MysteryPeople Q&A with Allison Leotta

  • Interview and Introduction by MysteryPeople Contributor Scott Butki

Allison Leotta has done it again: she has crafted a fine mystery while also schooling us about the status of campus assault in this country. Leotta puts her former profession into play in her series about Anna Curtis, a federal sex crimes prosecutor.

For this, the fifth book in the series, Leotta wanted to tackle campus rape at a prestigious Michigan university. She drew inspiration from real cases, showing the struggle of Title IX activists fighting for change, the effect of technological change on the area, and the length those in power will go to protect their own and keep from the public the severity of the problem.

While the reader can learn a great deal from Leotta’s latest, information comes across from the page in a way that does not detract from the story, nor its excitement and drama. As always, it’s a great story. I encourage you to check out this or the other stories in her series. You can start with any book.

I was lucky enough to get Allison to agree to another email interview with me. She and I last talked for her previous book, A Good Killing.

“I want my books to be first and foremost page turners – a fascinating place for the reader to spend a few hours. But along with entertaining, I do want to educate. My own favorite learning has always come from good novels. And some of the statistics about campus assaults are jaw-dropping.”

Scott Butki: How did you come up with this story?

Allison Leotta: I was captivated by a news story about a lovely young student who disappeared from a nearby college. She was missing for several days, and I found myself thinking about her all the time — hoping and praying she was okay — and wondering what might’ve happened, who could’ve taken her, was there any way this could have a happy ending? Those thoughts were the first seeds of this novel.

SB: Were you planning from the start to write a book about a sex crime on campus since that is such a hot topic these days?

AL: I’ve been mulling it for a while, tossing around ideas for a couple years. My editor, Lauren Spiegel, thought this was the right time, and I think she nailed it. There’s an important national conversation going on about campus sex assaults – the nature of the problem and the possibility of solutions – and I’m glad to be a small part of it.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Craig Johnson


Craig Johnson’s latest Walt Longmire novella, The Highwayman, has the author dipping into the ghost story genre. Walt and Henry are asked to help out a state trooper who is getting radio calls from a fellow statie who died over forty years before. Craig was kind enough to talk to about the book and the supernatural.

MysteryPeople Scott: What made you want to tackle a ghost story?

CJ: I’ve always loved the Charles Dickens short story The Signalman, a little, thirteen-pager he wrote about a train wreck north of London. It’s an interesting piece, and I’ve always wondered how you would update it in the face of modern technology. Well, I was talking to a Highway Patrol buddy of mine, and we were discussing one of our favorite places in the state–the Wind River Scenic Byway– and he told me that because of the two thousand foot granite cliffs on the sides of the canyon, radio frequency didn’t work and how the old-timers used to refer to it as no-man’s land… Hence, The Highwayman.

“I’ve always loved the Charles Dickens short story The Signalman, a little, thirteen-pager he wrote about a train wreck north of London. It’s an interesting piece, and I’ve always wondered how you would update it in the face of modern technology.”

MPS: What did you learn about the form while writing it?

CJ: I’ve flirted with the form before, but this was a full-blown, straight-ahead ghost story, and I knew I was going to have to walk the tightrope on this one. I think the genre is best served when you don’t get too heavy-handed and try and stay in the margins of what’s possible and what’s not. I was interested in the method of legend making and seeing if I could construct a worthy adversary for Walt and Henry who might not be there at all.

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The Bouncer, the Patsy, and JFK: Tim Baker talks FEVER CITY

In Tim Baker’s debut thriller, Fever City, a frantic search for a kidnapped child collides with a plot to assassinate JFK. Here Tim talks about an unlikely inspiration for the novel…


The Bouncer, the Patsy, and JFK

Guest Post by Tim Baker

In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, my father managed Chequers nightclub in Sydney, which at the time was considered one of the top nightspots in the world, attracting performers such as Sammy Davis Jr, Liza Minelli, Dionne Warwick, Bobby Darin and Trini Lopez. It was a mandatory pit stop for any visiting celebrity, and among the many stars who dropped by for a drink were Sinatra, Bob Hope, The Rolling Stones and the Bee Gees.

But for me it was just a place where my dad worked, and I’d often go there after school, when it was hectic and unglamorous, with dozens of staff preparing for the night: polishing the dance floor, setting tables, unloading liquor in the bar or vegetables in the kitchen. The best part was watching the live orchestra setting up for the evening, tightening cymbals to stands and uncasing gleaming saxophones before the musicians sat down to an early dinner at a table at the back of the stage.

“At night, my father’s workplace was transformed as if by magic. Walking into the club, you’d be greeted with a gauzy haze of cigarette smoke so thick you could almost touch it. It was like a lens through which everything was both blurred and magnified.”

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Guest Post: David Hansard on “The Lonely Star”

Our final author to contribute an essay for MysteryPeople’s celebration of Texas Mystery Writers Month is David Hansard, writer of One Minute Gone, one of our best selling thrillers in MysteryPeople. David questions who he is as a Texan and reflects on the power of writing to provide him with the best answers.

“About the only thing common to the various Texan prototypes is that they have almost nothing in common, and really don’t like each other much. Although they do all like being Texan.”

“The Lonely Star” by David Hansard

Texas is romance, myth, legend, and stereotype. A bunch of them, and they’re all different and to a significant degree, contradictory and incompatible. Just like Texans. About the only thing common to the various Texan prototypes is that they have almost nothing in common, and really don’t like each other much. Although they do all like being Texan. I’m not talking only about rural vs. urban or farmers vs. ranchers vs. oilmen, let alone any political denigrations. Among animal people, sheep raisers and cow raisers don’t like each other, and among urbanites, Dallasites and Houstonians like each other as much Longhorns and Aggies. Ft. Worth is next door to Dallas, and those tribes really don’t like each other. Wealthy Ft. Worth native and philanthropist, Amon Carter, was known for taking a bag lunch when he had to go to The Bid D for a business meeting so he didn’t have to spend a nickel in that town.

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MysteryPeople Review: THE LAST GOOD GIRL by Allison Leotta

  • Review by Event Staffer and MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

9781476761114Allison Leotta’s latest thriller, The Last Good Girl, tackles a subject that’s been getting a lot of attention—campus rape and the powerful effect it has on victims and their families. Leotta knows her topic and it shows—she was a federal sex crimes prosecutor in Washington, DC before leaving the Justice Department to pursue a full-time writing career.

Emily, a freshman at Tower University in Detroit, is missing. She was last seen leaving a bar around midnight on a Friday; security video shows her running towards a fraternity the students call “The Rape Factory,” being chased by a fellow student named Dylan.

But these aren’t just ordinary students–Emily is the daughter of university president Barney Shapiro; Dylan is the son of state lieutenant governor Robert Highsmith, one of the most powerful political figures in the state. Just a few short months prior to her disappearance, Emily had accused Dylan of rape.

Assistant US Attorney Anna Curtis is called in to find Emily, but her investigation hits a wall. The grainy video footage seems to be the only clue; though it suggests Dylan was involved in Emily’s disappearance, Anna can’t seem to find any additional evidence. Dylan’s Beta Psi fraternity brothers close ranks and won’t discuss the case. The Highsmith family’s powerful lawyers try to prevent Anna from asking Dylan any questions. Emily’s father seems more concerned with protecting the university’s reputation than in finding Emily.

Then Anna finds a video log that Emily had recorded for a class assignment, and she learns the particulars of Emily’s rape accusation. It seems that Dylan may be a sexual predator and that Emily isn’t the first girl he’s attacked. The more Anna learns, the more it seems they aren’t dealing with a simple disappearance and that Emily may never be found.

The Last Good Girl is Leotta’s 5th novel featuring federal prosecutor Anna Curtis. She’s a brilliant, tough investigator who is dealing with emotional turmoil in her personal life. Leotta has created a complex, fascinating character.

You can find copies of The Last Good Girl on our shelves and via

Mysterypeople Q&A with Larry D. Sweazy

  • Interview by Event Staffer and MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

See Also, Deception is Larry D. Sweazy’s second book to feature indexer Marjorie Trumaine. This time she uncovers dozens of her small North Dakota town’s secrets as she looks into a librarian’s apparent suicide. MysteryPeople’s Meike Alana caught up with Larry about the book, its setting, and the lead character.


Meike Alana: Marjorie is an incredibly strong, resourceful, independent woman—particularly given her environment of living in a small, rural farm community. What was your inspiration for the character? Was she based on a particular person in your life?

Larry Sweazy: I was raised by a single mother until I was ten years old. My mother supported the three of us kids the best she could on her own, and with the help of family, of course. My grandmother was diminutive in size (4’9”), but big when it came to heart and strength. So my early role-models were two very strong, determined women. I’m sure some of the traits I witnessed as a boy went into creating Marjorie. But I also think that the era and the setting are also a huge part of character building. Marjorie was a Depression baby, so she was impacted by that time of strife, as well as the uncertainty of the farming life. The weather of the plains that she had to endure through the years helped to form her character, too. Winters in North Dakota are not for the weak of spirit or strength, especially when all you have to rely on is a wood stove and your wits in frequent blizzards and brutal subzero temperatures.

“I also think that the era and the setting are also a huge part of character building. …Winters in North Dakota are not for the weak of spirit or strength, especially when all you have to rely on is a wood stove and your wits in frequent blizzards and brutal subzero temperatures.”

MA: You do an incredible job of conveying the loneliness and desolation of the North Dakota plains. How did you decide to base the series there?Read More »

MysteryPeople Q&A with Steve Hamilton

  • Interview and Introduction by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

We’re only to the end of May, but I’m already sure that our MysteryPeople Pick of the Month, The Second Life Of Nick Mason, is one of the best books of the year. In Hamilton’s latest, the title character gets released from prison twenty years earlier than scheduled, but is given a cell phone that he has to answer at any time and do whatever he is told to from the person on the other end. We caught up with the author, Steve Hamilton, to talk about the book and his approach to writing. He also has a question for our readers.


“Heroic is all a matter of perspective, I think. If you follow a main character throughout a book or a series and you find yourself rooting for him to succeed, and find yourself admiring certain essential traits that the character possesses… Does that make him heroic?”

MysteryPeople Scott: The Second Life of Nick Mason is built on a great premise. How did it come about?

Steve Hamilton: It really started from a simple desire to try something new. After ten books with Alex McKnight, I was itching to try something completely different, just as I had done with Michael the young safecracker in The Lock Artist. But in this case, I wanted to develop a fully committed career criminal, and see if I could still create that bond with the reader – just like the great Donald Westlake did with Parker, one of my favorite series ever. If you think about this impossible situation Nick Mason is in, having to keep his end of the deal he made when he was released from prison… There’s just no easy way out.

MPS: This is one of those well-crafted crime novels where everything – plot, characters, and theme – fall perfectly into place by the end. How much do you plan your novels out in advance?

SH: Well, thanks for the compliment, first of all. My own approach has evolved over the years. Where I would once just start a book and then see where it went, I’ve become much more disciplined now. I really want to know where the book is going before I start, so I can concentrate on making every scene count.

“I wanted to develop a fully committed career criminal, and see if I could still create that bond with the reader – just like the great Donald Westlake did with Parker, one of my favorite series ever.”

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Crime Fiction Friday: “The Larcenists” by Kieran Shea




  • Introduced by Scott M.

In this May’s Beat To A Pulp short story “The Larcenists” Kieran Shea shows how you can use just dialogue to propel a story. He also may make you think twice about who is at your local Starbucks.

“The Larcenists” by Kieran Shea

“Man, marketing promotions. A dollar for any tall coffee? I’ll bite. What? No java for you, Jack?

It’s a little late in the day for me, Eddie.

Trouble sleeping, huh? I guess that happens to guys our age. Hell, coffee is one of the few drugs I still get to enjoy.

Have a seat, man.

I need to be serious here, Eddie. I’ve got a client meeting at three so I’d like to say my peace and then head on out for that, all right?

Sure, sure … totally. So, um, what’s on your mind?

Well, it’s been almost a year, Eddie.

Read the rest of the story.

Guest Post: Terry Shames on Writing About Texas as a Lone Star Expat

As we continue on with essays by Texas crime fiction writers in celebration of Texas Mystery Writers Month, we turn to Terry Shames, who will be teaching at our free workshop coming up this Saturday, May 21st, from 9:30 AM – 4 PM. Here Terry discusses writing about her home state as a Lone Star expat.

  • Guest post from Terry Shames

James Joyce said of writing about Dublin, “if you wanted to succeed, you had to leave—especially if success meant writing about that place in a way it had not been written about before.” He writes about Dublin as a setting where he felt constrained by the essence of the place that was so much itself. I wouldn’t think of comparing myself as a writer to James Joyce, but I understand what he meant and I feel in a visceral way the truth of what he said in my writing about Texas.

“The Two dog is about as low a dive as you’ll find. Fifteen feet outside the city limits, it looks like it was built of rotten lumber that someone discarded after tearing down the oldest house in town…The interior is strung with blue lights hind the bar. It has a dance floor big enough for two couples and an old- fashioned jukebox.” A Killing at Cotton Hill

When I first spread my wings as a writer, I was already out of Texas. I wrote short stories, most of them in an imaginary town I called Jarrett Creek, Texas. The characters lived and breathed the air of Jarrett Creek. Based on the town where my grandparents lived when I was a child, Jarrett Creek seemed a natural setting when I began a mystery series. It was familiar, it was in my blood, and it offered a place I had observed my whole life, and now had some separation from.

Jarrett Creek is not singular. I get emails from people all over the country saying, “This book could be set in my town.” Does that mean the smell of the railroad tie plant that still permeates the town of Jarrett Creek is the same in a town in Indiana? Does it mean that the paralyzing heat and humidity occur in small-town Pennsylvania? Do other towns have water that tastes like iron, and have red soil that stains your hands? Do they have the snakes, the fire ants, useless soil, the drought and flooding rains?

“The backyard is as scrubby as the front, with exhausted patches of grass barely holding their own in the red dust. There’s a big hulk of a barn…The heat shimmers off the roof, the glare piercing…” The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake

I think what my readers mean is that someplace has entered their subconscious, and resides there and my books call up that place for them. As a writer, deep memory is what drives my understanding of “place” in Texas. If as a writer I am able to impart the romance, the reality, and the spirit of a place through prose, it translates for the reader into their own known landscapes. .

It’s possible that had I not left Texas I would have been able to describe it well enough, but I think there is a certain romance that creeps in when you haven’t lived in a place you loved for a long time. Nostalgia creates yearning, and that drives my poetic feel for the smell, sight, sound, and feel for Jarrett Creek. But I also know well the hard reality of Texas. In this passage you get the push and pull between beauty and the disagreeable that I constantly balance.

“The west is full of threatening clouds and heat lightning, and in the late afternoon sun, with shadows from the trees beyond the pond, the air is almost lavender. The mosquitoes are in full force when we get near the scummy water. I slap at my arms and legs.” The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake

Come by BookPeople this upcoming Saturday, May 21st, for a free writing workshop taught by Terry Shames, George Wier, and two out of three members of Miles Arceneaux! The workshop starts at 9:15 AM and goes till 4 PM. No reservations required!

MysteryPeople Q&A with Jon McGoran

Interview by MysteryPeople Contributor Scott Butki

With his new novel, Dust Up, Jon McGoran has written a book full of adrenaline, and plot twists, and  the controversial and contemporary topic of GMO foods. His choice of topic makes sense since McGoran has written about food and sustainability for 20 years and spent some of that time advocating for labeling genetically engineered foods.

For an idea of how such a book reads, think the kind of adrenaline rush delivered by Jeff Abbott or Lee Child, but with information reminding readers of the potential problems of GMO foods.

Dust Up was my first exposure to McGoran, but I liked it enough that I now plan to read McGoran’s two earlier books in this series, as well as any new ones to come. Each of McGoran’s books features Detective Dolye Carrick.

I interviewed Mr. McGoran via email:

“He starts to pull at those and some other strange threads to reveal a massive plot involving genetically altered heroin, biopharming, designer pathogens, and what I maintain to this day is the most outrageously sinister utilization of butterflies anywhere.”

Scott Butki: How did you come up with this story?

Jon McGoran: A lot of the underlying ideas in the series as a whole are things I’ve been following for a long time, but the main ideas specific to Dust Up came to me from several places.

Character wise, I wanted to take a look at where Doyle Carrick, my protagonist, was after the events of Drift and Deadout: his increasing disillusionment with the police, his burnout, his growing awareness of the issues he’s been confronting. Where Doyle is in his life is an important aspect of the book that I started to think about as I was outlining Deadout, the previous book in the series. The political aspects of the plot originally came from an interview with John Ostapkovich, a reporter at Philly’s KYW-AM. We started talking about how the US aggressively pushes America’s biotech products around the world, especially among countries with more stringent regulations, applying all sorts of leverage through food aid and trade deals to get them to drop those regulations. There are some scientific ideas in Dust Up that emerged out of the research that I did for Drift and for Deadout. I’m really excited about the science at the heart of Dust Up. The idea at the heart of the book — which I don’t want to give away — came to me in a moment of cackling glee.

SB: Why did you decide to set part of the story in Haiti?

JM: I knew Dust Up was going to take place on an international scale, but I chose Haiti for a number of reasons. It has a history of rejecting genetically engineered products, sometimes in very dramatic fashion. It is a frequent aid recipient, often confronted by drought, and plagued with political instability, and it has a long history of unwanted foreign interventions.

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