When I read the title, I thought it was a cosy mystery set in the kitchen. You know, EVO. Extra Virgin Olive oil. But the cover didn’t really go with it. Then I found out the book is a, quote, “A gripping serial killer thriller with a “hit-the-brakes-with-both-feet plot twist that may leave even the most jaded among us feeling good about humanity.” I blame this confusion on my being Italian. I still don’t know the reasons behind the title, but man, the story is worth the ride, anyway.
The story is EVO by Diane May, an Adult, Thriller.
A covert CIA operation that involves genetic engineering.
A serial killer nicknamed “The Hypnotist”.
And the most terrifying threat humanity has to face. What if someone could take complete control over your mind?
And what if that someone was a serial killer?
Langley, Virginia, twenty years earlier:
John Blake, a CIA special agent, stumbles upon an illegal genetic experiment within the agency, conducted on unborn babies and officially presented as a fertility program designed to help couples get pregnant. When he realizes that his very own daughter is a product of this sinister plot and that she is in grave danger, he vows to do everything it takes to make sure Maya will be safe and the people behind the experiment will all pay. With their lives.
Verona, Italy, present time:
Livio Marchiori, a homicide detective with the highest rate of solved cases in Verona, is faced with The Hypnotist, a serial killer the likes of which he’s never seen before. He never touches his victims and he leaves no evidence behind, except for the detailed videos of his murders. And what Marchiori and his team see on those videos is more disturbing than all their other cases combined. Because this one is different. This one defies all rational thinking and borders the impossible.
Then The Hypnotist gets personal and threatens to kill Dr. Abby Jones, the chief medical examiner and the woman Marchiori is in love with. Caught in a cat-and-mouse game with the elusive killer, Marchiori knows he is quickly running out of time.
So when Captain Victor Miller from Interpol walks into town, Marchiori is more than happy to partner again with the man who two years ago helped him put an entire mafia clan behind bars. But Miller has his own agenda, and Marchiori soon discovers that there is more to these crimes than meets the eye, an entire thread of things way beyond his pay grade – illegal experiments, secret agencies, and the most terrifying threat humanity has to face.
TWENTY YEARS EARLIER
The lack of windows and the artificial neon light wiped away all traces of the outside world. John Blake felt his own life was put on hold each time he stepped into the four-by-six-metre room with white-washed walls and grey floor-tiles. When he’d come in, the weather man on his car radio had excitedly prattled on about how splendid the early June day was going to be. Now he had no idea if the sun was still shining in the sky.
He lay on a hard mattress, dressed only in his black boxers. The white cotton sheet underneath his skin felt like rough canvas, washed and bleached one time too many. His torso was covered in electrodes hooked up to a machine, which in turn was connected to a monitor.
Lewis’s expressionless eyes were staring intently at the screen.
Another click of the mouse and Lewis stood up. His emaciated body looked as if it had already seen the inside of the grave.
“Are we done here, doctor?” John asked.
“We are, agent Blake.”
John sat up in bed, removed the electrodes attached to his chest and jumped to the floor. He grabbed his light-brown chinos from the back of the chair in front of Lewis’s desk, pulled them up and buckled his belt.
This was the seventh consecutive year he had come to Camp Peary, Virginia, for the annual round of routine medical tests. And boy, oh boy, how he hated them. They made him waste an entire day and feel like a bug under the microscope.
“How’s that wonderful daughter of yours?” Lewis asked suddenly, and for a fraction of a second, John thought he glimpsed something in the dark depths of the doctor’s blood-shot eyes. He just couldn’t put a finger on it.
“She’s getting more beautiful each day,” he replied, and pulled on a white t-shirt which stretched over his bulging muscles. “In a few years’ time I’ll need a hunting rifle to keep all her suitors at bay.”
The doctor smiled weakly as if it was something he wasn’t really used to. “Is Maya’s behaviour at home—” he lapsed into silence, as though searching for the right word, then went on, “is it normal?”
John felt a familiar stirring in his gut. Lewis couldn’t possibly know about…
\“Why wouldn’t it be normal?” he asked.
“No, no, I’m sorry,” the old man said quickly, raising his palms in a placatory gesture. “Poor choice of words. It’s just that yesterday I had another agent who, just like yourself, is often away from home and has a little child the same age as your Maya. Well,” he shrugged, “his son isn’t really coping all that well with his father’s absence, so I was just—”
The shrill sound of the phone interrupted him.
“Dr. Lewis,” he barked into the receiver. He listened for a few seconds, then narrowed his eyes and exhaled loudly. “Can’t this wait half an hour? I’m in the middle of something.” He clearly didn’t like the answer he got because his lips tightened in a line so fine it almost became invisible. “Fine,” he said and slammed down the receiver.
Then Lewis turned to him. “Finish getting dressed, I’ll be back in five minutes.” He walked out through one of the two doors in the room, the one on which black letters on white plastic spelled out PRIVATE.
Chatting with the Author
Diane May is a crime thriller writer and she lives in Verona, Italy, with her husband. When she’s not in her office writing, she can usually be found curled up on the sofa with a good book in her lap and a cup of green tea next to her.
The only daughter of an army colonel, she grew up on military bases where she learnt about weapons, discipline and the sacrifices of military life. She also worked for many years as a translator and interpreter for the Court of Law on mostly criminal cases.
EVO is her debut novel and she is currently working on her second crime thriller, Till Death Do Us Part, scheduled to be released in 2019.
Diane came by to talk about something from a very different perspective.
Vulnerability is an act of courage by Diane May
I have recently watched a very popular TED Talk, called The Power of Vulnerability, given by Dr. Brené Brown, and it resonated with me deeply. We all know that having a social life greatly benefits our mental and physical health. Spending quality time with our friends and loved ones reduces stress, makes us feel happier, more optimistic about life in general, and, on a physical level, it strengthens our immune system, which in turn leads to better health.
The problem, however, is that as adults we have “emotional baggage”. We fall in love, we experience hurt and betrayal, and as a result, a core belief is born: love hurts; or men are cheaters; or women lie. And this becomes our truth. But the hurt can come even earlier in life. Imagine a mother who neglects her child and doesn’t give him the love and support he needs, and a violent father who is too busy getting drunk to care. That is bound to leave deep scars, and after experiencing something like this most of us would undoubtedly become experts at closing ourselves off and keeping people at an arm’s length.
When I was a child we moved around quite a bit because my dad was in the army. The first time it happened I was eight years old, and I cried and cried because I didn’t want to leave my friends. The second time it happened I was eleven and I promised myself I would never make friends again. And so I started reading more – I was already in love with reading – and never left the house, except when I had to go to school or my mum told me to take out the garbage. My parents got worried because I would read between one and three books a day, depending on the length of the book, and completely refuse to go out and make friends. The message I took home from those two painful experiences? There’s no point in making friends or letting people in your heart because, sooner or later, you’re going to lose them; but books will never leave you. And this became one of my core beliefs. How does it affect my relationships with people? Well, I either reveal too much about myself in a forced attempt to create a connection, or I reveal nothing and I push people away because keeping my guard up comes natural to me.
Now imagine if someone like me met someone like the child who didn’t receive love and support from his parents. What thoughts could go through their minds? “Don’t show her what you really feel, who you really are; she will never love you.” “Don’t fall in love with him; you know he’ll leave you.” Two people who are bound to hurt each other, who would never have a nurturing relationship unless they opened up, showed their feelings and talked about their fears. But that would mean revealing the vulnerable side of ourselves, usually hidden behind masks and walls, and in our society being vulnerable is often seen as being weak. In the military, vulnerability is a measurement for how likely it is for damage to be inflicted, and most people think that opening up will only expose us to pain and humiliations we could easily avoid by staying strong and self-contained.
But here’s what Dr. Brené Brown says about this. In the course of her research she discovered two types of people: the ones who felt whole and had a strong sense of love and belonging; and the ones who struggled with this. So she wanted to see what the first group had in common, and what she discovered is this: “They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating (…) They just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say, “I love you” first … the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees… They’re willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental.”
Some people say “I’m blasé” and by this they mean “nothing moves me anymore.” Because maybe they got hurt one too many times or they saw so much ugliness in this world that they can’t cope with it anymore. So they numb those hard feelings. But as Dr. Brown says, “when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then, we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.”
How do we get out of this vicious circle? We “let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen.” We love deeply and from the bottom of our hearts, in spite of the fact that there are no guarantees the other person will love us back. We love ourselves and feel grateful for all the good things in our lives, but also for the lessons learnt the hard way. And we believe that we’re good enough. You know why? Because we are.
GIVEAWAYBlitz-wide giveaway (US/UK)
- Paperback copy of EVO