Strike Me Down: A Novel

Strike Me Down: A Novel

by Mindy Mejia

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Overview

In this “whip-smart thriller featuring a brilliant female protagonist, a finely-tuned plot, and some truly spectacular writing” (Cristina Alger, USA TODAY bestselling author) from the author of Leave No Trace, a high stakes crime triggers a woman’s complicated and potentially deadly search for the truth.

Nora Trier catches thieves. As a forensic accountant, she’s unearthed millions in every corner of the world. She prides herself on her independence, the most essential currency of accounting, until her firm is hired by Strike.

An anti-corporate, feminist athletic empire, Strike is owned by Logan Russo, a brash and legendary kickboxer, and her marketing genius husband, Gregg Abbott. They’re about to host a major tournament with twenty million dollars in prize money, and the chance for the champion to become the new face of the company. But Gregg suspects his wife already has a new face in mind in the form of a young trainer.

When the prize money goes missing days before the tournament begins, Gregg hires Nora’s firm to find both the thief and the money—but Nora has a secret connection to Strike. Her partner pressures her into taking the case anyway, hinting he has information that could change the course of the investigation in a shocking and deadly way.

A tense and unpredictable thriller, Strike Me Down “crackles with obsession, greed, lust, and plenty of ambition, and it’s loaded with more twists and turns than a spy novel” (Kirkus Reviews).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781982133245
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Publication date: 01/19/2021
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 289,708
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Mindy Mejia is a CPA and a graduate of the Hamline University MFA program. Her debut novel, The Dragon Keeper, was published by Ashland Creek Press in 2012. She lives in the Twin Cities with her family, and is the author of Strike Me Down, Everything You Want Me to Be, and Leave No Trace.

Read an Excerpt

1. Nora
One Week Earlier

“FRAUD KILLS.”

Nora allowed the words time to land on the crowd, a full audience of mostly twentysomethings with brand-new CPA licenses still crisp inside their wallets.

“You’ve all heard, at some point in your lives, the lie that fraud is a white-collar crime, a victimless crime.” She paced the length of the stage, heels marking the distance between the darkened aisles.

“Sam White was the founder and president of Computech, a microchip manufacturer that weathered the tech crash with little more than a shrug and a few treasury stock purchases. They employed ten thousand people and maintained manufacturing facilities in China, Mexico, and Ohio, with headquarters in Minneapolis.”

The screen behind Nora flashed to a wall-sized scene of a rocky beach where a group of people squinted into the sun. Two teenage boys corralled a pair of dogs while a middle-aged couple, both fit and wearing their gray with ease, corralled the boys. The entire family was frozen mid-laugh.

“Sam White built Computech from his parents’ garage into a Fortune 500 company in less than two decades. For five years they boasted the highest gross profit percentage in the tech sector worldwide, until a whistle-blower inside the company exposed a major misstatement scheme. The SEC opened an investigation into securities fraud, share prices plummeted, and three weeks after the scandal broke in the Wall Street Journal, Sam White shot himself in the head.”

The room, massive as it was, had fallen completely silent. No one sipped their complimentary coffee. No one checked their phones. Two hundred faces stared at the one smiling down at them, the larger-than-life father hugging his son to his dead chest.

Nora glanced at the picture, a familiar swill of emotion clotting her throat, but her voice carried clearly as she swiveled back to the young accountants eager to kick-start their careers. “Sam White was forty-seven years old when he died. Computech declared bankruptcy less than two months into the SEC investigation and thousands of people lost their jobs, including me.

“I was the whistle-blower.”

Fraud, whether it was a petty cash scheme or a multibillion-dollar revenue inflation, required three essential elements. The first was opportunity; the thief needed access to the assets or financial statements. The second ingredient was pressure. Maybe that meant a gambling problem and a silent, ballooning debt or a sick family member accumulating hundreds of thousands of dollars in hospital bills. The pressure could be professional—the imperative to outperform competitors or meet investor expectations—but whatever the form, the person was under stress. They spent nights awake, withdrawn from family life, suffering from headaches, upset stomach, constipation, muscle tremors, and chest pains. They had trouble performing sexually.

Both of those elements—opportunity and pressure—existed ubiquitously. Millions of employees around the world were entrusted with financial authority simply because someone had to write the checks; someone had to approve the journal entries. And stress was the postrecession way of life, the corporate imperative to do more with less. Despite having the opportunity and feeling the pressure, employees didn’t commit fraud until the final, game-changing factor came into play: rationalization. The thief had to find a way to reconcile the crime within their individual moral framework. They created a narrative in which their actions were justified, even righteous. They deserved what they stole. They deserved so much more.

“Sam White took a skydiving trip with his family the summer before I discovered the fraud.” After two hours of lecturing on the basics of fraud detection, Nora always wrapped up the presentation by circling back to the beginning.

“I hadn’t noticed the behavioral pattern, but it was there in plain sight. Sam loved parasailing, skiing in the Rockies, and jumping out of airplanes. He had a risk-taking personality.”

Nora felt the eyes in the room, full of silent questions pressing in on all sides, but every time she locked on a face in the audience, their gaze skittered away, as if embarrassed to be caught paying attention. They wouldn’t make it as forensic accountants if they were afraid to look without flinching, to unearth what lay beneath through the power of a protracted and deliberate stare.

“We operate in an economy that glamorizes risk. It’s embedded in the very heart of the American dream—the entrepreneurial spirit. Business owners constantly risk failure with every decision they make, and the bigger the risk, the potentially bigger the reward. When a high-stakes risk pays off, when a company hits on the product of the year, the money and recognition instantly follow. The risk-taking personality is compelled to chase bigger and bigger rewards. It feeds them and can override many of their ingrained ethical checkpoints. Does every skydiving CEO commit financial statement fraud? Of course not. But your job, your ethical duty as CPAs, is to monitor the risk environment of your company and understand the elements of the fraud triangle.

“Opportunity. Pressure. Rationalization. This is the birthing ground of crime.”

A dozen people approached Nora afterward, asking follow-up questions or sharing their own war stories about corporate theft. Nora made the appropriate noises, handed out her firm’s business cards, and offered general, conservative guidance while the seminar handlers herded them into the hallway so they could set up the next presentation.

As the attendees dispersed, Nora glanced toward the opposite ballroom where a crowd still gathered around their presenter, a tall, lanky man who’d gravitated to the food table and was making short work of the remaining croissants. He chatted, laughed, and gestured with a coffee cup while the staff tried in vain to clear the buffet. When he spotted Nora watching him, arms crossed and one eyebrow raised, he winked.

“Excuse me.”

A tender pantsuit, who must have been hovering in the background, complimented the lecture before nervously clearing her throat and asking the question Nora had learned to expect since she’d started giving this talk five years ago.

“Did you feel responsible?” the girl asked. “For Sam White’s death?”

“I didn’t commit the fraud or put the gun in his mouth.” Nora thanked her and watched her leave.

“You didn’t answer her question.”

Corbett MacDermott stepped up beside her, brushing bits of croissant off his shirt. Nora ignored her partner’s pointed look. She didn’t have to answer the question, not for Corbett, because he already knew what she wouldn’t say.

“Let’s go.”

It was hard to watch a company collapse, run into sixty-year-olds working as cashiers because their pensions were worthless, and testify in trials that put your colleagues in prison, without feeling at least partially responsible. It was even harder when your boss had been your father’s best friend. For as long as Nora could remember, the Whites and the Triers had vacationed together. She’d spent summers babysitting Sam’s kids, beating one at tag and the other at chess. Later, Sam hired her right out of college as a junior accountant at Computech, constantly bragging that she was his big gun in the finance department.

When Nora uncovered the company’s scheme to inflate profits, she’d gone straight to Sam, assuming he would be as outraged as she had been to find the fraud. Instead, Sam gaslit her, telling her she didn’t understand complex accounting. Then he tried to bribe her with a higher salary, and finally he resorted to guilt: Nora wouldn’t ruin him, would she? Not after everything Sam had done for her.

“We’re family, Nora,” he said, reaching over the evidence she’d compiled and covering her hand with his perspiring one. “I need you to help protect our family now.”

Nora nodded, gathered her notes, and went to look up the number for the SEC. Less than a month later, Sam was dead.

After Computech collapsed, Sam’s wife had a breakdown. The kids Nora had once babysat started sending her hate mail. Even her own parents stopped talking to her. Nora got used to lying awake nights in bed, staring at the rotating blades of the ceiling fan. She inventoried the peas on her dinner plate, lined them up in neat rows of ten before scraping the food into the trash. She thought about moving away, but before she could decide where to go a different path presented itself.

An older man greeted Nora in the courthouse lobby as she left one of the trials. “I believe you’re out of a job, Ms. Trier.”

The card he handed her was thick and embossed. Jim Parrish, it read. Parrish Forensics.

“I’ve got a few irons in the fire.” She had three unreturned calls in to temp agencies and a head hunter who’d actually laughed in her face. Whistle-blowers might have legal protections under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, but no one wanted to hire someone who rocked the boat.

“Have you considered forensic accounting?”

Nora had never actually heard the term before, which in retrospect should have been embarrassing. She said something about CSI and swirling tubes of DNA at crime scenes, which made Jim chuckle.

“We stay away from bodily fluids, but the principle is the same. Fraud costs this great country of ours forty to fifty billion in direct, measurable dollars every year. Corporate boards, CFOs, and CEOs like yours who don’t care about the lives of their employees or customers, so long as they can squeeze a few million more. It’s bloodless, calculated crime and forensic accountants are the ones who are smart enough to not only catch them, but explain to a judge and jury exactly how they did it.”

He nodded at the business card. “We make the bloodless bleed.”

Nora still didn’t understand exactly what forensic accounting entailed, but she was also sleep-deprived, exiled from her family, and living off the last thousand dollars in her savings account. She pocketed the card and offered Jim Parrish her hand.

That was fifteen years, a hundred audits, countless investigations, and sixty-five convictions ago. The summer after Nora came on board, Jim hired Corbett MacDermott, an Irish transplant who specialized in artificial intelligence, and he and his wife began having one baby per year like they were doing a companion experiment in organic intelligence. Corbett liked to stroll into Nora’s office at the end of the day and talk about cases while she worked over three monitors and her analysts bustled in and out. Both of them bought into the partnership at the same time and they celebrated with a round of beer at Ike’s, which had turned into a round twice a week ever since.

“You’ve got to let Sam White go.” Corbett said as they walked into the skyway, leaving the conference hotel behind.

“He’s been dead for fifteen years.” Nora replied. “I think he’s sufficiently gone.”

“You know what I mean.”

“How was your seminar?” While she’d taught the principles of fraud detection, Corbett had lectured on developments in artificial intelligence, a topic that consistently drew audiences from across the country.

Corbett chuckled. “Steering me back into my box, are we?”

Nora smiled and pointed to the sandwich board of one of Corbett’s favorite lunch spots. “Your pork belly ramen’s on special today.”

“And now she’s speaking my love language.” Laughing again, he elbowed her in the shoulder as they joined the pedestrian traffic flowing above the streets of downtown Minneapolis.

Nora had always appreciated the planning and design of the Minneapolis skyway. She’d taken an underground tour of Seattle on a business trip once and marveled at how the entire elevation of the city had risen one story, leaving a ghost town of empty storefronts and subterranean alleys beneath it. The Minneapolis skyway was similar, except the actual ground hadn’t shifted at all. The streets, sidewalks, and plazas remained where they’d always been, crowded with food trucks in the summer and coated with a gristle of snow and ice in the winter. The skyway simply layered another city on top of all that. Glass-encased walkways connected every skyscraper in downtown, a ten-mile labyrinth of convenience stores, salons, bakeries, sushi counters, farm-to-table hot spots, burger joints, and pop-ups for every conceivable Kickstarter product and signature-starved petition. It was the largest system of enclosed, second-story bridges in the world and, for Nora and Corbett, it was home.

“Where are we going for lunch?”

“You’re on your own.” Nora swerved to avoid a group of businessmen as her partner stopped abruptly in front of a pizza place. Corbett never watched where he was going in the skyway. He didn’t have to. The crowd parted around him like pedestrian male privilege, or maybe tall person privilege, while he obliviously perused the lunch counter menu.

“They’ve got Hawaiian barbecue pizza.”

She checked her watch and shook her head. “Strike’s in twenty minutes. I don’t have time.”

At this point, she’d barely be able to grab the gym bag from her office and get to Strike’s building before class started.

“Ah, come on, Ellie.”

Nora sighed. No one else called her that. Most people didn’t even know her full name was Elnora. Ellie was too light, too easy on the tongue. Ellie was someone who changed her schedule around at the drop of a hat, who acquiesced to her friend’s cajoling.

“They aren’t holding any lunchtime classes next week. I don’t want to miss this one.” She’d reached the top of the waitlist for the exclusive gym six months ago, and since joining, Strike’s kickboxing sessions had become an integral part of her week. It was the exact opposite of the mental challenges that filled her work days; Strike was visceral, a world distilled into sheer physical effort and power. It was also her only chance to see Logan.

“Fine, fine.” Corbett gave up. “I’ll fend for myself.”

They moved back into the crowd and turned a corner past a six-story waterfall cascading into a pool at the bottom of an atrium. Just before crossing the final bridge to Parrish’s building, Nora reached into her blazer pocket to grab a few folded bills.

“You’re not still giving her money.”

Nora didn’t bother replying; they’d had this fight too many times. She checked for security guards as they crossed over the intersection, then grinned at the woman lumbering slowly next to the glass.

“Hi, Rose.”

“Briefcase lady!” Rose, an elderly homeless woman, straightened up when she saw who’d stopped in front of her.

Nora shook the older woman’s hand, pressing the bills into her palm.

“You busted that heart out of your briefcase yet?” Rose asked the same urgent question of every passerby on the skyway, until she got locked out of Parrish’s building and headed to the shelter at night. The same went for purses, laptops, and backpacks; Rose was on a mission to liberate all the hearts in downtown Minneapolis. The building’s security left her to it as long as she didn’t panhandle, which was why Nora made sure to be discreet.

“Any day now, Rose.” Nora touched her arm, winked, and kept walking, while Corbett scrolled through his email at her side.

“She’s a lush.”

“Said the Irishman.”

“Doesn’t take Irish eyes to see that one keeps her heart in a bottle.” Then Corbett stopped in his tracks, almost causing a collision with the person behind him, and cursed at his phone.

“What is it?” Nora checked her watch again. She had less than fifteen minutes now. “I have to go.”

“We both do.” He stalked to the elevator banks and shook his head. “Change of plans.”

Nora followed him into the elevator and checked her email to find a meeting request for a new client. There was no company name, but it was flagged as a white-glove prospect, which meant all available partners were required to attend. “In ten minutes? Are they joking?”

“Apparently it’s an emergency.”

“Whose emergency?”

Before they could discuss it further the elevator doors opened to reveal a near frantic Rajesh, their newest partner in the firm.

“Ah, thank God you’re both back. Jim is already in the executive conference room and the client will be here any moment. Please.” Rajesh waved them out of the elevator and bustled behind them down the hallway. “We’ll have an hour. I’ll do the introduction and then we’ll hear what they need. Can you imagine if we took it? What an opportunity. They’re famously private, closed door, not a single equity offering as far as my sources can tell.”

“Who is it?” Nora asked, but Rajesh had already doubled back toward reception to welcome the mystery company who’d just hijacked Corbett’s lunch and prevented Nora from going to Strike today. She gritted her teeth as they stepped into the conference room where an admin was laying out settings of spotless china.

“How did the seminars go?” Jim asked, leaning back in his chair at the head of the table.

“Fine. The usual crop of new accountants.”

“Our bright future.” Jim smiled. “I’m sure you both showed them the way.”

“We always do.” Corbett sat down and pulled the tray of biscotti closer to him.

The admin set a cup of steaming green tea in front of Nora along with a meeting agenda that made her spine straighten with a shock of excitement.

Strike, Inc.

She stared at the client name at the top of the paper and ran a quick hand over her hair, smoothing any loose strands back into the chignon. Despite all these months of attending classes, she’d never worked up the nerve to actually speak to Logan. Now an entire host of nerves flip-flopped under her skin. When Rajesh ushered their guest into the room, Nora closed her eyes and took a steadying breath, but the voice behind her wasn’t the one she’d expected. The deep, crisp notes filling the air didn’t belong to Logan Russo.

Nora turned and saw a trim, handsome man in a full-vested suit. He shook Jim’s hand with a measured intensity, and the silver sprinkled through his dark hair matched his watchband and tie, all combining to form one gleaming, deliberate package. It was a man she hadn’t laid eyes on in months, who—in fact—she’d counted on never seeing again.

When he pivoted to Nora, his smile didn’t alter the slightest fraction, but the light in his eyes changed. He remembered her, too. As she struggled to understand what was happening, he offered her a perfectly groomed hand.

“Gregg Abbott, Strike.”

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for STRIKE ME DOWN includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Mindy Mejia. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

From the critically acclaimed author of Leave No Trace, comes a fast-paced, visceral thriller where a high-stakes crime triggers a woman’s complicated and potentially deadly search for the truth.

Nora Trier catches thieves. As a forensic accountant and partner in her downtown Minneapolis firm, she’s unearthed millions in every corner of the world. She prides herself on her independence, the most essential currency of accounting, until her firm is hired by Strike.

Strike is owned by Logan Russo, a brash and legendary kickboxer, and her marketing genius husband, Gregg Abbott. They’re about to host a major kickboxing tournament with twenty million dollars in prize money and the chance for the champion to become the new face of the company. But days before the tournament begins, it’s discovered that the prize money is missing. Gregg hires Nora’s firm to find both the thief and the money but Nora has a secret connection to Strike that threatens her independence.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Strike Me Down is told from two perspectives: Nora’s and Gregg’s. Which character’s point of view was more valuable to the story? What is the effect of having the story told by these two characters in particular? How different would the book be if Logan’s perspective were added?

2. What is the effect of having Gregg’s sections told in first-person narration and Nora’s in third-person narration? Why do you think Mindy Mejia structured her novel this way?

3. Nora recalls how her parents made themselves obsolete as she looks at her son Henry. “Nora smothered the instinct to hold him closer. It was better this way, she repeated to herself as he disappeared around the end of the street, better for him to be the one to turn away.” Nora later admits to Logan that she doesn’t consider herself a good parent. Why do you think she comes to this conclusion?

4. Nora has an open marriage, explaining it as “we don’t rely on each other for every physical and emotional need” (p. 58). We later find out that she talked her husband into it. In your opinion, what led to Nora’s deciding an open marriage would work best? Did it have anything to do with being with other men?

5. Gregg explains his marriage with Logan by saying “It’s impossible to know, sometimes, where our personal lives end and the company begins.” In your opinion, is it ever a good idea to go into business with a spouse? Did he marry Logan for love or for a profitable business?

6. The relationship between Gregg and Logan and Gregg and Nora is pivotal to the plot. He is drawn to Logan because of her fighting capabilities and describes Nora as “relentless in a courtroom as Logan Russo was in the ring.” Is Gregg attracted to Nora because she reminds him of Logan? Why is he attracted to both women even though Gregg described them both as “untouchable”?

7. Nora thinks of herself as invisible, “a quality she’s not only taken for granted, but turned into her greatest asset” (p. 3). She embraces her obscurity by becoming “a faceless friend, an anonymous confidant” (p. 54). Why is this an important skill for Nora to have? How does this affect her marriage? Her relationships?

8. Nora is more worried about how Logan will react if she knew about her and Gregg than if the fighter stole twenty million dollars. Why is Nora so captivated by Logan? Is it Celebrity Worship syndrome?

9. Nora explains that opportunity, pressure, and rationalization is the birthing ground of crime. Define what the opportunity, pressure, and rationalization was for Gregg’s crimes.

10. Greg states that he didn’t understand desire without pain. Does this explain the amount of risk and planning to take down Logan? What was his motivation?

11. Logan tells Nora “just because something’s dangerous doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.” Why was it important for Logan to beat Gregg at his own game? What are some examples of something dangerous worth doing?

12. Logan is very confident about whom she wants as the face of Strike. What are the characteristics? What does she see in the people she chose to be the face of the company?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. In the beginning of the book, Nora admits to being the whistle-blower that led to the downfall of Computech, a tech company where she worked as an accountant. What other companies were famously taken down by whistle-blowers? What do you think was the whistle-blower’s intention?

2. Corbett agrees to take a Strike class with Nora, where Logan begins to correct his form. When she jabs at his ribs, he groans that he’s an accountant not a fighter. Logan responds with “Are you kidding me? I saw that movie. . . . We’ve got Affleck right here, guys. Let’s see how much ass he can kick.” Watch the film The Accountant, starring Ben Affleck. How is the story line similar and different to the novel? Why do you think Mindy Mejia decided to mention the movie in her book?

3. Take a kickboxing or gym class with your book club group. How do you feel after the workout? What other reasons do people go to the gym, outside of health reasons?

A Conversation with Mindy Mejia

1. This is very different subject matter from your last books, Everything You Want Me to Be and Leave No Trace. What made you want to write about the forensic accounting world?

As both an accountant and a writer, I belong to various networks and have groups of colleagues and friends from each career. Sometimes it’s felt like inhabiting two different worlds. This book was my attempt to marry those worlds and show how accounting and thrillers can occupy the same territory. Nora Trier approaches her cases very much like Sheriff Del Goodman from Everything You Want Me to Be would investigate a crime. I hope readers feel those commonalities throughout Strike Me Down.

2. You previously worked in corporate finance as an accountant while writing. How did you find the time to write and still work another career? When did you know it was time to quit and write full-time? And what advice would you give writers that are trying to find balance between work, life and passion?

For many years I wrote during my lunch breaks. I would shut my office door and leave corporate America for whatever story I was currently writing. It’s not the quickest way to finish a novel—it took me four years to complete Everything You Want Me to Be—but that was the time I could carve out to dedicate to my novels. With the success of Everything, my editor was eager for me to finish my next book, and the four-year-plan wasn’t going to cut it anymore. I left my accounting job to finish Leave No Trace, and have been writing full-time ever since. To all the writers out there who are struggling to find balance, I see you. It doesn’t matter if you get only twenty minutes a day to write. Guard those twenty minutes, and the words will come.

3. Minnesota is the main setting in all your books. Why is it important that your novels are set in Minnesota? Is there a big writing community there? Are there other places that you want to explore as a setting for a novel?

So much literary attention is paid to the coasts, while the middle, the “flyover country,” is often overlooked. But here’s the thing: People reveal themselves when they think no one is looking, and that’s where the best stories live. My next book actually takes place in Iowa, and I wouldn’t rule out other settings in the future, but I’ll always seek out these places where the shadows feel bigger.

I’m not the only writer attracted to the heartland. Minnesota is home to a thriving and diverse writing community, with an abundance of colleges, independent bookstores, small publishers, literary centers, and festivals. For an artist, it’s a great place to be.

4. Strike appears to be such an inspiring, yet very intimidating, gym. Is Strike based on a real gym?

Strike isn’t based on a real gym, but I’ve taken classes from instructors who inspire cultlike devotion. It’s always interested me, the dichotomy of revering someone who pushes you to the point of physical pain. I’ve been on the verge of vomiting in some of these classes, and yet I go back the next week, eager for more. It’s a special brand of insanity, but one I think we’ve set ourselves up for in our sedentary society. We need outlets like Strike. We crave them.

5. Why did you decide to use the sport of kickboxing as a central plot in the novel? Did you go to kickboxing classes for research? Are there people you met during your research that you incorporated into Strike Me Down?

I wanted a hybrid martial art and kickboxing—a mixture of boxing and karate—fit the bill perfectly. It doesn’t have the flashy jumps of MMA or Taekwondo, making it more accessible to the larger Strike population, and every attack comes from the torso and hips, which I loved from a female fighter’s perspective. For research, I took kickboxing classes for six months and learned so much. I wouldn’t win a fight with Logan or even Nora, but I could probably get at least a few good jabs in now.

6. Many authors write semiautobiographical stories or build upon real-life events. How much of your own life or snippets of various occurrences do you write into your books? Are there any characters in your books that you identify with?

Do I have secret relationships, disappear into the wilderness, and/or murder people? No. My life is pretty pedestrian and not at all useful for writing thrillers. Occasionally I’ll toss in an Easter egg for friends or family, but my characters and stories are entirely fiction. As an accountant, I did identify more with Nora than I have with previous narrators, but Nora’s life looks nothing like mine. I doubt she would even hire me to work at Parrish Forensics.

7. What set you on a path to write thrillers? Is it a genre that you read often? Do you read other people’s work while writing? What books do you tend to read for escape?

I’ve loved mysteries and thrillers ever since I read The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin when I was a kid. The challenge of solving the puzzle, especially before the author reveals the answer, has always been irresistible. As a writer, I love creating those puzzles and pushing every situation to the highest stakes possible. I do read other people’s work while I’m writing, whether it’s crime fiction, historical, rom-coms, or classics, and if I’m in the mood for a total escape, there’s nothing better than a good fantasy.

8. The two main protagonists in Strike Me Down are very independent and resilient women. Why was it important to you to have the heroes in this story be women? Do you find that strong female characters are lacking in the thriller genre?

I’ve read so many fantastic thrillers in the last ten years that feature strong and nuanced female characters, but there’s still work to be done, and we know that because the same trait shows up differently based on gender. Assertiveness in a man becomes pushiness in a woman. With Nora and Logan, I wanted to explore two classic feminist ideals—independence and strength—and push the boundaries of where those assets become perceived as liabilities.

9. You write from two different perspectives in Strike Me Down. How do you plot out your stories when dealing with more than one narrator? Was it difficult writing from both male and female perspectives?

Whenever I begin a new book I have to understand which characters own the story, which ones are the most changed by the unfolding events. Sometimes that evolves during the process. For Strike Me Down, I originally wrote from Nora, Gregg, and Logan’s points of view, but I realized during editing that I needed Logan to remain more of an enigma. She’s changed, yes, but not as completely as Nora and Gregg are transformed, so I decided to leave it to the two of them, the people who stand in the shadows, to tell this story.

It’s never been difficult for me to write different genders, and I have to credit my brother for that. He grew up with three sisters and, for lack of any real fraternal company, turned me into his honorary little brother. Growing up with a somewhat fluid gender role makes me now, as a writer, comfortable inhabiting male and female characters. Who knew all those years of noogies, wedgies, and swirlies would someday pay off?

10. In the book you write that opportunity, pressure, and rationalization is the birthing ground of crime. Is this a real framework for crime? Is this something you based the story on, or did it come later?

Opportunity, pressure, and rationalization are the three elements of the Fraud Triangle, a model developed by Donald Cressey in 1973 to explain why people commit fraud. His model has been utilized by auditors for decades to uncover financial and corporate crime. It’s not perfect or foolproof by any means, but it’s proven to be a powerful tool for locating criminals in an organization. When I began writing Nora’s investigation of Strike, the Fraud Triangle became a natural framework for her narrative.

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