“Nothing Is as Vivid as the Theater of the Mind,” An Interview with Meg Gardiner, author of ‘The Dark Corners of the Night

Meg Gardiner’s latest UNSUB novel takes FBI profiler Caitlin Hendrix to Los Angeles to track down The Midnight Man, a killer who strikes families, leaving the children behind to tell the tale.The book is our Pick Of The Month and her most chilling yet. Meg will be at BookPeople February 22nd at 5PM to sign her book and be interviewed by author Amy Gentry. We got the chance to talk to her earlier about the book and keeping readers on the edge of their seats.

9781982627515_ae431Scott Montgomery: In the first two UNSUB books, the antagonists were loosely based on real infamous serial killers. Are there any seeds of reality in The Midnight Man?
Meg Gardiner: Yes—the Midnight Man had his genesis in the Night Stalker. I drew on the residual dread I’d felt while living in Southern California during the Night Stalker’s attacks. That was a bright yet chilling time. A killer was loose who could strike anywhere. He silently invaded family homes—sometimes attacking twice in one night. It seemed like there was no way to keep him out, and nowhere to hide from him. He owned the night, and no matter how vigilantly we tried to keep watch, we all had to sleep sometime.
SM: There is a major and unsettling reveal about The Midnight Man’s profile. Was that something you knew from the beginning?

MG: Not consciously. The identity of the Midnight Man gradually became clear to me as I wrote my way into the story. A bit like the way Caitlin Hendrix analyzes the unknown killer and realizes who she’s actually dealing with.

SM: How did you come across the idea of setting it during Christmas?

MG: I wanted to set the novel near the start of winter—to have the the nights grow

9781982627515_ai_1_e07df-1
Meg Gardiner, author of The Dark Corners of the Night (2020)

longer and colder as the story progresses. That meant it would take place in December. Christmas came along with the dark, starry skies.

SM: This time Caitlin and crew are tracking a killer in L.A. What did that setting provide you as an author?
MG: The glittering sprawl of Los Angeles provides a backdrop for Caitlin and her team that’s both beautiful and disorienting. L.A. has beaches and mountains, skyscrapers and abandoned buildings, nightlife and coyotes. And it’s stitched together with hundreds of miles of freeways. The city is constantly in motion. Which makes it fiendishly difficult to pin down a killer who invisibly roams anywhere and everywhere.

SM: Particularly with the UNSUB series, you’ve developed a reputation for knowing how “to bring the creepy,” yet most of those moments aren’t gory or violent. Are there certain writer tools or things you keep in mind when writing those more unsettling passages?

9780307947307MG: The thrillers I write aren’t about violence, but about its impact on the characters, and the choices they make in its wake. Novels take readers on an emotional ride, and a little bit of violence goes a long way. I’ve never forgotten something Jeffery Deaver said: Nothing is as vivid as the theater of the mind. Hint at a few details, and each reader will fill in the rest from their own imagination.
SM: What is the most unsettling (in a good way) book you’ve ever read?
MG: The Stand, by Stephen King. It showed me how a novel about an apocalyptic plague could be completely riveting, because it’s all about character—and community, and courage. I read it in college, and even today if I see a crow sitting on a telephone wire, or hear the scuff of cowboy boots on a sidewalk, I shudder and think of the villain, Randall Flagg. That’s great writing.

The Dark Corners of the Night is available for purchase from BookPeople in-store and online. And don’t forget to catch Meg Gardiner in person on February 22nd at 5PM for a discussion and signing of this featured title.

About the Author: Meg Gardiner is the critically acclaimed author of the UNSUB series and China Lake, which won the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original and was a finalist for NPR’s 100 Best Thrillers Ever. Stephen King has said of Meg Gardiner: “This woman is as good as Michael Connelly…her novels are, simply put, the finest crime-suspense series I’ve come across in the last twenty years.” Gardiner was also recently elected President of the Mystery Writers of America for 2019.

The Dark Corners of the Night will be the third novel in her Barry Award-winning UNSUB series, which received three starred reviews from the major trade publications and was sold to CBS Television.

Meg Gardiner at Murder In The Afternoon

Unsub Cover ImageOur April meeting of the Murder In The Afternoon will be a special one. We will have bestselling author Meg Gardiner in person to discuss her book Unsub. Be ready to steel yourself before reading.

Unsub is a serial killer novel that delivers what you want from the sub-genre with fresh twists. The Prophet, who terrorized the Bay Area, resurfaces after twenty years. The FBI tap narcotics cop Caitlin Hendrix to get information from her father, Mack, the detective who came closest to catching the killer and lost his sanity in the process.

There is a lot to discuss, the real Zodiac who inspired the character, starting a series, and researching the material. Meg has a gift for explaining the process, making her a perfect live guest. So meet us all on BookPeople’s third floor April 16th at 1PM. The book is 10% off for those planning to attend.

Interview with Meg Gardiner

Into The Black Nowhere is the second book in the Meg Gardiner’s Unsub series featuring Caitlin Hendrix. Now a newly minted FBI agent, Caitlin and her team are sent to Texas to face off with a charming serial killer. Meg will be at BookPeople in conversation with Mark Pryor tomorrow, January 30th, at 7pm. She was kind enough to answer some of our questions in advance.

MysteryPeople Scott: How did the title come about?

Meg Gardiner: The novel is a psychological thriller. Its heroine, FBI agent Caitlin Hendrix, journeys into frightening and unexplored territory as she pursues a devious, charismatic killer. I wanted the title to reflect that—to pull readers along as Caitlin tracks the killer and, eventually, as the case forces her to look deep into herself.  

MPS: You’ve loosely based this killer on Ted Bundy. What drew you to him as a template?

MG: Bundy was a singular monster—a killer in All-American guise. Clean cut, an aspiring lawyer, beneath the “mask of sanity,” he was a voracious murderer. His immaculate camouflage made him fascinating. And dangerous.

MPS: This is the first time you’ve used Texas extensively as a backdrop. Did anything about your new home state come into cleared view when writing about it?

MG: The contrast between the vast size of the state and the intimacy of its small towns. The glorious, never-ending sunsets. The true, wondrous bounty of Austin’s tacos.

MPS: You did several stand alone books before Unsub. How does it feel returning to a series character?

MG: I love it. Every time I finish writing a novel, I hate saying goodbye the the characters. When I can come back to one—like Caitlin—it feels like meeting up with a close friend. And it’s exciting to continue exploring Caitlin’s mission and her world. She’s young, driven, dedicated, and still has a lot to learn. I want to take her on that trip.

MPS: Is there a different way of approaching a character like Caitlin who you plan to have in a series of books?

MG: A stand alone novel is often about a hero facing the singular defining event of his or her life. That’s why an every-man caught up by forces beyond his control can make a terrific standalone protagonist. But a series heroine needs a reason to return. She needs a story that will carry her through multiple novels. And skills to do the job. She must have a strong identity that will stay true to its core, while being able to grow—without morphing into a completely different person. Series characters need secrets, and a future, and unfinished business. Because you want readers coming back to find out what happens next.

MPS: You will be doing an event with us on January 30th with Mark Pryor. Would Caitlin find his psychopath Dominic a challenge?

MG: Caitlin would find Dominic a dangerous challenge. He’s smart, cunning, and brilliantly disguised as a straight-shooting prosecutor. He’s ruthless, and he loves to win. Caitlin would have to throw everything at him. It would be close. He’d scare her. But she’s a deadly adversary. She’d scare him, too.

 

MysteryPeople Review: BLAME by Jeff Abbott

Jeff Abbott joins us Tuesday, July 18th, at 7 PM to speak and sign his latest, Blamewhich just so happens to come out the day of the event! Come by the store to be one of the first to get a signed copy. Jeff will be appearing in conversation with fellow Austin-based thriller writer, Meg Gardiner. Before the event, our Meike Alana had a chance to review Abbott’s latest, set in a wealthy lakeside community with plenty of secrets…

  • Review by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

9781455558438Jeff Abbott is one of the most versatile authors in the crime fiction genre, and his broad story-telling talents are on full display in his latest thriller. The deeply psychological Blame has it all—a cast of fully-realized complicated characters with plenty of secrets, and a tightly-wound suspenseful plot with so many twists and turns that you’ll never see the ending coming.  I’m just glad Blame came out during the longer days of summer because this is one of those books that will keep you up at night–first you won’t be able to put it down until way past your bedtime, and then you’ll lie awake trying to puzzle out the characters’ secrets and the plot’s riddles.

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Go Down to the Basement: MysteryPeople Q&A with Meg Gardiner

Meg Gardiner comes to BookPeople to launch her latest on Monday, June 26, at 7 PM. She’ll be in conversation with Jeff Abbott. You can find copies of UNSUB on our shelves starting Monday, June 26th – one day before the official release date!

Molly Odintz: You have a Hemingway-esque talent for communicating far more about your characters than would seem possible from the word count—how do you balance creating fully formed characters with the need to always move a thriller’s plot forward?

Meg Gardiner: Plot is what the characters do. Characters spring to life when I put them into action, in conflict, under pressure. What do they want? What do they fear? What will the heroine do when the antagonist threatens the people she loves? In UNSUB, young cop Caitlin Hendrix is hunting a legendary killer. The choices she makes when she’s put to the test—and the choices everyone in the novel make—reveal their character. Revelation is always most powerful when it unfolds through action.

And I’m honored by the comparison to Hemingway. I can only strive to approach the vivid economy of his writing.

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MysteryPeople Review: UNSUB by Meg Gardiner

  • Review by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

9781101985526Meg Gardiner takes the Zodiac killer into the 21st century with her (frankly) terrifying new thriller, UNSUB. Now represented by Shane Salerno’s Story Factory, Gardner’s already signed a deal with CBS to turn UNSUB into a series, and when you sit down to read this pulse-pounding thriller, you’ll immediately understand why. Gardiner’s escalating violence, well-crafted characters, and creative murder scenes will keep you turning the pages as fast as you can (and staying up later than you should – but hey! It’s summer!).

The start of a new series, UNSUB models its Mercury-obsessed murderer off of one of the most eternally befuddling unsolved killers in US history – the Zodiac Killer. Caitlin Hendrix’s father failed to catch a serial killer known as the Prophet during his time in the force, and now it’s Caitlin’s turn to track down the vicious predator when the Prophet resumes his murderous activity after a twenty year hiatus. Unsure if she’s chasing the original killer or a copycat, Caitlin’s sure of one thing – she was born to solve this case. Hendrix and The Prophet play a game of cat and mouse, switching roles back and forth as the Prophet gets personal with his messages to Caitlin, elevating their relationship to nemesis status and heightening the tension of their inevitable confrontation.

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Our Favorite MysteryPeople Moments

mysterypeople panel
From the left, Scott Montgomery, Jesse Sublett, Hopeton Hay, Meg Gardiner, Mark Pryor, Janice Hamrick, and Molly Odintz.
  • Introduction by Scott Montgomery

This past weekend, MysteryPeople celebrated our fifth anniversary, with a panel discussion featuring local authors Mark Pryor, Jesse Sublett, Meg Gardiner, and Janice Hamrick, and local critic Hopeton Hay. Molly and I moderated the discussion. Afterwards, we all enjoyed celebratory cake, beverages, and most importantly, trivia with giveaways.

After our anniversary party on Saturday wrapped up, we decided to share some of our favorite event moments throughout the history of MysteryPeople. Below, we’ve shared our favorite memories of the fantastic authors who came through and the fun times we’ve had with them during and after our events. Molly and myself picked six standout moments each. As you will learn, Craig Johnson in particular has gotten to be an important part of our store.

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