Incentive for Death, the debut thriller by James Spoonhour
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Incentive for Death
They all sold their life insurance policies to the same company— and now they’ re all dead. Mac and Oliver are on the case.
On a beautiful spring morning in Washington, D.C., a high-profile attorney is found dead in his office. McDermott “ Mac” Burke and Oliver Shaw, homicide investigators for the Metropolitan Police Department, are called to investigate. There appear to be no signs of foul play, but there is also no obvious sign of a natural cause of death.
The detectives are perplexed until the medical examiner notices a tiny pin prick on the lawyer’ s neck and theorizes that the man was injected with succinylcholine— aka “ sux” — which is a common horse tranquilizer that dissipates quickly in the body.
As Mac and Oliver begin to look further, they discover that the lawyer had sold his life insurance policy to a large viatical company. Then, they realize that more deaths under mysterious circumstances have occurred among those who’ ve sold their policies to the same company.
With mere coincidence seeming unlikely, Mac and Oliver dive headfirst into a now complex and far-reaching murder investigation— if they don’ t uncover what’ s really happening, many more lives could be at stake.
You can purchase Incentive for Death at the following retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Kobo.
Interview with James Spoonhour, author of Incentive for Death
Incentive for Death is set in Washington DC, and features McDermott “Mac” Burke and Oliver Shaw, two Metropolitan Police Department homicide detectives. What should readers know about Mac and Oliver?
McDermott “Mac” Burke is of Irish ancestry and grew up in Nebraska. Oliver Shaw is African-American and grew up in Washington, D.C.
Mac and Oliver became friends while both were serving as military investigators in Qatar. Mac was a Special Agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and Oliver was a Special Agent with the Army Criminal Investigation Division.
They each joined the D.C. police department following their military service and have been paired together as homicide detectives for 13 years. They successfully close nearly all of their homicide cases.
Mac still lives with his ex-wife, Maggie Hampton, three years after an amicable divorce. Unknown to Mac, his ex-wife is an operative for the CIA.
Incentive for Death takes place in an iconic city, why did you choose to set your debut novel in DC?
I was a Special Agent with Air Force OSI and stationed in the Washington, D.C. area.
I also went to law school at Georgetown University in D.C. It is a truly unique city with tons of character and history. My goal is to make the city both background and a nonspeaking character in the book.
Tell us about your publishing journey with Incentive for Death:
I have been an avid reader most of my life, consuming two to three books a week since I was 12. Over the past 20 years, I have scrutinized the books I was reading to analyze how the author developed the plot, built the characters and kept the pace moving. My long-held desire was to eventually write novels.
After retiring from practicing civil litigation and appellate law for four decades, I decided to finally pursue my dream of writing novels. I read about a dozen “how to” books and took online writing courses and seminars, as well as taking seminars taught by published authors.
I then outlined my first novel and started writing. The first draft was completed in four months, which was followed by a hard self-editing over the next five months. When I felt the manuscript was ready for submission, I researched literary agents and started submitting to ten or so agents at a time seeking representation. I focused on those agents who had a history of representing mystery authors.
After not succeeding in finding an agent through the direct submission route, I signed up for the 2021 ThrillerFest conference sponsored by International Thriller Writers and participated in all five days of the conference, including pitching my novel to agents. Those 3-minute pitches did not land me an agent.
I also signed up for 15-minute interviews with two particular agents and one publisher whom I had selected based on ITW video interviews of agents and publishers who had met with debut authors at the prior year’s conference.
The publisher with whom I scheduled an interview was Bob Gussin of Oceanview Publishing, which specializes in mysteries. Unfortunately, he was ill the day of our scheduled interview and we had to reschedule. He contacted me by email to reschedule our discussion about two weeks later. Since I now had his direct email, I sent him a summary of my book and the first 30 pages.
Our 15-minute call turned into 45 minutes and Bob Gussin asked me to submit a full manuscript, which I did that same day. Two months later, Oceanview contacted me to discuss my novel. I had an hour-long discussion with Pat and Bob Gussin, at the end of which they offered to buy Incentive for Death.
Fourteen months later, my novel hit the shelves on October 3, 2023.
You are a voracious reader! What have been some of your favorite books recently, and what did you love about them?
Alma Katsu’s Red Widow and Red London. Alma was a panelist at the 2021 ThrillerFest, and I got a chance to talk with her one-on-one. She was a long-time CIA field operative and converted that experience directly into the lead character in these two novels. Great character development, good plotting and pace throughout both books.
S.A. Cosby’s All the Sinners Bleed. Cosby captures the latent and sometimes overt discrimination which exists in a small town on the Virginia shore of the Chesapeake Bay. He does a fantastic job of conveying how time may pass, but history doesn’t always move on. Great character development and pace. The locale becomes an active character in the tale.
James Polkinghorn’s Liquid Shades of Blue. A very successful debut novel. A partially defrocked lawyer buys a bar in Key West. Character development showing the conflict between son and father builds all the way through the story, while the son tries to unravel the deaths of his mother and brother. Solid plot and pace.
You are a serious croquet player! You even play in tournaments. What do you love about the game?
Tournament croquet is not like the backyard croquet we grew up playing with our families. This is much more like chess and billiards on a lawn the size of a doubles tennis court.
The players wear all white clothing. The wickets are not wire hoops, but rather steel tubes planted deep in the ground which are barely wider that the balls that have to go through them. The game involves strategy that requires moving balls five shots ahead of one’s current stroke to keep moving around the greensward (court).
What are you working on now?
Two things. First, I’m dealing with book signings and promotion of my first novel, Incentive for Death, through advertisements, postings and emails.
Second, I’m working on the next tale in the Mac Burke series, which has a working title of Prepare to Die. Even more deaths and action than the prior novel.
Words of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers:
Study how the books that grab your attention are assembled. About 20 years ago I found myself analyzing how each particularly well written book was put together. Was the writing itself well crafted? Was the plot intricate enough to hold the reader’s attention? Were the characters well developed? After reading the last page, did you say to yourself that you had just finished a well written book?
Read good books on “how to write” novels or non-fiction. There are a lot of so-so ones. Ignore them. Some really good ones are Sol Stein’s On Writing and Stephen King’s book by the same title.
Don’t obsess about things like third person omniscient and the other drivel of that sort. Just write your story. Simple language conveys the story.
Author Pet Corner
I’ve had four dogs over the years. First a terrier, then a miniature schnauzer, then a black standard poodle, and finally a bearded collie (who would climb on the back of the sofa and lick my bald spot).
After high school, I worked as a cowboy on my grandfather’s ranch in central Texas (Hill Country). My horse was a Bay mare with a contrarian mindset. We also used Australian sheepdogs.
Jim Spoonhour has been a compulsive reader since age 12, consuming two or three books per week his entire life. Like many addicted readers, he long aspired to write novels and has finally ventured into the world of putting stories on paper.
During the interim, Jim got two degrees from the University of Nebraska in Political Science. Then he served as a Special Agent in the Office of Special Investigations while in the Air Force. While assigned to the Pentagon on a major leak case, Jim started attending law school at Georgetown University at night.
After graduating from Georgetown, Jim practiced civil litigation and appellate law with a large law firm in Orlando, Florida for many years. He also was a law professor at the Loyola University School of Law in New Orleans.
Jim is a member of the following writers’ organizations: International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, Jericho Writers (Oxford, UK), Career Authors, and Debut Authors Program of the International Thriller Writers.
In addition to reading and writing, Jim’s other joy in life comes from playing tournament croquet over the past 30 years. He occasionally even wins a tournament here and there around the country. Jim is now dedicated to writing and has nearly completed the second in the Detective Mac Burke series.