Montague resident shares interest in Turkey through new thriller ‘Liar’s Candle’

  • Liar’s Candle


  • WEISBLAT Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ

For the Recorder
Wednesday, July 11, 2018

August Thomas of Montague is giving readers the chance to “armchair travel across Turkey” through her first novel, a recently published thriller that offers international intrigue.

As Thomas studied Turkey extensively, “Liar’s Candle” is set in that country and abounds with Turkish color. The book’s central character, Penny Kessler, is an unpaid intern at the U.S. embassy in Ankara. Penny wakes up in a hospital the day after a bloody terrorist bombing at a July 4 picnic at the embassy. Many of her colleagues are dead; her friend, Zach, is missing.

Penny attracts a lot of attention at the hospital. She has suddenly become a symbol of American endurance, thanks to a newspaper photograph of her with an American flag just after the attack.

Members of the press want to interview her. Creepy American officials interrogate her. They are convinced that she knows something about the attack because of her connection with Zach, an intelligence officer.

The Turkish government gets involved as well. Penny is suddenly invited to recuperate from her injuries at the home of the Turkish president, under the care of his personal physicians. She would like to refuse the invitation, but the prime minister insists, and the American officials are reluctant to offend the Turks.

As soon as Penny arrives at the presidential palace, she realizes that she is not a guest, but a prisoner. Like everyone else, the powers that be in the Turkish government believe that Penny knows something about the terrorists behind the embassy bombing.

Still a bit woozy from her injuries, but desperate, 21-year-old Penny manages to escape from the palace and begins a trek across Turkey, hoping to find Zach and clear her name.

These tasks will not be easy. She soon realizes that just about everyone — including her own government — is trying to kill her.

Penny’s adventures show off Thomas’ knowledge of Turkish geography, politics and culture, and her love of the country. The book is a fun read: the pace is fast; the bad guys (and gals) are appropriately villainous; and Penny is an engaging, smart heroine.

While reading, I did find that I had to suspend disbelief a lot. Penny begins the novel in the hospital and is clearly feeling pretty awful. Nevertheless, she manages to jump out of windows and helicopters, and to evade bullets and bombs.

I have had to suspend disbelief similarly with many adventure books and films involving male protagonists, however (Jason Bourne comes to mind), so I had no trouble following Penny through her journey. That journey should appeal to anyone who likes a good spy yarn.

I recently asked Thomas how she first became interested in Turkey.

Thomas, who is 27, explained that she had an unusual and wonderful education. Home-schooled by her mother, the novelist Rosanne Daryl Thomas, the younger Thomas graduated from high school at 13 and from college at 18.

“I give enormous credit to my mother, who worked really hard to make that happen,” she said.

“For my 16th birthday, my mom and I went on this inexpensive little package tour to Turkey,” she recalled. “We just decided to go somewhere new. I was fascinated by (the country). It was so different and compelling and so unlike anything I’d ever seen.”

She returned to the University of Massachusetts and began studying Turkish the following semester. After graduating, she held down a variety of jobs — including teaching Turkish — before being awarded a Fulbright fellowship to travel back to Turkey. While there, she received a master’s degree in art history from Bogazici University.

She had always wanted to write, so she applied for, and received, a scholarship for a second master’s degree. That program, located in Scotland, focused on creative writing. It was there that Thomas got the nugget of the idea that would become “Liar’s Candle.”

She originally thought she would write a historical novel, and was in the process of planning a story set in 16th-century Venice. Her mind kept returning to Turkey, though. During her time there, she had seen “a wave of civil unrest” that was hard to forget. She had also made friends with American diplomats.

Thomas said she had long enjoyed spy films and suspense films like those of Alfred Hitchcock. She ended up creating a very cinematic story.

“What I really wanted to do (in Liar’s Candle) was to take the opportunity to write a strong, smart, young feminist heroine who was defined by her courage and her mind, but also would feel like a plausible young woman,” Thomas noted. “Penny was in many ways shaped by what I needed her to be able to do.”

For example, she explained, Penny’s knowledge of the Turkish language made sense; it was the sort of qualification that would help her attain a diplomatic internship.

“I tried to restrict myself to a very realistic set of abilities. Penny wasn’t suddenly going to develop unbelievable martial arts skills that would get her into trouble. I wanted her to be a real girl and not a femme fatale,” Thomas said.

I told Thomas that one of the appealing facets of her book to me was its de-emphasis on romantic love, which has often been placed front and center in suspense novels with female protagonists. She reported that several people have responded to the book that way.

“I think there’s room for every kind of story, but I think there are fewer stories where (romance) isn’t a defining thing for a female character in this genre. I was particularly glad to do that,” she elaborated.

Thomas said the most difficult part of writing “Liar’s Candle” came near the end, as she had to ensure the plot’s loose ends came together and made sense for readers. The easiest part, though, was sharing her interest in Turkey with others.

“I loved the idea of giving people a chance to armchair travel across Turkey,” she said.

It seems Thomas has caught the writing bug; she is already hard at work on her second novel featuring Penny Kessler. The action of that book will open in Budapest.

“Of course, I had to go to Budapest to do research!” she confided with a smile.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.