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Charlie Donlea's Latest Suspense Will Keep You Up All Night

Updated: Apr 9, 2018

Last year Charlie Donlea captivated readers with his debut suspense novel Summit Lake. After nabbing an RT Top Pick we eagerly awaited his second novel, The Girl Who Was Taken, and we were not

disappointed! Securing another RT Top Pick, this read will keep you glued to your seat as you race through the pages. In it, a small town is relieved when a missing girl comes home — but no one wants to

acknowledge the girl who never escaped, Livia Cutty’s teenage sister Nicole.

Now Livia is a forensic pathology fellow in her hometown, and hopes that someday her sister’s

body will be found so she can begin to understand what happened to her. Instead, a different

body lands on her table, which spreads the breadcrumbs for a mind-numbing mystery … We caught up with Charlie to ask our most pressing questions, except for of course, whodunit. You’ll have to read

to find out!

Livia Cutty is a forensic pathology fellow whose sister, Nicole, was taken during a summer beach party — and was never found. What drives Livia throughout the book?


At the heart of The Girl Who Was Taken is a broken relationship between two sisters and the guilt one of

them carries after the other goes missing. In the opening scenes, Livia ignores a late-night phone call from

Nicole, assuming the midnight call can only mean drama and eye-rolling. Livia lets it go to voicemail.

Nicole is never heard from again.

This leaves Livia to wonder if things would be different had she answered Nicole’s call.

Readers have told me that after reading The Girl Who Was Taken they wanted to call their siblings to let

them know how much they love them. You know … just in case.

Megan McDonald managed to escape from her kidnapper, but Nicole was not as lucky. Through therapy, Megan is slowly able to piece together details through hypnosis. Have you ever been hypnotized?

Yes! When I was in 6th grade, a hypnotist came to my school variety show and took five volunteers onto stage to undergo hypnosis. After falling under his spell, we were asked to bark like dogs, hop like rabbits, and a host of other ridiculous tasks that had the entire student body laughing.

I’ve never, however, undergone actual hypnotherapy. It is a psychiatric technique used, among other things, to illicit memories that a patient cannot otherwise reach on their own.

In The Girl Who Was Taken, Megan’s therapy sessions are suspenseful scenes that slowly reveal to the reader, through Megan’s hypnotic point of view, the things she went through while in captivity. The tension builds when she starts using the sessions (in a rogue manner) to uncover clues her doctor doesn’t believe she’s ready to discover.

The descriptions and details of Livia’s autopsies are as disturbing as they are fascinating. What was your research like for this aspect of the book?

My research was both embarrassing and fascinating.

Embarrassing when, shortly into an autopsy viewing, I fainted. I woke a minute later to smelling salt and

laughter. The rest was fascinating.

I met with medical examiners and medicolegal investigators to ask them a litany of bizarre questions

about autopsies, dead bodies, morgue vans and the smells of their profession.

They got quite a kick out of my inquiries and all had a common message: What you see on TV and read in

books about crime scene investigation and autopsies is just a small fraction of a much broader umbrella of

duties and responsibilities of a medical examiner. And much of the other stuff is straight-up boring. But

the best part about being a novelist is that I can cherry pick the most exciting aspects of a profession and

create a protagonist around them. No one wants to read about the hours of paperwork a medical

examiner has to endure. But most of us can’t wait to dive into an autopsy and see the ME discover clues

left behind by the killer. On the page, of course. In real life, your legs might noodle before you find

yourself lying on a couch in the lobby.

Last year you led readers on a twisted journey in Summit Lake. How was the writing process for The Girl Who Was Taken different than it was with your first novel?

The biggest difference was that I was under deadline for The Girl Who Was Taken. When I wrote Summit

Lake the only person waiting for me to finish was my wife. So the process this time around was a bit more


During a particularly self-indulgent breakdown while writing my second novel, my wife gave me a nice

piece of perspective. She told me I could either cry about the fact that no one wanted to publish my books

— as I had done for many years while I struggled to break into the industry — or I could get busy

finishing the manuscript that my publisher had paid me to write.

The crying stopped and I got back to work.

What’s your favorite thing about crafting a suspenseful mystery?

The reveal.

If you’ve ever read a book that has a great twist, the kind that makes you gasp and slam the book closed because you can’t read another sentence until you’ve processed what’s just happened, then you know how fun it is to be surprised. Fooling the reader is difficult, but it’s my favorite part of writing the manuscript. I know I won’t fool every reader every time, but it’s fun to try.

The Girl Who Was Taken has some mind-shattering twists! Do you have any advice for our readers who are amateur sleuths and want to sniff out the killer first?

Definitely not! It’s hard enough to fool readers when you keep them in the dark. Why would I give them any advice on how to find the killer? Besides, most sleuths don’t want help.

Satisfaction comes from figuring out the mystery all on their own.

But, since you asked … my only suggestion is to follow the clues. Everything the reader needs in order to find the killer is there in the pages. They just have to read carefully and piece things together. If they figure it out, I promise it will still be a fun ride. If they don’t, I guarantee some shocking moments toward the end. Either way, a bit of lost sleep should play into the process.

You’re contracted for two more thrillers, one in 2018 and one in 2019. Any clues for what’s to come for your eager readers?

Next year’s thriller is titled Don’t Believe It. The story follows a filmmaker’s documentary about a decade old murder, the enigmatic woman at the center of the grisly crime, and the secrets that emerge after an

exoneration is granted.

It’s a fictional spin on popular true crime documentaries like Making A Murderer and Serial. Look for it in

May 2018. Grab your deerstalker cap and start counting up clues! Pre-order your copy from one of these

By: Emily Walton RT Reviews 3.27.17

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