The Death of Mrs. Westaway: A New Psychological Thriller by Ruth Ware

Tarot cards, a threatening stranger and a mysterious will propel Hal, a young vulnerable orphan to spend her remaining cash for a railway ticket to the funeral of a woman who solicitors believe is her grandmother. Hal, who makes her precarious living reading Tarot cards, a skill she learned from her mother who was killed in a hit-and-run a few years earlier, thinks she knows better. But still, when she receives a letter indicating she is an heir to the moneyed estate, she decides to see if the same skills she uses to tell fortunes can help obtain part of her “inheritance.”

Atmospheric and compelling, The Death of Mrs. Westaway (Gallery/Scout Press $26.99; 2018), is the fourth novel of English author Ruth Ware, author of the best- selling The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Lying Game.

Ware, who is on a book tour throughout the  United States, took time out to answer the following questions.Author Photo - Ruth Ware c Gemma Day

What inspired you to write The Death of Mrs. Westaway?

I can’t put my finger on one single inspiration, but probably the key thing that defines the book for me is Hal. Having written three books about women who stumble into events more or less through no fault of their own, I wanted to write a very different kind of main character this time round – one who brings the events of the novel down upon themselves. Hal sets out to commit a crime – and in doing so sets of a nightmarish set of dominoes. That was a very conscious choice on my part!

Were you familiar with Tarot cards before you wrote this book or did you have to learn about them? And why did you decide to make them part of the story? In that vein, have you always had an interest in fortune telling?

I’m super skeptical and don’t really believe in any kind of supernatural forces so I had never had my cards read, though of course I was familiar with some of the images on tarot cards and found them very beautiful and inspiring as visual images. I had to research the meanings from scratch as I knew nothing about fortune telling, or the different kinds of tarot spreads. I really enjoyed the research though and found myself quite swept up in the different meanings. I suppose I made them part of the story because I wanted Hal to be someone who was practiced in reading people and telling them what they wanted to hear. So I tried to give her a job that fitted with that and was in some way a preparation. Making her a cynical tarot reader – one who doesn’t believe in the power of the cards but uses her skills to deceive – seemed fitting.

Your books create such a sense of foreboding–do you ever get caught up in that and experience those feelings?

Of course! Writing is like reading – you get just as caught up in the atmosphere you’re creating. But I find it’s quite hard to scare myself when I’m writing, because I know when the jump scares are going to come. I get immersed in the atmosphere, but the sense of terror I get sometimes reading other writers’ work just isn’t there, because I’m in control.

Do you plot your novels and your characters or do they evolve?

A mix of the two – I usually have a skeleton structure in my head, and I think about the characters for a long time before I start writing, so they are usually quite evolved by the time I put pen to paper. But I write very little down – they exist mainly in my head so they tend to be quite fluid and evolve as things develop on the page.

What writers have influenced you?

For this book, particularly Daphne du Maurier. I love her work.

What’s next for you? 

Another book of course! I’m writing it now, but it’s too early to tell you what it’s about…

Ifyougo:

What: Ruth Ware

When: Monday, June 4th at 7 p.m.

Where: Anderson’s Bookshop, 26 S La Grange Rd., La Grange, IL

FYI: This event is free and open to the public. To join the signing line, please purchase the author’s latest book, The Death of Mrs. Westaway, from Anderson’s Bookshop. To purchase please stop into or call Anderson’s Bookshop La Grange (708) 582-6353.

 

 

 

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Michael Koryta in Chicago to Talk About His New Book

Michael Koryta, the New York Times-bestselling author of 12 suspense novels of including Those Who Wish Me Dead and Rise the Dark talks with writer Jane Simon Ammeson about his just released “How It Happened” (Little Brown 2018; $27).Michael Koryta

“How It Happened” starts off with the so chilling confession and then suddenly we’re wondering okay, was it true? Is your book based on one specific case or did statistics from Project Innocence help shape the story for you or what shaped the story in your mind?

The confession in the book was inspired by a false confession that was given during the investigation of the disappearance and murder of Jill Behrman, who was a 19-year-old Indiana University freshman when she vanished on a bike ride on a beautiful spring morning in a small college town. Her bike was found near my childhood home, and I was 17 when that happened, and then I was 19 when I began to write some police beat articles about the case for the local newspaper. There was a search going on at that time based on a confession. Those memories are profound and tragic to me.

“How It Happened” is complex just like all your novels, do you plot everything in advance or does it more just flow? 

I don’t know how to outline, but I do know how to rewrite! I do many, many drafts.

And do you ever find yourself caught up in the feel of it all so that you’re where your characters are and experiencing what they’re experiencing rather than sitting at a desk writing about it? And do your characters take on a life of their own or are you in control of them?

If you don’t feel caught up in it, then it won’t be any good. If the desk doesn’t vanish, and if you don’t disappear into the story to join your characters, then how will the reader be able to have that experience? I don’t want to have any control over my characters so much as I want them to explain the story to me, and for them to surprise me. That’s the joy of it.

You’re books are so atmospheric, your characters haunted in many ways and there’s often a combination of the natural—caves, mountains, rivers, now Maine and the ghostly or the unknown. I’m familiar with Bloomington as that’s where I went to Indiana University and I love French Lick/West Baden, those marvelously restored early 20th century resorts in Southern Indiana. All this makes me  curious about how you look at these places and what makes them so haunting as if they’re characters themselves? And how/why did you choose Maine for this book?

I respond to places that have a combination of visual and emotional impact. Sometimes, that might be in an eerie or creepy way — the surreal experience of walking into another time in the West Baden Springs Hotel, or riding a boat on an underground river. In other cases, it is found in the collision of beauty and danger. This would be the Maine coast to me. I love a place that can be astonishingly beautiful in one moment, and turn threatening in the next. It allows me to bring the setting to life like a character.

Did you ever find  a book written by your female relative who was a published author back in the 1800s? What was her name?

I still haven’t been able to track one down, sadly. Jane Parker was her name. She wrote novels in the late 1800s, and was apparently well-regarded in her era, which is even more special because she was a woman writing in an age when not many women had the chance, let alone earned that critical respect. I am afraid none of her books have survived, but I will remain on the hunt!   

Will we ever get another novel set in French Lick and West Baden like “So Cold the River?

I think you will! I finally got the film rights back on SO COLD THE RIVER after it went stagnant with the studio that optioned it originally, and I am exploring ways to get that done with an independent filmmaker, and as I work on that, I keep thinking of new ideas in that area, and with those characters. I am very drawn to that area, and to the stories that abound there. I am feeling the call down there again, louder and louder.

Ifyougo:

What: Michael Koryta book signing

When: Tuesday, May 22 at 7 p.m.

Where: Anderson’s Bookshop Naperville, 123 W Jefferson Ave., Naperville, IL

Cost: This event is free and open to the public.

FYI: To join the signing line, please purchase the author’s latest book, How It Happened, from Anderson’s Bookshop. To purchase please stop into or call Anderson’s Bookshop Naperville (630) 355-2665 or order online at andersonsbookshop.com/event/michael-koryta-0

 

 

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye

Lisbeth Salander, computer hacker extraordinaire, social misfit and martial arts expert, is back in The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye.  The fifth in the Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, Salander sentenced to prison for several months after she protects an autistic child in her typical law-breaking but righteous way. But even prison bars can’t stop Salander from assisting muckraking journalist Mikael Blomkvist as he investigates The Registry, a secret group of doctors conducting illegal experiments on twins.  It’s all personal for Salander, who has an evil twin named Camilla.

The investigation is also a chance for Salander to learn more about her abusive past. But there are, as always, barriers in the way. A prison gang leader has put a hit order on her, the Russian mafia and religious fundamentalists are after her and Camilla  is back and more treacherous.

Fans of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first novel in the Millennium series started by Stieg Larsson and, after his death continued by David Lagercrantz, will be happy that Salander and Blomkvist have teamed up again in this thriller set in Sweden.

For Lagercrantz, a well-established journalist and novelist, the chance to take over the Millennium series was an exciting opportunity. It was also rather daunting as Larsson’s Millennium trilogy sold more than 80 million copies worldwide.

“If I have a gift it is probably to have the ability to write in many ways,” says Lagercrantz. “My sister who is an actor sometimes calls me an actor-writer, I go in to roles. My journalism past helped me a lot. I always say if you want to write good journalism use literary techniques, and if you want to write good fiction use journalistic research. Of course, it helped me to understand the life of Michael Blomkvist. In my heart, I am always a reporter.”

To successfully channel the characters Larsson created, Lagercrantz read the original three books over and over and thought about the characters’ universe day and night.

“My key to writing the book was passion,” he says. “It was the thrill of my life.”

That passion showed. The Girl in the Spider Web, his first book for the series, was a best seller.

Beyond giving his readers an enjoyable story, Lagercrantz wants to help people become more tolerant and understanding than we currently are.

“It is so sad to see the society getting more and more divided,” he says. “Hate is obviously growing, thanks to terrible leaders, and if I can bring just some of us a little tiny bit closer I would be so happy.”

 

Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber

Kathleen Barber’s thriller Are You Sleeping? (Gallery Books 2017; $26) tells the story of  Josie Buhrman who thought she had put the trauma of her early life behind her, when a hit investigative podcast about her father’s murder brings the past back, compelling her return to the small Illinois town of Elm Park where she grew up.

“The main storyline of Are You Sleeping was inspired by true crime podcasts like ‘Serial,’ says Barber, a graduate from the University of Illinois and Northwestern University School of Law who previously practiced bankruptcy law at large firms in Chicago and New York

.  “I was utterly captivated with the first season of ‘Serial’ when I listened to it in the fall of 2014– so much so that I spent a lot of time reading about the podcast online and visiting forums where the underlying case was discussed. At one point, I caught myself doing an online image search for some of the people involved in the case, and I realized that I had perhaps crossed a line from interested to inappropriately obsessed. It was then that I started thinking about how the popularity of the podcast must feel to the people on the other side of the case–the people who I was image-searching for, the people who were interviewed for the podcast, and, most of all, the family of the victim. That was what I was thinking about when I started writing Are You Sleeping–what it’s like to be on the other side of a case that’s moved into the realm of pop culture.”

Barber, who was born and raised in Galesburg, Illinois, says that she wants to tell stories about women from the Midwest and used her hometown as the setting for her book.

“When I was writing Are You Sleeping, I could envision the characters walking down certain real-life streets in Galesburg and drinking in existing bars,” says Barber. “Since so much of the rest of the book is created from whole cloth, setting the book in a familiar location really helped me ground the story in reality.”

If you go:

What: Talk and book signing

When: Thursday, August 10 at 6:30 p.m.

Where: City Lit Books, 2523 N. Kedzie Blvd., Chicago, IL

Cost: Free

FYI: (773) 235-2523; citylitbooks.com

Hauntings of the Underground Railroad: Ghosts of the Midwest

Before the Civil War, a network of secret routes and safe houses crisscrossed the Midwest to help African Americans travel north to escape slavery. Although many slaves were able to escape to the safety of Canada, others met untimely deaths on the treacherous journey—and some of these unfortunates still linger, unable to rest in peace.

The author in front of an Underground Railroad stop said to be haunted.

In Hauntings of the Underground Railroad: Ghosts of the Midwest, Jane Simon Ammeson investigates unforgettable and chilling tales of these restless ghosts that still walk the night. This unique collection includes true and gruesome stories, like the story of a lost toddler who wanders the woods near the Story Inn, eternally searching for the mother torn from him by slave hunters, or the tale of the Hannah House, where an overturned oil lamp sparked a fire that trapped slaves hiding in the basement and burned them alive. Brave visitors who visit the house, which is now a bed and breakfast, claim they can still hear voices moaning and crying from the basement.

Ammeson also includes incredible true stories of daring escapes and close calls on the Underground Railroad. A fascinating and spine-tingling glimpse into our past, Hauntings of the Underground Railroad will keep you up all night.

Journalist Fiona Barton keeps suspense going with ‘The Child’

As a journalist, Fiona Barton investigated crimes, attended trials and then wrote and filed her stories. But as the author of the just-released “The Child” and her best-selling novel, “The Widow,” both psychological thrillers, Barton had to switch gears.

“It sounds ridiculous, but I had to stop being a reporter in order to write a novel,” Barton says. “I knew how to write — I’d been doing it for a living for more than 30 years, but what I was writing came from other people. Journalism is listening, probing, testing other people’s words and telling a story concisely and often under 500 words,” she says.

“Writing ‘The Widow’ meant unlearning a lot of things. It was incredibly hard at first and I got to 10,000 words and thought I had nothing left to say, but there was a moment where I gave myself permission to fully invent. It was a real crunching of gears but wonderfully liberating to be free to create my own world in both books.”

Barton’s done it again with “The Child,” which brings back Kate Waters, the newspaper journalist who first appeared in “The Widow.” Wanting to impress her boss, Kate follows up on the discovery of a small skeleton in a recently demolished building. Barton says that the inspiration for the story came from exactly the same place that Kate finds it in the book.“As a journalist, I’m always looking for stories,” she says. “I tore interesting items out of newspapers and magazines — my hairdresser hated me — and shoved them in my handbag for later. They were often just a few lines in a story but it was the unanswered questions that drew me in. One of the scraps of paper lurking in the bottom of my bag many years ago was about the discovery of a baby’s remains. Like Kate, I wanted to know who the infant was? Who had secretly buried it? And who else knew?”

Before the Fall: A Riveting Mystery by Noah Hawley

A Great Beach Read!

I wasn’t sure that I’d like Noah Hawley’s “Before the Fall”(Grand Central 2016; $26) because I already knew it involved a plane crash and that didn’t sound too appealing. But this mystery about a rich media titan and his family and friends is so absorbing, I kept turning the pages way after it should have been lights out.

Only two people survive plane crash — Scott Burroughs, a once very promising artist and now a recovering alcoholic barely able to make ends meet, and the mogul’s 4-year-old son. Both end up in the dark Atlantic waters, and Burroughs, who has achieved sobriety by intensive swimming, pops the kid on his back and heads for land — an epic swim against currents and gigantic waves. But that’s the least of his problems.

Once ashore, he’s hailed as a hero until the media titan’s star anchor concocts conspiracies about Burroughs’ part in the plane’s crash. It all ends very satisfying and the plot is mesmerizing. Just watch out for sunburn if you pick up this book.

Testimony by Scott Turow

More than 30 years ago, Scott Turow released his first legal mystery, Presumed Innocent, a best seller that soon had any lawyer with a modicum of writing ability penning novels. Since then, Turow, a Chicago attorney, has continued to specialize in complex, multi-faceted books about the legal scene in scene in Kindle County—think Cook County. But in the just released Testimony (Grand Central 2017; $28) Turow moves beyond Kindle when his protagonist, United States attorney and criminal defender Bill ten Boom accepts a job working for the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague. ten Boom is suffering mid-life crisis blues and prosecuting the genocide of 400 Roma men, women and children who were buried alive in a cave is just the uber change he needs as the typical solution of a red sports car just wasn’t going to do it for him.

ten Boom has a witness, the lone survivor of the massacre which took place in Bosnia. It should be easy but there are layers upon layers of misperceptions, lies and half-truths as well as centuries of nationalistic pride and grievances, the prejudices against the Roma (or gypsies) and his own vulnerabilities for ten Boom to sort through. It doesn’t help when he finds himself engulfed in an affair with sexy Esma Czarni, a time-bomb of a woman with a law degree from Cambridge and a Roma background. Czarni, who gobbles up ten Boom like he’s so much candy, is, of course, not to be trusted.

So how did Turow come up with all these thread to weave such a story?

“In 2000, I was at a reception in The Hague and found myself in a circle of lawyers who said you have to write about this–it’s an amazing case,” he recalls. “Usually when people say they have an amazing case it’s about their divorce but this actually did sound fascinating.”

His interest in the Roma culture goes much further back to some 40 years ago when he was visiting a sick relative at Rush Hospital.

“The King of the Gypsies was ill and there were Roma camped all over the hospital, the staff had to lock patients’ doors because things were disappearing,” he recalls.

When their king died, the Roma departed as well but not before removing all the large metal ash trays (smoking was permitted in hospitals back then) in the waiting rooms.

“At the time I thought to myself I have to figure these people out—they’re clearly coming from a different place than me,” says Turow. “Why would they do this knowing it would make people hate them and less willing to deal with them in the future. What I later learned when researching for this book is that there’s no tense but the present in the Roma language and no written or oral tradition for passing down information. Their history goes only as far back as the oldest Roma alive.  So that’s a big cultural difference from us.”

Scott Turow has three book events in the Chicago area.

What: Scott Turow in-conversation with Dave Berner (journalist, NPR’s Weekend Edition contributor and associate professor at Columbia College Chicago).

When: Wednesday, May 24 at 6:30pm

Where: Hollywood Blvd. Cinema, Bar & Eatery, 1001 West 75th St., Woodridge, IL

Cost: Advance tickets are required and may be purchased from Frugal Muse by calling (630) 427-1140 or stopping in the store.

FYI: This will be a ticketed event, the discussion and audience Q&A will take place at the theater and then the book signing will be at the museum.

What: Talk, Q&A and book signing with Scott Turow

When: Thursday, May 25 at 7pm

Where: Barnes & Noble Old Orchard, 55 Old Orchard Center, Skokie, IL

FYI: 847-676-2230

When: Saturday, June 10 at 11:00am- 11:45am

Where: Harold Washington Library Center, Multipurpose Room, 400 S State St, Chicago, IL

FYI: (312) 747-4300

Into the Water: A New Thriller by Paula Hawkins

Paula Hawking, author of the international best-selling The Girl on the Train, which was translated into 40 languages and made into a movie, will be in Chicago next Friday, May 19 to talk about her newest book, Into the Water (Riverhead Books 2017; $A tense, psychological thriller told from the different viewpoints of all those involved in the life—and possibly the death-of Nel, an artist, who either fell, jumped or was pushed into what locals call “the drowning pool,” a placid body of water by an old mill with deadly undercurrents and weeds that easily ensnare. It was a place where in Medieval times, trials by water took place.

“After being tied up, they’d toss you into the water and if you rose to the surface you were guilty and if you sank, you were innocent,” says Hawkins, who, born in Zimbabwe, now lives in London. A journalist for 15 years, she also wrote romantic comedies.

“I found that even when I was writing romances, I kept adding darker undertones,” she says. So she gave into her urges for deeper and more mysterious stories starting with

Into the Water revolves around the memories of the characters as they come to grip with the mysteries behind Nel’s death and also her life. The idea of how we all remember things differently and how our memories become our own reality intrigues her.

“I thought about how we tell the stories of our lives and how you remember something that is absolutely fundamental to who you are, and what would happen if you had misremembered it or if you disagreed with someone who remembers it as completely different,” she says.

Hawkins, who set her story in Beckford, a fictional English village dissected by a flowing river, chose water as her theme for this novel, because it fascinates so many of us. The river is a character with its own personality, one with a long evil history of luring women in particular to their deaths. She recalls thinking, when walking alongside a pretty stream, what a pretty place for a swim. But then she rounded a bend and discovered a dead animal along the shallows of the shore.

In other words, says Hawkins, nothing is as it seems.

Ifyougo:

What: Paula Hawkins in conversation with Mary Kubica

When: Friday, May 19, 7:00 PM

Where: Community Christian Church, hosted by Anderson’s Bookshop, 1635 Emerson Lane

Naperville, IL

Cost: $39.29 for one copy of “Into the Water,” event admission and a service fee

FYI: paulahawkinsandersons.brownpapertickets.com or (630) 355-2665