Imagine there was a disaster. You were there. But you saw something no one else saw—something that would change everyone else’s mind about what reallyhappened. That is, if they believed you. Now, imagine there’s another person who saw exactly what you saw. But no one believes him either. What would you do?
Austin author Meg Gardiner’s new book,Phantom Instinct, pursues that question through 356 action-packed pages. She spoke to the Texas Standard’s Emily Donahue.
“Well, they stop. I mean people have dinner, they go to the beach, and they get blown up. Everything that happens on a normal California weekend,” Gardiner jokes. “But there is a lot of action, it’s a thriller, that’s what supposed to happen.”
The action follows two people. Harper Flynn is a former thief and navy spook who is now a bartender. Aiden Garrison is a Los Angeles sheriff’s department detective. They survive a catastrophic shootout and fire at the club where Harper works. Her boyfriend is killed, as are many others. The cops close the case because two shooters were killed in the fire. But both Aiden and Harper saw a third man at the bar, and because no one believes them, they begin the search for him by themselves.
Gardiner’s last book, The Shadow Tracer, ended with a hint that a series might ensue. “There still could be,” Gardiner says. “But this [stand alone] book is the one that demanded to be told.”
The author of a dozen thrillers, Gardiner says she always has some story percolating. “Ideas are out there, they’re everywhere in the air. The challenge is how to grab them and turn them into something that keeps people turning the pages all night long.”
Her inspiration? “The coffee shop, the bus, sitting it a radio studio looking at everyone who’s around here. Anyplace, it’s all material. You just take it in and see how you can twist it in a terrible way.”
Gardiner’s protagonists are usually women. And these women generally don’t have special training. They don’t have secret weapons. They’re just determined. “I’m an ordinary person. I try to think what would happen if I were faced with the collapse of my world and chaos breaking and bad guys coming after the people I love. I think readers like to see how ordinary people find the resources to rise to the challenge and that’s what a lot of the heroines in my novels do.”
But women protagonists are still a minority in the thriller category. Gardiner says she understands that. But she understands women. “When I first started reading modern mysteries and thrillers the books that really grabbed hold of me were the ones that had female protagonists who seized their own destinies who went out an did it themselves. And I was so struck by that I wanted to raise the banner as well. And I think that it was a lot of fun to see women who don’t carry heavy weaponry or have ninja skills but who really have to rely on their brains and their ingenuity to get through deadly situations.”
What does book number 13 hold in store? It’ll have to remain a mystery. She’s working on another California-based thriller. One she says she hopes will give people chills.