Finland’s best-selling international crime writer isn't actually Finnish. While he has lived in Finland for 15 years, James Thompson is actually a Kentucky native—but that hasn't stopped him from becoming a Nordic noir favorite.
The newest book in his Inspector Vaara series is Helsinki Blood (featured in our April Whodunit column). When an Estonian woman finds down-and-out Vaara and tells him that her daughter with Down syndrome has gone missing and is perhaps now in the clutches of sex slavers, he sees it as a chance for redemption.
Helsinki Blood is actually the final book in a trilogy (including Lucifer's Tears and Helsinki White) set within the Inspector Vaara series. So while this book is the finale of a storyline, fans have plenty more Vaara books to look forward to.
Check out our 7 questions interview with James Thompson, who shared insight into dark, gritty thrillers:
"Dark stories are for those who want to re-examine the world and themselves, to hold up a mirror to the world and themselves and ask themselves what they see. For those who want to question the truth of themselves and the world around them."
July eleventh. A hot summer Sunday. All I want is some goddamned peace and quiet. Now my house is under siege, I have an infant to both care for and protect, and I’m forced to do the last thing I wanted to do: call Sweetness and Milo, my colleagues and subordinates, or accomplices—the definition of their role in my life depends on one’s worldview—and ask them for help.
I’m shot to pieces. Bullets to my knee and jaw—places I’ve been shot before—have left me a wreck. Only cortisone shots and dope for pain enable me to get around with a cane, speak and eat without wanting to scream. I’m still recovering from a brain tumor removal six months ago. The operation was a success but had a serious side effect that left me flat, emotionless.
My feelings are returning as the empty space where once a tumor existed fills in with new tissue, but I only feel love for my wife and child, and intermittent like for one or two others. My normal state and reaction toward others is now irritability. My wife, Kate, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has run away from home, out of control of her own emotions, and abandoned me.
These combined problems, any one of which would drive a person to distraction under the best of circumstances, cloud my judgment and affect my behavior. My judgment and behavior were already clouded. I feel so certain it will all end badly that it seems more a portent than an emotion. Auguries and omens of catastrophe seem all around me, just out of sight, but every time I turn to face them, they disappear like apparitions.
Have you checked out James Thompson's Inspector Vaara series?
Miss Daphne Dale responds to a newspaper advertisement looking for a “sensible lady of good breeding for correspondence, and in due consideration, matrimony." Writing as “Miss Spooner," she strikes up a practical correspondence with “Mr. Dishforth." However, when she meets charming bad boy Lord Henry Seldon, she finds herself torn between the two men.
Writes romance columnist Christie Ridgway, "What transpires is an engaging comedy in which words and deeds sometimes confuse minds and hearts, and the happily-ever-after seems just out of reach. A charmer."
In a 7 questions interview, we chatted with author Elizabeth Boyle about all the fun she has while writing historical romances:
"Truly, who wouldn’t want to spend their days wrangling dukes? But I love the writing process—the nuts and bolts of a discovering a story idea/characters, pondering the what-ifs and weighing the story potential, and then exploring those characters by telling their story. Adding the historical elements is like the frosting on cupcakes—so many choices and always the chance to toss in some sprinkles."
And tonight, Daphne carried high expectations she would be . . . would be . . . She glanced over at her dear friend, and whispered a secret prayer that when she found her true love, she might be as happy.
And how could she not with Mr. Dishforth somewhere in this room?
Yes, Mr. Dishforth. She, Daphne Dale, the most sensible of all the ladies of Kempton was engaged in torrid correspondence with a complete stranger.
And tonight she would come face to face with him.
Oh, she would have stared down an entire regiment of Seldons tonight if only to attend this ball. To find her dear Mr. Dishforth.
“Who looks a bit pink?” Miss Harriet Hathaway asked, having just arrived from the dance floor, looking altogether pink and flushed.
Meanwhile, Lady Essex was growing impatient. “Miss Manx, how many times do I have to remind you how imperative it is to keep one’s vinaigrette close at hand?”
Harriet cringed and asked in an aside, “Who is the intended victim?”
Tabitha pointed at Daphne, who in turn mouthed two simple words.
And being the dearest friend alive, Harriet did. “It is just Daphne’s gown, Lady Essex. The pink satin is giving her a definite glow. A becoming one, don’t you think?”
Bless Harriet right down to her slippers, she’d tried.
“She’s flushed, I say,” Lady Essex averred. Then again, Lady Essex also like any opportunity to bring out her vinaigrette, and had even now taken the reticule from Miss Manx and was searching its depths herself. “I won’t have you fainting, Daphne Dale. It is nigh on impossible to maintain a lady-like demeanor when one is passed out on the floor.”
Tabitha shrugged. It was hard to argue that fact.
Yet Harriet was ever the intrepid soul and refused to give up. “I’ve always found, Lady Essex, that a turn about the room is a much better means of restoring one’s vitality.” She paused and slanted a wink at Daphne and Tabitha while the lady was still engrossed in her search. “Besides, while I was dancing with Lord Fieldgate, I swore I saw Lady Jersey on the other side of the room.”
“Lady Jersey, you say?” Lady Essex perked up, immediately diverted. Better still, she failed to remember that she should probably be chastising Harriet for dancing with the roguish viscount in the first place.
“Yes, I am quite certain of it.” Then Harriet did one better and looped her arm into the spinster’s, handed the hated reticule back to Miss Manx and steered the old girl into the crowd. “Weren’t you saying earlier today that if you could but have a word with her, you’d have our vouchers for next Season?”
Just like that, the hated vinaigrette was utterly forgotten and so was Daphne’s flushed countenance.
A Lady Jersey sighting trumped all.
With Harriet and Lady Essex sailing ahead, Daphne and Tabitha followed, albeit at a safe distance so they could talk.
“You are taking a terrible risk,“ Tabitha whispered to Daphne. “If Lady Essex were to find out--“
“Sssh!“ Daphne tapped her finger to her lips. “Don't even utter it aloud. She can hear everything.“
It was a miracle as it was that the old girl hadn't discovered Daphne's deepest, darkest secret—that she’d answered an advertisement in the paper from a gentleman seeking a wife.
There it was. And the gentleman had answered her. And then she had replied in kind. And so the exchange had gone on for the last month, all anonymous and mysterious and most likely beyond the pale and ruinous if anyone discovered the truth.
Certainly, if Lady Essex found out that such a scandalous correspondence had been carried out right under her nose, then the only notes Daphne would be composing would answering the messages of condolences for Lady Essex’s fatal heart ailment.
“Do you think he’s here yet?” Tabitha asked, looking around the room.
Daphne shook her head, glancing as well at the crush of guests. “I have no idea. But he’s here, I just know it.”
Her own Mr. Dishforth. Daphne felt that telltale heat of a blush rising in her cheeks. At first their letters had been tentative and skeptical, but now their correspondence, which was carried out in a daily flurry of letters and notes, had suddenly taken a very intimate turn.
I would write more but I have obligations this evening at an engagement party. Dare I hope my plans might intersect with yours?
Daphne pressed her fingers to her lips. An engagement party. Which could only mean, he was here.
Our Top Pick in Romance for March is historical romance The Last Debutante by Julia London, the fourth book in her Secrets of Hadley Green series.
Daria Bobcock, the last debutante of Hadley Green, plans to travel from England to Scotland to visit her grandmother. When she gets there, she encounters a naked, unconscious Scottish laird named Jamie Campbell in her grandmother's cottage. When he wakes up, he kidnaps Daria as ransom for money owed to his clan. Sparks fly, hearts are torn between desire and duty, a scandal is revealed—and you've got yourself a charming new romance.
If London's answer to my question, "What is it about those Scottish men, anyway?" doesn't make you want to read The Last Debutante, I don't know what will:
"They are the ultimate historical romance fantasy: Sexy and strong, they take what they want and discard what they don't. They are dismissive of rules and propriety when it comes to true love, and if one claims you and makes you his own, he is yours for life."
Will you check this one out? Romance fans: Where/when are your favorite historical romances set?
March's Top Pick in Mystery, Leighton Gage's Perfect Hatred, is "hands down the first 'do not miss' mystery of 2013!"
In Brazil-set Perfect Hatred, Chief Inspector Mario Silva faces a daunting assassination investigation immediately after a "particularly nasty" suicide bombing. Things get even more intense when a criminal seeking revenge against Silva is released from prison.
The Mario Silva series is "a perennial personal favorite" for Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney, so we chatted with Gage in a 7 questions interview about Silva's "dogged persistence," the Brazilian setting and much more. His answer to my question, "Would you make a good cop?" is proof that Gage is a born storyteller, as he shares a story to illustrate the emotional toll of being a cop:
By way of illustration, here’s a story I got from one detective’s wife:
Her husband was assigned to investigate a double murder. A 17-year-old girl claimed she’d returned home from a date to find her parents bludgeoned to death in their bed. But the cop’s instincts told him the girl was lying. Ultimately, she confessed that she and her boyfriend had committed the crime. Not because she’d hated her parents, not because they’d abused her, but because they’d objected to her continuing relationship with the thug who helped kill them. She showed no remorse for what she’d done. She didn’t shed a single tear during the entire interrogation. Her only concern was that she’d been caught.
But the cop was so shocked that he went home, sank into a chair, wrapped his 7-year-old daughter in his arms and bawled like a baby. “Seventeen years old,” he kept saying, over and over again. “Seventeen years old.”
His wife felt helpless. She couldn’t find a way to comfort him.
Looking for a great new thriller series? Lachlan Smith's debut thriller Bear Is Broken was one of our Top 10 books for February! (Don't know what I'm talking about? Sign up here for our Top 10 e-newsletter to receive a list of the 10 notable books for each month, all recommended by the editors of BookPage!)
In Bear Is Broken, young San Francisco attorney Lee Maxwell must track down the man who shot his older brother Teddy, an attorney with some questionable ethics. Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney calls Maxwell "a good egg," as he seems pretty far out of his element but nevertheless determined to see his first case through.
Author Lachlan Smith is a practicing attorney with a promising writing career ahead of him, and his debut belongs next to other masters such as Grisham and Turow. We chatted with Smith in a 7 questions interview, where he may have earned some sort of award for the most efficient use of a single sentence to describe his book. Read it here.
Will you check this one out? Have you discovered any new thriller series lately?
Mary Burton's new romantic suspense The Seventh Victim is our Top Pick in Romance for February! Romance columnist Christie Ridgway promises it "will keep readers up all night."
Lara Church was the only surviving victim of a Seattle serial killer. Now, the killer is back, and it looks like he's found her in Texas—and Texas Ranger James Beck is determined to keep her safe. If you love books that turn up the sexual tension with plenty of danger, this one's for you.
Read our 7 questions interview with Burton, where we talked about the romantic suspense genre, sexy scenes, her career and more.
Also, read on for an excerpt from The Seventh Victim, when Lara Church and Texas Ranger James Beck meet for the first time (read more here):
In the distance he heard a dog bark. Judging by the animal’s deep timbre, it was big and running in Beck’s direction. Absently, he moved his hand to the gun on his hip. Nice places like this could turn nasty or even deadly in the blink of an eye.
The dog’s barking grew louder. Tightening his hand on the gun’s grip, he scanned the wooded area around the cabin until his gaze settled on a path that cut into the woods. In a flash, a large black and tan shepherd emerged from the woods, its hair standing on end. The animal glared at Beck, barking and growling. The animal was a beauty, but he’d shoot if it attacked.
Seconds later a woman emerged from the woods. She carried a shotgun in her hands and the instant she saw Beck she raised the barrel.
Beck didn’t hesitate. He drew his gun and pointed it directly at the women. “Texas Ranger. Drop the gun now!”
The woman stared at him, her gaze a blend of surprise and wariness.
“Put. The. Gun. Down.” Each word was sharpened to a fine point.
She lowered the tip of the barrel a fraction but didn’t release the gun. “How do I know you’re a Texas Ranger?”
The Texas Ranger uniform was easily recognizable to anyone who’d been in Texas more than five minutes. But that discussion came after she released the weapon. “Put the gun down, now.” He all but shouted the command over the dog’s barking. “Now!”
Carefully, she laid the barrel down and took a step back as if she was ready to bolt into the woods. The dog bared its teeth, but she made no move to calm the animal. She might have surrendered the gun, but the dog remained a threat.
He braced his feet. “If your dog lunges at me, I will shoot him.”
Her gaze flickered quickly between the dog and his gun. She understood he’d meant it. “Okay.” She looped her fingers through the dog’s collar and ordered him to heel close at her side.
“You and the dog step back.”
“Do it!” He glanced at the shotgun, knowing he’d not breathe a sigh of relief until he had it in hand.
“I am not turning around.” Her raspy voice stutter- stepped with panic. “I want to see your badge.”
He studied her. If this was Lara Church and she’d survived the Strangler, fear would be a logical response. “Step away from the gun.”
She drew in a breath and moved back with the dog. He picked up the shotgun and holstered his gun. Slowly, he pulled his badge from his breast pocket and held it up to her.
“Sergeant James Beck,” he said.
He opened the break-action shotgun and found two shells in the double-barreled chamber. The safety was off. He removed the shells. “You always greet people with a shotgun?” He glanced from her to the growling dog.
“When I’m alone, yes. And it is registered, and I am on my land, so I’m well within my rights to carry a weapon.”
As he held her rifle, he glared at her and the barking shepherd. “You know how to shoot it?”
Blue eyes held his. “I sure do.”
Will you check this one out?
The January Top Pick in Romance is the newest in Jayne Ann Krentz's Dark Legacy series, the "imaginative and exciting" psychic romance Dream Eyes.
This sizzling paranormal adventure stars psychic counselor Gwen Frazier, who heads to a small town in Oregon when her slain mentor starts communicating. Psychic investigator Judson Coppersmith joins to help, and sparks fly.
We chatted with author Krentz in a 7 questions interview about favorite scenes, writing and psychic powers. We love her spunk, but maybe she could put her hypothetical psychic powers to better use. . . .
Are you a Krentz fan? She also writes under the names Amanda Quick and Jayne Castle. Do you have a favorite?
Love Southern mysteries? The Buzzard Table is the latest installment in Margaret Maron's popular Deborah Knott series, and Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney recommends it for its "homespun sweetness . . . [that] doesn’t detract from the edginess."
In this 18th installment, clues from turkey vultures lead an English ornithologist to discover the ominous activity at a local airport in sleepy Colleton County, NC, where Knott is a judge. Writes Whodunit columnist Tierney, "I guarantee that any thought you might have had about Colleton County being a modern-day Mayberry will get blown away like a leaf in the wind."
Check out our 7 questions interview with Maron, where she shares her favorite thing about the holidays, a wonderful family tradition:
"Our 'Christmas Sing,' which is when close family and friends come out to the farm for an evening of good food, off-key singing, skits and much laughter—a 40-year-old tradition. The pre-teen children of those early years are grandparents now, and the in-laws and babies come, too."
Robyn Carr has been sharing the stories of heartwarming romances in her wildly popular Virgin River series for 30 years. The 20th book in the series, My Kind of Christmas, is our December Top Pick in Romance. It's a tale of the fierce attraction between Navy pilot Patrick Riordan and Angie LeCroix (Jack Sheridan’s attractive niece, if you're familiar with the series), both of whom have survived serious trauma.
We chatted with Carr in a 7 questions interview about favorite characters, the Virgin River setting and much more.
My favorite question to ask romance authors is always, "What are the sexiest scenes to write?" And if you weren't reading Carr before now (first off, you're crazy), her answer will probably convince you to start:
"Not the sex scenes, actually, but the scenes that lead up to the sex scenes—the caress, the touch, the shiver of expectation, the kiss. The seductive words and the growing expectation that it's the right match, the perfect possession."
There was one thing Angie did remember—almost dying. Seeing her grandmother on the other side. Seeing herself lying in an emergency room covered with blood. The only person she told was her neurosurgeon, Dr. Temple, because she wanted to know if she was crazy. He had said, “I hear that sometimes, about deceased loved ones helping with the crossover.”
“Is it real?” she had asked him.
“I don’t know,” he had answered.
She hadn’t told anyone else in the family.
Angie had been the passenger in a car one of her classmates had been driving on a cold, drizzly, slick March evening. A car on the opposing interstate lane had lost control, crossed the median and hit two oncoming cars. It could’ve been a flat tire or avoiding another car, but there was no villain; no alcohol or drugs to blame; it was an accident. That driver had been killed, everyone else injured, Angie the worst. Her classmate, Shelly, had multiple broken bones but was fully recovered now except for an ankle she said got strangely cold—she blamed the plates, screws and pins.
Angie had a couple of serious fractures for which surgery had been required, she lost a spleen, there was a collapsed lung and she had a titanium rod in a femur, but the big issue was the head injury—there had been an impressive laceration on the back of her head and while there was no open fracture, her brain began to swell and the neurosurgeon implanted a shunt to drain the edema. She had some memory loss which had slowly come back, except, thankfully, not the details of the accident. She had been in a coma for three days and then had to fight her way back to the world through a post anesthetic and pain med haze. They had wondered for weeks if this bright, driven young medical student would have any mental handicaps.
She did not.
She was forever changed, however.
This was where she and her mother had their impasse. Her parents were educators, professors, and the parents of three very smart daughters. To say they monitored their education and pushed them along trajectories they thought were in line with their desires and skills would be an understatement. And Angie had been happy to meet their expectations—she was proud of her academic accomplishments. She often felt it was the singular thing she could be proud of—she wasn’t athletic, musical or pretty. The only place she had real confidence was in her intellectual achievement.
She was fully recovered from her accident and could have gone back to school in September, but she chose not to. Her father, sitting cautiously on the fence, thought a brief break was within reason but her mother disagreed and wanted her back on that horse.
Angie wasn’t sure any more. Of anything. For one thing, she was done having her parents, mostly her mother, decide things like this for her. Angie grew a backbone and said, “I might not want to continue medical school! I might want to make macramé flower pot holders for the rest of my life! Or grow herbs! Or hitchhike across Europe! But whatever it is, it’s going to be up to me!” Donna accused her of undergoing a personality change because of her head injury and Angie suggested she’d finally found her personality and it was remarkably like Donna’s.
No one else in the family thought she was different excepting the fact she had grown wonderfully stubborn. And having Jack, Mel and Brie on her side didn’t thrill Donna.
Angie didn’t go back to medical school, though the dean did tell her she would still have a place with them if she didn’t wait too long. She didn’t discuss it with her parents or her Virgin River cheering section. She’d had a close-up of how unpredictable and tenuous life could be. One minute you’re buzzing along the freeway, singing with the radio, the next you’re looking down on yourself, watching as medical staff frantically worked to save your life and you see your dead grandmother across a chasm of light.
Once she realized she had barely survived, every day dawned brighter, the air drawn into her lungs more precious, the beat of her heart weighing heavy in colossal importance. She was filled with a sense of gratitude and became contemplative, viewing the smallest detail of living with huge significance. Things she took for granted before had grown in magnitude. There was no detail she was willing to miss; she stopped to have long conversations with grocery store bag boys, corner flower peddlers, librarians, booksellers and school crossing guards.
Romance columnist Christie Ridgway calls Megan Mulry's debut, A Royal Pain, "a modern love story fizzing with bubbles of Cinderella fantasy."
She isn't kidding about the "modern": Bronte Talbott is a classically independent American woman, and when she finds out that the guy she's dating—cute British doctoral student Max Heyworth—is actually the Duke of Northrop, she's not exactly ready to be swept off her feet. Amid all the falling-heads-over-heels for each other, there are financial differences, a disapproving mother and a ocean-sized question of trans-Atlantic distance.
We chatted with author Megan Mulry—who is not British, by the way—about royal gossip, sexy scenes and what she's reading in a 7 questions interview. When it comes to dinner party guests, I like her style:
"All the best people, darling! Julia Child, Christopher Hitchens, Coco Chanel, the Duchess of Cambridge, the Duchess of Devonshire, Caitlin Moran, Colin Firth, Anthony Bourdain, Vita Sackville-West and some of my real-life friends to round out the numbers. David Gandy would be the waiter."
It was hard to say which one of them had been more flummoxed by the other’s transformation. Having only seen each other in a parade of T-shirts and jeans for the previous days and weeks, when Max opened the door to Bronte’s flat and saw her in the little red Valentino dress, he clasped both hands over his heart, as if to stave off an attack. Bronte was similarly stunned by Max in full, debonair splendor.
His broad shoulders and trim waist were even more appealing in his perfectly tailored navy suit, a few curls of brown hair touched the collar of his crisp white shirt, and he had finished it off with a pale-green Hermès tie. (They were going to have fun with that tie later, Bronte promised herself.)
Max hired a car and driver to chauffeur them around for the night, and Bronte winced slightly at the needless expense. He called her out.
“If you are constitutionally unable to enjoy spending a little bit of dosh on a night out, we need to have a talk.”
She laughed and decided, for one night at least, to let go of her financial hang-ups. “Fine! All right! I give in. Go ahead and spend. I’ll do my best to turn a blind eye to all this wild extravagance.” He obviously wasn’t the starving student she thought he was if that suit was any indication.
Max looked out the window of the relatively grimy dial-a-car and hid his amusement at Bronte’s idea of extravagance. She was in for a few surprises when she came to London. And it was definitely when she came, because as far as Max was concerned, there was no if about it.
They arrived at a small French restaurant and Bronte gave a brief note of thanks to the powers that be that she had never been wined and dined by any Texan suitors at this particular establishment.
“Since you have rescinded financial equality,” Max said after they were settled side by side in an intimate booth and looking over the outrageously expensive menu, “I was thinking maybe I should just take the reins altogether. I think I’ll order for you, feed you, intertwine my arms through yours as we drink a memorable bottle of Léoville-Las Cases . . .”
He brought his water glass to his lips and watched her face transition from brief, affronted shock, to humor, to something seductive and willing.
Right before he took a sip, he said, “Oh, Bron, please don’t look at me like that until we’re finished with dessert.”
"Okay,” she purred with false compliance. “Whatever you say, Your Grace.”
He almost spewed his water at her offhand remark, but instead pretended it had gone down the wrong tube and brought his napkin to his eyes to conceal his surprise.
She patted him on the back gently. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he sputtered, “fine, just excited I guess.”
Bronte finished rubbing his back then put both of her hands in her lap. “Me too. And nervous all of a sudden.”
He took one of her hands in his and gave her an encouraging smile. “Don’t say that. It’s one of my favorite things about you. You are never nervous.”
Her blood sped at the idea that he already had a favorite thing about her—one of many, apparently—then she swatted herself back into reality.
“Everybody’s nervous sometimes.” Bronte reached for her water glass. “Even Kate.”
Max looked at her with confusion. “Who?”
“You know, the Duchess of Cambridge.”
If he had been drinking water that time, Max would have spewed that mouthful for sure. The way Bronte had phrased the sentence made it sound like you know the Duchess of Cambridge. Whom he did, in fact, know.
He paused again, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Either Bronte had spent the past two days scouring the Internet and knew all about his family and connections and had decided to taunt him into confessing, or she just happened to be stumbling blindly into it.
Bronte burst out laughing. “I mean, of course you don’t know her know her. But you know what I mean. She’s always so authentic and calm and pretty and smiling and, you know, perfect.”
How the hell was he supposed to reply to that? Silence was always one of his best allies.
“Oh forget it. You men are all the same, pretending it’s all silly princess worship or whatever. Still, I bet it’s hard work being perennially cheerful all the time, and I certainly wouldn’t want to do that in a million years.”
Well, Max thought, that wasn’t an acceptable alternative either. He smiled suggestively. “I’m sure her position has its . . . advantages, wouldn’t you say?”
Bronte took the bait. “Oh, all right. William is pretty cute, I’ll give you that.”
Max didn’t know whether to laugh or cry that the future king’s cuteness was at the top of Bronte’s list of royal inducements.