Tag Archives: Lisa Towles

Hot Summer/ HOT HOUSE

A blackmailed Court of Appeals judge from the 9th Circuit, a French art exchange student with something to sell, and Mari E, investigator with an agenda of her own, sets another Towles jigsaw puzzle of characters, clues, motivations, and surprises in motion. 

Mari E is Marissa Ellwyn, wealthy owner of the prestigious Marissa Ellwyn Gallery, but when a former detective, her soon-to-be partner knocks, it’s on the door of her work-trailer in a seedy section of L.A.’s Fashion District. They’ve both got things to hide, but she needs back up and he has the skills. Mari is being followed by a dark grey van and has received threatening messages—obviously someone objects to her investigation, but for Mari, “The fate of my family and my heart depended on it.” 

Abernathy is investigating a college student who has died suspiciously along with the disappearances and deaths of two reporters following the case and the trail that leads to the judge. The cases are linked and as they investigate, threats come from all sides, even from Mari’s former handlers at the CIA.

Hot House moves at break-neck speed from its seemingly straightforward investigation into a shadowy mystery. Although the story is infused with humor and delightful touches like Trevor, Mari’s “Human Resources Director,” a German mastiff, the motivations of characters make for a dark and layered plot. Mari and Derek are professional and determined, mostly sticking to legal investigating techniques. Both have secret histories with the LAPD Chief of Detectives, and both think the PD did a poor job of the initial search, but it’s not until the dead coed’s secrets come to light that some of the puzzle pieces form a picture. And it isn’t pretty. 

I found Hot House thought provoking and suspenseful. I shouted  “Ah Ha!” at the end of Chapter Fifteen when a clue fell into place for me, and I realized how much fun I was having trying to solve the case. Besides the charming banter between Mari and Derek, the book challenged me. I jotted thoughts and reactions while reading: oh, crap, this goes deep, uh-oh,  hmmm-so why surveillance? What? What? And finally the shocking end—I just plain: didn’t see it coming!

Hot House is a hot book to read with a cool drink in the hammock on a hot summer’s day.

Mari E and Derek Abernathy (and Trevor) make a great investigative team in this first of the E & A Investigations Series. The next book can’t get into my hands fast enough! Hot House may have surpassed The Unseen as my favorite Towles novel. All I can say is, the books just keep getting better and better! (Don’t miss The Ridders coming this fall.)


An Interview with Lisa Towles

am: Where did the inspiration for Hot House come from? 

LT: My husband gave me a character name he thought of one day (he does that sometimes) – Derek Abernathy. I told him to write the name down and put it on the top shelf of an open file on my desk (so I’d see it every day). 18 months later (LOL!) I started writing Hot House. Why that amount of time, how did my husband know that Derek Abernathy was going to be an important part of my future? That’s part of the mystery and magic of fiction writing…and marriage 🙂 

am: Like many of your protagonists, Mari Ellwyn is complicated and has something to prove and something to heal. What draws you to this type of character? 

LT: I love this intriguing assessment – prove and heal. You’re right! And when you say it in those terms, I think every good protagonist has these elements. Like real people, fictional characters can have an external face that they show the world (how they want to be seen) and a more personal side of how they authentically feel. For Mari, I think she’s trying to prove that she’s healed from her shot-in-the-line-of-duty trauma and she’s ready for prime time with a new partner. But what I think she’s still working on, in this book, is being able to trust other people, which will be an issue for her as she starts this new relationship with Derek. 

am: What defines Hot House as a Psychological thriller? 

LT: Hot House could be thought of as a psychological thriller because the story has a psychological component in it as it relates to central victim of the story: Sophie Michaud. The narrative and backstory of Sophie’s mental illness played an integral role in why she was targeted by her killer and ultimately why she died. 

am: I find your work to be like jigsaw puzzles. Bits of information need to be identified then tried in different directions to find where they fit. Eventually it all comes together. 

LT: I’ve always loved puzzles, and for people who love puzzles, they typically don’t mind the not-knowing and temporary state of confusion when it comes to crime investigation. We look for obvious clues that are visible on the surface. And whether those pan out or not, there are always underlying layers of truth that have been established to conceal a crime and its perpetrators.

am: Do you think your background in IT has you wired to think in non-linear ways? 

LT: Such an interesting question.  Software engineering, I suppose, is a good metaphor for crime investigation. You write code to develop a new application (writing parallel: a theory), but there’s a significant amount of testing and verification in many different contexts and scenarios to ensure that it actually works (proving the theory, evidence, etc). And on the less linear side, there’s an important component of “debugging”, which is a problem-solving investigation to fix any defects and things that don’t work correctly. And I think this is where the creativity and thinking-out-of-box comes in. Why doesn’t something work as expected? What are the variables that could be playing a role? When it comes to real and fictional criminal investigations, details arise that might not readily fit into a framework you’ve created for a suspect. But often investigators feel or sense a connection that might not be visible by others (a hunch). THIS is the nonlinear part. Not sure if working in IT or just reading mysteries since I was a little girl made be interested in this. I just know the investigations are fascinating and great fun. 

am: What draws you to the thriller genre? Do you write in more than one subgenre of thriller? 

LT: I think the pace, stakes, and vibe of thrillers draws me in as a reader, and that’s what I’m pulled to write as well. My second book, Blackwater Tango, was also a psychological thriller, about a psychologist/profiler investigating a serial killer. I’ve heard from my readers (body in a lobster trap) that this was my creepiest book of all – LOL! The Ghost of Mary Prairie (2007) was very different – what I called a heartland suspense, about a 15 year old boy in rural Oklahoma investigating a ghost he encounters, which leads back to his family’s tangled past. BooksRadar is a great site that shows all of my books, with descriptions, in the order they were published: https://www.booksradar.com/towles-lisa/towles.html     

am: You have a full time IT job, how do you manage to publish two books a year? 

LT: Honestly it’s a constant struggle. Luckily I’m a night owl and I do most of my writing after 9pm and on weekends when I’m more relaxed and have time to think and reflect about my work in progress. I’ve learned that the Pomodoro Method (writing in 25 minute blasts) works well for me. But it’s a hard negotiation to consistently juggle my day job, writing new work, editing my work, and marketing/promotion. 

am: What kind of publishing team do you use? 

LT: I’ve had a wonderful experience working with Indies United Publishing House for my last two books and I’m really excited to keep going. And I’m so grateful to have an Editor who I completely trust, some smart beta readers (like you, Ana!), loving friends and family who support me, and a growing community of engaged readers who kindly provide feedback to let me know what I’m doing right, what needs refining, and what’s most important to them. After all, nothing is more important than our readers! 🙂  

am: What was your first book? 

LT: My first book (published under Lisa Polisar) was published in 2003, a suspense novel called Knee Deep about a body discovered in a mineral mine in rural New Mexico (where I lived for many years).  

am: What’s coming next? 

LT: My next publication is one of my favorite books, a political thriller called The Ridders, due for release on November 30, 2022. 

am: When will the next E &A Investigations book come out? 

LT: Book 2 in the E&A series, called Salt Island, will be released by Indies United on June 14, 2023

Don’t miss Hot House—

FIRST PRIZE WINNER of the 2022 Book Fest Awards

WINNER of the Literary Titan GOLD Award for Fiction

AVAILABLE: Amazon, B & N, Indies United Publishing House

Worth every penny!

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Cybercrime Suspense

Everyone knows I love suspense, mystery and thrillers and no subgenre of crime writing comes with more suspense than a cybercrime caper. Maybe it’s because I’m more than a little tech challenged, but the world of cybercrime is mysterious and frightening to me. And a good cybercrime novel is like a roller coaster ride—a big thrill, but inherently safe. You get to read about the “mysteries” of the cyber world tucked into a blanket in your reading chair safe behind your strong passwords. Ok, maybe the stories will keep you awake or give you strange dreams, but isn’t that part of the thrill?

Here are three cybercrime books I’ve loved—two new and one new to me. All are written by my Sisters in Crime NorCal siblings.

Lisa Towles Ninety-Five—Once You’re In, There’s No Way Out! Indies United Publishing House

And that’s the truth. I couldn’t stop reading. I blazed right through this  YA to Adult thriller set in Chicago, or specifically, a shadow world with dark web ties hidden in an abandoned industrial area near the University of Chicago. Transfer student, Zac Skinner stumbles into a scam to drug students and video them in criminal activity in order to blackmail them to continue committing crimes or be expelled. But Zac isn’t going to play along, and at great risk—they’re watching him— he starts to follow the pieces of the puzzle and unravel a web of deception spun by an organized crime underworld. I read most of the night then dreamed peculiar dreams filled with fast-paced action, digital age jargon and shifts and twists aplenty. Just like the plot of Ninety-Five!  Towles’ writing is sharp and witty with crisp dialog, tight narration, well-crafted characters and a hold-on-to your hat thrilling story. Kudos to the mistress of the suspense puzzle novel! 

Glenda Carroll Dead Code—A Trisha Carson Mystery Indies United Publishing House

Trisha Carson is back, but she’s not in the water. This time she’s landed on a fire road on Mt. Tamalpais in a viper’s nest of cybercriminals—and she’s the prize of their twisted game. Trisha is an open water swimming  competitor with mayhem, murder, and bad luck following in her wake. She’s mostly gotten over the  disappearance of her husband, but she’s battling PTSD from her last caper. Now she’s confronted with another disappearance—this time the grandson of a good friend—and Trisha can’t let it alone. What she doesn’t know is she’s being watched: through hacked keystrokes, through the handsome new man who has swum into her life, and even her smart refrigerator, Frida, is keeping tabs on her movements. As Trisha, her sister Lena and a hacker who would prefer to remain anonymous, uncover the clues, a scary cybercrime network is revealed. And if she doesn’t stop the nefarious plan, it spells disaster for the West Coast. But true to her innate bravery, tenacious instincts and cunning mind, Trisha infuriates family and friends with her intrepid march deeper into the shadows of Mt. Tamalpais where cyber evil lurks. Of course she triumphs over the reversals and setbacks in her path, and redeems herself with her people. Trisha is a complex, evolving character with a lot of moxie, sometimes too little good sense, and always offering this reader a new learning experience. Author Glenda Carroll asked me to beta read Dead Code and I enjoyed every second of my reunion with Trisha Carson and this suspense-filled, fast- paced mystery. By the way, Dead Code’s cover is spectacular! Don’t miss it. When will book 4 come out?

Please read my review of Trisha Carson’s first caper, Dead in the Water, here on Building a Better Story.

Reece Hirsch Surveillance—Book 3 of the Chris Bruen Novels Thomas and Mercer

Surveillance is a chilling look at data gathering and an un-put-downable read. Big Brother really is watching us. Just ask former cybercrimes prosecutor, Chris Bruen and his “hactivist” partner, Zoey Doucet. The day they open their San Francisco law firm, Ian Ayres, an “ethical” hacker, brings a case.  Discredited by his former employer after he tested the online systems’s security and discovered files on a top-secret governmental surveillance agency’s program, Skeleton Key, he’s on the run and turns to Chris and Zoey. But the agency’s program can break any encryption to surveil the citizenry, and after an off-site meeting Chris discovers two of his employees dead and an assassin waiting for him in his brand new office. The trio flees, although separately, on a blood-pumping race to survive, from California to Ecuador to Mexico to Russia evading the grey-suited assassins tasked with terminating them to protect the government’s dirty secret. Barely a step ahead of their pursuers, Chris and Zoey reunite, but there’s nowhere to hide when the enemy can tap into every phone call, email, CCTV feed, bank card transaction, or Internet usage. The plot is non-stop high stakes excitement—not a little terrifying in the cyber age. And Hirsch’s writing is intelligent, gripping and gritty in its mastery of pacing and plotting. But this cutting-edge story is more than heart-stopping action. It explores the morality of surveillance, hacking, and above all, privacy. If you don’t ramp up your personal cyber security after reading Surveillance, you have no one else to blame!

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