ruler whose exploits have catalyzed a belief in the mythical existence of a vampire with the same last name. The story unfolds in a space where the present and past collide with a bevy of secrets that question one’s ability to control the uncontrollable—unless resilience and wit can take over.
An authentic Stradivarius violin is believed to hold a code revealing the whereabouts of a treasure that Vlad Dracula had carefully hidden during the 15th century. An excursion to Romania in search of this rare violin tosses Michael Knight and his senior law partner Lex Devlin into the crosshairs of three Boston-based Russian, Chinese, and Romanian gangs who want that code. Boston’s deputy district attorney Billy Coyne joins the fray to help Knight and Devlin ensure that the treasure falls into the right lap, even as Knight taps into his knowledge of the violin to ward off the brutal mafiosos. What follows is a trail of historic clues, all the way from a violin shop in Central and Eastern Europe’s Carpathian Mountains to a hoodlum-infested Bucharest nightclub and a university in Istanbul to the headquarters of the three competing mobsters.
Melissa Slade had it all: beauty, money, a successful husband, and beautiful twin babies. But, in the blink of an eye, her perfect life became a nightmare—when she found herself on trial for the murder of her little girls.
Jonathan Hunt covered the original Slade Babies case for the local newspaper. Now that new evidence has come to light, Jon’s boss wants him back on the story to uncover the truth.
With Melissa’s appeal date looming, time is running out. And, as Jon gets drawn deeper into a case he’d wanted to forget, he starts to question Melissa’s guilt.
Is Melissa manipulating Jon or telling him the truth? Is she a murderer, or the victim of a miscarriage of justice?
And if Melissa Slade is innocent, what really happened to Ellie and Amber Slade?
Bestselling author Diane Jeffrey took some time out of her busy schedule to speak with The Big Thrill about her latest thriller, THE GUILTY MOTHER:
By Rick Reed
LAY BARE THE LIE is Diana Deverell’s sixth novel in her Nora Dockson legal thriller series, which centers on an ex-con who pulls herself out of the gutter and becomes a lawyer dedicated to rescuing the wrongfully convicted.
LAY BARE THE LIE draws Nora into new legal territory. In her first cases, she represented men convicted of sexual assault and murder, where she relied on advances in DNA testing to build their appeals. Now she finds a jury was misled by the testimony of an expert witness who reconstructed a crime scene based on bloodstain patterns. Nora can prove the so-called expert made leaps of logic incompatible with the latest forensic science. But before she can appeal the case, she is pulled into a family emergency and once again finds herself on the dangerous turf of her childhood. This time she may not escape with her life.
Deverell grew up in Oregon and received a BA from Stanford, but instead of going on to law school, she hit the road as a long haul trucker. She earned enough to buy a farm in Maine, where she raised Black Angus beef and worked with disadvantaged youth. She continued her schooling and earned a master’s in public administration that led to a job with the US Foreign Service. In 1982 she volunteered to serve at the US Embassy in San Salvador for 18 months in the midst of the Salvadoran Civil War. Her next stint, at the Warsaw embassy, is where she discovered the spy thrillers by John le Carré and Len Deighton were stories that mirrored her day-to-day life in Cold War Poland. Her Foreign Service career ended when she fell in love with a dashing assistant defense attaché from the Danish Embassy, married, and started a family. When their kids were 10, 12, and 14, they moved to Copenhagen. Deverell and her husband now live in rural Denmark.
Deverell recently sat down with The Big Thrill for a talk about plotting, the evolution of the publishing industry, and finding inspiration in the shortcomings of the US justice system.
Justice rarely comes easy, even in a fair legal system. But what if the country were drifting toward dictatorship? What if the entrenched powers were jailing the opposition and using the courts as a tool of oppression? That describes exactly the legal system in Christopher Brown’s compelling dystopian legal thriller, RULE OF CAPTURE.
Houston lawyer Donny Kimoe scrapes out a living by defending enemies of the state. Then a judge appoints him to represent a young radical who was arrested for exposing the oppressive regime. Confronted with a rigged system, Donny seeks justice for his client—possibly at the expense of his own life.
RULE OF CAPTURE is a tautly written, highly inventive novel in the tradition of Margaret Atwood and John Grisham, with a dash of Franz Kafka thrown in.
Brown was kind enough to join us for a talk about his new novel and his writing career.
Late one August night, attorney Jessie Martin, seven months pregnant, receives a phone call from her mentor/confidante, popular high school teacher Terrence Butterfield. A frantic Butterfield confesses he’s killed someone and pleads for Jessie’s help.
Out of loyalty, Jessie rushes to his aid. She’s shocked to learn the identity of the victim—someone whose death dredges up dark, buried memories.
As the legal proceedings against Butterfield unfold, Jessie finds that her faith in the legal system and the people she trusted is shaken. Ultimately, Jessie’s decision to answer the midnight call places at great peril her love, her career, and her own life and that of her unborn child.
Author Jode Millman spent some time with The Big Thrill talking about her compelling debut, THE MIDNIGHT CALL, and her approach to writing.
In Anchorage, Alaska, Yup’ik Eskimo chief financial officer and single mother, Esther Fancyboy, walks out of a party and into a blizzard. She is never seen again, leaving behind a seven-year-old son, Evan. The local cops say she’ll come home when she’s done partying, but family friend Maeve Malloy doesn’t think it’s that simple. She goes looking for Esther just as she’s getting bad news of her own, a career-ending accusation.
When Esther’s body turns up in a snow berm and a witness is shot to death in front of Maeve, she suspects Evan might be in danger. Maeve must race against time to save the boy–along with her career, and maybe her life.
The Big Thrill caught up to author Keenan Powell to discuss the second installment in her Maeve Malloy mystery series, HEMLOCK NEEDLE:
The psychological thriller might be the most challenging type to write well, but Laurie Stevens has cracked that code as she demonstrates with her new release, THE MASK OF MIDNIGHT.
The story starts when Los Angeles homicide detective Gabriel McRay confronts an old enemy, Victor Archwood, at that killer’s trial. A surprise courtroom twist surfaces, putting Archwood in the position to get revenge on McRay. One of the sweet twists here is that McRay is a series protagonist who does not see himself as a hero because, as author Stevens says, he sees himself as too damaged. But he’s getting better.
“In the first book, The Dark Before Dawn, you probably would have found him abrasive and short-tempered,” Stevens says. “In THE MASK OF MIDNIGHT Gabriel has undergone some psychotherapy and is a pretty likable guy.”
In this type of fiction, it’s a great villain that makes a hero great. And the theatrical Victor Archwood fills that role to perfection.
“Vic approaches his ‘tasks’ with a certain flair that provides him a lot of entertainment,” Stevens says. “Also, he’s obsessed with the protagonist. Years before, the detective had babysat Vic as a boy, as a Big Brother type, only things went haywire. Now, Vic blames Gabriel for ruining his life. The past plays on Gabriel as well, which makes it easier for Vic to get at him.”
Legal thrillers seem to be making a comeback—and if you’re looking for a twisty one with heart, check out the latest by William L. Myers, Jr., A KILLER’S ALIBI.
In this third novel in Myers’ Philadelphia Legal series, attorney Mick McFarland’s client faces some pretty damning evidence along with family secrets that make him look even more guilty. Crime lord Jimmy Nunzio is caught, knife in hand, over the body of his daughter’s lover and a sworn enemy.
At the same time, Mick’s wife, Piper, is working to free a woman sentenced to life in prison for her abusive father’s death. Piper knows that the whole truth was not revealed at the woman’s trial, but Piper is determined to get the truth out there and prove the woman innocent.
Mick and Piper are both likeable protagonists. They would deny being heroes, but as the author points out, they are believers.
“Not believers in the system as it is,” Myers says, “but as it should be. Mick and Piper both believe that the legal system should function to win justice. They both know, however, that the system is imperfect, and that, to make it work to effectuate justice, sometimes it’s necessary to work the system, to play outside the rules.”
Jodi McGee, narrator of THE ANSWER TO EVERYTHING, has a 17-year-old daughter, a husband in prison, and a deep affection for Clifford Hickey, a San Diego journalist. When Clifford’s brother Alvaro assists in the murder of a Tijuana drug cartel gunman, Jodi and her daughter, along with the Hickey family, become targets of the cartel. The drama that unfolds features true and revealing history, insights into the nature of evil and the embedded connections between crime and government here and abroad, and captivating portraits of characters young, older, and old. Readers will find it captivating, memorable, and true to the lofty promise of its title.
Award-winning author Ken Kuhlken spent some time discussing his latest thriller, THE ANSWER TO EVERYTHING, with The Big Thrill:
When conservative law professor Alex Johnson is found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound at his house in Chicago, everyone thinks it is suicide. Everyone except his brother, Royce, an FBI agent.
Without jurisdiction or leads, Agent Johnson leaves his cases and family to find out who killed his brother. There are many suspects: the ex-wife, an ambitious doctor with expensive tastes and reasons to hate her ex; academic rivals on a faculty divided along political lines; an African-American student who failed the professor’s course.
As Agent Johnson peels back layers of mystery in his rogue investigation, the brother he never really knew emerges. Clues lead from the ivy-covered elite university and the halls of power in Washington to the gritty streets of Chicago and Lahore, Pakistan. Ultimately, Agent Johnson must face the question of how far he is willing to go to catch his brother’s killer.
MENTAL STATE is about two brothers learning about each other in death, and about the things people will do when convinced they are in the right.
The Big Thrill caught up to M. Todd Henderson to discuss his legal thriller, MENTAL STATE:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
My ambition is that the story provides a few hours of entertainment, but along the way offers some ideas to chew on. Although murdering another human is something we are taught is categorically wrong, there are many killings that are occasionally justified: self-defense, capital punishment, and war are just a few examples. These are all cases in which the taking of a human life is thought to serve the common good. But if killing one person to serve the interests of society is acceptable, this opens the door to excusing all sorts of killing in pursuit of political ends. In an era of increasingly confrontational politics, MENTAL STATE explores the lengths we will go to remake society in ways we are confident are right. I hope the story makes readers examine their own views about justice in new ways.
How does this book make a contribution to the genre?
This murder mystery is set in and around a law school, a world typically ignored by the genre. I used my experience as a legal academic, a lawyer in Washington, D.C., and the brother of an FBI agent to give the story real-life perspectives. Some of the themes of the book—pedophilia, infertility, and racial politics—are also uncommon in mysteries and thrillers.
Was there anything new you discovered, or that surprised you, as you wrote this book?
It was shocking how easy it was in my own mind to step into the shoes of the bad guys in the book. The arguments they make for murder were surprisingly easy for me to understand and to accept. Although we would likely all blanch at the idea of killing, when the hypothetical cases are set out in cost-benefit terms, it is pretty easy to talk oneself into it.
No spoilers, but what can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?
MENTAL STATE was inspired by the murder of a friend who taught law at Florida State. Trying to come to grips with his murder, I imagined why someone would kill a law professor. To do this, I made the victim myself, and sent my brother, at the time a straight-laced FBI agent, on the hunt for the killer. Drawing on my real-life experiences in academia, in Washington power plays, and from my own complex family, the story is autobiographical fiction. The things that happen to Alex (the murdered law professor in the book) more or less happened to me.
What authors or books have influenced your career as a writer, and why?
I love to read everything, so I do not consider myself a connoisseur of the thriller or mystery genre. I read anything recommended by people whose opinions I trust, which means biographies, science fiction, law, current events, psychology, economics, politics, travel books, the classics, and so on. I loved Isaac Asimov as a kid, and he created a love of sci-fi that burns to this day. Wallace Stegner is also a favorite, especially Crossing to Safety. My all-time favorite book is The Brothers Karamazov, although Moby Dick is a close second.
M. Todd Henderson was the biggest baby born in Tennessee in 1970. A professor at the University of Chicago, he is renowned as being the tallest law professor on Earth. Prior to becoming an academic, he worked as a designer of dams, a judicial clerk, a Supreme Court lawyer, and a management consultant. He lives in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago with his wife and three children.
To learn more about M. Todd Henderson, please visit him online.
By Rick Reed
Jay Brandon is the author of 18 novels, most recently the instant holiday classic Thanksgiving Eve. His 2014 espionage novel Shadow Knight’s Mate has been called “an absorbing, exciting, and absolutely entertaining novel.” His earlier titles include 1990’s Fade the Heat, which was an Edgar finalist and published by more than a dozen foreign publishers. He has a master’s degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University.
In Brandon’s newest novel AGAINST THE LAW, disbarred Houston lawyer Edward Hall is trying to rebuild his life after serving two years in prison for burglarizing the courthouse evidence room. He gets a call from his sister Amy, a doctor who has been arrested for the murder of her estranged husband, also a prominent physician. As Edward tries to steer her through the legal system, it becomes clear Amy wants Edward to represent her. But there is a complication in his doing so: the judge assigned to Amy’s case was Edward’s secret partner-in-crime in the burglary of the courthouse.
Brandon recently sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss his impressive career and offer some advice to writers who are just beginning the journey to publication.
Melissa McGinty wants more than anything to be a full time, old-school detective like her father, who weaned her on black-and-white film classics featuring Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. But her fledgling detective agency, run out of her home in suburban Washington, D.C. with an all-woman support staff, mostly attracts clients who want proof of their spouses’ infidelity so they can get more alimony.
To make ends meet, she moonlights as an overnight guard with the Supreme Court’s little known police department. Then late one night, a juicy murder falls into her lap when she discovers a dead justice on the floor of the judges’ private basketball court. A light bulb goes on that if she can solve the murder, she’ll be famous, and clients with real cases will come streaming through her door.
Her bosses, who normally take a low-profile approach to their jobs, have different ideas about her involvement in the case, which becomes front-page news after the FBI takes the lead in a crime that could affect who will be the next president of the United States.
On her growing list of suspects are the sitting president, whose election fate is headed for a suddenly evenly divided high court, alt-right fanatics who didn’t like the justice’s liberal rulings — with gun-rights activists right behind. And a stream of corporate executives, whose lawsuits got more winnable with the justice out of the way, make the list of probables even longer.
With the help of a shadowy cyber-expert, a super Internet researcher and a Tarot card-reading assistant who warns her of dangers, Mel persists in tracking down the killer. On the verge of being fired, she almost gets killed in the process as one misleading clue after another brings her closer to the truth. And the solution she comes up with is one of the least likely she could have imagined.
The Big Thrill caught up with Patrick Oster to discuss his latest thriller, THE AMAZON DETECTIVE AGENCY:
If you’re looking for a hero with heart and a brain-teasing mystery in the crowded field of legal thrillers, seek out BUM DEAL by veteran author Paul Levine.
BUM DEAL features second-string linebacker turned defense lawyer Jake Lassiter, who is appointed special prosecutor in a high-profile murder case. Working on the “other side” now, Lassiter is determined to take down a prominent surgeon accused of killing his wife.
This is the 13th novel featuring Lassiter, who was a second team linebacker for the Miami Dolphins 20 years ago and suffered numerous concussions which came with long term consequences. After his pro football career ended, he went to night law school and until the appointment in this book, has worked as a defense attorney.
Lassiter is not a crusading attorney. In fact, he says, “I never intended to become a hero, and I succeeded,” but he often finds himself fighting for clients when other lawyers won’t take their cases. This is how he picked up the nickname “Last Chance Lassiter.” He’ll tell you that the law is a contact sport, and if he believes in your innocence, he’ll risk contempt, take a punch, and break down doors to win. Like most traditional hard boiled detectives, Lassiter is a good guy, but not necessarily a classy guy.
Bill Gambini and Stanley Rothstein, two friends from Brooklyn, are on their way cross-country to UCLA. Taking a southern route through Alabama, they stop at a local convenience store. No sooner do they leave when they are arrested, presumably for inadvertently shoplifting a can of tuna. The two unfortunate youths wind up facing trial for the murder of a store clerk and face a possible death sentence. They have no money for an attorney. The good news is that Bill has a lawyer in his family, his Cousin Vinny. The bad news is that Vinny is an inexperienced attorney who has never been to trial.
Aided by his savvy, firebrand fiancée, Mona Lisa Vito, Vinny must prevail over some very tough opposition in order to prove his clients’ innocence. He must overcome the testimony of three eyewitnesses, a bulldog sheriff, an FBI forensics expert, a very competent district attorney, and an uncompromising judge who’s just aching to prove Vinny a fraud.
If you thought Vinny and Lisa were funny on the big screen, just wait until you start turning pages. Updated with added scenes and even more laughs, this literary version of MY COUSIN VINNY will have you rolling on the floor. Are we sure? Yeah, we’re pos-i-tive!
Author Lawrence Kelter spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing his hilarious novel, MY COUSIN VINNY:
By David Healey
Imagine riding Amtrak’s fastest train, the Acela. Inside, the seats are comfortable and the coaches are well appointed. This is no tired train hauling commuters up and down the East Coast corridor. Your fellow passengers are interesting and you strike up a captivating conversation with the lawyer beside you. Beyond the windows, the landscape—like time itself—passes in a blur because you are so caught up in the train, the trip, the conversation.
AN ENGINEERED INJUSTICE by William L. Myers Jr. is about as close as one can get to such an exciting train ride, short of purchasing a pricey Acela ticket. Considering that this new legal thriller is fast-paced, tightly written, and inspired by a real-life railroad disaster, it’s probably no surprise that Myers’ previous novel, A Criminal Defense, remained in the top 10 list for Amazon’s Kindle sales for much of 2017 and into 2018. Currently, the novel has more than 5,000 reader reviews on Amazon.
His new book is just as much of a thrill ride. Young lawyer Vaughn Coburn finds himself obligated to represent his cousin, Eddy, in the wake of an Amtrak train wreck in which many die and many more are injured. Vaughn has a dark family secret that compels him to help Eddy, even when the job is going to make him very unpopular. A steamy relationship with a lawyer from a rival firm adds further complications.
There’s a lot going on here, and for good reason. Myers called AN ENGINEERED INJUSTICE a plot-driven novel, following the up-and-down fortunes of a trial. There is also what he described as a “sense of peril” because one of the victims of the train crash was the son of a vicious mobster. One of Vaughn’s challenges is to persuade the mobster not to seek his own rough justice until all of the facts are known.
Recently, the author shared some insights into his new book, writing in general, and how he became one of Amazon’s top bestselling authors seemingly overnight with his first novel.
That’s the text message Supreme Court Justice Arnold Hirschfeld receives as hearings commence in the U.S. Supreme Court to determine the fate of the 28th Amendment – enacted to criminalize abuse of power on the part of our political representatives.
In court to defend the amendment, retired U.S. District Court Judge Cyrus Brooks observes his old friend and law school classmate Hirschfeld acting strangely and dispatches veteran D.C. homicide detective Frank Lotello to find out why.
In the meantime, Hirschfeld’s precocious and feisty 11-year-old diabetic granddaughter Cassie, brutally kidnapped to control her grandfather’s swing vote upholding or invalidating the amendment, watches her insulin pump running dry and wonders which poses her greatest threat, the kidnappers or the clock. As Brooks is forced to choose between saving our nation or saving the girl.
The Big Thrill caught up with bestselling author Ronald S. Barak to discuss his legal thriller, THE AMENDMENT KILLER:
When her therapist Doctor Austin Winchester, whom she had begun to develop feelings for, is arrested and charged with the violent murder of her friend Kara Pedrosa, Grace reluctantly takes on his case for her law firm of Kendall, Francois, and Larosa.
She goes up against brilliant Miami-Dade prosecutor Perry MacAlister, a former colleague whom she still considers a friend. He’s as tough as they come and believes he has a slam dunk case against Dr. Winchester.
In order to prove otherwise, Grace must call upon all of her skills, faith, and gut instincts to win an acquittal in the face of uncertainties and mixed loyalties.
The intriguing storyline and unexpected outcome will keep readers engrossed from beginning to end.
Prolific author R. Barri Flowers took time out of his busy schedule to discuss his latest novel with The Big Thrill, DEADLY DEFENSE:
By Rick Reed
In J.D. Trafford’s LITTLE BOY LOST, his fourth legal thriller, Attorney Justin Glass’s practice is housed in a shabby office on the north side of Saint Louis. He isn’t doing so well that he can afford to work for free. But when eight-year-old Tanisha Walker offers him a jar full of change to find her missing brother, he doesn’t have the heart to turn her away.
In his search, Glass confronts issues of race, power, and poverty in a city coming apart. As simmering racial tensions explode into violence, Justin finds himself caught in the tide. He gives voice to the discontent plaguing the city’s forgotten and ignored, and vows to search for the killer who preys upon them. LITTLE BOY LOST tells the story of what happens when troubled boys go missing and nobody, including the police, bothers to look.
Award-winning author J.D. Trafford, described as “a writer of merit” by Mystery Scene magazine, has topped numerous Amazon bestseller lists, including reaching #1 in the Legal Thrillers category. IndieReader selected his debut novel, No Time to Run, as a bestselling pick. Trafford graduated with honors from a top-twenty law school, and he has worked as a civil and criminal prosecutor, as an associate at a large national law firm, and as a nonprofit attorney. He’s handled issues of housing, education, and poverty in communities of color. Prior to law school, he worked in Washington, DC, and lived in Saint Louis, Missouri. He now lives with his wife and children in the Midwest, and he bikes whenever possible.
LITTLE BOY LOST received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, and is now available for pre-order, and due to be released August 1, 2017.
By Rick Reed
OPEN THE DOOR is Diana Deverell’s fifth novel in her latest thriller series. Nora Dockson is an ex-con who pulled herself out of the gutter and became a lawyer dedicated to rescuing innocent women trapped by the flawed process that put them behind bars.
OPEN THE DOOR draws Nora into new legal territory. Her first cases were for men convicted of sexual assault and murder where she relied on advances in DNA testing to build their appeals. Nora found women typically are convicted of crimes where DNA evidence is irrelevant. Nora’s been doggedly looking for other ways to free her innocent sisters.
Nora is asked to drop all of her cases to represent a private client convicted of poisoning her husband. The motive for this murder is a big insurance payoff. Nora politely refuses. She has a full caseload of women desperate for help. Most of these women are impoverished mothers jailed for murdering their children. In contrast, the reckless and privileged new client, Hunter Logan, can well afford to hire the best appeals lawyer in the state of Washington. Hunter doesn’t need Nora. But when Nora learns more, she realizes Hunter’s legal battle is one she’s spent her whole life getting ready to fight.
When FBI agents barge into the home of Sidney Cranmer, accusing him of possession of child pornography, the respected literature professor’s life becomes a nightmare. Cranmer insists the illicit material is not his, but the charge appears airtight, and his academic specialty—the works of suspected pedophile Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland—convinces investigators he is lying.
The Honorable David S. Norcross regrets not recusing himself from this routine criminal case, especially considering that his girlfriend, Claire Lindemann, knows the defendant and is convinced he is innocent. Soon, she will take matters into her own hands. Meanwhile, a family tragedy leaves Norcross responsible for his two young nieces, and a separate investigation identifies a murderous predator still at large. Now Judge Norcross must navigate through a maelstrom of deceit, revenge, and unspeakable evil looming over everyone he loves.
THE ONE-EYED JUDGE author, Michael Ponsor, chatted with The Big Thrill about latest legal thriller:
The brutal murder of sixteen-year-old Kelly Braden sends shockwaves through a community—and an intellectually disabled man to jail. The only witness to Kelly’s murder is the five-year-old cousin she was babysitting. The young girl names their neighbor, Jack Osgood, as the bat-wielding criminal. Two decades later, Osgood faces execution.
Defense Attorney Dani Trumball and her partner, investigator Tommy Noorland, are summoned to the Georgia prison where Osgood is on death row. With no friends or family of his own, there is no one left to believe Jack didn’t kill Kelly, except Dani and her Help Innocent Prisoners Project. With a mentally disabled son of her own, defending Osgood could be her most heartrending case yet.
While fighting a system that blocks her attempts to overturn his conviction, Dani must race to identify the real killer before Osgood’s time runs out—and the murderer strikes again.
The Big Thrill caught up with author Marti Green to discuss her latest novel, JUSTICE DELAYED:
Author Cara Putman introduces a bright new protagonist in her latest novel BEYOND JUSTICE, a legal thriller that is both suspenseful and unique.
When Hayden McCarthy is assigned a wrongful death case against the government, she isn’t sure if it’s the lucky break she needs to secure a partnership in her law firm or the case that will guarantee she never gets it.
The woman knows firsthand the pain that comes when justice is not served. That’s why she became a lawyer. But as Putman explains, Hayden is not a crusader, at least not in her own mind: “She’s a hardworking gal with vision for where she wants to go. She doesn’t see herself as a heroine but someone just taking the next step forward.”
Most legal thrillers set the hero against a crazed maniac or evil corporation. In this case, the bad guys are federal, and Putman notes that making the government the enemy actually complicated the plot. “I really needed the case to be tried in the Court of Federal Claims,” Putman says, “but that meant I had to put on my legal hat and come up with a novel but believable legal theory. Only the government can be the defendant in that particular court, but that court doesn’t hear murder or wrongful death cases. So that became a big, but not insurmountable, challenge for Hayden.”
The downward spiral begins when Jake’s client, Miami Dolphins’ running back Thunder Thurston, is cleared of murdering his wife. Jake didn’t expect to win, didn’t want to win, since he is sure his client is guilty. When Thurston walks free, Lassiter vows to seek his own kind of justice. Vigilante justice.
Law partners Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord can’t believe their friend has become so obsessed with killing Thurston. Convinced Jake’s unhinged behavior is due to concussions suffered during his pro football career, they beg him to seek treatment. But as Lassiter’s fixation on vengeance grows, Solomon and Lord wonder if they’re too late to help. Is it game over for Jake’s career…and his life?
Author Paul Levine recently spent time with The Big Thrill discussing his latest novel, BUM LUCK:
Dorian Robert-Houdin, the three-and-a-half-foot gargoyle chef who fancies himself a modern-day Poirot, is slowly turning into stone, and it’s up to Zoe Faust to unravel the alchemical secrets that can save him. From Portland to Paris, Zoe searches for the hidden knowledge she needs, but a cold case harkening back to 1942 throws her off course. With an ailing friend desperately trying to discover his elixir of life and a new romantic interest offering the first chance at love she’s had in nearly a century, Zoe is torn between a dangerous form of alchemy and her desire for a safer life. Library Journal gives the Accidental Alchemist series “High marks for a modern twist on an ancient practice,” including the third book in the series, THE ELUSIVE ELIXIR.
Gigi tells us the Accidental Alchemist mysteries begin when centuries-old alchemist Zoe Faust, a loner who’s been running from her past for decades, falls in love with Portland, Oregon. Zoe decides to stop running and stay, but her new friends become more important to her than she imagined. In the first book in the series, her defenses were up. In THE ELUSIVE ELIXIR, Zoe has so much more to lose because of the people she loves.
One of the challenges for amateur sleuth authors is to create a compelling reason for the protagonist to get involved—generally at great personal risk—in solving the crime. Gigi says,
“Though Zoe isn’t a detective, she’s on a quest to save the life of her best friend who’s dying an unnatural death because of a dangerous form of alchemy. That quest creates a secondary mystery, causing Zoe to get involved in solving crimes she would otherwise stay away from.”
Gigi avoids the “Cabot Cove” syndrome (people dying all around the sleuth) by having trouble find her rather than having Zoe seek it. “Since Zoe is a secret alchemist, her past catches up with her in Oregon. By bringing ancient alchemy to the modern world, I’m having fun melding historical alchemy parallels with a community feeling in present-day Portland.”
In Jack Murphy’s experience, the killers who blend in are the hardest to catch. But none are as elusive—or efficient—as Mr. Smith. A man of average height, weight and build, Mr. Smith is as ordinary as his name. Which makes it easy for him to get close to his targets. To kill without conscience. To use every weapon at his disposal to raise the stakes in a global game of terror and death. Mr. Smith is no ordinary killer. But Jack Murphy is no ordinary cop . . .
Author Rick Reed took time out of his busy schedule to discuss THE HIGHEST STAKES with The Big Thrill:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
This book is about political power and the lengths to which some will go to achieve it. I don’t want my readers to think I’m against all politics, or that I have known someone like the politician in this book. Quite the opposite. I have found most of them to be honorable and dedicated to their work. But corrupt makes a better theme—don’t you think?
When it comes to writing mysteries, John Hegenberger doesn’t mess around. He has authored three series in three different historical time periods: Stan Wade, LAPI in 1959; Eliot Cross, a Columbus-based PI in 1988; and Ace Hart, a western gambler from Wyoming to Arizona in 1877.
In SUPERFALL, Hegenerger’s latest Stan Wade installment is set in 1959 Hollywood. America’s TV superhero takes a bullet to the head in an apparent suicide. But was it really suicide? And is he really dead? PI Wade battles the mob, Federal agents, and the Soviets, taking readers on a supersonic ride “faster than a speeding bullet.”
In the following interview, Hegenberger shares with readers of The Big Thrill different aspects of his prolific writing life and the historical themes that permeate his several mystery series.
The reviews for SUPERFALL have been very positive with descriptors such as “a rollicking trip,” “faster than a speeding bullet,” and “a ripping adventure.” What additional adjective (or adjectives) would you use to set the book apart from others on the market?
I’ve coined the term “Noirstalgic” to indicate all the troupes of noir fiction, plus a funny thing happened on the way to the mean streets. Witty, droll, clever, and suspenseful; that’s what I aim for in most cases.
You ask a lot of legitimate questions and I apologize in advance for being a wise guy, but that is what hard-boiled PI’s do, right? They crack wise … which partially explains why Spyfall, an earlier entry in the series, won a recent Comedy Mystery award.
A Searing Stand-Alone Thriller on Legal Conscience
By Dawn Ius
In the seventh grade, a young Robert Dugoni delivered a speech that would forever change the course of his life.
Assigned to write an essay on the topic of slavery, Dugoni chose to take the position of an apologist—a person who offers an argument in defense of a controversial topic. He worked hard on the paper, digging deep into the research and carefully crafting the words he was sure would impress his teacher, Sister Kathleen.
At the end of his speech, she silently curled her finger back and forth, motioning for him to follow her out of the room, where his peers clapped as he retreated from one class to another, delivering his speech for a second time, again to a virtually speechless crowd of his peers.
It was then that he came upon two realizations: he had written something pretty impressive; and, writing was something that he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
Unfortunately, Dugoni was the middle-ish child in a family of ten “compulsive overachievers” who were either studying to become doctors or marrying doctors, and rather than cop to his true passion, he “wrote” his way into law school with journalism, and eventually embodied the career that satisfied his family’s expectations.
A “charade” that lasted more than a decade.
“The desire to write never went away,” Dugoni says. “But the idea of writing a novel while practicing law seemed so impossible to me—unless you’re Scott Turow. I couldn’t do both.”
So, in the midst of one semi-tipsy evening of self-reflection, Dugoni impulsively called the local theater company and signed up for…acting.
By Sheila Lowe
In the sixth book of the Forensic Handwriting mysteries, what should have been a routine afternoon on the witness stand for handwriting expert Claudia Rose turns into a shocking assault that leaves her traumatized. Then her getaway to the UK lands her in trouble with the FBI and New Scotland Yard—Detective Joel Jovanic’s homicide case has followed Claudia to London where she finds herself unexpectedly allied with the chief suspect.
I’m not a good traveler. More to the point, I’m a hermit who is happiest home alone behind my computer keyboard. But last year, when I learned that my younger son was getting married in Germany, of course I had to leave my hermitude and make the trip. Ben, who was a rock star, had met Tuba, a stunning (inside and out) Turkish-German woman and decided to settle down. Or, as he put it, “trade in his leather pants for a polo shirt.”
Coincidentally, I’d received an invitation to lecture two days after the wedding at a meeting of the British Institute of Graphologists. I’ve lived in the US for most of my life, but I’m British-born and consider England home (my many political posts on Facebook notwithstanding, I still carry a green card). I decided to set some of my book there and happily accepted. Thus, the wedding trip became a research trip, too (not to mention a tax write-off.)
Set in the ancient town of Bad Homburg, the wedding could not have been more perfect. Maybe it was the influence of the five-hundred year-old homes and the castle, but even my ex-husband and I got along for four whole days, a record. I’d flown to Germany with my older son, Erik, and his girlfriend. They stayed on, while I made the one-hour flight from Frankfurt to London—my very first solo trip overseas. This hermit was inordinately pleased with herself.
At Heathrow, I boarded the Express train to Paddington, where I discovered that the hotel room I had booked at the meeting venue was the size of a walk-in closet. The headboard and footboard of the twin bed touched each side wall and the bathroom could have worked in a cruise ship cabin (a small one.) But when I woke on Sunday morning in that tiny bed, childhood memories flooding over me, I couldn’t stop grinning and saying, “I’m in London!”
Murder in New York’s Garment District
By Dawn Ius
Each of Linda Fairstein’s Alex Cooper crime novels is set in an iconic part of New York —from the opera house to Lincoln Center, and all points inbetween.
In KILLER LOOK, Fairstein’s 18th book in the bestselling series, she tackles the Garment District with a thrilling exploration of the city’s famous fashion industry. But this is no clichéd catwalk drama or model in distress story. Instead, Fairstein goes behind the scenes to uncover the dark underbelly of the industry’s business core.
“One of the challenges was to not write about the runway model as a victim,” she says. “That’s been done, and overdone. But the Garment District has been on my mind for a long time, in part fueled by my own love of fashion.”
A lunch meeting with an industry insider solidified the story, confirming that not only was there motive for murder in the fashion business, but the beauty industry as a whole is reputed to be one of the most cut throat. As Fairstein learned, fortunes are spent outsourcing cheap labor for what is now a four-trillion-dollar industry.
“That’s trillion with a T,” she says. “When I read that, it was a real wake-up call.”
But motive was only part of the equation. After writing 17 previous Alex Cooper thrillers, Fairstein had fictionally murdered people in every which way possible. Tapping into the knowledge of an old police friend she met during her 30 years as a lawyer in New York’s prosecutor’s office, Fairstein was fortunate to score a relatively new method of death.
“I did a lot of research on creating the perfect suicide,” she says, which is of course, how KILLER LOOK starts.
The novel also begins with Fairstein’s beloved protagonist at her most vulnerable. After the traumatic events of the previous book, Devil’s Bridge, “Coop” must now cope with having been the victim of a horrifying kidnapping. Perpetually drunk and deeply depressed, Cooper is far from on top of her game, forcing Fairstein to humanize her in a way that was nearly too painful to write.
LOVE HER MADLY, the debut novel by author, M. Elizabeth Lee, is more than a thriller—it examines the demands inherent in meaningful relationships and just how much one is willing to sacrifice for the sake of true friendship.
Glo, Cyn, and Raj are college students whose lives become entwined through the love they feel for one another. At first, their unorthodox relationship seems to work, but when Cyn disappears while on a trip to Costa Rica, things get complicated.
This month, I chatted with Lee to get the scoop on what inspired this thrilling debut, and what readers can expect from her next.
What inspired you to write LOVE HER MADLY?
The seed of the novel came to me when I was backpacking in Costa Rica with my husband. We had this long day of terrible travel luck, trying to get from one distant town to another with buses that were late or didn’t arrive at all, leaving us scrambling to find our way down the coast. Sixteen hours or so of bumpy bus rides and sweltering waiting rooms provided a lot of time to daydream, and somewhere between the second ferry trip and the hour-long slog uphill to our hostel, the idea of a romantic rivalry, where one friend goes missing and the other is left to explain, had taken root.
Were any, or at least one, of the main characters in LOVE HER MADLY based on someone you know?
I didn’t model any of the characters after anyone I’ve known. They are pure inventions who began as little more than the bud of an idea; Glo the “good girl”, Cyn, the “wild one,” who burst to life in my imagination as the story gradually took shape. I don’t know where exactly they came from, but their personalities seemed fully formed. It was my job to put them on the page, and I immediately knew when I had taken a false step, almost like they were standing behind me shaking their heads. The intense friendship between Glo and Cyn is the beating heart of the novel, so it was immensely important that they ring true. Female friendships are so monumental, yet the lasting effects of losing a close friend are seldom explored as thoroughly as the consequences of a romantic breakup. LOVE HER MADLY aims to show how this type of loss can really change a person and the way they see the world.