Giving You Chills | Day of Dialog 2018

Moderated by Kristi Chadwick (Massachusetts Library System), LJ SF/Fantasy columnist and a longtime reviewer of mysteries and thrillers, the lively “Giving You Chills” panel opened with M.C. Beaton, whose cranky, clever small-town amateur sleuth Agatha Raisin returns in her 29th adventure, The Dead Ringer (Minotaur: St. Martin’s, Oct.). Beaton credited her series’s success to her protagonist’s ambiguity.”I wanted someone you might not like but whom you’d want to meet.” A big reader of classic detective fiction, Beaton drew the plot of her new mystery, which revolves around a team of church bell ringers, from Dorothy L. Sayers’s classic 1934 mystery The Nine Tailors.

As a thriller writer, Lisa Unger is always juggling the question of what comes first: the research or the story? “I am making a career of trying to answer that question.”  The idea for her new book,  Under My Skin (Park Row: Harlequin, Oct.), was stirred by a quote from Swiss psychiatrist Karl Jung: “Between the dreams of night and day there is not so great a difference.” In the course of her research, Under ran into the concept of hypnagogia, that threshold between sleep and wakefulness, which Unger eventually incorporated into her thriller. Her protagonist, Poppy, who lost her husband to a random street crime in New York City, is “in a bad place mentally, and then she starts to have dreams that have a connection to the reality of the four days she lost in a nervous breakdown after her husband’s murder. Poppy starts to wonder if she knows more about what happened to her husband.”

Top Photo (from left to right): M.C. Beaton, moderator Kristi C. Chadwick, Ruth Ware, Lisa Unger (seated), Megan Abbott, and Wil Medearis

An odd encounter with a random drunk woman in his neighborhood propelled Wil Medearis to write Restoration Heights (Hanover Square, Jan. 2019), a debut mystery set in Brooklyn. Medearis lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a historically African American Brooklyn neighborhood undergoing white gentrification. He wanted to write about the changes he had observed but wasn’t sure how to go about it until that chance meeting gave him his hook: “Okay, I can build something of this. I can trace the disappearance of  a young woman through the neighborhood and bring in those feelings about gentrification and racial tensions and use the mystery to pull  the reader into that world. ”

Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway (Scout: Gallery, May) “hinges on one of those moments we all dream about”–a random, unforeseen, huge inheritance. Her protagonist is a young, cynical tarot card reader who sets about defrauding a family of their inheritance in a case of mistaken identity and in turn sets off a slightly nightmarish chain of events. “What makes me excited as a writer and what makes me turn the pages as a reader is conflict, and family is a great place to start,” explained Ware. Ware also acknowledged the influence of Josephine Tey’s 1949 crime novel Brat Farrar as well as the Cornwall settings of Daphne du Maurier’s books.

A secret shared between high school friends that comes back to haunt them when they are adults competing for the same thing is the premise of Megan Abbott’s Give Me Your Hand (Little, Brown, Jul.). “What would we be without secrets?” asked the best-selling writer. Abbott reads a lot of true crime, and there is often a little snippet that will intrigue her such as the actual case—in which one girl confessed a crime to her friend—that loosely inspired her novel. “I was figuring how to turn this into a book when I read a quote that says, ‘You don’t have a self unless you have a secret.'” Every secret, Abbott argued, becomes foundational to who you are. “Our secrets become us.”

Photos ©2018 William Neumann

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Wilda Williams About Wilda Williams

Wilda "Willy" Williams (wwilliams@mediasourceinc.com) is LJ's Fiction Editor. She specializes in popular fiction and edits the Mystery, Science Fiction, Christian Fiction, and Word on Street Lit columns.

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