The Killing Depths
by Martin Roy Hill
This is the first of my two-part feature on Martin Roy Hill. Today I talk to the author about his earlier book, The Killing Depths, which was a finalist in the Mystery section of the San Diego Book Awards. Coming soon, a post on his latest book, Empty Places, which has just been released.
A killer lurks beneath the waves of the western Pacific Ocean. The USS Encinitas, the first attack submarine crewed by both men and women, stalks the Crescent Moon, a renegade Iranian sub armed with nuclear-tipped missiles. But another predator hides aboard the American sub, a murderer who has already left a trail of dead women behind on shore. While the crew of the Encinitas plays a deadly game of hide-and-seek with the Crescent Moon, NCIS investigator Linus Schag must discover the killer's identity before his - or her - blood lust leads to the submarine's total destruction.
Commander Johnson paced the small amount of open floor space in his stateroom. As he walked back and forth, he studied Schag's face. His own was like a slag of lava.
"Okay," Johnson said. "I want to know what the hell you're doing here, and what you're doing wearing those clusters."
Schag took a deep breath and glanced at Culver before answering.
"Captain, I am a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service," he finally said. "I am currently serving as an agent-afloat aboard the USS Halsey, investigating crimes that occur within her carrier task force while deployed. The USS Encinitas is attached to that task force."
Johnson stiffened in mid-stride. He looked quickly at his exec, whose gaze was frozen on Schag. Culver's mouth was agape. The skipper composed himself and stepped close enough so Schag could feel his breath.
"And just why the hell do you seem to know so much about my mission?"
"I know only what I've been able to deduce, sir," Schag said. "From the course laid out on your plot table, it's obvious the Encinitas has been conducting covert operations inside North Korean waters. North Korea is known to have developed nuclear weapons and attached them to long-range cruise missiles. It's also known that the North Koreans have refurbished a handful of old Charlie-class guided missile subs the Russians had sold to them as scrap. Those subs have also been modified to carry the North Korean cruise missiles."
Schag cleared his throat and continued.
"North Korea has a long history of selling weapons to terrorist nations for hard currency," he said. "Recently it's offered one of its Charlie-class boats — missiles and all — to Iran. The Iranians have been scouring the international black market for nukes since their own homegrown nuclear program foundered. I suspect the Encinitas has been detailed to keep an eye on North Korean submarine activities to spot and track the Iranian sub if the deal goes through."
Johnson eyes narrowed to thin slits.
"You deduced all that just from looking at my plot table?"
"That and the fact the Halsey's planes have been on alert for the same sub for the past week, sir."
A grin played at the corners of Schag's mouth. The captain was not amused.
"NCIS agents are normally civilians, are they not, Mr. Schag?" The agent nodded. "And the last time I saw you, you were on your way to becoming a civilian again, am I right?"
Schag felt the muscles tighten throughout his body. He returned the captain's glower with an equal intensity. He nodded but said nothing.
"Then why are you wearing an officer's insignia?"
"Captain, as an agent-afloat, I hold the honorary rank of lieutenant commander," Schag said.
"That, Mr. Schag, does not answer my question."
"I felt appearing aboard the Encinitas in uniform might make my investigation easier for the crew."
"Your investigation?" The captain's voice took on an edge of irritability. "What investigation, Mr. Schag? Please stop beating around the bush and tell me."
Schag glanced at Culver, then at the skipper before answering.
"Sir," he finally said, "I'm here to investigate the murder of Machinist's Mate Jenny Muller."
Ever wonder what it would be like to crew a nuclear sub - the cramped, stifling atmosphere - the silence - the chilling knowledge that the smallest mistake could bury you under a million of tons of seawater?
Hill's painstaking attention to detail and vivid descriptions, not only of the nuclear sub's high-tech hardware but of the emotions of the men and women trapped inside, answer that question brilliantly. Toss in a raging sea battle and a cunning, deranged serial killer, and you've got a riveting thriller that you'll have a hard time putting down.
Interview With the Author
Hi, Martin, thanks for joining me today to discuss your book, The Killing Depths.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
When I was young, I consumed the works of the Lost Generation writers – Hemingway, Dos Passos, Remarque. I was also influenced by early sci-fi writers like H. G. Wells. In terms of mystery and suspense, I think Raymond Chandler had a big impact, as well as the British writer Alistair MacLean. I was also influenced by my late father-in-law Bob Wade who, with his writing partner H. Billy Miller, wrote something like 30 mysteries suspense novels under the pen names Wade Miller and Whit Masterson. Have you ever watched Orson Welles’ film noir classic, Touch of Evil? That was one of Bob’s books.
No, I haven't seen that one. What age group do you recommend your book for?
It’s aimed at adults, but I only say that because it has some violence and cussing. It has one bizarre sex scene, too, which explains how the antagonist became a serial killer.
What sparked the idea for this book?
Until recently, submarines were the last vestige of men-only nautical traditions. Women are now reporting aboard ballistic subs, but those things are huge. They’re not allowed yet on the smaller attack submarines like the one in my book. So I started to think, well, what if…
Which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the novel?
Well, in this case, the protagonist came first. NCIS agent Linus Schag was featured in my short story, “Destroyer Turns,” published by Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in 1995. “Destroyer Turns” also appears in my first book, Duty: Suspense and Mystery Stories from the Cold War and Beyond.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
The research. I have 16 years of active and reserve service in the U.S Coast Guard and U.S. Navy, but I was surface sailor – what submariners would call a “target”. I was lucky to get some advice from active and former submariners, including input from a retired submariner who read an early draft of the book. I also was privileged to get a tour of a Los Angeles-class sub. But that all took a lot of time and a lot of asking. Submariners aren’t called the Silent Service for nothing.
How to you hope this book affects its readers?
I hope it enthralls and entertains them.
How long did it take you to write this book?
Years. I was mobilized for my Coast Guard unit for a few months after 9/11. Then I switched careers from a journalist to an analyst in combat medical capabilities for the Navy. That was in 2003, just before we invaded Iraq, and I was so busy I didn’t have time to write much.
What is your writing routine?
I’d like to say I have one, but I really don’t. I used to write for an hour every morning. Now I just grab whatever time I can. My office is our living room couch where I write on my laptop with my legs stretched out on the couch.
How did you get your book published?
I’m an indie author. I had gone through – I think it was three lit agencies, and had a bad experience with each one. One agent said she was too busy on her own novel to sell mine. Another went out of business after signing me as a client. The third was just useless. When I stumbled upon some articles about indie authors, I thought, “Why not?”
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
Believe in yourself.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I don’t have a lot of free time. I’m still in the reserves – though I’m a soldier now – and I am also a disaster medical responder. When I’m not busy with those activities, I’m with my wife and son and cats, or reading.
What does your family think of your writing?
They are very supportive. It’s a family affair. My wife, Winke, is a highly experienced magazine editor, and she edits everything I write.
Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
I’m a Southern California boy, grew up in Redondo Beach, and, no, I do not surf. Everyone asks that.
Did you enjoy school?
Does anyone? High school, in particular, is a very lonely time. But I did get involved in the dramatic arts, made friends, and starred in the junior and senior plays. That I enjoyed.
Did you like reading?
I’ve been an avid reader as long as I can remember. My favorite days in elementary school were when the Book Mobile came by.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
High school, for certain. Maybe before.
Did your childhood experiences influence your writing?
Not as much as my adult experiences. Most of what I write has a military slant to it. I’ve been in the military or law enforcement reserves a good part of my adult life, and I draw on that knowledgebase for ideas.
Thanks so much for dropping in for a chat today, Martin. It's been very enlightening. Best of luck with your future writing projects.
About the Author
Martin Roy Hill is the author of the military mystery thriller, The Killing Depths, and the award-winning short story collection, Duty.
Martin spent more than 20 years as a staff reporter and editor for newspapers and magazines, before becoming a military analyst specializing in battlefield medical operations for the Navy. His freelance credits include Reader's Digest, LIFE, Newsweek, Omni, American History, Coast Guard Magazine, Retired Officer Magazine, the Los Angeles Times Sunday Opinion Section, and many more.
Much of Martin's freelance work involves historical topics, especially military history. He was a lead contributor to the 1995 WWII anthology, From Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki: America at War, published by the Retired Officer Association (now called the Military Officer Association).
Martin's short stories have appeared in such publications as Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Plan B Mystery Anthology, San Diego Magazine, and San Diego Writer's Monthly. His first book, Duty, was named the Best Short Story Anthology/Collection during the 2013 San Diego Book Awards (SDBA). The Killing Depths was also named a finalist in the Mystery section of the SDBA.
Martin's new novel, Empty Places, a murder mystery, has just been released.