Is my new thriller as good as John Grisham's THE FIRM? According to my agent, it's better.
I’m frequently asked the question: “Which one of your books is your favorite?”
My answer has always been: “That’s like asking which of my kids I love the most.”
It’s a canned response given by most writers because the truth is more complicated. I love each book differently because I have a unique relationship with each of them, much of which ties back to my state of mind during the writing process. Summit Lake was my first novel, and so it will always hold a special place in my heart. The Girl Who Was Taken was my “confidence” novel because it proved (to myself) that I could write a book under deadline. Don’t Believe It was the most fun, probably because I finished the manuscript while vacationing on the Caribbean island where the book is set. Some Choose Darkness and The Suicide House represent my first foray into writing a series, and I’m proud of the quirky and talented character I created named Rory Moore, who I hope will be at the center of many future novels.
Then there’s Twenty Years Later, my latest thriller. Despite my reluctance to admit it, this one could be my favorite. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I wrote the manuscript during the initial months of the pandemic, and sitting at my desk each morning provided a sense of normalcy that was absent from the rest of the world. Each day, despite what was going on in the real world, I had the good fortune to escape to my own fictional place. This is what it looked like:
Avery Mason is the newest host of American Events, the most popular newsmagazine show on television. Avery is on summer sabbatical and quietly chasing an emerging story out of New York. The medical examiner’s office has just identified the remains of a woman killed in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks using promising new DNA technology. It is the first identification of a 9/11 victim in years. Avery heads to New York to interview the family of Victoria Ford, the newly identified victim.
In the Catskills, Avery meets Victoria's sister, Emma. They discuss the closure Emma has waited twenty years to enjoy, but Avery senses that the news of finally identifying her sister’s remains is anything but comforting. Then Emma tells Avery about her sister’s torrid past.
On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Victoria was in Manhattan for a meeting with her attorney. Their discussion? The realities of mounting a viable defense for Victoria in the murder of her married lover, Cameron Young, whose death in the Catskills had Victoria’s fingerprints and DNA all over it. While Victoria sat in her attorney’s office in the North Tower pondering her options on that cloudless blue-sky morning, the first plane struck. The building collapsed one hundred and two minutes later.
During the chaotic hours that made up the morning of September 11, Emma discovered a message on her answering machine from Victoria, which she plays for Avery. As Victoria’s voice echoes from the decades-old machine, Avery listens to the woman explain her dire situation in the North Tower. Then, with her voice breaking into sobs, Victoria makes a chilling request... she asks Emma to clear her name.
Emma has waited twenty years to finally put her sister to rest. But closure will not be complete until she can prove that Victoria did not kill Cameron Young all those years ago. A strong believer in fate, Emma knows that Avery Mason, one of the most successful investigative journalists of her time, showed up on her doorstep for a reason.
With her investigative instincts in overdrive and her summer free to chase a story, Avery sets out to reinvestigate the murder of Cameron Young, a successful novelist who was found hanging from the balcony of his mansion. Soon, Avery finds herself neck deep in the details of a murder that rocked the Catskills twenty years earlier, one that is as bizarre as it is gruesome.
As Avery investigates, she suspects that the twisted puzzle of Victoria’s life belies a much darker mystery, and Avery is determined to uncover it. What Avery doesn't realize, however, is that there are other players in the game—including an FBI agent recruited out of retirement to go undercover—who are interested in Avery’s own secret past, one she has kept hidden from both the network executives and her television audience. A secret she thought was dead and buried.
A much bigger game than a twenty year-old cold case is materializing, and Avery just became its biggest player...
Once the elements of the plot came together, I fell in love with the characters and couldn't wait to write their stories each morning.
But another reason why Twenty Years Later is so special to me is because after reading the manuscript my agent told me the story reminded her of The Firm, only better.
Since John Grisham is one of my writing idols, and The Firm is my favorite novel of all time, it’s not surprising that Twenty Years Later might be at the top of my list and the favorite of my own novels. I didn’t write it with The Firm in mind, and there are no lawyers or courtrooms in the story. But it’s full of heart-thumping suspense, tons of secrets, a love story, and a surprise ending that should have you ripping back through the pages to see how you missed it.
I hope you love this one as much as I do.
Pre-order Twenty Years Later,
coming January 2022.
The UK edition will be published by Canelo Crime, an imprint of Canelo Publishing. It will be available on January 6, 2022.
UK readers can pre-order HERE.
Twenty Years Later is my first novel with Canelo Publishing, and I wanted to share the letter the editor, Louise Cullen, sent to me:
It's my absolute pleasure to introduce myself, and say how pleased I am to learn Canelo will be the UK publisher for your forthcoming novel. I read Twenty Years Later in one afternoon, and became swept up in the events. It was the intrigue of the cold case that first attracted my attention, however, as I got to know Avery and Walt their backstories compelled me as much as the crime. The strands came together in the most satisfying way, though I didn't see how everything would resolve until the final moments! It really is such an exciting read, and I can't wait to bring the novel to the Canelo Crime list.
I can't wait for TWENTY YEARS LATER to hit shelves, and I hope readers throughout the UK love this story!
Charlie Donlea is the #1 internationally bestselling author of Summit Lake, The Girl Who Was Taken, Don't Believe It, Some Choose Darkness, The Suicide House and Twenty Years Later. Praised for his "soaring pace, teasing plot twists" (BookPage) and talent for writing an ending that "makes your jaw drop" (The New York Times Book Review), Donlea has been called a "bold new writer...on his way to becoming a major figure in the world of suspense" (Publishers Weekly). A late bloomer, he was twenty years old when he read his first novel––THE FIRM by John Grisham––and knew he would someday write thrillers. His books have now been translated into more than a dozen languages across nearly thirty countries.
He was born and raised in Chicago, where he continues to live with his wife and two children.