“Mysteries and thrillers are like our nightmares and dreams,” Heaberlin says. “They allow us to fantasize about the terrible things and then let them go.”
Heaberlin’s Paper Ghosts portrays a game of cat and mouse between a suspected serial killer-photographer who claims to be suffering from dementia and a young woman who believes he knows why her sister disappeared years earlier. Two kinds of ghosts inspired Heaberlin to write the book: those of murdered people and those that “haunt minds riddled with dementia.”
“I’ve been fascinated with dark photography since I was a little girl,” Heaberlin says. “I used to sneak into my grandfather’s basement to look through a book of stark crime scene pictures.”
Dementia also tugs at the author’s heartstrings. “I personally love someone with dementia,” Heaberlin says. “I’ve never seen it portrayed exactly the way I have observed—the dark comedy, the cold cruelty, the nonsense, the truths, and the ghosts that appear out of nowhere.”
There is another game of cat and mouse in Gardiner’s Into the Black Nowhere. But in Gardiner’s thriller, it’s a chase between rookie FBI agent Caitlin Hendrix and a Ted Bundy–inspired killer.
“Few criminals have horrified and fascinated me like Bundy,” Gardiner says. “I’m amazed at how he presented a handsome, clean-cut image to the world while carrying out a relentless campaign of murder. That was my jumping-off point. How would a young female FBI agent capture a charming, devious killer who blends seamlessly with normal society?”
Gardiner’s books, like many mystery and suspense novels, inevitably reflect reality. “Crime fiction explores issues of justice and injustice, division and reconciliation,” Gardiner says. “Crime novels can and will be tremendously helpful in clarifying these tumultuous days. But novels that don’t overtly deal with politics or social issues can be a balm. I have plenty of both on my shelves.”
Texas serves as the setting in Abbott’s latest, The Three Beths, which follows Mariah, the daughter of Beth Dunning, a missing woman. During her effort to exonerate her father of her mother’s disappearance, Mariah discovers a connection between her mother’s vanishing and the recent disappearances of two other women named Beth.
Abbott got the idea after imagining a young woman seeing her missing mother across a food court in a crowded mall. “I wanted to find out who the characters were and how they’d reached this moment in their lives,” he says.
Abbott took longer than usual to write The Three Beths. The cause of the delay was a fire that destroyed Abbott’s house 14 months ago. “Just as I had to let go of all we lost,” says Abbott, “I had to let go of my initial concept of this novel. I did a massive rewrite on this book after the fire. It was as if the parts that weren’t working were burned away as well.”
It’s not lost on Abbott that he got through a tumultuous time by turning to mystery writing. “Mystery and suspense has always been an escape, whether from the bigger issues of the day or our own personal anxieties and problems.”