Once upon a Crime: Kevin O’Brien

by Lindsey A.

Today we offer you an interview with crime writer Kevin O’Brien for the Once upon a Crime author series! This series at the Oak Harbor Library features four local authors of mystery, thriller, and suspense novels. On select Tuesdays in October, a different author will visit the library to talk about their books and the craft of writing mysteries. Kevin O’Brien will be at the library on Oct. 24.

Kevin’s thrillers have landed him on The New York Times Best Sellers list and his work has been compared to that of Alfred Hitchcock. His thrillers are fast-paced, suspenseful, and compelling to read. His first thriller, The Next to Die was published in 2001. Kevin’s latest thriller, Hide Your Fear is set on Whidbey Island. Kevin is a proud board member of the Seattle 7 Writers.

Kevin was kind enough to share a conversation with Sno-Isle Libraries staff member and mystery enthusiast, Marie B.

Interview with Kevin O’Brien

Marie: What (or who) inspires you when creating characters who kill?

Kevin: Usually a plot idea hits me first. Then I create the antagonist, who is making all these bad things happen in my story. I give the villain a personality and a back-story to explain why he or she is doing these horrible things.  In my latest thriller, Hide Your Fear, my editor and I came up with this idea about a family who has just moved into a house on Whidbey Island – only to realize it comes with a scary history and a stalker.  So – I had to give this stalker a reason for tormenting and sometimes even killing the people who have moved into that house. My neighbor is a psychiatrist, and whenever I’m creating a new book, I always take him out to dinner so I can pick his brain for the psychological motives behind my killer’s actions. If my neighbor ever moves away, I’ll have to start writing romance novels or something.

Marie: Have you ever based characters on people you know?

Kevin: All the time. I just pray they don’t catch on. A friend gave me a T-shirt that says: CAREFUL, YOU MIGHT END UP IN MY NEXT NOVEL. It’s so true.

Marie: You’re a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock.  How has his work influenced your writing?

Kevin: Hitchcock was all about suspense. There are shocking – and sometimes gory – moments in his movies, but it’s mostly about the suspense. I try to keep that in mind when I’m writing. I try to let the reader know what’s going to happen – while my hero or heroine is clueless. I think of Tippi Hedren sitting on that bench, smoking a cigarette, while the birds mass on the jungle gym behind her. That’s suspense, building up the tension and danger – and sometimes the obstacles. If you want a perfect example of building suspense, check out the scene near the end of North by Northwest, when Cary Grant is sneaking around the house near Mount Rushmore, trying to get in there to save Eva Marie Saint. He’s hanging on a ledge outside James Mason’s window, listing to how Mason and Martin Landau are going to kill Eva Marie. Cary tries throwing coins at her bedroom window to get her attention, but Eva Marie doesn’t hear them. Mason and Martin Landau hear the coins. Cary climbs up to her bedroom window – but she leaves the room just a moment before he gets there. From the second floor balcony, he writes a warning inside his monogrammed matchbook and tosses it to Eva Marie when she’s in the living room with her would-be assassins. The matchbook lands on the floor in front of her, but she totally misses it, and Landau picks it up. It’s one obstacle after another, and it’s deliciously suspenseful. I was supposed to keep my answers down to a few sentences here. You should have never asked me about Hitchcock!

Marie: Press & Guide said: “If Alfred Hitchcock were alive today and writing novels, his name would be Kevin O’Brien.” How does it feel to have your work compared to Hitchcock’s?

Kevin: I’m totally flattered. Don’t spread this around, but shortly after that review quote hit the internet, the reviewer got in touch with me, asking if I’d read his unpublished manuscript. So – I can’t help thinking he might have been buttering me up. Still, it’s flattering just the same!

Marie: What do you enjoy most about interacting with fans?

Kevin: For a writer, it’s like completing the process. You’re holed up alone in your writer’s lair – sort of like the Unabomber – for months writing a book, and then your work finally goes out there. The payoff is when people tell you how it touched them. I just got an email last week from an 88-year-old retired Air Force Lieutenant General, who told me that he cried at the end of my book, Only Son. Writers live for that stuff!

Marie: What do you do when you’re not writing?

Kevin: I love movies. So that’s my reward for whenever I’ve gotten a certain amount of pages written. I’m also on the board of Seattle 7 Writers, a non-profit collective of authors promoting literacy. We also provide free books to homeless shelters, halfway houses and other places in need of books. That keeps me very busy. We have about 80 Pacific Northwest authors – including Tom Robbins, Garth Stein, Maria Semple, Terry Brooks, Claire Dederer, Tim Egan, Jenny Shortridge, Erica Bauermeister, and many more. It’s a remarkable group!

Marie: What mystery in your own life could be the plot for a book?

Kevin: Well, I’m remotely connected to the most famous murder of the twentieth century, and it’s still shrouded in mystery. In October, 1963, my family moved into a house in Glencoe, Illinois.  We inherited the previous owner’s dining room set, living room sofa, and their dog. Then on Nov. 22, the police and FBI showed up at our door. They were looking for the previous owner: Milton Klein of Klein’s Sporting Goods. His store is where “A. Hidell” (Oswald) mail-order-purchased the rifle used to shoot President Kennedy. I remember Mr. Klein was a very nice guy, and I read much later that apparently, he felt horrible about his small role in the Kennedy assassination. He didn’t even tell his sons about it until around the time he died in 1997.

Marie: What was the last amazingly good book you read?

Kevin: This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel. It’s about a couple with six sons, the youngest of whom wants to be a girl. Laurie is a dear friend and one of the Seattle 7 Writers. It’s so fun to know the author of a book you love!

Marie: What was your favorite book as a child and why?

Kevin: “Morris is a Cowboy, a Policeman and a Baby Sitter” – story and pictures by B. Wiseman (An “I Can Read” Book from 1960). Morris was a moose, who got it in his head that he wanted to be a cop, a cowboy and a babysitter. He ended up doing all three things quite well. The message is pretty obvious. About five years ago, my sister found the old book in her basement and gave it to me. I was thrilled to get it back after all these years.

Marie: Which authors do you enjoy most, and what do you like about their books?

Kevin: Well, as you might guess, I’ll have to say my favorite authors are all Seattle 7 Writers. You can check out the listing of authors at their website.

Marie: What’s the worst job you ever had?

Kevin: For four summers through high school, I cleaned golf shoes and shined street shoes in the men’s locker room of a county club. During my college summers, I was a bus boy for a Washington, DC restaurant, and an office boy at a law firm. Then I was a railroad inspector for 17 years. I got my first two books written and published while I had that job. But my worst job was a four-month stint taking mail and phone orders for a department store in DC. This was after college and before my railroad job. My boss was this very stylish but nasty woman named Bunny, and she hated me. It was comforting to know that practically everyone else at the store loathed her. In my book, Only Son, I patterned a character after her – which takes us back to question number two!

Marie: What is your favorite thing about being an author?

Kevin: I’m paid to do what I like. I have my own hours, and I don’t have to leave home to go to work! I can’t imagine doing anything else. I’m very lucky.


Below is a list of Kevin’s books in our collection and the titles mentioned in the interview.

Meet Kevin O’Brien at the Oak Harbor Library on Oct. 24 at 2:00 p.m. Books from The Book Rack in Oak Harbor will be available for purchase.

Tags: , , , ,


One response to “Once upon a Crime: Kevin O’Brien”

  1. […] and suspense novels. Previous authors interviewed include Marty Wingate, Robert Dugoni, and Kevin O’Brien. This week we feature an interview with author Stella Cameron. On Oct. 31, Stella will visit the […]

Leave a reply (comments are moderated before posting)