An Interview with CJ Lyons of The Big Thrill

Judas Kiss is the third novel featuring Nashville homicide lieutenant Taylor Jackson. How has Taylor as a character changed and grown with each book?

Taylor is who she is - pragmatic, moral, compassionate, strong - some would say to the point of being intractable. In Taylor's world there are black hats and white hats, good versus evil. Simple, right? But life is full of change. Every experience alters us a little bit, opens our eyes a bit. That's the way I see Taylor, altering incrementally book to book so she doesn't achieve a sense of peace and finality each time.

I like loose ends. I like to torture the poor woman, put her in situations to see just how she's going to react. And sometimes she surprises me. In addition to the crime at hand, Judas Kiss is an exploration into her past, and I think the revelations make her a richer, deeper character. I've forced her into a gray area, which is difficult for woman who has such a strong code.

How has Taylor's relationship with her FBI profiler significant other evolved over the course of the series?

This might sound a bit paradoxical considering what I just said, but her relationship with Baldwin has evolved tremendously. She's grown as a partner, has learned to trust, to let her heart speak before her head. Loving and being loved is a challenge for Taylor, one that she'd never quite mastered before him. Baldwin is her soul mate as well as her lover, and accepting this new personal life (the engagement, moving in together) ultimately makes her a better woman.

Taylor's private life is forced into the public spotlight in Judas Kiss. How does Taylor deal with this?

Many women have something in their past that haunts them, something they'd like to do over. Taylor is no different. It's very, very difficult for her, because it's not only her personal life, it's her personal sexual life splashed across the headlines. The media seizes on her indiscretion and her most intimate details are exposed all over local and national television. If that's not bad enough, the situation is compounded by another leaked video that raises questions about her role in the death of her ex-partner and ex-lover. Her fall from grace is blood in the water for the cable news shows, and the local media feasts on her disgrace.

I believe the horror she feels will resonate with many women. But she's a tough cookie. She handles it the only way she knows how, by moving forward, finding out who's responsible and making sure they get punished. To use a terrible cliché, she doesn't waste time crying over the spilt milk.

Judas Kiss deals with sensitive topics such as pornography and the murder of a pregnant mother all in the traditionally "safe" setting of suburbia. How do you use this setting to jar your readers from their complacency?

The crime stories that seem to capture our interest as a society are the ones that take place where we feel the safest, which is inside our own homes. That's where the majority of homicides take place. And we all know how much the media loves a good suburban murder, especially in my fictional Nashville. There's a sense of the fantastic surrounding the case, an "it could have happened to me" mentality couple with the media frenzy - satellite trucks parks on quiet streets, reporters camped on the lawns, every moment chronicled.

This book was right from the heart. Twisted as I am, my imagination usually guides the stories. I made an exception for Judas Kiss. The murder of Corinne Wolf was based on a real case. In 2006, I saw an article from a North Carolina newspaper about a young pregnant mother named Michelle Young who was found murdered by her sister. Her death was violent, and her child had been alone in the house with her mother's corpse. The media reported a number of salient details, including the bloody footprints the child had left through the house. I watched the case, hoping there would be a resolution. Unfortunately, Michelle Young's murder still isn't solved. Her husband is the prime suspect. That became the opening of Judas Kiss, but the rest of the story is an utter fabrication.

Your books feature a lot of realistic details about police procedure and forensics. What's your most memorable adventure in research?

I have a fabulous team of experts who are incredibly patient with me. I devise scenarios then ask them if I have it right. I've done ride-alongs with Metro homicide and Metro patrol, have been to the Medical Examiner's office to identify a skull, delved into the mind of a serial killer with the head of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit.

The most memorable was the night I was out on midnight patrol, my first overnight run. We got called to a stabbing, and beat the first responders to the scene. It was in the projects, dark and dreary, and the cop I was with parked and told me to stay on his six, then took off into the gloom. I hightailed it out of the car and followed. The scene was a bad one; the man had been knifed in the stomach. His friends and family were crying. One was trying to help push the stomach contents back inside his body. The victim died on the scene. It didn't end there - we caught the suspect, found the murder weapon, had a chain of custody incident, then transported the man (a killer, sitting a foot behind me, openly telling us WHY he murdered his friend) to the station, where we saw him to booking.

I got home at six in the morning, overwhelmed. When I sat in my chair and looked down, I saw I had the man's blood on my cowboy boot. What I felt was beyond description, really, but the books took on a whole new meaning for me. Before, they were entertainment. Now, they're a bit darker, more serious. More a reflection of what the reality is on the streets of Nashville.

What's up next for Taylor?

Next fall, Taylor is going to have another run-in with a serial killer in Edge of Black. He's a completely twisted lothario, a necrophiliac who starves his victims to death in his basement. I'm not quite sure how I'm going to go on the road to promote that one...