The latest installment in bestselling author Nancy Bush’s Rafferty Family series, The Killing Game, out in July, is more than a suspense novel: it’s a deep dive into the dark—and hauntingly compelling—mind of a killer. “I like games. All kinds... Killing is the best game, by far,” the novel’s villain says in the first pages of the book; the revelation of his identity will take even seasoned suspense fans completely by surprise, but that’s just part of the seemingly sinister mind of Bush.
Not so, Bush says. “I wanted a story about a killer who is a master game player,” she explains. “But I also wanted a damaged heroine who is struggling to put her life back together, unaware that her problems are being exacerbated by a killer who has her in his sights.”
What makes The Killing Game so powerful is Bush’s deep interest in—even sympathy for—her characters, as well as her attraction to the unusual. “For me, getting inside his or her mind is just letting go of all the rules,” Bush says. “It’s amazing what you can dream up when social conventions are gone.”
The Killing Game follows Andi Wren, who, after her husband dies, is left with a controlling interest in his company, much to the chagrin of his family. Meanwhile, she begins receiving ominous notes from a stalker obsessed with women named after birds: ”Little birds should be careful whom they choose as a mate.” As this stalker homes in on his target, it becomes clear that he’s drawn Andi into a deadly game of his own devising. When she finds out she’s pregnant, she goes to PI Luke Denton for help in protecting her and her husband’s legacy—their unborn child—and perhaps even the family business, which is on the brink of bankruptcy.
Starting out writing with her sister, the suspense novelist Lisa Jackson, Bush has also been in a type of family business. The two got their unlikely start when Bush read an article in Time magazine about young mothers making a career out of writing after the kids were asleep. Bush says: “I told my sister about it, and we dug in and just started. It took a while before either of us sold a novel, but we kept at it.”
Even then Bush had to resist the desire to merge her favorite fiction genres: romance and suspense, which was not the norm at the time. “One of the very first rejection letters my sister and I ever received on a manuscript that we wrote together had a personal note from an editor who said there was too much suspense in the story for their type of romantic series books,” Bush says. “We decided to fight our tendency to write suspense and mystery rather than just go for it because the suspense/mystery market wasn’t the hot thing.”
Though Bush has since moved solidly on to mystery and suspense with a twist of romance, she has always felt the genres have room to overlap. “I have a tendency to lean toward mystery over suspense—meaning I spend a lot of time on the whodunit, or in my case most often, the whydunit—than on the will-they-get-out-alive aspects of suspense. I have to remind myself to get those action scenes in there, and I also tend to go back over my story several times to keep reestablishing the romantic tone.”
For better or worse, Bush says, “I’ve always loved a good bad guy.” She adds, “My sister and I have always said a villain is easier to write than a hero.”
Bush’s passion for twisted characters and twisting plots keeps fans coming back. Readers have come to crave Bush’s particular blend of dark and spark, and The Killing Game more than delivers.
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