Synopsis of Mortal Faults:
Prescott brings back LA private operative Abby Sinclair and Denver Special Agent Tess McCullum in this stunning follow up to last year's outing which originally paired the two markedly different women. This time out, Abby is contacted by Congressman Jack Reynolds to investigate a woman who has been stalking him, a woman he claims to have fired years before and who is back for some sort of revenge. Abby quickly discovers otherwise, the woman is much more intimately known to Jack, as she was his mistress 20 years before and had two children by him that she was later accused of murdering. But that is not the only lie Jack is telling, and soon Abby will learn that behind the amiable façade is a sociopath of the greatest magnitude.
Tess is also soon on the case and arrives in L.A. against her better judgment to officially aid in the investigation surrounding the woman and the Congressman, still having to keep her association with Abby a secret as it goes against every FBI policy known. But she quickly grows concerned that Abby has crossed the line from stalking the stalkers to vigilantism and murder when a bad guy connected to the case winds up dead. And so as one woman fights to discover the truth within the boundaries of the law, the other fights to discover the truth while fighting against her own temptations to cross the final line from good guy to bad guy, all culminating in an ending that just may leave one or both of these women in prison or dead.
In Abby and Tess, Prescott has created two of the fiercest and most commanding heroines to come along in awhile, especially Abby, whose borderline control is as compelling as it is convincing. And by putting these women on opposite sides of the law, he creates a daring dynamic that is simply fascinating. Add to that a gripping plot and a vicious villain whose sociopath tendencies are flawlessly delineated, and you have the makings for a breathlessly exciting read. Highly recommended, we hope to see these women again, together or independent of each other as in previous outings, either is acceptable and more than likely to be just as thrilling.
Welcome to New Mystery Reader, Michael! We'd love to ask you some questions regarding your two wildly different fierce and independent female characters, Tess and Abby, who have appeared in several of your titles. Both of them are captivating enough when working alone, and yet perhaps even more so when put together. So let's get started, shall we?
1. Why don't you begin by giving us a little background on Tess McCallum, the character who first appeared in your novel, Next Victim.
Tess is an FBI agent who runs the Denver field office but is frequently being dispatched to Los Angeles, a city she doesn't particularly like, in order to handle one crisis or another. She was originally introduced as a one-shot character. I didn't have any plans to bring her back after Next Victim. But a few years later, my editor at the time, Doug Grad, suggested that I might want to take two or even three of my female characters from different books and have them team up. I thought this was an interesting idea, as long as I could do it without making it seem too much like Charlie's Angels. At first I thought about including the character of C. J. Osborn, a policewoman who appears in my book Last Breath, but eventually I decided to have just two characters. I made one of them Tess because I thought she would work well as a relatively by-the-book federal agent, contrasted with Abby, a very independent freelancer who frequently breaks the law. I wanted the two women to be as different as possible so that there would be constant conflict between them. I think the conflict makes their relationship more interesting than it might be if they were both on the same team.
2. Now how about the inside scoop on Abby Sinclair who starred in The Shadow Hunter.
When I wrote The Shadow Hunter, I was thinking of doing a series of books featuring Abby Sinclair. I created a job for her which, as far as I know, doesn't really exist. She stalks the stalkers. She is hired by someone who is being stalked, and she identifies the stalker, infiltrates his life, and assesses his threat potential. If she finds him to be a threat, she finds a way to neutralize him, perhaps by bringing him to the attention of the authorities. She breaks the law in various ways, such as by illegally eavesdropping on her quarry and using all sorts of phony ID and black market equipment. She's a pretty colorful character, but when I had trouble coming up with an idea for a sequel, I decided to shelve the whole plan. After that, I really never intended to do a sequel or series until the idea of combining two or more characters came up. That sort of lit a fire under me. I was intrigued to see if I could actually do a sequel, since I had never done one. Sequels are tricky, so it was a new challenge.
3. This is your second title to feature Tess and Abby together, the first being Dangerous Games. What motivated you to initially pair this most disparate duo?
I liked the fact that they were opposites in most ways. If I know Abby's position on any issue, I can more or less assume that Tess will take the opposite point of view, and vice versa. That creates a lot of friction between them, and makes it very easy to write the dialogue. In fact, I find myself sometimes dictating the dialogue directly into the computer using a voice recognition program – which is something I'd never done before. Incidentally, I usually agree with Tess rather than with Abby. For instance, Abby loves Los Angeles, and Tess can't wait to get out of there. I lived in L.A. for more than ten years, but eventually I got so sick of the crime, traffic, earthquakes, and high cost of living that I was desperate to leave. Abby may reflect an attitude that I had years ago, but Tess reflects my attitude now.
4. Seeing how ambiguous their relationship is, was it a difficult decision to put them on yet another case together in Mortal Faults?
No, the ambiguity is what I find interesting. I had assumed that Dangerous Games would be the first book of a short series, probably a trilogy. So I was prepared to bring them back together, and I wanted to make their relationship even more tempestuous the second time around. They don't really like each other that much, and yet they have to work together. Of course, you find that kind of relationship in a lot of buddy pictures, such as Lethal Weapon, but the difference here, I think, is that each woman actually does represent a fundamentally different philosophy. It's not just a difference of personality, it's a difference in belief systems. Tess ultimately believes in the rule of law, and Abby ultimately does not. Right now, with all the debate about how far the government can go in combating terrorism, this debate seems somewhat topical. I tend to side more with Tess, but I can see the other side, as well. Anyway, I like the ambiguity. I think it's more interesting than the straightforward black-and-white approach that many thrillers take, and which my own earlier thrillers generally took.
5. You've created a couple of kick-ass women here, if you don't mind me saying, but just how difficult was it anyway to get inside their heads as a man?
Not difficult at all. I almost always write about a female protagonist, because I actually find it easier than writing about a male hero. When I write good guys who are men, they tend to be a little bit stiff. I have trouble writing a heroic male character who is in touch with his emotions. If he is too sensitive, then to me there is a risk that he will come across as overly feminine. Of course, when you're writing a woman, you don't have that problem. I can give a female character all sorts of insecurities and vulnerabilities, and still make her plenty tough when she needs to be. It just seems to work better for me. I also like doing a male villain with a female protagonist. There can be at least a hint of sexual tension there, which you don't have if both the hero and villain are male. And it's very, very difficult to write a convincing female villain. Usually they come off too much like Cruella de Vil.
6. Now you don’t have to answer this one, but which of these two enthralling characters is your favorite and why?
Abby is easier to write, and probably more fun to read, because she's more of an over-the-top kind of character and she talks in a chatty, fast-paced, screwball comedy style. But on a personal level, I relate much more to Tess. I would rather know her and would rather have her as a next-door neighbor. Abby would be a terrible neighbor and probably a very unreliable friend. There's an anarchic streak to her that would make her very difficult to deal with on a daily basis. Plus, her habit of breaking the law, even if it's in a good cause, certainly raises some ethical questions. We don't really want people taking the law into their own hands, although it can be fun to read about in a fictional context. Basically, I have more respect for Tess, but I admit that she is probably not the favorite of most readers, at least if I can judge from e-mails that I've received. Most readers like Abby much better and find Tess annoying because she keeps getting in Abby's way. That's the thing about the rule of law, though – sometimes it gets in our way, but we ought to be glad about that.
8. Which have you enjoyed more, pairing this dynamic duo, or having them fight crime alone?
I think they're better together because of the inherent conflict between them. But overall, I think that Next Victim, which features Tess alone, is probably my best book, at least in a commercial sense, because it has a good high-concept premise and a pretty slick plot, and all the elements came together in a way that I found very satisfying. I was particularly happy with the climax of that book, which takes place in an underground civil defense center – a real facility that actually exists beneath City Hall in Los Angeles. I had no access to the facility, but I was able to piece together what I think is a reasonably accurate description of it from various sources. Anyway, I had fun with that story because it got away from the standard serial killer plots that I had been doing up to that point. As things stand now, however, I really can't imagine writing about either one of these characters without the other one. They have been joined at the hip; each one plays off the other. They're like a comedy team, with Abby as the comic and Tess as the reluctant straight man. The stuff I like best, in fact, is usually the throwaway dialogue that has nothing to do with the plot – for instance, when Abby bewilders Tess with her comprehensive knowledge of movie trivia, or when Abby goes off on some tangent that takes the conversation totally off track.
9. And, finally, the ending in your latest leaves things a bit up in the air regarding whether we might see these two work together again. Any comment on that, or should we just wait and see?
There will be one more Tess-Abby book, which I'm writing now. Hopefully it will bring their relationship to some sort of resolution. After that, I may go on to something else, unless the sales figures are good enough to convince me and my publisher that further entries in the series would be a good idea. That probably sounds cynical, but in this business, you do have to take your cues from the sales figures if you want to keep working. So far, I really have no idea how either Dangerous Games or Mortal Faults has done – the author is always the last to know!
Thank you Michael, we look forward to your next!
Michael Prescott grew up in New Jersey and attended Wesleyan University, then moved to Los Angeles and pursued a career as a screenwriter. After working with several independent producers, he eventually switched to writing novels, a much less stressful occupation. He has published eight thrillers, from Comes the Dark (1999) to Mortal Faults (2006), and currently is at work on a new book. Today he divides his time between the Arizona desert and the Jersey shore. He maintains a Web site at www.michaelprescott.net and a blog at www.michaelprescott.typepad.com .