Violence against women, especially sexual violence, scares me. Even in fiction. So why is the heroine in my Green Dory Inn Mystery series a survivor of human trafficking? Short answer: I don’t know. Longer answer. I don’t know, but the idea kept popping up until I decided I’d better cooperate in case there was a …
Lisa Harris is a Christy Award winner and the winner of the Best Inspirational Suspense Novel for 2011 from Romantic Times. The author of almost thirty books, including Dangerous Passage, Fatal Exchange, and Hidden Agenda, Harris and her family have spent twelve years living as missionaries in southern Africa. They currently live in Mozambique where she leads a women’s ministry and runs a nonprofit organization that works alongside their church-planting ministry. Learn more at www.lisaharriswrites.com.
Janet: Welcome, Lisa, and thanks for taking time to join us. I’m sure this is a busy time for you, with the release of your new novel. Each installment of Southern Crimes builds on the previous ones, and Hidden Agenda has a pretty major spoiler for the earlier books: Michael Hunt is alive. I’d been secretly wishing for this, and I hope he can stay alive until the end of the book!
Lisa: Thanks so much for having, Janet! I knew from the beginning I wanted to tell Michael’s story. There was something about him that just wouldn’t let me go! 🙂 So, yes, I loved writing his story, and don’t worry… I had to have a happy ending to the series!
Janet: Hidden Agenda is book 3 in the Southern Crimes series. Do readers need to read books 1 and 2 first? Tell us a bit about the series.
Lisa: I did my best to make each story a stand alone book, meaning the main mystery in each book does conclude. But the three books are definitely tied together. So while you can read book three by itself, to get the entire Hunt family story, it’s best to read them in order.
Janet: I agree! One thing I’m curious about: you’re serving as a missionary in Mozambique, an exotic location in its own right. Why did you decide to set these stories in Atlanta?
Lisa: Several years ago, I wrote Blood Ransom, a novel that focused on human trafficking in Africa. At the time, I had no idea this was an issue in the US. With this new series, I decided that setting this story in the US, the backdrop of human trafficking would not only make an exciting story, but would also help people become aware of this very real issue. Atlanta ended up being the perfect backdrop then for this new series.
Janet: I see your Love Inspired novel, Taken, which releases next month, is set in the US and in Paris. Might we see some fiction from you that visits African settings?
Lisa: Yes! I have several, actually. Blood Ransom and Blood Covenant are both romantic suspense set in a fictional African country and deal with human trafficking and refugee camps. An Ocean Away is a historical set in Rhodesia and New York City in the 1920s. Earlier this year, LIS published Deadly Safari that is set in South Africa. I’m really excited because LIS wants me to continue writing international romantic suspense which I love! I just finished another one for them that will come out next fall and is set off the coast of West Africa.
Janet: It’s great to see more international fiction! Lisa, in the Southern Crimes series, you don’t just give us “cop dramas” – your characters have complicated family dynamics and relationships, which makes them feel more real. Avery is dealing with life as a widow and single mom, Emily hears her biological clock ticking but doesn’t need a mate to be complete, and Michael’s humanity will come out as we read his story. I’m sure this helps you relate to them as you write. What do readers say about your characters?
Lisa: That is exactly what I want my readers to feel, Janet! I want my stories to be fast-paced and exciting, but I also want to show how real people might react to difficult, intense situations. And how God can use them in spite of their weaknesses. My publisher just showed me a review from Suspense Magazine that I love. The reviewer said, “Harris’ appealing characters—especially deaf and brilliant Ivan, a great example of someone with a sensory challenge who is not disabled because of it…” I loved that a reader saw that.
Janet: Now that I’ve read the novel, I can say I appreciated Ivan as well. Do you have a favourite character in the series?
Lisa: That is so hard! I’m going to go with Emily in book two, because I think she’s the most like me. I would have been terrified in the situation she faced, which is why I loved watching her struggle and grow through the experience.
Janet: Thinking about Hidden Agenda, what’s the novel’s theme? Or what do you want readers to take away when they’re done?
Lisa: I’d like them to be able to look at their own lives—their own faith—and realize that God is still in control even if everything seems to be falling apart. At one point in the story, Michael says, ‘Sometimes there simply aren’t answers. At least not the answers we’re looking for. Walking through the fire forces us to face God. To strip our souls of all of the charades we play, until we see only Him.‘ That’s what I want for my own life. To truly see Him!
Janet: Michael’s experiences earn him the right to speak like that. There’s nothing trite in his words. These novels must have required a lot of research. What’s the oddest bit of trivia you’ve picked up?
Lisa: You’re right. I Google the craziest things, sometimes. Things I wish I didn’t know about the cartel, the beautiful Georgia barrier islands, electronic bugs, spy equipment, and bombs for example. One interesting bit of trivia I recently learned was that you can pretty easily escape if ever tied up with duct tape. (At least according to YouTube). That was a surprise to me. One of the most interesting books I ever had to research was An Ocean Away. I read a couple fascinating books about the culture of Rhodesia that were almost a hundred years old, as well as New York City trivia from the 1920’s. I had to force myself to stop researching many times in order to actually write!
Janet: Is there another Southern Crimes novel in the works, or what’s next?
Lisa: No, sadly I’ve had to leave the Hunt family behind as far as writing goes. But I’m not currently writing another series for Revell that will come out next Fall that I’m super excited about! It’s a series about a missing person task force. More information about it soon!
Janet: I’ll be watching for it! What got you started writing?
Lisa: It was something I always wanted to do, but didn’t really start until my eldest was born. He was the perfect baby and slept a lot while I was a stay-at-home mom with no car. So I decided to write a book and I did. I haven’t stopped writing since!
Janet: What’s life like when you’re not writing?
Lisa: While I do write pretty full time (this year especially) I’m also very involved in our ministry here in Mozambique. And until a few months ago, was also homeschooling at least some of our three kids. I also coordinate our women’s ministry and run a non-profit (www.theECHOproject.org) that allows us to help people’s physical needs we encounter every day alongside their spiritual needs.
Janet: Tell us something you appreciate about where you live.
Lisa: While we don’t go often enough, I love going to the Indian Ocean and watching the humpback whales breach while they’re migrating off the coast. It’s so beautiful!
Janet: That would be amazing. What’s one thing you wish people knew about life as a missionary?
Lisa: I think some people tend to romanticize mission work, but it’s not as exotic as it might seem. Life here is day in and day out a part of people’s lives around us. Like everyone there are ups and downs, and we see a lot of really tough things along the way. But in the end, we know we’re called and the hard parts are worth it.
Janet: What do you like to do to recharge?
Lisa: Somewhere quiet outside, like a drive through Kruger Park, or a walk along the beach. A place where I can be reminded of God’s presence.
Janet: Is there a particular song or Scripture verse that’s made a difference for you?
Lisa: I like to remind myself that this life is temporary and heaven is waiting! I love Paul’s reminder in 2 Corinthians 4:17 that our “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison!”
Thank you so much for having me, Janet!
Janet: Thanks again for visiting, Lisa. Readers, feel free to leave questions or comments on this post, and please note that Lisa is offering a free cozy mystery ebook when you sign up for her author newsletter.
For more about Lisa Harris, including her books and ministry and photos of Africa’s wild side, visit her website: lisaharriswrites.com.
Hidden Agenda, by Lisa Harris (Revell, 2015)
Michael Hunt is alive—and on the run. Presumed dead by friends and family, the undercover assignment he’s been working for the past eight months has just been blown. With a hit out on his life and corruption inside the Atlanta police department, Michael finds himself hunted by both the cartel and the law. His only hope is the daughter of the man who wants him dead.
Book 3 in the Southern Crimes series.
Dangerous Passage, by Lisa Harris (Revell, 2013)
When a second Jane Doe is found dead in Atlanta, Georgia, Detective Avery North fears she’s dealing with a serial killer. Can she find—and stop—him before another young woman dies?
As a single mom, Avery’s life is filled with work and family. She barely has time for a pedicure, so how could she add a relationship with the handsome medical examiner, Jackson Bryant? Or is she simply afraid to let herself love again?
The hunt for a serial killer uncovers a twisted net of illegal arms shipments and human trafficking. And the killer’s mind games threaten Avery’s stability. Especially when it looks like there’s a connection with the unsolved murder of her brother, an undercover officer killed in the line of duty.
I enjoyed the mystery and the action in this novel, as well as the glimpses of how Avery learns to balance work, family, faith and personal breathing space. We’re not all detectives, but most of us have more to do in our days than time to do it, and it’s good to see how other people handle this struggle.
Forgiveness is another key theme in the novel. Avery and family have lost her brother, Michael, and she blames another member of the force. There’s no proof—yet. But she can’t stop digging. Michael’s case isn’t solved in this novel, and I expect to see more of it in the next book in the Southern Crimes series.
Lisa Harris is an award-winning author of inspirational romance and suspense. She and her husband are serving as missionaries in Mozambique. For more about the author, check out her website: lisaharriswrites.com.
[Review copy from my personal library.]
Moon Over Maalaea Bay, by H.L. Wegley (Harbourlight Books, 2014)
Moon over Maalaea Bay is book 3 in the Pure Genius series, and it picks up hours after the end of book 2 (On the Pineapple Express). If you plan to read this series from the beginning, stop here or you’ll find out more than you want to know about plot points from the earlier books.
Still with me? Okay. Brilliant and beautiful Jennifer Akihara and her fiancé, Lee Brandt, were instrumental in breaking open one arm of an international human trafficking ring and rescuing teenage girls who would have been sold into terrible situations.
The couple has earned a break, and how better to spend it than honeymooning in Hawaii? Except now there’s not just one group of villains wanting revenge on Jennifer, there are two. Thanks to the publicity surrounding the captured girls’ rescue, both groups know where to find her.
One takes her. Frantic with worry, Lee doesn’t trust the local police (and the FBI who quickly swarm the area) to move fast enough. He, Jennifer’s grandfather, and Katie, who will be the Brandts’ adopted daughter as soon as the paperwork is finished, set out to find Jenn before it’s too late.
The novel alternates between Jenn’s and Lee’s points of view, and the pace doesn’t let up. I’m glad I read the previous book and developed a trust for H.L. Wegley’s writing. Jennifer’s enemies have an extremely bad ending planned for her, and I wouldn’t have wanted to risk what a new-to-me author might include in the text. Mr. Wegley conveys the danger without anything graphic or gratuitous.
The entire novel spans roughly 24 hours as Lee races to save his wife and Jennifer uses all her wits to find a way to escape. This is a Christian novel, and one of the things Lee grapples with is how much harder it is to trust God to look after the woman he loves than it is to trust Him with his own life or death.
As well as the action (including some impressive Karate from Katie) I enjoyed the chance to vicariously swim with the giant sea turtles off the Maalaea Bay beach. An end note from H.L. Wegley reveals that Hawaii is his favourite vacation spot, and I’m sure that has a lot to do with how authentic the setting feels.
There will be one more book in the Pure Genius series, releasing later this year. H.L. Wegley blogs at The Weather Scribe, and his novels offer “A climate of suspense and a forecast of stormy weather.”
[Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.]
On the Pineapple Express, by H. L. Wegley (Harbourlight Books, Pelican Book Group, 2014)
You’d think monitoring messages in a rural part of coastal Washington State would be safe, even boring. But Jennifer Akihara has intercepted a coded message about a human trafficking ring selling teen girls—or younger—from the US to offshore bidders. She has to act. Now.
Jennifer’s contact with the FBI needs more proof before he can mobilize a team. That makes Jennifer and her fiancé, Lee Brandt, the team on the ground.
Jennifer and Lee have survived what they hoped was a once in a lifetime brush with death in book 1 of this series, Hide and Seek. They’re smart (she’s brilliant), brave, and they know whatever happens, God is with them.
But will that be enough to save these young girls? Especially the one Jennifer can hear crying in her mind?
With time running out, and a killer storm moving in, Jennifer and Lee take some crazy risks to find the traffickers’ hideout.
Human trafficking is one of those hard-to-read-about subjects, but H. L. Wegley delivers a story even teens could read without scarring themselves. It helps that the buyers want these girls “unspoiled.” And readers don’t see inside the girls’ heads, although we’re told that one of them hanged herself with her own shoelaces rather than face what their captors had planned.
On the Pineapple Express is a fast-moving, adrenaline-laced adventure, clean and gripping. The banter between Jennifer and Lee provides breaks in the tension, but not for long. It’s also a story with some surprising, heart-warming moments.
If he [Lee] believed in luck, his would have been all used up by now. But a good and gracious God transcended that thing called luck. Kindle Location 520
The wind volume cranked up several decibels, sounding like a crowd of demons rooting for the devil. Kindle Location 1674
Author H. L. Wegley is a former meteorologist, and his weather knowledge lets him write detailed storm scenes. You can learn more about Mr. Wegley and his writing at his website. On the Pineapple Express is book 2 in the Pure Genius series. Book 3, Moon over Maalaea Bay, releases June 2014, with book 4, Triple Threat, slated for Fall 2014.
[Review copy provided by the publisher for an honest review.]