VJ Books Blog

(Publisher’s Weekly, Nov. 24, Melissa Mia Hall)

Walking into the Dark Forest

Jan Burke, author of the Irene Kelly suspense series (Kidnapped, etc.), ventures into paranormal territory for the first time in The Messenger (Reviews, Oct. 20).

Why the break from crime fiction?

Through the Crime Lab Project, which is a nonprofit I started to help support forensic science labs, I began meeting families of murder victims and thinking about the subject of death and loss. When people are dying and at the point where they can’t communicate, what if there were someone like Tyler Hawthorne [the novel’s immortal hero who hears the last messages of the dying] who could deliver those messages? And I love the adage that you should write something that makes you a little uncomfortable. I’m excited about going down this path to explore something new, like walking into that dark forest for the very first time. You’re not sure if you’ll be eaten alive, but there are all kinds of wonders there.

Tyler’s love interest, Amanda Clarke, is haunted by her parents’ ghosts. Do you believe in ghosts?

I tend to be more of a skeptic than a believer. I do think there are some unaccountable things, like the visions of a loved one near the time of the loved one’s death that some people claim to have. I try to keep an open mind.

Were there any surprises in your research?

Learning about memento mori rings, which often included a lock of hair. The villain, Lord Adrian Dare, gives one to Tyler. They are a very old symbol of eternal things, worn to remind you of the one who’s lost—and to remind you that you’re going to die, too. I was also taken with the whole notion of cemetery dogs. In folklore, these are solitary animals who live in cemeteries or come into churches at a wake. It’s a very widespread belief, mostly in Germany, England and Ireland.

Was there a model for Shade, the cemetery dog, in your novel?

I admit I do have a dog, Britches, that somewhat resembles Shade. I picture Shade as being somewhat bigger than Britches, who’s part Belgian shepherd.

What’s next?

A new Irene Kelly, who still has her newspaper job, but I don’t have a title yet. I would love for Tyler and Amanda to return in a sequel.

If there’s one key message you want readers to remember after finishing The Messenger, what is it?

We all have messages that we need to deliver to those we love.