As a thriller writer, I’m always searching for the idea that sends a chill slithering up my spine. A decade ago, I felt just such a chill when I came across a news article about an incident that had occurred thirty years earlier.
The year was 1968, and it happened in mid-March, in a place called Skull Valley, Utah. It was chilly that afternoon, with patches of snow on the ground. While doing chores in his yard, Ray Peck developed an earache and decided to go to bed early. When he woke up the next morning and stepped outside, he was stunned by what he saw. His yard was littered with dead birds. It seemed as if they had dropped from the sky struck down in mid-flight. Not far away, a struggling rabbit was twitching in its last death throes.
Over the next few days, the local university began receiving frantic calls from farmers across Skull Valley. Thousands of their sheep were lying dead in pastures, a death toll that eventually mounted to over six thousand animals. No one could explain it. No one admitted any wrongdoing.
Thirty years later, the answers were finally revealed when the U.S. government declassified its file on the sheep deaths. That’s when I first learned about what is now known as the Dugway Incident, and the explanation frightened me.
Because it could happen again. And it could happen to a town full of people.
For years I’ve been haunted by this obscure bit of history. Now the Dugway Incident serves as the inspiration for my newest thriller, ICE COLD, the eighth book featuring homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles. My previous books in the Rizzoli & Isles series have been set in Boston, but this time my characters venture far from the city, into the wintry landscape of Wyoming. While attending a pathology conference in Jackson Hole, Maura joins a group of friends on a spur-of-the moment ski trip. Their GPS sends them up a seasonal mountain road, where their SUV becomes stranded in deep snow. As bone-chilling darkness falls, the desperate group stumbles into a valley known as Kingdom Come. There they find 12 eerily deserted homes where meals are still on tables and cars are still in garages. The residents, it seems, have vanished into thin air — or have they?
Days later, Maura finds mysterious footprints in the snow. And she realizes that they are not alone in the valley.
If ICE COLD scares you, the true events that inspired it should scare you even more. But that’s what thriller writers are always searching for: that creepy news item, that overheard bit of conversati=n that makes our skin go cold. We writers want to feel that shiver.
So we can pass it on to you.
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