Becky Masterman's suspense debut, Rage Against the Dying (Minotaur), has been drawing rave reviews from early readers. What sets this thriller apart from the crowd? Its heroine, Brigid Quinn, a retired FBI agent whose best years, it seems, are still ahead of her. Not since Mrs. Pollifax have readers seen a retiree with Brigid's savvy. We asked Masterman to talk about the origins of her boundary-breaking character.
Guest post by Becky Masterman
You could say that Rage Against the Dying has taken me 20 years to write. That includes the six novels I wrote just for practice, and that never sold. What makes this latest different, I’m told, is not the thriller plot, though it is fast-paced and has a truly heinous serial killer in it. The difference is the heroine, Brigid Quinn, an older woman who is retired from the FBI and not fitting very well into the world she always sought to protect for others.
People ask where I found this character. Is it me? No. Brigid is an unlikely combination of two real people: One is the retired commander at Fort Apache, The Bronx, who after getting about eight thousand cases under his belt, literally wrote the book on homicide investigation. He’s a tough guy, but at his own insistence, also "the last boy scout." It is said that the character of Kojak was based on him.
The other person is a woman in my book club. She has lived all over the world, hikes, plays golf twice a week. When we left a restaurant one night she wrote a note on a napkin and slipped it to a lone male diner. She’s 80 years old.
In their own ways, both these people, the homicide detective and the elderly friend, "rage against the dying." Through my stories, I can be like them.
Thanks Becky! Rage Against the Dying is on sale today. For more on the book and Becky, visit St. Martin's website.
Number 11 in the Charlie Parker series, John Connolly's latest novel begins with an ominous discovery: a plane has crashed in Maine's Great North Woods containing a list of those who have struck a deal with the devil. Is Charlie Parker's name on the list? And where is the crash's only survivor hiding?
Our mystery reviewer says Connolly's Charlie Parker books "push the limits of the whodunit genre... where evil becomes palpable—and ever so believable." I can't think of a better description for The Wrath of Angels.
Check out this creepy interview-style trailer by Hodder books:
Are you hooked on the Charlie Parker series? What other mystery series do you love?
Seriously, what's going on with with Denmark, Finland, Sweden—really, any of the Nordic countries? It seems like our whodunit column almost always features a mystery from some Scandinavian country. And we've chatted with several of them: here, here and here.
Whatever they're doing, we're paying attention. This month, whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney recommends Jussi Adler-Olsen's newest thriller, The Absent One, which stars Copenhagen cold case investigator Carl Mørck and a 20-year-old murder:
"The prime suspects were the progeny of some of Denmark’s most prestigious families, all classmates in a high-dollar (er, kroner) boarding school. Most of said suspects went on to become contemporary Danish movers and shakers. One, a “poor relation,” went to jail for the murders. And one, Kimmie—who knows that the convicted murderer was nothing more than a paid scapegoat for his wealthy friends—is living on the streets, furtively plotting her revenge on the band of sociopathic socialites. Somehow, Mørck will have to find a way to bring the miscreants to justice before Kimmie has the opportunity to administer her altogether more Old Testament style of retribution."
Who's your favorite Scandinavian thriller writer?
Series fans are a devoted bunch, following their favorite characters through adventure after adventure and sending new installments to the top of bestseller lists. But what to do while you're waiting for the next book?
In the spirit of book fortunes, here are mystery series recommendations based on taste, from cozies to police procedurals to Nordic noir. In each case, we take a wildly popular series and offer a few suggestions for series that are newer or lesser known.
If you like the forensic technology in Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series, try . . .
• The Dr. Claire Waters series by Neal Baer and Jonathan Green, starring forensic psychiatrist Claire Waters and NYPD detective Nick Lawler. Book #1, Kill Switch, is a break-neck story about a serial killer's rampage.
• Jefferson Bass's Body Farm series, starring forensic anthropologist Dr. Bill Brockton. Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney called the most recent installment, The Inquisitor's Key, "highly original."
• Andrea Kane's Forensic Instincts series, about a crew of experts "working just a smidgeon outside the law" who solve near-impossible crimes.
If you like Michael Connelly's police procedurals about LAPD detective Harry Bosch, try . . .
• The brand-new Bell Elkins series by Julia Keller, which focuses on the prosecuting attorney in a small town in West Virginia. We loved book #1, A Killing in the Hills, which starts with a bang when three men are murdered in a coffee shop.
• Owen Laukkanen's Stevens and Windermere series, about an FBI special agent and a Minnesota state investigator. Book #2, Criminal Investigator, comes out on March 21, 2013.
If you like Elizabeth George's series about Scotland Yard Inspector Thomas Lynley, try . . .
• Louise Penny's Canadian whodunits about Chief Inspector Gamache and his homicide department in Quebec. The latest installment, The Beautiful Mystery, is out this month.
• The excellent police procedurals about the Dublin Murder Squad by Tana French. We loved #4, Broken Harbor—our Top Pick in Fiction for August.
If you like Lilian Jackson Braun's lighthearted "The Cat Who" series of cozy mysteries, try . . .
If you like Sue Grafton's books starring feisty sleuth Kinsey Milhone, try . . .
• Laura Levine's series about wisecracking detective Jaine Austen. We liked Pampered to Death, a clever sendup of health spas. (The victim is strangled with spa-healthy kelp!) Look for Death of A Neighborhood Witch in September.
• Kate White's Bailey Weggins mysteries, about a "smart, savvy, sexy" amateur sleuth.
If you like Stieg Larsson's edgy Millennium Trilogy, try . . .
• Jo Nesbo's gritty series about Oslo investigator Harry Hole.
• Swedish author Hakan Nesser's Chief Inspector van Veeteren series, which Bruce Tierney calls an "absolute must."
• Lars Kepler's Detective Inspector Joona Linna series (also Swedish). Book #2, The Nightmare, came out in July. BookPage contributor Sukey Howard called it "crime fiction with real depth."
• Taylor Stevens' Vanessa Michael Munroe books, which have an assassin-heroine who will remind you more than a little of Lisbeth Salander.
If you like Elizabeth Peters' series about Egyptologist Amelia Peabody, try . . .
• Charles Finch’s atmospheric Victorian mystery series about Parliament member/amateur detective Charles Lenox. BookPage review Barbara Clark called A Burial at Sea an "expertly written adventure." Look for A Death in the Small Hours in November.
• Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation series, romantic stories about spies in 19th-century Britain.
• Tasha Alexander's historical mysteries about 19th-century English sleuth Lady Emily.
What series do you love?
By the way, if women's fiction series are more your thing, this week's Monday Contest highlights Susan Wiggs' Lakeshore Chronicles series. (You can enter to win 10 books!)
Here's what stuck out today. Notice any similarities?
Out September 4 from Forge, you can buy Hank Phillippi Ryan's The Other Woman, the first in a new series. This breakneck first installment features a possible serial killer, a fallen-from-grace TV reporter, a Senate candidate facing a sex scandal—and much more.
The latest Joe O'Loughlin thriller from Michael Robotham is out from Mulholland Books on October 2. A husband and wife are murdered in their London home. Is the suspect just a troubled young man . . . or does he have something more to hide? The last O'Loughlin book was our Top Pick in Mystery in March 2012.
Japanese bestseller Keigo Higashino's latest book to hit U.S. shores, Salvation of a Saint, is on sale October 2 from Minotaur. Think murdered husband + a widow/suspect + a detective who has a thing for the woman. Higashino's The Devotion of Suspect X was filled with terrific suspense and a complete twist ending. We expect no less from Salvation!
These are all thrillers set in cosmopolitan locales—Boston, London and Tokyo, respectively—and, of course, they all involve murder. But I'm grouping 'em together because of the book jackets. What is it about a long-haired woman wearing a red trench coat and running/walking away?
Have you noticed any funny trends on your book jackets lately? Is red going to be the big color for fall? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
As Bruce Tierney writes in the July Whodunit column, Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl "generated more pre-release buzz than just about any other mystery this year, and deservedly so. It is a fiendishly clever tale of a marriage gone toxic, and revenge exacted to a disturbingly lethal degree."
Now that Gone Girl is on the New York Times bestseller list for the 7th week in a row; 20th Century Fox has paid $1.5 million for the film rights (with Reese Witherspoon producing and starring, and Flynn writing the adaptation); and the author is appearing on morning news shows . . . I thought you might want one more nudge to read this brilliant, exciting thriller.
Don't usually like stories of relationships? (Gone Girl is about a marriage-gone-wrong . . . and what happens after a wife mysteriously disappears.) The suspense surrounding a police investigation and attending media frenzy will appeal to thriller fans. With alternating unreliable narrators (the husband and wife) . . . I dare you to guess the ending, let alone keep up with all the lies the characters tell us.
Don't usually read thrillers, but you're intrigued by a complicated husband-and-wife tale? The main character, Amy, studied psychology and writes quizzes for relationship magazines. Her husband, Nick, is a magazine writer. But everything goes downhill after they lose their jobs and move to rural Missouri. Amy's chronicle of their relationship, starting from the day they meet, and Nick's explanation of what happens after Amy disappears, make for fascinating reading. The mystery plot is just an added bonus.
I recommend you purchase this book ASAP—and spend the weekend frantically turning pages!
By the way, if you usually get your books from the library and are frustrated by the number of holds on Gone Girl, you might check out The Expats by Chris Pavone, another smart suspense novel that concerns deceptions in marriage. The books certainly have differences—for one, The Expats is a spy thriller—but I think they will appeal to the same sort of reader. This one came out in March and should have considerably shorter hold lines at your local branch.
Have you read Gone Girl? What thrillers are you recommending this summer?
There's just something about the Amish. Something about their culture that makes for touching romances and tales of friendship (not to mention a hilarious vampire mash-up). And there's something about all that hard work and neighborly compassion that makes for a really gritty murder mystery series.
Linda Castillo's Gone Missing is the newest installment in her Amish thriller series and our Top Pick in Mystery. Writes Whodunit columinst Bruce Tierney, "With its wonderfully conflicted protagonist, and its incisive look into a society most of us know little about, Gone Missing is the unquestioned high point of one of the most compelling series in modern suspense fiction."
Check out our 7 questions interview with Castillo, where she shared why Amish country inspires her thrillers:
"Ohio’s Amish Country is a peaceful and bucolic place of rolling hills, farms and quaint towns. The Amish make it unique—there’s no place like it in the world. I think the element that makes it such a terrific setting for a thriller is the juxtaposition of the beautiful setting and the introduction of evil into it. That contrast is one of the things that prompted me to set my books among the Amish."
According to our latest Reader Survey, BookPage readers enjoy mysteries more than any other genre. After hearing this news, we decided to give you an extra dose of suspenseful reading suggestions. In the July edition, look for an extended Whodunit column, highlighting six new novels—all written by women.
Longtime Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney writes:
Hard-core grittiness and violence are now the norm in female-penned suspense novels; romance-laden cozies are no longer the province of the Women of Mystery—if indeed they ever were. So move over Andrew Vachss, step aside Lee Child: There's a new sheriff in town—and he's a she!
What's your favorite thriller of the year, so far?
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.
The world always seems to need saving, doesn't it? In Nick Harkaway's second novel, Angelmaker, it's business as usual—not. It's a steampunk/mobster noir/thriller that tosses clockmaker Joseph Spork into a race against time (get it?) to halt the oncoming end of days.
Here's what our reviewer had to say:
Angelmaker is the stuff that steampunk is made of—the heroes are stalwart, the antagonist so villainous he makes even the worst Bond foe seem charmingly amateurish, and the threat monstrously dire. Just as importantly given the genre it inhabits, the devices, constructs and “doodahs” created, used and coveted by all sides involved are marvelously varied, inventive, and either inspiring or sinister (and sometimes both).
What do you think of Angelmaker?