'She's Not There'

Song serves to inspire latest novel by authors

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

The Zombies’ 1964 song “She’s Not There” inspired New York Times best-selling author P.J. Parrish’s latest mystery-thriller novel of the same name.

Kristy Montee – along with her sister Kelly Nichols, Detroit natives , write under the P.J. Parrish pseudonym – was jogging when the Zombies song played on her iPod. The lyrics immediately inspired her – “Well, no one told me about her, the way she lied. Well, no one told me about her, the way we both cried. But it's too late to say you're sorry. Well, I know...why should I care? Please don't bother trying to find her...she's not there.”

“And I had to know MORE about this woman and the plaintive plea of the man I imagined talking about her,” explained Montee. “Then, for some strange reason, I thought about a childhood memory I had of walking too far out into a lake amd feeling the sand give way and I was floating... drowning, probably... but someone pulled me out by the hair. That is the first paragraph of the book. The rest? Well, it just sort of grew out of that – an idea of a woman waking up from a dream about drowning – literally and figuratively in her life – and how she is forced to examine who and what she has become.”

The woman Montee mentioned is Amelia, the protagonist of “She’s Not There” (Thomas & Mercer $15.95) Amelia wakes up in the hospital, battered and beaten and remembering nothing but her name. As terrifying glimpses of her missing past come rushing back, Amelia realizes that someone tried to kill her. Further, this individual is determined to finish the job. Relying only on her wits and her will to live, Amelia becomes a fugitive from a life she can’t even remember as she makes her final stand against her would-be murderer. 

“We wanted to write about what happens to people when they lose their way in life, when they follow the wrong paths, or false lights, or make the wrong choices. Do you ever really get a second chance to live? There is a metaphor early in the book, where the character Clay Buchanan sees that the streetlights are out on the beach road in Fort Lauderdale. He is told that the city turns them off on purpose during sea turtle mating season so the baby hatchlings, which normally follow the moonlight into the ocean, don’t follow the bright city lights by accident and lose their way – and die. The story, while a thriller, is about Amelia and others in her life making this wrong turn,” said Montee.

The sisters are best known for their series character Louis Kincaid, a bi-racial cop from Detroit, whose adventures have spanned 10 novels and one novella. However, they needed a break from him after 2013’s “Heart of Ice.”

“Maybe there are authors who never feel a need to break from their series hero, but we think it’s a good idea,” explained Nichols, of Elk Rapids, Mich., who appeared at the Kerrytown BookFest in Ann Arbor on September 13. “Once you start forcing your plots or feeling bored or ambivalent toward your character, you start ‘missing your putts’ as our editor puts it. The readers can’t be fooled. They know when you are phoning it in. But we work very hard to keep pushing Louis to new experiences and we do not neglect his character arc as we feel his growth and how each case affects him are what makes him such a beloved character… We hope to give him a very long life.”

“She’s Not There” is their second stand-alone book (the other being 2011’s “The Killing Song”). It was one of the most difficult books they’ve collaborated on over the years.
“(‘The Killing Song’ – which occurred in Paris) flowed out pretty smoothly, both because of our love and familiarity with Paris and or knack for capturing the motives of a psychopathic killer,” said Montee. “Amelia is an unreliable narrator – can we really believe what she is thinking or experiencing? Can she? – and that is a hard character to pull off well. She is an amnesiac, desperately trying to recover her past. And at times, for us as writers, being in her head was exhausting.”

Fellow New York Times best-selling novelist Brad Meltzer, an alumnus of the University of Michigan and Columbia Law School, has high praise for the sisters, even though he said – tongue-in-cheek – they make him mad.

“Kristy and Kelly infuriate me because they seem to work in perfect harmony together, while the rest of us bang our heads against the walls by ourselves,” said Meltzer, author of the recently released children’s book “I AM Helen Keller” (Dial Books $12.99).

According to Nichols, she and her sister are hard at work on the next Kincaid novel, which is tentatively titled “The Damage Done.” The release date hasn’t been announced yet.

“We are working hard on it now and it is moving along easily… Louis’s stories almost always come easy now after 15 years with him,” said Nichols. “We can tell you that it takes place in the Upper Peninsula’s copper country and that we bring Louis home to Michigan and give him back the badge he has wanted for so long.  He has been hand-picked – by his old nemesis Mark Steele, no less – for a special state police task force and he is given a cold case in the U.P. that will test his mettle as an investigator, a father, and a man.”

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