I’m pleased to welcome Mary Burton back to Peeking Between the Pages. Her newest novel Before She Dies is set to release January 31 and we’re having a bit of a pre-release celebration by offering up for giveaway the first two books in the series: Senseless & Merciless in preparation for Before She Dies in case you haven’t yet read them! Be sure to check back on February 12 for a fantastic recipe and giveaway of Before She Dies. With that in mind MARY BURTON TALKS ABOUT HER LATEST FORAY INTO CRIME IN HER NEW “ALEXANDRIA” NOVEL, BEFORE SHE DIES...
Before we talk about BEFORE SHE DIES, your latest Alexandria set novel, please tell me—is it true the first two books in the series, Senseless and Merciless, were the best selling of all of your books so far?
Yes. And, as you can imagine, I’m delighted. I always hope each book will help me reach new readers and it’s great to see it continue to happen.
Your last few books were all set in your home town of Richmond, weren’t they?
Yes. I really enjoyed creating a bit of havoc close to home—and being able to actually go check out the settings for some key scenes without having to pack a bag.
Why did you move on to Alexandria?
I had a great job offer in Northern Virginia, and I’d always liked visiting my grandparents when they’d lived in Alexandria. I really enjoyed our four years in the city—it’s incredibly diverse. I’d always wanted to set a story there and when the time came for a new setting Alexandria fit the bill.
You brought some characters with you when you “changed venues,” didn’t you?
Richmond detective Malcolm Kier was a favorite among readers, so I had him move on with me for the series. He transferred to the Alexandria Police Department’s Homicide Unit where he teamed up with Deacon Garrison.
Are they in BEFORE SHE DIES?
Tangentially, yes. They’re both part of Charlotte Wellington and Daniel Rokov’s story. Deacon and Eva Rayburn from Senseless are still together, but only Deacon makes an appearance in this book, as does Malcolm. Angie Carlson is there, as well. You may recall that Charlotte was Angie’s boss—both are high powered attorneys. Angie actually appears via a series of phone calls, and her scenes are a big part in moving the story forward.
Do all these relationships get confusing?
Apparently only to me. Readers don’t seem to have any problem remembering who’s who, where they first met them and who their favorites are.
Why did you decide to tell Charlotte’s story this time around?
I had to! You know, she was first a character in Silver Bells, the holiday anthology I worked on with Fern Michaels, JoAnn Ross and Judy Duarte—which was the first time my name and work appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. My novella was Christmas Past and Charlotte was a walk-on character that I didn’t expect to see again. Readers loved her and I couldn’t forget her—or ignore her. She stayed in my mind, so when I moved the books to Alexandria it made sense to include Charlotte. By the time I finished writing Senseless and Merciless, it was clear—Charlotte had to have her own story and she had to have a strong hero. Enter Detective Daniel Rokov, a man quite willing to go toe-to-toe with Charlotte at her most irascible.
Your serial killer is determined to save souls—to make victims confess and beg for forgiveness. I know you’re writing fiction, but does your research into the motives of criminals—especially multiple killers—show a quest for redemption as something that recurs in actual cases?
When I build my villains I try to give them as much care and attention as the hero and heroine. I’m not so sure if there is a softer side to real life killers but in novels it works for me to give the bad guys a bit of nobility, even if it is only in their own minds.
Reviews for all three novels have been absolutely glowing. One says Senseless will appeal to fans of Stieg Larson (Publishers Weekly). BEFORE SHE DIES is called a “page turner” by RT Book Reviews and in its starred review Publishers Weekly says it “will have readers sleeping with the lights on.” Certainly, your work has been praised in the past, but attention seems to have ratcheted up, both in volume and accolades. Do you agree? How important are reviews to you?
It’s always wonderful to get nice reviews. It’s very gratifying to know that the work you’ve put so much effort into is recognized. I do seem to be getting more recognition these days and that’s great. It really does feel good to hear from readers who tell you they couldn’t put your book down. But once I’ve read any kind of review or praise I put them aside so that I can get back to the work in front of me. Most days my total focus is the current book I’m writing. It always seems I’m completely distracted by character motivations, timelines, plot devices, you name it.
I know you research extensively as regards law enforcement procedure to make sure your stories are realistic and believable. How does that influence your writing?
Focusing on the reality of police work helps to keep me grounded. I challenge myself to solve the problems I create in a way I believe a real policeman might. And, considering the resources available to most police departments, I have to do my best to solve the crimes with good detective work and not so much on fancy DNA tests or high tech forensic equipment.
You frequently deal with issues of family, belonging and your characters’ own sense of identity. Is it simply because that makes for great fiction or do you see this as something many people face? If so, do you believe people confront these sorts of issues in today’s society more so than in the past?
We all have family. And most of us have shared joys and frustrations with family. It’s universal. It made sense that my heroes, heroines and even villains would have the same struggles as you or I. For me, family makes characters more believable. I’m not sure people confront issues better today than yesterday. Some of us do a better job than others. But emotions can be difficult and sloppy. And I think it’s fun and satisfying to read about characters who tackle problems head on or who say what’s on their mind.
I’m tackling a new book now called The Seventh Victim. It’s set in Austin, Texas and will be published in February 2013.
About Before She Dies by Mary Burton
Charlotte is a woman with secrets. She’s reinvented herself in every aspect of her life, fighting hard to escape her past as a youthful, orphaned carnival fortune-teller, and the horror of her sister Mariah’s murder. Today, no one would guess that her new name, law degree and perfect exterior hide memories of Grady Tate, the hard, cold alcoholic carnie boss who had been her stepfather. They also disguise the hole in her heart left by Mariah and her daughter, who was adopted as an infant.
When Grady arrives at Charlotte’s practice offering to trade his silence for help with a trumped-up shoplifting charge, she is stunned to learn that she’ll be defending eighteen-year-old Sooner, the niece who was eight days old when she last saw her. Furious with Grady for reneging on his promise to find a real home for Sooner, her anger builds still further when she discovers Sooner has been working as the show’s “Madame Divine”—the same fortune teller role her late mother and both Mariah and Charlotte played.
Running into Detective Daniel Rokov is the last thing she wants as she leaves court after having charges against her niece dismissed. But there he is, along with the memory of their all-too-recent night together, and any expectations he may have that their intentionally casual affair can become something more.
However, Rokov has much more on his plate than concerns about his love life. He’s just come from an abandoned building in Alexandria’s touristy Old Town, the scene of the freakish murder of a young woman found staked to the floor. She was surrounded by a circle of salt and the word “witch” tattooed on her forehead. The cause of her death is initially uncertain and the lack of blood indicates she was killed elsewhere, leaving little evidence for the city’s four-person homicide team.
As they continue to struggle to uncover events leading up to the murder, a second ritualistic killing confirms their suspicion that a multiple murderer is responsible. It also hints at a pattern among the victims, both of whom have a connection to the occult. Grady becomes a key suspect as news of similar deaths in towns the carnival has visited emerges along with facts about Charlotte’s past and Mariah’s murder. Meanwhile, emotions run high between Rokov and Charlotte as he tries again and again to break through the controlled exterior she uses to protect herself, hoping she’ll see that what’s between them is real.
All that’s moot, though, when Sooner goes missing. Charlotte’s certain it’s because of the bogus newspaper article Grady planted to increase business. It talks all about Sooner’s psychic ability and how she’s using her “powers” to track down the killer. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. It seems this killer’s motives go much deeper, with roots planted two decades ago and unfinished business that can only be concluded with Charlotte’s death.
Once again, Burton’s careful use of forensic detail is evident in her work, a result of her commitment to remain current with the science, as well as with law enforcement evidence collection procedures, for her stories of inexplicable crimes, complex relationships.
About Senseless by Mary Burton
When an explosion and fire destroys Hannah’s House, the homeless shelter where Eva Rayburn works as a night attendant the body of a tortured woman is discovered in the yard. She has been branded. Four pointed stars encircle her navel, a hallmark dating from the Sorority House Murder, a decade-old case that ended Eva’s life as she knew it. Charged for the killing of Josiah Cross, the man who raped her, she bears a star branded on her shoulder, as well as a memory that fails to recall what happened that fateful night, and the legacy of a ten year prison sentence.
Detective Deacon Garrison is sure the murder at Hannah’s House has something to do with Eva, who, is not only under scrutiny by the Alexandria police force, she is also back in the media spotlight, thanks to journalist James Dillon who branded her as a jealous and enraged ex-girlfriend when he wrote about the Sorority House Murders. After ano the r killing, Garrison isn’t the only one who wants answers, Eva does too. She’s ready to do whatever it takes. She’s ready to fight—even die, to find out what happened that night ten years ago.
About Merciless by Mary Burton
Detective Kier Malcolm and high-profile criminal attorney Angie Carlson come up against a brutal and brilliant psychopath who leaves behind only the gleaming white and perfectly preserved bones of his victims. Kier—and most of the Alexandria law enforcement—believe the murderer is Dr. James Dixon. Angie recently defended Dr. Dixon in an earlier murder trial—and won. With the entire police force blaming her for Dixon ’s freedom, she too has doubts as to whe the r he was in fact innocent, and is becoming more and more convinced that the police may be right—she helped let loose a killer.
As lead after lead dead-ends, a young man claiming to be Eva Rayburn’s half-bro the r shows up, bringing with him the diary of her dead fa the r. Suddenly, two things become shockingly clear— the killer has always intended to make Angie his ultimate victim, and the madness has roots going back to the Sorority House Murder over a decade ago.
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This giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents only (no PO boxes) and I will draw for the winners on Saturday, February 11/12. Good luck everyone!