From her base in eastern Pennsylvania, Karen Katchur is a crime author with a background in criminal justice who blends her expertise with her imagination and a tablespoon or two of social commentary. Doing so, she produces character-driven thrillers with healthy elements of procedural realism and some dark humour too. Her latest is The Greedy Three, a harrowing tale of human trafficking that takes place on the US border with Canada. The story revolves around teenage mother Eve, a calculating crook called Noah, and an opportunistic but damaged woman called Hester. In the middle of this trio are a baby, a bag of money and an FBI investigation. From Romeo pimps to cross-border crime, there are elements of The Greedy Three that touch on stories we see in the news every day.
We invited Karen to the CFL sofa to talk about the book, its characters and the thinking behind them…
What will crime fiction lovers love about The Greedy Three?
I hope readers will love the characters. They’re a quirky, offbeat, and occasionally unhinged trio, but they have a lot of heart. My goal was to write characters – morally questionable characters! – that readers can’t help but root for.
Tell us more about your main theme in The Greedy Three, people trafficking.
We all know that human trafficking and sex trafficking are problems at our southern border, but it’s also occurring at our northern border as well. The victims of trafficking are often people who are forgotten by mainstream society. Eve’s character is a perfect example of this demographic and so is the baby. Eve’s a teenage runaway, lost among the numerous missing person cases, and even her family isn’t searching for her. Parents are supposed to be hardwired to love and care for their child, but unfortunately that’s not always the case. I wanted to explore a scenario where a teenage runaway and baby get trafficked, lost in the system, and how returning home isn’t an option.
Who is Noah and what’s his angle?
Noah personifies the very definition of greed in that his main goal is to acquire as much money as he can by any means possible. However, when you peel back his external layers, you find that he’s actually using money as a means to fill a void inside him. All he really wants is to be accepted by the high society that he was adopted into. In ways, his character is similar to Jay in The Great Gatsby. No matter what Noah does or how much money he has, he will never be accepted as one of them.
Please tell us more about Eve as well. How did you create her?
I got the idea for Eve off a news story about a cold case from the 1970s. A 14-year-old girl’s body parts were found in two suitcases on the bank of a river. Five decades later, with DNA testing, the girl was finally identified. She’d runaway with her boyfriend never to be heard from again, and her family never bothered to search for her or report her missing. Eve’s character is similar. She runs away from home and gets tangled up with a ‘boyfriend’ or ‘Romeo pimp’ who operates a sex-trafficking ring. As for Eve’s motivation, the money means a fresh start.
Then there’s Hester, a character they don’t expect to come across. How did you develop her?
Hester was so much fun to write. In every scene, I asked myself what a normal person would do and then she would do the opposite. For Hester, greed is more about selfishness than it is about money. She’s incapable of seeing past her own grief and pain and will stop at nothing to fill the emptiness inside her. Unfortunately for Noah and Eve, they have exactly what she wants, and she holds the money hostage to get it from them.
Would you say any of them is a hero or are they anti-heroes all round?
I think they’re all anti-heroes and readers may find themselves rooting for them in certain scenes and then rooting against them in others. Without giving anything away, Hester is probably the one character most readers will root for in the end.
The Canadian border setting is interesting – its role in the story and the atmosphere you wanted to evoke?
With so much focus on America’s southern border, the northern border is often forgotten about much like the characters in the story, and for this reason it made for a perfect setting. I grew up in a small town very similar to small towns in upstate New York, and I have an intimate knowledge of what it’s like to live in a remote area surrounded by lakes and woods. Small towns are notorious for having their own set of rules and peculiarities. They also tend to have secrets they can easily hide because no one is paying attention. I wanted to evoke that feeling of insularity and then inject it with a dose of the outside world, in this case the human trafficking ring and FBI, to see what happens.
There’s a wide stripe of dark humour in The Greedy Three, even though the topic is pretty gut wrenching. Tell us about the comedic side and striking the right balance in a novel?
Dark humour was a way to add levity to what could’ve been a really depressing story. My purpose was to entertain the reader with offbeat, quirky characters who could make them laugh without diminishing the seriousness of the topic. I think that’s what dark humour does so brilliantly. Striking a balance between the two was hard and required many rewrites. Mostly, I went off a gut-feeling. If a scene felt too serious, I knew I needed to add either funny dialogue or some form of physical comedy to lighten the mood. My agent and an early reader were pivotal in pointing out those areas as well.
What inspires you and/or which other writers have influenced you and writing career?
So many writers inspire me with every new book I read! There’s some truly amazing talent out there. Some of my favorites are Laura McHugh, Mindy Mejia, Amy Gentry, Julia Heaberlin and Amy Engle. Some new authors to me are Taylor Adams and SA Cosby. I’ve been reading others for years: Laura Lippman, Karin Slaughter, Dennis LeHane, Stephen King. And then there’s Peter Swanson, Lou Berney, Caroline Kepnes, Jennifer McMahon, Liz Nugent, Robyn Harding, Lisa Jewell, Mark Edwards. I could go on and on.
What’s next for Karen Katchur?
I’m currently working on another crime thriller, but it’s too early in the process to talk about any details. For now I just want readers to have fun with this one, to sit back and enjoy the ride. The characters are quirky, and they behave badly, but I hope readers also find themselves rooting for them anyway.
Grab a copy of The Greedy Three via the buttons below, or find out more about Karen Katchur on her website.