Libby Hellmann (www.libbyHellmann.com) writes what she calls “compulsively readable thrillers.” In this interview, the thriller author talked about where the idea for her latest book came from and the direction she’s taking next in her writing. “Havana Lost,” Hellmann’s most recent release, begins on the eve of the Cuba revolution in 1958. It’s a time in history that fascinates Hellmann, a fascination that began when she was a child.
“When I was a little girl,” said Hellmann, “my parents flew to Havana regularly to gamble. I always wanted them to take me along, but, of course, they wouldn’t. Back then Havana was no place for a child. A couple of years later, Castro came into power and the country went communist. After that Cuba was in the news all the time. There was the Bay of Pigs, the missile crisis, and more. Even the Kennedy assassination seemed to involve Cuba. The entire island seemed so mysterious and exotic—I’ve just always wanted to go there.”
Those trips her parents made when Hellmann was a child fueled in her an interest in foreign countries and history. However, there was also something else: an interest in organized crime. Hellmann said, “I’ve always been fascinated by organized crime and the guys like Joe Bananas [Bonanno] and Vito Genovese. The Godfather movies made them more fascinating and I wanted to figure out who they were.”
Her interests in writing, history, foreign countries, and organized crime ultimately triggered Hellmann’s writing career. She had direction, but didn’t yet understand what drove her to write her first few novels. “Everything gelled for me when I was in my third book, ‘An Image of Death.’ I was asked to speak at a women’s prison in Racine, WI. I agreed to speak, but was pretty nervous. I was surprised because the women were incredibly receptive. It turns out they felt I was telling their story, which is about women at end of their rope. They felt that they had reached a point where their only choices were bad or worse. They had to commit crimes to survive. It was one of the most extraordinary moments of my career.”
“Havana Lost” is Hellmann’s third standalone thriller. She said, “The theme I’ve been exploring recently is revolution. The last three books were set during times of extreme conflict. I tend to go to extremes anyway, and as a history major, I’m drawn to periods of intense conflict. I love to put an ordinary person in the middle of conflict and see what they do. Some people become heroes and do good things, others become cowards. That’s because revolution affects individuals, families, communities, the entire zeitgeist of a country.” Hellmann added, “At first Francesca, my protagonist of ‘Havana Lost,’ is idealistic and curious. Tony, her father, on the other hand, is very protective. But I knew Frankie was going to change. And she did.”
Hellmann is currently finishing up a book from her Georgia Davis series that started more than three years ago. After that, she’s not sure what she will write. She thinks it might be time for something lighter. She said, “I might go back to the Ellie Foreman series. I’m kind of missing her. Georgia is very dark and I’ve been in an incredibly dark period, writing about depraved people doing depraved things. I need to put a brake on it. Ellie has a nice, dry sense of humor and the books are lighter in tone. It would be good to go back.”
Libby Hellmann has published 10 novels and 20 short stories including thrillers, historicals, PI, amateur sleuth, police procedural, and cozy mysteries. Learn more about her at libbyHellmann.com.
Terry Ambrose (terryambrose.com) writes mysteries and thrillers. His latest funny Hawaiian mystery, “Kauai Temptations,” was called “More delicious than a Coconut Mocha Frap” by New York Times Bestselling author Jenn McKinlay (www.jennmckinlay.com).