Tag Archives: best new thriller novel

Book Research

Moonrise Over Taos

Main Character

Darcy McClain is a former FBI agent-turned-private investigator. Although her former position with the FBI plays a minor role in my thriller series, I still researched the subject in detail. I started at the library, poring over nonfiction material. Then I conducted research on the FBI’s website. I was also fortunate to interview several agents at writers’ conferences. There is an FBI agent named Jack in Clonx, and I will definitely contact the FBI field office in Dallas to learn more about how local agents work as I flesh out Jack’s character. As for private detectives, Darcy is licensed in the state of California. Years ago, prior to writing my thriller series, I attended several courses at the Screen Actors Guild in Los Angeles, along with a friend who happened to be a retired LAPD detective. He gave me some unique insights into the daily lives of officers and detectives that work street crime. I’ve used his information as a foundation for Darcy’s experiences.


Nothing compensates for writing about a giant schnauzer like owning one, but I do not advocate buying or adopting a giant unless you have owned one before or if you are well educated on the breed. Please do your homework prior to even considering a giant schnauzer. I’ve been asked to “include more of the dog” in my series. I intend to do just that. In Clonx, Bullet plays a major role as a scent detection dog. How will I do my nose work research? I’ll begin with online sites and books dedicated to the subject, and then I will attend nose work classes. In addition, I plan to consult with fellow giant schnauzer owners who are active in the nose work field, as well as confer with a friend whose lifework has been search and rescue. The greatest reward that comes from all of this research is knowledge, on so many subjects.

Secondary Characters

I was once asked what I disliked the most about research. I don’t like researching topics such as child abuse. It ruins my day and drags me down emotionally, but I stuck with it, doing so in small doses, until I felt I had an understanding of Paco’s hatred toward his abusers and his need for revenge. After several self-edits of Gadgets, I gave the book to a fellow writer to read. She had “some insights into child abuse,” she informed me, but never went into detail and I did not pursue the subject with her. My research and her editorial comments proved invaluable. As for Charlene, her character is based on a combination of research, personal observations, and direct interaction with teenagers.


I rely on firsthand experience. Brainwash and Gadgets are set in New Mexico because I love the state and have traveled extensively throughout the area, and we own a vacation home there. The setting for Genocide is California. I lived in the southern part of the state for over sixteen years. Clonx is set in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, where I’ve been a resident for more than twenty-five years. I plan to set several novels in certain locations abroad, places I’ve lived in or have visited on many occasions. While online research might be a good place to start when scouting out settings, nothing substitutes for walking in the footsteps of your characters. Google Maps is a great tool, but it covers only the visual. For instance, after I wrote my first draft of Blind Revenge, I spent a week in Palm Springs, California, where the novel is set. I ran the exact route my main character ran every morning. In my first draft of the manuscript, I made no mention of the pungent smell of manure that permeated the desert air as I neared the horse stables that bordered the drainage culvert. Nor did I write about the distant hum of vehicle traffic from the main thoroughfare. Some things Google just can’t capture.

Technical Material

While doing scientific research for a particular thriller, I am not only delving into one specific topic but am also constantly on the lookout for the next technological advancement that will appear in the book. So my research efforts are ongoing. I read a lot of nonfiction, most technical in nature, subscribe to several science magazines, conduct extensive online searches, interview experts on the technical subject matter I have chosen for a book, and I draw upon personal experience, as I did in Gadgets. While working for CooperVision Surgical, an ophthalmic company, I held the position of product manager for their laser line.

Firearms and Knives

I learned to shoot at a fairly young age and was taught, early on, about the responsibility and safety issues of gun ownership. But writers who aren’t inclined to own a firearm should visit a gun store and ask questions, talk to weapons experts, and interview police officers and/or FBI agents. Many writers’ conferences and writers’ workshops host speakers and panel discussions by various law enforcement agencies. Attend those courses and ask questions. Another resource is The Writer’s Guide to Weapons, by Benjamin Sobieck.


Author Pat Krapf's ResearchIn Brainwash, Darcy and Ed Clark, a forensic scientist, investigate a crime scene in an arroyo (a steep-sided gully cut by running water in an arid or semiarid region) on Darcy’s land in Taos. As a starting point, I read Forensics: A Guide for Writers by D.P. Lyle, M.D., as well as Police Procedure & Investigations: A Guide for Writers by Lee Lofland. Both books are part of a Howdunit Series published by Writer’s Digest Books. Another good source was sitting in on panel discussions and listening to qualified speakers at writers’ conventions who gave workshops and talks on CSI work. Fascinated by the topic, I spent months researching anything CSI related, most of the information gleaned from material I found online or from books I had purchased on the subject. Only then was I ready to break down the information that applied to the scenes in Brainwash. As for types of crime scene searches, I researched overlapping zone searches, strip searches, spiral searches, and grid searches. I opted for a grid search as the most thorough technique for hunting for evidence in the arroyo. I did some in-depth reading on lifting shoe prints, dusting for fingerprints, collecting evidence, and how best to protect that evidence from contamination until it could be analyzed by a test laboratory. Because I anticipate that Darcy will be involved in future CSI work, my research is ongoing. Another valuable site has been the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, and last month I read Marilyn T. Miller’s book, Crime Scene Investigation Laboratory Manual. Ms. Miller is a former crime scene investigator and forensic scientist. And lately, I finished digesting the Texas Law Enforcement Explorer Training Guide. In closing, true firsthand knowledge can’t be beat, but acquiring it isn’t always practical, and today via certain social media sites and other online resources, there is a wealth of information at your disposal. All you have to do is seek it out.

Glossary/Photo Blogs

I plan to devote several blogs to a glossary. I will give a detailed description of each term and include a photo for easy identification. I also plan to do a series of photo blogs showing the exact locations I chose for scenes in my novels, such as the Brainwash crime scene in the arroyo on Darcy’s land in Taos. Until then, Happy New Year and best wishes for 2016!

Next week: “Why Did You Self-Publish Your Thriller Series?”

Europe 2013: The Prado Museum – Madrid, Spain


Stained Glass Dome, Westin Palace, Madrid

Stained Glass Dome, Westin Palace, Madrid

Friday morning, I made a second pass through the breakfast buffet while Dave mapped out his must-see list for our visit to the Prado museum. Polishing off a croissant, I skimmed a short history of our hotel—The Westin Palace, Madrid. The building was commissioned by King Alfonso XIII in 1912 and has an enormous stained glass dome that tops the regal structure. However, the hotel entrance was an understatement in comparison to the grandeur of the interior with its sweeping marble floors and ornate staircases. Dave’s sudden declaration that he had completed his Prado list broke into my idle musings. He ushered me through the lobby and out the front doors for the Museo Nacional del Prado. The current collection has around 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 4,800 prints, and 8,200 drawings. We definitely had a lot to see.

The warm, morning sun felt good as we strolled to the corner and crossed the street to the museum, a mere five-minute walk from our hotel. Tickets in hand, we queued up, ready to go through security. From behind us, someone called out, “Hey, you two.” We turned to see the British couple we had met in Toledo, the day the four of us got lost trying to reach the railway station. We cleared security, exchanged a few pleasantries, and went our separate ways.

Palacio de Cristal

Palacio de Cristal

For hours, we traipsed through what is unquestionably the largest and finest collection of European art. But in the third hour, I left Dave with El Greco, de Goya, and Titian and went in search of Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656). Like many who know the painting, I had been charmed by a child I had never met, as was Velázquez, the court painter commissioned to paint Margarita Theresa, the privileged daughter of Philip IV and Mariana of Austria. Always the center of attention, Margarita was destined, one day, to be an empress. In several of Velázquez’s paintings, she appears to revel in her appearance; the rich brocade gowns and elaborate hairdos were all mandatory fashion for any grand lady. As a child of the Spanish Habsburgs, she was betrothed to her maternal uncle and paternal cousin, Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor. It was required that she maintain her succession to the Spanish throne and that her succession rights pass to her descendants. In 1665, the fifteen-year-old Margarita left Spain for Austria and was married in Vienna in 1666. Despite the couple’s eleven-year age difference, she and Leopold were supposedly very happy together, sharing a love of music and theater. Tragically, at the age of just twenty-one, Margarita Theresa died, debilitated after giving birth to four children and enduring many miscarriages. She is buried in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna. Her only surviving child, Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria, gave birth to three children, all of whom died in childhood. Maria herself died at age twenty-three.

The Habsburgs were one of the most powerful dynasties of Medieval and Renaissance Europe, reigning over huge territories from the mountains in Switzerland to swaths of Austria, Hungary, Italy, France, and Spain, even controlling land from the Philippines to the Americas. But they maintained sovereignty by rarely marrying outside the dynasty. From 1516 to 1700, an estimated 80 percent of the marriages were consanguineous, or between close blood relatives. Most often, these unions were between first cousins, double first cousins, and uncles and nieces. As a direct result of this inbreeding, infant and child mortality rose 50 percent among the Spanish Habsburgs. In 1700, an entire dynasty of kings came to an end when Charles II of Spain died from a panoply of health defects. Physically disabled, mentally challenged, and disfigured, he died senile and plagued with epileptic seizures. He had two wives but no offspring. Of the thirty-four children born to the Spanish Habsburgs, half died before their tenth birthday and ten died before their first, most likely the result of generations of inbreeding. Could the same marital practices that built a powerful dynasty have also caused its demise?

Dwelling on this sad conclusion, I sought out the works of Hieronymus Bosch, who produced at least sixteen triptychs, of which eight are still fully intact. The Last Judgment, created after 1482, currently resides at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Austria. Having seen this triptych on a prior European visit, I was interested in viewing more of Bosch’s work. In the late sixteenth century, Philip II of Spain acquired many of Bosch’s paintings, so the Prado owns The Adoration of the Magi, The Garden of Earthly Delights, the tabletop painting of The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things, The Haywain Triptych, and The Stone Operation. Although Bosch signed several of his pieces, he dated very few. The Haywain Triptych dates back to around 1516, the date established by means of dendrochronological research. The Garden of Earthly Delights, dated between 1490 and 1510, is his best-known and most ambitious complete work. It has been housed in the Museo Nacional del Prado since 1939.

Palacio de Cristal

Palacio de Cristal

From the triptychs, I moved to the piece I had come to see—The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things, completed around 1500 or later. The oil-on-wood panels are a series of circular images—four small circles surround one large circle in which the seven deadly sins are depicted. In the center of the large circle is a pupil, possibly the eye of God. Below the image of Christ emerging from his tomb is the inscription Cave Cave Deus Videt (Beware, Beware, God Sees). The painting was intended as a deterrent to those who were tempted to engage in sinful acts. “Greed” depicts people being boiled in gold pots. In “Pride,” a demon holds a mirror for a vain woman. In “Wrath,” a man is about to murder a woman. “Gluttony” shows everyone eating or drinking more than their share. “Avarice” depicts taxpayers trying to squeeze more out of a hardworking man (or that’s my interpretation). “Envy” shows a man dressed in expensive white garments who appears to be the object of jealousy. “Sloth” depicts a nun standing and a woman sitting. Though greedy people were shown being boiled in gold pots, I wasn’t quite sure what the punishment was for the remaining six sins, and really had no idea what “Lust” depicted, until I did some research on Bosch’s work. In an article written by Sally A. Struthers, “The Seven Deadly Sins of Hieronymous Bosch,” she states, “Next Luxuria (Lust). Two pairs of lovers dawdle inside a tent. Outside a jester is beaten with a big spoon, in those times an emblem of illicit love. Musical instruments litter the foreground, illustrating the Flemish proverb that “music-making leads to love-making.”

But the four last things appeared to be pretty straightforward. “Death of a Sinner” shows a dying man receiving the last rites from a priest. In “Glory,” the saved enter heaven. In “Judgment,” angels are waking the dead, while Christ is shown in glory. Finally, in “Hell,” demons torment the sinners. What bothered me most about this work was not its subject but knowing that recent dendrochronological dating had revived the controversy that the painting was done by a student of Bosch, not Bosch himself.

Boating Lake at El Retiro

Boating Lake at El Retiro

I checked the time. I had agreed to meet Dave near another of my favorite artists, Albrecht Dürer. I fell in love with his work the first time I laid eyes on his self-portrait in the Louvre, Paris. Nearing the end of the fourth hour, my mind began to wander to things other than art, such as whether the Prado would be a good setting for a scene in a future Darcy McClain thriller. My imagination was running wild when Dave tapped me on the shoulder. I said goodbye to Dürer and accepted Dave’s suggestion of some shopping. I had just the place in mind—Lola Fonseca.

Lola’s small retail shop/workshop offers a variety of hand-painted silk scarves, foulards, shawls, and beautiful fans. We entered the store to find Lola at work hand-painting a turquoise silk scarf, her dog Lana sprawled on the floor. With Lola being friendly and not pressuring me to buy, I perused the scarves for a good twenty minutes before making my purchases. It was a tough decision with so many wonderful colors and designs to choose from.



After this brief shopping spree, we took a leisurely walk to Parque del Buen Retiro (Park of the Pleasant Retreat)—or simply El Retiro, as the locals refer to it. The park is one of the largest in Madrid and belonged to the Spanish monarchy until it opened to the public. We paused at the boating lake to snap photos of a few rowers enjoying the warm day and carried on to what I really wanted to see—Palacio de Cristal. The palace, modeled on London’s Crystal Palace, was designed by architect Ricardo Velásquez Bosco and made almost entirely of glass set in an iron framework on a stone base. It was built in 1887 to house exotic flora and fauna as part of an exhibition on the Philippines, which was still a Spanish colony. Today it is used for contemporary art exhibitions. Not far from the park, we spotted people sitting at tables under a grove of trees. As we drew closer, we noticed they were eating paella. We ordered one to share, as well as one icy cold beer. We didn’t want to spoil our appetites for dinner by eating too much that late in the day.

El Barrill de las Letras, a recommendation from our hotel concierge, was a good dinner choice. We started with clams on the half shell, followed by grilled octopus, grilled asparagus, and an order of sole “roasted in its skin.” To wash down our delicious seafood, we chose a good Spanish white wine. Full, we walked off the meal with a short stroll, then retired to our room to pack, for the next day we were flying back to the US.

Next week, I am taking a short break from blogging before I begin a new series of posts on October 22nd. These will focus on book and writing-related topics, as well as comment on and answer questions from my readers and blog subscribers.

Next week: “Boucheron 2015: Murder Under the Oaks – Raleigh, North Carolina.”

Europe 2013: Jerónimos Monastery – Lisbon, Portugal



Jerónimos Monastery, Lisbon, Portugal


Sao Roque church, exterior

Sao Roque church, exterior

The Altis had a nice rooftop restaurant, Rossio, so we started the day with a substantial breakfast on the sunny upper deck overlooking the city. Then we grabbed our daypacks and headed out to see “the church with the plainest façade, but with one of the city’s richest interiors”—Igreja de São Roque. The bland, whitewashed exterior was indeed a dichotomy to the exquisite, richly decorated  interior. Built in the sixteenth century, it has eight chapels, each a masterpiece of Baroque art, but the most notable is the eighteenth-century chapel of St. John the Baptist, considered the “world’s most expensive chapel.” It was designed and constructed in Rome using the most costly materials available: ivory, agate, lapis, gold, silver, and porphyry, then blessed by the Pope before it shipped, in 1747, to Lisbon. Amazingly, it survived the earthquake of 1755 virtually unscathed. Adjoining the church is the Museum of Sacred Art. It houses an impressive collection of baroque silver, and a pair of elaborately decorated bronze-and-silver torch holders.

Sao Roque interior, the altar of St. John the Baptist

Sao Roque interior, the altar of St. John the Baptist


Igreja de São Roque was built as a shrine to house a relic of Saint Rocco, who was canonized for healing plague victims. His feast is commemorated on August 16th. Rocco was born into nobility around 1340 A.D. in Montpellier, France. At birth, his parents noticed a red, cross-shaped birthmark on his chest, and at a young age he showed a deep devotion to God. Early in his young life, his parents died and left him under the care of his rich uncle, the Duke of Montpellier. In adulthood, Rocco distributed his wealth among the poor, took a vow of poverty, and left France for Rome, where he cured many from the dreaded black plague, which was rampant in Italy. Eventually, he too contracted the disease and was banished from the city. He found refuge in a cave on the outskirts of town. Miraculously, a dog befriended him and brought him scraps from a nearby castle. One day, the lord of the castle followed the dog and discovered Rocco. The lord took him home and cared for him, but Rocco never truly regained his strength. He spent three more years traveling in Italy, until he returned to France. Weak and sickly in appearance, his fellow townspeople did not recognize him and suspected him of spying. They threw him in jail where he remained for five years. On August 16, 1378, a guard reported that Rocco was near death, and his crumpled body was radiating a blue light. The governor demanded to know Rocco’s true identity. “I am your nephew,” he said. In disbelief, the uncle had Rocco disrobed. The moment he saw the red cross-like mark on his nephew’s chest he knew the truth, but by then Rocco had left this life. Saint Rocco is venerated by the Roman Catholic Church as the protector against contagious diseases, and he is the patron saint of dogs. He is symbolized as a pilgrim with a dog at his side, and often the dog is licking a wound on the saint’s leg. His body is entombed in glass at the church of San Rocco in Venice, Italy.

St. Rocco, patron saint of dogs and the plague

St. Rocco, patron saint of dogs and the plague

We left the church and caught the metro to Belém. We wished we had had the time during our stay at the Altis Belém to have toured the Jerónimos Monastery, but time didn’t permit, so now we were on our way back to the town. The monastery was a stunning work of art, a grand structure that exuded wealth and power, and for a religious order that embraced the Rule of St. Augustine, I wondered how the monks concentrated on prayers when surrounded by such ornateness.

Built in 1502, during the Age of Discovery, to commemorate Vasco de Gama’s successful voyage to India, the style of the monastery is Manueline architecture, the same style as the Belém Tower, which is located nearby. The architectural style is unique to Portugal, and is a combination of Flamboyant Gothic, Moorish, and early Renaissance influences. It is characterized by an elaborate use of sculptural detail, most are maritime motifs, stone carvings of coils of rope, sea monsters, coral, and the like, depicting the world exploration at sea. Construction was funded by treasures from explorations in Africa, Asia, and South America, as well as stiff tariffs on the Portuguese-controlled spice trade. The architect was Diogo de Boitaca, a Frenchman, and the location was on the banks of the Tagus River.

Upon completion, the king invited the powerful Hieronymites, the order of Saint Jerome, to occupy the monastery. The hermit monks strictly adhered to the Rule of St. Augustine, a rule governed by chastity, poverty, obedience, solitude, labor, prayer, fasting and abstinence, care of the sick, and silence during meals. It helped that these monastic hermits also shared the king’s political views. The Hieronymites occupied Jerónimos for four hundred years, until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1833. During the 1755 earthquake, the monastery was damaged, but not destroyed, and after many restoration projects is now state property and open to the public. My only disappointment, as is the case with many historical sites, only a small portion of the buildings are available for public viewing. For such a colossal structure, I felt a bit cheated that we only saw the cloisters, the entrance to the former refectory, the church interior, and the courtyard garden. Side note: go early to avoid the mass descension of tourists.

We took the metro to within a few blocks of our hotel and ducked into the first outdoor cafe we spotted. We nursed espressos and snacked on pastéis de nata, Portuguese egg tart pastries sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar. Recharged, we were ready to ride the funicular system. There are four but we only rode two, and technically one was actually an elevator, not a true funicular. The second oldest funicular is Ascensor da Gloria, also the most popular with tourists. It serves the Bairro Alto and Praca dos Restauradores, a historic square. The last one is Elavador de Santa Justa, also known as “Elevator of Carmo,” was first put in use in 1902. Its purpose is to move people up and down Carmo Hill, unless you want to climb the fifty-foot spiral staircase to be treated to a panoramic view of Lisbon. The elevator rises to a height of one-hundred-and-forty-seven feet. The designer, Raoul de Mesnier du Ponsard, was inspired by the architecture of the Eiffel Tower.

St. Dominic, Sao Domingos, the church between two buildings

St. Dominic, Sao Domingos, the church between two buildings

Late afternoon, we boarded the Carmo elevator and descended the hill. Our destination was Igreja de São Domingos (Church of St. Dominic) for Saturday vigil mass. The church was dedicated in 1241 and was once the largest church in Lisbon. Although heavily damaged during the earthquakes of 1531 and 1755, then devastated by a fire in 1959 that destroyed most of the interior, the church has been restored, but still shows signs of the destructive fire. As we approached the entrance we weren’t sure we had the right location, because the structure was sandwiched between two buildings. However, the cross on the rooftop told us we were probably in the right place.

Not as richly appointed as Igreja de São Roque, St. Dominic had its own beauty. The main styles are Mannerism and Baroque. The chancel is black marble and dramatic, and the ceiling is a warm rose color, complimenting the black marble. As I made my way down the center aisle, a woman behind me gently touched my shoulder and whispered, “Watch your step.” A statement of that nature can mean just about anything to a thriller writer, and I was pondering her cryptic remark, she nodded to her right. I followed her gaze to the row of chairs sitting about a foot below the main aisle. She smiled. I wondered how many unsuspecting tourists had fallen into their seats rather than stepped down into them. I thanked her for saving me from a foolish mistake by returning her smile. When I attended mass I didn’t know about the earthquakes or the fire, so as I looked about I knew something wasn’t quite right, but couldn’t immediately detect what until I noticed cracks in the church columns and the missing facial features or body parts on some of the statues. It saddened me to see such destruction, but the spiritually moving mass was richer than any materialistic adornment in any church in the world.

That morning, at the recommendation of our concierge, we had made reservations at Sacramento do Chiado. Since we were dining much later than normal, we skipped the starters and passed on dessert, going straight for the mains and a good bottle of Portuguese white wine. We ordered paella, a dish my mother had mastered. Living close to the ocean most of my adolescence, I was raised on an abundance of fresh fish and shellfish, and I loved rice, a staple my Southern father never seemed to tire of, so as children we certainly ate our share. Marry the two, fish and rice, and you have paella. The dish at Sacramento was very good, but it’s tough to beat my mother’s rendition.

Next week: “Europe 2013: Suances, Spain.”