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Between the lines with Robin Burcell (Q&A)

Robin Burcell's 'The Kill Order' is available now from Harper.

Today, Hartford Books Examiner welcomes Robin Burcell.

The author of the recently published thriller The Kill Order (Harper, $7.99), Burcell is also an FBI trained forensic artist who has worked in law enforcement for more than twenty years as a police officer, detective, and hostage negotiator. A two-time Anthony Award winner, Burcell has written four Sydney Fitzpatrick novels—The Black List, The Dark Hour, The Bone Chamber, and Face of a Killer—as well as four novels featuring SFPD homicide detective Kate Gillepsie: Every Move She Makes, Fatal Truth, Deadly Legacy, and Cold Case. She lives with her family on the West Coast.

The Kill Order was released last December. RT Book Reviews named the title a Top Pick, awarding it their highest rating (4.5 stars): “Burcell tells an exciting tale that invokes government conspiracy, technology run amok and the high cost of privacy. A ruthless villain with the power to thwart any effort to stop his plan keeps the action flowing. Though there are previous books in the series, Burcell does a phenomenal job at balancing the story elements so newcomers don’t feel lost while fans of the previous books don’t grow impatient. Burcell is definitely an author to watch.”

From the publisher:

What you don't know can kill you . . .

FBI Special Agent Sydney Fitzpatrick knows nothing about the Devil's Key, except that her father was involved in its theft twenty years ago and was murdered as a result. The Devil's Key, a list of seemingly random, supposedly indecipherable numbers, poses an immediate threat to national security—and anyone caught with this code in their possession is terminated with extreme prejudice. Sydney, unaware of the standing kill order, only just recovered the list and turned it over to her superiors—but not before making a copy.

What you do know can kill you . . .

Now the hard drive containing the list's data has been compromised and two civilians are dead. But Sydney's not the only one in danger. When a young woman with eidetic memory sees the numbers, Sydney and her partner, Zachary Griffin, must protect her—and what she knows—at all costs. For if the code falls into enemy hands, it could devastate the entire country's infrastructure—and even ignite a world war.

Now, Robin Burcell reveals a few pages from the book of her life …

1) As a child, did you wear your literary lust loud and proud or were you a closet bibliophile?

I was definitely one of those kids who always had a book in her hand. And if I didn’t, I was busy daydreaming my own stories. I’m not sure how loudly I proclaimed it, but I don’t think there was any doubt in anyone’s mind that books were near and dear to my heart. (And there was always that issue of someone trying to get my attention when I was fully immersed in a story!)

2) What book(s) were you likely to be caught keeping company with under the covers?

At the tender age when I actually got in trouble for reading past bedtime, it was Nancy Drew, the complete set of Oz books, Sherlock Holmes, and any of the classics that were more action/adventure. I’m afraid I was a disappointment to my fellow bibliophile girlfriends who were deep into Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I read them, but didn’t enjoy them. For me it was all about Robin Hood, King Arthur and Prisoner of Zenda. And when it came to daydreaming about the stories after I put the book down, I was fighting alongside the heroes.

3) What are you reading currently & what is your initial impression?

At the moment, I’m currently reading nothing! And hating it! I’m in the process of putting together the panels for Left Coast Crime which will be held in Monterey, California March 2014. But looking at the potential panelists of authors has whetted my appetite.

4) What one book do you always recommend when asked?

I read across most genres, so it might depend on what someone is looking for. But looking at my keeper bookshelf, at least the thrillers, The Faithful Spy by Alex Berenson is one of my favorites. I can’t say that there are many books that leave me breathless, on the edge of my seat, worried about the hero and the fate of our country, but that one did. I loved it.

5) Which of your own books would you suggest to readers & why?

Face of a Killer was my first foray into thriller territory after writing police procedurals, and gives us a great background on one of the main characters in the series, Sydney Fitzpatrick, FBI agent and a forensic artist. But at that end of that book, Sydney found a list of numbers and was never able to solve the mystery of what they belonged to (even though she solved the main murder). I always figured I’d bring up the resolution of those numbers in the next book, or the next, or the next. But I was never happy with what I’d imagined they should belong to. Until I came up with the premise of The Kill Order, my most recent novel. With the whole Snowden/NSA scandal, The Kill Order turns out to be a very timely fictional take on the subject of government spying. And so, based on current events, I’d say The Kill Order.

6) Is there a book or author that readers would be surprised to know you’ve read and liked?

I think they’d be surprised by the variety on my shelves. Everything from historical romance to wildly fantastic science fiction. To me, a good book is a good book. The genre matters little. It’s all about the characters and the writing.

7) Who is the one author that would, or did, make you weak in the knees upon meeting?

Well… Back when I first started writing, I met Robert Crais and Michael Connelly at a small writers workshop at UCLA. I’d just asked Michael Connelly to sign his current novel, telling him that he was a huge inspiration. His book, The Poet, was one of the reasons I fell in love with the mystery genre, and decided to try my hand at police procedurals (my now out of print Kate Gillespie series). So here I am, gushing over Michael Connelly, telling him this factoid, and that my first mystery was coming out, etc., etc. I went on. Too long. Then I turn to Robert Crais, who was seated next to him. I looked into his face, not expecting him to be quite so cute in person, and thinking: I just made an ass out of myself in front of Connelly. I can’t do that again. So I shoved my book in front of Robert Crais and said, “Just your signature.” I’m afraid now that I am thoroughly tongue tied with both as a result. (I doubt either remembers me, but all I can remember is how embarrassed I was at running off at the mouth, then becoming tongue tied!)

8) Has there been an “I’ve made it” moment in your career?

I think we tend to create these “if only” scenarios that will mean we made it, and then we set the next one. But nothing compares to that first time that Carolyn Marino, an editor from HarperCollins called me to tell me I’d sold my first book. In fact, I still get that feeling now, when they buy each successive book. I’m doing what I love. Everything else is gravy. But I like gravy.

9) What is your greatest literary ambition?

For me it’s the joy of writing a story that someone loves to read. I just returned this afternoon from a talk about my writing at Sacramento State University. There was a bookseller there selling my novels. She proudly held up her copy of The Bone Chamber, stating she was halfway through it, and couldn’t wait to get back to it. Now it’s always great to hear that, but you have to wonder how much is true, and how much is just someone being nice, right? Well the talk finished right around the start of rush hour traffic, and the streets just to get to the freeway were more like parking lots. And as I pulled my car alongside this other car who was stopped ahead (and had been for some time), I notice the woman looks somewhat familiar. It was the bookseller. And then I notice she’s reading The Bone Chamber while she’s stopped in traffic. I think I met my goal, because if that isn’t a compliment, I don’t know what is!

10) Fill in the blank: Hartford Books Examiner is _____.

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With thanks to Robin Burcell for her generosity of time and thought.

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