The novel is fast paced and the excitement continues until the very end. Prudence Hartley arrives home to find a body in her living room. Her first instinct is to protect her children and her second is to call the police.
Her home becomes a crime scene with all that that entails. The RCMO gets involved because of the identity of the dead man. Stoic Sergeant Merrick quickly becomes a friend to our heroine, Pru, and maybe (hopefully) something more.
The novel, a first in a series, is set in Guelph, Ontario, a small city, which makes the crime and the story all the more interesting.
The dead man hid something either on Pru or in her home, that could get her killed. Because of the nature of the crime, she is immediately under police protection, along with her kids. Slowly but surely an attraction kindles between Pru and Merrick. The back and forth romantic tension between them is an wonderful thread that runs throughout this thoroughly enjoyable book.
The main character Prudence or Pru as she’s often referred to, is a single mom and Alison Bruce has captured that “single mom” spirit beautifully. Children come first no matter what, in this thriller. Pru is a writer and editor. There is an interesting sub-plot where art becomes reality as Pru’s science fiction book is published and she embarks on a promotional book tour while trying to lure the killer out into the open.
Pru has the wit of Kinsey Millhone from the Sue Grafton novels, but through the eyes of a mom. Her humour is quick and often references Star Trek, which is hilarious. I thoroughly enjoyed Pru’s ability to compare everyone she meets to a Star Trek character.
A Bodyguard to Remember is the perfect book for a holiday on the beach. It’s quick-paced fun and it keeps you guessing until the very end.
If the long-running Law & Order franchise ever spins off to Canada, The Vigilante would make a great template. Jacqui Morrison’s book has the right balance of police and legal procedural with a good helping of character development and social commentary thrown in.
On the police side, we have Lynette Winton, her colleagues at work and her mother at home.
A rookie detective, Lynette is determined to prove herself. At first, however, Lynette seems to be a study in what not to do. When we find out her family situation, it’s easier to understand her behaviour. She lives with her loving, but passive aggressive mother, who is so secretive about Lynette’s biological father that any child would become obsessed with discovering the truth.
Lynette might be wrong about how she finds the truth, but find it she does. She arrests the suspect dismissed by her senior colleagues, while saving the life of the next intended victim.
On the legal side, we have defense lawyer Maxine Swayman.
Maxine is Lynette’s opposite in more than the court case even to having a loving and supportive father. She is confident, charming, and has a sexy surgeon for a boyfriend. One thing both women share is determination. In this case, Maxine is determined that the accused, Wanda Chambers, gets the help she desperately needs.
It’s on the legal side of the story that Morrison really shines. It’s no surprise that the author’s community work has given her experience with social justice and court procedures. My one disappointment is that she failed to mention the robes that barristers wear in Superior Court. Also, unlike the U.S. (and civil cases in Canada) the defendant is customarily addressed as “the accused.” Those, and many more details that Morrison does touch on, highlight the differences we’d see in Law & Order CA as opposed to the US and UK varieties.
The guest star is, of course, the accused. There is no doubt that Wanda Chambers is guilty, the real question is whether the troubled woman will end up inside a prison or a hospital. And which one is justice? Through Lynette and Maxine, Morrison argues both sides of the case.
Since this is the first of a series, the personal story arcs have only just begun to unfold. The Vigilante’s case, on the other hand, is settled more than satisfactorily. ~ Alison Bruce (suspense author)
When I first started out as a writer, I wrote a short story called Self-Imposed Isolation about a woman who was taking a break from life after her husband died of cancer. The story was set in the winter and I talked about the dismal grey sky and the heavy, suffocating snowfall, that seemed to reflect the heroine’s suffering.
I read the short story a couple of times in public and even though I prefaced my reading with the fact that it was fiction, inevitably someone would come forward after the reading to ask me if it was autobiographical. Readers responded to the heroine in the story. Especially those readers who’d suffered a loss. Somehow they were comforted by it – and perhaps it helped them to read about someone who was working through her own pain.
I find that writers tend to be deep thinkers and feel emotions profoundly. It is the act of converting emotions into words that creates meaning for the reader.
Writing that touches the heart is a challenge. One has to be in the right mind space in order to tap into that sense of poignancy that brings tears to the eyes. I find I have to write these kinds of scenes earlier in the day or else my writing will weigh heavily on my mind and seep into my dreams, making sleep difficult.
I also periodically check in with myself, to ensure that I’m doing okay. It’s very easy to spiral down into a dark hole, when writing about an emotionally difficult subject. I want to convey powerful images, but I also want it to be uplifting.
At the end of the day I want to inspire my reader, and I can only do that, if I have also inspired myself and tapped into my own heart and mind.
In our ongoing series THE BOOK THAT HOOKED YOU at the Lachesis Publishing Daily Blog we feature Q and As with established and successful authors who tell us about the books and authors they love as well as telling us about the books they are working on.
Today’s Q and A features Joe McKinney, the multi-talented and a Bram Stoker Award winning author (multiple times) of horror fiction, science fiction and crime thrillers. Joe McKinney is based in San Antonio where he is a sergeant for the San Antonio Police Department where he helps to run their 911 Dispatch Center. He has been a homicide detective and a disaster mitigation specialist.
Take us back to when you first discovered horror and science fiction. When did you become a reader? How old were you? What were some of the books that made an impact on you?
JM: My gateway drug was Stewart Cowley’s SPACEWRECK. An absolutely beautiful book. Every page featured a full size colored painting of some eerie, abandoned spaceship. There was a two or three page short story to go with each painting, and I would spend hours going through them. I must have read that book a thousand times. I think I was seven when I first found that book, and after that I went into Robert Heinlein’s juveniles. My favorite of those was SPACE CADET.
Tell us about a few of the authors who inspired you, when you first started in your own writing career?
JM: One big inspiration was Lee Thomas. We met at a convention in Dallas shortly after I published my first novel, and we’ve been friends ever since. Lee has been through just about joy and nightmare the publishing world can throw at an author, and he was a tremendous mentor. As to authors who inspired me, I’d have to point to Robert McCammon. His early works were amazing takes on classic horror tropes, like vampires and zombies and werewolves. But after that, he went into these fantastically lush novels like Boy’s Life and Swan Song that set the bar impossibly high. When I write, I push myself to try to be that good.
You write horror, science fiction, and crime novels. Tell us what draws you to those three genres?
JM: You know, I think the genre finds you and not the other way around. It’s like water finding its own level. You end up in horror because you have to be there. I’m a pretty upbeat guy most of the time, and I try to have a great deal of fun in everything I do, but when I write, it just ends up going to dark places. I wish I could give you a better answer than that, but that’s about the size of it.
You’re a police supervisor in your “day job”. How does your very challenging police work impact your writing?
JM: Well, police work has colored my entire writing career. Not only because a lot of my characters tend to be cops, but also my approach to characters. In fact, I think it’s impossible to underestimate the influence it’s had on my writing. You can’t do this job without it changing you in a fundamental way. Maybe that’s where the dark stuff comes from.
Tell us about a book that you’ve read recently (past year) that blew you away (can be from any genre).
JM: That’s easy. 14 by Peter Clines was an amazing science fiction adventure story with a crazy Lovecraftian turn at the end. A young man is looking for a cheap apartment in the heart of LA. He finds one, but after he moves in, finds one odd quark of the building after another. Any one of them wouldn’t amount to much, but when taken in their totality, they add up to a mystery with shades of a government conspiracy and cosmic horror. Trust me, one of the best times I’ve ever had between the covers of a book. I also loved The Martian by Andy Weir and Ready Player One by Earnest Cline.
What is the coolest thing a reader has ever said (or done) for you?
JM: I once wrote a magic typewriter story called “Writing for Exposure.” A fan of mine enjoyed it so much he found a 1939 Underwood typewriter, completely restored it, and sent it to me as a gift. It has a special place of honor on the shelf in my office.
You’ve won the Bram Stoker Award twice now – tell us about your books that won and how you feel about being on that illustrious list?
The first time I won was for my novel Flesh Eaters. That’s the origin story for my zombie series, The Dead World. You can probably tell from what I’ve written above that I’m a huge Robert McCammon fan. Well, he was one of the presenters for the award, and when I went up to the stage to receive it, McCammon leaned in and whispered, “Great job, Joe. I love your book.” I nearly fainted right there. To this day, that remains one of my finest writing moments ever.
Tell us about your latest release THE DEAD WON’T DIE (part of an ongoing series) Tell us about the book and the series.
JM: The Dead Won’t Die is Book 2 in my new zombie series, The Deadlands. It’s been thirty years since the zombie apocalypse, and only little pockets of humanity have survived. One of those communities is a place called Arbella. Arbella has not only survived, but thrived, and now they are getting so big they need to expand. The trouble is, nobody knows what’s out there. So, one of the up and coming members of the community, First Deputy of the Constabulary Jacob Carlton, organizes an expedition to go explore the Deadlands. In the first book Jacob and his friend Kelly Banis barely survive their encounter with the nomadic communities that wander the Deadlands. They are rescued by a super advanced society called Temple. The Dead Won’t Die takes us into a vast conspiracy that is threatening to destroy Temple from the inside out. Fun stuff, with tons of zombie action thrown in to boot.
What are you currently working on and when can we expect it to be released?
JM: I’m currently finishing up Book 3 in a series that I’m writing with Craig DiLouie and Stephen Knight. My installment is called Die Laughing. The series takes place in the present day, along the Eastern seaboard. A new disease called The Bug appears on the scene, and it turns its victims into unspeakably cruel and viscous killers. The disease victims are called Klowns because they cannot control their laughter. It’s how they process pain, both their own and their victims. A battalion of light infantry is in Boston when the series starts, tasked with protecting the populace. But they never had a chance, and now they are in full retreat. The first book was about getting out of Boston. The second book was about the rolling gunfight that got them to Philadelphia. That’s where I pick it up.
You’re a writer of horror and crime and sci-fi. What truly scares you?
JM: Well, snakes and heights. But those are just things that give me the creeps. When I think about things that truly terrify me, I think about Alzheimer’s disease. I watched my grandfather die of that, seeing his mind taken from him just scared me to death. Now that I’m older, the fear is even stronger.
Bonus: What is your “go-to” snack when you’re writing?
JM: Popcorn. Definitely popcorn.
Joe McKinney is the San Antonio-based author of several horror, crime and science fiction novels. His longer works include the four part Dead World series, made up of Dead City, Apocalypse of the Dead, Flesh Eaters and The Zombie King; the science fiction disaster tale, Quarantined, which was nominated for the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award for superior achievement in a novel, 2009; and the crime novel, Dodging Bullets. His upcoming releases include the horror novels Lost Girl of the Lake, The Red Empire, The Charge and St. Rage. Joe has also worked as an editor, along with Michelle McCrary, on the zombie-themed anthology Dead Set, and with Mark Onspaugh on the abandoned building-themed anthology The Forsaken. His short stories and novellas have been published in more than thirty publications and anthologies.
A writing voice is similar to a singing voice, you can have natural talent but without patience and practice it won’t come out in its fullest form.
My writing is heavily character driven. I have to know all I can about a character before I can truly create him or her. I write up to eighty biographical elements about the character and I use these items for continuity. If the protagonist drives a Prius on page seven she better drive the same kind of car on page 200, if not readers will notice.
I write a point-form biography on my protagonist, love interest and my foil. I have a basic template for the biography and I become highly curious about the character. What was their childhood like? Where did they go to school? What scares them? What did they want to be when they grew up?
I love writing characters who have a dark side or a dark twist to their nature; they can bring out parts of me that I can’t bring out in real life. For example, I wrote a scene in Kaitlyn Wolfe, Crown Attorney where a young Maxine Swayman told a store clerk that she loved a coat with a removable fur collar so she could wear it to anti-fur demonstrations. Maxine’s mother admonished her in the store.
I had a real life experience where a persistent salesperson tried to sell me a similar coat. I ignored the clerk’s pleas for me to buy fur and looked for other more suitable coats. Driving home from the store, I thought how I would have loved to shock the clerk, but in reality I didn’t. The silly thought rolled around in my head and when Maxine was born, I had the opportunity to use it.
My writing voice has developed over time. I truly believe that without constant honing of my skills I couldn’t be a writer. Writing characters, for me, is fun, but sometimes I have trouble plotting.
I’ve learned to use a plot chart to make my stories work. The stakes start small for the protagonist and get higher as the novel progresses. When I use the plot chart and I see a flat line, I know the story is not working the way it should. I will then painstakingly edit the non-progressive part until the story advances, as it should.
Next time you see a red-haired woman, in a coat with a fake fur collar, driving a Prius you’re likely seeing my antagonist Maxine Swayman. (Note: Maxine Swayman appears in both Kaitlyn Wolfe and Vigilante and her character has developed over the course of both books).
Della Street (Barbara Hale) was my favourite character from the television show Perry Mason (which ran from 1957 to 1966). From a young age, I knew I wanted to do something with the law, little did I know that my love of law and justice would turn into a passion for writing courtroom dramas.
At the young age of ten, I’d voraciously watch episodes of Perry Mason, an American TV show about a fictional lawyer. I’d sit down in front of our black and white television and devour every minute of the legal show.
I loved the character Della Street and I erroneously thought she was also a lawyer. Her classy style of speaking, combined with perfect outfits, made for a healthy obsession. I think I was her number one fan.
I was so obsessed with what I learned on Perry Mason that I would talk non-stop with my dad about the show. He humoured me as only a father can. I was so enthralled with the show that when I heard that a small provincial courthouse was within walking distance of my house, I wanted to sneak in and watch a real live trial!
In Ontario, Canada, where I lived in the 1970s, they brought courts to small towns because not a lot of people had cars. That’s why there was a courthouse that doubled as an arts and craft venue on other days. I never got up the nerve to enter the court, but I know I dreamt about it. My early fascination with courts and Perry Mason eventually led me to become an an author of crime and courtroom thrillers. It’s a fascination that will always inspire me, both in my work and in my writing.