I’m so proud to introduce BJ Daniel’s MERCY, the fifth book in the Beartooth, Montana series—the book that almost killed her. And ironically it’s about a serial killer. A USA Today and New York Times bestselling author, BJ Daniels puts U.S. marshal Rourke Kincaid on the hunt for a killer that leads to a battle between justice and desire. For him there’s the law…and then there’s his law. When the two don’t agree, he always trusts his instincts. A killing spree has gripped the Northwest, showing a strange connection that only he sees, and now the old rules of justice no longer apply. Forced to turn rogue, he goes deep undercover to track his mysterious female suspect to a quiet, unassuming café in the wild, isolated mountains of Beartooth, Montana.
But encountering Callie Westfield complicates his mission in ways he never expected. As suspicious as she seems, her fragile beauty and sexy charm get to Rourke. Then the gory crimes begin anew. With his heart suddenly at war with his instincts, he has only two options. Either turn Callie over to the law, or put everything—including his badge and his life—on the line to protect her.
Today, BJ Daniels gives us insight into the creation of this new book–a step outside of her usual fare–but set in her favorite location, Beartooth, Montana.
Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming release, Mercy?
I’ve never done a serial killer book because I like murders that are more personal. When I began writing MERCY (I write by the seat of my pants without any idea where the story is going until the characters tell me) I saw the opening and thought, “What is this about?”
The next thing I knew, I was on the trail of a possible serial killer with my rogue U.S. marshal Rourke Kincaid. I loved his perseverance (something writers know well.)
He took me for quite a ride before the book was finished. I ended up in the hospital at 3 a.m., 20 degrees below zero outside, with my first migraine. MERCY, the 5th book in the Beartooth, Montana series, became the book that almost killed me – and my first serial killer book.
How did you come up with the title?
At the end of the first chapter, my killer is telling her victim to “Beg for mercy.” But to me the title is more about having been given mercy (compassion, love, understanding) at some point in our lives and how that makes us the people we are.
When I was doing research on serial killers, I became fascinated by how one person in the same type of family situation becomes a killer and the other person doesn’t.
The cover illustration overlooks a small town. Can you tell us how this cover sets the tone for the book?
I write about small towns because that’s what I know. The Beartooth series takes place in and around a small Montana town where everyone knows everyone else – and their business. But there are always secrets. Also, things work differently in places where everyone knows each other, so I have more leeway when it comes to even how law enforcement operates.
You said that the books that you struggle with the most are the ones that you end up loving the most. Can you talk about the writing process for Mercy?
You mean the book that tried to kill me? I do love this book though because of it. It was hard to write, but they say write what you know. I often write about characters from dysfunctional families. I grew up in one though I later realized there were families a whole lot worse than mine. Instead of becoming a serial killer, I became a writer. We both live in fantasy worlds where we settle scores, get revenge, make those in the wrong get what they have coming to them (at least what we think they have coming to them.)
Where I struggled with MERCY was giving the reader enough information and yet not giving away who the killer really was. I didn’t want any of them to be the killers at one point. I cared too much about them and what they’d been through. I kept telling myself that I was wrong about who I suspected. There had to be someone else who did the killings. Talk about denial.
Also this book took a twist I wasn’t expecting. I think all authors draw on their own life experiences. A lot of me and my life ends up in my books. I grew up with a mother who was…somewhat psychic. It scared her. I often wondered how that ability (who knows how strong it was since she fought it) would shape a person’s life – or torture that person.
So it was bound to end up in one of my books.
What was your favorite part of the book to write?
I loved creating all of the characters. I felt I knew them by the end. That’s why I didn’t want any of them to be guilty of the murders. They all wanted to be good people, but they were flawed and struggling with the hand they’d been dealt. We all know it isn’t fair to blame your childhood once you’re an adult, but that childhood is what shaped you and some people fight and fight to overcome it and just can’t.
Can you tell us a bit more about the town of Beartooth, MT and the people who live there?
They are mostly rural people who appreciate where they live and don’t want it to change. They are often suspicious of newcomers. I know when I moved to a very small Montana town eight years ago, people kept asking me why I’d done such a thing. There are always those who dream of going to a bigger city. They are usually the ones who never leave though. So Beartooth and the community around it are people who know each other, who depend on each other and take care of their own.
How do the dual locations of Seattle, WA and Beartooth, MT add to the story?
It’s interesting but when people leave Montana for the big city it is often Seattle. It is surprising how many Montanans end up there because of better paying jobs.
But in this story you have a marshal who is like a fish out of water in a small town like Beartooth. Of the two women in the story, most people go to a big city to disappear but Cassie came to a small Montana town. Laura is a prime example of someone leaving Montana for greener grasses.
How much research went into portraying a serial killer?
I can laugh about it now but a year ago the first week of September I took a whole stack of research books on serial killers and headed for the mountains. I was off the grid for a week and did nothing but read about serial killers. I swear between the grizzly bears that wandered through camp and the serial killer true stories, I had nightmares.
Did things get too real when writing this book?
They did get too real in this book. I remember interviewing Tim Cahill years ago when I worked for the newspaper. He was writing Buried Dreams: Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer, the story of John Wayne Gacy. I remember him telling me that his wife hated it when he came home after interviewing Gacy. He said it was impossible not to bring it home with him and that thoughts of it lasted for years.
Can you tell us a little bit about Rourke Kincaid’s internal struggle?
If you have ever loved someone you shouldn’t, then you know what Rourke is going through. Love picks us sometimes, not the other way around. It is hard to go into something like that with rational thinking. You know you shouldn’t for so many reasons and yet when you see that person, all rational thought goes out the window.
Also don’t most of us think love can conquer all? Even as we are getting in deeper, we make excuses. We tell ourselves that we’re fine, that we can get out at any time. Or worse, that the other person will change.
If this wasn’t true, then there wouldn’t be so many bad relationships where the warning signs were apparent before the couple went into it – and yet they couldn’t seem to help themselves.
What is the best advice you received when writing Mercy?
To not give up. It is hard sometimes. I would go home after work and tell my husband that this could be the book that never gets finished. He always says, “Oh, you’ll be fine. You always finish them.” He’s not helpful.
What do you want people to take away from reading this book?
I hope they enjoy the mystery and the romance and it takes them away for however many hours it takes them to read it. I don’t kid myself. I write escape fiction. It’s okay too if I scare them a little. Mercy intrigued and scared me. Ultimately, there are some people who can’t be saved – or let loose on the rest of society.
What is your next project?
The Beartooth, Montana series continues with the six-book series: The Montana Hamiltons. The first book, WILD HORSES, will be out in March, followed by LONE RIDER, in July. It is the stories of the six Hamilton sisters. Their father, Senator Buckmaster Hamilton, is running for president of the United States. But as each of hi daughters find romance – and trouble – it threatens his candidacy. The future of the country hangs in the balance by the sixth book because Buckmaster has a mystery of his own.
There was no traffic on the two-lane north of Big Timber at this time of the night. Laura wasn’t that worried about deer on the highway either. There was an almost full moon that turned the landscape silver. After driving in Seattle for so many years with traffic at all hours, day or night, this was a treat.
She hadn’t been back to Montana since her mother had awakened her in the middle of the night and rushed her downstairs to an old pickup waiting just outside. She’d never seen the man behind the wheel before or since. She just remembered her mother paying him when they reached the bus station in some distant town. Most of her life she hadn’t known even the name of the town where they’d moved to before her mother lost her job and they had to move again.
That time, when she’d awakened, they were in Mich- igan. When she asked what was going on, her mother told her they were making a new start and she was never to mention the past again.
Tonight Rourke had been surprised to hear not only that her mother was alive, but also living nearby in a small Montana town. She shouldn’t be angry with him for knowing so little about her. When he’d first asked about her family, she’d let him think her mother was dead. She’d made the mistake of mentioning her sister, Catherine, only once, but Rourke hadn’t forgotten. He’d asked if she was coming for a visit.
What he didn’t know was that she hated her sister’s visits. They were only once a year, fortunately. She couldn’t keep Catherine away longer.
She never talked about her family. Nor did she tell anyone else. She’d put that life behind her years ago. But she especially didn’t want Rourke knowing. The last thing she wanted was his pity.
Given that she knew everything about him, it did seem unfair that he knew nothing about her. He’d been raised on a ranch in Wyoming. When his parents had retired, they’d sold the ranch and left him enough money that he never had to work. When his parents were killed in a small-plane crash, he’d already graduated from college, been working in law enforcement and had finally crossed her path at the Seattle P.D.
If she was honest with herself, she’d always be- lieved that fate had thrown the two of them together. Seeing him again had made her realize that she’d always thought that someday they would be a couple. She knew it was crazy and certainly the feeling was all on her side. Rourke had never had an interest in her other than as a cop. Why she’d thought that would change, she had no idea.
It didn’t keep it from hurting, though. Her psychiatrist insisted that if she told Rourke how she felt, she would finally be able to move past it.
Well, the best she could do now was to try to keep him alive, she thought as she came over a hill and saw the rotating white blades of the Judith Gap wind farm in the distance.
Closer, she could see the lights of Harlowton, Montana, ahead. All her misgivings about coming here hit her in a rush. For all she knew, her mother was already dead, taking her secrets with her.
Laura’s foot came up off the accelerator. It wasn’t too late to turn around. Or she could get a motel in town and get out of here tomorrow.
She felt that old tightening in her stomach at even the thought of seeing her mother. She didn’t want to be here. What was the point in digging up all those bad memories?
Ahead, she saw the highway sign. Turn around or drive into the heart of the small Montana town to her mother’s house, where she couldn’t even conceive what might be waiting for her?
Rourke hadn’t been able to sleep after Laura left. He’d traveled light to Montana, so it hadn’t taken long to get settled into the cabin. The fall night was still warm, although there was talk of an early winter storm coming in later in the week.
Restless, he stepped out on the cabin porch into the moonlit night. Laura’s visit had left him shaken. So much of what she’d said made sense. So why did all his instincts tell him she was wrong?
Knowing he wasn’t going to get any sleep, he decided to go for a walk. As he headed down the mountain into town, he looked at the small western community. The old buildings shone in the moonlight. The café was closed, had been for hours. Nor were there any lights in the apartment over it. Callie would be asleep like the other few residents who actually lived in and around Beartooth. Even the Range Rider bar was closed, al- though several pickups were still parked out front.
Some of the cowboys must have hitched a ride home rather than drive.
As he was headed back up the main drag, he heard an engine start up. A moment later, the glow of headlights poured out onto the two-lane highway that was Beartooth’s main street.
Without thinking, he stepped back into the shadows as the old pickup turned in his direction. He stayed pressed against one of the old building’s stone walls as the driver passed.
Callie. He recognized her in the glow of her dash lights. Her hair was down, skimming her shoulders, her face pale in the dim light.
Rourke cursed himself for being without his own vehicle as he checked the time on his cell phone. Where was the woman going at a quarter after three in the morning?
Stepping out of his hiding place, he watched her taillights grow dimmer and thought about Laura’s conviction that Callie was the killer he’d come looking for.
She touched her brakes at the end of town near the old gas station and garage. Turning, she headed back toward the Crazy Mountains.
Where did that road go? He didn’t know, but he planned to find out. Just as he would find out who she was going to meet in the wee hours of the morning up the mountain road.
He ran back to the cabin, jumped into his rented SUV and took off down the road in the direction Callie had gone. He kept thinking about the first time he’d seen her. His reaction still surprised him. Was Laura right? Was he obsessed with this woman and had been since he’d seen her face in a crime-scene photo
If he was being honest, he’d had a theory since the first time he’d seen her image and realized she’d been at three crime scenes. He’d never thought she was a co-killer. But she was connected to the murders be- cause she knew who the killer was. Why she hadn’t come forward…well, he didn’t know. Like he said, it was just a theory.
He couldn’t explain it, even to himself. Just this gut feeling… He hadn’t shared his theory with Laura for obvious reasons. She had made it clear how she felt. Both of their reasonings seemed clouded by their own personal feelings. Laura really believed he was fall- ing for this woman.
He shook his head at the thought as he drove. He’d always trusted his instincts. But at the back of his mind was an inkling of worry that he was wrong. Dead wrong.
Rourke reminded himself of what was at stake as he turned and headed back into the Crazies, as the locals called the mountains that shadowed the town of Beartooth. The gravel road narrowed quickly, turning to dirt. He had to slow down. When he came to a fork in the road, he stopped, unsure which route she would have taken since he didn’t know the area.
He tried the road to the right since it appeared to go deeper into the thickest wooded side of the moun- tains, but a few miles up the 4×4 trail, he finally had to turn around. The area was a honeycomb of old logging roads. She could have taken any one of them.
As he drove back to his cabin, he realized he wasn’t so sure about his theory anymore. Laura could be right. That sweet-faced woman who haunted his dreams could very well be a serial killer who, since it was al- most October, was now looking for her next victim.
Or she could be somewhere in those mountains with the man who did her killing for her. In that case, who had she already chosen for her next victim?