What inspired Cold Kill and some words about my love of suspense . . . and about snakes.
You probably know that there are two main types of thriller: mystery or suspense. In a mystery, 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.
Knowing stuff the characters don't 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 looking in the wrong direction. It’s that guy!”
That’s what I want people to get when they read my books, an intense, gripping, immersive experience where they're cheering for the good guy and scared to death the bad guy's gonna win. Because, although some of my good guys are sort of bad, my bad guys are much, much worse! In Cold Kill the main character, a woman, while not a saint, is definitely on the side of good. The bad guy, well brrr.
I stumbled across the idea that became 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 Southern Oregon town I grew up in, had a law against kicking the head off of snakes. That seemed like a good starting place, so I opened a browser and ran a search for "strange laws", "Klamath Falls", "courts" and a few other terms I can’t recall.
The first link took me nowhere near where I wanted to go, instead it led to a letter of complaint mailed to the Klamath County Courts. The letter writer, while towing his RV home from vacation, had been pulled over in a snowstorm for not putting on his snow chains. He was then taken to town to be tested for driving under the influence. A test which proved he had not been drunk, and he was eventually 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 expunged. The county refused.
His story and his frustration 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 a chain of events occurred which led to this man wanting revenge, but 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 story, 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 and 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 head off of snakes. A law that isn’t so strange if you know the reason behind it, and now we do.