Crime fans, buck up! Meg Gardiner’s UNSUB is now available, and this scary-good novel is not to be missed. Loosely based on the real-life Zodiac killer, Gardiner’s fictional serial killer, the Prophet, tormented the Bay Area in the 1990s before suddenly going dark. As a child, Gardiner’s protagonist, Caitlin Hendrix, watched her father–who led the FBI’s investigation into the Prophet’s murders–spend every waking moment trying to hunt down the elusive killer.
Now, twenty years after their last murder, the Prophet is back, and it’s up to Caitlin, now a police officer, to catch and unmask him once and for all.
Check out our Q&A with Gardiner below, then keep scrolling to see why UNSUB gets our vote for best crime novel of the summer!
TRBS: UNSUB is a chilling novel about a terrifying serial killer who torments the Bay Area, toying with police in the process–and one detective’s drive to catch them no matter what. How much research did you have to do before sitting down to write this novel?
Gardiner: “Plenty. I pored through the digitized files from the Zodiac investigation. That case sparked the novel, and I dug through everything from the original police reports to the Zodiac’s handwritten ciphers. I read books by former FBI agents on criminal profiling. I interviewed psychiatrists about the motives and behavior of psychopaths. I rode along on patrol with the Austin Police Department.
“And to create the killer’s secret world, I delved into ancient symbolism, codes, astrology, poetry–and the creepier aspects of computer hacking. Research is wonderful…and sometimes scary.”
TRBS: How is this book different than other books you’ve written?
Gardiner: “UNSUB is my first novel where the heroine is a cop. (I’ve written before about lawyers, a forensic psychiatrist, a skip tracer, and an ex-thief.) Caitlin Hendrix is a young Bay Area sheriff’s detective who gets drawn into a notorious cold case when the killer starts murdering again after 20 years. As a police officer, Caitlin has the responsibility to capture the UNSUB–the unknown subject of the criminal investigation. That weight lies heavy on her shoulders. Her father failed to catch the killer in the nineties, with fatal consequences. Since then, the killer has only grown more dangerous.
“It’s also the first novel I’ve written that was sparked by real events–the unsolved Zodiac killings, which terrified California in the 1960s and seventies. And it’s the biggest story I’ve written: It centers on a legendary murder case that spans decades. The novel takes place over a ten-day period, but the case crosses generations.”
TRBS: While the killer in this book, the Prophet, has some similarities to the real-life Zodiac killer, what about your protagonist? Caitlin Hendrix is a fantastic new character–is she based on a real person or just someone you created?
Gardiner: “I’m glad you like her! Caitlin is fictional (though completely real to me). A newly-minted homicide detective, she’s a hunter who’s haunted by the ghosts of the case. Caitlin’s like many strong, smart women I know. She’s inventive, relentless, determined–she never gives up. And she’s like cops I know, who are dedicated to getting bad guys off the street. And who have a pitch-black sense of humor.”
TRBS: It’s been reported that CBS TV Studios has bought the rights to UNSUB, with plans to turn it into a television show. Will you be involved with the show moving forward, and are there any updates on where things currently stand?
Gardiner: “CBS has indeed bought the rights to UNSUB. I’m thrilled. I’m slated to be a producer on the TV show, which means I’ll be involved behind the scenes. Developments are in the works. More news to come!”
TRBS: Lastly, with UNSUB finally hitting bookstores, are you planning to take some time off or start writing your next book right away?
Gardiner: “I took time off and made a sandwich. Now I’m finishing the sequel to UNSUB. It’s titled Into the Black Nowhere. Caitlin is recruited to work with the FBI’s elite Behavioral Analysis Unit, and engages in a cat-and-mouse game with a charming, devious killer as she hunts him across the western U.S. I’ve been marking up pages and making sure the fight scenes in the novel are authentic. Luckily, my husband doesn’t flinch when I say, ‘If I attacked you in the dark with a knife, could you stop me?’
“For the record, he’s a black belt, so he could. In less than two seconds. Good times at my house.
“I love this job. I hope readers will love UNSUB.”
What makes UNSUB really special is that it hits hard on several emotional levels. Obviously, Caitlin trying to stop a madman is entertaining–and the multiple plot twists will keep readers guessing throughout–but there’s a lot of depth beyond that.
Caitlin isn’t just tracking any killer, she’s trying to track down the same killer that her father nearly lost his mind trying to apprehend two decades ago. For the record, Caitlin’s dad isn’t wild about her pursuit of the Prophet. And by “not wild about it,” I mean he pretty much forbids it, convinced that the same killer who ruined his life will soon ruin his daughter’s life, too.
Before it’s made into a hit television show, be sure to pick up Meg Gardiner’s UNSUB, or click here to order your copy now. For crime fans especially, there isn’t a better new thriller coming out this summer!