By AMY STUMPFL For Brentwood Home Page

Local author M.K. Gilroy marked the release of his first novel, Cuts Like a Knife, this spring. But you wouldn’t exactly call him a rookie. In fact, Gilroy – who has lived in Brentwood since 2006 – has racked up more than 30 years in the publishing industry, handling everything from packing boxes and proofreading to managing editorial departments and developing marketing plans.

He has served as executive vice president and publisher for major publishing companies, such as Thomas Nelson, Inc. And he currently works as a freelance publisher, serving a wide range of retailers, publishers, ministries, and business organizations.

But according to Gilroy, much of what he learned about writing mystery and suspense comes from a lifetime of reading the genre.

“I have always loved good, character-driven mysteries and suspense novels – starting way back with the Hardy Boys,” he said. “I remember thinking there was nothing as good as a sick day, so I could stay home and read! "Over the years I’ve read everything from spy thrillers to crime noir. I love Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. Some of my favorite contemporary authors include Tony Hillerman, Lee Child and Daniel Silva – to name a few. I guess after reading so many great books, I finally decided to give it a try myself.”

The result is a fast-paced thriller filled with action, wry humor – and a few twists. Cuts Like a Knife follows the adventures of Detective Kristen Conner, a tough Chicago cop who goes undercover to track down a serial killer. But what happens when she becomes the target of this desperate criminal?  

Such a gritty storyline may seem an unlikely fit for someone with a background in Christian publishing. But Gilroy takes it in stride.

“My goal was not to write a Christian novel,” he said. “I wanted to write a mainstream thriller with a lead character that happens to be a Christian. She’s a good girl, and her life is built on faith and family – even though she and her sisters argue about everything under the sun.

"Interestingly enough, I’m getting some good reviews from both the general and the Christian markets, so I feel like I’ve hit a good balance.”

Readers also seem to be responding to the book’s strong characters and unique voice.

“The story is told from Kristen’s perspective, but then I’ve mixed in chapters that are told from the killer’s point of view – as if he is writing a journal," Gilroy said. "Once I had those characters straight in my mind, the book just flowed – they really wrote the story for me.”

And when it came to capturing all the drama associated with Kristen and her sisters, Gilroy is quick to credit his own family.

“My wife and I have six children – three sons and three daughters – so let’s just say I had plenty of material to draw from,” he says with a laugh.

Gilroy also drew from personal experience as he detailed the novel’s Chicago setting. “I went to college in the Chicago area, so I definitely enjoyed including those landmarks," he said. "I really wanted to capture the feel of the neighborhoods, the restaurants, even a little politics.”

Initial response has been positive, with solid reviews from the likes of USA Today and Publishers Weekly.

“It’s so hard to establish yourself as a new novelist. I couldn’t be more thrilled with all the buzz that’s been generated," Gilroy said.

The sequel to Cuts Like a Knife – Every Breath You Take – is expected to be available in October, and Gilroy already is hard at work on a third installment in the Kristen Conner series.

“I like to call her a graceful mess,” he says of his lead character. “She is strong and independent, but can be cynical and has a lot of anger issues. She’s full of contradictions, but she is very likable and down to earth – a great anti-hero. I have lots of ideas and definitely hope to see the series continue.”

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