Ingrid Thoft's debut thriller, Loyalty, introduces P.I. Fina Ludlow, a fearless pursuer of the truth and somewhat outcast member of a truly dysfuctional (and very powerful) family. When her brother's wife goes missing, the Ludlows call in Fina's special talents to crack the case—but her search digs deep and tests those familial bonds.
Thoft's research into the world of private investigation led her to attend and graduate from the University of Washington P.I. program. This unique insight makes Loyalty all the more realistic and more thrilling. We chatted with Thoft about P.I. school, her femme fatale Fina and more.
Why did you decide to attend and graduate from a certificate program in private investigation? Do many authors go so far in their research? Does it give you an edge?
Before writing Loyalty, I was working on a series that featured an amateur sleuth. As much as I loved writing that character, I felt limited by her amateur status. I decided to create a professional private investigator but needed to learn the rules of private investigation before my character broke some of them! Fina makes her own rules, but does so knowingly, not because she’s incompetent. The University of Washington had recently started their certificate program in private investigation, so I enrolled and learned the tricks of the trade. There were no other writers in the class, but I highly recommend that kind of research. It gave me a good understanding of the profession, and it was lots of fun!
What's the coolest thing you learned in the P.I. program?
One of the cases that stands out was part of a presentation done by a scientist from the Washington State Police crime lab. She discussed trace evidence and the idea that we all leave things behind wherever we’ve been and pick something up from that location as well, whether it’s fiber, hair or residue of some sort. Her example was ash from the Mount St. Helen’s eruption. The ash that was deposited into a suspect’s car filter could only have come from a particular place at a particular time. Suspects can be fastidious and cunning, but you can’t outsmart Mother Nature!
Do you ever use your P.I. skills in daily life—either intentionally or unintentionally?
I think that both good P.I.s and writers are observant and aware of their surroundings. They use those skills for different purposes, but the ability to have an open mind and take in a variety of information is an asset in both lines of work. In particular, the certificate program educated me about the online resources that exist for gathering information—things like property ownership and criminal records. I’ve been known to do a little digging, but nothing illegal. Two of the random tips I heed to this day are to walk in crosswalks (if you’re hit by a car you’ll have a stronger lawsuit) and to avoid driving in front of tractor trailer trucks. According to an accident reconstructionist who spoke, approximately 50% have faulty brakes. Yikes!
"I’ve been known to do a little digging, but nothing illegal."
Do you possess the attributes of a great P.I.? Would you make a good P.I. if you had to give up writing?
I possess some of the necessary skills: I’m observant, organized and comfortable talking with people from all walks of life, but I’m not a thrill seeker and definitely not as brave as Fina. I think I would make a solid P.I., but I would never enjoy it as much as writing, so here’s hoping this works out!
Fina is one fearless girl in a male-dominated world. What do you think readers will like most about her?
I think her courage—both physical and in terms of standing up for her beliefs—appeals to readers. Fina says what many of us think and lives her life boldly, if recklessly, at times. But for all of her bravery, she is vulnerable when it comes to the people she loves and anyone she perceives as being an underdog. She doesn’t pretend that she always knows the best course of action or the right answer, but she muddles through and makes the best decision possible, and I think readers can relate to this. In general, people try to do the best they can, and that’s what she does in her own uniquely, imperfect way.
Fina’s walking a fine line between loyalty to her family and doing the right thing. How is she able to navigate that line? How do you approach that line in your own life?
She doesn’t always navigate it gracefully; she checks in with herself often to determine what she can live with and what decisions would keep her up at night. Although Fina massages the truth when it suits her, she’s very honest with herself. There are some things she can’t tolerate, and she’d rather suffer the consequences than keep certain secrets or abet certain behaviors. For her, it’s a matter of identifying the lesser of two evils.
In terms of my own life, thank goodness my family has never made demands on me that require a crisis of conscience! I was definitely raised to value making a good choice versus upholding the status quo or going along with the crowd. Fina and I both believe that there’s no comfort in numbers if you aren’t happy with yourself.
Boston reveals a seedy underbelly in Loyalty, with mobsters and madams running the show. Why is Boston such a great setting for these dark deeds?
Boston offers writers so many opportunities for creating layered, interesting characters who inhabit various mini worlds. There’s the city’s history, its blue-blood roots, ethnic neighborhoods with their strong ethnic pride, medicine, technology, the arts, higher education and even professional sports. These are wonderful pools to dip into and from them, a writer can populate a story with a variety of characters who realistically may pass one another on any given day on the city streets. The city is rich with possibility.
What do you know about writing now that you didn’t know before publishing your first novel?
I don’t think I appreciated how much work goes into the publication of a novel before witnessing that process first-hand. So many people are involved at every stage, working incredibly hard to make the book as good as it can be and working to connect readers with it.
And I finally understand why books have typos! I used to wonder, as a reader, how misprints would slip by in the publication process, but I totally get it; after reading your own book a dozen times, your eyes glaze over! That’s why it’s important to have lots of eyes on the page. Hopefully, someone else will catch the errors I missed.
What’s next for Fina?
Fina’s next big case finds her embroiled in an investigation that poses new complicated questions: What makes you who you are? Are you defined by what you have or what you’re lacking? She grapples with these issues, and of course, the Ludlows continue to complicate her life. But she still has fun and doesn’t shy away from a fight. There’s never a dull moment with Fina.