Elise Cooper interviews

Rules of Engagement by David Bruns and J. R. Olson brings to the forefront the real threat of cyber warfare in this military thriller.  Both authors use their past experiences as naval officers to bring a wealth of accuracy and realism to the story, which only serves to heighten its authenticity.  Bruns is a former submarine officer who left the business world behind to write sci-fi novels.  Olson spent more than 20 years in the Navy, retiring as a commander, and now teaches college courses in Intelligence/Counter-Terrorism.


This tale of clear and present danger forewarns how cyberwarfare is the next battleground that can play out on the world stage.  Although some military thrillers can sometimes be bogged down in the details, this one has just the right balance between information given, plot development, and action. 


As in real life, Russia is in the midst of the trouble making.  A criminal enterprise known as Bratva is losing money on its arms dealing business, so its leadership hires a North Korean go between to create havoc.  Rafiq Roshed, one of the world’s most wanted cyber terrorists, now residing in North Korea, is enlisted to pit China, Japan, and America. the nations with the three most powerful navies, on a collision course for World War III. He inserts a computer virus into a country's command system to gain control and has it begin to learn how to carry on its own warfare. First penetrating the Chinese, he has their war machine launch a series of attacks on the U.S. Pacific forces. As China and Japan are losing control of their military, the U.S. is also in danger of doing the same. Casualties are mounting, and an apocalypse is looming large.  The only way to stop this disaster from creating further trouble is to stop it at its source.

This plot driven military thriller does not have a single hero, but realistically shows how a team working together can complete the mission. Midshipmen Michael Goodwin, Janet Everett, and Andrea Ramirez are asked to find and eliminate the source before it is too late. Working collectively, they must connect the dots to find and destroy the deadly virus and its handler, Roshed.

Readers are left with an unsettling feeling after reading this story. It heightens a frightening wake-up call.  Fans of military thrillers will delve into the intrigue and heart pounding action of this novel. It has plenty of clever twists, strategic moves, and high stakes.


Elise Cooper:  Why did you both decide to team up?

J. R. Olson:  As Naval Academy graduates, we attend Alumni Association events. In 2011 we were invited to speak to the Naval Academy parents.  One of them said, ‘you two should get together to write a book.’  We did just that five years ago.  

EC:  What inspired you?

David Bruns:  In July 1984, just after the Hunt For Red October had come out, I had a chance to meet Tom Clancy before he became super famous.  In reading his book my world was changed.  Being a midshipmen in the US Naval Academy I decided to become a submarine sailor.  I spent six years as a commissioned officer in the nuclear-powered submarine force chasing the Russians in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. I thought how the Clancy book affected me, the movie “Top Gun” affected many who went on to become Navy pilots, and what Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff did for astronauts. We are hoping this book might do the same for the next generation of Cyber Warriors.  Maybe inspire the next generation to join the service and serve their country.


EC:  Cyber warfare does not seem to be on the public’s radar?

DB:  We wanted to write a book identifying and developing a story around the threats of the 21st Century.  We are hoping to take a threat not talked about publicly and dial it up to an ’11.’ 

JRO:  We were driven to write about cyber security.  The Naval Academy actually has a new facility called Hopper Hall that houses the cyber security program.  The midshipmen majoring in it will be able to study it from a national security perspective.  The heroes of our story are the team of three midshipmen. 


EC:  This is the third book of the series?

DB:  The first two books were self-published.  For book three, and going forward, we decided to get an agent and publisher.  

JRO:  The first book, Weapons of Mass Deception, is about nuclear proliferation with non-state actors.  The second book, Jihadi Apprentice, delves into home grown radicalization.  This book highlights how a cyber threat can be used as a tool by a rogue actor working inside a nation state.  


EC:  There are many ways of using cyber as a weapon?

JRO:  There are a lot of systems connected all over the world.  With this plot we played off of SCADA: Supervisory control and data acquisition is a system of software and hardware elements that allows industrial organizations to have a centralized control.  A great example was the Stuxnet Worm. It penetrated inside the Iranian centrifuges and locked on the central panel.  Everyone observing thought it was functioning normally, but what was actually happening is that the centrifuges were coming apart.  Similarly, the electrical power grids are also system of systems that can be vulnerable to a cyber-attack.  

DB:  Other examples are the hacking of the Democratic Committee through spear phishing where someone clicked on a link they should not have.  There is also Target and Sony where a hacker was able to gain access to many people’s information. 


EC:  Does cyber warfare have any fingerprint? 

DB:  This is an issue because no one can tell who it is right away.  A code has to be taken apart. It takes awhile to be absolutely certain.  It is an issue of attribution.  How do we tell what constitutes a cyber-attack that should lead to war?


EC:  Besides an entertaining story what was your goal in writing this story?

DB: There is a certain level of expectation from the reader that they will get a plausible explanation.  We wanted to make it realistic and interesting without bogging it down in the details.  I have the benefit of a son who is a computer science major so I can run by him bits of information.  We did not want to write a Skynet book like Terminator that takes over the world.  The threat we wrote about is man-made.

JRO:  The ability for computers to make decisions is far greater than any human being.  In the future, this whole cyber arena may be computers fighting other computers. Although we made up “Happy Panda” and “Trident” we wanted to make sure that we created realistic systems with plausible vehicles.  


EC:  Can you give a heads up about your next book?

DB:  The threat will be from biological agents used as weapons.  The three Midshipmen are back, but now will be junior officers.  One of our characters from the previous books, FBI Special Agent Elizabeth (Liz) Soroush may have an important role. 



Milady by Laura L. Sullivan is the untold story of Milady De Winter.  Anyone familiar with The Three Musketeers will know her story written by Alexandre Dumas, and if not, they can take a journey with this adventurous woman. This is a must read about a strong heroine that overcame life’s challenges against incredible odds. This action-packed story has espionage, murder, and betrayal with a touch of romance and some historical background. 


Early in the story, Milady formerly known as Clarice is taken to King James’ Court by her father who hopes her beauty will gain favor with the King. This starts a sequence of events that cannot be undone turning her into a spy and assassin for Cardinal Richelieu.  


Milady is not seen as the villainous, cold, and unyielding murderess/seductress character portrayed by Dumas. Sullivan has written her as a refreshing, no-nonsense, witty character who has an unapologetic attitude. She uses her beauty and intelligence to accomplish her goals, causing havoc to those men who come up against her including The Three Musketeers. But there is also a softer side to her where loyalty and duty stand out. 


This novel is a marvelous compelling tale of love, loss, betrayal, and retribution as Milady forged her own path from the one that was forced upon her. Sullivan writes her as a very sympathetic character where readers feel her distress, anger, and love. The only thing that can make this better would be to have this book the first in a series featuring this female heroine adventurous spy.


Elise Cooper:  Why write Milady’s story?

Laura Sullivan:  I had first read The Three Musketeers superficially as a teenager when I was about fifteen.  After this new translation came out a few years ago I read it again.  I was shocked at some of the things I missed while reading it as a teenager including the rape by deception of Milady – by the supposed hero no less!  I started to study her character some more and realized she is not a bad person at all.  


EC:  How would you describe Milady?

LS:  The Dumas novel had her devious, treacherous, and heartless.  I saw her more as an intelligent and practical civil servant.  She was a spy for France who worked for Cardinal Richelieu, the defacto leader of France.  Getting into her backstory I found that she was constantly betrayed and made to look as a bad person, which was not the case.


EC:  She seemed to have a hard knock life?

LS:  Everything that happened to her was not her fault but spun to be her fault.  I wondered what the alternative explanations were to the The Three Musketeers book.  I decided to write a story where the series of events would stay the same, but with different origins. She was betrayed, beaten, and branded, but overcame it all.


EC:  Was she looked down upon because she was a woman?

LS:  Being a woman affected how people thought of her, without a doubt.  She was  appropriating all the masculine roles.  She was not staying at home or having a family, and challenged the men. Historically there was nothing more unnatural than a woman behaving in a way associated with the masculine.  This included violence, treachery, sexuality, ambition, and self-confidence.  In the era written, it would not have been easy for Dumas to present Milady in a balanced way.


EC:  Her weapon of choice?

LS: Milady used methods men considered cowardly, such as poison.  But that is understandable considering she went up against men who were 250 pounds with twenty years of sword fighting experience.  This was the only way she could take the men down.  She could not challenge them directly but had to use her intelligence to level the playing field.  


EC:  What was the role of women during the 1600s?

LS:  They were basically under the control of their male relatives.  Many went out to the world at the ages of thirteen or fourteen although I made Milady eighteen.  They could rarely make decisions for themselves or own property.  Milady was at the whim of her father, which can be seen when he sent her to the convent against her free will.  


EC:  Do you consider Milady a victim?

LS:  I wanted to create the right balance of strength and vulnerability.  Through much of the book she is a victim.  Nearly everyone she trusts betrays her and she has no control over many of the situations she is drawn into.  Each betrayal crushes her, yet Milady still is capable of intrigue that is very subtle and cerebral. 


EC:  Please describe Olivier, the Vicomte de la Fere aka Athos?

LS:  A typical nobleman who considers himself a powerful master of his land and the peasants under him.  In the original The Three Musketeers, he claims that he could have had Milady at any time, basically raping her.  The reason given, he was the lord of the manor.  He definitely has a high opinion of himself.  His character can be described as proud, hasty, unthinking, tied to the aristocratic standard, with an underlying coldness. 


EC:  How would you describe Olivier and Milady’s relationship?

LS: She was hesitant to be involved with any man.  Yet she learned to trust him.  They both had an idealized version of each other.  The second she did not conform to his standards he changed his attitude toward her.  I think she was duped by his character. He wanted to kill her because she insulted his honor by marrying him even though she had a supposed past.


EC:  How would you compare this to the original version?

LS: I tried to keep it as close as possible to the Dumas book – the same actions, but with vastly different motivations and results.  I hope that those who read The Three Musketeers could believe the conclusions drawn in Milady.  I wanted to write it with a woman’s voice.  It is a study of the compromises and sacrifices made by her to be true to herself as she should stood firm.  I did invent her mother and father.  In the original story Milady is described as slipping seamlessly between the French and English cultures.  This is why I gave her a birth place in England.  George Villiers, Cardinal Richelieu, D'Artagnan, the Musketters, and of course Milady were characters in the original version.  


EC:  What role did religion play?

LS:  I think Milady thought of herself as a person of logic and of the moment and did not think much about the next world. Once she escaped from the horrible conditions of the convent and became somewhat successful she funded a convent that would help women.  I think she saw a firm difference between the humans who practiced the religion and the religion itself.  


EC:  Would you want to write this as a series?

LS:  I would love to.  I have not allowed myself to think too much about it yet because I want to see how this book does.  I do have ideas for a storyline for another book.


EC:  Can you give a heads up about your next book?

LS:  I am co-writing a young adult memoir  with a professor at Columbia. It is the story about her as a teenager surviving the Bosnian War from 1992 to 1995.  I am also working on my next solo book involving the early 20th Century art world, about a woman on the fringes of the lives of great artists.


Toxic Toffee by Amanda Flower is a delightful cozy mystery that will put a smile on readers’ faces while they try to solve the who done it mystery.  As with all the books in the series, murder seems to find Bailey and she enjoys her role as an amateur sleuth along with her “hot” boyfriend Deputy Sherriff Aiden Brody. 


She divides her time between New York, where she films a cable TV show, and Harvest Ohio, where she helps to run “Swissmen Sweets” with her grandmother and two Amish assistants, Charlotte and Emily. Besides a fun mystery this story also flushes out the personalities of the grandmother and the two Amish assistants.


Yet, death becomes the main attraction when Stephen Raber, a jovial Santa Claus look alike rabbit farmer, keels over from an apparent heart attack right in front of Bailey.  Except he didn’t die from natural causes, but from a lethal dose of Lily of the Valley flower mixed into a tasty piece of toffee he had eaten. Now Bailey has become a foster parent to one of Raber’s rabbits, Puff, a large fluffy white delightful bunny. Because the Amish distrust the local law enforcement, Bailey assists her sheriff deputy boyfriend in the investigation. In addition to searching for a killer, Bailey’s been recruited to create a giant 7-foot toffee rabbit. Splitting her time between taking care of Puff, creating the large rabbit, and solving the murder where she and Aiden try to uncover a twenty-year-old secret.


The quirky characters are colorful and fun to read. Flowers skillfully blends Amish and English characters with a mystery that keeps the reader sleuthing along with Bailey. Prepare for a few smiles as Jethro the pig and Nutmeg the cat are back, as they are joined with Puff the bunny.


Elise Cooper:  There seems to be some symbolism in the story.  The victim, Raber, appears to be a nice and great guy.  The Lilly of the Valley flower is pretty, but poisonous.  Both cases have a hidden dark side?

Amanda Flower:  I had the mystery centered around a bunny seller killed by this poisonous plant.  It is a revenge story where the murderer stews over something that has happened throughout their life.  It was premeditated.  With Stephen and the flower, I wanted to show that nothing and no one is perfect.  


EC:  Do you have a bunny rabbit?

AF:  My friend does and actually raises them.  She had a white rabbit that everyone adored, and it was named Puff.  I also know that the Amish breed and sell rabbits.  I went to this Amish rabbit farm to view bunny behavior.


EC:  What about the toffee?

AF:  I need to keep coming up with different candies.  In this story I had Margot Rawlings, the village coordinator, wanting to have a giant rabbit made out of toffee.  Her mission is to make Holmes County the next Berlin Ohio, the main Amish place for the tourists.  I incorporated toffee because other communities were building giant rabbits made out of chocolate, so she decided on a different candy.  Then there is also the fact that the murder “weapon” was inputted into some toffee candy. 


EC:  Is it even possible to make a giant candy rabbit?

AF:  Yes.  I researched it.  Bailey put Rice Krispy treats for the inside interior.  The toffee part goes on the rabbit to look like fur.  This is fitting for the Amish because they don’t like caricatures.


EC:  You also explore family relationships?

AF:  I want to continue doing this. In this case, I explore the family relationship when someone tries to leave the Amish community.  Those who leave the faith are regarded in different ways:  some are not shunned because they were never baptized, some are not shunned because the community is more lenient and open, and some are completely cut off from their parents and siblings. What I put in the book is true, that there are people and organizations that help the Amish who leave integrate into the English world. Yet, around 70% of the people born into the Amish faith remain, primarily because they do not want to lose access to their family and friends.


EC:  How do you come up with the fun dialogue which really adds to the story?

AF:  Bailey is a fun character to write.  While writing my first book, I had a real struggle to find her voice.  I probably rewrote that book three or four times.  I even had to get an extension because there was something not right about how she was sounding.  I wanted her to be a true New Yorker, but someone who would acclimate to life in Amish country.  Her sarcasm and humor come from living in the cosmopolitan city of New York that has given her a little bit of an edge. I do not want her to be completely “sweet,” but a real person.


EC:  You contrast New York City with Holmes County?

AF:  I am now writing novellas between the stories.  The first novella, Criminally Cocoa, is an e-book set in New York City.  I told it from the point of view of Charlotte, one of the candy shop assistant’s.  I based Charlotte on my own experience.  I feel like “wow.” Everything is so big and moves so fast, while in Holmes County, everything is so small, and people move leisurely.  In Holmes County, everything closes at 5 pm with the restaurants closing at 8 pm.  It becomes a ghost town, while NY City is the town that never sleeps.


EC:  You seem to have brought out the grandmother’s personality more in this book?

AF: In the first book she had to deal with her husband being sick and ultimately dying.  In the next couple of books, she was sad and mourning.  This book was her turning point with her grief.  The next book will have her come more out of her shell.  She is now making her own decisions and speaking her mind.  


EC:  You write the Amish personality with some humor?

AF:  They are seen as serious with an inward personality.  But it is true to life that they can joke and be funny.  Years ago, when I started writing, I went on this buggy ride.  The driver was like a stand-up comedian.  This was very eye opening for me.  I would see them plowing or selling something and they looked so serious with their black clothes.  But they are normal people just like us.  


EC:  What about the relationship between Bailey and Aiden?

AF:  In the next book I throw a wrench into it.  This book shows them as being the perfect match.  Ultimately, they are meant to be together.  Eventually they will get their happily ever after.


EC:  What about your next book?

AF:  I am writing a new spinoff series that will feature someone introduced in this book, Millie Fisher, an Amish matchmaker.  It will be out in January and is titled, Matchmaking Can Be Murder.  Many of the “Candy Shop” characters will make appearances.  This is set right after Toxic Toffee takes place, in May. 

Out next summer will be another book with Bailey and company titled Marshmallow Malice. A former Amish woman storms in during the wedding ceremony of Juliet and Reverend Brook accusing him of being a traitor.  The next day she is found dead.



Summer Country by Lauren Willig is a very potent story. It allows readers to transport themselves into the minds of the characters during the 1850s in Barbados.  What Willig does best is to bring a story to life through heartfelt characters.


This engaging tale of Victorian values has love, lies, jealousy, and rebellion. The story is powerful enough but Willig infuses into it a mystery surrounding the Peverills and Beckles sugar plantations. The action shifts back and forth between 1812-1816 and 1854 that includes the moral dilemmas of slavery and how each of the characters reacts. The emphasis is on two cousins: one free, a slave owner, Mary Anne, and the other her slave, Jenny. 


The story opens in 1854 when Emily Dawson and her cousin Adam along with his wife Laura travel to Barbados. Emily goes to see the property, Peverills, a sugar plantation she inherited from her grandfather. It is a burnt-out shell, reduced to ruins in 1816, when a rising of enslaved people sent the island up in flames. During the rebellion, supposedly a Portuguese girl died when the plantation was burned by the slaves. Nowhere to stay since Peverills is uninhabitable, they accept the invitation of the owner of Beckles sugar plantation, Mrs. Davenant, to stay with her. She has her own hidden agenda that includes trying to match up Emily and her grandson George. But Emily is not interested since she has an attraction to a prominent medical doctor, Nathaniel Braithwaite, an Afro-Caribbean, who began life as a slave at the Beckles plantation.


Rewind to 1812 where Charles Davenant has inherited Peverills, much to the chagrin of his younger brother, Robert. Charles tries to mollify Robert by encouraging him to court Mary Anne, heiress to Beckles, because he only has eyes for the enslaved mixed-race maid/slave, Jenny. 


This historical novel and mystery has lies, greed, clandestine love, and heartbreaking betrayal. Through the exploration of slavery readers take a journey with the passionate characters.


Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea for the novel?

Lauren Willig:  The catalyst for the story was when I took a Caribbean plantation tour about ten years ago.  We were told how the plantation burned down and the Portuguese ward of the owner died in the fire.  But it turns out she was neither Portuguese nor his ward, but a child of a slave/owner.  He only called her Portuguese to explain her darker skin and to make her European.  I started to wonder where is the mother in this story and why weren’t the children and mother freed? What was the relationship between the slave owner and the slave?


EC:  Did you base Charles, a slave owner, who had an affair with the slave Jenny, on Thomas Jefferson?

LW:  I actually based him on Joshua Steele, a Barbados plantation owner.  He had a relationship with a slave woman who bore him two children.  Steele could not free her because he did not own her.  After he died he left his fortune to the two children, but the courts ruled property could not own property.  They were disinherited. 


EC:  What about the relationship between Charles and Jenny was that based on anyone? 

LW:  I read articles on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings and had so many questions.  Can he call her his mistress when she was a slave woman?  Was their relationship based on affection when she had no choice in the matter?  Could they ever actually be in love?  How do you take away the coercion element? After reading the book Natural Rebels: A Social History of Enslaved Women in Barbados by Hilary Beckles I realized that these relationships ran the gamut.  Some had general affection while some slaves used it to free themselves and their offspring by bearing children to white men.  


EC:  Charles seems a lot like Thomas Jefferson?

LW:  They are one of the same mind.  They had the high ordeals yet were so deeply entrenched in the system of slavery.  They cannot figure out how to extricate themselves.  In Barbados, there was a huge tax that had to paid by anyone who freed a slave.  Unfortunately, Charles did not have the cash to free his own slaves because the fees were deliberately punitively high.


EC:  How would you describe Charles? 

LW:  A dreamer with high ideals.  He is an incredibly principled person who is fundamentally ineffectual.  His ideas are not practical.  He embodies the Enlightenment paradox that had high minded notions but no idea how to implement them.  Beautiful words on a page without any action.


EC:  How would you describe Jenny?

LW:  Very practical.  She saw Charles as honest and high minded but realizes she must be self-contained.  Jenny protects herself by observing and watching.  I think she is much stronger than Charles.  


EC:  How would you describe Mary Anne?

LW:  A survivalist because she suffered through a gruesome upbringing where she was always in fear for her life.  Whatever she had the potential to be became warped by that upbringing. We must look at her within the context of the times since she grew up as a slave owner.  Her morals are entirely different than ours.  I consider her a tragic character.


EC:  How would you describe the relationship with Jenny?

LW:  Jenny and her are cousins and in any other world they would have grown up together and would have been friends.  Because Jenny is a slave their relationships are mistress and slave.  Jenny is closest to her than anyone in the world.  As much as Mary Anne is capable of loving anyone she loves Jenny.  Yet she is acutely aware Jenny is her possession and expects absolute loyalty.  She does not know how to encourage Jenny to love her without commanding it.  She looks on Jenny as her sister and her slave. She confides in Jenny and relies on her.  


EC:  Mary Anne has trouble with relationships including her husband Robert?

LW:  Their marriage is a very old model which was about property and security.  Their relationship is poisoned from the beginning because of the Uncle’s statements. Robert had the younger son syndrome that causes his bitterness.  He deeply resents that his money and status came from marrying Mary Anne.  He tries to make her insignificant, but she pushes back.  She is resentful because she regards the plantation as hers along with the money.  They clashed because Robert felt he had to be in charge and she is not the meek wife.  


EC:  What about Emily and Nathaniel’s relationship?

LW:  She helps him to solve problems, something she is very good at.  She is good at getting things done. She understands that Nathaniel feels he must prove himself because of the color of his skin.


EC:  Was the 1816 rebellion real?

LW:  Yes. Since the slave owners allowed the slaves to leave the plantation without a pass from the owner they could meet and discuss what needed to be done. All the characters Jenny meets are real people.  Everything in the book was drawn from the historical record including the dialogue. The owners thought if they kept the slave population as pacified as possible, they would be happy, but this also gave the slaves an opportunity to plan.


EC:  Heads up about your next book(s)?

LW:  It is a story based on the memoir of a woman who wrote about her time in France during WWI.  She organized eighteen of the Smith college alums to go to France in 1917 and offer humanitarian aid.  There will be three main characters including a sparky British soldier. 

The other book is written with Karen White and Beatriz Williams.  It is set in France at the Ritz during WWI, WWII, and in the 1960s with three generations of women.



One Small Sacrifice by Hilary Davidson is a procedural mystery that will keep readers guessing until the very last chapter. Each thread of the detailed plot unveils one surprising revelation after another. With the compelling characters this story contrasts how good people can go astray with horrible people that have no conscience.   


The early chapters set the pace for the rest of the book with war photographer Alex Traynor apparently getting away with murdering his good friend Cori Stanton. At least that’s what New York Police Detective Sheryn Sterling believes. Alex suffers from PTSD due to his harrowing work in war zones around the world. Unable to remember what happened the night Cori fell from a rooftop, it is believed he pushed her to her death. Yet, because of a lack of evidence, he was released.  


When Alex’s fiancée, Dr. Emily Teare, a talented and beloved local doctor, suddenly goes missing, Sheryn suspects Alex of misdeeds. Initially she was out to prove Traynor murdered again, but as the investigation into Emily’s disappearance deepens, Sheryn and her new partner find themselves going back over the previous case as well. It’s possible that there’s a darker story, and that Alex isn’t the only one with secrets.  Slowly she discards her tunnel vision and personal bias and starts relooking at the evidence that includes opioid addiction and illegal prescriptions.


It is also a love story between the two main characters Alex and Emily and how much they will sacrifice for each other. Alex, a photographer who made a name for himself taking pictures in war torn countries such as Iraq and Syria, witnessed multiple horrors.  While photographing the harrowing scenes, Alex was kidnapped in Syria. During the rescue operation by his army friend Maclean, Alex was shot in his leg. Taken to a medical center for treatment of his injuries he met Emily, a neurosurgeon who volunteers with Doctors Without Borders.  She removes the bullet from his leg, and their relationship builds from there into a romance that leads to their engagement.


What makes this a good thriller are the ingredients that Davidson puts into this story:  twists, turns, and surprises that make the novel really suspenseful. The story is so well crafted that it is difficult to know who is the guilty party. Is there a connection between the death of Stanton and the disappearance of Teare? Davidson drops details throughout the narrative that keeps the reader off balance, unsure, and on the edge of their seat.


Elise Cooper:  How did you get the idea for the story?

Hilary Davidson:  I first had an image of the characters in my mind, especially one character in particular that the was impacted by PTSD. I thought of books I loved with an unreliable narrator.  Because I experienced PTSD I was intrigued to find an interesting way to approach it with an unreliable narrator.  


EC: Can you discuss your experience?

HD:  My first job, more than twenty years ago, straight out of college, had workplace violence.  A man tried to murder everyone in the office at the Veterans Government Department in Toronto.  There were people who were not getting enough help that included this one man in particular.  He was homeless with a mental illness that was not properly treated.  This person was very angry at their counselor and made death threats for months.  One day he came and started a massive fire that destroyed three floors of the office building.  It was a horrifying scene.  


EC:  Did you get PTSD?

HD:  Yes.  I became very scared and weeks later I got these disturbing feelings. I remember the beginning of the incident but do not remember how I got out of the office.  I actually received an award from the government for helping other people out.  There is this lost time in which I do not recall what exactly happened.  I had this weird fragmental memory and unforgettable feelings.  I incorporated this in the book with my main character Alex.  He is a war photographer who saw terrible things on the battlefields.  Now that he is back home and safe in New York he has feelings popping out but also has blackouts. 


EC:  It seems Detective Sheryn Sterling had tunnel vision regarding Alex’s guilt?


HD: This was my intention in the beginning.  Sheryn fell into the mindset to have the facts fit into her conception. She had it while on the hunt and when she had the suspect in her sight. I put in this book quote by Alex’s lawyer to show just that: “She’d going to shoehorn every shred of evidence to fit her theory and incriminate you.” I think that police work is sometimes like a scientist where they have a theory and go in that direction.   But I hope the readers saw she had a flexible enough mind where she could take in new information and reset her thinking.  Some have told me that they recognized that Sheryn grew and changed.  She broadens her perspective.  


EC:  How would you describe Sheryn?

HD:  Compassionate, honorable, flexible, brave, dedicated, and relentless.  She is molded by her family’s tradition of military service.  She is a tremendous advocate for the victims and is determined in the pursuit of justice.  


EC:  How would you describe Emily?

HD:  A big hearted person with a strong sense of responsibility towards others. Emily is an incredibly virtuous person who is not perfect.  She carries a sliver of darkness with shades of grey. She tries to do good in the world.  


EC:  How would you describe Alex?

HD: He is the dark mirror of Emily.  A good person who wants to make a difference in the world.  For instance, he went into war photography because he wanted the world to know the true story of what goes on in a conflict.  He feels deeply but cannot articulate it into words but has his images, a witness of sorts.  


EC: It appears you made a reference to the Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur-who will live and who will die?

HD:  You must be referring to the quote by Maclean who died while serving his country: “Not your turn today. It’s not about good or bad but if your number comes up.” I met a lot of people who have served in the military or on the police force.  They have a certain way of looking at the world.  As a writer, things come to mind in a sub-conscious sort of way.  Since my husband is Jewish I am familiar with that service. Writers who go out into the world will pick things up that will stay with them.  They come out at the strangest times.


EC:  One theme of the book is sacrifice?

HD:  Yes, the sacrifices people make for others.  I put in the beginning of the book a quote from an Easter poem written in 1916.  The idea is that too much had been sacrificed during the Irish Rebellion including too much blood shed.  It made me think when is a sacrifice too much.  In the book, there is also a darker sacrifice. An example in this story is how Alex sacrificed for his friend Will.  He feels such an obligation since Will’s mother took him in as a teenager.  She told him that Will now has a brother.  He feels it is his duty to protect Will even though the relationship is twisted.


EC:  Can you give a heads up about your next book?

HD:  It will be book two in the series with both detectives coming back, although a whole new case.  A female entrepreneur is being blackmailed.  At the beginning of the book she meets with that person.  The rest of the book delves into the fallout of it.  The title is Don’t Look Down and is out in early 2020.  



Latest comments

10.06 | 12:03

The news Jacquelyn Winespear is on my summer reading list.
Looking forward to another Maise Dobbs

24.12 | 00:28

Always look forward to your weekly blog, Marti ... safe travels this week. Merry Christmas!

01.10 | 16:20

Happy Birthday! I remember when book club started when you turned 50. OMG! 100% agree with political status. So disappointing. Happy Foliage!

27.05 | 23:23

Outraged, too! It is just getting coverage. This government is shameful under this leadership.