Like so many writers, Nike Chillemi started writing at a very young age. She still has the Crayola, fully illustrated book she penned (penciled might be more accurate) as a little girl about her then off-the-chart love of horses. Today, you might call her a crime fictionista. Her passion is crime fiction. She likes her bad guys really bad and her good guys smarter and better.
She is the founding board member of the Grace Awards and is its Chairman, a reader’s choice awards for excellence in Christian fiction. She writes book reviews for The Christian Pulse online magazine. She was an Inspy Awards 2010 judge and a judge in the 2011 and 2012 Carol Awards. BURNING HEARTS, the first book in the crime wave that is sweeping the south shore of Long Island in The Sanctuary Point series, finaled in the Grace Awards 2011. GOODBYE NOEL, the second book in the series won the Grace Award 2011 in the Mystery/Romantic Suspense/Thriller category. PERILOUS SHADOWS, third in the series released July, 2012, and DARKEST HOUR, the fourth in the series released in February, 2013. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and the Edgy Christian Fiction Lovers (Ning). http://nikechillemi.wordpress.com/
Welcome to Barbara’s Thin Line Between Truth & Fiction, Nike! I’m excited to hear more about Darkest Hour, the fourth and newest addition to your Sanctuary Point series. I’ve read the first book in the series, Burning Hearts, and have the second and third, Goodbye Noel and Perilous Shadows, on my ereader. I love that they are set in 1940’s America just after WWII. That era has always intrigued me, as I think it does many people.
Barbara: Can you share with us an interesting fact that you dug up while researching your series? Something you didn’t already know and/or was intrinsic to your story?
Nike:I think one of the things that impressed me so much is how they took loving care of things they prized. How meticulous they were about preserving and protecting items of sentimental value. Whereas even with things that are very important to us, we get a warranty on it and if it’s damaged, we replace it. Things were not so disposable then. They also handed things down from generation to generation, such as the family’s fine china. Then, the younger generation was thrilled to receive these gifts. Today, many young women or young couples would groan inwardly, thinking they’re actually going to have to use the china on the next holiday to make grandma feel good.
Barbara: The women in your stories are usually single, spunky and not afraid to say what they think or get involved in the solving of a murder. Your newest heroine, Lucinda, is a young widow with a five-your-old son. How does this make her relate to the dangerous situation she’s thrust into differently than your other heroines may have?
Nike: Lucinda doesn’t shoot from the hip the way my other heroines did. She’s much more careful. The family owned and operated a charter fishing boat and she lost her husband and both her parents when the vessel sank in a storm. She’s now the sole support of her young kindergarten age son and her grandparents. She’s got a lot of responsibility resting on her shoulders. She shows her strength by competently fulfilling all of her responsibilities. She has no trouble speaking up, however, as a few of the men in the story find out.
Barbara: In Darkest Hour, Lucinda’s love interest is the medical examiner, Hank Jansen. Tell us a little something about him other than his career choice. Is he an outsider to Sanctuary Point or was he raised there?
Nike: Hank comes off like a jerk and a lady’s man, and in the beginning Lucinda doesn’t trust him and wants no part of him. Life has deeply wounded Hank and he doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him. Except, perhaps Lucinda. He’s immediately attracted to her, but at this point in his life, he doesn’t know how to make a good impression.
Barbara: Nike, I like the way you include older parents and/or grandparents in your books and how they add richness to the heroine’s life. Often they are the stabilizing, faith-based, characters who give meaning and support to the heroine. Is there something about Lucinda’s grandparents that make them unique?
Nike: I like to capture the richness of the ethnicity in my older characters. I’ll add an accent. I’ll research the cuisine and customs of whatever country they come from. With Lucinda’s grandparents I tried to capture the poetic beauty of the Irish soul. One scene I’m particularly fond of is when the grandfather is telling Lucinda’s young son not to cry. That they’re men in this family. His wife reminds the old man they’re also Irish. The grandfather then admits to the boy that many an Irish man has wept and that there’s no shame in crying.
Thanks for sharing a bit about yourself and your book with us today, Nike! Darkest Hour sounds like a terrific murder mystery with great historical detail, realistically flawed characters and a sweet romance. What more could a reader ask for?
*Readers, if you’d like to ask Nike a question about her books or writing, leave a comment below the excerpt. Thanks!
Read on for an excerpt from the first chapter of Darkest Hour:
Sanctuary Point, NY
Lucinda Byrne backed further away from the dead body of her boss, the sides of his suit jacket wide open. Blood oozed from a hole in the center of his chest and spread over the front of his white dress shirt and yellow tie. Dark, angry red… sticky…
A baby-faced police officer snapped photographs of the body where it lay in the gravel parking lot.
Even at this hour, the day threatened to be a hot one, and the smell the body threw off intensified by the minute. She hugged herself, but couldn’t stop the trembling, then took another step back. “Someone said the medical examiner was on his way,” she mumbled to nobody in particular.
A burgundy Chevrolet sport coupe pulled into the lot. A stylish man with wavy brown hair and a tinge of gray at the temples got out. He walked toward the detective in charge and they talked.
The village detective, with a riot of salt and pepper hair beneath a fedora, jutted his chin in her direction.
The newcomer turned his face toward her. She felt small under this Dapper Dan’s scrutiny, but forced herself to stand pat and return his gaze.
He tugged at the razor like crease in his pants, looked down, and squatted beside Dr. McCloud’s body, but didn’t touch it. There was obviously no need to feel for a pulse.
The detective turned on his heel and approached her. “I’m Detective Ian Daltry, ma’am. I understand you found the body.” He took a small notebook and a fountain pen from his jacket pocket.
“Yes, I… I did.” She started to sniffle and fought it, not wanting to fall apart while being questioned.
“And Dr. McCloud is your boss?”
“Both you and Dr. McCloud came into work early this morning?”
“I knew he wanted to clear up some paper work, so I came in as well.” She clasped her hands together, squeezing the fingers of one hand into the back of the other.
“Really?” His eyes narrowed.
“Yes, Detective, really. Early is fine with me, so is late. I really need my job.”
He tapped his notebook with his pen. “When you arrived this morning, did you notice a car coming into the parking lot or pulling out?”
“No, I wasn’t looking for that.” She’d had her head down as she rushed for the front door, wondering what type of mood the self-important doctor would be in. She’d keep that tidbit to herself.
The detective jotted a note. “When you got out of your car, what did you see?”
“I was walking toward the main entrance and there he was — on the ground. Blood spreading all over his shirt.” She swiped at a tear seeping from the corner of her eye.
The detective wrote in the notebook. “After you got out of your car, did you see anyone walking in or out of the hospital?”
“No one.” She looked toward the hospital to prevent the detective from seeing her lower lip trembling. A lock of shoulder-length brown hair fell into her face and she brushed it away.
He made another notation. “Nobody at all?”
“No. I’m sorry. I wish I could help you, but I didn’t see anything.” The relentless yammering of her thoughts crushed her, worries that babysitting her young son might be too much for her elderly grandparents. She hadn’t been paying attention to her surroundings.
“That’s about all the questions I have at this time.” He took her address and phone number. Stepped away from her, then turned back, and asked a couple more questions that made no sense to her.
She stood there staring at him as he returned to the body.
If only this morning would end. She rubbed her hands together in an attempt to quell a slight tremor.
A black coach resembling an ambulance drove into the lot. An older man in overalls pulled a collapsible gurney out of the back and raised its bed to hip level. Its chrome gleamed.
The night orderly and two nurses getting off the night shift stopped to watch.
The brown-haired man pointed to the gurney and his voice carried. “They finally allocated some funds my way. Makes transporting much easier. Oscar and I used to carry them on a stretcher. My back sure is grateful to the board of supervisors.”
The detective laughed. “Don’t you county guys have all the dough you want?”
“Who’re you kidding?”
The gurney’s wheels rumbled across the gravel parking lot. The older man pulled on the straps of his overalls.”Hank, you ready to move the body?”
The stylish man nodded. “Let’s do it.” They lifted the body onto the gurney and the man in overalls covered Dr. McCloud with a white sheet. Blood seeped through and began spreading.
Lucinda gasped, took another step back, stumbled, but managed to keep her footing. She straightened her spine. She still had to go into that building and work a full day. She had a son to support.
The detective nodded toward the body. “By the size of the hole in his chest, I’d guess he was shot with a pistol, maybe at close range. I need to have the bullet as soon as you recover it.”
“Then by all means, you’ll be my guest at the autopsy.”
“Gee, thanks.” The detective shook his head.
The debonair man chuckled, turned, and approached Lucinda.
A tremor ran down her back. More questioning, and all she wanted to do was run and hide. She sniffled and wiped her nose with the side of her index finger.
He reached into his inside pocket and offered her a folded white handkerchief. “It’s rough if you’ve never seen anything like this. I’m Hank Jansen, the medical examiner, by the way.”
Lucinda’s gaze followed the gurney to the black coach. “He was my boss.”
“You work at the hospital for Dr. McCloud?”
“Yes. I… I’m his secretary… was, I mean. And Dr. Hinsey’s too.” She couldn’t believe the doctor’s life had ended this way.
Detective Daltry barked, “Hank, can I speak with you?”
“Excuse me.” The medical examiner stepped away.
“Wait.” Lucinda quickly refolded the handkerchief and handed it back to him. She didn’t know this man. Wouldn’t begin to know how to return the white cotton cloth. “Don’t forget this.”
“Take it with you. The day’s not over. Things could still get rough.” He smiled.
“No, I can’t take your hankie.”
“Listen, I’ll pick it up the next time I’m at the hospital. You say you work for Dr. Hinsey?”
“Hank,” the detective called, impatience sharp in his tone.
“Yes, Dr. Hinsey is the head of the maternity ward. I’ll launder it and have it ready for you.”
The medical examiner nodded and smiled. “It’s a date. I mean, I’ll stop by and pick it up.” He turned and trotted toward the detective.
Lucinda slipped the handkerchief into her purse. She headed for the main entrance of the hospital, bent and picked up a fountain pen in the gravel lot.
She pivoted and advanced toward the two men.
The detective made a chopping gesture with his hand and raised his voice. “I’m not fooling, Hank. Don’t go putting another notch in your belt. She’s a witness.”
“Can’t a fellow do a simple act of kindness?”
“I’m warning you, stay away from her.” The detective spun around and nearly collided with Lucinda.
Heat rushed to her face, and she couldn’t meet either man’s gaze. If the ground would only open and swallow her. She held the pen out to Detective Daltry. “Uh…I…I’m sorry. I think you dropped this.”