Lisa Gardner, the Thriller Writer Who Loves Historical Romance

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I know some authors say they can’t read novels while they’re working on their own, but I’m not one of them. I read anything at any time. While researching a novel, I may read more nonfiction on various topics, including true crime (love Ann Rule and Gregg Olsen). Otherwise, my only real quirk is that I like to switch up genres. For example, after reading a bunch of thrillers in a row, I might then read some historicals or women’s fiction titles, then maybe fantasy or Y.A. To me, books are like ice cream and you always want ice cream, it’s just a question of which flavor you’re craving at the moment.

What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

Jon Billman’s “The Cold Vanish,” which delves into the approximately 1,600 people missing on national public lands and the lack of dedicated resources for finding them, shocked and terrified me. I’m an avid hiker, so the real-life stories of everything that can, and has, gone wrong struck close to home. Things that scare me eventually wind up in my novels. Hence my January thriller, “One Step Too Far,” which features the missing persons expert Frankie Elkin heading into a remote wilderness area as part of a search team. Bad things happen from there. I think of the book as “And Then There Were None” goes hiking. Thank you Jon Billman and Agatha Christie.

What moves you most in a work of literature?

I read for character, character and character. I’m looking to see the world through someone else’s eyes and in doing so, having my own eyes opened to fresh experiences, issues and ideas. So the what, where and when aren’t nearly as important to me as the who when it comes to picking novels.

Who’s your favorite fictional detective? And the best villain?

I love Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series, where the acclaimed detective Sherlock Holmes is actually a front for the very female, very brilliant Charlotte Holmes, who must solve crimes while battling the sexist mores of Victorian-era England. Best villain for me will always be Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter. Not sure anyone will ever top that, though Anne Rice’s Lestat would be my second pick. I feel like we’re going through this phase of trying to make villains relatable by explaining their actions through some terribly tragic back story. Let’s just say, Lecter and Lestat are not looking to be understood. They glory in their violent nature. To me, that’s what makes them compelling, as some small part of each of us wishes we could just let go, and be who we truly are. Not that we’re all secretly vicious killers, but you get my point. There’s a certain triumph in being unapologetically yourself, and Lecter and Lestat are unapologetically themselves. Which is why, I think, decades later readers remain fascinated by them.

What makes for a good thriller?

The best thrillers excel at combining compelling characters with breakneck pacing. You’re heavily invested in the main characters while abandoning all household chores, missing your subway stop and staying up way too late as you race from chapter to chapter to find out what happens next. When readers tell me they ignored their children and showed up late to work just to finish one of my novels, I feel good about myself.

How do you organize your books?

By author. Is that boring? Though I suppose that applies to the books in my library. Like any good reader, I have TBR piles all around my house. Those are organized in the order I plan on reading them. Except, of course, new books keep appearing, meaning no matter how much I read, the stacks never grow shorter. I consider this a good problem to have.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

I love historical romances. Witty dialogue, great characters, steamy sex. What’s not to like? Favorite authors include Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, Tessa Dare, Amanda Quick and Lisa Kleypas. I think it’s wonderful Shonda Rhimes has brought worldwide attention to the brilliant escapism that is the “Bridgerton” series, and hope many more adaptations will follow.

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