“…in the form of little jigsaw pieces…”: Scott Butki interviews Katrine Engberg, Debut Author of ‘The Tenant’

9781982127572_df6d8With The Tenant, Katrine Engberg has written an excellent first novel. One with a clever, intriguing concept in addition to interesting, fleshed out characters and good plot twists.

Esther de Laurenti owns an apartment building which contains two young women and an elderly gentleman. As the book begins the gentleman discovers one of the women is dead. So far, not so wild, right?

But then it is discovered that whoever killed her used details from a murder mystery novel Esther is writing, specifically cuts along the victims face. Esther says she’s not the killer but that the number of people with access to the details of her story is limited.

Copenhagen police detectives Jeppe Korner and Anette Werner are assigned to the case and they are interesting characters. They try to determine if Esther is the culprit or just another victim in the killer’s twisted game.

Katrine is a former dancer and choreographer with a background in television and theater.

She agreed to let me interview her by email for this first book in a series. The book s getting praise from such authors as Kathy Reichs and Camilla Lackberg.


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

Katrine Engberg: A few years ago, I was taking a walk with my family in an area north of Copenhagen when I happened to notice a nameplate on the door of a house as we passed by. It read “Family Laurenti.” In that instant, a woman named Esther de Laurenti moved into my head. I can’t explain how it happened, but she was crystal clear to me in every little detail: I knew that she had dyed red hair cut short, drank too much red wine, and was a retired professor of literature working on the draft of her first crime novel. That was the beginning of The Tenant.

SB: Which came first, plot or characters?

KE: Plot, characters, and environment came simultaneously in the form of little jigsaw puzzle pieces that, at first, didn’t really connect. I had ONE character, ONE plot idea, and ONE location; everything else was a blur. But then connections slowly built, more pieces came together, and the story started to unfold.

SB: How did you research this book?

KE: I had to learn everything from scratch. My background is in dance and theater, so my knowledge of police work and forensic pathology was limited — to say the least! Fortunately, people are very willing to share their knowledge with aspiring authors. I rode in a Copenhagen Police patrol car and was allowed to go everywhere, from crime scenes to the ER, with the officers — as long as I kept quiet and wore a bulletproof vest. I learned a lot from those experiences!

SB: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

KE: To me, crime novels can and should be about more than violence and suspense. I hope readers will connect with — and care for — my characters. I strive to make what is in many ways a wildly fantastical genre into something relatable for them. I myself grew up with crime novels that were also love stories, political comments, and just all in all great literature. That is a literary tradition I wish to continue.

SB: What is it like being described as “already an international star”? And being published already in more than 21 countries?

KE: The short answer is: it’s great! I would be lying if I pretended not to be stoked about my success. Having so many readers has to be the ambition of most writers. That said, labels like “international star” are just … well, labels. What really makes an impression is the direct response I get from readers — in person and on social media. THAT makes me feel successful and happy!

SB: I understand you went from a dance education to working in theater and TV, first as a dancer, then as a choreographer. How did you get from that point to becoming a mystery novelist? And how has that background helped you as a writer?

KE: I grew up in a home full of books and learned to love literature from an early age. My mother was always telling stories to my sister and me — at bedtime and on the long walks up Greek mountainsides that she always forced us to take. She also taught me to love the theater. For me, the two worlds are closely intertwined; telling stories is the same whether it’s done with bodies on a stage or words on a page.

SB: I understand you had to make the decision between being a theater director and a crime author. How did you go about making what must have been a hard decision?

KE: It was actually the easiest decision of my life. I debuted as an author and as a theater

ke2-e28093-photographer-les-kaner-1-2
Katrine Engberg, author of The Tenant (2020)

director within the same week in February 2016, so you could almost say I had a vertical tasting of the two careers. Both things went well and had potential, but I had absolutely no doubt in my heart which of the two I wanted to pursue. I actually told my husband on the opening night of the play: “I am giving up the theater. I know life as a writer is uncertain, but I only want to write for the rest of my life!”

SB: What are you working on next?

KE: At the moment, I am writing the next book in the series. It is a very dark and rough book, revolving around a theme of loneliness. So it probably sounds crazy to say this, but I am having so much fun with it.

SB: I call this my bonus question: What is a question you wish interviewers would ask? This is your chance to ask it and then answer it.

KE: What is the significance of the tattoo on your wrist?

Under my wristwatch, I have a tattoo of three dates: My wedding day, the birthday of my son, and the death date of my father. These life markers remind me every time I look at the clock that time is short and life is truly a gift.


The Tenant is available for purchase from BookPeople in-store and online now.

3 Picks for February

My favorite book of 2019 will be out in paperback this month. This road trip of a retired porn star and mafia widow, heading to Florida in a stolen 63′ Impala with a bag of mob cash is so much more than it’s great premise. Funny, gritty, and with believable heart, it looks at aging, escape, and female friendship in a world dominated by men.
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The Burn by Kathleen Kent
Kent’s Dallas narcotics cop, Betty Rhyzyk, is regulated to desk duty when several informants pop up murdered and there are whispers on the street of several kilos of heroin stolen from a cartel. When she suspects some of those responsible could be in the department or involved with her girlfriend, she goes rogue. Kent goes deep into this gritty cop thriller with a tough, complex heroine who could give a damn if you like her or not.
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Trouble Is What I Do by Walter Mosley
An elderly black bluesman hires Leonid McGill to deliver a letter to his granddaughter who doesn’t know of her mixed heritage. Her well connected father is out to stop it and is not above setting some killers on all involved. Leonid and his crew get their hustle on to stay alive and get the job done. A tight, fun P.I. novella that taps into the genres past to deal with current issues of race, politics, and family.
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These titles are available to pre-order from BookPeople now. And get your fix of the best mystery reads by keeping up with us here on the MysteryPeople blog.

February’s Pick of the Month: The Dark Corners of the Night

9781982627515_ae431Meg Gardiner has proven to be a writer who delivers. She gives thriller fans everything they want, in character, pace, and world building, presenting it all in a fresh way. This is especially true of her latest, The Dark Corners Of Night.
It is the third book in her UNSUB series, featuring FBI profiler Caitlin Hendrix. Her latest case takes her to L.A., putting her up against a chilling adversary dubbed The Midnight Man. The killer attacks families in their homes, murdering the parents and leaving the children to tell the tale. With the help of a girl who thwarted the Midnight Man from breaking in, Cailtin and team begin their hunt.
Gardiner builds the suspense and chills, chapter by chapter. She delves into criminal profiling, portraying it as much art as science when Caitlin goes against the grain of the standard theory, believing it is not the usual suspect. The book gives a great reveal in the identity of The Midnight Man, then cranks up the tension for an intense showdown.
The Dark Corners Of The Night is Meg Gardiner at her finest. She gives us a flawed heroine you can’t help but root for, a villain both complex and undeniably evil, and a plot that constantly puts you on the edge. If she ups her game any more, we might not be able to survive.

The Dark Corners of the Night is available for pre-order now. And don’t miss your chance to meet Meg Gardiner and have your book signed when she’s in-store on Saturday, February 22nd at 5PM.

Crime Fiction Friday: “McKenna” by Billy Kring

billy-kBilly Kring is a MysteryPeople favorite. Whether he and his fictional border patrol agents, deal with issues and evil on the Texas-Mexico line or his private detectives Ronnie Bacca and Hondo banter and and take down L.A. bad guys, he demonstrates and understanding of crime fiction and a craftsman’s approach to writing. We were excited when he asked if we’d like to print this original short story about gangsters and a good employee.


McKenna

by Billy Kring

 

He answered Carmen’s help wanted sign one morning and went to work that afternoon as the butcher in her store. His first name was Rick, but he went by McKenna.

Carmen liked him because he didn’t say much, did his work and stayed busy doing things without being asked.

The day Teddy Corso came in, McKenna and Carmen sat at a table eating a lunch of pastrami sandwiches, chips and soft drinks.

Teddy stopped behind Carmen’s chair and played with her hair, a New England Patriots Super Bowl ring prominent on his ring finger. McKenna noticed the tape wrapped around the bottom so it fit Teddy’s finger. Teddy said, “I’m here for the pickup, Babe.”

Carmen moved her head away from Teddy’s hand, “You came by two weeks ago.”

“It’ll be three a month from now on.” He suddenly realized he didn’t know the man sitting with her. “Who’s this?”

Carmen said, “McKenna, he works for me.”

Teddy asked, “You’re not a local.”

“Not for a while.”

“How long?”

“Ten years.”

“About the time our family took over the neighborhood, right, Carmen?”

McKenna put his sandwich on a napkin, the bite showing like a small knot in his cheek, “How’d that happen?”

Teddy smiled, “What it was, Vincent Gennaro had this area but wasn’t sharing wit others, so…” Teddy spread his hands, “Somebody decided that wasn’t a good thing.”

“I read about it. That you?”

Teddy grinned, tapping two fingers to the back of his head, showing where the bullets went, “I don’t brag, but it happened. People know. So now I make rounds for the family.” He looked at Carmen, “Give me the money, Carmen, and throw in a couple ribeyes. I got other stops to make besides yours.”

“I don’t have the money.”

Teddy gave her a cold stare.

“I can have it in the morning.”

“You better, sweets. You don’t want Teddy Corso mad wit you.”

McKenna went to the meat counter, catching Teddy’s eyes by holding his thumb and forefinger an inch apart.

“Make it two.”

McKenna cut, trimmed and wrapped the thick steaks in white butcher paper, handing the bundle to Teddy, who said, “You’re pretty handy with that knife.”

“I try to keep my boss happy.”

Teddy said to Carmen as he left, “Tomorrow morning.”

McKenna returned to the table as Carmen said, “He starts coming three times a month, I’ll have to let you go.”

“How often has he been collecting?”

“Only once the first year, but every month since. It crept up fast. Now it’s twenty times a year, plus he’s pushing hard to get in my pants, says he’ll make it worth my while.”

McKenna raised an eyebrow, and Carmen said, “I’ll close this place down before that happens.” She pushed her half-eaten sandwich away and said, “Can you close up? I’m not feeling too good.”

“Sure.”

It was a little after ten PM when Teddy tapped on the front door’s glass above the Closed sign. McKenna looked up from the meat counter, and Corso motioned to open the door.

McKenna opened it and Teddy followed him to the meat counter saying, “I’m throwing a party, gonna need another ten steaks. Tell Carmen it’s interest on what she owes.”

McKenna went to the cooler and brought out the meat and used the long thin blade of the knife to cut steaks.

“Hey, you remember this?” Teddy held up a laminated page of a newspaper showing Gennaro’s body face down in an alley. “See, right there? The two holes in the back of his bald head.”

McKenna finished with the last steak and said, “What about the one in his eye?”

Teddy half-blinked.

McKenna’s eyes changed, “I shot him in the right eye and put two in the back of his head as a message. Papers never mentioned the eye. Then I had to leave town because of the heat. I’m not leaving again.”

Teddy grabbed his pistol as McKenna rammed the knife into his temple and wiggled the blade.

When Carmen came in the next morning, Teddy’s Super Bowl ring was on the register, with a note from McKenna, I like to keep my boss happy.


About the Author: Billy is an author and sometimes actor, and in another life, he was a Border Patrol Agent and consultant on terrorism and international border issues. He has worked in South America, including Columbia and Ecuador, and in Eastern Europe along the borders of Chechnya, Ingushetia, Daghestan, and Turkey, as well as Mexico’s southern border. He has also worked in the Caribbean and Pan Pacific, instructing officials on how to handle the aftermath of a terrorist attack.

You can shop his titles in-store and online now.

Work-A-Day-Guys: An Interview with Wilson Toney, author of ‘Alibi For a Dead Man’

9781944520861Wilson Toney’s Alibi For A Dead Man won the Carter Brown award and much like the work of that awards namesake, the book is a fun, fast moving romp that never takes itself too seriously. It’s two bantering National Agency detectives Bug and Roche (pronounced “rock”) are assigned a car accident that could be fraud. When one of the vehicles was the getaway car for a bank robbery, it leads to a trail of missing money, bad men, and bullets with our heroes in the hard boiled middle. Mr. Toney was kind enough to take a few questions from us.

 


Scott Montgomery: You have two unique detectives with a unique case.  Which came first?

Wilson Toney : The detectives came first.  I came up with Roche a long time ago, and while my original take on his character has changed considerably, the constant of him being a work-a- day guy that just wants to do his best then go home, and get paid for his effort, has remained a constant. Bug, however, was something different and is loosely based on a man I worked with for a lot of years. He was unique, and while he wasn’t quite as funny as Bug, still he was never at a loss for words, and didn’t mind who heard him whether it was a boss or not didn’t enter into his thought process.

The case came after a lot of thought and many false starts, and frankly a lot of revisions.  It is hard to come up with something that hasn’t been done before, and to make it as logical as possible.  I likely spent more time on the plotting than I did the actual writing, for once you get the blueprint in place, the writing goes rather smoothly.    I hope to be able to repeat this process in the future, but only time will tell.

S.M.: Was writing a plot with so many moving parts a challenge?

W.T.: Was it ever.  Even with a plot outline, it still required a lot of re-thinking and a lot of thought to make sure I said enough to keep the reader interested and not to give away the game too early.  But I always liked complex plots, which I think is reflected in my writing. That being said, I wanted to make the plot challenging, but intelligible and try to not have an ending where only the protagonist knows some obscure clue that is revealed in the end, and thus the bad man, or woman for that matter, is revealed.  I hate those types of novels, and I hope never to write one.

S.M.: The book’s voice has echoes of the forties and fifties detective novels.  Did you draw from any influences?

W.T.: Without doubt, the Gold Medal novels from the 40s-70s influenced me greatly.  Some of them were great, most less so, but they had a hard-boiled edge that I enjoyed and likely some of that shows in my books.  More importantly, I have read many other types of mysteries and the butler did it type always left me cold and quickly were banished from my budgetary allowance.  I am sure that some of the greats such as Chandler, Hammett, and Hamilton influence my thought processes, but I’ve read a lot more bad fiction than good and I am afraid that some of the lesser greats have their share of blame as well.  Ultimately, when I decided to write, I decided to write the stuff I would want to read, because, I didn’t really think anyone else would ever see the stuff. I was the most surprised person in the world when I won the Carter Brown prize, but I wrote the novel before I knew of the contest, and I wrote it for myself.

S.M.: What made you decide to have Bug and Roche work for an agency?

W.T.: I knew I wanted to write about work-a-day guys, and those guys just had to work for an agency.  My own work history explains most of that decision. I have worked at several engineering firms in my long and not so storied career, and I wanted to give the reader a flavor of just how it would be for guys to be doing this for a living not because they were dedicated crime solvers, not because they were trying to help the helpless, these guys are doing it for a buck, it’s how they earn their living and they do it for that living.  I also wanted to be able to call on others in the agency when needed for specialty work such as data analysis and photographic enhancement. The easiest way to accomplish that was to have them work at an agency. Ultimately though, it was because I didn’t really think this particular form of detective fiction had been done to death. The errant knight has been done to death and I did not think I could write a convincing novel using that as my template.

S.M.: What makes the book work is the relationship between Bug and Roche.  How did you approach it?

W.T. :Roche is everyman, the guy that’s not special, but does his job, and expects to be paid for same.  Bug is the kid in the back of the glass, cutting jokes every time the teacher turns his head. That was the basis of the novel, the interplay between them is based on a lot of years of banter between fellow workers, mostly male admittedly but some female.  I personally am likely a mix of the two with Roche being what I liked to think I am, but Bug being who I am more often than not. It was a case of making sure that their dialogue rang true, was funny when comedy was needed and being serious when that was required.  All that being said, what really happened was I wrote the thing based on my initial outline, then rewrote it probably two or three more times, thinking of just what these guys would say to each other. I also gave Bug his pet Agnes, because he needed something in his life that was real.  Roche is made of different stuff so I gave him bad books to read. I have both a cat and have read a lot of bad books, so like I said, these guys are likely a mixture of what I hope I am. Doubtless I am wrong.

S.M. : What made you want to tackle a detective book as your first novel?

W.T.: There’s an old saying in writing, write what you know.  What I know, engineering, is mostly boring and would definitely not hold a reader’s interest, likely not even the interest of a fellow engineer.  But I do know detective fiction. I have been reading detective fiction (not exclusively, but more than any other genre except for physics books) for fifty years and I know what I liked when I read those stories.  As a result, I wrote a detective novel, again, for myself more than for any other reason. I am glad this work has resonated with those that publish books for a living, and I can think of no better future than writing more Bug and Roche novels until the end of my days.


Alibi for a Dead Man is available for purchase in-store and online now.

“…My Family, My Heritage, and My Ninja Training.” – An Interview with THE NINJA DAUGHTER’s Tori Eldridge

9781947993693_6a1efTori Eldridge’s The Ninja Daughter is a unique take on the vigilante hero. The title character, Lily Wong, is diminutive enough to be nicknamed “dumpling” by her Swedish Father and Chinese mother, but trained in the Japanese ninja arts, she can be lethal. She targets the bad men in women’s lives and offers protection and retribution. Her latest quest for justice gets her involved with a sordid plot involving the Ukraniane mob and L.A. Transit system. Eldridge delivers action heroine excitement, crime fiction mood, and me too justice in spades. She was kind enough to talk about her book and her background that went into it.

 


Scott MontgomeryThe Ninja Daughter is such a unique book, how did it come about?

Tori Eldridge: Lily Wong appeared to me during a stream of consciousness writing for a short story. I discovered her as the words hit the page. She was sitting at a bar with a mysterious man. The night ended badly. She walked away. He didn’t. That scene became a pivotal part of Lily Wong’s origin story. I didn’t know much about her at that time, but I had a clear image of who she was relaying this story to and under what circumstance. Later, I incorporated that short story into an early chapter of The Ninja Daughter and opened the novel with the circumstance I had envisioned. The rest of the story—the complexity of the mystery and the diverse characters—emerged through the outlining stage, which, for me, is a very creative and exploratory process.

S.M. : One thing that differentiates Lily from most other vigilante heroes is her family, especially her mother. What does this allow you to do with Lily as a writer?

T.E. : Most vigilante heroes are older and either estranged from their families or have lost them through tragedy. They tend to be lone wolves who are fighting the demons of their past. Lily, on the other hand, is twenty-five years old, living above her father’s restaurant, and raised in a family-oriented Chinese culture. She can’t escape her family because no matter how urgent or dangerous her professional life becomes; Lily is bound to them by love and duty. Her family isn’t just a plot device to complicate her life, they define who she is.

Lily is at a stage where she’s finding her way as an adult and redefining her relationships with her parents. This process is complicated by the tragedy her family has suffered and the different ways in which they’ve handled their grief. There’s also a cultural dynamic that complicates Lily’s relationships with her parents—an ever-present tension from her Hong Kong mother and the unfulfilled filial obligation that has been passed onto Lily. All of this provides a fascinating playground for me to play in as a writer.

S.M. : There’s echoes of Chandler with the way you portray the city of Los Angeles and its intersections of politics and crime. What did you want to express about your city?

T.E. : I’ve lived in Los Angeles for over thirty-five years—in the city, the valley, the hills, and the beach. I’ve worked as an actress on film lots in Hollywood and taken social entrepreneurship programs into South Central and East Los Angeles. I’ve hung out at backyard parties where a loud crack has everyone in attendance hitting the ground and hosted holiday parties on top of ritzy Sunset Plaza Drive. I could live in my city another thirty-five years and barely break the surface of what lies beneath it. That’s what I want to share—the rich variety of culture, community, geography, and lifestyle.

I want to show the virtue and corruption of my city, side by side, so readers can feel both attracted and repelled. I want them to rethink their perceptions of Los Angeles as often as they change their perceptions of Lily—and as often as she changes her perception about herself. In this way, Los Angeles serves as a macrocosm of Lily’s own polarity and diversity.

S.M.: This being a debut novel, did you draw from any influences?

T.E. : The greatest influences on this novel came from my family, my heritage, and my ninja training. I wanted to delve deeply into relationships and portray culture and modern-day ninja as authentically as possible. I also enjoy complex mysteries and fast-paced thrillers. The challenge was to do it all in one book. For that, I leaned on my screenwriting techniques for plotting, pacing, and keeping track of various story lines. As for being influenced by other authors, I’m a great fan of F. Paul Wilson’s economically descriptive prose.

S.M.: The fight scenes are wonderfully executed. As someone who is a martial artist, herself, what did you want to get across about the art?

T.E. : One of my biggest goals for The Ninja Daughter was to blast through the stereotype and present ninja in a realistic, contemporary, and authentic way. Everyone is familiar with the magical ninja assassins portrayed in literature and film. But I wanted to show a modern perspective. Many people don’t even realize that Ninjutsu, in all its many forms and lineages, is an actual martial art. I wanted to show my readers the subtle grace and efficiency of ninja movement without bogging them down with too much detail. With a mention of alignment here and a stealing of balance there, I hoped to intrigue my reader to want to know more. There’s also an esoteric side of the art that is important to me that I wanted to share. I describe bits of this in the privacy Lily’s home dojo.

When it comes to fight scenes, it’s essential to me that the combat is authentic, exciting, and appropriate to the characters. The way a person fights is as individual as the way they speak. It’s like a signature to their personality—their training (or lack there of), their emotional state, how they view themselves and their relationship with others. A fight is more than a combination of techniques or a use of weaponry: It’s a revelation of character. A good fight scene evokes emotion and moves the story forward. But most of all, it reveals secrets about the person.

S.M. : What is often depicted inaccurately about martial arts in fiction and film?

T.E. : Fights last longer than they normally would. Techniques used don’t always reflect the character’s style or degree of training. Heroes seem impervious to physical damage or pain. Devastating blows, like a pipe swing to the head, have no lasting effects.

On the flip side, films like Grosse Point Blank and The Borne Identity have exhilarating fight scenes that make sense to the characters and circumstances. Even the insanely long fight sequences from Atomic Blonde—which, by its nature, pushes the boundaries of plausibility—comes through as appropriate to the character’s personality, ability, and body type. In fiction, I’d recommend Jonathan Maberry, Zoë Sharp, Taylor Stevens, and Weston Ochse. All of them have hit the mark in every fight scene of theirs that I’ve read.

theninjadaughter-torieldridge-1200x630-1
The Ninja Daughter (2019) and author, Tori Eldridge

The Ninja Daughter is available for purchase in-store and online

REVIEW: ‘Ninja Daughter’ by Tori Eldridge

9781947993693_6a1efJustice is a bitch. And so am I.

This is the declaration from an exciting new heroine created by an equally exciting new author. Lily Wong (or Dumpling to her parents) is The Ninja Daughter, a vigilante straight out of the seventies and eighties paperback original era, but with aspects of Raymond Chandler and creator Tori Eldridge’s experiences, she becomes so much more.

Lily trained in the ninja art of kunicchi to avenge her sister and now uses those skills to help other women with bad men. Her latest crusade is to protect Mia Mikkelson from retaliation from J. Tran, a club owner and rapist she testified against. As Lily goes to work on Tran, she discovers a plot involving Ukrainian mobsters and the L.A. transit system. The huntress becomes the hunted, but the hunters have no idea who they are after.

Many moments of the book play on Lily being underestimated as a female victim. Her parents, a Swedish father and Chinese mother, nicknamed her Dumpling due to her diminutive size . However when a man either gropes or attacks her, he finds his ass getting handed to him, if he’s lucky.

Eldridge grounds all of the genre fun she delivers. An actual practitioner of kunicchi, her fights are well executed, never losing the reader in the action. She also puts in missed landings and strikes that half connect to bring down any comic book feel. She also gives Lily the reality of family life. Her relationship with her mother is reminiscent of S.J. Rozan’s Lydia Chin with her mother or even Jim Rockford’s with his dad, other than there is even more nuance.

Much like Lily, herself, The Ninja Daughter is a beautiful amalgam. Her voice fuses the men’s action paperback with a Chandler-esque take on LA and twists it into an entertaining piece of feminist pulp that keeps a deft foot in reality. I look forward to Lily’s further quests for justice.


The Ninja Daughter is available for purchase from BookPeople now.