Psychological thriller Bleed for Me by Michael Robotham is our March Mystery of the Month! Whodunit columinst Bruce Tierney says it combines "the insights of a trained psychologist; the savvy street smarts and irreverent observations of a retired cop; and intricate plotting from a first-rate author."
BookPage chatted with Robotham in a 7 Questions interview, where he shares insight on writing, his experiences with Jackie Collins and what he's working on next.
Read on for an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Bleed for Me, when psychologist Joe O’Loughlin questions a boy whose mental health is being reviewed (Dr Naparstek is the boy's psychiatrist):
If I could tell you one thing about Liam Baker’s life it would be this: when he was eighteen years old he beat a girl half to death and left her paralysed from the waist down because she tipped a bucket of popcorn over his head. As defining events go, nothing else comes close for Liam, not the death of his mother or his faith in God or the three-years he has spent in a secure psychiatric hospital – all of which can be attributed, in one way or another, to that moment of madness in a cinema queue.
‘It’s been a while since I saw you last, Liam. Remind me again why
‘I did a bad thing, but I’m better now.’
There it is: an admission and an excuse in the same breath.
‘So why are you here?’
‘You sent me here.’
‘I must have had a reason.’
‘I had a per...per...personality disorder.’
‘What do you think that means?’
‘I hurt someone, but it weren’t my fault. I couldn’t help it.’ He leans forward, elbows on his knees, eyes on the floor.
‘You beat a girl up. You punched and kicked her. You crushed her spine. You broke her jaw. You fractured her skull. Her name was Zoe Hegarty. She was sixteen.’
Each fact resonates as though I’m clashing cymbals next to his ear, but nothing changes in his eyes.
‘What are you sorry for?’
‘For what I d-d-did.’
‘And now you’ve changed?'
‘What have you done to change?’
He looks perplexed.
‘Hostility like that has to come from somewhere, Liam. What have you
done to change?’
He begins talking about the therapy sessions and workshops that he’s done, the anger management courses and social skills training. Occasionally, he looks over his shoulder towards Dr Naparstek, but I ask him to concentrate on me.
‘Tell me about Zoe?’
‘What about her?’
‘What was she like?’
He shakes his head. ‘I don’t remember.’
‘Did you fancy her?’
Liam flinches. ‘It w-w-weren’t like that.’
‘You followed her home from the cinema. You dragged her off the street. You kicked her unconscious.’
‘I didn’t rape her.’
‘I didn’t say anything about raping her. Is that what you intended to do?’
Liam shakes his head, tugging at the sleeves of his shirt. His eyes are focused on the far wall, as if watching some invisible drama being played out on a screen that nobody else can see.
‘You once told me that Zoe wore a mask. You said a lot of people wore masks and weren’t genuine. Do I wear a mask?’
What about Dr Naparstek?’
The mention of her name makes his skin flush.
‘How old are you now, Liam?’
Tell me about your dreams.’
He blinks at me.
‘What do you dream about?’
'Getting out of here. Starting a n-n-new life.’
‘Do you masturbate?’
‘I don’t believe that’s true, Liam.’
He shakes his head.
‘You shouldn’t talk about stuff like that.’
‘It’s very natural for a young man. When you masturbate who do you
‘There aren’t many girls around here. Most of the staff are men.’
‘G-g-girls in magazines.’
‘Dr Naparstek is a woman. How often do you get to see Dr Naparstek? Twice a week? Three times? Do you look forward to your sessions?’
‘She’s been good to me.’
‘How has she been good to you?’
‘She doesn’t judge me.’
‘Oh, come on, Liam, of course she judges you. That’s why she’s here. Do you ever have sexual fantasies about her?’
He bristles. Edgy. Uncomfortable.
‘You shouldn’t say things like that.’
‘She’s a very attractive woman, Liam. I’m just admiring her.’
I look over his shoulder. Dr Naparstek doesn’t seem to appreciate the compliment. Her lips are pinched tightly and she’s toying with a pendant around her neck.
‘What do you prefer, Liam, winter or summer?’
‘Day or night?’
‘Apples or oranges?’
‘Coffee or tea?’
‘Women or men?’
‘In skirts or trousers?’
‘Long or short?’
‘Stockings or tights?’
‘What colour lipstick?’
‘What colour eyes does she have?’
‘What is she wearing today?’
‘What colour is her bra?’
‘I didn’t mention a name, Liam. Who are you talking about?’
He stiffens, embarrassed, his face a beacon. I notice his left knee
bouncing up and down in a reflex action.
‘Do you think Dr Naparstek is married?’ I ask.
‘I d-d-don’t know.’
‘Does she wear a wedding ring?’
‘Maybe she has a boyfriend at home. Do you think about what she does when she leaves this place? Whether there is someone waiting for her? What does her house look like? What does she wear when she’s at home? Does she sleep naked?’
Flecks of white spin are gathered in the corners of Liam’s mouth.
Dr Naparstek wants to stop the questioning, but the Judge tells her to sit down.
Liam tries to turn but I lean forward and put my hands on his shoulders, my mouth close to his ear. I can smell the sweat wetting the roots of his hair and see a fleck of shaving foam beneath his ear.
In a whisper, ‘You think about her all the time, don’t you, Liam? The smell of her skin, her shampoo, the delicate shell of her ear, the shadow in the hollow between her breasts . . .every time you see her, you collect more details so that you can fantasise about what you want to do to her.’
Liam’s skin has flushed and his breathing has gone ragged.
‘You fantasise about following her home – just like you followed Zoe Hegarty. Dragging her off the street. Making her beg you to stop.’
The Judge suddenly interrupts. ‘We can’t hear your questions, Professor. Please speak up.’
The spell is broken. Liam remembers to breathe.
‘My apologies,’ I say, glancing at the review panel. ‘I was just telling Liam that I might ask Dr Naparstek out to dinner.’
Will you pick up Bleed for Me? It's out now!
Mary Anna Evans is the author of the Faye Longchamp series, which stars an archaeologist who also solves mysteries. Plunders, the latest installment, comes out today. It takes place near the mouth of the Mississippi River, where Faye and her husband have been hired to survey archaeological sites—a task made complicated by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Added to the mess is a murder, an inheritance battle and even pirates . . .
In a guest post for BookPage, Evans writes about the moment when her characters started to take on a life of their own.
Readers: When do you experience this kind of book magic? Are characters always real to you from the very beginning, or does it take them a while to grow on you?
guest post by Mary Anna Evans
I love the act of writing. Magic creeps up behind me, and it always happens when I’m not looking.
Ordinary professional satisfaction comes when I think about the hard work that went into the book I’m holding in my hand. But the magic . . . there’s no predicting when it will wrap its arms around me.
When I wrote my first book, Artifacts, I thought of it as a story contained in itself—the story of an amateur archaeologist trapped in decades-old intrigue. While seeking justice for a murdered girl, Faye Longchamp uncovered centuries of her own family history, scraping away layer after layer of secrets, and she began building the friendship of a lifetime with Joe Wolf Mantooth. I first felt the magic then, as Faye’s personality grew under my hands and as Joe said things that even I didn’t know he was going to say.
I found that the characters I created for Artifacts had more stories to tell. The seventh in the Faye Longchamp series, Plunder, is out today, and Faye and Joe still surprise me. They’ve found their own way to navigate the tricky waters of marriage and parenthood, while struggling to keep their archaeological business afloat. What is more, they’re able to find even more love to give a brilliant but troubled teenager whose life flies apart when the grandmother who raised her is murdered.
Young Amande is one of those characters who came from nowhere and begged me to tell her story. How could Faye and Joe not help her find her place in a world that is often unwelcoming?
As Faye and Joe build a family, I remember a question I was asked after Floodgates (Faye Longchamp #4) ended with Faye and Joe making wedding plans. I can be oblivious sometimes, so I’ll admit that I didn’t expect the question I got, time and again:
“Is the series over?”
“Of course not,” I answered. “Life doesn’t end when you fall in love. If you’re lucky, that’s when the magic begins.”
Thanks, Mary Anna! Learn more about the Faye Longchamp series on Evans' website.
I've mentioned before how much I enjoy Laura Lippman's smart thrillers, so any book that she recommends with a blurb is naturally going to catch my eye. Even better when that book is delivered to BookPage inside an over-sized milk carton (read this blog post to see what I mean).
I stated reading Alison Gaylin's And She Was with high expectations, and I was not disappointed. First of all, the thriller has an interesting hook: Missing persons investigator Brenna Spector has Hyperthymestic Syndrome, a rare, real-life condition that causes a person to have a perfect autobiographical memory. In other words: She can remember every moment from her life.
For example, you probably went to the dentist, oh, 10 years ago. Do you remember exactly what the receptionist said to you, exactly what the waiting room sounded and smelled like, exactly what you wore? Well, Brenna can remember details like that from her life, no matter how insignificant, important or tragic. It's a helpful quality for an investigator, but also a hindrance. Would you really like to have every memory from your life automatically playing on loop in your mind?
Brenna's sister disappeared when she was a child, and that's what triggered the disorder to kick in. As an adult, she is called to investigate the disappearance of a woman named Carol, and that case is connected with the disappearance of another young girl that happened years before, and to Brenna's past.
I interviewed Gaylin for BookPage.com and asked her whether a perfect memory would be a blessing or a curse. Here's what she said:
Having a pretty good memory myself, my first response was, “That must be awful!” I honestly think that the ability to forget—to let the past fade into soft focus and recede in your mind—is one of the great tools of survival. How can you forgive and forget if you can’t forget? How can you move on at all, if the past is just as clear and visceral as the present? How can you truly be with the people around you, if your mind is full of everyone who is no longer in your life?
Our February Mystery of the Month, Defending Jacob by William Landay, taps into a parent's worst nightmare. No -- worse.
Assistant D.A. Andy Barber's son seems the most likely suspect for a neighbor's brutal murder. Andy finds himself desperately defending his son, holding his family together and keeping at bay that tiny nagging doubt. Writes Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney, "Defending Jacob is one of the most disturbing books of the year, and soon to be one of the most talked-about."
Check out an excerpt from Chapter 1, when Andy is being questioned by the prosecuting attorney:
In the grand jury room that morning, the jurors were in a sullen, defeated mood. They sat, thirty-odd men and women who had not been clever enough to find a way out of serving, all crammed into those school chairs with a teardrop-shaped desk for a chair-arm. They understood their jobs well enough by now. Grand juries serve for months, and they figure out pretty quickly what the gig is all about: accuse, point your finger, name the wicked one.
A grand jury proceeding is not a trial. There is no judge in the room and no defense lawyer. The prosecutor runs the show. It is an investigation and in theory a check on the prosecutor’s power, since the grand jury decides whether the prosecutor has enough evidence to haul a suspect into court for trial. If there is enough evidence, the grand jury grants the prosecutor an indictment, his ticket to Superior Court. If not, they return a “no bill” and the case is over before it begins. In practice, “no bill”s are rare. Most grand juries indict. Why not? They only see one side of the case.
But in this case, I suspect the jurors knew Logiudice did not have a case. Not today. The truth was not going to be found, not with evidence this stale and tainted, not after everything that had happened. It had been over a year already — over twelve months since the body of a fourteen-year-old boy was found in the woods with three stab wounds arranged in a line across the chest as if he’d been forked with a trident. But it was not the time, so much. It was everything else. Too late, and the grand jury knew it.
I knew it, too.
Only Logiudice was undeterred. He pursed his lips in that odd way of his. He reviewed his notes on a yellow legal pad, considered his next question. He was doing just what I’d taught him. The voice in his head was mine: Never mind how weak your case is. Stick to the system. Play the game the same way it’s been played the last 500-odd years, use the same gutter tactic that has always governed cross-examination — lure, trap, f*ck.
Does it sound like your type of thriller?
Two novels that have nearly topped out BookPage editors’ personal freak-o-meter rankings in terms of sheer level of creepiness are Mo Hayder’s The Devil of Nanking, a thriller set in Tokyo that takes readers on a journey to the Nanking Massacre, and Scott Smith’s The Ruins, about a vacation gone wrong in the Mayan jungle.
In recent months, one of our favorite creepy thrillers is Sorry by Zoran Drvenkar, about four 20-something German friends who get involved with a brutal killer. We also recommend S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep (see the Book Clubs column in the February issue!).
Finally, you can’t go wrong with Jo Nesbø. His latest, The Leopard, is especially disturbing.
Put your name in the hat for you own book fortune by sending an e-mail to bookfortunes (at) bookpage (dot) com.
Breaking Point, the sequel to Dana Haynes' Crashers, doesn't lose any of its prequel's original momentum. Writes our reviewer, "This is a book for adrenaline junkies; it grabs you by the frontal lobes right at the outset, and doesn’t let go until the last page."
Featured in our Whodunit column, Breaking Point finds the Crashers--the government airplane crash investigators--racing for their own lives. They must unravel the mystery behind a crash as it burns around them and threatens to destroy the evidence.
We chatted with Haynes about his new book, what his shoes look like and much more. More than anything, I wanted to know: After writing Crashers and Breaking Point, are you afraid of airplanes? Click here to see his answer.
What about you? Does reading books about airplane crashes make you afraid to fly?
Breaking Point came out yesterday! Will you pick up a copy?
We know our readers love suspense; our thriller-oriented contests nearly always get more entries than any other genre (see: Sandra Brown and George Pelecanos and Laura Lippman), and I routinely receive book fortune requests from readers who are eager to discover a new mystery author.
There's only so much room in the print edition of BookPage, though, and each month we can only cover four books in the Whodunit column. However, we are able to cover more suspense—from grisly to cozy—on BookPage.com. Here are a couple new releases we're happy to recommend:
The Burning is the U.S. debut by author Jane Casey and will appeal to fans of Tana French and Sophie Hannah. In a recent review, BookPage contributor Barbara Clark praised Casey's "deft characterizations and engrossing backstory," and also noted that while this book kicks off with a gory crime scene typical of the genre, it morphs into a "compulsively readable character study" that she couldn't put down.
The Devil's Puzzle is the fourth book in the Someday Quilts series by Clare O'Donohue, and it does not disappoint. O'Donohue—who has also worked as a producer on HGTV's "Simply Quilts," manages to combine fascinating quilting trivia with a compelling mystery (and a dash of romance!). As Clark writes for BookPage, "Both real and wannabe quilters will be delighted at the lore and explanations of this historical craft that are inserted neatly into the text, adding color and depth to the plot."
What mysteries are you reading lately? After mailing out yesterday's spooky-themed XTRA, I've heard that many readers like to up the mystery and suspense in their October reading. Are you among that group?
From earthquakes to hurricanes, it seems like weather has been on everyone's mind lately. Here in Nashville, it has literally gone from 100° and sunny to a chilly mid-60s in a matter of days. In a guest post for The Book Case, thriller writer Laura Caldwell—creator of the Izzy McNeil series—explains how she uses weather to her advantage in her novels. She also describes how—any why—she ages Izzy. (Izzy's latest adventure, Claim of Innocence, is available now.)
Readers: In the series that you love, do you notice changing weather, or how characters age?
Everyone grows old, right?
But what about your favorite fictional character?
by Laura Caldwell
The Wall Street Journal published an article this summer entitled "The (Really) Long Goodbye" about mystery authors aging their detective protagonists. From Michael Connelly to Ian Rankin to Lee Child, most writers wished they’d made their characters younger when they created them, or aged them slower.
When I wrote the proposal and first few chapters of Red Hot Lies, the first in the Izzy McNeil novels, Izzy was in her early 30s. My editor, Margaret Marbury, urged me to make her younger. She pointed out that if the books kept going, and I intended to age the character, I would want a lot of room to grow. So I re-thought Izzy and dropped her back a few years to age 29. This suited the novel well, because Izzy was bordering on a new stage in life—about to get married—and having her bordering on a new decade added to the feel of being on the brink.
As the Izzy McNeil books are set in Chicago, weather was a natural tool to use for timing. Chicago has the battiest weather—it listens to no one, hears no prayers, but it can really pull out the stops and be downright heavenly. Take this past Labor Day weekend for example. In a four day span, we here in the Chi have experienced everything from torrential rain to tropical sunshine, mid-90s temperatures to this morning’s mid-50s. The first three Izzy books, Red Hot Lies, Red Blooded Murder, Red White & Dead, were published as a trilogy and spanned six months, from a crisp October to a sunny June. Izzy four, Claim of Innocence, begins a few months later in steamy August. Jump ahead to the chill of late fall for Question of Trust, the fifth Izzy book, as it takes place in frosty, rainy November. The sixth book, Art of the Matter (tentatively titled), isn’t written yet, but I’m feeling a blizzard coming on.
If I keep exploring the ever-changing weather like this, Izzy ages approximately 18 months in six books. Which feels right, because I do want Izzy to grow, not only in number of months or years, but emotionally as well. That growth might not always be in the right direction. Like all of us, Izzy takes a few detours and wrong turns. And I know she’s definitely heading into some trouble of her own making. Like the Chicago weather, I can just feel it.
Peter Spiegelman's fourth and newest thriller, Thick as Thieves, is one of our Whodunit picks for August, and reviewer Bruce Tierney called it "genre-defining" and "twisty as a corkscrew." No surprise there, as Spiegelman's book is not only the story of a "dream crime," but it is also one of the most exciting thrillers to hit shelves this summer.
Check out our Q&A with Spiegelman for his take on crime thrillers, great books and great writing.
And if you needed any more convincing about Thick as Thieves, here's the trailer:
Spiegelman's newest is already on shelves. Will you make room for it on your TBR list?
When I was a camp counselor, we used to celebrate Christmas in July by singing carols in the dining hall, making and stuffing stockings for our campers and dressing in green and red.
I'm not going to go quite as all out here on The Book Case, but I do have a special treat . . . a little preview of I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, the fourth novel in Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce series!
In the novel, we find 11-year-old Flavia—a brilliant toxicologist and a pint-sized sleuth—involved in a Christmastime mystery. A film company is shooting a movie at her family's estate, and the star shows up strangled.
Wet, heavy flakes were falling straight down towards the earth, no two alike as they plummeted past the lighted window of my laboratory—yet all of them embers of the same family.
In the case of snowflakes, the family's name is H2O, known to the unitiated as water.
Like all matter, water can exist in three states: At normal temperatures it's a liquid. Heated to 212 degrees Fahrenheit, it becomes a gas; cooled below 32 degrees, it crystallizes and becomes ice.
Of the three, ice was my favorite state: Water, when frozen was classified as a mineral—a mineral whose crystalline form, in an iceberg, for instance, was capable of mimicking a diamond as big as the Queen Elizabeth.
But add a bit of heat and poof!—your' a liquid again, able to run easily, with only the assistance of gravity, into the most secret of places. Just thinking of some of the subterranean spots in which water has been makes my stomach tickle!
Then, raise the temperature enough, and Ali-kazam! you're a gas—and suddenly you can fly.
If that's not magic, I don't know what is!
For more on Alan Bradley, visit his author page on BookPage.com.