(There are some mild spoilers ahead.)
Readers of The Charity come from a variety of different backgrounds. They are young and old, men and women. I am learning that each reader finds a truth which makes the book especially compelling for them.
One of my readers observed that no matter how much the main character, Jessica Wyeth, tried to hide, her privileged upbringing could never be successfully hidden. Dying her hair or changing her name would never hide the behavioral and personality quirks that exposed who she really was. This reader really knows what she talks about. As one of the country's foremost forensic psychologists, she has been an expert witness in several high profile criminal cases. One her favorite scenes was when Jessica was having a conversation with Electra Lavielle, a wealthy and powerful woman. Jessica was not intimidated by Electra's position and enjoyed a playful exchange. Also, she noted that Jessica's fears and behaviors in the book accurately reflected what someone would feel if the events had been real. These dynamics work together to create a character that is both flawed and compelling.
I was very pleased with the compliment. The actions and behaviors of characters in thrillers make or break the story. Think about it: Where is the suspense if a character decides to avoid the cemetery on a dark and stormy night? It is exquisitely suspenseful and enriching if the reader understands why a choice was made or an emotion displayed. The symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are accurately reflected in Jessica's character. The resolution of PTSD in Jessica helps to resolve the story. I was gratified to hear from an expert that the story rang true to her and helped her to love the story.
One of my guy readers wrote that he "only reads historical non-fiction." He said he doesn't have a lot of time to read, so when he commits to a book, he wants to feel as if he's getting something in return. After finishing The Charity ('in record time' he notes), he praised the book's accurate portrayal of money laundering schemes and grand jury proceedings. Although the story itself was fiction, he felt that he learned as much from my book as he would have from a non-fiction book.
I'm glad he felt that way. One of the processes I went through while writing this story was to make sure it was as accurate as possible in describing the business behind the money of illicit organizations. I used my career experience in the banking and financial worlds to make sure what I wrote was crisp and accurate.
More than one reader comes away from the book feeling that they have really learned something. I respect the fact that my readers are smart people. If I wrote a completely implausible plot line and did not surround it with facts that my readers know were true, they would have felt cheated and their reading experience would have been cheapened.
And Jessica would never tolerate being cheap.