Small of stature but big of heart, psychotherapist Hank Anderson has a gift for helping clients face serious issues and heal life-altering traumas. But this talent intersects with darker truths, an insatiable curiosity and a life-long penchant for personal risk that will soon threaten to violently shatter every aspect of Hank’s life.
Kenny Jensen is just the kind of client that piques Hank’s appetite for intrigue. Referred by Hank’s imposing friend Detective Phil Evans, Kenny is a delivery man and a thief. He readily admits to the crime that led to his recent arrest, and his rambling origin story of family addiction resonates with Anderson’s own history. But at the end of his first session Kenny hints at a more terrifying reality, one that becomes a threat to Hank’s precious daughter, the ex-wife he still pines for, his aging father, and his beloved and beleaguered colleagues. Kenny is the catalyst for Hank’s descent into a world of drugs and death that hides just beneath the surface of his town’s Midwestern calm and conservatism. His compulsion to help Kenny pull himself from the chaos runs Hank full speed into desperate people willing to remove any obstacle – or person – that stands in their path.
Hank is compelled to uncover the truth and guide Kenny to safety, but at what cost to himself and those he loves?
Targeted Age Group:: Adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
After four successful nonfiction books, it was time to make the leap and write the psychological thriller that had been brewing in my imagination for several years. As a life-long Midwesterner, setting my novel in Iowa just made sense. As a career psychotherapist, I was inspired to create a compelling fictional tale grounded in Hank's insider's view of the intersection of compassion and chaos.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Hank is a mashup of the wonderful real-life characters I have connected with by living in nearly every state in the Midwest between birth and early adulthood. Other characters appeared and developed over time. I knew I wanted a friendship grounded in contrast; Hank and Phil became clear after I read the biographies of musicians Bruce Springsteen and, The Big Man, Clarence Clemons. I wanted Hank to be a gifted and flawed family man, and so, Haley, Gail and J.R. became the center of a family of origin and a family of friends. I didn't know the trigger for Preacher's fanaticism until I reached the end of the second draft. Kenny's story developed as the story around him changed. My wonderful editor, Mary, had a major impact on the style and strength of Belinda, along with the emotional clout of Gail and Jill within the narrative. Experiencing the growth of the characters as the story grew was an adventure in imagination.
In the generations before meth, this had been a working family farm.
Today, it was a John Deere graveyard.
The bleached-out carcasses of broken-down farm implements had been rendered ageless by the decay brought on by Iowa’s four rigorous seasons. A rusted-out Chevy 4×4, once metallic blue, made for sorrowful lawn art. The once-upon-a-time sparkling white two-story farmhouse was now spackled with weathered gray primer where the paint had frayed, peeled, and dropped away. Sagging wooden steps led to a sagging, grossly mildewed front porch holding a mass of broken toys and the skeletal wrecks of worn-out home appliances.
On the heels of the visual assault, anyone foolish enough to happen down the pot-holed gravel road to this out-of-the-way place would also notice the oppressive quiet. No tractors, no combines, no cows, no kids. No sound but the never-ending whip of wind that recycles through every acre of Iowa countryside.
And then there was the smell. A violent stench emanated from the house, hanging over the property, as if contained by the rolling hills, evergreens and rock-strewn fields that separated this land from a better place. Harsh chemicals and harsher death.
It was not particularly unusual that tragedy had visited such a place. Cooking meth, with a heavy focus on personal consumption, is not a life choice associated with eventual retirement to Scottsdale or Orlando.
It was, however, the form of death here that would have given anyone deep pause. In most home meth labs, overdose or accidental explosion resulting from a combination of brain damage and bad chemistry are the likely stories. This scene was different. Two men and one woman, all dirty, disheveled, and severely emaciated, stared wide-eyed at the water-stained ceiling from where they lie on the filthy, chipped linoleum of the kitchen floor, each with one small, dark hole in their foreheads.
These were not ODs. These were assassinations.
Given their line of work, the three dead tweakers shouldn’t have looked so surprised.
Psychology sometimes says, “I am a human being, not a human doing. We are not our jobs.”
People with plenty of money and privilege might believe that.
I’m from Iowa, where working folks often become what they do. Farmer, long-distance trucker, clergy, cook. These are not jobs. These are not careers. They are ways of life.
My way of life is a bit off the beaten path. Psychotherapy.
Reason one, I grew up as a townie, so farming is not in my DNA.
Reason two, I’m a natural-born snoop. I gained early infamy in the Anderson clan by hiding behind doors, sofas and in the occasional dark corner, waiting to overhear conversations, arguments, and intimacies between various family members. I kept my discoveries to myself. Since that time, I’ve come out from behind the couch, as it were.
Reason three involves a serious aversion to manual labor, which I developed in my youth and confirmed through a brief stint in early adulthood as an electrician’s assistant, during a dangerous episode of poverty-induced insanity. After several near-incidents of knocking out the national power grid while punching my own ticket, I determined that this line of work didn’t satisfy my requirements, which included the desire to live a long and ambulatory life.
My next obvious choice, after deceased Master Electrician, was Hank Anderson, Private Investigator. Along with my propensity for snooping, I had spent the better part of my adolescence devouring the classic mysteries of Raymond Chandler, Dashell Hammett, Ross McDonald, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. At a time when things weren’t going so well at home, I spent hours and hours in the cool, sterile quiet of the county library. Phillip Marlowe, the Continental Op, Lew Archer, and Sherlock Holmes became good companions for a troubled bookworm.
Detective par excellence seemed a logical alternative.
Sadly, by the age of twenty it was clear that nature had betrayed me. I had topped out at five feet, seven inches in height. I weighed 130 pounds “soaking wet with a rock in my pocket,” as Dad used to say. And then there was my aversion to guns and my desire to hug, not shoot, vulnerable critters. This is a somewhat unique stance here in the heart of pheasant and deer hunting country.
Whatever free time I spent away from reading was consumed by daredevil antics on my rattletrap ten-speed bicycle and carbon spewing ATV, not stalking dinner.
“Most Likely to Become Hard-Boiled and Suave” was not the caption under my high school graduation picture.
So, after finishing up eighteen years of a life uncertain in southwest Iowa, I turned my sights to a not-far-off university where I somehow managed to declare a major in psychology amidst my dedication to cheap pot, cheaper beer, and rock music. Giving up pot and serious drinking – but never music – I found psychotherapy, first as a client, then as a profession. With the absence of substance abuse, my eventual graduate program in counseling went far better than my undergrad.
Today, the benefits are many. First, I get to be a professional snoop without having anyone poke a gun in my ribs and say, “Put up your hands and turn around slowly, gumshoe.” Secondly, I sometimes get to make a positive difference in peoples’ lives.
I listen, empathize, question, encourage, interpret, and challenge. Often, like the detective I didn’t become, I read between the lines. Most of the folks who find me already have many of the answers; they just aren’t listening to their higher selves. I tell them what I hear and help them fill in the blanks.
It’s pretty good work, if you can get it.
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