Interview: Richard Montanari, author of The Stolen Ones

Please welcome Richard Montanari to the blog. His brand new book, THE STOLEN ONES, just came out last week, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book, and the series!


Photo by Rocco Tamm

Photo by Rocco Tamm

THE STOLEN ONES is the seventh book featuring Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano. Will you tell us a bit more about it?
All my stories begin with a question. For THE STOLEN ONES, the question was: Can one person’s dreams be implanted into another person’s mind? And, if this is possible, to what extent could the subject’s behavior be manipulated? I did quite a bit of research for this book, especially in the areas of lucid dreaming and dream engineering. The field and study of dream interpretation goes back almost as far as recorded history, but dream engineering is still in the laboratory stage. Just recently neuroscientists at MIT published a paper heralding a breakthrough with audio cues as they relate to dream behavior in mice, and the planting of false memory. Experimentation on human subjects is a bit more clandestine. It is this covert testing that is at the heart of the book

Of course, because I write rather dark crime fiction, I immediately knew that the person from whom the dreams were extracted would be a very bad man. He is.

Part of the story centers on a psychiatric hospital and the treatment of its patients. What kind of research did you do for THE STOLEN ONES?
Longtime time residents of the Philadelphia area will recognize the shuttered psychiatric hospital that, in the book, is called the Delaware Valley State Hospital at Cold River. When I researched the real hospital – which was open for more than ninety years, and at one time had fifty-eight buildings in its complex, and five thousand patients, many of them indigent – I knew that there would be stories to tell. When I learned that there were catacombs below the hospital that hooked into the sewer systems of Philadelphia, I knew I had a thriller. One of my favorite films is The Third Man, and the famous chase through the stone corridors beneath Vienna was a big influence. Some of the other research for the book involved police procedure in Estonia, as well as the history and treatment of mental disorders here and around the world.

stolenonesWhen you started the series, did you have an idea of how many books you wanted to write, or did you just decide to see where it took you?
I would love to say I did, but alas, I did not. When I wrote THE ROSARY GIRLS I was hoping to create a good story, well told, introducing the characters of Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano. The end of that book left open the possibility of further novels, and I have been very fortunate to have published six more books (soon to be seven) in the series.

What is your writing process like?
At the start of a book I always say I am going to plot the novel down to the last detail, complete with character outlines, flow charts, and meticulously structured scenes. It never happens. I always begin with the pathology of my villain – why he or she is doing all these terrible things – and from that seed the story begins to organically grow. Once I have the basic plot worked out, my characters wrest the tale from my hands, and begin to act. As to technique, my first drafts take a long time, but my second drafts move rather quickly. I love second drafts because, as a rule, everything you write makes the story better. While wandering the landscape of the first draft, any side street you take may lead to a dead end. I hate dead ends.

Why mystery? What do you enjoy most about reading and writing in the genre?
When I was younger I was fascinated with close up magic, and studied it for many years. The concept of misdirection informs much of what any mystery writer does. The difference is that, in crime fiction, the writer has to play fair with the reader. In magic, any device that presents the illusion is fair. I address this idea in my novel BADLANDS (PLAY DEAD in the UK). As a reader, and film buff, I simply enjoy being surprised, or forced to the edge of my seat. I was quite young when I discovered the films of Alfred Hitchcock. If there is a more suspenseful sequence than the one where Ingrid Bergman tries to get the key from Claude Rains’s key chain in Notorious, I’ve yet to see it.

Your novels deal with lots of suspenseful and terrifying scenarios, but what is something that you find truly terrifying?
Like many people, I think the most terrifying thing is loss of control. We all like to be in control of our surroundings, our circumstances, and when this is taken away from us, we tend to panic. It’s my understanding that we are born with two innate fears: Falling and loud noises. Everything else, they say, is learned. We like roller coasters and horror movies because, for a brief time, we can hurtle down hills, or be chased down a dark alley by a hatchet-wielding maniac. If we thought the ride might not end, we probably wouldn’t buy a ticket.

What are a few of your favorite authors?
There are so many. Jim Thompson, Shirley Jackson, Thomas Harris, Richard Price, Thomas H. Cook, (the mysterious) Shane Stevens, Russell Banks, James M. Cain.

What are you currently reading?
When I am writing a novel, I do not read fiction. My next book will involve the District Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia, so I am now reading FUNDAMENTALS OF TRIAL TECHNIQUE by Thomas A. Mauet.

When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I like to cook, so if I am not seeking out new recipes, or tracking down exotic ingredients, I am happily in my kitchen, with Bill Evans or Oscar Peterson or Chet Baker playing in the background, and a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc nearby. I have also recently rekindled my passion for acting, and have begun working with a fantastic coach and director, Brian Zoldessy. I think I have a one-act play in me that is clamoring to be written.

What’s next for you?
I have just completed the eighth book in my Philadelphia series, titled THE DOLL MAKER, which will be published by Little, Brown in 2014. I’ve also begun work on the ninth book – as yet untitled. In addition, I am polishing a screenplay, a romantic fantasy titled ALWAYS YOU.

Keep up with Richard: Website | Twitter

In Richard Montanari’s chilling new suspense novel, a sealed-off network of secret passages connects all of Philadelphia to the killer hidden within.

Luther Wade grew up in Cold River, a warehouse for the criminally insane. Two decades ago the hospital closed it doors forever, but Luther never left. He wanders the catacombs beneath the city, channeling the violent dreams of Eduard Kross, Europe’s most prolific serial killer of the 20th century.

A two-year-old girl is found wandering the streets of Philadelphia in the middle of the night by detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano. She does not speak, but she may hold the key to solving a string of murders committed in and around Priory Park.

As the detectives investigate, more bodies are found at Priory Park, and they’re drawn closer and closer to the doors of Luther’s devious maze and the dark secrets of Cold River.

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