Lisa Sandlin's debut mystery opens in 1973, 14 years after Delpha Wade was convicted of killing one of two men who were raping her. Delpha's just been released on parole, and she takes the first job she can get, as secretary for Tom Phelan’s brand new detective agency. Their first case is all classic noir, with a missing boy, the stakeout of a cheating husband and a mysteriously poisoned dog.
I can't think of a better book to recommend to fans of J.K. Rowling's Robert Galbraith mystery series (The Cuckoo's Calling), as Delpha and Phelan are the toughest, most unforgettable detective team since Robin and Cormoran Strike. Sandlin's prose is as well crafted as it is readable, and there's something about The Do-Right that feels like a classic mystery that has been brilliantly contemporized.
"Have to be honest with you, Miss Wade. Think I already found a secretary."
No disappointment in those blue eyes, no hope either. She just passed a certificate with a gold seal across the desk. The paper said she typed seventy words a minute, spoke shorthand, could do double entry. The brunette with the Dusty Springfield voice claimed all that too, but she'd backed it up with a giggle, not a diploma from Gatesville.
"Your first choice of a job a P.I.'s office?"
"My first choice is a job."
Touché. "What number interview would this be for you?"
"I'm flattered. Get off the bus, you come here."
The blue eyes let in a smidgen of light. "That doesn't count the eleven place I applied 'fore they showed me the door. And one other that didn't have what you could call an interview."
No wonder Joe was pushing her. "Had your druthers, where'd you work, Miss Wade?"
"Library. I like libraries. It's what I did there."
There being Gatesville Women's Prison. Now that she'd brought it up. "How many you do?"
Phelan quelled the whistle welling up. That let out check kiting, forgery, embezzling from the till, and dope. He was aabout to ask her the delicate when she handed it to him on a foil tray. "Voluntary manslaughter."
"And you did fourteen?"
"He was very dead, Mr. Phelan."
What are you reading today?
Donald Harstad worked for 26 years as deputy sheriff and chief investigator for the police department of Clayton County, Iowa. Harstad transforms those experiences into thrilling mysteries with his popular Carl Houseman series. The sixth in the series, November Rain, finds Houseman far from his usual heartland setting, as he travels to the UK to consult on a kidnapping case—and to protect his own daughter.
In a guest post, Harstad shares a bit of the real-life inspiration behind November Rain.
I’ve written six novels about a fictional deputy sheriff named Carl Houseman, set in a fictional county in northeast Iowa. Since I was a deputy sheriff for 23 years—in a not-so-fictional county in northeast Iowa—much of the research for my novels involves nothing more complex than sitting at the Sheriff’s Department and talking about the good old days with some of the officers and dispatchers I used to work with.
I certainly never thought I would write a book until I actually wrote my first. One day, as I was working on that book, Eleven Days, I spread some evidence photos out to bring back the ambience of a killing, and it suddenly came to me. Looking at the forlorn little farm house where the body was discovered, I began remembering the enormously long hours, all of them at night, when I was the only officer working in a county of 760 square miles, 1,300 miles of roads, over 2,000 farms and 19 little towns.
Scenarios. That was the key. We were required to patrol and respond to calls. Simple enough, except one did not want to be in Postville when a call came in of a serious crime in North Buena Vista: The distance between them via the best route was more than 60 miles, and a half hour response time was out of the question. Because of such circumstances, I would drive around doing my patrol thing and continuously imagine scenarios and plan response routes and times to other areas in the county, the proximity of ambulance, fire and other police services, and under what circumstances I’d request another officer be called out to assist. The night shift hated to call somebody out on their night off, and then discover it hadn’t been necessary. Shots fired? Who called this one in? Him? He’s always doing something like that, don’t really need another officer. Yet.
On the other hand, shots fired, one man down, another being threatened with a gun, concerned farm wife is watching events unfold through her kitchen window—that one actually happened about 1 A.M., and when I arrived, there was one dead man on the ground, another potential victim had fled into a tall corn field, and the suspect had headed for the barn. I’d called for an ambulance, and two other officers as I responded to the scene.
The first officer arrived 19 minutes after I called. The ambulance came in at 23, and the second officer at 34 minutes after. They hurried. Distance is a real killer, so to speak. I secured the woman witness in my car. The only other car on the place was parked very near the corpse, and she said that was the car that both the suspect and the dead man had come in. So I lit up the barn with my spotlights, and I sat on the hood of my patrol car with my AR-15 until the next cop arrived. It was a long 19 minutes. (We did go in and get him, and the man hiding in the corn emerged just as we were handcuffing the suspect.)
That’s where Eleven Days, my first novel, had originated. Although the plot was much different, the spooky feeling stayed the same, and the old scenarios bore fruit as plots and situations. In my subsequent books, although I used fictitious characters and locations, recalling and re-imagining real-life scenarios always came in very handy. We did have a gaming boat in our county, so when I wrote The Big Thaw, I drew heavily on scenarios regarding possible armed robberies on a river boat casino.
For my latest, November Rain (Crooked Lane Books), I send Carl to London for an assist in a homicide investigation. The whole London scenario is based on one of my trips there, when I discovered that then-President George W. Bush was also in London. Coincidental though it was, the disruption of the London Police Force caused by his visit, and some of the events occurring in London at the time, allowed me to justify Carl going to London in the first place.
Our daughter’s impressions, and some wistful speculation on her part about how she’d like to stay there for a few months, provided more inspiration—not so coincidentally, Carl also has a daughter. That, combined with the fact that you just cannot look anywhere in the greater London area and not find a perfect location for a fine homicide or really cool crime, gave me all I needed to start writing. Mixing that beginning with my personal experiences in law enforcement and several discussions with members of the Metropolitan Police Force became the foundation for fictional officers and conversations. Then, again by coincidence, returning to Elkader, Iowa, and bumping into a person who had personal experience with the U.K.’s MI5 and MI6 intelligence services just put the icing on the cake.
Even today, as I write, it’s memories of the multitude of unique circumstances that I draw upon for many fictional incidents, and the real world responses that would have been generated. Characters’ reactions to events are also authentic, based on people I know and the responses I saw in hugely stressful situations. And, to be fair, actual responses I observed over coffee and donuts.
When I do public appearances I always try to include stories about what really happened, to impart a little additional flavor to whichever novel we’re discussing. Then, sometimes, as I drive back home at night, I find myself running scenarios all over again . . .
Since his retirement, Donald has written six best-selling, critically acclaimed novels featuring Carl Houseman. For more, visit: http://donaldharstadauthor.com
After Go Set a Watchman, perhaps the most hyped book of 2015 was the new Lisbeth Salander novel, The Girl in the Spider's Web. Swedish journalist and author David Lagercrantz continues the late Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy with this authorized sequel, and according to the publisher, 100,000 copies sold on day one, and it has already gone back for a second and third printing. As with Go Set a Watchman, Spider's Web comes with a bit of controversy, as many readers insist Larsson's trilogy shouldn't be continued in his absence. Lagercrantz has compared his depiction of Salander to Christopher Nolan's Batman, and thus readers should consider Lagercrantz's Salander a reimagining of Larsson's character. Her motivations should remain true to the original, but the vision belongs to someone new.
Having accepted this, I still found that Lagercrantz's Salander paled in comparison to the original. Perhaps she's too iconic. That being said, the novel itself is thrilling, textured and brilliantly constructed. It's tight and smart as it explores questions of artificial intelligence, with the slow build to Salander and Blomkvist's reunion easily one of the book's greatest highlights.
From the prologue, set one year before the novel's events:
This story begins with a dream, and not a particularly spectacular one at that. Just a hand beating rhythmically and relentlessly on a mattress in a room on Lundagatan.
Yet it still gets Lisbeth Salander out of her bed in the early light of dawn. Then she sits at her computer and starts the hunt.
Readers, what do you think? Will you read Lagercrantz's continuation of the Millennium series?
English professor and YA author Joseph Monninger (Finding Somewhere) dedicated his new book, Whippoorwill, to his late dog, Laika: "Last of the sled dogs. No truer heart ever lived." Whippoorwill drives straight to the heart of dog- and animal-lovers everwhere, with the story of a 16-year-old girl who takes it upon herself to save a dog named Wally.
In a guest post, Monninger shares another story—a myth that captures the "essence of dog."
Here is a myth about a dog. Whippoorwill is about a dog, and this myth gets to the essence of dog. I could tell you about writing Whippoorwill, where I got the idea and so on, but wouldn’t we all prefer a story? I think so.
The Ponte della Maddalena, a bridge in Italy’s Tuscany province, is also known as the Devil’s Bridge. It is a beautiful bridge, and legend holds that the builder, seeing its potential beauty but unable to complete it, invoked the devil to help him. The devil consulted with the builder and promised to help finish the work, but the price would be the first soul to pass over the bridge. The builder consented and the work went along rapidly. The builder, tremendously pleased with himself and with his expanding reputation as a designer and architect, had forgotten about the devil’s bargain until the day before the bridge opened.
“I have come for my soul,” the devil told the builder. “Tomorrow, when the bridge opens, I will take the first soul that crosses.”
The builder, so filled with dread he could not sleep, came to his morning coffee not knowing what to do. He asked God for a sign, though he did not believe God would interfere with the devil’s work. He spoke softly to his wife. He had not told her what Satan required, but he could not be certain he would see her again. He kissed his boy on the forehead, ruffled the youngster’s hair and walked slowly toward the bridge.
He made one stop to buy bread. As he tucked the bread inside his shirt, a dog began to follow him. Many dogs roamed the street in Lucca, and at first the builder took little notice. But then, as he neared the bridge, an idea came to him.
“I am ready to pay my debt,” he announced to the devil.
“Very well,” said the devil, “give me my soul.”
With that, the builder drew the bread and waved it in front of the dog. When the dog could hardly contain itself, the builder threw the loaf across the bridge. The dog sprinted after the bread and the devil, bested by a mere builder who had remembered at the last moment that a human soul had never been stipulated, accepted the dog’s soul and disappeared. The dog, too, vanished, but the bridge remained and may be crossed today without fear and with much admiration for its lovely shape. The dog’s name was not known and therefore could not be forgotten.
If you know a dog, if you’ve ever been in the presence of a fine, true dog, then you know how gladly a dog would give itself to protect its human guardian. I wrote this novel with all the dogs I have ever loved in mind. If someday I should die and go to heaven, and if my dogs are not there to greet me, I’ll ask to go where they are, because dogs—for me, anyway—are the measure of my happiness.
National Suicide Prevention Week is September 6 - 12. Suicide and depression aren't the easiest subjects to talk about, but they're often addressed unflinchingly and thoughtfully in young adult fiction. Ann Jacobus' upcoming debut YA novel, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light, is a haunting and surprising story about a girl in Paris who falls for two boys while struggling with intensely dark inner demons. Along with writing, Jacobus also volunteers weekly on a suicide crisis line. Here she writes about the necessity of speaking honestly and openly about suicide.
It’s National Suicide Prevention Week.
Kindly repeat after me: “Are you feeling suicidal?”
Most people don’t want to ask a depressed friend or family member this question. Even or especially if the person is exhibiting any telltale signs. We’re frightened into silence on the whole subject. We’re also afraid that we might plant the idea in someone’s head.
Believe me, if the idea is not in a person’s head, you won’t be able to put it there unless you’re an incredibly skilled hypnotist.
If the idea of suicide is there, your friend will likely be deeply relieved to acknowledge the truth to you.
At San Francisco Suicide Prevention, a crisis line where I volunteer, we ask this question hundreds of times a day. It gets easy to ask. Many people who call in answer “no.” They just feel depressed and overwhelmed and need someone to listen.
In a nationwide Centers for Disease Control study of tens of thousands of high school students in 2011, almost 30 percent had felt hopeless and depressed for more than two weeks running, just in the previous year. Seventeen percent had seriously considered attempting suicide and 8 percent had attempted. It’s the second leading cause of death for youth ages 15 to 24. That’s a lot of people. You’re likely to know one. They not only have the idea of suicide in their heads but are dealing with the kind of pain and despair that makes dying seem like a viable option, instead of a devastating permanent fix to temporary problems.
The subject of suicide has been a taboo too long (in the West anyway). This diehard stigma has cost us untold numbers of lives and it intensifies the suffering of surviving family.
We can’t address this problem if we can’t talk about it.
Once upon a time, I was one of those high school students seriously considering suicide. I could admit it to no one, and didn’t for many years. I’m grateful and lucky to have gotten through that period alive.
One way to tackle this subject is with stories. Happily, in the last 15 years, more and more books have been written for young people that deal frankly and accurately with suicide and its heartbreaking aftermath. I only had Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, but it did a fine job of reassuring me that I wasn’t alone.
My new YA novel, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light (out from St. Martin’s Press October 6), features an 18-year-old protagonist who is suicidal. It’s fiction—a thriller—but based on hard facts. Stories are how we readers and writers make sense of the world.
I now understand that talking about suicide is up to me, my colleagues at SFSP, those who have survived thinking about or attempting to take their own lives, and all of us worried about depressed and possibly suicidal friends or loved ones.
Let’s talk about it, this week and every week.
Ann Jacobus writes children’s and YA fiction, blogs and tweets about it, teaches writing and volunteers weekly on a suicide crisis line. She graduated from Dartmouth College and earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in San Francisco with her family. Romancing the Dark in the City of Light is her first novel. To learn more, visit: www.annjacobus.com/
Ted Kosmatka's latest novel, The Flicker Men, touches on the role that genetics plays in the age-old argument of free will vs. fate. In this gripping sci-fi thriller, disgraced scientist Eric Argus begins to explore the paradoxical double-slit experiment, and his explorations lead him to the conclusion that only humans possess souls—but not all humans. In a guest post, Kosmatka details how quantum physics inspired The Flicker Men.
Weird doesn’t even begin to cover it.
I remember the first time I heard about the two-slit experiment—that classic illustration found in many science textbooks that delineates so clearly the boundary between that which makes sense in the world of physics and that which does not.
The experiment was originally designed to answer whether light was a wave or a particle, but instead proved it was both. I recall first reading about it in high school—photons changing from waves, to particles, then back to waves—and thinking that it couldn’t possibly really work that way. How could the mere act of observation change the outcome?
The seeds for my novel The Flicker Men were probably sown in my first brush with this strange line of research, but over the years I’ve come to suspect that quantum mechanics isn’t just strange; there’s something fundamentally transcendental about it. To look deeply into quantum mechanics is to look beyond the bounds of ordinary experience. You’re treading on territory where even scientists throw up their hands. Not because they don’t know the answers anymore, but because they do. You can’t argue against quantum mechanics. To be a physicist arguing against quantum mechanics would be like a geneticist arguing against an observable phenotype. It just is. You have to deal with it, make sense of it somehow, even if it can’t possibly be right. And in the end, it all circles back around again to the observer. But what is an observer, exactly?
The Flicker Men began as a way for me to explore this question and was a challenge to write precisely because the answer hinges so clearly on results which have been tested and retested, but which lack an intuitive base from which to extrapolate. Quantum mechanics, to some extent, is a descriptive science. It can be used to predict phenomena, and yet at its core, what it says about the macro world remains unclear. This is perhaps why there are so many different interpretations, so many different theories about what is really going on behind the curtain. In its own way, this book is another one of those theories, though with a healthy dose of storytelling and artistic license tossed in for good measure.
One of the major themes of the book is the revelation of hidden knowledge. There are certain truths that can be explained in different words, and with different frames of reference, and yet still produce a spark of recognition among people as diverse as quantum physicists and gnostic philosophers.
The more I’ve learned over the years, the more I’ve come to realize that different systems of thought behave like the golden ratio found in nautilus shells. Once you see the pattern, you begin to see it other places, too, as if there was some hidden structure to the world all along—and it’s only gradually being revealed to you. The world is a jeweled box. Quantum mechanics is one of its stranger keys.
BookPage is thrilled to reveal the cover for There Is a Tribe of Kids, the upcoming new picture book by Lane Smith! It will be released next spring from Macmillan Children's. Click to view larger.
Lucky devils that we are, we were granted a sneak peek of the book, and readers can expect a rich and absorbing—and very funny—exploration of collective nouns. Smith answered a few questions about the new book:
BookPage: What inspired your new picture book?
Smith: In the summer of 1969 I was an 8-year-old boy living in the foothills of Corona, California. One evening after several hours of exploring caves and climbing rocks I found myself lost and unable to find my way home.
That night I stumbled onto a herd, also called a tribe, of goats. Mostly kids, as their young are called. They shared their food with me and led me to water. If it had not been for these goats who knows what might have happened to me. As the night grew colder, I found warmth in their fur as we huddled together to sleep. In the morning, they led me home.
I never saw them again.
Over the years the memory of this night faded, and I haven’t thought much about it until your question, ‘What inspired There Is a Tribe of Kids?’ I wonder, could There Is a Tribe of Kids have something to do with that time so long ago, that dreamlike night under the stars with that other Tribe of Kids . . . ?
NAH! I think I just wanted to make a book with lots of different animals.
In choosing groups to feature in the book, what do you think is the silliest group name? Most unfair?
I’ve always thought a Murder of Crows was both the coolest collective noun ever and the most unjust. I love crows. I feed them every morning and could watch them all day long. They are smart, clever and funny and don’t seem the slightest bit murderous.
Why is this book important to you?
I don’t know if important is the right word. I try to avoid “statements” with my books. But the fun thing about picture books is you can do something wildly, stylistically different with each one: sometimes realistic, sometimes cartoony, sometimes goofy, sometimes abstract. I wanted this one to be dreamlike but also a believable journey, so the art is a mixture of the scribbly and the rendered. It’s probably the loosest book I’ve done.
What are you most excited about for young readers to discover with your new book?
I think it will be a good book for group discussion. I never really say if the boy in the story is lost and trying to get back to his “tribe,” or if he was born alone and looking for acceptance with different animal groups. It will be fun to hear what young readers think.
If there were a large group of Lane Smiths, what would that group be called?
My wife Molly said, “an Annoyance of Lanes,” but I think she only said that because she wasn’t sure how to spell “an Adorableness of Lanes.”
In lawyer Solange Ritchie's debut thriller, The Burning Man, an investigative powerhouse named Cat confronts the twisted mind of a killer. In a guest blog post, Ritchie explores the perspectives of these two characters.
During the Middle Ages, the discovery of perspective transformed painting from a flat, nuanced medium into a lifelike portrayal of reality. In my first novel, The Burning Man, I wanted to approach the mystery / thriller genre from a different perspective. When I had finished, The Burning Man had two perspectives that I feel give a more lifelike portrayal of reality. The first perspective is from inside the killer’s head, which gives the reader a glimpse into the gyrations of a crazed, murderous mind. The second is a woman trying to navigate a male-dominated profession and balance the ordinary challenges in her family life, all while confronting extraordinary evil. I didn’t want to use the stereotypical male tough-guy protagonist so often found in mysteries.
I am a fan of the genre. I especially like stories with a serial killer component. But while reading them, I always wondered, Why is he doing it? So I set out to create a character of supreme evil and to invite the reader inside the killer’s head as he stalks, seduces, then tortures and kills his victims. The lead investigator, in viewing the Burning Man’s handiwork, worries that he is leaving messages directed at her: “It was like looking at a Picasso or a Van Gogh. One could not begin to understand the artist without first studying the brush strokes . . . the use of color, line, symmetry, light, dark.”
The reader enters the mind and the insanity of the killer as he spins deeper and deeper into depravity and vicious murder, and in doing so learns of the killer’s past and the torture he endured that set him on his course as the Burning Man.
As for my choice in a lead character, I didn’t want to write about another ex-military, hardboiled, testosterone-fueled male homicide detective. I don’t understand that kind of man, and so to be true to myself, I needed a lead character that I and other career women could relate to. Dr. Catherine (Cat) Powers was born.
Cat is the kind of woman I would want as a friend. She is a strong woman, navigating a male-dominated profession. She understands “life balance” in a different way from noir male detectives. While balance to the hardboiled male character may be choosing whether to have another beer at the bar before returning to his messy studio apartment, balance to Cat is figuring out how to do her job while dealing with the challenges of being a divorced mother, whose young son, Joey, has homework and cries as he watches his mother leave to chase yet another serial killer. Through it all, the reader sees that this mother and son share a strong moral core, true grit and an unbreakable bond—even as Joey becomes bait used by the Burning Man to lure Cat into a deadfall trap.
I gravitated to Cat because of my experience in a male-dominated profession. I am a lawyer, and some days when I enter the courtroom, the only women present are the court clerk and the court reporter. I have been subjected to my share of inappropriate “honey” and “sweetheart” comments. I know the “dismissed” feeling of being a woman in a male-dominated arena. I’ve experienced the unspoken rule that a woman must be “more than equal, she must be better,” or she won’t survive. I bring these experiences to Cat’s story to express the challenges that every marginalized group experiences as we strive to succeed in a game with unfair rules.
The Burning Man’s shifts in perspective give a more lifelike feel to my book. Our lives are filled with mundane tasks of seemingly no great consequence that monopolize our attention. The Burning Man is fixated on the extreme and has no room for the mundane. Cat Powers must catch the Burning Man while juggling a world of the mundane. I feel it creates a tantalizing pairing for the reader as they go from inside the killer’s head to inside Cat’s head and back again.
It's been a fantastic month of mysteries and thrillers during Private Eye July, but fall is right around the corner, bringing with it a list of hotly anticipated new crime fiction. Here are just a few we're looking forward to:
The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny
New books in Penny's stellar Chief Inspector Gamache series are always cause for celebration, and the 11th installment returns once again to the little Quebec village of Three Pines for a mystery involving the disappearance of a young boy. Be on the lookout for an interview with Penny in our September issue, and check out all our coverage of her previous books. Out 8/25.
The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz
Our anticipation for the continuation of Stieg Larsson's Millennium series has been building since the news broke in January. The publisher isn't releasing review copies, so we're just as excited as you are to get our hands on a finished copy. Check out all our coverage of the Millennium series. Out 9/1.
Make Me by Lee Child
The new Jack Reacher brings this beloved series to 20. Nuff said. Check out all our coverage of Child's books. Out 9/8.
The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths
We've long been a fan of Griffiths' popular Ruth Galloway series, starring an intrepid mystery-solving archaeologist. Griffiths kicks of a new series set in 1950 Brighton, starring characters inspired by a real-life group of magicians called the Magic Gang. Look for a Q&A with Griffiths in our September issue, and check out all our coverage of her previous books. Out 9/15.
The Killing Lessons by Saul Black
British novelist Glen Duncan (The Last Werewolf) makes a pseudonymous crime fiction debut with a nail-biter of a police procedural starring two sick serial killers and a substance-abusing homicide detective. Check out all our coverage of Duncan's books. Out 9/22.
Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
On the heels of last year's exceptional Cop Town, Slaughter is returning to her original publisher, Morrow, to publisher her 15th novel and her very first psychological thriller. Says Slaughter, "This is a novel about family secrets and betrayals, which can be just as riveting and life-changing as a crime that brings strangers together." Check out all our coverage of Slaughter's books. Out 9/29.
The Guise of Another by Allen Eskens
Eskens' debut novel, The Life We Bury, was a finalist for a long list of awards, including the 2015 Best First Novel Edgar Award. It was a well-loved sleeper, and we're expecting big things from the Minnesota author's second novel. Out 10/6.
Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
Rowling, writing as Galbraith, continues the adventures of Detective Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott with the third in the series. If you haven't gotten into Rowling's traditional mystery series, now's the time. Out 10/20.
Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham
Though the title rings a bit of "30 Rock"'s The Rural Juror, Grisham's latest legal thriller is one we won't miss. Check out all our coverage of Grisham's books. Out 10/20.
Tenacity by S.J. Law
Law served in the Royal Navy for 20 years, spending the latter half of this career in the Submarine Service, so there's no one better to take readers into the depths of a submarine-set thriller. Plus, the protagonist is the only female on board. Out 11/3.
What mysteries are you most looking forward to this fall? Be sure to check out all our mystery coverage.
Sometimes real-life experiences can lead to some truly unforgettable books. This is certainly the case for thriller writer Ed Kovacs, who has studied martial arts, holds many weapons-related licenses, certifications and permits, and is a certified medical First Responder. He now works as an "international security contractor," and here he shares a fascinating—even alarming—peek into some of the hairy situations he's gotten himself into around the world.
As a young boy I recall watching reruns of the TV show “Dangerous Assignment.” The fictionalized intrigue that played out in exotic locations every week struck a chord in me. Little did I know that I'd eventually spend years of my life on the road or overseas living through my own intrigues. Nor did I realize that I'd become a writer whose real life experiences on the edge would provide me with such good material for my thriller novels.
When I flew into New Orleans in a private jet with eleven other heavily armed security operators after Hurricane Katrina struck, writing a novel wasn't on my mind. I worked in dangerous environments and horrible conditions, and while doing so, learned about the last murder in New Orleans just before the hurricane struck. A murder with a missing corpse, no forensic evidence, and a destroyed crime scene sounded like a good premise to me, and ultimately resulted in my Cliff St. James crime novel trilogy, beginning with Storm Damage.
While researching my first novel, Unseen Forces, I traveled to Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle and crossed illegally into Burma (now Myanmar) to meet with a rebel group fighting the military dictatorship. When I got back to Mae Hong Song, Thailand, an employee of my hotel warned me there was a contract on my head from a local drug lord who suspected me of being an undercover DEA agent.
I was once taken into custody in Mongolia and accused (falsely) of antiquities smuggling. In Russia, I was detained at the airport in Irkutsk and not allowed to leave because my papers weren't in order. I came way too close to falling to my death in a cave in Belize, and once got lost in the jungle and accidentally crossed the border into Guatemala while trying to find a Mayan ruin.
I travel for research, adventure or to work on security contracts. I've had guns pointed at me many times. One of the most dangerous places I worked, believe it or not, was the U.S.-Mexico border. Gunfights are common. I had weapons aimed at me by cartel lookouts, soldiers and Mexican police. Due to our rules of engagement at the time, I knew I was simply in God's hands.
Beheadings and “stewings” are common down there. The bad guys will take a person and put them into a 55-gallon steel barrel, then add gasoline and lye flakes and seal the lid. An acid is created that dissolves a human being down to teeth and bones. The stewing thing made it into my novel, Burnt Black.
I've been to Russia many times. I worked with Russian military and intelligence people, and that helped me with material for my latest book, The Russian Bride. The villain is physically based on an acquaintance of mine, Viktor Kubetkin, a former KGB agent who operated undercover in London.
I've been to the Middle East, Africa, South and Central America, all over Asia and have had many close calls. Not that I go looking for trouble. I go looking for nuggets of gold; the characters I meet and situations I find myself in is the payoff that I file away to incorporate into my books.
Ed Kovacs is the author of five published thriller novels including his latest from Minotaur, The Russian Bride. He is currently on deployment in Eastern Europe as a security contractor. His website is www.edkovacs.com.
Author photo credit Neungreuthai Chanphonsean.
Discover more great new mysteries and thrillers during Private Eye July.