MARY BURTON TALKS ABOUT HER LATEST FORAY INTO
CRIME IN HER NEW "ALEXANDRIA" NOVEL,
BEFORE SHE DIES
Before we talk about BEFORE SHE DIES, your latest Alexandria set novel, please tell
me—is it true the first two books in the series, Senseless and Merciless, were the
bestselling of all of your books so far?
Yes. And, as you can imagine, I'm delighted. I always hope each book will
help me reach new readers and it's great to see it continue to happen.
Your last few books were all set in your home town of Richmond, weren't
Yes. I really enjoyed creating a bit of havoc close to home—and being
able to actually go check out the settings for some key scenes without having
to pack a bag.
Why did you move on to Alexandria?
I had a great job offer in Northern Virginia, and I'd always liked visiting
my grandparents when they'd lived in Alexandria. I really enjoyed our four
years in the city—it's incredibly diverse. I'd always wanted to set a
story there and when the time came for a new setting Alexandria fit the
You brought some characters with you when you "changed venues," didn't
Richmond detective Malcolm Kier was a favorite among readers, so I had him
move on with me for the series. He transferred to the Alexandria Police
Department's Homicide Unit where he teamed up with Deacon Garrison.
Are they in BEFORE
Tangentially, yes. They're both part of Charlotte Wellington and Daniel
Rokov's story. Deacon and Eva Rayburn from Senseless
are still together, but only Deacon makes an appearance
in this book, as does Malcolm. Angie Carlson is there, as well. You may recall
that Charlotte was Angie's boss—both are high powered attorneys. Angie
actually appears via a series of phone calls, and her scenes are a big part in
moving the story forward.
Do all these relationships get confusing?
Apparently only to me. Readers don't seem to have any problem remembering
who's who, where they first met them and who their favorites are.
Why did you decide to tell Charlotte's story this time around?
I had to! You know, she was first a character in Silver
Bells, the holiday anthology I worked on with Fern Michaels,
JoAnn Ross and Judy Duarte—which was the first time my name and work
appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. My novella was
Christmas Past and Charlotte was a walk-on
character that I didn't expect to see again. Readers loved her and I couldn't
forget her—or ignore her. She stayed in my mind, so when I moved the
books to Alexandria it made sense to include Charlotte. By the time I finished
writing Senseless and Merciless, it was clear—Charlotte had to
have her own story and she had to have a strong hero. Enter Detective Daniel
Rokov, a man quite willing to go toe-to-toe with Charlotte at her most
Your serial killer is determined to save souls—to make victims
confess and beg for forgiveness. I know you're writing fiction, but does your
research into the motives of criminals—especially multiple
killers—show a quest for redemption as something that recurs in actual
When I build my villains I try to give them as much care and attention as
the hero and heroine. I'm not so sure if there is a softer side to real life
killers but in novels it works for me to give the bad guys a bit of nobility,
even if it is only in their own minds.
Reviews for all three novels have been absolutely glowing. One says Senseless will appeal to
fans of Stieg Larson (Publishers Weekly). BEFORE SHE DIES is called
a "page turner" by RT Book Reviews and in its starred review Publishers Weekly
says it "will have readers sleeping with the lights on." Certainly, your work
has been praised in the past, but attention seems to have ratcheted up, both in
volume and accolades. Do you agree? How important are reviews to you?
It's always wonderful to get nice reviews. It's very gratifying to know
that the work you've put so much effort into is recognized. I do seem to be
getting more recognition these days and that's great. It really does feel good
to hear from readers who tell you they couldn't put your book down. But once
I've read any kind of review or praise I put them aside so that I can get back
to the work in front of me. Most days my total focus is the current book I'm
writing. It always seems I'm completely distracted by character motivations,
timelines, plot devices, you name it.
I know you research extensively as regards law enforcement procedure to
make sure your stories are realistic and believable. How does that influence
Focusing on the reality of police work helps to keep me grounded. I
challenge myself to solve the problems I create in a way I believe a real
policeman might. And, considering the resources available to most police
departments, I have to do my best to solve the crimes with good detective work
and not so much on fancy DNA tests or high tech forensic equipment.
You frequently deal with issues of family, belonging and your
characters' own sense of identity. Is it simply because that makes for great
fiction or do you see this as something many people face? If so, do you believe
people confront these sorts of issues in today's society more so than in the
We all have family. And most of us have shared joys and frustrations with
family. It's universal. It made sense that my heroes, heroines and even
villains would have the same struggles as you or I. For me, family makes
characters more believable. I'm not sure people confront issues better today
than yesterday. Some of us do a better job than others. But emotions can be
difficult and sloppy. And I think it's fun and satisfying to read about
characters who tackle problems head on or who say what's on their mind.
I'm tackling a new book now called The Seventh
Victim. It's set in Austin, Texas and will be published in
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