The Kill Club
On Sale Date: December 17, 2019
$15.99 USD, $19.99 CAD
Fiction / Thrillers / Psychological
A haunting thriller about a woman who attempts to save her brother's life by making a dangerous pact with a network of vigilantes who've been hunting down the predators of Los Angeles.
Jazz can’t let her younger brother die.
Their foster mother Carol has always been fanatical, but with Jazz grown up and out of the house, Carol takes a dangerous turn that threatens thirteen-year-old Joaquin’s life. Over and over, child services fails to intervene, and Joaquin is running out of time.
Then Jazz gets a blocked call from someone offering a solution. There are others like her, people the law has failed. They’ve formed an underground network of “helpers,” each agreeing to murder the abuser of another. They're taking back their power and leaving a trail of bodies throughout Los Angeles—dubbed the Blackbird Killings. If Jazz joins them, they’ll take care of Carol for good.
All she has to do is kill a stranger.
Jazz soon learns there's more to fear than getting caught carrying out her assignment. The leader of the club has a zero tolerance policy for mistakes.
And the punishment for disobeying orders is death.
Author Bio: Wendy Heard, author of Hunting Annabelle, was born in San Francisco and has lived most of her life in Los Angeles. When not writing, she can be found hiking the Griffith Park trails, taking the Metro and then questioning this decision, and haunting local bookstores.
THE CEILING ABOVE the crowd sparkles with strings of golden lights. They twinkle just bright enough to illuminate the faces. I adjust a microscopic issue with my toms and run my fingers through my bangs, straightening them over my eyes. The guys are tuning up, creating a clatter of discordant notes in the monitors. When they’re done, they approach my kit for our usual last-minute debate about the set list. Dao humps his bass in his ready-to-play dance, black hair swishing around his shoulders. “Dude, stop,” Matt groans and readjusts the cable that connects his Telecaster to his pedal board.
“Your mom loves my dancing,” Dao says.
“You dance like Napoleon Dynamite,” Matt retorts.
“Your mom dances like Napoleon Dynamite.”
Andre raises his hands. “Y’all both dance like Napoleon Dynamite, and so do both your moms, so let’s just—”
I wave a stick at them. “Guys. Focus. The sound guy is watching. We’re three minutes behind.” I have no patience for this shit tonight. This all feels extra and stupid. I should be doing something to help Joaquin. His dwindling supply of insulin sits at the front of my brain like a ticking clock.
The guys get into their spots, the distance between them set by muscle memory. Andre leans forward into the mic and drawls, “Arright DTLA, lez get a little dirty in here.” His New Orleans accent trickles off his tongue like honey.
The room inhales, anticipates, a sphere of silence.
“Two three four,” I yell. I clack my sticks together and we let loose, four on the floor and loud as hell. I’m hitting hard tonight. It feels great. I need to hit things. My heart beats in tempo. My arms fly through the air, the impact of the drums sharp in my joints, in my muscles, the kick drum a pulse keeping the audience alive. This is what I love about drumming, this forcing of myself into the crowd, making their hearts pound in time to my beat.
Dao fucks up the bridge of “Down With Me” and Andre gives him some vicious side-eye. The crowd is pressed tight up against the stage. A pair of hipsters in cowboy hats grabs a corresponding pair of girls and starts dancing with them. I cast Dao an eye-rolling look referring to the cowboy hats and he wiggles his eyebrows at me. I stomp my kick drum harder, pretending it’s Carol’s face.
The crowd surges back. Arms fly. A guy in the front staggers, falls. A pair of hands grips the stage, and a girl tries to pull herself up onto it.
Matt and Dao stop playing. The music screeches to a halt.
“What’s going on?” I yell.
“Something in the pit,” Dao calls back.
Andre drops his mic and hops down into the crowd. Dao and Matt cast their instruments aside and close the distance to the edge of the stage. I get up and join them. Together, we look down into the pit.
A clearing has formed around a brown-haired guy lying on the floor. Andre and the bouncer squat by him as he squirms and thrashes, his arms and legs a tangle of movement. Andre’s got his phone pressed to his ear and is talking into it urgently. The bouncer is trying to hold the flailing man still, but the man’s body is rigid, shuddering out of the bouncer’s grip. He flops onto his back, and I get a good look at his face.
Oh, shit, I know this guy. He’s a regular at our shows. He whines and pants, muffled words gargling from his throat. Some of the bystanders have their phones out and are recording this. Assholes.
The man shrieks like a bird of prey. The crowd sucks its whispers back into itself, and the air hangs heavy and hushed under the ceiling twinkle lights.
Andre is still talking into his phone. The bouncer lifts helpless hands over the seizing man, obviously not sure what to do.
I should see if Andre wants help. I hop down off the stage and push through the crowd. “Excuse me. Can you let me through? Can you stop recording this and let me through?”
I’m suddenly face-to-face with a man who is trying to get out of the crowd as hard as I’m trying to get into it. His face is red and sweaty, his eyes wild. “Move,” he orders me.
Dick. “You fucking move.”
“Bitch, move.” He slams me with his shoulder, knocking me into a pair of girls who cry out in protest. I spin, full of rage, and reverse direction to follow him.
“Hey, fucker,” I scream. He casts a glance over his shoulder. “Yeah, you! Get the fuck back here!”
He escalates his mission to get out of the crowd, elbowing people out of his way twice as fast. I’m smaller and faster, and I slip through the opening he leaves in his wake. Just before he makes it to the side exit, I grab his flannel shirt and give him a hard yank backward. “Get the fuck back here!” I’m loose, all the rage and pain from earlier channeling into my hatred for this entitled, pompous asshole.
I know I should rein it in, but he spins to face me and says, “What is your problem, bitch?” And that’s it. I haul back and punch him full in the jaw.
He stumbles, trips over someone’s foot and lands on his ass on the cement floor. His phone goes clattering out of his hand, skidding to a stop by someone’s foot. “The hell!”
“Oh, shit,” cries a nearby guy in a delighted voice.
“Fucking bitch,” the guy says, and this is the last time he’s calling me a bitch. I go down on top of him, a knee in his chest. I swing wild, hit him in the jaw, the forehead, the neck. He throws an elbow; it catches me in the boob and I flop back off him with a grunt of pain. He sits up, a hand on his face, and opens his mouth to say something, but I launch myself off the ground again, half-conscious of a chorus of whoops and howls around us. I throw a solid punch. His nose cracks. Satisfaction. I almost smile. Blood streams down his face.
“That’s what you get,” I pant. He crab-shuffles back, pushes off the ground and sprints for the exit. I let him go.
My chest is heaving, and I have the guy’s blood on my hand, which is already starting to ache and swell. I wipe my knuckles on my jeans.
His phone lights up and starts buzzing on the floor. I pick it up and turn it over in my hand. It’s an old flip phone, the kind I haven’t seen in years. The bright green display says Blocked.
Back in the pit, the man having a seizure shrieks again, and then his screams gurgle to a stop. I put the phone in my pocket and push through the onlookers. I watch as his back convulses like he’s going to throw up, and then he goes limp. A thin river of blood snakes out of his open mouth and trails along the cement floor.
The room echoes with silence where the screams had been. A trio of girls stands motionless, eyes huge, hands pressed to mouths.
The flip phone in my pocket buzzes. I pull it out, snap it open and press it to my ear. “Hello?”
“Hello?” I repeat.
A click. The line goes dead.
A set of paramedics slams the stage door open, stretcher between them. “Coming through!” They kneel down and start prodding at the man curled up on the concrete. His head flops back. His eyes are stretched wide and unseeing, focused on some point far beyond the twinkling ceiling lights.
Next to him on the concrete lies something… What is it? It’s rectangular and has red and—
It’s a playing card.
Excerpted from The Kill Club by Wendy Heard, Copyright © 2019 by Wendy Heard. Published by MIRA Books.
Q&A with Wendy Heard
• Do you plan your books in advance or let them develop as you write?
I plan them for a long time before I start writing them, and I’m constantly revising my outline, but the plot and characters do develop quite a bit along the way.
• What does the act of writing mean to you?
It means everything to me! I have been writing for a really long time, since childhood. Words and story have always been the way I’ve made sense of things. I’m constantly making up narratives for people and events around me.
• Have you ever had a character take over a story, and if so, who was it and why?
Jazz held THE KILL CLUB hostage for months because I couldn’t get her to talk to me! She just kept crossing her arms across her chest and glaring at me. She did NOT want a book written about her, and I really needed her inner monologue for that first person POV! Eventually I started mentally arguing with her, and then in fighting with her and hearing her side, I started to get ALL of her IM. It was an interesting experience, trying to engage with a character in different ways until they cracked open.
• Which one of The Kill Club characters was the hardest to write and why?
Sofia. Her story is so much like so many others I’ve known. It’s quietly and invisibly tragic, her pain at the loss of her child so sharp.
• Which character in any of your books (The Kill Club or otherwise) is dearest to you and why?
Jazz! By far, Jazz is my favorite character. In my mind, she’s kind of the spirit of Los Angeles. She’s been through so much, and her sense of humor and lack of entitlement gets her through it all. She just continuously makes the best of every hand she’s dealt, moves forward, and doesn’t engage in self-pity.
• Do you have stories on the back burner that are just waiting to be written?
Let me get out my banjo. YES. I have so many. I have a YA that’s waiting to be written after I finish this current work in progress, which I’ve stopped and started a bunch of times, really honing the concept to get it just where I want it. But I’m constantly coming up with book ideas and having to tell them “not right now, darlings!”
• What has been the hardest thing about publishing? What has been the most fun?
Publishing is not for the faint of heart. For me, the beast is always self-doubt, and in a business that is full of rejection, that can really eat at you. It’s so easy to get out of balance and give our creative projects the power to define us. It’s important for anyone selling their art to remember to nurture a healthy life away from it, because art is a fickle master. It will come and go over your lifetime, and it won’t always be kind. You have to accept the rules of the game, but you don’t have to let the game play you.
• What advice would you give budding authors about publishing?
You’ll hear this a thousand times, and you won’t believe it, but: the most important thing is writing a good book, and more than that, the right book. If you let the market and external forces tell you what to create, you’ll resent and blame them when it doesn’t go well. That said, keep an eye on the market, find a way to love something you think can sell, and then put your personal spin on it. No one can tell your story but you. Prerequisite skills for publishing: The ability to revise without having a tantrum; an interest in book marketing and publicity; professional written communication; the ability to hold your freakout moments and vent them far away from a public or professional setting; an addiction to caffeine. And for God’s sake, if you’ve been working on something for years and it hasn’t sold and you’ve revised it forty times, write a new book.
• What was the last thing you read?
All Your Twisted Secrets by Diana Urban. It’s a 2020 book and has a fascinating timeline craft thing that you’re going to love.
• Your top five authors?
This is not fair because I have at least seven thousand favorite authors! How about this--here are some crime fiction authors doing some innovative things in the genre. Kellye Garrett, who’s doing sharp-witted, LA-based mysteries and winning a ton of awards. John Vercher, who talks about social issues while keeping it gritty and plotty. Rachel Howzell Hall, an LA native who does these rad investigative mysteries. Tori Eldridge has a recent and very feminist take on the action thriller with her recent The Ninja Daughter, which I highly recommend. Gabino Iglesias’ award-winning Coyote Songs is this incredible genre mashup, part folklore, part horror, all commentary, and I can’t recommend it enough. One more one more. Carmen Machado’s recent In the Dream House. It’s memoir told in all different genres, it’s chilling, engrossing, dense, and fascinating. Did you read Her Body and Other Parties? Just wow.
• Book you've bought just for the cover?
Wilder Girls. Because holy crap.
• What did you want to be as a child? Was it an author?
I was torn between the visual arts and writing, and I always vacillated between them. I have a degree in art, and I wrote a book, then did my painting degree, then wrote some nonfiction, then got my art teaching credential. I was trying things on for size. I do wish I still had time for painting. I never intended to abandon it completely in favor of writing books, but there are only so many hours in the day. I hope to come back to it in a future existence in which I have some spare time. In the meantime, I try to write about artists and art as a means of hanging onto it.
• What does a day in the life of Wendy Heard look like?
Sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Just kidding. I wake up at five, do publishing stuff, go to work at my day job, get my kid, come home, arm-wrestle her into doing homework, go to the gym, etc. On the weekends I wake up at five (yes I’m serious), write for a few hours, maybe record or edit an episode of the Unlikeable Female Characters Podcast, and then, you know, parenting and life stuff. Whenever my daughter is on a playdate or doing something away from me, I’m writing.
• What do you use to inspire you when you get Writer’s Block?
I dive into the DMs and torture some writing friends, make them brainstorm with me until I feel better and I have a plan. Or I just step away for awhile. I actually have come to trust writer’s block. If I can’t move forward, I need to stop and consider. There’s something wrong, and my brain is trying to get me to stop and gather up the threads. We’re so obsessed with productivity and daily word count, but I actually find I finish books faster when I don’t force myself to write things I know are wrong and waste weeks undoing things.
• What book would you take with you to a desert island?
I have a massive volume that contains all the Sherlock Holmes stories in one. I’d take one of those collection type of books. See, it’s technically ONE book.
• Favorite quote?
“If you work hard enough, you don’t need luck.” Hell yeah.
• Coffee or tea?
• Best TV or Movie adaptation of a book?
The Neverending Story.
• Tell us about what you’re working on now.
I’m doing a final round of revisions on my 2021 YA thriller, She’s Too Pretty to Burn. It’s loosely based off Dorian Gray and is about a teen photographer who takes a life-altering picture of her introverted girlfriend, sending them into a spiral of fame and danger in an underground San Diego art scene. It has a character who’s basically a fine art Banksy and lots of art crimes.
A remarkably twisted and deceptively multilayered puzzle, THE KILL CLUB enraptured me on two aspects. First, the puzzle. I know the concept of "kill a stranger and another stranger will kill the one you want dead" has been done before (Strangers On A Train), but still, I was engrossed, and in fact, I still want to know more of the backstory. This mystery could have a sequel; the possibility is definitely there at its end, and I hope so. The second aspect enthralling me is that our protagonist (such a well-developed character) is Lesbian, so right here we have Diversity. She also is Mother Bear to her much younger brother, who is Type 1 Juvenile Diabetic plus in the control of a horrid individual (adoptive mother). I will not spoil the story with revelations--just read it!