‘True crime’ inspires fiction thriller

“I’m destined to disappear,” Rachael Bard tells the listeners of her true crime podcasts.

Eliza Jane Brazier

For Sera Fleece, whose life is tumbling down around her as she dwells upon each of her many perceived failures and seldom leaves her home, her time is totally focused on every episode — each one dedicated to a missing or murdered woman. She thinks in terms of the episodes and absorbs the details Rachel reveals about her personal life. Sera knows she lives on Fountain Creek Ranch in the yellow house somewhat distant from her parents’ home and the barns, stables and quarters for the campers who fill the ranch in the summer.

And then, one day it happens. There are no more podcasts and no more social media posts. Rachel has disappeared.

“I know, the first 48 hours are crucial,” Sera tells herself. (After all, she doesn’t talk to anyone else — not her ex-husband who still cares, or her parents, or even the clerks she interacts with when she finally is able to get herself out of the house to buy tea.) “And every hour you don’t update, I think, ‘Something is wrong.’ I think, ‘The case is going cold.’”

So begins “If I Disappear” (Berkley Hardcover 2021) by Eliza Jane Brazier, which follows Sera as she drives to northern California in search of Fountain Creek Ranch.

“I will use the things you told me,” she says to Rachel, promising to find her.

But it doesn’t look promising. Somehow she missed the turn for the ranch, and stopping in the little town where Rachel went to school and where her best friend disappeared when they were high school students, she finds that no one will even mention its existence.

Turning back, she finds the ranch’s entrance, noticeable because what is supposed to be a tourist attraction has signs reading “No Trespassing” and “Beware of Dog” posted on the drive.

“The setting came from a job I took in northern California that got weird at an isolated dude ranch. I won’t go into details, but the truth is very nearly stranger than fiction,” Brazier said when I ask about the eerie setting she created. “The emotion came from finding myself single again after my husband died. And the hook came from my love of true crime.”

Like Sera, Brazier says she was looking for answers but in a different way than most.

“After my husband died, I found that the grieving process really replicated true crime podcasts: you are searching for answers,” she said. “I found a lot of comfort in them and still do to this day. For me it’s about facing your fears, making order out of chaos and also about control. In true crime, you know the bad thing is coming. It can be a way to address trauma and feel less alone in it.”

Playing detective, Sera is hired by the Bards to work with the horses, a job that allows her to search for clues to Rachel’s disappearance. Her searching arouses suspicions but startlingly, she realizes that no one seems concerned about Rachel’s disappearance besides Sera. Rachel, she learns, has disappeared before and will do so again. At the ranch, Sera finds meaning not only in her investigation but in working with the horses and her developing romance with the ranch manager.

Yet that doesn’t stop her search for Rachel, or the overwhelming feelings that there are many dangerous unknowns surrounding her. Was Rachel involved with the ranch manager and what happened to his wife? Did she really go back to Texas like he says. Is it possible he’s a murderer?

Brazier, a screenwriter and journalist who lives in Los Angeles, is currently developing “If I Disappear” for television and writing another mystery.

“It’s a brutally funny thriller about very bad rich people,” she said.

Online events

This story previously appeared in the Northwest Indiana Times:

https://www.nwitimes.com/entertainment/books-and-literature/books-true-crime-inspires-fiction-thriller/article_acce7dc7-16c5-5e85-8824-7862f579cf62.html

The Request: We All Have a Friend We’d Rather Forget

“Even the person closest to you has a secret they don’t want you to know,” says author David Bell. “I think
we’ve all had the experience of thinking we know someone really well but people can still surprise us, no matter what.”

“We all have a friend from our past who is a lot of fun when we’re young but when we get older
and get settled that person is someone you want to leave behind,” says David Bell, explaining the idea behind his latest mystery-thriller The Request (Berkley 2020; $11.99—Amazon price). “And I wondered what would happen if that friend showed up and even more if that friend knew something about you that one else knows.”

That’s what happens to Ryan Francis. Years ago, Ryan was involved in a car accident that left a
young girl seriously injured. It was his fault his best friend Blake Norton tells Ryan after he wakes up in the hospital, the memory of the accident completely gone.

Since that time, Ryan has rebuilt his life, marrying, starting a successful business and is now the
father of a young child. He also carries the guilt of knowing he’s harmed someone and has stealthily left large sums of money in the girl’s mailbox to help with her ongoing medical expenses.

But things are coming undone. The girl’s sister confronts Ryan, demanding a large amount of
cash or else she’ll reveal the truth. But she’s not the only one wanting something from Ryan. Blake is
back and he needs a big favor—break into his ex-girlfriend’s home and steal letters Blake wrote her that she’s threatening to show his current fiancé. And though Ryan refuses, Blake won’t take no for an answer. If Ryan won’t get those letters then Blake will reveal the truth of what happened all those years ago.

It’ll be easy, Blake assures him. But, of course, it’s not. Letting himself into the house when
Blake’s ex is supposed to be at yoga class, Ryan can’t find the letters—they’re not where Blake said
they’d be. But much, much worse, the Blake’s ex never left the house to go to yoga. Ryan stumbles across her body—she’s been murdered. And at the same instant, his phone lights up, the woman lying dead at his feet has just asked him to become her Facebook friend.

Blake disappears, stealing Ryan’s laptop, a strange man tries to break into their home while his
wife and baby are there by themselves and the police zero in on Ryan—and his wife–as a possible
suspects. It seems that others besides Ryan and Blake have their secrets as well.

“Even the person closest to you has a secret they don’t want you to know,” says Bell. “I think
we’ve all had the experience of thinking we know someone really well but people can still surprise us, no matter what.”

DAVID BELL is a USA Today bestselling, award-winning author whose work has been translated into multiple foreign languages. He’s currently an associate professor of English at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he directs the MFA program. He received an MA in creative writing from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and a PhD in American literature and creative writing from the University of Cincinnati. His novels include LayoverSomebody’s DaughterBring Her HomeSince She Went AwaySomebody I Used to KnowThe Forgotten GirlNever Come BackThe Hiding PlaceCemetery Girl, and The Request.

The Times of Northwest Indiana Entertainment.

Follow Me: An Instagram Influencer Discovers the Dark and Dangerous Side of the Internet

Being a social media influencer with over a million followers means never feeling alone but it also means opening your life to a stalker as Audrey Miller soon finds out.

          With over 1 million Instagram followers, social media influencer Audrey Miller never feels alone and loves the rush she gets from her fans’ adulation whenever she posts. It’s a great way to lift her spirits when she’d down. But maybe it’s not quite as good as it seems. After her roommate announces her boyfriend is moving in so Audrey needs to move out, she takes what appears to be a dream job at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

Kathleen Barber

Sure, it’s high pressure and she still needs to keep up with her social media, but all seems well despite her creepy upstairs neighbor. But of course it isn’t. A long time stalker, who first started following Audrey when her only social media outlet was just a WordPress blog, is still keeping tabs on her. But as Audrey upped her influencer credentials, his obsession has increased so much that he’s now hanging out in the darkest and deepest corners of the web learning how to isolate Audrey so she’s his and his alone.  

          The idea for Follow Me began when author Kathleen Barber was meandering through the internet, a place she describes as full of unexpected rabbit holes. As a former attorney who with her husband left high profile jobs as lawyer and traveled the world, Barber was a sucker for killing time by reading quirky legal articles and stories online.

          “Then I came across a post from someone who thought their boss was accessing employees’ home security cameras,” says Barber, whose first novel, Are you Sleeping (now titled Truth be Told) was adapted for an Apple TV+ series by Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine media company. “I thought it was fake.”

          But further research showed Barber, who grew up in Galesburg, Illinois and graduated from Northwestern University’s law school, that there was even a subreddit or online specific community about on controllable webcams. Barber had never heard of them but after further research she discovered that it’s possible to install a RAT or remote administration tool to spy on people through their computers without their knowing about it. The RAT tool can be used just to play tricks such as hiding someone’s Start button or putting porn on their computer to some serious stalking.

          “And it doesn’t even take much skill,” says Barber who was amazed at how easy it was to do after doing more research. “I did a lot of reading on the subject—so much so, that if someone were to look at my computer’s search history, they’d find very dark and disturbing things. That’s when I decided to write Follow Me and to put a sticker over my computer’s webcam.”  

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