Interview with Alex Matthews

By Cherie Jung
(August, 2011)

Q. You have a popular series featuring Cassidy McCabe, a psychotherapist, and her husband Zach, a reporter. HEALER'S HERESY is the 10th book in the series. Why did you choose to team a psychotherapist with a reporter as a sleuthing duo?

A. In my first book, Secret's Shadow, my psychotherapist protag has a client who has apparently committed suicide, and Cassidy is consumed with guilt for not having seen the signs and prevented it. Then along comes the client's brother, investigative reporter Zach, who doesn't believe his bro would've killed himself. Zach is determined to ferret out the murderer, and since Cass knows more about her former client than anybody else, Zach drags her into the investigation with him. I set it up this way because I wanted my series to be realistic, and in real life, no therapist would start investigating on her own. She learns how to investigate from Zach, and then discovers that she gets a rush out of involving herself in each new murder that comes her way. In choosing Cassidy's partner, I thought a reporter would be more interesting and less constrained by rules than a cop. And also less of a cliche.

Q. Why a married couple? Doesn't that narrow the possibilities of what they can and can't do during an investigation?

A. Having a married couple work together doesn't narrow the possibilities, it expands them. Whenever any two people solve murders as a team, it provides the opportunity for them to bounce ideas off each other. They can engage in light-hearted banter and discuss and argue over theories of the murder. When the two people are married, you can raise the level of tension by creating conflict between them. Readers often mistakenly think that the only issue between two people who are sexually attracted to each other is "will they or won't they." But there are plenty of interesting issues that arise after marriage, and Cass and Zach have been through most of them. The other advantage to working with a married couple is that I can alternate which one takes the lead in the investigation and who rescues whom, which provides more variety.

Q. Do you plot each book separately or do you have an idea of what is going to happen over the course of several books?

A. I have a vague sense of an arc for the series as a whole. From the beginning, I've always had several stories stacked up in my mind, and as I worked on one book, I knew which book I'd write next. A theme that weaves itself throughout the series is reconciliation. In the early books, it was reconciliation between Cass and Zach, who got off to a rocky start. In my fourth book, Wanton's Web, a teenage son Zach doesn't know he fathered appears on his doorstep, and it takes several books to work out a reconciliation between Zach and his son. In the book I'm writing now, Cass is unsure whether she wants to reconcile with her long-absent father. However, I plot each book separately and they can all be read as stand-alones.

Q. Some authors feel they've written themselves into a corner, so to speak, by their choice of cases or sleuthing partners. Cassidy and Zach seem to balance each other in their investigative skills. Is that a difficult balance to maintain while you're writing?

A. Before I even knew I was going to write a book, Cass and Zach began holding conversations in my head. By the time I wrote my first sentence, their personalities were sharply defined for me. As they emerged on paper, I could see that they balanced each other out very nicely, something that had happened intuitively rather than consciously. Maintaining that balance is never difficult because I know them so well. Cass is empathic, Zach objective. Cass operates from her heart, Zach from his head. Cass believes in doing the right thing; Zach's ethics are situational. Cass is skilled at understanding hidden motivations; Zach is adept at doing research. Both are determined, headstrong, and competent at getting people to talk. Did I mention that conflict flares up between them fairly often?

Q. One aspect of sleuthing teams that some readers find annoying is that an amateur sleuth will get information that would be impossible to gather on their own, from a lover or spouse who is a cop. You seem to have avoided that trap nicely by giving both of your main characters investigative skills of their own — a therapist, skilled in asking questions and interpreting answers, and a reporter, also skilled in the art of questioning and researching answers. There can be no easy answers to hidden information. The two have to use their skills to uncover information and not rely on someone in law enforcement to feed them the information. Does this make it more difficult when it comes to writing the books?

A. Count me among the readers who get annoyed when hidden information gets dropped into an amateur sleuth's lap. It always seems like cheating to me. But finding ways for Cass and Zach to get this kind of info can be challenging. I've frequently reached points in a book where information needs to be revealed and been stuck for days figuring out how to do it. In my eighth book, Blood's Burden, Cass suspects the victim's father, a fundamentalist minister, of having killed his daughter. She goes online to research him and learns that he moved from a small church in Peoria to a much larger church in the Chicago area several years earlier. The next day she drives to the Peoria church, talks to the church secretary, goes through a scrapbook, and finds a picture that leads her to uncover the minister's deeply hidden family secret. Digging out information ain't easy.

Books by this author include:

HEALER'S HERESY (reviewed)

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