Under Pressure: An FBI K-9 Novel By Sara Driscoll: Review/Giveaway/Interview

Jan 22, 2022 | 2022 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze, Pets, Sandra Murphy

by Sandra Murphy

This week we have a review of the latest FBI K-9 Novel by Sara Driscoll, along with an interesting interview with half of he writing team that makes up Sara Driscoll, Jen J. Danna. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the book, and a link to purchase it from Amazon.

Under Pressure: An FBI K-9 Novel By Sara Driscoll
Review by Sandra Murphy

Special Agent Meg Jennings and her search-and-rescue Labrador, Hawk, normally track people, working with her partner, Brian Foster, and his dog, Lacey. This time the case is unique. They are tracking an undercover agent who has infiltrated the group that’s importing illegal blood diamonds. Those are the gems mined using dangerous methods and child labor who are always considered expendable. If the agent can pass along a clue as to the starting point where he’ll meet his contact, Hawk and Lacey can put their noses to work. An extra challenge is to blend it like folks jogging with their dogs, not look like search and rescue teams on the job.

One of the problems is the agent is never alone when picking up or delivering the diamonds. Meg has to make sure Hawk won’t rush toward his find – the agent – and give away his secret and also hope the second man isn’t one who’s seen her casually jogging with Hawk on a previous drop.

Meg’s friend, Clay McCord, is a journalist. He’s helped Meg in the past, with the understanding he’ll hold the story until it’s safe to print. This time, he’s on the trail of a big story and shocked to find his search for information crosses Meg’s. When he gets a little too close, there are drastic consequences. Will Meg and Hawk and the rest of the team be able to find McCord in time?

There’s a lot more to worry about with Lacey just back to work after being attacked by a cougar on their last search. And then there’s a home invasion—Meg’s home by someone determined to silence her.

For a thrilling look behind the scenes of a illegal operation and how law enforcement uses the abilities of all its officers, human and K9, this is the place to start.

This is the sixth book in the series. There’s enough backstory given that readers who start here won’t be lost but not so much that after reading this one, you won’t want to go back to book one. This is a series I always look forward to reading. You will, too.

Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the Arch in St. Louis Missouri. She’s editor for Peace, Love, and Crime: Crime Stories Inspired by the Songs of the ’60s, with twenty-two cozy stories. She also edited A Murder of Crows, twenty-one stories featuring animals and crime (no animals were harmed). She also writes for magazines, newsletters, and the occasional guest blog. Both anthologies are available at the usual outlets, print or ebook.

Interview with Jen J. Danna-half of the writing team that writes as Sara Driscoll:

KRL: How long have you been writing?

Jen: I started writing as a young teenager, just for fun. I did that for a few years and then got busy in high school and gave it up. I then went to university, got my Bachelor of Science degree, started a job in an academic laboratory, got married, and had two kids.

In my late thirties, after my kids were a little older and didn’t need me as much, and after fifteen hears in the same lab job, I was a little bored and had a more time on my hands, so I went back to writing. I met Ann (Vanderlaan) and we started writing together. We did five trunk novels for fun before deciding to try for a traditional publishing contract. So, we started a new series with an eye toward getting a literary agent.

Jen J. Danna

KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?

Jen: Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It is the first novel in the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries. This was the novel we queried agents with and, in the end, was our first novel to win both an agent and a publishing contract. The Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries stars homicide detective Trooper Leigh Abbott of the Massachusetts State Police and her unofficial partner, Dr. Matt Lowell, a forensic anthropologist out of Boston University. They share the mutual goal of finding justice for the victims whose story only Lowell and his team can hear – the dismembered, skeletonized, burned, drowned, and decomposed.

KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense, and if not what else have you written?

Jen: Only mystery and thrillers for me. It’s what I mostly read, so I guess it’s just the perfect fit.

KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?

Jen: We originally started the FBI K-9 series because of a lunch our agent had with an editor from Kensington Books. He was looking for a police procedural with a K-9 aspect. Ann has been a dog rescuer and trainer for over a decade, so we knew this was a perfect fit. We were still writing the Abbott and Lowell series at the time, which was set in Massachusetts, so we opted for the FBI so we had the whole country as a potential playground. We’re mostly set around the east coast, but in our recently completed book #7, Still Waters, the story is set in Minnesota, the furthest location afield so far.

As far as the characters go, we really like to work with a larger cast, rather than just a solo protagonist, so we built a whole team around K-9 handler Meg Jennings and her black Labrador, Hawk. The Human Scent Evidence Team is a real unit in the FBI, so we could realistically build a team of handlers and dogs, including Brian Foster and his German shepherd, Lacey. Then we gave Meg family, including her sister Cara, and as so often happens as we write, new characters grew organically out of the story. We gained Clay McCord and Todd Webb. The group dynamics is one of the best aspects of the series, in my opinion.

KRL: How does writing as a team work?

Jen: There are many authors who write as partners, and everyone has a different process that works for them. This is the process that works for us that we’ve been doing for over a decade. We do most of the character creation and story planning together at the front end. We use a mile-stoning method that hits most of the high points in the story but leaves some latitude for creativity as I’m writing. We split the research depending on our own strengths and interests. Then I draft the novel, using sending five- or six-chapter chunks to Ann at a time. She then rips those chapters apart and then we build them back up again together.

At the end of the writing process, she does a full edit and at that point, she adds in the chapter titles and definitions, which she’s been working on while I’m drafting the story. I’ll do at least one more pass at that time, and then send it on to our critique team, a team of four who do an amazing job of finding any plot holes or inconsistencies. After that, there is another edit for Ann, then I’ll do a number of additional passes for language – crutch words, dialogue etc. – and then I follow it up with a final pass on audio to hear the errors I never seem to see. Only after all that is it ready to go to our editor.

KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to experience from your work?

Jen: I like to explore the concept of emotional justice through my writing. Life is often so unfair, and times are hard, especially during the pandemic. It’s nice to be able to have the control to ensure the scales are balanced by the end of the tale.

KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?

Jen: I pretty much write in every spare minute I have. I have a full-time job as a lab manager, running a COVID-19 research lab, so my life over the last two years has been pretty much bonkers. I publish two books a year, one with Ann as Sara Driscoll, and one on my own as Jen J. Danna, so I have to write every day! On lunch breaks, after work, after dinner, every weekend. It doesn’t allow for down time, but it keeps the production flowing.

KRL: Wow crazy! Thanks so much for the work you do in the lab. Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?

Jen: I’m definitely an outliner. I don’t get writer’s block per se; if I have trouble getting words on the page, it’s because I don’t know where I’m going, and I need to fill in some of the blanks in the outline. Filling those blanks works every time. So yes, I’m an outliner, and I go as far as breaking it into chapters and keeping a chapter table open at all times, so I always know where I’m going… until I don’t.

Milestoning is a process that works for me because sometimes a great idea will occur while I’m drafting, but the negative of it is that some of the outlining that could have been done at the beginning ends up being done solo by me as part of the writing process.

KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?

Jen: I like writing in morning, after I’ve had time to wake up and get a coffee or two in me. If I can get a few thousand words in during the morning, then I’m probably looking at a four-thousand-word day, which is always a welcome thing.

KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?

Jen: We’ve been fairly lucky that our publishing career has been fairly straightforward. It didn’t happen overnight, but at each stage, we set a goal (sign with an agent, sign with a publishing house etc.), and were then successful. Then, when I wanted to start writing on my own, I was successful there as well in launching a new series in the NYPD Negotiators. I feel very fortunate.

KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?

Jen: The most amazing event that we did was one set up by the Crime Writers of Canada. It was an event called Wines and Spines, an evening of books provided by publishing professionals from leading publishing houses promoting their upcoming titles, and myself and three other mystery authors talking about our books. It was organized by a local library and tickets to the event, which came with wine and dessert, sold out quickly to a crowd of book enthusiasts. A really fun evening followed by a well-attended book signing.

KRL: Future writing goals?

Jen: I’d love to retire from the lab and write full time, as I have a bunch of new ideas to explore. Hopefully, that will happen in the next year or so.

KRL: Writing heroes?

Jen: Nora Roberts because I’m so very impressed with her work ethic. She’s very clear-eyed about the fact that it’s a job, and that requires your butt to be in the chair with your hands on the keyboard, but she does everything herself, contrary to stories that occasionally pop up that she uses a ghostwriter. Four books a year, every year, at that level of quality… that’s something to aspire to.

KRL: What kind of research do you do?

Jen: I’m constantly researching while writing. Because we like to mix history in with our story, or technical aspects, one or both of us is always digging into material that will help round out our story. I’m lucky that I work at a university, so I have multiple libraries and many professional journals at my disposal, if needed. And they have been!

KRL: What do you read?

Jen: I mostly read within the mystery and thriller genre, but I also love historical fiction and non-fiction.

KRL: Favorite TV or movies?

Jen: I love British TV. From mysteries like Sherlock, Grantchester, and Unforgotten, to historicals like Downton Abbey, Victoria, and All Creatures Great and Small.

KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?

Jen: To develop a thick skin (because unfortunately, you’re going to need it), and that persistence is everything. It’s hard to get into traditional publishing, but it’s a very subjective business and sometimes it’s a matter of finding just the right agent who loves your work and can get it into the hands of just the right editor. That can take serious time. Don’t give up after the twelfth rejection, or the fiftieth. Persistence and constantly learning and evolving from any rejections that came before can get you over the finish line.

KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

Jen: I come from a very musical family. My brothers are Hollywood film composers Mychael and Jeff Danna. I used to play the oboe, still dabble at the piano, and sing in a choir (well, I will again once it’s safe again after the pandemic has eased off).

KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?

Jen: Facebook: www.facebook.com/JenJDanna
Twitter: twitter.com/jenjdanna
Instagram: instagram.com/jen.j.danna
Goodreads: goodreads.com/author/show/5807939.Jen_J_Danna
Website: jenjdanna.com

Here are some Book specific questions:

KRL: There’s a fight scene with several weapons involved and physical danger. How do you make it so realistic and get the choreography right?

Jen: In Under Pressure, there’s a major fight that occurs between Meg and a really nasty guy inside her own home. I rehearsed that fight scene using my daughter and son-in-law as stand-ins for Meg and Giraldi to make sure I had everything right. They were both really good sports, and Shane was instrumental in making sure that while we beat Meg up, we didn’t concuss her again. Many thanks to Jordan for being the good-natured victim (who does win in the end though…).

KRL: How cool! How did the idea of using dogs to track conflict/blood diamonds come up?

Jen: You know how people get great idea in the shower? That was me one morning. It occurred to me that a neat way to use the dogs would be to use their tracking skills in reverse – instead of looking for an unknown, use a known person with a known scent and make the dogs the equivalent of an electronic tracker. Then Ann had the idea to make the case revolve around blood diamonds. It was definitely a two- heads-are-better-than-one moment for us.

KRL: Have either of you gone on a search in order to get the details right?

Jen: One of Ann’s rescued Pit Bulls is a trained therapy dog, and she decided to enroll him in nose work classes. We got a ton of information out of these classes, and Ann makes sure all the technical details around all the searches is correct. Kane turned out to have a real flair for nose work to boot!

To enter to win a copy of Under Pressure, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “under,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 29, 2022. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like. BE AWARE THAT IT WILL TAKE MUCH LONGER THAN USUAL FOR WINNERS TO GET THEIR BOOKS DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify. A new episode went up this week.

You can use this link to purchase the book. If you have ad blocker on you may not see the Amazon link. You can also click here to purchase the book.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.

7 Comments

  1. Great interview! Count me in!

    Reply
  2. Sounds really interesting. I would like to learn more about K-9 dogs.
    diannekc8(at)gmail(dot)com

    Reply
  3. Thank you for hosting Sara Driscoll and information about her book on your blog. I am not familiar with her books and enjoy your blog for providing an insight into an author and their books.

    Reply
  4. Under Pressure: An FBI K-9 Novel By Sara Driscoll sounds like a doggone great read that I would enjoy.

    Reply
  5. Wonderful questions and answers! Loved them! Thank you for your giveaway!!

    Reply
  6. We have a winner!

    Reply

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