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.

MO: There’s a lot of grisly creativity that went into your latest. How did you come up with all those different murder scenarios?

MG: I took what frightens me and turned it into fiction. Slithering things. Sharp blades. Creepy dolls. Betrayal. I also reread a lot of classic literature. Epic poets, I tell you—they wrote some bloodcurdling stuff.

I follow Stephen King’s advice: “Go down to the basement.” Dredge up the dark stuff. Put it on the page. There, it can give readers the kind of thrill they get on a roller coaster.

MO: My favorite character in your latest was the internet savvy housewife who spends her time tracking down serial killers—what was your inspiration for the character?

MG: Thanks to the internet, amateur crime enthusiasts can now run sites dedicated to solving cold cases. Zodiology—the study of the Zodiac killings—is a world unto itself. I’m impressed by the dedication of these online sleuths. They inspired Deralynn Hobbs, the mom in UNSUB who runs FindTheProphet.com. Deralynn is committed to tracking down the killer—maybe obsessed with it—but her heart is in the right place.

“In UNSUB, a legendary killer returns after 20 years. The evidence in the cold case is old. And it’s analog. Memories have faded. Witnesses have died. Physical evidence has been lost or stolen. And the killer is sophisticated enough to turn 21st century technology against the cops.”

MO: UNSUB takes us through reworking a 90s case with current tech—how has crime-solving changed since the initial Zodiac murders, and how did those changes affect your latest?

MG: DNA profiling has irrevocably changed criminal investigation. DNA evidence is definitive—you can’t hide from your chromosomes. Criminals know this, of course. If the Zodiac ever writes another letter to the papers, I doubt he’ll lick the stamp.

Today, video cameras are ubiquitous. Computer forensics can trace a cyber trail across the globe. But CCTV, blood spatter analysis, and cell tower tracking haven’t eliminated crime. Human nature compels some people to keep on killing.

In UNSUB, a legendary killer returns after 20 years. The evidence in the cold case is old. And it’s analog. Memories have faded. Witnesses have died. Physical evidence has been lost or stolen. And the killer is sophisticated enough to turn 21st century technology against the cops.

Criminals have worn masks for centuries. In UNSUB, the killer learns to slip on a new, digital disguise. It puts Caitlin and her fellow investigators at a disadvantage.

MO: You’re a writer who’s done numerous stand-alones, each distinct, yet always featuring a strong female protagonist for your thrillers. I love the focus on strong female characters, and it seems to me there can sometimes be a lack of strong female protagonists in thrillers. As someone who’s immersed in the genre, what do you think is the state of representation of women in the genre today?

MG: The thriller genre has created some exceptional female characters recently, and readers love them. But I want talk about the term, “strong female protagonist.” A friend thinks it’s often shorthand for “Not a girly story.” It can imply that the protagonist is a hard-ass who just happens to be a woman. But I think “strong” means something different. It means the protagonist has brains, guts, skills, and emotional intelligence that she uses to solve problems. It means she has empathy—and that her empathy spurs her to courageous efforts to bring about justice.

My novels feature plenty of action. And my heroines jump into the fray. But “strong” doesn’t mean coldhearted. It doesn’t mean brutal. In UNSUB, it certainly doesn’t mean that Caitlin takes bad guys down without feeling the human cost. In my books, “strong” means that the heroine is resourceful, decisive, and loving—to the point that she’ll risk herself to help others.

My female characters must dig deep and rise to the occasion. That’s what strong means in my book.

MO: Do you get a lot of reader response to your work? From an author’s perspective, what do thriller readers care about most?

MG: Thriller readers love suspense, but they only consider a book nail-biting when they care about the characters. A novel can have car chases, skyscraper shootouts, and explosions, but if readers don’t care about the characters’ pain and longing, the book fails. If readers don’t care about the characters’ desperate attempts to put things right, then it’s just shallow spectacle. A boring one.

“My novels feature plenty of action. And my heroines jump into the fray. But “strong” doesn’t mean coldhearted. It doesn’t mean brutal. In UNSUB, it certainly doesn’t mean that Caitlin takes bad guys down without feeling the human cost. In my books, “strong” means that the heroine is resourceful, decisive, and loving—to the point that she’ll risk herself to help others.”

MO: You started writing crime fiction when you were living in England, if I’m correct—does Texas provide a different kind of inspiration for your writing?

MG:The vast scale and diversity of Texas encourage me to open up my storytelling—to expand its scope, its immediacy, its sweep. At a nitty-gritty level, if I work late, I know Torchy’s Tacos is open until 10 p.m. That spurs me to keep going. And when I go hunting for tacos, Gary Clark Jr. will be blasting on the radio.

Sections of the novel I’m currently writing are set in Austin. How’s that for inspiration?

MO: So I frequently describe your novels as hard to put down, and I’m wondering if you’ve ever gotten a particularly amusing response from a reader in terms of what they missed out on in their own lives when they were busy finishing your books.

MG: One reader wrote to me, saying she got so involved in my novel, she forgot to feed her children. I told her that warmed my heart.

MO: Take us through fact checking for your novels. Do you have a bunch of cops and hackers on speed-dial, ready to answer all your questions? How much does your legal background factor in to your writing?

MG: To get it right, I call on lawyers, internet wizards, rock climbers, pararescue jumpers, psychiatrists, martial artists, and, though you can’t tell anybody this, a couple of spies.

My background as a lawyer gives me a solid understanding of how the court system works. And it’s taught me to write persuasively. Every legal case is a story, and lawyers must tell their clients’ side in a compelling way, to convince the judge or jury of the justice of their case.

MO: It seems to me (without giving away any spoilers) that the end of UNSUB sets us up for a (highly anticipated by me) follow-up novel. Will you be continuing with the same characters, or will you be bowled-over busy with plans for a TV adaptation? (I saw CBS bought the rights—congrats!)

MG: Thanks! I’m thrilled about the CBS deal. I’m currently finishing the sequel to UNSUB. It’s titled Into the Black Nowhere. Caitlin Hendrix is recruited by the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, and engages in a cat-and-mouse game with a charming, devious killer as she hunts him across the west.

Meg Gardiner joins us for the official book launch of UNSUB on Monday, June 26th at 7 PM.We’ll have copies of UNSUB for sale a day earlier than the official release date of June 27th – if you’d like an early bird copy of UNSUB, pre-order now or stop by the store on Monday, the 26th.  She’ll be in conversation with Jeff Abbott, so those who’d like to meet Austin’s two most eminent thrillerists, come on by for what promises to be a fascinating evening. 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Cara Black

Cara Black joins us here at BookPeople to speak and sign her latest Leduc Investigation, Murder in Saint-Germain, this Monday, June 12th at 7 PM. You can find copies of her latest on our shelves and via bookpeople.comCara Black was kind enough to answer a few questions about her latest before her upcoming event.

*Warning: those who have not yet finished Murder on the Champs de Mars will find a spoiler in the following interview, although there are no spoilers as to the contents of Black’s latest. 

She’s a Parisian. Politics and discussion are in the air all the time. She doesn’t trust the government, the police or sometimes her concierge but she’d do her civic duty because she’d like liberté, égalité and fraternité to be real!

Molly Odintz: Your previous novel in the series, Murder on the Quai, was a prequel, and the book before that in the series, Murder on the Champs de Mars, left readers with a bit of a cliffhanger after a shocking denouement! Was it tricky to figure out how to continue the series and keep up the momentum with Murder in Saint-Germain?

Cara Black: Good question! After the denouement in Murder on the Champs de Mars, I didn’t know what would happen to the characters. This was a game changer. But I had no clue where to go. My editor Juliet said that’s a perfect time to write a prequel and explore Aimée’s origins, how she became a detective, got her dog Miles Davis and meeting her future business partner René. Take her back to 1989 and her year in pre-med and when her father was alive so we finally get to meet him after hearing about him in so many books.

For Murder in Saint-Germain, the challenge was to forge ahead in Aimée’s ‘present’ life in 1999, her real time, and see how she was dealing with being a single mama, having an eight month old and balancing work and the man in her life. And still be a fashionista. But once I started, I just picked up with her life and put her in a hot rainy July on the Left Bank working at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and with her baby sitter going on vacation; then the story took off.

MO: Murder in Saint-Germain has Aimée Leduc juggling a number of different cases, including an investigation into Balkan war criminals, a private security concern, and her continuing investigation into her parents’ secrets. How did you balance all her different cases, and what was your inspiration for these interlocking cases?

CB: Yes, it seemed like a balancing act, but then after being a mother I understood those pushes and pulls. After all Aimée has to butter the family baguette by taking on projects and running her business, her everyday world if you will. Nothing in life or work can be counted on to run smoothly, as I found out in my own experience, and you do the best you can. On top of this work at Ecole des Beaux Arts, where she dips into a scandal, the primary story came from a top female policewoman (I’d met) who’d worked in an elite squad and served on an international team from the Hague to investigate war crimes in the Balkans. This woman fascinated me and as respected and proficient as she was, her time there traumatized her. I knew that Aimée would owe a big favor to a woman in a similar position and do her best while trying to manage everything else in her busy life. Her parent’s secrets well…more to come!

MO: France has just emerged from a contentious election, with more votes for the far right than in Aimée’s time (and the heyday of the elder Le Pen). What would Aimée think about French politics in the moment?

CB: Zut alors! She’s a Parisian. Politics and discussion are in the air all the time. She doesn’t trust the government, the police or sometimes her concierge but she’d do her civic duty because she’d like liberté, égalité and fraternité to be real!

MO: I liked getting to know the younger Aimée in Murder on the Quai, but was pleased to explore the mature Aimée’s life once more, including her complicated relationships with Melac, Morbier and with her new bebe. How have the birth of Aimée’s new baby and the death of her father changed her character?

CB: She’s developed, as she’s needed to, grown up – mostly – and motherhood has changed her. Given her another view into life, relationships and try to cope with the loss of her father, which has still left a big hole in her life. She thinks about what he taught her, how he’d show her a way and that is how she keeps his memory alive and what she can impart of him to her own daughter.

MO: Aimée has a cell phone, but she’s still cut off from using many of the technologies we take for granted today, although she’s on the cutting edge of tech for her time period. Do you plan to take her far enough into the 21st century that she has to use the internet? Has she ever used Minitel services to solve a case?

CB: She’s used the Minitel. So has her partner, René and they still use dial up because it’s the 90’s. But René, a computer hacker geek, is kind of genius at what he does and his friends in Zeelakon Vallee (Silicon Valley) send him stuff to beta test ie a precursor of Google maps in Murder on the Champs de Mars.

MO: You’re recently returned from a trip to Paris – were you researching your next Leduc investigation?

CB: Yes, and I’m excited about the next story!

Cara Black joins us here at BookPeople to speak and sign her latest Leduc Investigation, Murder in Saint-Germain, this Monday, June 12th at 7 PM. We’ll also be discussing her first in the series, Murder in the Maraisat the Murder in the Afternoon Book Club on Monday, June 19th, at 1 PM on BookPeople’s third floor.

MysteryPeople Review: MURDER IN SAINT-GERMAIN by Cara Black

9781616957704

Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

I’ve adored Cara Black’s ever-so-stylish Aimée Leduc Investigations ever since I first picked up my sister’s well-worn copy of Murder in the Marais over ten years ago. My Francophile sister and I read everything we could about France, so of course we would fall in love with a series that started in Paris’ historic Jewish quarter, wherein we have wandered, thought about the past and eaten falafel, while appreciating the neighborhood’s mélange of old and new, gay and cis, Jewish and Muslim, and global and local. The reasons I initially fell in love with the series are personal and simple, but the series itself portrays a complex and richly detailed world, full of evolving relationships, tie-ins to French politics, and some seriously chic style.

Cara Black has just released Aimée Leduc’s 17th investigation, Murder in Saint-Germainand while her life has been complicated from her first appearance, Aimée spends much of Murder in Saint-Germain juggling intrigue with the needs of her new bebe, the fallout from her father’s death, and new challenges in her always-difficult love life, for a very French, and very detective novel, twist on having it all. Black has set the majority of her Leduc Investigations in the 90s, with the exception of her previous installment in the series, Murder on the Quaia story that took us back to Aimée’s early days as a medical student and takes us through her first case. Murder in Saint-Germain takes us right back to where we left off at the end of Murder in the Champ du Mars – once again, we can appreciate Black’s mastery of her historical moment, as well as admire her character’s elegant style and commitment to social justice.

In her latest, Black puts Aimée to work on three different cases, while carefully updating us on all the loose ends in Aimée ‘s personal life. Leduc Investigations, let by Réné, is hard at work on a business security investigation, while Aimee is recruited informally to track down a Serbian war criminal and find out why members of a French task force previously stationed in the Balkans are now disappearing. She also is still in pursuit of more details surrounding the shocking denouement of Murder on the Champ de Mars, and is hard at work avoiding the inevitable confrontation between herself and her father’s killer, who also happens to be a surrogate parent to her, and one of her oldest confidants.

Cara Black joins us to speak and sign her latest Leduc Investigation on Monday, June 12th, at 7 PM. You can find copies of Murder in Saint-Germain on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Lori Rader Day

  • Interview by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

Lori Rader-Day first appeared on our radar with her first crime novel, The Black Houra wicked tale of murder in academia that pleased every member of the 7% Solution Book Club when discussed. Her second foray into the genre, Little Pretty Things, takes us into a high school reunion from hell as a former student athlete investigates the murder of her recently returned frenemy, and won the Mary Higgins Clark Award.

In her third crime novel, The Day I Dieda handwriting expert with secrets to hide is recruited to analyze the ransom note left behind after a toddler’s disappearance. Soon, her son’s investigation into his own past and budding teenage rebellion will put this handwriting analyst on a collision course with her own past, leading to a denouement with a surprising amount of both action and heart. The Day I Died is an IndieNext pick for May and Lori Rader-Day will be here at the store to speak and sign her latest this Wednesday, May 31st at 7 PM. 


Molly Odintz: When I first picked up your writing, your voice, more than any plot point, was what initially drew me in. Your books explore ordinary settings in the most hard-boiled of language – did you set out to contrast the banality of the ordinary with the darkness that lurks within?

Lori Rader Day: I set out to tell a story and entertain myself. I never thought of my language as “hard-boiled.” That’s fun. But I do enjoy ordinary settings—Midwestern settings—being tainted by violence. Darkness within that leaks out into bad decisions and bad deeds.

I see what you mean about the hard-boiled language now.

MO: I’ve read a series of books recently exploring the instability of female identity and the dynamics between female friends – you go beyond the Bechdel Test in your latest to use a mystery to investigate one woman’s relationship, not with other women, but with herself at different stages. What did you want to explore about our changeable natures?

LRD: You are giving me a lot of credit here, but I like your interpretation. I wanted to write about a person willing herself into another identity—a strong woman character, we call them, right? But she’s so strong and so good at separating herself from the path she’d been on that there’s nothing in front of her. The future is wide open but by that, I mean it’s empty. I wanted to write about a character who is strong enough to survive the worst and then also doubt her choice.

MO: Atmospheric setting plays an important part in The Day I Died – which came first, the setting or the story? How did the setting influence the story (or vise versa)?

LRD: The story came first, because this story started as a short story. Thirty pages, forty. And then when one of my writing instructors told me it was a novel instead of a short story, I had to figure out what the story would be beyond the ending of the short version. For a long time, I didn’t know the setting would be so crucial to the plot. I know at one point I was shopping around for a location to set Anna’s hometown but then realized I knew exactly where it should be. I based the town on a place I had been vacationing for years in north Wisconsin, way up where it’s easy to disappear, which fed me all kinds of ideas about how Anna would feel about her home and about not being there.

MO: The Day I Died is certainly a mystery, but it’s also a book about motherhood, and the extremes to which one will go to protect one’s child (or someone else’s child). With May the month of Mother’s Day, what did you want to say about parenthood with your latest?

LRD: I’m in awe of people who become parents and take it seriously, like my friends and my sister. I’m no one’s mother. I have a dog. I started writing this story ten years ago, so maybe I was exploring the what-if of parenthood that I was not choosing.  Probably more likely, I was looking around at what my friends were choosing, and thinking what-if… that’s how the writer-brain works. You write what you know but you write what you don’t know, too.

MO: Without giving away anything about the ending, it seems like the theme of the story is personal change. Your main character has transformed her identity before, but the act of running has, in a way, restricted her identity into a mere alias, while those characters the reader expects to be frozen in time have actually changed significantly over time. To ask the broadest question possible, can any of us really change?

LRD: I think we can, in some ways. Just as a for-instance, I used to be very shy. I would have done anything to avoid public speaking. At one point I had given up writing for five years, just by letting time pass me by. And now my daily life is that I write fiction and then go talk to strangers about it.

In the book, I was careful (I hope) to leave some of these calls up to the reader. Anna doesn’t make these judgments, either, but she makes room for the judgments to be made.

MO: Your main character has an intriguing profession – why a handwriting expert, and what kind of research did you do to prepare your character for the role? Should I be glad I’m typing these questions to you rather than hand-writing them?

LRD: Back in 2007 when I was in my master of fine arts program in creative writing, I went to the library to troll for story ideas and came out with a book about handwriting. So handwriting was the origin of the entire story, and the character and everything else came after. I read that book and did some online research. Since the book was written, I’ve had the chance to talk to a handwriting specialist—who says I got it right, good news—but I never took any classes in the subject or anything. I feel like I’m disappointing people when I admit this. So you can send me a handwritten note and I won’t analyze it—I don’t know how.  

I can tell you that when I was deep in the middle of the research, my own handwriting suffered a bit. It sometimes still happens that I’ll be writing something and, mid-word, will get self-conscious and muff whatever I’m writing. Sometimes it’s my own signature.

MO: I’ve followed your crime fiction for a few years now, and I’ve watched your name become increasingly prominent. What did it feel like to win the Mary Higgins Clark award for Little Pretty Things?

LRD: It was amazing, of course, to stand on the Edgars stage accepting an award (the first year the Mary Higgins Clark was given out at the Edgar Awards). I was especially humbled because I had read all the nominated books. Reading Mary Higgins Clark books was part of my writer’s education growing up, so it was extra special to me for that reason.

MO: Your main character has suffered in her past, and in ways that (if I interpret the novel correctly) were known to her small town, yet her neighbors failed to provide her with assistance in confronting the brutality in her life. What did you want to explore about small town violence, and secrets that aren’t really secrets?

LRD: I’m really interested in small towns, having grown up in a few, but also small communities of any making, how they operate, how they break down. If violence and tragedy can bring out the best in us, it can also bring out the worst, or at least cause us to freeze and withdraw into the isolation that’s so easy out in the country. Oh, sure, we’ll have opinions, but we might not voice them, because we’ll have to live with the fall-out. So…isolation or making nice. That’s the Midwestern way, anyway. Maybe Texas does it differently.

MO: You can start to see the main character’s tattered past in the ways she reacts to the present, even before the reader is given concrete details about the character’s past – her stunted reaction to the kidnapping of a young child, and potential sympathy for the kidnapper, immediately makes her a more interesting character (to me, anyway). Which came to you first, the present-day kidnapping or the character’s backstory?

LRD: I started writing this story as a short story in 2007, so forgive me if the details of construction are a little hazy. I know I started with the handwriting and then gave that job to the character, but I think Anna’s backstory developed alongside her present self simultaneously. I enjoy ironies and parallels in my characters, so when I decided the story would be about a kidnapping, I went searching for ways that Anna might have encountered kidnapping before. I probably chose her backstory from there because it was the most complex. Writers like to give ourselves interesting assignments; I gave myself such a difficult assignment, in fact, that I had to put the book away and let my skills develop for eight years before I could write it the way I imagined it. And now I’ve given away all my writing secrets.

You can find copies of The Day I Died on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Lori Rader Day comes to BookPeople to speak and sign her latest on Wednesday, May 31st, starting at 7 PM. 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Megan Miranda

Megan Miranda, best-selling author of All The Missing Girls, comes to BookPeople to speak and sign her latest tale of psychological suspense, The Perfect Stranger, on Thursday, April 20th, at 7 PM. Before her visit, we asked her a few questions about the book and her upcoming projects. 

  • Interview by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

Molly Odintz: The Perfect Stranger, to wildly summarize, is a murder mystery about friendship and identity. What did you want to convey about the (sometimes loving, sometimes competitive) nature of female friendship? 

Megan Miranda: Well, I think every female friendship has their own nuances, but in this case, I wanted to explore the type of friendship that stems from a pivotal moment in someone’s life—and then becomes idealized, in a way, in their mind. I also wanted to explore how friendships can sometimes act as a mirror, where we only see who we are reflected in someone else’s impression of us. And that the flipside can be true as well: sometimes we see what we want to see in another, believing they are who we want or need them to be.

MO: I really enjoyed the casual treatment of male characters by female characters in the novel – I would love to see more depictions of the intense, late-night bonding between women following disappointing one-night-stands. The women in this book, whether friends or relatives, seem to have far more concern for the women in their lives than the men. Even though there are male characters that play important roles in the plot, they are ancillary to the women’s stories that make up the bulk of the novel. Did you set out to focus on a world of women, more encumbered than aided by men? What did you want to say about gendered community? 

MM: I did set out to focus this story around women, mostly because of Leah’s character. The people of importance in Leah’s life at that moment are, largely, a cast of women: Emmy, her sister, her mother, the colleague she most connects with. Meanwhile, men have been more transient throughout her life. Even her father has left and started a new life. So I think she’s biased to build her trust around women. These are the people in her life who can see below the surface of each other—or at least they think they do—because of their shared experiences. I think it’s these shared experiences (not necessarily reflecting gender) that ultimately create tight connections between the characters.

“…there are different ways to know someone, just as there are different ways to tell a story in order to get at the truth. I think it’s definitely possible to know someone without knowing their past, but as Leah realizes, the less you know, the more you may be complicit in creating a version of someone you think you know.”

MO: The Perfect Stranger goes to the heart of how well we can possibly know another. We can know someone’s scent, dreams, habits – all while knowing nothing of their life story. Is to know someone to know their physical presence, their minds, or their past? 

MM: Yes, I think that’s exactly the question, and…I’m still thinking about it! When I started writing this book, this was something very heavily on my mind. I think of a theme sort of like a question to explore—not necessarily that there’s an answer, but that there’s something worth digging deeper into. Which is what Leah has to do in this story. I’d say there are different ways to know someone, just as there are different ways to tell a story in order to get at the truth. I think it’s definitely possible to know someone without knowing their past, but as Leah realizes, the less you know, the more you may be complicit in creating a version of someone you think you know.

MO: The Perfect Stranger is full of manipulative masterminds. Without giving anything away, what did you want to explore about gaslighting? 

MM: There were a few different elements on my mind here. One was to wonder if someone could become so focused on their own goals that they were blinded to what they were doing, and who they were becoming. And then on the other side, I was interested in how difficult it could be not only to recognize that this was happening to you, but also to let yourself believe it. And then, even more so—to prove it.

MO: Like quite a few writers in the mystery section, you’ve plenty of experience with other genres – how did it feel to transition from writing YA to writing crime fiction? 

MM: Honestly, the shift from YA to crime fiction felt like a natural progression, especially because my YA books were in a similar genre. My YA stories center on these big events that happen when the characters are 16 or 17 years old, and a lot of the writing process for those books involved me looking back at that time of my life in hindsight. When I wrote All the Missing Girls, the narrator was doing much the same: peering back at this big event that happened when she was 18, trying to see it with more clarity, in hindsight. It felt like taking a journey together.

“What are the moments that turn what we think we know on its head? It’s rarely one big twist, but lots of little shifts that reposition the pieces, so what you thought you were working toward at the start may not be the end picture at all.”

MO: Both All The Missing Girls and The Perfect Stranger have received praise for their fiendish plotting. What is your advice to mystery writers for how to really blow the minds of their readers? 

MM: For me, plotting is something that develops as I get to know the characters. It’s actually the element I tend to approach last, because the story has to feel authentic for the people and place and backstory first. I usually start with character, a theme, a setting, and start writing. For the mystery itself, I think of the beginning sections as discovering the puzzle pieces. And then the goal is to create the overall puzzle. I do try to think of the major turning points. What are the moments that turn what we think we know on its head? It’s rarely one big twist, but lots of little shifts that reposition the pieces, so what you thought you were working toward at the start may not be the end picture at all.

MO: The characters in The Perfect Stranger have porous, unstable identities, sometimes bleeding into each other, feeding off each other, or transforming those surrounding. The title itself connotes a complete unknown – a perfect stranger – or the exact right kind of stranger, perfect for a purpose. What did you want to say about identity? Can we claim a solid foundation to our knowledge and opinions, or are we more defined by those who think they know us best?

MM: I love this question because this is something I was also thinking about a lot when I started, and also something I thought about in All the Missing Girls as well: How maybe we can be defined more by how others see us than by how we see ourselves. On that same note, I think we can also become different people for different friends, and our identity can shift from relationship to relationship.

I wonder sometimes how much of our identity arises from just ourselves, in a vacuum. Can we be the “perfect” stranger for someone else? Or, are we in fact “a perfect stranger,” always. A chameleon of sorts. Honestly, even after writing this book, I’m still not sure.

MO: What is your next project? Will you continue with the crime genre? (I certainly hope so!)

MM: Yes, I’m working on my next psychological suspense! I can’t say too much about it yet, as it’s still a work in progress. But it has two points of view on the events leading up to and surrounding a crime—with two different suspects. I’m really enjoying writing it!

You can find copies of The Perfect Stranger on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Megan Miranda joins us Thursday, April 20th, at 7 PM, to speak and sign her latest.

MysteryPeople Review: MISSISSIPPI BLOOD by Greg Iles

Greg Iles comes to BookPeople to speak and sign Mississippi Bloodthe concluding volume to his epic Natchez Trilogy, tomorrow, Tuesday, April 18th at 7 PM. Our reviewer Meike Alana has followed the series since its inception, and below you’ll find her take on Iles’ latest. 

  • Review by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

9780062311153It’s finally here—the riveting conclusion to Greg Iles’ Natchez trilogy featuring Penn Cage!  (For a quick refresher on the series, please see the overview prepared by BookPeople’s fantastic blogger Molly Odintz, aka “Mystery Molly”).

In Natchez Burning, revered town physician Dr. Tom Cage is arrested and accused of murdering his former nurse Viola Turner.  Her son believes it was a racially motivated killing, but circumstances indicate it may have been an assisted suicide.  A young reporter uncovers some new leads which suggest links between Viola and the Double Eagles, widely feared and regarded as the most hateful racist group in the state.  Iles unfolds details of the story slowly throughout the first novel and its follow-up, The Bone Tree. 

In Mississippi Blood, Dr. Cage’s trial has begun.  His son Penn continues to search for clues that could clear his father’s name, yet Tom somehow seems determined to end up in prison—even going as far as to remove his son from his counsel team.  As testimony reveals increasingly disturbing details about the past and the relationship between Tom and Viola, long-held secrets become known that threaten the safety of the Cage family as well as the Double Eagles—and the latter won’t hesitate to continue killing to keep the past hidden.

As the trial unfolds, each character relates his or her version of events.  The stories are the same, but the interpretations vary based on each individual’s unique background and experience.  What is the truth, after all, but our own perception of reality?  Rarely has a courtroom drama been as complex and riveting as Iles’ examination of Tom’s actions and culpability in the suffering and death of his former nurse.  As the novel reveals what really happened the night Viola Turner died, the reader is challenged to view issues of guilt and conscience in new and unsettling ways.

Come by the store Tuesday, April 18th, at 7 PM, to hear Greg Iles speak and sign the stunning conclusion to his Natchez trilogy. You can find copies of Mississippi Blood on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

 

MysteryPeople Review: PRUSSIAN BLUE by Philip Kerr

9780399177057Philip Kerr comes to BookPeople to speak and sign his latest Bernie Gunther novel, Prussian Blue, on Saturday, April 8th at 6 PM. You can find copies of Prussian Blue on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

Philip Kerr has always excelled at highlighting the small crimes within the large crime, usually through his character Bernie Gunther’s quixotic attempts to help bring justice to individuals under the governance of the Third Reich. Despite acting under the orders of a high-ranking Nazi, Gunther gets called in to work when the Nazi leadership is in need of a professional detective to solve a crime, rather than assigning blame to a convenient scapegoat. Gunther, in each of Kerr’s works, gets his kicks and preserves his own safety by pitting Nazis against one another or in later settings, playing every side of the Cold War.

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