Damaged Souls, Dark Justice
by Pamela Cowan
March 10, 2022
Today we’re taking about themes. The novels I write are predominately psychological thrillers and tend to share some things in common: emotionally damaged people, dysfunctional families, partnerships, guilt, obsession, vengeance, rescue, and redemption.
My characters carry loads of emotional baggage that they need to work through or work with. In my vigilante series, Probation Officer Storm McKenzie and her client, Howard Kline, join up to seek vengeance against a known child abuser.
The idea for a vigilante came from my time working in probation and parole. My co-workers shared heartbreaking stories of files filled with abuse and neglect. Sometimes they expressed their frustration about clients who had slipped through the cracks of the justice system. We all knew that there were times having to meet with us angered our clients. We also knew they’d take that rage home to their families. There was nothing we could do—but Storm could.
Though not a violent sociopath like her partner, I wanted Storm to be someone capable of putting aside the social contracts and moral codes most of us live by. She had to be both willing and able to kill. I decided that as an adult she would still carry scars, both physical and emotional, from the time her drunken father set her on fire. Storm’s past is a good example of the themes of dysfunctional families and damaged people.
In the first of the three-book series, STORM JUSTICE, Storm is full of rage, yet it’s her partner who does the killing. Her biggest contributions are to find their targets and to develop the four rules meant to keep them from getting caught: no weapons, no trophies, no connections, no bodies. Of course, the rules are inevitably broken.
In STORM VENGEANCE, the second novel, Storm has a new partner, someone with a twisted connection to her past. Unlike Howard, this sidekick is a woman, a reality which forces Storm to find new ways to capture and kill. In Vengeance, Storm is less passive, less tidy, and a lot more devious. In this novel the themes of partnership, guilt and obsession play out.
In the third novel, STORM RETRIBUTION, Storm again has a new partner, this time the very person who made her someone capable of murderous rage—her father. Dealing with daddy, and mommy issues, Storm begins to move beyond the need for revenge. The abused dog she adopts is a mirror to herself. They both need to learn to let go of the past and find peace.
You will find similar themes in my stand-alone novels, SOMETHING IN THE DARK, COLD KILL and FIRE AND LIES.
SOMETHING IN THE DARK is a mystery thriller whose main character, a young woman who owns a plant nursery, must overcome her fear of the dark in order to stop the one-by-one murder of her friends and family.
COLD KILL is a suspense thriller whose main character, a former deputy shot on duty, must overcome the physical challenge of being a recent amputee, as well as finding her lost courage.
FIRE AND LIES is book one in a detective series about two sisters, one retired military, and one a newly minted private investigator. Each has things to deal with, an ugly divorce, a miscarriage, and things they want, the need to be viewed as competent, the desire for family. Though very different, the sisters work together to help others. I think of this series as crime solving, with a side of sibling rivalry.
Although the subject of crime and murder is dark, most of my characters develop coping mechanisms that require friends, family, partners, love, and healthy doses of humor. Though I do admit some of that humor is found in the strangest of places.
Understanding the themes that weave through my books has been an important element in helping me understand the message I’m trying to convey. It was through reviewers that I got my best clues. Certain words and phrases kept coming up: dark, damaged, justice, couldn’t sleep, nail biter, brutal, revenge. I used some of those words to create my tag line, Damaged Souls. Dark Justice. This tells my readers what to expect and reminds me to stay on message so that my books deliver what I promise.
Whether you’re a reader or a writer, or both, I hope the idea of finding your favorite themes and exploring them helps you understand what matters to you, and what it is you’re trying to say.
Pamela Cowan is an award-winning, Pacific Northwest author, best known for her psychological thrillers. She has degrees in Communication and Organizational Psychology but is most proud of being selected to take a class from Ursula K. Le Guinn. An army brat who was born in Germany, she moved with her family 17 times before her father retired to Oregon, where she has stubbornly remained. She has two grown children, a remarkably patient and supportive husband, an unruly flock of quail, and a killer view of the lake.