Author of the Month

Name: Chris Mooney

First Novel: Deviant Ways

Most Recent Book: The Soul Collectors

'Once opened ‘The Soul Collectors’ will literally gather your soul and hold you to ransom until you have finished the book. '

One night Darby McCormick is called out on an emergency. Despite being on suspension, Darby is whisked away by helicopter to a remote house. A man is holding a family hostage and has asked for Darby specifically. Why her? The family – the Rizzo’s - know Darby very well. She headed the investigation when their son, Charlie vanished ten years ago, never to be seen again. That is until tonight, when a man holding the family hostage claims to be that same child, Charlie.

Is he really Charlie Rizzo as he claims? And where has Charlie been held all this years? Darby feels sure that the man she meets with a mask of human skin sewn onto his face is Charlie. But what happened to make him a possibly violent and scared madman?

Then everything kicks off.

A supposed ‘SWAT’ team storm the house and kill all the family and kidnap the father. Failing to eliminate Darby, she manages to escape whilst seeing that the whole force waiting outside the house have been assassinated. And who are the strange, anaemic, vampiric animals that are trained killers? Who are they working for? Darby digs deeper and finds a bottomless pit of savagery, mutilation and torture that threatens to suck everyone Darby knows and loves in to its dark depths – including herself.

Once opened ‘The Soul Collectors’ will literally gather your soul and hold you to ransom until you have finished the book. Even though Darby McCormick is trained in marshal arts, she would have come a cropper trying to wrench this book from my hands. Nothing would have made me let go!

Right from the very start, like Darby, the reader is pitched into a nightmare scenario where nothing is as it seems. An innocent-looking family, held to ransom by a man raving about being their long lost son. And before Darby can diffuse the situation, Charlie tells her how he was betrayed. Before he can give her the full story events overtake Darby. With breathtaking speed Mooney takes you along a rollercoaster ride. At the end of every chapter you seem to have broken out in a sweat and be completely out of breath.

The descriptions of the strange creatures that have been conditioned by this secret sect to act as killers are haunting. It sends a shiver down your spine to think of anything like this actually existing. Some of the descriptions of the torture are horrific, but it never impedes but instead draws the speed of the plot on even more. I read this book in a very short timescale. It was one of those very rare occasions when I was ‘consumed’ and could only clock watch until I could sneak another chapter or two during free time. And the whole plot was circling around my mind – a true indication of a book that fires the imagination. I suggest you start this book when you have a quiet couple of days – because believe you me – nobody will be getting any sense out of you until you have read that final page!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) What makes a truly great crime/thriller novel?
Character. It’s all comes down to character. Good stories come and go, but character always endures – James Bond, Hannibal Lecter and, a more recent example, Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
2) Now that the crime/thriller genre represents the largest section of fiction sold in the UK and Ireland, do you think we do enough to celebrate the quality and diversity of the writing?
Here in the United States, good crime writers are, in fact, celebrated. You have Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos and Michael Connelly, to name a few, who have really changed the way crime novels are regarded. Thrillers, by and large, are regarded as mass entertainment. Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon and, later, The Silence of the Lambs, marked a turning point in the genre. He set the bar very high for the rest of us. Readers now expect a certain level of performance. Readers are very smart; they know what’s good and what isn’t. They’re the ones who celebrate the quality and diversity of writing by recommending books to friends, talking about books online, etc. Writers do the same. We’re passionate about books, and there’s not a moment when a crime writer isn’t talking about a book they loved. This past October, when I was attending the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, my friend and fellow thriller writer Gregg Hurwitz kept raving about The Signal by Ron Carlson. He told everyone about it. He talked about it on panels. And that’s about the best way to celebrate a book, I think.
3) ‘The Soul Collectors’ pits Darby McCormick against a sinister cult. What sparked the idea for this novel?
The cult part came later – much, much later. Every time I sit down to write a book, I always know how it will begin; in this case, I knew a family was going to be held hostage by a man claiming to be their son. Small problem: the son was abducted twenty years ago and was never seen again. I knew that this man was, in fact, the family’s son, so then I had to figure out where he’s been all this time. That’s where the idea of this cult came into play. Its origin dates back to medieval times. They’ve been around for centuries and they always abduct the youngest child from a family – and for very specific reasons.
4) There are some very graphic descriptions of torture in the novel. How did you research this side of the novel?
I stumbled upon a book about medieval torture tools, complete with pictures, and what I read and saw frightened me. When something frightens me, I tend to use it in the book.
Any time I write something violent, I try to stay away from depicting graphic descriptions. I want all the violence to happen off-screen. With The Soul Collectors, all I needed to do was to describe a particular torture tool – say, the Catherine Wheel, for example – and it would immediately frighten the reader.
5) Darby is on suspension from a previous case. There is a lot of information about how the secret service works. Are you granted inside information through an informant, or do you need to obtain your research by top-secret, underhand methods?
The information about the American Secret Service came through reading different non-fiction books. Living in the post 9-11 world, the American Secret Service and F.B.I. don’t want to speak about what they do for security reasons, which I completely understand. The problem is that there is a ton of information available on the Internet. On one hand, it’s a gold mine for a thriller writer; on the other hand, it’s completely frightening the stuff that’s out there. I do speak to various contacts I have in different law enforcement agencies from time-to-time.
6) You have brought back a character called Jack Casey from ‘Deviant Ways’ and crossed his path with Darby’s. Was there a specific reason for these two to meet?
I always wanted to write about Jack Casey again. I had tried, once before, when I wrote a draft of the first Darby McCormick book, The Missing, but it didn’t work out for various reasons – mainly, I think, because Jack Casey’s presence sort of overpowered Darby, and the book was about Darby. When I brought Jack Casey back in The Soul Collectors, Darby was a more fully formed character. She’s older, wiser, and tougher mentally and physically. In other words, she’s someone who can go head-to-head with Jack Casey. It was fun to pit them together and watch the sparks fly.
7) There are a few untied strands to the story that make me wonder that this isn’t the last we will hear of certain individuals. Is this the case - or are you planning a ‘follow-up’ to ‘The Soul Collectors’?
I wanted a few untied strands to make the ending more chilling. When the book ends, there’s a sense of dread hanging over Darby and the rest of the characters, which I quite liked and, judging from the amount of emails I’ve received, a lot of readers enjoyed it too. I’ve found it’s always better to leave readers wanting more than spoon-feeding them the answer to every question. That way, the characters and story live in the reader’s imagination for a bit.
As for a ‘follow-up’, I don’t have one planed at the moment, but that’s not to say Darby won’t ever encounter this cult again. In fact, I’d say that this cult is still very interested in Darby.
8) There seems to finally be some equilibrium to Darby’s love life. Is this going to last long?
Hard to say – and hard to answer without giving too much away. Darby’s problem is one that I suffer from also: she gets laser-locked on a single task and her personal life and relationships take a back seat. In my case it’s writing, but with Darby, she’s always working on the next case, focusing on how to solve it, at the expense of everything else. The closest person in her life – the love of her life, really – is her partner, Jackson “Coop” Cooper. He understands her, and while he accepts her for who she is, he’s her complete opposite. I’m a big believer in the opposites-attract theory as my wife and I are quite different people yet we seem to get along quite well as a married couple. It’s a dynamic I like exploring with Darby.
9) ‘The Soul Collectors’ is on fire from page one and doesn’t let go until the end. Is it exhilarating or exhausting to keep up writing such a ‘white knuckle’ ride pace throughout the book? Do you write quickly as well?
I used to be a terribly slow writer because I would go back and constantly tinker with scenes and the writing. I had it set in my mind that a book had to be absolutely perfect before showing it to my agent and editor. In other words, I had set a trap for myself because nothing is ever perfect.
Stephen King writes a fast draft. He starts on page one and keeps going until he reaches the end; he doesn’t go back and tinker and rewrite. That’s the way to go because it saves time and, more importantly, frees up creativity. This way of writing has stopped me from second-guessing myself. Pace has always come easy for me, but this time around, I wanted that “grab you by the throat” feeling that I’ve experienced when reading Stephen King’s Misery and Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs.
10) I am guessing that as Darby is described as an ‘Angelina Jolie look-a-like’ that we can pretty much cover Darby’s casting… but in a dream scenario, who would you like to direct and star in a film/TV adaptation of your book?
I mentioned the ‘Angelina Jolie look-a-like’ to give the reader a sense that Darby is someone you do not want to mess with – someone who can take care of herself in any physical situation. I think it sort of backfired because, in a way, I sort of type-cast Darby as being this unbelievably beautiful Hollywood-type woman. But if Angelina Jolie played Darby in a film adaptation, I’d be more than happy. I’d love someone like Julianne Moore, who is a compelling actress. They both command your attention, which was the goal I had in mind when creating Darby.
11) What is your favourite movie adaptation of all time of a crime/thriller novel?
The Silence of the Lambs. The adaptation stays very faithful to the book, right down to pieces of dialogue. Another example is the Clint Eastwood adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River.
12) What is your favourite crime/thriller novel of all time?
Again, I’d have to say The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. It’s perfect in every way – perfect story, perfect writing, perfect pace and iconic characters in Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling. I know a lot of thriller writers pick Harris’s Red Dragon, which is exceptional in its own way because it really created the serial killer genre and the genre of the tortured investigator. I’ve always loved The Silence of the Lambs because it was the first Harris book I read, and the story gives Lecter a more prominent – and chilling – role. I’ve read that book and Red Dragon cover to cover dozens of times. They’re that rare combination of fantastic entertainment and fantastic literature blended into one.