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About the Book
Albany, New York, January 2020
The morning after a blizzard that shut down the city, funeral director Kevin Novak is found dead in the basement of his funeral home. The arrow sticking out of his chest came from his own hunting bow. A loving husband and father and an active member of a local megachurch, Novak had no known enemies. His family and friends say he had been depressed because his best friend died suddenly of a heart attack and Novak blamed himself. But what does his guilt have to do with his death? Maybe nothing, maybe a lot. The minister of the megachurch, the psychiatrist who provides counseling to church members, or the folksy Southern medium who irritates both men—one of these people may know why Novak was murdered. Detective Hannah McCabe and her partner, Mike Baxter, sort through lies and evasions to find the person who killed their “Cock Robin,” But McCabe is distracted by a political controversy involving her family, unanswered questions from another high-profile case, and her own guilt when a young woman dies after McCabe fails to act.
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Who Do You Think You Are?
Depending on who is asking the question and under what circumstances, that question can be an angry challenge (“Hey, who do you think you are?”), or an invitation to engage in introspection (“Deep down, who do you think you are?”).
In a mystery novel, the protagonist/sleuth is certain to encounter someone who wants to know what gives her the right to investigate (to be in a place, to ask questions, to interfere with what is going on). How the sleuth explains why she is poking her nose into someone else’s business depends on her official or unofficial status. But the truth about why she is there, investigating, is really about who she sees when she looks in the mirror.
One of the conversations a writer has with her protagonist is about who that character thinks she is. In the beginning, the character may be close-mouthed, keeping the writer at a distance. But later – in self-defense – a character may begin to speak. If the writer is getting it wrong – trying to force a character to say or do something that character would never say or do-- the character may push back. This pushing back may disconcert the writer the first time it happens. The character she has created seems to be trying to hijack her book by saying and doing things that aren’t in her outline. But after a writer has experienced this a few times, an attempted coup by her protagonist is a reason to celebrate with good chocolate and a glass of wine.
When my protagonist – or any character – challenges me, I know that character is “coming to life”. That character is telling me who she thinks she is. I know that what is happening is that my subconscious has been at work. But knowing the psychology of the creative process doesn’t make the experience less real.
I have two female protagonists. I know Lizzie Stuart, my crime historian, well because I’ve written five books in which she narrates the story. Now, I have two books featuring Hannah McCabe. The years I’ve spent learning to listen when Lizzie pushes has made it much easier to allow Hannah to take the lead. Lizzie is smart and curious and she wears her heart on her sleeve. She has a hard time keeping a poker face. Hannah, on the other hand, is a police detective. She needs to keep her emotions under control and is good at maintaining a professional demeanor. She was drawn to policing because of a crime that almost destroyed her family. That experience, when she was only a nine year old child, gave her compassion but left her controlled and protective of her emotions. Watching Hannah interview a victim, watching her talk to her father over breakfast, gave me the first clues about who she is and what she believes.
I like both Lizzie and Hannah. They are so different that I don’t have to choose a favorite. I – and readers – can watch as they navigate their worlds. We can ask, “Who do you think you are?” and wait to see how they answer as their lives change and they face new challenges.