Monday, June 26, 2017

Thrills and Chills! Meg Gardiner and UNSUB

INGRID THOFT

When the planets align, and you find a fantastic book written by a wonderful author and person, that is a day worth celebrating.  That's what we're doing today, on the release day of Meg Gardiner's heart pounding page-turner, UNSUB.

Meg is an Edgar Award-winning author of international bestselling thrillers that have been translated into twenty languages.  She's a graduate of Stanford Law, a three-time Jeopardy champion, and her books have been lauded by USA Today, O, the Oprah Magazine, Kirkus Reviews, and the Guardian to name just a few.  Stephen King said about Meg's Evan Delaney series “simply put, the finest crime-suspense series I’ve come across in the last twenty years.”  And if that weren't enough, she is hilarious, gracious, and generous.

Meg was kind enough to send me an advance copy of UNSUB, and it's a nail biter.  I couldn't put it down!  I'm so thrilled she's stopping by JRW today.



INGRID THOFT: Tell us about UNSUB, the first installment in your new series.

MEG GARDINER: UNSUB is a psychological thriller about a young cop hunting a legendary killer. The UNSUB—an unknown subject in a criminal investigation—begins killing again after a twenty-year break, and Detective Caitlin Hendrix must decipher his coded plan before he wreaks more havoc. 

The novel was sparked by the Zodiac killings. That unsolved case has haunted California for decades, and me since childhood. The Zodiac killed and injured seven people in the San Francisco Bay Area, and taunted the police and press with dozens of messages, including cryptograms that have never been broken. The killer has never been caught.

In UNSUB, Caitlin Hendrix is drawn into the chilling world of the Prophet, who marked his victims’ bodies with the ancient sign for Mercury. The Prophet is Caitlin’s living nightmare. Her father, Mack, was the lead detective on the original case. The investigation shattered Mack emotionally and tore his family apart.

The Prophet is a master of mind games. To stop him, Caitlin must do what her father couldn’t. She must decipher both the Prophet’s old, taunting messages and his strange new rhymes. What does the Mercury sign mean? What’s the Prophet’s end game?


IPT: The main character, Caitlin Hendrix, is cop, as was her dad, and their relationship is pivotal to the story.  What made you tackle a father/daughter relationship?

MG: The action in the novel unfolds over ten days. But the case spans twenty-five years, and affects two generations. I wanted to tell it from the perspective of the cops working the case—who thread the line between relentless pursuit and dangerous obsession. The most affecting way to do that was to make those cops father and daughter.

Mack knows the case better than anyone, but is a broken man. Caitlin desperately needs his help, but knows that drawing him back into the world of the Prophet could endanger them all.
I’m a sucker for family stories. What can I say?


 IPT: UNSUB is so suspenseful that, at one point, I was curled on the couch practically in the fetal position while reading it.  How do you get the rhythm and pacing right?

I plan. I rewrite. Then I add a countdown clock. I want my novels to be fast-paced. Action and accelerating momentum help put the thrill in thriller. But the action can’t be unrelenting.

In UNSUB, Caitlin runs 5K with friends, plays My Little Pony with a four-year-old, and gets a night of romance. I love it when readers tell me they find my books suspenseful. That’s not just because the pace is quick, or because the action is nonstop. The books can seem relentless because, even when the action stops, unanswered questions lurk in the background. The pace might let up, but the suspense never does.  

Each of the novel’s lighter scenes feed into the main plot. While Caitlin runs 5K, she talks about psychopathology. The My Little Pony playdate is interrupted when the Prophet delivers a video to a TV station. Caitlin’s night of romance starts out with a discussion of bomb making techniques. (Caitlin’s boyfriend, Sean, is an ATF Certified Explosives Specialist.) These scenes let the characters enjoy a moment of Zen, or ecstasy, or tequila. But unsettled issues continue to churn. Mysteries remain unsolved. Clocks tick down. The bad guy schemes, and sharpens his knives.


 IPT; Anyone who knows you, knows that you are a kind, thoughtful, funny (you have to follow Meg on twitter at @meggardiner1) person, but UNSUB has some dark, disturbing images in it.  How do you keep that stuff from seeping into your otherwise sunny personality?  Or is the sunny personality a ruse?!

MG: Aww, thanks. It’s a balancing act. I write about what scares me, because I figure it will also scare readers. But I keep emotional distance from what’s happening on the page. At some point, I have to throw myself fully into the scene—to feel what the characters are feeling, so I can express that—but I do compartmentalize. As a writer, I take what frightens me and turn it into gripping fiction. I put my demons on the page, and turn them loose for readers to experience in the most exciting and suspenseful ways I can create.

And we all have a shadow side. I follow Stephen King’s advice: “Go down to the basement.” Haul everything up. How else are you going to find depth?


IPT: You clearly know your stuff when it comes to law enforcement.  Whether it’s tactical strategy, explosives, or how various agencies interact with one another, it all rings true.  Do you do a lot of research? 

MG: I do. I love research. To write UNSUB, I delved into the digitized files from the Zodiac case. I read books by former FBI agents on criminal profiling. I rode along on patrol with the Austin Police Department. If I couldn’t learn something first hand, I watched videos. (Want to breach a building with a tactical team? Find training videos online.) Whenever possible, I talk to the people who do the job I’m writing about. There’s no better way to get things right, and—as important—to get a feel for what their lives are like.


IPT: CBS is developing UNSUB into a TV series, and you’re going to be a producer.  Can you tell us about that process?

MG: I’ll be involved behind the scenes. CBS and the production company, Timberman-Beverly (which also produced "Justified," and produces "Elementary") are putting things together. More details to come!

So readers, what really scares you?  Do serial killers make the list?  Meg is giving away a copy of UNSUB.  Just comment to enter!


UNSUB
Caitlin Hendrix has been a Narcotics detective for six months when the killer at the heart of all her childhood nightmares reemerges: the Prophet. An UNSUB—what the FBI calls an unknown subject—the Prophet terrorized the Bay Area in the 1990s and nearly destroyed her father, the lead investigator on the case.

The Prophet’s cryptic messages and mind games drove Detective Mack Hendrix to the brink of madness, and Mack’s failure to solve the series of ritualized murders—eleven seemingly unconnected victims left with the ancient sign for Mercury etched into their flesh—was the final nail in the coffin for a once promising career.

Twenty years later, two bodies are found bearing the haunting signature of the Prophet. Caitlin Hendrix has never escaped the shadow of her father’s failure to protect their city. But now the ruthless madman is killing again and has set his sights on her, threatening to undermine the fragile barrier she rigidly maintains for her own protection, between relentless pursuit and dangerous obsession.

Determined to decipher his twisted messages and stop the carnage, Caitlin ignores her father’s warnings as she draws closer to the killer with each new gruesome murder. Is it a copycat, or can this really be the same Prophet who haunted her childhood? Will Caitlin avoid repeating her father’s mistakes and redeem her family name, or will chasing the Prophet drag her and everyone she loves into the depths of the abyss?




Edgar-winning novelist Meg Gardiner writes thrillers. Fast-paced and full of twists, her books have been called “Hitchcockian” (USA Today) and “nailbiting and moving” (Guardian). They have been bestsellers in the U.S. and internationally and have been translated into more than 20 languages.

The Evan Delaney novels feature a feisty freelance journalist from Santa Barbara, California. Stephen King calls them “simply put, the finest crime-suspense series I’ve come across in the last twenty years.” China Lake won the 2009 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original. Later it was a finalist for NPR’s 100 Best Thrillers Ever. The Jo Beckett series features a San Francisco forensic psychiatrist. It includes The Liar’s Lullaby, The Memory Collector, and The Dirty Secrets Club, which was chosen one of the Top Ten thrillers of 2008 by Amazon and won the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Procedural Novel of the year.

The Nightmare Thief, featuring both Jo Beckett and Evan Delaney, won the 2012 Audie Award for Thriller/Suspense audiobook of the year. Meg’s stand alone novel The Shadow Tracer was named one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2013. Her current title, Phantom Instinct, was chosen one of “The Best Books of Summer” by O, the Oprah magazine.

Meg was born in Oklahoma City and raised in Santa Barbara, California. She graduated from Stanford University, where she lettered in varsity cross country and earned a B.A. in Economics. She went on to graduate from Stanford Law School. She practiced law in Los Angeles and taught in the Writing Program at the University of California Santa Barbara. Later she moved with her husband and three young children to London. There she began writing mysteries set in the California she loves. She hasn’t stopped. Writing thrillers is job she’s immensely lucky to have.

In addition to her twelve novels, Meg has published short stories in American and British magazines. She’s contributed essays to anthologies including Now, Write! Mysteries, The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, and the Anthony Award winning Books to Die For.

Beyond writing, Meg is a three time Jeopardy! champion and a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. She lives in Austin, Texas.

75 comments:

  1. Happy Book Birthday, Meg! I am really looking forward to reading this book.
    How exciting that your book will become a television series . . . can you tell us a bit about that??

    Serial killers definitely make the list of things that scare me, along with people breaking into your house and crazy drivers on the highways. Some days I think it would be a whole lot safer if I just locked the doors and stayed home!

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    1. But then you couldn't make excursions to the bookstore, Joan!

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    2. So true . . . and bookshops are such a wonderful haven. Thank goodness I don’t feel the need to stay home too often!
      Nevertheless, it is sobering to think there are people who hold others in such little regard.

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    3. Thanks, Joan. If you stay home, read a good book. :-)

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  2. Congrats on the new book and the new series!

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  3. When I was a kid I went to bed early, so I could listen to hours of talk radio which was very interesting back then. I pulled in my favorite show from New York that started around midnight. The host usually had a fascinating guest he interviewed then followed with questions and comments by callers. One of his regulars was a reporter who had been contacted several times by Zodiac. He was trying to decipher his writing. I don't remember the specifics very well, and its being on radio you didn't get to see what the writing looked like. I think that might have added to the suspense in addition to having my radio on very low volume up against my ear, and lights out of course. My parents never monitored what I read, watched, or listened to, but when I started making coffee at 1:00 in the morning so I could stay awake they knew I wasn't studying. They never figured out what I was listening to, and it got to be a great game. I could sometimes hear them talking about it. I had the only radio in the house that could bring in this New York talk show, but they kept turning the dial and their radio to try and find it. My father even made an antenna out of wires but it never got New York or the Zodiac talks.

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    1. Reine, this is so creepy! Weren't you afraid to go to sleep after listening to them talk about the Zodiac?

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    2. That's wild, Reine. Good thing you were a continent away from the Zodiac.

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    3. Ingrid, yes, I was scared and have never gotten over it, yet I was engaged with the topic. When I got to college, I studied psychology. I continued with it in graduate school and then studied theology and ministry for a different reference. In the years since then I've come to the realization that there are many more murderers than we suspect. I know that if I have been acquainted with several in my personal life, there are more than anyone realizes. I also think there are many who are falsely convicted.

      Meg, definitely I was glad to be on the other coast! I was one of those teenagers who, without reins, managed to get into all kinds of situations. The day my parents sat me down at the kitchen table and my father said, "We can't stop you, but... " that was all I heard.

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  4. Meg, congrats on the new book. It sounds like it just might be something I am really interested in reading. So it will be off to the bookstore later this week...again!

    Ingrid, thanks a lot! Every time you recommend a book, I have to get it and then it turns out to be great. So when I go bankrupt it will be all your fault! :D

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    1. I hope the streak continues, Jay!

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    2. Ingrid, well if it doesn't, that will be all your fault too!

      I suppose in the abstract, serial killers would scare me. But I somehow doubt I fit any kind of profile that would attract a serial. Unless there is one out there that likes pretty boring guys to knock off.

      I'm sure there are other things that scare me but deciding which is truly scary versus what I just simply don't want to do or care about is hard.

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  5. Congratulations Meg. Scary things. Car chases, stalkers and serial killers.

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  6. Meg. Congratulations on the new book. I have a question for a lawyer/author. I have wondered, after the manuscript has sold, who owns the rights to the character? For example can the publisher hire someone else to write about Jo Becket? If as in your case, the novel is transferred to another medium, such as television. Do you still own the rights to the character? I am delighted you are here today. I have been a loyal reader since 2002.

    What really scares me? Being forgotten after I am dead. My sense of self does not want to accept becoming a non self.

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    1. Thanks so much, Coralee. When I sell rights to my novels, the publisher only gets the right to publish in particular territories. I own the copyright -- to the story and to the characters. It's all a negotiation, but standard for authors to retain ownership of their work (unless it's a "work for hire"). When properties are sold for television and movies, it's a similar negotiation. But Jo, Evan, and Caitlin... they're all mine.

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  7. The book sounds fascinating, Meg, and I'm sure it will be every bit as compelling as some of your previous books I've enjoyed. I'll look for it at the bookstore.

    As for scary things, I'm with "traveler" on stalkers, but I think that's just the tip of the iceberg. The scariest thing in the world, to me, is the human mind. For all that the mind can produce works of great beauty and inspiration, it can also hatch some of the darkest acts of destruction and evil. It can be misled by propaganda, scrambled by illness, broken by abuse, until up seems like down and blue looks like orange. All of which seems perfectly reasonable to the person who is seeing the world from a reality I don't even recognize. How can that happen?

    Yes, serial killers and psychopaths are scary, but I am far more frightened by the fact that perfectly reasonable people participated in the Holocaust. Or massacred cats and still prosecute pit bulls on the flimsiest of evidence. How can otherwise sane people smile, deny facts, and ignore the reality of their own lives? Cults, conspiracy theories, and the cold-blooded people who manipulate the gullible scare the crap out of me.

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    1. Great points, Gigi. I agree!

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    2. Yes, I agree with all of the above, Gigi. Serial killers, while terrifying, are--thank God--rare. Ordinary people who do unspeakable things are not.

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  8. Hurray Meg! My copy of Unsub should arrive any day… And I cannot wait to read it

    I am about to look up the zodiac writing… What were they, and do you investigators even know they actually mean something? Wouldn't it be weird if they were completely meaningless? And that was the ultimate trick?
    What am I afraid of,… Well I guess --how much of the world is left to chance. Random chance. I suppose one could also look at that as a reassuring, but I don't .


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    1. I suppose it's reassuring when it works in your favor, but not so much when it doesn't!

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    2. Thanks, Hank!

      The Zodiac... people are still trying to figure out what he wanted, and what -- if anything -- his messages mean. Random chance is indeed scary, but I guess we have to keep on keeping on because what else can we do? (Aside from write novels where people take control of their own destiny?) :-)

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    3. Exactly. And yes, texting drivers. Yeesh. Are you off on book tour?

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    4. Yes, I'm on the road. Super busy, and delighted to be doing it.

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  10. Meg, I read UNSUB and loved it. Talk about page turner. It's like a master class in thriller writing. Congratulations!

    Afraid of serial killers? It's like being afraid of getting struck by lightning. Not impossible but highly unlikely. I'm afraid of crazy drivers. Random but much more likely that one of them is going to hit me, deliberately or otherwise.

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    1. Thanks so much, Hallie!

      It's not just crazy drivers... it's crazy drivers with a cell phone in their hands.

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  11. Hey Meg, great to see you here at my favourite book blog. Happy release day.

    I'm a long time fan of Meg's back to when I found China Lake and gobbled up all the Evan Delaney books. (I'm even a character in one of her books :^0) It's always been clear that Unbearable Suspense is Meg's middle name(s).

    (Ingrid, I'm in the middle of reading Identity right now. More good stuff.)

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    1. Hi, Susan! And thanks!

      And all y'all, you know that Susan D is the ARTHUR ELLIS AWARD WINNING AUTHOR, right?? :-D

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    2. Congrats on the award, Susan! I'm so glad you're enjoying IDENTITY!

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  12. Happy book birthday Meg. I've just had UNSUB sent to my Kindle, watching/listening to the thunder and lightening outside my window, and thinking this is just the day to snuggle down with a serial killer.

    I love being frightened.

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    1. I don't know about Finta, but to answer your question, I don't watch horror movies. They hold no interest for me anymore. It's less horror or chilling suspense and more torture porn these days anyway.

      Count me out.

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    2. You're my kind of reader. Thanks!

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  13. Welcome Meg! We met at Crimebake when you were our delightful guest of honor. I totally love the idea of the father/daughter connection and the puzzle of the Zodiac writing. Would love to hear you say more as you have time about what you're looking for as you rewrite to add suspense.

    Unlike Finta, I DON'T like being scared. I read the latest CJ Box novel last week, as I adore his character. Scared me half to death!

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    1. Lucy, I don't like being scared either. Truth be told, I only made it through the first ten minutes of the Zodiac movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal. It scared the heck out of me! Even though UNSUB is creepy and scary, I was so engaged by Caitlin and the intricacies of the case, I really couldn't put it down.

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    2. So, Ingrid, you didn't get to the scene where he went down into the basement? Yeah. That movie gave me chills! Zodiac is a fascinating case.

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    3. Yeah, I don't like being...scared. But I love suspense. That's different,right?
      I was scared in the old Beguiled. Which I HATED. So I will stay away from the new one.

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    4. Gigi, I think I saw the Zodiac approach one victim--not kill, approach--and that was it! I'm a fraidy cat. The big joke in our house is that I've never gotten past minute seven of "Aliens." I hear the music, and I'm scared!

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    5. How about SILENCE OF THE LAMBS? I could not see that movie, but I decided reading the book would be more manageable, as I could put it down as needed. But it has haunted me ever since...

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    6. Surely you jest, Lucy! SILENCE OF THE LAMBS? Nope, not gonna happen!

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    7. Ingrid, The Silence of the Lambs is my all time favorite movie. But I don't consider that a horror movie. There's some horrific stuff in it, but it is a far cry better than anything that would rightfully be classified as a horror movie. I can see where you wouldn't want to watch the movie or read the book, but it's scary and suspenseful not just killing for the sake of racking up an onscreen body count.

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    8. I hope everybody will hold their breath and bite their nails... and enjoy the book. I tend to watch some movies through my fingers, but afterwards, I always say I enjoyed them.

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    9. Oh, Silence of the Lambs is the BEST. Book and movie. Must read, must see. Seriously.

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  14. Hi Meg! I do like being scared, and I can't wait to read UNSUB. (Great title, by the way.) I'm going to consider it a masterclass in suspense. I love your description of the "normal" episodes in Caitlin's life. I suspect those add unbearable tension when you know the clock is ticking, and they also invest the reader more deeply in the character and her possible fate.

    I don't suppose you're coming to Dallas? Would love to have seen your interview with Jeff Abbott at Book People. Huge congrats on the book!!

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    1. Thanks, Deborah! I am indeed coming to Dallas. I'll be at Barnes & Noble, Lincoln Park, on July 5th... with the fabulous Don Winslow. I'd love to see you!

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    2. I wish I could be there! That will be an amazing event!

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  15. Meg, welcome to Jungle Reds and happy book birthday! Yes, serial killers and psychopaths are scary!

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    1. Thanks! I guess I like to writer about the things that spook me...

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  16. Hello Meg, glad I popped in today. Your latest sounds great. And thanks for the great craft lesson within the interview! What suspense really is and how even the quiet scenes can (should, really) go toward that too. Great reminder for me!

    One thing that terrifies me is the idea of being tortured. I don't know if I could go that far down into my basement ... At least with physical torture. Manipulative, mind-game torture would be more up my alley. :-)

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    1. Thanks, Lisa. Everybody needs a good alley to wander down...

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  17. I've always been scared of serial killers. I know it's odd, and I will read a book featuring one is a heartbeat, but it still freaks me out.

    UNSUB is one of the best. I loved meeting Caitlin and The Prophet is certainly a fiendish adversary. Check out the spoiler-free review on BOLO Books if you want more information. It's a great read, but certainly nightmare-inducing.

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  18. "Go down to the basement." Even that sentence terrifies me from a writer, reader, and person with spiders in her basement standpoint - LOL. Meg, I have been looking forward to this book for MONTHS! I have always been fascinated by the Zodiac case and I love that you tackled it from a cop's perspective. This is going make my summer!

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    1. Jenn, if you scare from that line, "It puts the lotion in the basket" must send you to therapy. :D

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    2. Thanks, Jenn! I know you know that "go down to the basement" is metaphorical... which can be the scariest place sometimes. Thanks for reading!

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    3. Ah, don't talk about the lotion! Ahhhhh

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  19. Meg, what's the status of book #2 in the series? When can I get my next Caitlin fix?

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  20. "Go down to the basement." Such fantastic advice, but so, so hard to put into practice.

    I find America's obsession with serial killers really creepy, but I can kinda see the fascination. For me, the draw of your story is the father-daughter relationship. I'm a sucker for those kinds of stories. Definitely adding this to my TBR list ^^

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  21. Meg, I have read and enjoyed six of your previous thrillers (that's right, I keep lists of what I read so I can seek out the new offerings of favorite authors), with my favorite being Liar's Lullaby. I appreciate the fact that you don't make the action "unrelenting," as it gives me time to take a breath. Please keep 'em coming, Meg!

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    1. I was really taken with the pacing of UNSUB, Margie. As a reader, it kept me turning the pages, and as a writer, I really felt like I was learning craft from Meg.

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    2. Thanks, Margie! I appreciate it. And I'll keep 'em coming!

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  22. super excited to read this book!!! i'm going out later to buy it! i am such a huge fan of crime novels and serial killers, i'm actually a forensic psychology major and hope to go into something related to these kinds of things. :)

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    1. ahhh yay! i have a book about the zodiac killer already and i'm very fascinated with reading about him so i was stoked to learn about this book!

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  23. Dying to read this book! I have a copy but can't read it because it's part of my giveaway on Instagram :-( Not fair! I haven't read any reviews yet so there's no spoilers whatsoever for me when I finally do get to read it. Thank you for this ch. xoxo

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    1. I'm glad you're looking forward to reading. There's more than one copy out there, you know. ;-)

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  24. After being away from Jungle Reds for almost a week due to my amazing 45th high school reunion and return to my hometown, I couldn't ask for a better post with which to start back. Unsub is definitely on my TBR and wish lists. It was before reading this post, but after reading it, well, Meg, I'm even more excited. Unsub was one of the books I featured in my "Slipping into Summer Reading" post on my reading blog (http://www.readingroom-readmore.com/2017/05/slipping-into-summer-with-amazing_26.html), as the buzz about it has been loud and clear. Thank you, Meg, for visiting the Reds today and reinforcing that Unsub is a book not to be missed.

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    1. My pleasure, Kathy. Much appreciated!

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