Thriller writer channels anger into her books

Fargo, vice president of the Chicagoland chapter of Sisters in Crime and the cocreator of the podcast Unlikeable Female Characters, has a little bad girl in her too.

“I love the sinister title of ‘They Never Learn,’” she said, adding that this, her second thriller, has everything she loves in a book — sexy women, Shakespeare references and the stabbing of men who “deserve” it.”

Layne Fargo

Scarlet Clark, the lead character in Layne Fargo’s newest psychological thriller, “They Never Learn,” is not your typical English professor. While she takes her studies and students seriously, for 16 years she’s also been on a mission, to eliminate men at Gorman University she considers to be bad guys. By planning carefully and keeping the murder rate down to one a year, she’s managed to avoid discovery.

That is until her last killing — the poisoning of a star football player accused of rape — doesn’t go so well. She posted a suicide note on the guy’s Instagram account, but it turns out you can’t kill a star athlete without some ramifications.

Suddenly, the other suicide notes written by Scarlet are under review and her current project — dispatching a lewd department head who also is her competitor for a fellowship she desperately wants (not all of Scarlet’s killings are devoid of self interest). Trying to forestall discovery, Scarlet insinuates herself into the police investigation while under pressure to get away with this next kill.

But it’s even more complex than this. After all, it is a Fargo book, and the Chicago author who wrote the well-received “Temper” likes the complexities and power struggles inherent in relationships.

In this case, adding to the drama is the transformation of Carly Schiller, a freshman who has escaped an abusive home life and now immerses herself in studies as a way of avoiding life. But when Allison, her self-assured roommate, is sexually assaulted at a party, Carly dreams of revenge.

Fargo, vice president of the Chicagoland chapter of Sisters in Crime and the cocreator of the podcast Unlikeable Female Characters, has a little bad girl in her too.

“I love the sinister title of ‘They Never Learn,’” she said, adding that this, her second thriller, has everything she loves in a book — sexy women, Shakespeare references and the stabbing of men who “deserve” it.

Fargo was enraged at what she saw as the injustice of the appointment of a man accused of rape into a high position.

“I channeled that all-consuming anger into a story where men like that are stripped of their power, where they get exactly what they deserve,” she said.

This are article also ran in the Books section of the Northwest Indiana Times.

Darling Rose Gold

         Poor Patty Watts. She did everything she could for her daughter Rose Gold who was confined to a wheelchair, allergic to everything and struggled with an unbelievable number of health issues beginning at birth. Patty couldn’t work because she devoted herself to her daughter’s care. Luckily neighbors were kind, holding fundraisers and helping Patty anyway they could. She was described as a supermom.

         Only she wasn’t. Instead, she was constantly feeding Rose Gold ipecac, making her vomit and manipulating doctors like getting one to put the two-year-old girl on a feeding tube and then not giving her the amount of food she needed. All this was to ensure that Rose Gold would remain gravely ill. When she was discovered, Patty went from a hero to prison, where she spent five years for aggravated child abuse. Rose Gold, in the meantime, had a child and learned to live on her own. Then Patty was released from prison and needed a place to live. Would Rose take her in? And what would happen when she did?

         That’s the question Chicago native Stephanie Wrobel asks in her recently released book, “Darling Rose Gold,” a tense thriller that opens with Rose Gold picking her mother up from prison.

         Wrobel was intrigued by stories told by her best friend, a school psychologist, about Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP).

         “The mother-daughter bond is supposed to be sacred,” says Wrobel, in a phone call from England where she has lived for the last few years. “But that’s not the case in MSBP, a mental health disorder where a caregiver fakes or induces illness in the person they’re taking care of. The more research I did on the subject, the more fascinated and appalled I became. In most cases, the perpetrators are mothers acting out of a need for attention or love from authority figures within the medical community.” 

         Wanting to get into the head of both the victim and the perpetrator, Wrobel tells the story of mother and daughter from both points of view. Patty, it seems, has developed such an impenetrable armor, she’s unable to see the evil she’s done. Rose Gold, tougher now, wants to pay back those who have done her harm. But, as they say, it’s complicated.

My Lovely Wife

“It didn’t start off as a murder,” says Samantha Downing, whose bestselling first novel My Lovely Wife (Berkley Trade 2020, $16) was recently released in paperback. “The first death was accidental but not the second.”

         Sure, any marriage can—and probably will–hit a few lows here and there. Solutions to these hard times can vary—a romantic weekend away, couples therapy or long, long talks and walks. But for Millicent and her husband of 15 years who live in a posh Central Florida suburb with their two children, the spark comes from embarking upon a shared hobby—murder.

Samantha Downing

         “It didn’t start off as a murder,” says Samantha Downing, whose bestselling first novel My Lovely Wife (Berkley Trade 2020, $16) was recently released in paperback. “The first death was accidental but not the second.”

         Downing’s inspiration came from a documentary about a couple who kidnapped a woman and held her captive for years.

          “Finally, the wife let her go and ended up testifying against her husband,” says Downing, who has been nominated for Best First Novel in the 2020 Edgar Awards.

.        “I thought you never hear about women being the instigator in these kind of situations. It made me wonder if she was, what would she be like?”

         Her answer, she says, was an extreme version of the woman who has to be and do everything—a superwoman type.

         “Millicent is very controlled with a crazy outlet to relieve stress,” says Downing, who grew up reading psychological and legal thrillers.

         My Lovely Wife, as the title implies, is told in the voice of the unnamed husband.

         “Our love story is simple,” he says by way of introduction. “I met a gorgeous woman. We fell in love. We had kids. We moved to the suburbs. We told each other our biggest dreams, and our darkest secrets. And then we got bored.”

         It isn’t long before the husband longs for a return to boredom, but Millicent is on a roll and he’s along for the ride. But there are complications. When a second woman disappears, their community starts to wonder and worry. Their gilded suburb is on edge and suspicions arise. Maybe all these murders weren’t such a good idea after all.

         Though the subject is edgy, surprising the story isn’t bloody or  violent.

         “Though the subject matter is certainly dark, it’s not gory, there’s no sex, nothing graphic,” says Downing. “I didn’t want the book to be bleak, I like satire, I wanted this to be darkly comedic and for people to enjoy the story.”

         Downing seems to have her mark. Amazon Studios acquired the rights to the book and are partnering on the film version with Nicole Kidman’s Blossom Films.

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?”

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