Throughout her murder trial, Noa P. Singleton never spoke a single word in her own defense. Ten years later, Noa is six months away from her execution when she is visited by her victim's mother, who offers to change Noa's sentence to life in prison in exchange for only one thing, but that is the one thing that Noa will never do: tell her story.
In her debut novel, Elizabeth Silver has created an emotionally striking story that will cause readers to reflect on their own decisions. An engrossing rumination on the search for truth, The Execution of Noa P. Singleton will leave readers looking deep within at their own truths and deceptions.
For more about the literary psychological thriller, check out our full review and watch the book trailer below from Headline Books.
See what else is going on during Private Eye July!
Writers are often asked about where they find inspiration for their stories. A great answer is always "the idea store," because the real answer is often long and convoluted. Debut author Michael Hiebert talks about the inspiration for his coming-of-age mystery, Dream with Little Angels, the story of mom Leah Teal, a widowed police officer, as she investigates the disappearances of children in Alvin, Alabama—all told by her 11-year-old son, Abe.
It’s funny, sometimes, where you draw your inspiration from. Often, you don’t even realize you’ve taken something from somewhere until long after the fact or until you sit down and actually think about it.
I decided to do just that in this post with my book Dream with Little Angels. I knew I had been inspired from a number of places, I just hadn’t thought to sit down and catalog them before.
Many comparisons are being drawn in the press between Dream with Little Angels and To Kill a Mockingbird, and it’s true, I did read To Kill a Mockingbird before sitting down to write. However, my story, to me, was always about my 11-year-old protagonist, Abe. It was never a book about this or about that. It was just a book about what it would be like to be an 11-year-old boy growing up in a small town in Alabama with a mother who had to contend with horrible crimes going on.
I spent six months living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and down there, when they kiss their children goodnight, they say this little thing to them in Spanish that translates into “Dream with little angels.” It’s so much nicer than, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” The first time I heard it, I knew one day I’d be using it as a book title.
When I started Dream with Little Angels, I was dating a girl who lived in Alabama, and I knew I would be spending a lot of time down there. I also fell in love with the way she talked. Having seen how the setting in Harper Lee’s book leant to the sense of innocence and tenderness, I decided to try my hand at setting my book in Alabama. As soon as I came up with my main character and placed him in that setting, I knew I had made the right choice.
I am partial to writing in children’s voices. I have done a lot of it, mainly in my short story work. So telling Dream with Little Angels from the point of view of a child was an obvious choice for me. As soon as I began writing it that way, I realized it was the perfect point of view and offered the best opportunity to really express that sense of innocence and tenderness I mentioned earlier.
This is really a horrible story when you think about it. Little girls are getting raped and murdered and yet, somehow, in the middle of all this, Abe is able to not only make the reader care about the mundane life of an 11-year-old, but manages to create scenes that I think are actually funny. It’s hard to pull off funny in a book about 14–year-old girls disappearing. Constantly balancing the horror aspect of the book with the sweetness of childhood wasn’t easy.
My inspiration as a writer will always be Charles Bukowski, despite the fact that we don’t write very much alike at all. It was after reading my first Bukowski book that I decided I wanted to write. There’s just something about his work that grabs you and won’t let you go. Oftentimes, you’re reading what seems to be very simple prose and then realize that, no, there’s something else going on beneath it all—something much more complex and dynamic. I’m not even sure Bukowski knew about it as he wrote, but it’s there.
There you have it. My five key inspirations for Dream with Little Angels. It will be interesting to do this same exercise with the sequel, Close to the Broken Hearted, that should be out next summer.
Michael Hiebert is an award-winning author of novels and short stories. He won the prestigious Surrey International Writer’s Conference Storyteller’s Award twice in a row and has had his work published in The Best American Mystery Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. His writing often contains elements of mystery and the fantastic, as he tries to find the redemption in the horrific; the surviving heart still left beating among all the sorrow; the beautiful lost somewhere in all the ugliness of the world. Michael lives in Canada with his family. Visit Michael Hiebert online at www.MichaelHiebert.com
Throughout Private Eye July, the editors of BookPage share some of their favorite mysteries and thrillers.
In Mr. Timothy, Tim is all grown up and, at 23, is looking for a way to prove his independence from the Cratchit family benefactor, Ebenezer Scrooge. A whorehouse madam hires him to teach her to read and write, and in the process, Tim stumbles upon a mystery. Someone in London is murdering young orphan girls, and Tim may be the only one who cares enough to find out why. With the help of two street urchins—one of whom is marked as the killer's next victim—and a one-armed man who makes a living retrieving bodies from the Thames, Tim sets out to find the killer.
Bayard manages to make his new characters as captivating as those he borrows from Dickens, while carefully layering in references to past events—some portrayed in The Christmas Carol, others from the years since—to reveal what has happened to the Cratchit family over the decades. And as Tim struggles with his complicated feelings for the father figures in his own life, he becomes one to the children under his care, adding yet another layer to the story. If you're looking for an emotionally complex, yet exciting, mystery—this is your book.
See what else is going on during Private Eye July!
The idyllic countryside of southwestern France gets a little bit bloodier with each installment of Martin Walker's mystery series starring Bruno, Chief of Police. But don't worry, there are still sumptuous meals aplenty, and the wine never stops flowing.
In the fifth book in the series, The Devil's Cave, the cute little village of St. Denis gets a dose of Satanism—plus prostitution, a few murders and some troubling real estate ventures.
The man for the job is Bruno, the only cop in St. Denis, and when I read that Bruno is actually based on the real chief of police in the Dordogne, who is also Walker's tennis partner, I had to ask a few questions. Here's a preview:
This is the very question put to me by my friend Pierrot, the local police chief. But crime takes place anywhere, and this gentle valley in southwestern France has more history packed within it than anywhere on earth, from the prehistoric cave paintings of the Cro-Magnons, the hundreds of medieval châteaus and the importance of the local Resistance during World War II. And with the prevalence of hunters and shotguns, lethal farm tools, property disputes and France’s complex inheritance laws, there is no shortage of means or motives.
If you had to swap places with Bruno for a day, how would that day go?
I’d probably be able to win my tennis games and maybe even cook meals as well as he does. But my inability to match Bruno’s ability to combine policing with humor, common sense and his very idiosyncratic sense of justice might well cause a riot in our placid small town. And I’d certainly bring about a horrendous traffic jam.
RITA award-winning and New York Times best-selling author Laura Griffin knows a thing or two about creating the perfect blend of romance and suspense. Her Tracers series follows an elite crew of forensic experts who help solve the most difficult cases—while stoking the flames of their super-steamy love lives.
In this guest blog post, Griffin shares her thoughts on the key to balancing romance and suspense—particularly in her latest Tracers book, Exposed.
I love to read books in which the tension never lets up, in which the stakes start high and only get higher, in which I’m holding my breath while reading, wondering what’s going to happen next.
That’s a thriller, right?
Sometimes, yes. It can also be a romantic suspense novel. Romantic suspense is one of my favorite genres to read and write because tension permeates the entire story.
One of my favorite movie adaptations is The Bourne Identity, starring Matt Damon and based on the novel by Robert Ludlum. The first time I saw it, I was mesmerized. I loved trying to piece together the story puzzle, loved watching the chase scenes, loved the dizzying special effects. But amid all the action, I kept looking forward to the quieter scenes between Jason and Marie.
These scenes feel special because it’s in these moments that we get to see the emotional side of the characters. I mean, who doesn’t love watching Jason Bourne careen through the streets of Paris to outwit the baddies on his tail? But I like another later scene just as much . . . the one in which he cuts Marie’s hair to disguise her and then she kisses him. And the entire moment feels stolen because they’re on the run.
Danger and emotion. It’s a powerful twin engine that propels a story forward. I try to use it in all of my books.
Danger comes pretty naturally to the Tracers series, which focuses on an elite group of forensic scientists who help detectives solve their toughest cases. The books feature homicide cops, FBI agents and criminal profilers—along with an array of “Tracers,” forensic wizards who work their magic on the evidence to help identify and track down the bad guys. Most of the Tracers books begin, in some form or fashion, with a murder.
The newest book in the series, Exposed, features forensic photographer Maddie Callahan. When a photograph that she took turns out to be crucial evidence in an FBI investigation, Special Agent Brian Beckman meets Maddie and immediately takes an interest. He needs Maddie’s evidence, but he’s also intent on protecting her after he realizes that her life is in jeopardy because of something she saw through her camera lens.
Following a major loss, Maddie has closed herself off to people, especially men. But Brian is determined to get past her defenses and draw her out. Exposed is a mystery on the outside, but the heart of the story is the romance.
My favorite romantic suspense authors make me care about the outcome of the mystery because I care about the characters. Why do I care? Because between all the action moments I’ve had a chance to glimpse their feelings. I’ve become emotionally involved in their fate. Now I’m not just rooting for them because they are the “hero” or “heroine.” I’m rooting for them because they are determined, flawed, hopeful, resilient, vulnerable.
In other words, they’re human, not just superheroes. Characters like that come alive on the page and stay with me long after the story ends.
In my mind, that’s the hallmark of a good book.
Thanks, Laura! Exposed is out now. Will you be reading it?
The Land of the Midnight Sun continues to pump out more and more outstanding thrillers and mysteries, and this year is no exception. For readers who just can't get enough of Nordic noir and Scandinavian suspense, we've got a list of standouts so far in 2013:
Never F__k Up by Jens Lapidus
The second book in the Stockholm Noir trilogy is quintessential Scandinavian suspense: action from page one and hardboiled crime in a seedy criminal underworld. Just don't show the cover to your grandma.
The Redeemer by Jo Nesbø
Oslo cop Harry Hole is always a favorite. What starts out as an investigation into some shady Salvation Army dealings becomes an infiltration into a murder-for-hire organization in former Yugoslavia.
The Stranger by Camilla Läckberg
Detective Patrik Hedstrom is investigating the possible murder of a nondrinker who dies of alcohol poisoning when he discovers similar cases in other towns around Sweden. This one has less "razzle-dazzle horror" and greater emphasis on convoluted plotting and heightened suspense.
Norwegian By Night by Derek B. Miller
Curmudgeonly Sheldon Horowitz, who recently—reluctantly—moved to Norway, witnesses and flees a crime with a young boy in tow. Miller's (technically an expat living in Oslo) debut literary thriller is an expert blend of humor and questions of race, memory and time.
The Andalucian Friend by Alexander Söderberg
This debut thriller is a blisteringly fast read. Set largely in Stockholm, this one finds single mom Sophie caught in the middle of an international turf war, culminating in a cinematic gunfight in Spain.
Room No. 10 by Åke Edwardson
In his seventh book, Chief Inspector Erik Winter investigates a bizarre murder that reminds him of an unsolved case from early on in his career. This is a puzzling, complicated police procedural from one of the best writers in the genre.
Bad Blood by Arne Dahl
After torturing and murdering a Swedish literary critic, an American serial killer boards a flight to Stockholm and somehow slips through the cracks. It's up to Detectives Paul Hjelm and Kerstin Holm of Intercrime’s A-Unit to figure out what the homicidal maniac is plotting. Look for this one in our upcoming August issue.
Do you enjoy Scandinavian suspense?
Throughout Private Eye July, the editors of BookPage share some of their favorite mysteries and thrillers.
Y'all may have picked up on the fact that I have a soft spot for the classics, particularly those of a 1950s vintage. So when invited to write about one of my favorite mystery/thriller books, I immediately thought of The Bad Seed by William March. First published in 1954 and promptly nominated for the National Book Award, the book upped the creepy-kid ante with the introduction of Rhoda Penmark, a super-polite, super-perky 8-year-old, around whom people have a tendency to meet their untimely demise by way of seemingly random accidents.
The brilliant narrative structure allows readers to accompany Rhoda's mother, Christine, as she gradually discovers the truth about her child—while also uncovering some dark secrets about her own past. The book's intelligent discussion of the nature vs. nurture debate was ahead of its time, and the ending is both truly shocking and wholly gratifying—not to mention shiver-inducing.
See what else is going on during Private Eye July!
Brilliance by Marcus Sakey
Thomas & Mercer • $14.95 • ISBN 9781611099690
published July 16, 2013
Marcus Sakey's new supernatural thriller, Brilliance, lives up to its name. From the very start, this first novel in a projected series is full of action and intrigue. Since the 198os, about 1% of American children are born "brilliant" with a special gift—they're also known as abnorms. Some of these aborms can be a problem, and it is Nick Cooper's job as a government agent to catch the bad ones—as his own abnormal gift is to hunt his own kind. Can Cooper stop all of the bad abnorms from hurting people, and how does he tell the good guys from the bad?
In the opening chapter, Cooper has spent the day tracking an abnorm and finally catches up with her in a hotel bar in San Antonio, Texas:
Cooper took a sip of coffee. It was burned and watery. "You hear there was another bombing? Philadelphia this time. I was listening to the radio on the way in. Talk radio, some redneck. He said a war was coming. Told us to open our eyes."
"Who's us?" The woman spoke to her hands.
"Around here, I'm pretty sure 'us' means Texans, and 'them' means the other seven billion on the planet."
"Sure. Because there aren't any brilliants in Texas."
Cooper shrugged, took another sip of his coffee. "Fewer than some other places. The same percentage are born here, but they tend to move to more liberal areas with larger population density. Greater tolerance, and more chance to be with their own kind. There are gifted in Texas, but you'll find more per capita in Los Angeles or New York." He paused. "Or Boston."
Alex Vasquez's fingers went white around her bottle of Bud. She'd been slouching before, the lousy posture of a programmer who spent whole days plugged in, but now she straightened. For a long moment she stared straight ahead. "You're not a cop."
Through some twisted ups and downs, the fast-paced Brilliance has all of the best with manipulation, revolution and social commentary in a world disturbingly close to our own. In an interview, author Marcus Sakey said that he hates for his plots to be revealed, so I will stop there and simply say be ready to stay up all night with this one.
Will you be reading Brilliance? What are you reading during Private Eye July?
Fans of crime fiction and romance author Iris Johansen know heroine Eve Duncan well. Her many adventures as one of the world’s foremost forensic sculptors have engaged readers for years. In 2013, Eve's story continues in a trilogy within the series: Taking Eve (April), Hunting Eve (July) and Silencing Eve (October) In a guest blog post, Johansen shares how trilogies within larger, beloved series help keep stories fresh.
The Eve Duncan series has gone on for many, many books and spun off a multitude of secondary characters. Some of those characters have intrigued me enough to give them leading roles in their own books, and some are waiting in the wings until I get to know them better. However, the fascination I have with those secondary characters can cause headaches as well as richness when I write trilogies. A trilogy has to contain a plot that will be interesting and keep the reader coming back for all three books.
The first Eve Duncan trilogy I wrote was simpler and answered questions that I wanted answered for my own satisfaction. The mystery of Bonnie had been hovering over me all the years of writing the series. I wanted to know everything about her, Eve, Joe and Gallo, the man who had fathered Bonnie. I wanted to delve deep and get to know all those characters that had become such a gigantic part of my life. I believe I did do that and it gave me tremendous satisfaction. It was also a terrific challenge and balancing act.
But when it was over I felt a sort of flatness. I missed the challenge and I hadn’t really explored in-depth Jane MacGuire, who was such an important person in Eve Duncan’s life. I also had an idea that might open all kinds of interesting questions for Eve and me. So I began to write and it was just as exciting as I thought it would be.
Challenge? Oh, yes, definitely a challenge, because this trilogy was about a frantic and intricate search for Eve Duncan that could trigger her death at any moment. It had to span three books and still be fresh and fast-paced every moment. It also had to include all the characters that would logically be searching for Eve.
Ah, there’s the difficulty. Anyone who has read the series knows that Eve is special to a great many people who move in and out of the books. They would all hop on the trail in a heartbeat to find her if she was in danger. So there had to be a juggling act that involved Eve, the hunt and the personal stories of the hunters. Throw in the back history of those characters and the emotional fireworks from all quarters, and you get an idea of the problem. I’m lucky that I’m usually able to let the characters take over and straighten everything out. That’s what happened this time, thank heavens.
Would I write another trilogy? You bet I would. It keeps the brain sharp and the creativity flourishing. I never know what’s going to happen next. But it won’t happen right away. I need to catch my breath and just concentrate on pure storytelling. I’m very excited about Catherine Ling’s new adventure and I want to dive into it.
Eve has had a terribly hard time during this trilogy. Why don’t we let her rest for a little while?
Thanks, Iris! Readers, the second in the trilogy, Hunting Eve, is out today! And keep an eye out for the conclusion, Silencing Eve, in October!
Lauren Beukes, author of Zoo City, is receiving lots of literary attention for her newest thrilling novel. The Shining Girls puts a deadly spin on time travel, as a killer uses a secret portal to become untraceable after each brutal murder. That all changes when one of his victims survives.
Kirby Mazrachi barely escaped and is now determined to discover her would-be killer. As an intern for the Chicago Sun-Times, Kirby has the means to research her case and she knows that something is not quite right. Will Kirby's determination be enough to catch a murderer with a supernatural plan?
Be sure to read our full review of The Shining Girls and check out the eerie book trailer below by Hachette Book Group.
Stay tuned for more great coverage of thrillers and mysteries throughout the month of July!