I was happy to see in Publishers Marketplace that Christopher Pavone, the author of The Expats—one of my favorite thrillers of 2012 (so far)—is writing another book. The Expats was so good because it asks the reader a provocative question: How well do you know your spouse? (In this case, the spouse in question leads a double life as an undercover spy for the CIA.) The novel had everything I look for in a thriller: a fast pace, intriguing characters, an unusual setting (Luxembourg!). If you haven't yet discovered this novel, read an interview with the author from the March edition of BookPage. Do you agree with Pavone's assertion that "most people have no idea what their spouses do all day long"?
Pavone's new book is called The Accident. It, too, is about a CIA agent—a veteran agent "tracking an anonymous manuscript with a shocking secret." I'm looking forward to it. What about you?
I recently interviewed author Jon Steele about his debut novel, The Watchers. It's a smart, literary thriller with a supernatural twist. Set in Lausanne, Switzerland, the story centers on Marc Rochat, the bell ringer of the cathedral in Lausanne who is drawn in to a series of murders in the city. I asked Steele about his experience of visiting the real-life cathedral for the first time, when he came in contact with the bell ringer.
Steele went on to write hundreds of words on this haunting meeting, a story that I've excerpted here. Below, you can read about the man who rings the bells marking the time in Lausanne--and how he inspired an exciting new trilogy.
For more on The Watchers and Jon Steele--who is also an award-winning cameraman and has written a memoir about working in combat zones--read this Q&A on BookPage.com.
The bell ringer of Lausanne
guest post by Jon Steele
First time I saw the cathedral. Spring of 2001. I was a news cameraman/editor for ITN [Independent Television News]. I’d been working the Intifada on the West Bank and Gaza for six straight months. I was pretty well shot. I went to Lausanne for R&R, stayed at the Lausanne Palace. I didn’t leave the hotel, but I saw the cathedral from my room. It didn’t look like much. More like a grey lump of falling-down rock than a cathedral.
Wasn’t till a couple years later, after I quit TV news. Long story. I was in Baghdad the day the war started. I’d been living there four months. I decided journalism had lost its mind. Tens of thousands of innocent people were about to die. This war was bullshit, and TV was helping Bush and Blair sell it. I wanted no part of it. After 20-some years of covering the sharper end of news, I put my camera on the ground and quit. I wanted no part of this one. I drove out of Iraq as American bombs fell.
I went to the south of France, hid out in a small village for a year. No TV, no radio, no phone. I took long walks in quiet places and wondered, “OK, now what do I do?”
I wrote a novel called Saddamistan: A Story of Love and War. It was my take on what went down in Baghdad leading up to the war. (It’s still in my desk drawer.) After a year of that, I passed through Lausanne again, checked back into the Lausanne Palace.
One night, me and a mate had dinner on the town. Driving back to the hotel, he pointed to the cathedral. There was a light moving around the belfry. My mate told me it was le guet, the guy who spent his nights in the belfry and called the hour over Lausanne. Once upon a time, all cathedrals had such a man in the belfry, to watch for fires and invaders. One by one they disappeared, except for Lausanne. There’s been a man in the belfry, circling the tower with a lantern and calling the hour, from the day the cathedral was consecrated in the 13th century.
I ended up at the foot of the belfry tower, that very night, bottle of wine in hand. Here’s how it works. You go to the cathedral, stand there and call up, “Renato!” Then this shadow of a figure appears at the railings. He lowers down a key on a 300-foot piece of string. You take the key, Renato pulls up the string. You unlock the tower door, go in, lock the door behind you. You wind your way up the stone steps. It’s dark, the air is close. Then you feel the fresh, night air drifting down, you round the steps one more time and you’re standing on the lower balcony of the belfry. Then this little guy in a black floppy hat, carrying a lantern, steps from the shadows of Clémance (the execution bell) . . . and he says, “Hello, it’s only me.”
That’s how I met Renato Haüsler, le guet de la cathedrale de Lausanne. He’s got a funny shaped room between the bells; it looks like something out of a Tim Burton film. It’s where Renato sleeps. There’s a small bed, a small desk. The room is lit with candles. Renato has candles on the brain. He gave me a tour of the belfry. I met all the bells. The biggest is Marie-Madeleine. She rings the hour. There are five more bells in the upper belfry. Renato took us up to say hello. Along the way he told me about the thousand-year-old timbers of the carpentry, the gigantic tinker toy arrangement of ancient timbers from the primeval forests of Lausanne that house the bells. We went back to his room, had a glass and he told me about his vision. He wanted to light the nave of the cathedral with thousands of candles so people could see the place for what it was.
There was a winching sound and the loudest sound I’d ever heard in my life exploded through the belfry. It was Marie-Madeleine; she was calling the hour. The entire belfry trembled. Renato re-lit the candle in his lantern. Told me to follow him. He walked to the east balcony, waited for Marie’s voice to fade. He held his lantern into the night and called, “C’est le guet! Il a sonne douze, il a sonne douze!” (“This is the watcher! It is 12 o’clock, it is 12 o’clock!”) He did the same to the north, west and south. And facing south, there was Lake Geneva, the lights of Évian on the far shore, the shadows of the Alps rising to the stars.
The wheels in my head starting spinning.
Last of his kind lives in a bell tower in a grey falling-down lump of a cathedral. He’s strange, he wears a black floppy hat, carries a lantern . . . he’s got candles on the brain.
There was a story. I just had to find it.
Thank you, Jon! Readers: Will you check out The Watchers? It's on sale this week. Read more about it on BookPage.com.
There's plenty of talk of summer reading lists as the days grow warmer and longer, but this time, I'm suggesting you add a whole series to your stack. Start with David Downing's Zoo Station and make your way through the adventures of Anglo-American journalist/author/spy John Russell, then grab Downing's newest, Lehrter Station.
This series is best enjoyed from the beginning, and historical suspense fans will agree with Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney, who insists "Downing’s deft weaving of fiction and real-life WWII history is second to none."
We chatted with Downing about the fifth installment in the story of John Russell, and I loved his answer to this question: "If you could travel back in time to any decade, where would you go and what would you do while you were there?" Read his answer.
Will Lehrter Station make your summer reading list?
The April Whodunit column features four standout suspense novels (including "hands-down the best gangster thriller in years"), but my favorite is probably the one about under-employed college grads who turn to . . . kidnapping to pay the bills. Everything's going swimmingly for the characters—their business plan is all about low-ransom, high-volume kidnappings, and they never hurt the victims—until they nab the wrong guy: a man whose wife has mafia connections. Before they know it they're being chased by both the FBI and the mob. I mentioned this book, The Professionals, in a "What we're reading" blog post a couple of months ago, and today it's finally on sale!
I interviewed debut author Owen Laukkanen because I was curious about his unusual background; he's worked as a poker journalist, and now he's a commercial fisherman. I also wondered if he had any good advice (that doesn't involve illegal activity) for young graduates.
Laukkanen gave great answers to my questions. Here's a preview; read the full Q&A on BookPage.com.
What’s the riskiest career option: playing poker, fishing or writing fiction?
Great question! Fishing, writing and card playing are all tough ways to make a living, but with writing, at least, the money tends to dwindle, rather than flat-out disappear. In poker and fishing, there's always the chance that luck will lay a beating on you, and in those instances it's very easy to lose tremendous sums of money very, very quickly.
Fishing, meanwhile, combines those high financial stakes with the very real possibility that you'll injure yourself, or, well, die. It's riskier than poker, but a heck of a lot more fun than hanging out in a casino, and you can take plenty of time off to write.
What career advice would you give a group of recent college graduates who are frustrated with the job market?
Learn a trade. There's this idea that every smart kid in the world needs to go to college to succeed at life, but I really don't see any shame in becoming a plumber or a pipefitter or anything like that. Where I live, at least, there are still plenty of jobs for skilled tradespeople.
For those of us dead set on our arts degrees, though, I think an open mind and a willingness to relocate are pretty important. There are still a lot of fun jobs out there; they might just be in Alaska or Texas and not down the street.
I would not advise anyone to turn to crime, particularly kidnapping!
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?