This year's best crime fiction debuts kept us entertained and on the edges of our seats as if they were authored by seasoned pros.
We had no idea how much we craved a new curmudeonly private detective and his girl Friday until Sidney Grice and March Middleton entered the scene via British author Kasasian's new series. After 21-year-old March's father dies, she moves in with the celebrated and socially inept Grice. March is outspoken and whipsmart—an unlikely even match to Grice. Together they investigate the murder of a young woman, and the result is an enjoyable mystery that relishes the darker elements of Victorian London, a classic setting that can't keep its dirty little secrets from this unlikely sleuthing team. Read our review.
The Ways of the Dead by Neely Tucker
Washington Post staffer Tucker, author of memoir Love in the Driest Season, drew on his own experiences as a reporter to craft an edgy and tense thriller set in 1990s Washington, D.C. When a politically connected judge's daughter turns up dead, three young black men are arrested. This seems a bit suspicious to world-weary reporter Sully Carter, who sees a connection between the girl's murder and several other cold cases. Tucker's debut stands out for its ingenious, multilayered plotting, its juicy depiction of shady journalism and its thoughtful exploration of questions of race and class. Above all, Tucker's dialogue is in a league of its own. Our Whodunit columnist called it "textured and nuanced," and compared it to the work of Elmore Leonard, James Crumley and George Pelecanos. Read our review.
Northeastern Pennsylvania author Bouman perfectly captures the dark and dilapidated milieu of rural PA in his debut thriller, bringing to life all the sadness and—somehow—good humor that permeate a region poisoned by poverty and drug use. Things start to change when corporations begin buying up all the land for fracking and gas drilling, which introduces some wealth to the region as well as a new set of problems. Meanwhile Officer Henry Farrell, already quite busy struggling with his own demons, is trying to track down the killer of an unknown victim. Then Henry's deputy is found dead, and tension in this already-suspicious community begins to rise. It's a sad story, but Bouman's storytelling is so seamless and his prose so poetic, we don't mind a little heartbreak. Read our review.
Ten years after she was convicted of her mother's murder, Janie Jenkins has been released from prison on a technicality. But Janie didn't kill her mother, at least she doesn't think so. She was, however, found covered in her mother's blood, and the two didn't exactly get along. Now a notorious criminal, Janie sets out to prove her innocence, armed with a false identity and the smallest of leads. It's a great thriller based on plot alone, but Little's voice is what makes this one so special. It's been called stylish, sassy and assured; our reviewer called it "one of the cheekiest voices in recent memory." Whatever you call it, it's one of a kind, and we can't wait to see more of it. Read our review.
A one-night stand resulted in Mia Dennett's kidnapping, but her abductor inexplicably takes her to a remote cabin in the woods rather than turn her over to the guy in charge. After Mia returns home, she cannot seem to recall all the details of her experience. Kubica's intricately plotted debut alternates between past and present—before and after Mia's abduction—and multiple perspectives: Mia’s mother, Eve; Mia's abductor, Colin; and Gabe, the detective on the case. This is a puzzler on par with Gone Girl, so expect to be surprised. Read our review and a Q&A with Kubica.
Hampton Sides' true-life Arctic thriller, In the Kingdom of Ice is our August Top Pick in nonfiction.
Sides, best-selling author of Blood and Thunder and Ghost Soldiers, displays his knack for narrative history yet again as he chronicles the journey of American officer George Washington De Long and his crew of 33 aboard the USS Jeannette. The crew set out from San Francisco in 1879, hoping to prove the popular theory that the polar sea was free of ice past the Bering Strait, but those hopes are soon dashed when the Jeannette becomes trapped in ice—where it stayed for the next 21 months.
Drawing on newly available letters, diaries, journals and other archives as well as his own first-hand experience in the Arctic terrain, Sides delivers an utterly spellbinding tale that's sure to keep you reading into the wee hours.
Watch the trailer from Doubleday below:
What do you think, readers? Are you interested in this heroic and harrowing tale?
There's something ominous circling the three characters in David Shafer's debut novel, but quite frankly, I haven't been giving it much attention. I've been far too caught up in Shafer's unrelenting humor—which is wicked and dark, just how I like it—and his spotless characterization. That being said, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot also fulfills all the requirements of an outstanding technothriller, with pulsing strains of paranoia and those all-seeing technological powers-that-be.
The story centers around 30-somethings Leila, Leo and Mark. Leo and Mark were friends at Harvard, but Leo is now a bit of a loser, while Mark is a phony self-help guide who works for the Committee, a data collection agency that seeks to privatize all information. Leila is a disillusioned nonprofit worker on the other side of the world. The only thing keeping the Committee from its goal is a secret underground Internet called Dear Diary. With jabs at every political angle, a love story and plenty of cool tech, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a pageturner of the highest order.
Read on for an excerpt from Leo's first scene:
There was no one even near Leo when he flew from his bike. His mind cast about for a culprit, for someone to blame other than himself. The bike just ceased its forward motion and he did not. How surprising, how nifty physics was. And as he trebucheted toward a four-inch curb, aware at once that his meeting with it would be physically calamitous, he remembered that he was wearing no helmet, and his surprised turned to fear. A month ago, at a party to which his friend Louis had brought him, Leo had heard (well, overheard) the host claiming that he wasn't afraid of death. That particular claim seemed to Leo to be demonstrably false. So, costumed as Jesus (for this was a Halloween party), Leo had decided to explore the man's reasoning. Not afraid of death, huh? My, that must make you a real psychopath. But he had seen almost immediately that he should not have told the man that he was like a Holocaust denier. "I said like a Holocaust denier. Like," he protested lamely when Louis escorted him out of the party and told him to enjoy the bracing walk home dressed as Jesus.
No, thought Leo, as he landed his right hand, fingertips first, on the cold nubbly of the curb, I am definitely more than a body, but I believe I am less than a soul.
Then, with a fluid agility that hadn't been his in years, Leo tucked his head and vertical body behind the leading edge of his rounded arm. Some latent muscle memory from five months of jujitsu at the McBurney YMA on West Sixty-Third Street from when he was ten? Leo seemed to recall that this YMCA had in fact served the adventurous class of men described in the song. Now, he felt a point beneath his stomach become the axis of his spinning mass, and he knew to use that dragony breath to take the hit when, after about 120 degrees, his trunk met the sidewalk, hard. Next was his hip and ass, which rolled over not just the concrete but also a busted padlock on the scene by chance. Then came his knees and feet, with a thwack. That was followed by his trailing left arm, which lay down gently, and his gloved palm, which landed and sprang back, the way a conguero lands a hand on the taut hide of his drum.
Leo stood up. He was fine. Just fine. Right as rain.
Leo stood up again, this time more carefully. Okay, maybe fine was an overstatement. But ambulatory and intact. A bit exhilarated, actually.
His bike lay twisted in the street behind him, its front tire still clamped in the groove of the new light-rail system tracks they were laying all over town. Only now did he notice the yellow-and-black warming signs that would have made him aware of the hazard his bike had to cross. The graphics depicted pretty much what had just happened: a bicycle with its front wheel caught in the maw of the track, the blockish pictogram rider hurtling over the handlebars. An honest piece of graphic art; a tiny, two-line picture poem, thought Leo, and he started to upbraid himself for his carelessness and lack of attention.
But wait. On one corner—the direction from which he'd come—the warning sign was there, but it was swathed in black plastic, taped up tight.
The thought came like a revelation: This was no accident. They obscured that sign because they want me eliminated.
Some part of him said, No, don't be ridiculous. But then why was only one sign shrouded?
What are you reading today?
Loyal fans of best-selling author Linwood Barclay will remember the Archer family from No Time for Goodbye (2007). Barclay's new novel, No Safe House, picks up seven years later. Once again, seemingly idyllic neighborhoods hold dark secrets, and the murder of two elderly locals has everyone on edge. The Archers are still recovering—and quite frankly not doing a great job of it. Their little family unit threatens to fall apart, and they soon once again find themselves fighting for their lives.
Barclay certainly has his finger on what makes for a fast-paced, intense tale of suspense and secrets. We wanted to know what books shaped him as a writer.
The Hardy Boys opened the door, but it was Lew Archer who really invited me in.
The first books I ever read—not counting The Cat in the Hat, which is a classic, but not really what we’re talking about here—were crime novels.
The first honest-to-God hardcover crime novel I owned was a Hardy Boy book. It was The Great Airport Mystery, the ninth adventure starring brothers Frank and Joe Hardy. There were bad guys. There was action. There was a mystery to be solved.
I was hooked. I read as many Hardy Boys novels as I could get my hands on. The Tower Treasure, The House on the Cliff, What Happened at Midnight.
Somewhere around the fifth or sixth grade, I discovered Agatha Christie. The plots became more intricate, more inventive. I devoured the classics. The A.B.C. Murders, Murder on the Orient Express, And Then There Were None.
About a year after that, I stumbled upon the Nero Wolfe novels by Rex Stout, and loved those even more. The plots were every bit as good as Christie’s, but there was something more. There was humor. Crackling dialogue. As memorable a character as crime fiction has ever had: Nero Wolfe himself. (Apologies to Sherlock Holmes fans. Yes, he’s probably the single most memorable crime solver, but amazingly, at this point in my mystery education, I hadn’t yet discovered him.)
Stout’s books were terrific, and, oh joy, there were so many of them. By the time I’d read all of them, I was about 14 or 15, and looking for something new.
I found it on the squeaky, spinning paperback rack at the IGA grocery store in Bobcaygeon, Ontario. It was the Bantam edition of The Goodbye Look by Ross Macdonald, and what caught my eye was the quote at the top of the cover: “The finest series of detective novels ever written by an American.” (That was from William Goldman’s review in The New York Times, and a few short years later I would be blown away by his novel Marathon Man, which remains one of my favorite thrillers ever.)
No one seems to know whether blurbs work or not, but that one worked on me. I bought that book and was completely drawn in by the detective work of one Lew Archer. I followed him through this case and all the others available at that time, including The Galton Case, The Doomsters, The Zebra-Striped Hearse and, one of the best crime novels of all time, The Chill.
These were the books that changed me. These books showed me how an author could take the conventions of the mystery novel and use them to do more than figure out how someone was murdered in a locked room. Through Archer, Macdonald shined a light on America’s darkness. He explored family dysfunction, alienated and troubled youth, the corruption of wealth and, in later novels, the destruction of our environment.
Macdonald may not have been the first to show the world that a mystery could be a novel, that it could be literature, but he was the first to show me. No writer had a greater impact on me up to that time, nor has any writer since.
Thanks, Linwood! Readers, No Safe House is on sale August 5.
Mystery fans: Was there a mystery you read at an early age that you'll never forget?
Author photo credit Bill Taylor.
If there's one thing that keeps drawing me back to M.J. McGrath's Arctic thrillers, it's the impeccably rendered sense of place. And I'm not just talking about the beautiful and dangerous landscape of the Canadian arctic, but also the historical and cultural details of the Inuit people. In McGrath's third mystery, following White Heat and The Boy in the Snow, half-Inuit and half-outsider Edie Kiglatuk—with the help of Sergeant Derek Palliser—investigates the murder of one of her summer-school students, a young Inuit woman who turns up in the toxic Lake Turngaluk. As this drama unfolds, an environmental conspiracy concerning the toxic lake begins to take shape. The Bone Seeker can certainly be read as a standalone—and should be read, especially by those who crave harsh northern landscapes—but I'd recommend revisiting Kiglatuk's previous adventures as well.
Read on for an excerpt:
She was gazing down at a dip in the land that locals called Lake Turngaluk, the Lake of Bad Spirits, though it was mostly dry now, pitted here and there by windings of briny marsh. Locals said the area was a portal to the underworld and that birds wouldn't fly over it for fear of being sucked under but Derek didn't hold with that kind of nonsense, prefering to believe that the birds didn't bother to visit because what was left of the water was devoid of fish, a fact that had nothing to do with spirits or the underworld and everything to do with contamination from the radar system. So far as Derek understood it, the site should have been cleaned up years ago but it had got mired in political horse-trading until, about a decade ago, Charlie Salliaq had dismissed the old legal team and called on the services of Sonia Gutierrez, a prominent human rights lawyer specializing in aboriginal land claims. They'd finally won their case against the Department of Defence last year. One of Colonel Klinsman's jobs was to organize a working party to begin the necessary decontamination work at the station and on the surrounding land, including the lake.
'How odd,' Edie said. She pointed out of the side window but all he could see were a few thin strings of cirrus.
'What?' Derek undid his belt and twisted his neck around, though it made his head swim to do it.
'A bear. They're usually on their way north to the floe edge by now.'
'You want me to swing back?' Pol asked Derek.
The policeman nodded and prepared himself for the stomach lurch. Ahead, the rows of tents and prefab units of Camp Nanook stood on the tundra in incongruous straight lines, as though on parade. The plane rose higher then banked sharply and wheeled round, retracing their route through a patch of cloud. Coming through into clear air they caught sight of the bear. Spooked by the sound of the aircraft engine, it was running for the safety of the sea.
The surface of the pool where the bear had been appeared to be bubbling and seething. Derek first supposed it was a trick of the light, but as the slipstream from the plane passed across it, the western bank seemed to expand, as though it had suddenly turned to gas. He realized that he never seen anything like this before. He turned back, leaning over Edie to get a better view.
'What the hell is that?'
She curled around and caught his gaze. There was something wild about the way she was looking at him now, the muscles in her face taut, her black eyes blazing.
He began to speak but she cut him off. 'They're feeding on whatever attracted the bear.'
Readers, what are you reading today?
Ravenous mystery readers know that crime isn't limited to big cities. It's not even limited to Amish farms, charming British villages or too-perfect suburbs. Revenge and murder even finds its way to paradise, such as in Mark Troy's new mystery, The Splintered Paddle. In a guest blog post, Troy shares his insight into the dark side of Hawaii.
Where do most fictional private eyes hang their fedoras? That’s easy: New York City, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Far down on the list is Honolulu.
You can name the Honolulu private eye series on one hand. Television gave us Tracey Steele and Tom Lopaka in "Hawaiian Eye," and Thomas Magnum in "Magnum, P.I." The list of Hawaiian private eye novel series begins and ends with Charles Kneif’s John Caine. Some mainland-based eyes, such as Sharon McCone and Adrian Monk, have had adventures in the islands, but none have stayed. The most famous Hawaiian crime fighters are police detectives Charlie Chan and Steve McGarrett (both incarnations), but, even with their inclusion, the list is a short one. One gets the sense that there just isn’t much crime in the islands.
In the minds of most people, Hawaii is a paradise of golden sands, sparkling waters, waving palm trees and gyrating hula girls. Where are the mean streets? They are everywhere, but, like the changes in seasons, they are easily missed until you have spent time there.
Although I love Hawaii, its beaches and mountains, what I love most are its people and culture. By culture, I don’t mean hula dances and ukuleles, but the circumstances of history and geography from which the spirit of the people is formed.
One of the tenets of Hawaiian culture is a long tradition of resisting mistreatment of its citizens and of taking care of the weak and helpless. That tenet is stated in the Law of the Splintered Paddle—Kānāwai Māmalahoe in Hawaiian. The law was the first edict promulgated by Kamehameha I after uniting the islands.
The Law of the Splintered Paddle is basically understood to mean that citizens have a right to defend themselves against mistreatment by the government and that the weaker members of society can expect protection from the more powerful members. The state constitution makes mention of the law and the Honolulu Police badge bears an image of crossed canoe paddles in reference to the law.
Ava Rome, the private eye in my stories, is an outsider. She is not Hawaiian by birth or upbringing, so she brings an outsider's perspective to the culture. In that, she is like many other private eyes. What sets her apart from other private eyes is her mission. Ava believes in the Law of the Splintered Paddle. She believes in protecting the defenseless. She has adopted this basic tenet of Hawaiian culture and made it her mission in life. She doesn't require innocence to take on a client, only defenselessness.
Ava's belief in the Law of the Splintered Paddle is fueled by a burden of guilt over her failure, as a teenager, to protect her brother from bullying. She is determined not to fail anyone else. She takes on a prostitute who is being harassed by a high-ranking police officer and a troubled teenager who has fallen prey to her own bad decisions and to the predations of a marijuana grower. Ava's greatest challenge, however, arrives in the form of an ex-con, whom she had arrested when she was an MP. He is out. He is seeking revenge, and he harbors a secret from her past.
The Splintered Paddle is the story of a private eye, Ava Rome, and her personal foray down the mean streets of Hawaii to protect the defenseless in the dark side of paradise tourists seldom see.
Thanks, Mark! Readers, The Splintered Paddle is now available.
It's not too late to reach for a mystery or high-stakes thriller in honor of Private Eye July!
If you're still looking for the right book, then this unnerving mystery with maximum stranger danger is a perfect choice.
In Amanda Kyle Williams' newest Keye Street mystery, Don't Talk to Strangers, the Atlanta private eye finds herself taking on a case outside of her comfort zone in the deep woods of Whisper, Georgia.
A killer abducts and keeps young girls captive for months, or even years before taking their bodies to the same location, and Street is determined to track the culprit before he can strike again. Trouble is, the locals are putting up a lot of resistance to her cause. Is everyone in town a potential enemy or suspect? Can Street find the culprit on her own without becoming a target herself?
Watch the extra-creepy trailer below:
What do you think, readers?
Ten years later, check out our 2004 Top Picks in Mystery:
January 2004: The Frumious Bandersnatch by Ed McBain
In the 53rd book featuring the cops of the 87th Precinct, McBain (aka Evan Hunter) spun a "hilarious and diabolical"—and topical—web, skewering the music industry, sensationalist cable news coverage, George W and the Patriot Act. Read our review.
February 2004: Hard Revolution by George Pelecanos
Pelecanos fills us in on the backstory of D.C. private investigator Derek Strange, star of such titles as Soul Circus and Hell to Pay, from coming of age in the early '60s to his experience as a cop during the riots following the assassination of Dr. King. "Hard Revolution plants the reader in the middle of a population run amok, where the major difference between the criminals and the cops is possession of a badge." Read our review.
March 2004: Deep Pockets by Linda Barnes
Private investigator Carlotta Carlyle takes on the task of unearthing a blackmailer who threatens a Harvard professor over his illict affair with a student. First the student turns up dead, then the blackmailer, and the professor seems to be the culprit. As might be expected, he claims innocence, and it falls to Carlotta to uncover the truth. This pageturner comes highly recommended for fans of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. Read our review.
April 2004: Sleeping Beauty by Phillip Margolin
In Margolin's chilling novel, true-crime author Miles Van Meter's bestseller told the story of the serial killer who killed several people in Miles' life and put his sister in a coma. Flash back six years to the story of high school soccer star Ashley Spencer, who escapes the murderer who kills her mother and father—the same killer who leaves Miles' sister comatose. But back in present-day, Miles reveals that all is not as it seems. "Sleeping Beauty is a must for suspense fans; red herrings abound, and the twists are as convoluted as the whorls of a killer's fingerprint." Read our review.
May 2004: Live Bait by P.J. Tracy
This Minnesota mystery comes from mother-daughter writing team P.J. and Traci Lambrecht. Homicide detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth follow up their Monkeewrench (2003) adventure with an investigation into a string of octogenarian murders—and some of the victims were Holocaust survivors. Read our review.
June 2004: Loaded Dice by James Swain
Retired cop and gamesman Tony Valentine makes a living uncovering crooked gamblers. In his fourth appearance, he ravels to Las Vegas to investigate a lovely blackjack amateur who bears an uncanny resemblance to Valentine's deceased wife. "Swain is a master storyteller, often mentioned in the same breath with Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen." Read our review.
July 2004: Little Scarlet by Walter Mosley
In the summer of 1965, the Watts riots rage in L.A., and Easy Rawlins is charged with investigating the murder of a young black woman, one who cared for a white man who narrowly escaped a mob of angry black youths. "Mosley captures the nuance of atmosphere and time better than any mystery author since Raymond Chandler; he is the unchallenged modern master of the craft." Read our review.
August 2004: The Wake-Up by Robert Ferrigno
"Robert Ferrigno is in many ways the consummate author," and in this edgy noir, who proves just that. Mostly-retired black-ops specialist Frank Thorpe comes to the aid of a mistreated vendor in an airport, and with that small act, "the first domino is pushed, the carefully arranged pattern goes awry remarkably quickly." The villains in this one make it a true standout mystery. Read our review.
September 2004: Destination: Morgue! by James Ellroy
This collection, packed to the brim with crime and murder, is composed of 14 pieces including three novellas, a profile of celebrity defendant Robert Blake, several true-crime stories and a wealth of autobiographical material that provide a template for writing a mystery novel. "If you feel that your favorites have gone a bit too soft around the middle, a touch mainstream, give James Ellroy a shot." Read our review.
October 2004: California Girl by T. Jefferson Parker
Part family drama, part murder mystery, this California tale is "first-rate; the true success of the book, though, is how well it captures the time and place, a sun-drenched, orange-scented utopia gone but affectionately remembered." Read our review.
November 2004: The Rottweiler by Ruth Rendell
A serial killer christened "The Rottweiler" starts picking off girls one by one and steals one token from each. When the victims' belongings turn up in an antique shop, the police begin to investigate the many quirky characters who reside in the building. Read our review.
December 2004: Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders by John Mortimer
Modern-day Rumpole shares with readers the details of his very first case, the defense of a young man accused of killing his war-hero father. "The Rumpole books are equally appealing to fans of British mysteries and aficionados of the bad-boy English authors of the '50s. They are clever, exceptionally relevant and crammed full of the sort of weird and wonderful quotes that stick with you long after you put the book down." Read our review.
Were you reading any of these winners in 2004?
Like his rebellious game warden Mike Bowditch, Maine author Paul Doiron has come a long way. His debut thriller, The Poacher's Son, was nominated for an Edgar Award, and each subsequent book has gained richness and nuance. In Doiron's newest novel, The Bone Orchard, Mike shows signs of becoming a real hero. Doiron shares a little bit about the journey he has made as a writer and how it is reflected in his hero's story.
When I began writing my first novel, The Poacher’s Son, I had no idea I was about to change my life. I was a magazine journalist who had written a few nonfiction articles about Maine game wardens, and one Saturday morning, I started noodling around with a short piece of fiction—not even a story, just an anecdote—about a rookie warden and a marauding black bear. For reasons I still don’t understand, I wrote the episode from the perspective of the young man, whom I named Mike Bowditch. It didn’t occur to me that this might be the beginning of a crime novel, let alone a series of them.
I just wrote the story and, because I liked what I’d done, I kept going. I decided my warden should return home after dealing with the bear. What does he find there? A message on the answering machine. Who is it from? His estranged father. Who is his father? A notorious poacher in the North Woods. Mike Bowditch, I decided, has become a law enforcement officer to make amends for his dad’s life of criminal acts.
As I continued writing, I found that one creative choice led inevitably to another. A son who chooses his profession as a rebuke to his father is going to have a lot of unresolved issues. He would be filled with anger and yet crave approval and respect. And because I was writing this story in the first person, it followed that Mike Bowditch would be blind to his own emotional problems. The plot of what I now recognized as the beginning of a novel took shape from this essential conflict in his character. The father is accused of having committed murder, but the son, despite his boiling resentments, cannot bring himself to believe that he is guilty.
Flash forward several years: The Poacher’s Son is done, and I have just approached Ann Rittenberg, the woman who will become my literary agent. She asks if the book is the first in a series of Mike Bowditch novels. The idea had been brewing in the back of my mind while I was writing. Game wardens are Maine’s off-road police force, and they are involved in the investigation of almost every major crime committed here. There were opportunities for my troubled-but-brave young warden to get himself messed up in any number of stories. In fact, I was itching to tell them.
I also recognized that few readers would continue rooting for an impetuous and headstrong protagonist if he didn’t mature, no matter what other noble qualities he might possess. Rather than write about a character who stays the same from book to book, I decided, my series would be about the process of becoming a hero. How does it happen? What mistakes would Mike Bowditch need to make, both personally and professionally, from story to story, and how would he learn from them?
The Bone Orchard is my fifth book, and I have said that it is my best (although readers will get to decide that question for themselves), and I’ll try to explain why. Over the course of the series we have watched Mike Bowditch get in recurring trouble with his superiors who believe he is unfit to be a law enforcement officer. At the beginning of The Bone Orchard, Mike has finally come to the same conclusion. He has left the Warden Service and is working as a fishing guide. He is trying to move on with his life. He has gone from troublemaker to caretaker, tending to both a mansion in the woods and the family of an incarcerated friend.
There’s only one problem: “Just because you’re done with the past, doesn’t mean the past is done with you,” Mike realizes. After his former sergeant Kathy Frost is forced to kill an unstable Afghan War veteran in what is a “suicide-by-cop” incident, she begins receiving threats. She blames Mike for having left the service, for not having been with her as back-up the night of the shooting. When she herself becomes targeted by a sniper seemingly out for revenge, Mike finds himself outside the investigation and second-guessing his decision to quit. His newfound maturity allows him to see that there are other ways of getting answers than going head-to-head with people. And he realizes, as he gets pulled into the hunt for the shooter, that he has all the necessary instincts and skills to be a successful law enforcement officer after all.
The Bone Orchard is about all the ways the past can haunt us and what we need to do to transcend it—lessons it has taken Mike years to learn. The novel isn’t the conclusion of the series. But it is the end of a story I began writing one Saturday afternoon many years ago, and the beginning for a newly self-aware and heroic Mike Bowditch.
Thanks, Paul! Readers, The Bone Orchard is out now!
Author photo credit © 2012 Lori Traikos.
With The Catch, readers find themselves hanging on for dear life as Vanessa Michael Munroe—"the cleverest, fightingest and all-around baddest heroines in contemporary suspense fiction"—takes us to Djibouti for her newest no-holds-barred adventure. Munroe is the unforgettable brainchild of author Taylor Stevens, who has a fascinating backstory of her own: She was born in New York state and into the Children of God, raised in communes across the globe and denied an education beyond sixth grade. Stevens was in her 20s when she broke free, and she now lives in Texas.
It's easy to wonder how much of the inspiration for Munroe came from Stevens' own life. As it turns out, that seems to be the question on everyone's mind. Stevens responds, once and for all:
Whenever I walk into an event—be it a book signing, Q&A or author’s talk—it’s pretty easy to spot the participants who’ve read my biography and at least one book, but haven’t yet interacted with me online or in person. It’s easy because they’re the ones wearing the guarded, concerned looks, subtly checking me out for signs of sanity, as if at worst I might be right on the edge of snapping and at best might need some soothing and comfort.
I suppose, really, this can’t be helped. Unusual characters populate my books, and I’ve led an unusual life. This has resulted in the most frequently asked question: "How much of Vanessa Michael Munroe is based on you?"
At the beginning, this conflation between character and author baffled me. Vanessa Michael Munroe is a hyperpolyglot (someone who speaks more than 12 languages), born and raised in equatorial Africa. She took up with gunrunners at the tender age of 14 and carries the mental and physical scars of a violent adolescence. To plagiarize myself, “the knife became her way to salvation and the missionary’s daughter, made to traverse the valley of the shadow of death, walked out the other side an apex predator.” She’s a chameleon, a hunter, an adrenaline junkie, self-contained, indifferent and shut off from the world—except when she’s not.
Oh that I was so brutally badass. Can you imagine the results I’d get at PTA and HOA meetings? Unfortunately, Munroe and I are nothing alike. Well, except for a hijacked childhood—we do both have wacky backgrounds. Mine had me born and raised in an apocalyptic religious cult, growing up as child labor in cult communes, spending far too much time out begging in the cold, and having my education stopped completely when I was 12.
But I’d made peace with all that long before turning to fiction. I started writing as a way to bring to life a small, paranoid, corrupt country off Africa’s west coast where’d lived for a little over two years. The thought of drawing on my childhood and adolescence for that first tale never even crossed my mind, and if it had, we would have had completely different characters—and probably not very good ones. I’m far too happy and enamored with life to belong in these intense, dark stories. I cry when I see sunsets and hear moving music, smile at everyone, am a total fraidy cat, and am overly empathetic to the point that my heart bleeds out onto my sleeve, which is super embarrassing. In perfect irony, I also hate suspense and violence—can neither watch it on screen nor read it in books—and yet that’s what I write.
Because I’m so opposite the characters that populate these stories, and because Munroe was drawn completely from imagination and snippets of other fictional characters (Jason Bourne and Lara Croft), I couldn’t understand at first how anyone could think she represented a real-life person, much less me. But then it got worse. People I’d never met used my fiction as a way to psychoanalyze the author, going on about my tormented psyche, insisting I was obsessed with violence against women, as if they knew me, as if assuming something about me magically made it true. Offended and insulted, I wondered if they also thought Carrie was based off Stephen King.
Once my skin thickened up a bit, once I realized how completely cool the character and author fusion was, I was able to embrace these assumptions for what they were: the ultimate compliment—proof of good storytelling—because the only way fantasy and reality can blend into such earnest beliefs is if the fiction feels real enough for the reader to assume that it had to have been drawn from real life, somehow.
These days I wear the conflation like a badge of honor, and when people ask me how much of Munroe is based on me, I look them dead in the eye and say, “all of it.”
Taylor Stevens is the award-winning New York Times best-selling author of The Informationist, The Innocent and The Doll. Featuring Vanessa Michael Munroe, the series has received critical acclaim and the books are published in 20 languages. The Informationist has been optioned for film by James Cameron's production company, Lightstorm Entertainment. Her latest novel, The Catch, will be published by Crown on July 15, 2014.
Author photo credit Alyssa Skyes.