MOTHER, BAKER, WIFE, YOGA ENTHUSIAST, AND KILLING MACHINE—
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 Detective 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 in a series of phone calls, and her scenes are a big part of 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. But 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.
Having the traveling carnival as part of the plot works really well, bringing a lot of color and background to the story. Where did that come from? Why does it seem so perfect for this story?
I used to love it when the carnival came to town when I was a kid. It all seemed so magical. The lights. The rides. The characters. When I got older and saw a carnival being set up during daylight I saw that it wasn’t quite so magical in the sunlight. The night hides a lot of fading and cracked paint. The fact that one place could be so different in a twenty four hour period really spoke to me.
Your serial killer is determined to save souls—to make victims confess and beg for forgiveness. I know you’re writing fiction, but I’m wondering if during your research into the motives of criminals—especially multiple killers—you’ve seen 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 police officer 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.
www.maryburton.com, http://www.facebook.com/maryburtonfanpage, www.kensingtonbooks.com
BEFORE SHE DIES
Zebra Books/Mass Market Original/Fiction
February 2012/On Sale 1-31-12/$7.99 ($8.99 Canada)
SENSELESS by Mary Burton/Zebra Books/$6.99 ($8.99 Canada), 978-1-4201-1019-7
MERCILESS by Mary Burton/Zebra Books/$6.99 ($8.99 Canada), 978-1-4201-1020-3
CONTACT: Joan Schulhafer, Joan Schulhafer Publishing & Media Consulting, 973-338-7428, firstname.lastname@example.org and Vida Engstrand, Kensington Books, 212-407-1573,