The detective first took me to her Captain's office.Â A long-time veteran of the force, the man
was older than my escort, his once dark hair bleached silver by some combination of years
and stress. He considered the detective the way a grandfather might look at a particularly
studious kid, his eyes betraying admiration with a touch of amusement. She was a hard-
working investigator and she was being interviewed by an author. Heâ€™d known her as a beat
Detective Shonah Maldonado, for her part, regarded her boss with a mix of respect and
gratitude. He'd believed in her when few on the force had thought the junior female officers
would rise much further than patrol. Her appreciation, however, was about more than his
giving her a shot. The man was smart. He'd correctly identified a need for more female
detectives to handle the kinds of crimes that were all too frequently crossing his desk:
domestic abuse, sexual assaults, and child endangerment. Some female victimsâ€”and
perpetratorsâ€”only opened up to women. And Maldonado, with her empathetic smile and
patient demeanor, was just the kind of cop who could get folks talking.
That day, though, I was at the station to get her talking. My fourth thriller,Â One Little Secret,
needed a female investigator to help solve the murder of one woman and the sexual assault of
another. And I needed to better understand the character that I would try to create. How might
a female detective respond to the investigation of an au pair's possible drugged date rape?
Were there questions sheâ€™d feel comfortable asking that would seem too aggressive coming
from a male detective? What conversations might she engage in? What subjects would even
she feel was taboo?
In short, how might a female detective do her job? How might she do it differently?
I found Detective Maldonado on the Internet. The issues I'd wanted my story to delve intoâ€”
domestic abuse among the affluent and the way money can enable exploitationâ€”required a
character who the audience would trust to navigate such troubled waters. I wanted a woman
because I was writing a story with at least two female victims and it was important to me to
also have a strong female character as a counterpoint to the other women. I also wanted to
create a protagonist able to empathize with the victims as a fellow woman and, at the same
time, see through some of the less obvious deceit perpetrated by female characters.
An online search for local police departments with female detectives led me to an article about
Maldonado's promotion into the detective department. I emailed her captain and was granted
permission to speak with herâ€”if she felt up for it.
Fortunately, she did. For over an hour, she took me through how she'd handled a variety of
cases (without names or dates). She generously explained how she might react in hypothetical
scenarios. And she told me her history, including why a once psychology major and social
worker had decided to switch careers and join the police force.
I didn't use any of her stories or the particulars of her background for the book. But I took with
me a sense of who she was and how she saw the world that informed my character, Detective
Sergeant Gabby Watkins.
Gabby is one of my favorite characters to date. I think she comes across as intelligent,
diligent, and deep. She seems realâ€”perhaps, because, in some way she is.
Real people often help shape my characters. As a former journalist, I believe in researching
individuals, places, and scenarios. For One Little Secret, I read books about domestic
violence, first-person articles about intimate partner violence, and drew upon my prior
experiences volunteering at an abused womanâ€™s shelter. I would never co-opt any particular
individual's story in my book, but I identified themes that emerged among women with similar
experiences and incorporated those into my work. I also spent a good amount of time reading
studies from the American Psychiatric Association about how long-term abuse impacts
Often, for my stories, I research for months before sitting down to seriously write. By the time I
do, I've done extensive character profiles and plot outlines. Sometimes, I even have a chapter-
by-chapter breakdown in Microsoft Excel.
These plots often morph as I write, necessitating revisions and new outlines. But I go into
stories with a clear idea, derived from research, about the people, places, and troubles Iâ€™m
contending with in my tale.
In my opinion, it's this research that has led to early readers praising the imaginary people that
populate One Little Secret. "The characters are vivid and well developed and the various
marital tensions become uncovered," wrote A. Koren, in an Amazon Vine Voice review, which
was not and cannot be influenced in any way by the publisher or author. Another Vine Voice
reviewer, Annie, wrote: "The characters quickly became more than words on paper; they
became real, people I knew and cared about."
Statements like those make all the interviews and research worth it. And it's the generosity of
real people, like Detective Maldonado, who help me create characters that seem to exist.
One Little Secret
Crooked Lane Books
On Sale: July 9, 2019
Hardcover / e-Book
PsychologicalÂ |Â Thriller
Everyone has a secret. For some, it's worth dying to protect. For others, it's worth killing.
The glass beach house was supposed to be the getaway that Susan needed. Eager to help her
transplanted family set down roots in their new town - and desperate for some kid-free
conversation - she invites her new neighbors to join in on a week-long sublet with her and her
Over the course of the first evening, liquor loosens inhibitions and lips. The three couples
begin picking up on the others' marital tensions and work frustrations, as well as revealing
their own. But someone says too much. And the next morning one of the women is discovered
dead on the private beach.
Town detective Gabby Watkins must figure out who permanently silenced the deceased. As
she investigates, she learns that everyone in the glass house was hiding something that could
tie them to the murder, and that the biggest secrets of all are often in plain sight for anyone
willing to look.
A taut, locked room mystery with an unforgettable cast of characters, One Little Secret
promises to keep readers eyes glued to the pages and debating the blinders that we all put on
in the service of politeness.
Cate Holahan is the USA Today Bestselling author of The Widowerâ€™s Wife, Lies She Told, Dark
Turns, and One Little Secret, all published by Crooked Lane Books. In a former life, she was an
award-winning journalist that wrote for The Record, The Boston Globe, and BusinessWeek.
She lives in NJ with her husband, two daughters, and food-obsessed dog, and spends a
disturbing amount of time highly-caffeinated, mining her own anxieties for material.
She graduated from Princeton University in 2002.
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