There are two broad subcategories of thriller, mystery and suspense. In a mystery novel the reader doesn’t know who the bad guy is and hopes to figure it out by the end. In a suspense novel the reader knows who the bad guy is, but the main character doesn’t.
I like mystery—but I love suspense.
Something about knowing stuff the characters don’t, really keeps me on the edge of my seat. I go through all kinds of emotions: excitement, frustration, hope, anticipation and anxiety. When I’m reading a good suspense novel by writers like John Sandford or Lisa Scottoline, for instance, I want to climb into the book, grab the protagonist and yell, “No, you’re going in the wrong direction. It’s that guy!”
That’s what I want for people who read my books, an intense, gripping, immersive experience, where they are cheering for the good guy. Like, Kayla Shaffer, the good guy in my latest suspense thriller, Cold Kill. (Well, gal in this case.)
I stumbled across the idea that grew into Cold Kill ten years ago, while researching an article on unusual laws still on the books in the United States. I remembered reading somewhere that Klamath Falls, the town I grew up in, had a law against kicking the heads off of snakes. That seemed like a good starting place, so I opened a browser and ran a search for strange laws, Klamath, courts and a few other terms I can’t recall.
The first link took me to a letter of complaint mailed to the Klamath County Courts. The letter writer had been pulled over in a snow storm for not putting chains on his RV. He was then arrested for possibly drinking under the influence. A test proved he was not drunk and he was released.
It should have ended there but… The man was a commercial fisherman in Alaska and every time he took his boat into Canadian waters, because of the arrest on his record, he was required to post a $3,000 bond. He wanted the arrest removed. The county refused.
His story and his frustration, so clear in the letter, stayed with me. When I decided I wanted to write another novel based in murderous (and luckily fictional) Eulalona County, Oregon, I decided he’d be the perfect starting place. I began to play the “what ifs.”
What if his wife had been with him, left in the RV in a blizzard? What if she caught a cold when they got home and died? What if he blamed the police who pulled him over and arrested him? What if, instead of going after Eulalona’s finest, he targeted their wives and girlfriends—and one of them was a former deputy as well as an amputee?
I can’t say more about Cold Kill without spoiling the suspense, but I can share what I learned about snakes in Klamath Falls
It turns out that, back in the days of wooden sidewalks, snakes would come up between the wooden planks to sun themselves. Kids and cowboys would kick and stomp their heads to kill them but their bodies would fall back under the boards. The smell and resulting flies were not pleasant, so a law was written to make it illegal to kick the heads off snakes. A law that isn’t so strange—if you know the reason behind it—and now you do.
Former Sheriff’s Deputy Keyla Shaffer, is recovering from the shooting that left her an amputee. All she wants is to prove her worth. But when an angry man seeking revenge makes her his target, will she be prepared to meet the challenge and survive?
Pamela Cowan is a Pacific Northwest author best known for her contemporary crime novels. Cowan is the author of the Storm series which includes Storm Justice and Storm Vengeance, books which follow probation officer, Storm McKenzie, on her single-minded quest for justice. She is also the author of two stand-alone novels based in fictional Eulalona County, Oregon, Something in the Dark and Cold Kill. You can learn more about her novels and short fiction at pamelacowan.com