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The Unexpected Hostage: Debut Thriller

The Unexpected Hostage, debut thriller from Allison McKenzie

Author Interview + Book and Author Info+ Pet Corner!

Don’t miss any debut author interviews! Click the link here.


The Unexpected Hostage

The Unexpected HostageNothing in her life has been stable since Tess’s beloved fiancé Kyle died in a tragic accident.

She’s spent the past year hell-bent on outrunning her grief, jetting between high-stakes meetings and the rock clubs where she can disappear. Avoiding her pain was working—almost—until she and her colleagues are taken hostage by a violent Eastern European terrorist group.

With no means to escape her captors, Tess and fellow captive Mark must rely on one another to survive. Together, they’ll risk their lives and endure a brutal journey toward freedom as they forge a bond that neither can forget.

The mysteries of the past refuse to lay dormant for long as Tess is thrust into the center of another international cybercrime and uncovers the shocking truth about Kyle’s death.

This time, she’ll need Mark’s help to avenge her losses as she races across the globe to save her company…and their lives.

To purchase The Unexpected Hostage, click on any of the following links: Amazon, B&N, BookBub, Apple Books.

Interview with Allison McKenzie, author of The Unexpected Hostage

The Unexpected Hostage centers on Tess, who lost her fiancé a year ago, and Mark, a man she’s taken hostage with. What would you like readers to know about these two characters?

Tess and Mark share intelligence, grit, and a gut instinct to protect others. They’re both experts and workaholics in their respective fields—cybersecurity and trauma surgery.

What’s less obvious is how hard they work to hide their inner fragility resulting from grief and loss. While outwardly talented and successful, they’re both battling demons which push them to various degrees of self-destruction.

For Tess and Mark, their emotional journey to move past the attacks is just as important as the external goals of solving the crime and healing their physical injuries. 

What drew you to writing about a terrorist group and a kidnapping for your debut novel, The Unexpected Hostage?

Sometimes I write about what scares me. Since 9/11, terrorism has infiltrated our national consciousness, and the fact we can’t avoid it is scary.

Cybercrime and online fraud has exploded in recent years, and the uncontrolled proliferation of AI is troubling. Combining terrorism and cybercrime feels like a natural fit. 

At Microsoft, I worked closely with a cybersecurity executive who was a former U.S. Marine and CIA officer. He barely survived the Beirut bombing in 1983, and his perseverance in overcoming the injuries he suffered is hands-down legendary. He inspired my curiosity about how people survive the unthinkable and start over. What happens after the fires are put out, the ambulances leave, and the news cycle stops? I’d argue love and connection are critical to helping people heal so they can thrive, not just survive.

What kind of research did you have to do for The Unexpected Hostage?

In addition to loads of Internet research, I met some fascinating people.

Highlights included interviewing a Canadian Mountie who talked about policing in British Columbia, a security expert who explained encryption strategy, a U.S. State Department employee (and my high school physics lab partner!), two former CIA officers, and a Seattle policeman who helped avert a terrorist plot.

My most memorable interview was with a trauma nurse who works with Doctors Without Borders. Hearing about the dangerous conflict regions where she works provided the inspiration for Mark Nygaard’s character. When describing working on a trauma team, she simply said, “This is war. Every day.”

You are an adventurer! How similar is your character Tess to you? In what ways do you differ?

We couldn’t be more different! Tess’s proficiency with self-defense, weaponry, and survival tactics is beyond me. I’d be hard-pressed to fire a Nerf gun, and I don’t deal well with the sight of blood.

We share one similarity—I worked in the software industry for two decades. For several years, I had an international job and flew all over the world. Tackling lengthy technical meetings while jet-lagged and living on coffee is familiar territory for me. 

How did your career in the software industry help you write about cybercrime?

I understand how software is built and the conflicts technical and executive groups often experience.

That said, my time working in cybersecurity was a huge change. My new colleagues came from the military, CIA, NSA, or other roles requiring Top Secret security clearances. They spent lots of time in “SCIF rooms” (sensitive compartmented information facilities). Some of the ex-military guys had experienced dark, dark things they couldn’t talk about.

For this group, the phrase “he knows where the bodies are buried” carried a more ominous, literal meaning.

What are you working on now?

I’m drafting a second thriller which focuses on a woman who makes a fatal error and tries to build a new life.

Given her unusual past and what she knows (and hides), her old life won’t leave her alone. The story also examines a surprising intersection of the tech, espionage, and art worlds. Also, one (or more) characters from The Unexpected Hostage will make an appearance!

Words of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers: 

Keep going! Keep writing, editing, and learning. Attend conferences and immerse yourself in your local writing community. The process can be an emotional roller-coaster, so enjoy the journey and always keep moving forward. You can do it.

Great advice!

Author Pet Corner

Carson and Elsa!

Carson and Elsa are named for Mr. Carson and Mrs. Elsa Hughes on Downton Abbey.

They’re great writing buddies, although they do tend to bicker over whether catnip should be served in a silver bowl or a plate.

However, they agree catnip should be served daily.



Allison McKenzie

The Unexpected HostageAllison McKenzie has never shied away from adventure. She is at home skiing Canadian glaciers, exploring Scottish castles, and retrieving cultural artifacts from a Rarotongan jungle as she is at her writing desk.

After graduating magna cum laude from Wellesley College with honors in English literature and attending the University of Cambridge’s International Art History Programme in England, she spent most of her career in the software industry.

Allison is the winner of the 2020 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Contest, and a Finalist for the 2021 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, from RWA’s Kiss of Death Chapter, for The Unexpected Hostage.

She currently lives in Seattle with her husband, daughter, and two rambunctious cats. She loves theatre, skiing, and Peloton biking to ‘80s New Wave music.

To learn more about Allison, follow her at the following links: Instagram, Facebook, X, LinkedIn, LinkTree.

Elena Taylor/Elena Hartwell

All We Buried, available now in print, e-book, and audio.

Silver Falchion Award Finalist, Best Investigator

Foreword INDIE Award Finalist, Best Mystery

Header Image by Mario from Pixabay

Elena Hartwell

Author and developmental editor.

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