Chicago video producer, Ellie Foreman, has been absent from thriller author Libby Fischer Hellmann’s repertoire for almost a decade. Now she’s back...and soon entangled in a web of espionage, murder and suspicion that threatens to destroy what she holds most dear. Hired to produce a candyfloss profile of Chicago-based aviation giant, Delcroft, Ellie is dismayed when company VP Charlotte Hollander, the architect of a new anti-drone system for Delcroft, trashes the production and cancels the project. Ellie believes Hollander was spooked by shots of a specific man in the video footage. But when Ellie arranges to meet the man to find out why, he’s killed by a subway train before they can talk. In the confusion, she finds a seemingly abandoned pack of cigarettes with a flash drive inside that belonged to the now dead man.
Ellie has the drive’s contents decrypted, but before long she discovers she’s under surveillance. Suspecting Delcroft and the ambitious Hollander are behind it, she’s unconvinced when Hollander tells her the dead man was a Chinese spy. Ellie and her boyfriend Luke try to find answers, but they don’t realize how far into the dangerous echelons of hidden power they have ventured. When Ellie’s daughter is kidnapped and Charlotte Hollander disappears, it becomes terrifyingly clear that Ellie is in way over her head, and more lives are on the line, including her own.
Before my gangstah-rap neighbor emptied his AK-47 into his buddy, the most exciting thing to happen in our village was the opening of a new grocery store. The store hired a pianist who played Beatles tunes, no doubt to persuade shoppers to part with their money more easily. My neighbor, rapper King Bling, was helping his fans part with their money too, but the shooting ended all that. Once he made bail, he moved and hasn’t been heard from since.
And so it goes in my little corner of the North Shore, about twenty miles from downtown Chicago. There are benefits. The King, as he’s known to his disciples, gave our cops something to do besides ticket speeders. And the new grocery store gave me the chance to buy prepared dinners so I could dispense with cooking.
Both of which come in handy when I’m producing a video, as was the case now. We didn’t finish the shoot until seven. I raced up the expressway toward home, dropped into the store, and was eyeballing a turkey pot roast—the only one left—when my cell trilled. I fished it out of my bag.
“Mom, where did you get the shoes?” I heard chatter and giggles in the background.
“What shoes, Rachel?”
“The ones you gave Jackie.” My daughter, Rachel, had successfully, if unbelievably, graduated from college and lived in an apartment in Wrigleyville. Jackie was her roommate. “Everybody thinks they’re awesome.”
Tell us about your book, what inspired it?
Between 2002 and 2005 I wrote four Ellie Foreman mysteries, Ellie being a Chicago video producer who finds herself investigating murders. After #4, I set the series aside and wrote a number of other novels, including a trio of historical novels and another mystery series featuring PI Georgia Davis.
What brought me back to Ellie, aside from fan requests, was the story. Last fall I published a novella about a woman who is forced to spy on the early years of the Manhattan Project during WW2 in Chicago. That was sparked by a visit to Bletchley Park in the UK. I also visited the Spy Museum in Washington and studied spy tradecraft of that era. But I’ve always been interested in espionage thrillers – in fact, I first came to the genre by reading LeCarre, Ludlum, Len Deighton, more. And certainly, the revelations of Edward Snowden and subsequent focus on surveillance and privacy were tempting, and I wanted to write a spy thriller set in the modern age. As soon as I knew I was going to write a “post-Snowden” espionage thriller, it was clear Ellie would be the character to anchor it. The fact that she could produce a video for a giant aviation company in Chicago (that also manufactured attack drones and had close ties to the US Defense community) sealed the deal.
How do you keep the ideas and characters fresh and interesting while writing a series?
I like to say I’m “writing my way around the genre.” I’ve written amateur sleuth mysteries, historical thrillers, PI fiction, spy thrillers, a police procedural, and even a cozy. In my short stories (there are over 20) I’m always experimenting with different characters and settings. I write what I’m interested in, and as a “recovering news junkie,” my curiosity is almost unlimited. So when an idea takes hold of me, I play the “what-if” game—I think most crime fiction writers do the same thing— what if so-and-so were murdered? Who would have done it? And why?
What do you think makes a good story?
Conflict. It’s been said that a character has to want something on every page that he/she can’t have, even if it’s only a glass of water. I agree. And when that conflict continually raises the stakes so that important things, like peoples’ lives are on the line, you have suspense. For me, conflict, high stakes, and suspense are the hallmarks of a good story.
Do you have any unusual writing rituals?
I’ve mastered the art of procrastination. I can do anything besides write fiction – it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. In fact, sometimes I’ll go months without writing. It’s to the point where I really don’t know how I’ve written the past three or four novels.
What’s next for you?
Right now, I’m in the middle of my second novella that takes place during WW2. This one is about German POWs who were in camps here. (The first was THE INCIDENTAL SPY, which I mentioned earlier). When the POW novella is finished, I’ll combine both into something that likely will have the word “Homefront” in the title. My next major undertaking is going to be more lighthearted -- a crime caper novel. I introduced the characters in a short story called Capital Partners (which is widely available online) and I plan to continue their stories. Hopefully, it will be a fun story.
What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
1. Place butt in chair and write for 45 minutes at a time – do not edit.
2. Edit after 45 minutes. Then edit again.
3. Join a writers’ group and park your ego at the door.
4. When you have a finished product, wait a month. Then edit again.
5. Hire a developmental editor to edit again.
Any last words?
Yes. For readers who may be new to the Ellie Foreman series, here’s a little more information about her.
Ellie is a Chicago video producer and single mother. I’ve previously written 4 novels with her as the protagonist. Jump Cut is the 5th. She lives on the North Shore about 20 miles from the city itself. Born and raised in Chicago, she married, had a daughter, then got divorced. Her mother passed when Ellie was in her twenties, but her father is still around, and plays a vital role in all the books. Ellie is outgoing and has a self-deprecating sense of humor as well as a strong sense of fairness and justice, so when she sees situations that aren’t, she is apt to get involved. Those situations usually (but not always) arise from the corporate videos she produces. She used to be rather impulsive, but as she’s matured, she’s more thoughtful. Still, she tends to end up in trouble and needs to get herself out of it. She’s had two serious relationships since her divorce – and now has settled in rather comfortably with Luke Sutton. Unlike Georgia Davis, who is a loner, Ellie has a support system of friends and family around her. I like to describe the Ellie books as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24,” but Jump Cut is much more “24’ than the others. Although the mystery is resolved, you can’t really say it has a happy ending.
Early reviews for "Jump Cut"
"Exceptional... As Hellman’s convincing, conflicted characters face impossible choices, the tension is real and memorable."
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Hellmann's writing sparkles...plenty of suspense in this richly detailed thriller, but Hellmann’s characteristic wit and warmth are evident, too."
"From spies to drones and hackers, Jump Cut is a heart-stopping tale of corporate espionage that will have you snapping on your seatbelt. The tangled web of international intrigue is riveting. Hellmann is a renowned master of suspense, and her great talent shows in the story’s many rich characters, the beautifully honed paragraphs, and the sweep of her provocative story. A keeper!"
—Gayle Lynds, New York Times best-selling author of The Assassins
"With spooks, spies, sudden death and double-crosses, Jump Cut hits all the right notes for a top-notch action thriller. Once again Ellie Foreman is a thoroughly likeable real-world heroine, fiercely protective of those she loves, thrown in at the deep end and swimming for her life. Don’t miss it!"
—Zoë Sharp, author of the Charlie Fox series and The Blood Whisperer
"Welcome back Ellie Foreman! Jump Cut rockets to a stunning but thrilling climax… Another winner from the standout Chicago novelist Libby Hellmann."
—Paul Levine, author of Bum Rap
"After a long hiatus, Hellmann returns to her Chicago-based sleuth with a chilling tale that may be all too close to the truth."
Libby Fischer Hellmann left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago 35 years ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. Twelve novels and twenty short stories later, she claims they’ll take her out of the Windy City feet first. She has been nominated for many awards in the mystery and crime writing community and has even won a few. *
With the addition of Jump Cut in 2016, her novels include the now five-volume Ellie Foreman series, which she describes as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24;” the hard-boiled 4-volume Georgia Davis PI series, and three stand-alone historical thrillers that Libby calls her “Revolution Trilogy.” Her latest release, The Incidental Spy, is a historical novella set during the early years of the Manhattan Project at the U of Chicago. Her short stories have been published in a dozen anthologies, the Saturday Evening Post, and Ed Gorman’s “25 Criminally Good Short Stories” collection.
* She has been a finalist twice for the Anthony, twice for Foreword Magazines Book of the Year, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Daphne and has won the Lovey multiple times.
Libby will be awarding $50 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.