Bestselling thriller writer launches new detective series set in San Diego

Author Karen Rose and her book "Cold Blooded Liar."
(Courtesy of Michael Greene)

Florida author Karen Rose will make a virtual appearance at Warwick’s on Thursday to promote her new book: “Cold Blooded Liar”


In another life, Karen Rose would have been a travel writer. At one point in her life, working as a chemical engineer, she says she once filled an entire passport and a half with stamps in just three years.

There was just one issue: She was, and still is, afraid of flying.

“When I was on a plane, I needed a book with me so that I wouldn’t remember that I was on a plane,” says Rose from her home in Florida. “I needed a book that would just suck me in.”

It was on these trips, however, that Karen Rose, the bestselling author of more than a dozen bestselling thrillers and mysteries, was born. Intensely reading on the plane and using her downtime in hotel rooms to write her own works, Rose says she’d often have “whole movies” playing out in her head and that some story ideas would often wake her up in the middle of the night.

Still, she says this casual approach to the craft helped her find her voice and “took the pressure off” of having to do anything with the stories. Then, on the verge of turning 30 years old, she says her husband finally told her that she should do something with her talent.

“It took me a while to get my mind in a place where I wanted to let someone else read what I’d done,” Rose admits.

Luckily an agent saw her potential and sold her first book (2003’s “Don’t Tell”) and Rose — now 30-plus books later — hasn’t looked back. What’s more, Rose has become known for having multiple series of novels that take place in certain cities. Beginning with Chicago, her city-by-city approach has seen her set multiple novels in places she both loves (New Orleans and Minneapolis), as well as places she’s lived (Baltimore and Cincinnati).

“In the beginning, I didn’t know that was going to be a thing,” Rose admits, saying that the idea of city-specific thrillers began germinating after visiting Chicago a few times. “It grew from an idea. It wasn’t as if I set out to do that, because I really had no idea I’d make it this far. I was just going to ride this wave for as long as it lasted.”

Her most recent book, “Cold Blooded Liar,” is the first in a new series of novels that take place in San Diego. The book, which comes out on Tuesday, centers on a tough female San Diego police homicide detective (Kit McKittrick) and an affable criminal psychologist (Sam Reeves) who have to reluctantly team up to get to the bottom of a cold case murder that just might be part of a serial pattern of local killings.

“This San Diego book is different, because it’s the same two characters and they’re going to stay in San Diego. The same two people in each book,” Rose says. “I’ll continue to do other city-by-city series, but the San Diego books will be my winter series.”

Like many others, Rose fell in love with San Diego while visiting and found that the city was the perfect setting for one of her hard-boiled mysteries.

“Of course, I wanted to do a city where I’d never set anything before and we have relatives and friends in San Diego.” Rose says. “I just thought the city offers so much because you’ve got the geography; the ocean, you’ve got farms, the city, there’s a lot to work with just within San Diego County. And then you’ve got the naval bases close by. You’ve got so much that I could keep going with this for years.”

One thing that stands out in “Cold Blooded Liar” is the sometimes antagonistic bond that forms between the book’s two main characters. It’s easy to discern how the two characters’ respective processes could help each other. There’s the gruff detective with a troubling past who holds onto her trauma as something that fuels her to do good, and then there’s the psychologist who could use a little proactiveness when it comes to deciding whether a client is actually dangerous. It makes for the perfect setup for a reluctant partnership.

“I’ve had a couple books where there’s been a one- or two-sided, antagonistic relationship from the beginning and they have to figure out a way to work together,” Rose says. “I like them all, but Kit and Sam, at least in the case of Sam, he comes to really admire her. He’s putting up much less of a wall than Kit does. Their first meeting is less than stellar, so he has all the reasons in the world not to trust her, but there’s something in both of them that trusts the other even when neither of them really wants to.”

Some of Sam’s own struggles can be seen as loosely based on Rose’s own experiences. Her husband used to work as a mental health therapist before leaving the profession after a patient, as Rose recalls it, tried to kill him.

“It was a big trauma in our lives and I wasn’t able to incorporate it into a book for 15 years after it happened,” Rose says. “It took a long time just for me to process it. But he always had a lot of concerns and one of those was always whether there was a clear and present danger with his clients.”

She channeled these concerns into the titular liar of the new book, Colton, Sam’s patient who may be admitting to the psychologist that he has committed multiple crimes. Just as in Rose’s previous books, Colton is presented as disturbingly multilayered, even if the crimes he may have committed might make the reader wince.

“Every villain should have some vulnerability,” Rose says. “Otherwise they become too archetypal. That type of villain can be fun, but those aren’t the real people you meet on the street. What I really love to do is create a villain who has a really beautiful face, that no one is going to suspect. Evil does not show itself right away.”

With an impressive international following, Rose says it’s extremely important to her how she presents the city where her books take place. Of course, she wants to transport readers who have never been to places like San Diego, but also says it’s important to have enough insider knowledge that local will recognize their respective city.

“It is very important to me,” Rose says. “It’s important to present an accurate view of the city, the surroundings and the feel of the city.”

Averaging about a book a year, Rose envisions her new “San Diego Case Files” series, and Kit and Sam, to continue well into the future.

“I see myself writing these books for as long as people want to read them,” says Rose, adding that the romantic tension between the two characters also serves as a compelling subplot. “At some point, they probably won’t have that will she/won’t she sort of relationship, but they’ll always work as a team and more seamlessly moving forward. I can see them working together and having a relationship for a long time to come. That’s my hope.”

“Cold Blooded Liar: The San Diego Case Files”
by Karen Rose (In stores Tuesday, Berkley, 464 pages)

Warwick’s presents Karen Rose

Virtual appearance: 4 p.m. Thursday

Where: Warwick’s, 7812 Girard Ave., La Jolla

Admission: Free


Combs is a freelance writer.