Elise Cooper interviews

The Escape Artist

Brad Meltzer

Grand Central Publishing

March 6th, 2018

The Escape Artist by Brad Meltzer once again proves he is the master of secrets.  His books always delve into the hidden stories of the characters and governmental conspiracies.  He has a knack for finding out and then writing about interesting topics that are not widely well-known, incorporating them into a thrilling story.


The book starts off with a bang when one of the passengers jumps out of a plane without a parachute before it crashes to the ground.  It might have received little notice except that one of the passengers was the Librarian of Congress and a good friend of President Orson Wallace. A little tidbit, this is the same President who appeared in Meltzer’s previous series.  


Following the crash Jim Zig” Zigarowski, a very skilled mortician at Dover Air Force Base, is assigned to perform his magic on the bodies of those who crashed.  He has unique reconstructive talents that has made it possible for families to view the peaceful remains of their lost loved ones. One of the bodies from the plane crash is Nola Brown, a name Zig recognizes immediately, since she saved his daughter, Maggie’s life and lost a portion of her ear in the process. Zig’s sadness turns to surprise after realizing the body in front of him had no ear damage making Zig positive that it was not Nola. Through the investigation Zig uncovers that Nola is the U.S. Army's artist-in-residence, a painter and trained soldier who rushes into battle, making art from war's aftermath and sharing observations about today's wars that would otherwise go overlooked. Together, they uncover a sinister scheme called Operation Bluebook, based on the magician’s Harry Houdini secret way of revealing fake fortune-tellers, separating truth from lies.  Zig and Nola must find who is behind Bluebook before the conspirators can kill them. 


Elise Cooper:  What spurred you to base a story around what is done at Dover’s Air Force Base?

Brad Meltzer: Six years ago, as part of a USO trip to entertain the troops in the Middle East I learned about the heroes at Dover.  While there I heard about all these suicides and attempts.  This is one of these things no one wants to talk about, and at Dover I saw how many fallen had come from self-inflicted wounds. This was devastating to me. I also found out some of the biggest cases go there from those who went down on the Space Shuttle to some 911 bodies.  I show Dover as a place full of secrets.


EC:  You made Nola the Army’s artist in residence?

BM:  I was on this military base and saw the Fort Belvior's Museum Support Center, which had a bunch of paintings.  I remember thinking why does the US military and government have all of this art?  I met war artists, ‘the artists in residence,’ and found out since World War I the US Army has a painter on staff who paints scenes.  They can go wherever they want, having a free reign to create their art. For example, they can dilate someone’s eyes to make them look scared. Unlike a video that just captures a moment, they can show a full story.  This is where Nola was born. 


EC:  Were the scenes about Dover realistic? 

BM:  Yes.  When I went there I saw an insider’s view that was so humbling.  Some of the sculptors and artists could spend fourteen hours rebuilding a cheekbone or someone’s face so that the family can say good-bye properly.  I was told of one case where they rebuilt someone’s hand because the mother wanted to hold it one last time.  


EC:  How would you describe Zig?

BM:  He is named after a real guy who works at Dover.  My Zig is a combination of every single person I met there.  Everyone there has a sense of mission and handles the bodies with dignity, honor, and trust.  I hoped I showed that through the Zig character. In the fiction part of the story Ziggy is broken and lonely.  He has to get out of the crater and get back to life.  A book quote, ‘Just because you are dead, does not mean you are alive.’


EC:  How would you describe Nola?

BM:  She is my favorite character I have ever written.  Even though she is drawn to disaster she fights like a Wolverine.  I will take with appreciation what Harlan Coben wrote about Nola, ‘Not since The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo have you seen a character like this. Get ready to meet Nola.’


EC:  You have an interesting tidbit.  Is it true?

BM:  I assume you are referring to John Wilke who was a friend of Henry Houdini, a magician, and the first head of the US Secret Service.  Over time he turned Houdini’s Bluebook into a full-fledged government program, sneaking undercover agents and troops into key locations.  They became the ultimate observers, hiding in plain sight, just like Houdini’s hidden assistants.  The modern part of what I wrote is fiction, but is based on Houdini’s Bluebook.


EC:  What do you want readers to get out of the book besides good entertainment?

BM:  I want readers to see the real American heroes that we do not know are even there.  The average American knows nothing about Dover.  The country needs heroes like this.  They are the best of the best of us, who works on the best of the best.


EC:  What is your next book?

BM:  It will be a children’s book, titled, I am Neil Armstrong.  Each of my children’s books are a value lesson more so than a history lesson.  This book is about team work with a big emphasis on humility.  I think our children need to be reminded about important values such as being humble.



The Third Victim

Phillip Margolin

Minotaur Pub

March 6th, 2018

 The Third Victim by Phillip Margolin is the first in a new series. Margolin is back with his expertise of legal suspense crime novels. What makes his books interesting is the ability to intertwine facts about the justice system within a riveting plot.

The book begins with a horrific scene of a girl stumbling out of the woods and collapsing on the highway. She has been badly burned, beaten, and tortured. The investigation would later show that this woman was the ‘third victim’ of a sadistic killer. Luckily she was able to escape before he finished the job. Persons of interest pile up:  Alex Mason, a prominent defense attorney who owns the cabin where the torture takes place; Arnold Prater, a rogue police officer, and a drug dealing pimp, Jackson Wright. Readers enter the courtroom with the defense attorneys, Regina Barrister and Robin Lockwood, as they try to figure out who is the real torturer.

As with all of his novels, Margolin explores societal issues, with this book being no different.  Alzheimer’s is dealt with in a very understanding manner.  Regina, a high-powered defense attorney, in the midst of a very serious case of murder and torture is starting to forget important information and is not able to hide it from the rest of the team that includes her newly hired associate Robin Lockwood.  Since Regina is known for her quick wit, sharp mind, and immaculate research, Robin thought this would be her dream job, having a great mentor.  Yet, she now must decide what to do, weighing her desire to continue working with Regina against her moral compass.  Does she approach her or some of the trusted friends, and if so how to avoid confrontation since Regina is obviously in denial?

Margolin never disappoints readers with his legal thrillers.  He chooses an issue relevant to today and encases it in a story involving some crime.  This book is really two plots in one, a murder mystery and an examination of the impact of Alzheimer’s.


Elise Cooper: You had a two-year absence?

Phillip Margolin:  I switched publishers from Harper to St. Martins who gave me a three-book deal.  The reason for the lapse between books is that in 2016 my editor’s mother got very sick and she passed away.  Because we were going back and forth with the edits the book was not completed until April 2017.  But it was too late to get it into the catalog so they set it for 2018.  I actually finished the second book of the series before this book came out.


EC:  You delve into the issue of Alzheimer’s?

PM:  It is the inspiration for this book.  I read this article in the Oregon State Bar Journal that examines what should be done when a senior partner in a big law firm, a rainmaker, starts showing signs of dementia.  This made me think about a young lawyer who starts working with her idol on a death penalty case and realizes something is wrong.


EC:  Did you do any research for it?

PM: Dr. Jeffrey Kaye was kind enough to read the book to make sure I got it right. He is the Layton professor of neurology and biomedical engineering and the director of the Layton Aging and Alzheimer's Disease Center, as well as director of the Oregon Center for Aging and Technology (ORCATECH). 


EC:  Did you know anyone who has it?

PM: Both my grandmother, mother-in-law, and my aunt had Alzheimer’s.  I think it is worse for people who are around them.  I remember when I went back to New York and called my aunt to get together for lunch.  After lunch, we were sitting in the park and she did not know where was her apartment.  Five minutes later she asked the question again.  My father and brother flew out and we took her back to Oregon.


EC:  It seems that most of your books also have a woman who is abused?

PM:  It is an important issue for me.  I pioneered the battered woman defense back in Oregon in 1979.  No one understood the dynamics of wife beating and why they stayed with their abuser.  That year I represented a woman who murdered her husband with a hammer after he passed out drunk.  During the course of my investigation I found out she was beaten by him for fourteen years and he also pushed her down a flight of stairs.  She got probation.  After that I lectured and wrote articles on how to use it as a defense.


EC:  You also explore how the justice system works?

 PM:  As a lawyer I did thirty homicide cases, twelve death penalty, and went before the US Supreme Court.  I hope to show readers how real trials and cases are very different than what they see on TV.  Justice is served when the legal process functions successfully.  It was set up by the colonists because they thought the government was bad and could do evil things.  This is why they put the burden on the government to prove its accusations beyond a reasonable doubt.  For the prosecution, it is put up or shut up.


EC:  Why a death penalty case?

PM:  I want to show my distaste for the death penalty.  I tried thirty murder cases and with two of them I proved that the person convicted was factually innocent.  Two out of thirty is a pretty high percentage for one lawyer.  I think we have to be very careful because the death penalty is a non-correctable sentence.  


EC:  How would you describe Robin?

PM:  I really like her.  In my previous books my two most important characters are Dana Cutler, a female Rambo, and Amanda Jaffe, a realistic tough female attorney.  Robin is a blending of these two.  

EC:  You have Robin kicking someone’s a- - in this book?

PM:  I wanted to make sure that scene is realistic.  In reality, most women who fight a bigger guy will lose.  I figured out how to do this by giving Robin a background in martial arts and learning wrestling skills while on her high school team.


EC:  You always have twists and turns in your plots?

PM:  Yes, but I hope the readers think that the ending is fair.  I won’t write a word until I get my conclusion. I would never have the murderer just dropped from the sky. Otherwise, people feel they are being taken advantage of. As a reader myself, authors who do this really upset me. I feel like they wasted my time since there is no way I could have figured it out.  My style is to drop subtle hints throughout the plot and hope everything comes together.


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

PM:  Regina is only mentioned in the next one but does come back in the third one.  Everyone else from the law firm returns in the next book with Robin and the other law partner taking control.  It is loosely based on the Stanford swimmer who raped a girl and got a very light sentence.  In my story, the antagonist is an All-American linebacker who raped a girl at a fraternity party and claims it was consensual sex.  



Agent In Place (The Gray Man Book 7)

Mark Greaney

Berkley Press

Feb. 20th, 2017


Agent in Place by Mark Greaney has lots of action, some current events, and a great storyline. The main character, Court Gentry, known as “The Gray Man” ventures into places where not many would dare to go having to overcome some very bad people. The reader feels as if they are placed right into the center of the Syrian Civil War as they go along for the ride with Gentry as he faces all of the different factions and players including mercenaries, the Free Syrian Army, ISIS, the Russians, just to mention a few.


The novel begins with ISIS about to execute Court. The story then backtracks a week ago to show readers how Gentry got in this mess to begin with. Because he was never an official employee of the CIA, Court decides which missions he will choose, some for the Spy Agency and some from freelance work.  In this case he is working on his own for the Halabys, leaders of the Free Syria Exile Union who hires him to kidnap the mistress of the Syrian President, the model Bianca Medina. The plan is to have her release information that will deal a serious blow to the Syrian regime and hasten the end of the cruel civil war. Complications arise when she refuses unless her son is rescued from the grips of his father, Ahmed al-Azzam, the Syrian President. After agreeing to this new job, Gentry realizes that there is a tangled web including Syria’s First Lady who wants Bianca and the heir to the throne dead. The tension ratchets up even higher from here.


His nickname of “The Gray Man” suits Gentry since he always seems to keep a low profile and work in the shadows.  He's a fiercely loyal and trustworthy individual and when he says he's got your back you can believe him. What makes him special is his desire to do what is necessary to make sure the bad guys never are a threat again. It is a welcome relief considering the real world has the bad guys winning way too much.   


Elise Cooper:  Wishful thinking on your part about Syria?

Mark Greaney:  I wanted Court to operate with a mission he thought of as noble.  Because I have been interested in this Civil War ever since it started I decided to create this idea for the story.  Assad is currently using chlorine against his people and seems to get away with quite a bit.  It seems over the years governments say, ‘we will never let this happen again.’  When it happens again they look the other way and appear to do nothing.  It is pretty pathetic.


EC:  Do you think some readers will think it impossible for Court to enter into Syria and come out alive?

MG:  I hope not.  Look at the mass murders in Rwanda.  I firmly believe if we had sent in five hundred Marines we could have saved most of the approximately 800,000 who lost their lives in just ninety days.  I wanted to show how even one person can have the power to make a difference.


EC:  You show some of the multiple factions in Syria?

MG: Many of those who are anti-Assad or in my case anti-al-Azzam are radical Jihadists.  There is the saying, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend,’ but the reverse is also true.  Then there is Russia that basically wants to use Syria as an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean, where they have a military presence.  All these groups including those against the Russians commit atrocities, but then there are the innocent children and those who just want to live their lives.  It is not like World War II where there were distinct good guys versus bad guys.  


EC:  What about your Syrian First Lady, Shakira Azzam?

MG:  There is a kernel of truth about this character and the real Syrian First Lady.  In this book, she is a power broker because she is the villainous.  She is beautiful, brilliant, and was once referred to as ‘the Rose of the Desert’, and ‘Lady Diana of the Middle East.’ But in actuality she is a master manipulator and wants to be in control. Now, after seven years of a Civil War, her public image has been destroyed, and she is now referred to as ‘The First Lady of Hell.’


EC:  How would you describe Bianca?

MG:  She is gorgeous and very naïve.  I think she was duped.  I hope she became a sympathetic character as the story unfolds.  Her viewpoint was skewed by what the Syrian regime put out.  I think throughout the story she gains strength and realizes the truth about what is happening.  


EC:  It is surprising that you write about Syria having a liberal attitude about Islam?

MG:  A lot of people are surprised by the attitudes in Syria.  Women do not have to wear the hijab, they date, and there are some Muslim men who drink.  If these same people lived in Afghanistan they would have their heads chopped off.  Damascus has a lot of bars and discos.  Even the Christians there are not persecuted, mainly because they support Assad.  


EC:  I remember reading that Walt Disney would act out his scenes.  Since your action passages are so detailed do you do the same?

MG:  I think about them a lot.  I will be walking my dog and try to figure out how Court will get out of trouble.  The scene in the hotel where he is fighting ISIS and Bianca’s bodyguards I tried to find the right weapons he would use, his plan to avoid any surveillance cameras, and his escape route.  Something else I think about, ‘did I write this type of action before?’  It gets harder and harder to keep it fresh after writing sixteen thrillers.


EC:  Do you want your action scenes to be realistic?

MG:  It is very important to me not to make them so complex they are not understandable.  Of course, I am obviously pushing the envelope, but I do want everything to be possible.  I hope Court is not viewed as a Superhero like Captain America.  Instead, he should be seen with vulnerabilities and can get hurt at any time.  


EC:  What do you want readers to get out of the story?

MG:  Really good entertainment, but I always put in themes of adversity, courage, and the virtue of right/wrong.  Although Court is now cynical he does have a moral compass.  I want him over time to be weathered physically and mentally.  I am a reader also and I enjoy fiction because it is much fairer and just then what is actually happening in the real world.  This is why I put current events into the storyline, to make it more interesting and to shine a light on my novels about something that is happening in the world.  


EC:  Can you give a shout out about your next book?

MG:  The next book follows right after this story.  Court will be back working with the CIA.  His mission involves finding the person responsible for the leaks that are getting a lot of people killed.  The Russian female operative, Zoya Zakharova, now turned CIA asset, will be at the center of the next book that will also bring back Matthew Hanley and Suzanne Brewer.



Edge of Darkness

Cincinnati Series Book 4

Karen Rose

Berkley Pub.

Feb. 6th, 2018

Edge of Darkness by Karen Rose is the fourth book of the famous suspenseful Cincinnati series.  As with most of her books she explores relevant issues centered around friends and colleagues.  This one is no different since the current issues of abuse and addiction become the main theme of the novel.

Meredith Fallon counsels sexually abused women like Mallory Martin to help them reintegrate into the world. But not everyone sees it as honorable and decides to eliminate her by hiring a killer. Detective Adam Kimble doesn’t even hesitate when his boss orders him to investigate.  Old feelings come to the surface since the two had a brief relationship earlier.  But Adam pulled away as he struggled with events that were truly harrowing.  Knowing he is a recovering alcoholic he feels he doesn’t want to depend on the relationship with Meredith, essentially moving from one addiction to another. This becomes a tale of damaged people who re-connect during a violent and frightening time of their life. They must struggle with their demons, getting the relationship to work, and finding the killer. 


Elise Cooper:  Why the Cincinnati setting?

Karen Rose: I wanted a big city set in the Midwest, and I knew about it since I lived there for fifteen years.  Because I include issues about women in my books I knew that this was the perfect area to set my stories. Ohio is one the biggest states where human trafficking goes on, mostly because of Highway I-75. As I was considering who the series would be centered around I remembered that Meredith, the heroine of this novel, was in a book from a previous series and lived in Cincinnati.  


EC: Rumor has it this will be the last book in the series?

KR: Not true, and I want to reassure readers this is not the last book.  The next book will come out in about a year and a half.  It will focus on my characters Diesel and Dani.  For those who do not know, Diesel, whose real name is Elvis, is this big tattooed guy who looks really mean, but isn’t.  Because he has PTSD he has a phobia about doctors.  Even though Dani is a doctor he still worships her, but from afar. 


EC:  You explore Adam Kimble’s backstory in this novel?

KR:  In the first book of the series he appears as a belligerent jerk.  As the series progresses we see him changing and having to deal with something terrible that happened to him, which throws him off the rails.  Now he is a recovering alcoholic who is learning to face his demons.  Even though he feels very connected to Meredith, Adam understands she cannot be his reason for sobriety.  He knows he must get better on his own, and not be dependent on her.  Readers see that Adam is capable of surviving without Meredith, but also knows he will be happy if they are together. As with most people, they do not have charmed lives and have some source of pain. During several points in this book I cried because it is what many of my friends experienced. They needed to understand you must live your life for yourself, not for others. My characters are banged up by life, but can still hold their own. 


EC:  This story emphasizes the non-traditional family?

KR:  All my characters are strong on their own, but stronger with others.  The family they were born into either doesn’t exist or they are estranged so they made a new family of friends. These characters are survivors with Meredith as the hub who keeps all her friends together. This circle of friends come together for support.  The family they now have is the family they have made.


EC:  You delve into abuse?

KR:  Abuse of women is a big theme in my books. I continued the story from the previous book, Every Dark Corner. It dealt with Mallory Martin who was abused and now in this book she is recovering. I think there is a fine line between actively showing abuse on the page and being too provocative.  I don’t want to provide any material that will be too salacious.  


EC:  Did you know anyone who was abused?

KR:  I had my own ‘#MeToo’ moment. At nineteen I had to quit a job that was good paying and one I liked because I did not see any way out of the situation.  I did not think anyone would believe me. Almost every woman I talked to had a Me Too incident.  It is a big part of my books because it is a big part of our lives.  


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

KR:  Right now I am in California researching my next series that will be set in Sacramento.  I will pull a few characters from previous books and there will definitely be murders happening.  

The last book in the Baltimore series titled, Death Is Not Enough, will highlight Thorne and Gwyn. This is the sequel to Monster In The Closet. This is the story of Gwyn taking her life back and Thorne, a defense attorney trying to find who out who is framing him.



Into The Black Nowhere

Unsub book 2

Meg Gardiner

Dutton Pub

Jan 30th, 2018 

Into The Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner is such an intense plot that the light should be on when reading this.  It is a testament to her writing that she can have a dark action-packed plot without the gory details and still grab readers from page one.  This novel delves into the minds of a serial killer and those in law enforcement who pursue them.  In this second book of the series the psychopath mirrors the real-like killers Ted Bundy with a little of Dennis Rader.


The premise of the story is that people can vanish without a trace.  The book opens with a gripping scene in which the killer is holding an infant on his lap.  He lures the new mother to him and is able to abduct her. She is not the first victim but actually the fifth.  The local police enlist the help of Caitlin Hendrix, a former narcotics detective who had a knack for tracking killers, and is now a rookie FBI agent assigned to the elite Behavioral Analysis Unit. She and her colleagues, Brianne Rainey and C. J. Emmerich are called in to find this perpratrator. All the victims vanish on Saturday nights, one from a movie theatre, another from her car, and others from a salon, a college campus, and a café. What Caitlin must do is get inside the mind of this psychopath to figure out his selection process.  The FBI is desperately searching for him before he can kill again.


Elise Cooper:  You based the story on real-life serial killers, did you read or see Mindhunters?

Meg Gardiner:  I found it fascinating and informative about the start-up of the Behavioral Analysis Unit within the FBI.  Rader is the guy they show at the beginning of every episode, a petty authoritarian.  My psychopath, Kyle, is a fictional character who has some aspects of Rader including a desire to control his environment. He is a narcissist, lacks a conscience, and is manipulative. But I really based it on Ted Bundy.


EC:  Why Ted Bundy?

MG:  He was someone on the outside who every mother would want for their daughter.  He was so good at camouflaging himself and was able to slip through the cracks. Kyle is hiding in plain sight similar to what Ted Bundy did.  Both passed themselves off to the world at large as clean cut American guys who were bright, had a big future ahead, charming, who knows how to easily gain people’s trust. I wanted to show how these monsters wear the mask of sanity because they look normal.  They take advantage of that to have people let down their guard.


EC:  You use actual terms such as homology, SCIF, organized/disorganized killer? 

MG:  I want to write a gripping plot, but also add a sense of realism to the story. For example, homology is the elusive point where the person and action come together.  I went to FBI seminars for writers.  They were full-fledged high-quality homicide investigators that had an expertise in profiling.  I wanted my FBI characters to be able to examine all the forensics, every inch of the crime scenes.  They need to identify where the attacks might occur, where the criminals possibly live, and then mesh everything together.


EC:  It is interesting that you had two females as partners?

MG:  More and more women are joining the FBI so I did not think it too far-fetched.  Her partner, Brianne Rainey is a mentor of sort to Caitlin.  She is a former cop, a veteran, a mom and will definitely be a recurring character.  I describe her in the book as an African-American, thirty-nine years old who is thoughtful, frank, and has cool poise.


EC:  What motivates Caitlin?

MG:  She has the desire to protect other people.  She wants to overcome the rough parts of her own childhood.  Suicide plays an important role in this book and her life.


EC:  What about the relationship she had with Sean?  In the first book, more attention was paid to it and I missed their interaction.

MG:  In this book they had a long-distance romance.  I think there can be these long-distance relationships, but not forever.  When I started dating my husband we lived about 300 miles apart.  Sean and Caty need to work it out and figure how to do it.  The relationship between them will be worked out in the next novel as they have to deal with the Prophet, the serial killer of the first book, who comes back.


EC:  Thank you for not having gory scenes.  Why?

MG:  I found that a touch of blood goes a long way.  Readers’ imaginations are much more powerful than what I could put on a page.  All I do is suggest and then people’s fears take it from there.  


EC:  What is one of your fears? 

MG:  It is a creepy idea that people are just here and then are gone.  There are still victims of Ted Bundy that have not been found.  I read about recent cases around the country where people have just vanished.  Imagine, even with forensics, surveillance, and drones it is still possible for people to disappear.


EC:  Why the Austin setting?

MG:  I live here now and in the past my books were set in Southern California so I wanted a change.  Since I have lived here for four years I thought it is about time to set a book within this setting.  I also definitely wanted to take advantage of the landscape, the people, and it gave me an excuse to try every taco stand in the city.  The ones mentioned in the story are my favorites.  I went to a local Starbucks near me and just watched people to see their interaction.  Coming up with characters is one of the most fun parts of writing.


Latest comments

26.03 | 16:01

At first I thought it said spa season. Either way it is a sign of rejuvenation! On a Kristin Hannah kick, loved Winter Garden. Happy reading!

19.03 | 14:10

Cities are fun but exhausting. Like you the quiet is needed.

30.08 | 21:25

Have loved reading every one of Lisa Scottoline's books. Can't wait for the next one to arrive on bookshelves. Thanks for sharing your remarkable talent!

28.08 | 06:12

August snow days! What a fantastic idea! I've been reading Martin Walker's Bruno series set in rural France full or recipes. Yum