SALT ISLAND, author Lisa Towles’ 10th novel, is available now from Indies United Publishing and sold in three formats on Amazon, with an audiobook forthcoming soon.
In this riveting international thriller series, heroine Mari, an ex-CIA and determined private investigator finds herself thrust into a perilous world of high-stakes corporate espionage and personal redemption. With her newly formed partnership with Derek Abernathy put to the ultimate test, Mari faces a daunting challenge that forces her to confront powerful ghosts from her past.
When billionaire CEO Jack Darcy’s reputation and IPO deal are jeopardized, Mari is thrust into the heart of the storm. As Jack’s glamorous wife goes missing, media attention intensifies. Mari must navigate the treacherous waters of Thryve, Jack’s acclaimed environmental startup.
But a journalist has learned Darcy’s dirty little secret and is hell-bent on exposing it to the world at large.
While Derek goes underground to investigate a series of mysterious deaths on a California farm, Mari’s journey takes her on a path of self-discovery. Haunted by the shadows of her past, Mari unravels the secrets of her missing father—a former CIA operative—and the startling revelations about his double identity and hidden life. Her search leads her to the British Virgin Islands, where painful truths about herself, her father, and her future come to light.
As time slips away and Mari stands exposed and alone, the weight of her choices becomes unbearable. Will she risk everything to uncover the truth, or will the powerful forces working against her succeed in burying it forever?
Salt Island is the second installment of Towles’ E&A Investigations series, following Hot House (June 2022). Switch, the series finale, will be forthcoming in 2024.
Buy Salt Island:: https://a.co/d/9Iz1r53
Follow Lisa Towles: https://linktr.ee/authortowles
The title of my latest book is Berlin Walls, the fourth book in the Cold War Thriller series from Coffeetown Press. In Berlin Walls, CIA officer Karl Baier returns to Berlin to exfiltrate a KGB defector just as the Wall is going up. The world of Cold War espionage is about to change forever. As if that wasn’t difficult enough, Baier’s German-born wife asks him to help get her family out of East Germany at the same time.
Karl Baier is the protagonist in each of the Cold War spy stories in this series, which begins in the months immediately after the end of World War II in the ruins of Berlin. His adventures then take him to Vienna on the eve of the signing of the State Treaty ending the occupation of Austria in 1955 (The Hapsburg Variation) and Budapest during the Hungarian revolt and Soviet invasion in 1956 (The Budapest Escape).
I was initially attracted to mysteries as a graduate student working on my Ph.D. in European History. When I needed a break from all those history books, I took to reading mysteries and fell in love with the novels of Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald. Throughout my 35 years working for the CIA, I harbored the dream of writing my own stories and finally broke through with one set against the fall of the Berlin Wall, which I experienced during my assignment in the city between 1989 and 1991. I followed that with a three-book private detective series set outside Chicago, where I grew up. Later, my memories of the many times I had visited and lived in Berlin and Europe brought me to the first spy thriller, Tears of Innocence, and the Cold War series that followed. I draw on my years of experience as an analyst, diplomat, and senior executive at the Agency and my background in European—and especially German—history for these novels, a writing experience that allows me to blend two of my greatest passions: history and intelligence.
I am definitely a pantser. I usually start with little more than a general idea and an opening scene, and then I find that my characters tend to take over the story. I have to confess that I find working on an outline a bit daunting and, frankly, too much work. I really have only a vague idea of where the storyline will go eventually. But I also find that to be a much more enjoyable creative process. And things rarely unfold as I had initially thought they would.
I would not say that the characters disappoint, but they often do not act as I thought they would—or should. Raymond Chandler never had his great hero, Philip Marlowe, become romantically involved with anyone he met while working on a case because he feared it would compromise his integrity, something that made Marlowe good enough for anyone’s world and the best man for his own (to paraphrase the master). And yet, in the third book of my P.I. series, the protagonist, Bill Habermann, does just that and ends up with the woman at the end of the book. I had to sit back and ask myself how the hell that happened. In the current Cold War manuscript I’m working on, Karl Baier has an affair with a Turkish woman. However, in the real world, an intelligence officer wants to avoid putting himself in such a vulnerable and compromising situation. And Baier is happily married! But in the real world, people do not always act rationally and responsibly. No one is perfect. But it is also the author’s obligation to ensure that there are consequences when something like this happens.
The best book I have ever read? That is perhaps the toughest question on this list. And I am going to cheat by breaking that down into separate time frames. It’s how I respond to the question of the great American novel because each book reflects a different stage of our country and its culture and how those have evolved. I begin with Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, then move onto Henry James’s The American and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. From there, I select Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March. Granted, there are no spy novels on this list. Still, I can always say that I find the novels of Charles McCarry, especially The Last Supper and Secret Lovers, as the finest in that genre.
My advice to anyone starting out in this field, or thinking of becoming a writer, is to read and then read some more and more again. I find that critically important in developing your own voice because you will find writers who speak to you more so than others, often because of how they have come to learn their craft and how to express themselves. You have to be careful not to become too imitative (my initial attempts at writing detective fiction read like the work of a Raymond Chandler-wannabe). Still, it will really help in finding your own voice, one that you are happy to put on the page and tell your story.
Like every author, I also spent a fair amount of time reading. Outside of the pure mystery genre, I also read some thrillers (as long as they are not too violent), paranormal mystery, and some urban fantasy. In both types of books, I’ll read the description to see if it suits my likes. My imagination accepts wizards, but not shape-shifters, witches, or vampires. That’s just my personal taste, and there are many great books with those types of characters enjoyed by other readers.
When acquaintances find out that I’m a mystery writer, they will ask, Did I always want to be a writer? The answer is “no.” I hated creative writing classes in school as I never had anything creative to say. Now I struggle with too many story premises. I have the next story in my head for two of the three series I write at any given time. The third series is complete with four books. The Jill Quint series contains 12 books, and I generally know what the 13th book will be about. I released my new paranormal thriller, NOW YOU DON’T SEE ME, on Thursday, 7/15/2021, which is the first book in that new series.
My protagonist is Michelle Watson, a CIA case officer in her early fifties. After being critically injured on the job as a big-city cop in her mid-forties, she discovers a teleportation skill. I’d like to think of her as an older, wiser, kick-ass, 2021 version of the Bionic Woman. She’ll use her skill to get out of trouble and save the world in each series book.
When I decided I wanted to try my hand at writing a paranormal story, the first thing I had to decided was which paranormal skill I wanted my character to have. My good friend and first-reader suggested teleportation as the special talent that my protagonist would have. Her reasoning was that she hated driving anywhere as it was a waste of time. She asked the question – what good could you do in the world if you could teleport?
I started by making her the police chief of the small town where she grew up and where other paranormal people live. My friend pointed out that it would be a waste of her special talent—how could she impact the world from her small town with her special skill? Good question. She suggested I evaluate making her a spy. Of course, that required creating a new backstory and investigating the CIA and what they do.
It’s been fun creating this new series, especially as I explore how she gets out of tight situations. She’s been with the CIA for five years, mostly working as a lone agent doing hostage rescues. Now for the first time, she’s paired with a partner for a problem so large that only someone with her skill can save the world in time!
Alec Peche is the Northern California author of seventeen novels in three series. Her website is www.AlecPeche.com. There is a free sample of the first two (unedited) chapters of NOW YOU DON’T SEE ME available on the website.