CrimeReads is pleased to unveil a first look at the cover of Amina Akhtar’s upcoming thriller, Kismet (July, Thomas & Mercer). To celebrate the first glimpse at the novel—which sets its sights on the Sedona wellness industry with Akhtar’s definitive, biting voice—acclaimed crime author Alex Segura sat down with Akhtar to talk about her inspiration for the book, the challenges of second novels, and much more.
ALEX SEGURA: Amina, for the uninitiated – what’s the high concept/elevator pitch for your new novel, KISMET?
AMINA AKHTAR: Live, laugh, die. Wellness run amok in the desert mountains. I figured since I moved out this way, it’d be insane to not use it as a setting for a book. It’s a very special area, even if you’re not into the woo-woo. And to be honest, the ravens really inspired this book.
Oh, we’ll get to the ravens, trust me! Now, #FashionVictim was one of the strongest crime fiction debuts in a long time—and I think a big part of that is your voice in that novel. How does KISMET compare with FV, and what inspired it?
KISMET was such a challenge! I think all second books are. So, writers, if you’re struggling with your second book, I feel you. FV just sort of came out, poured out of me. But KISMET I had to work on. I think the third person POV was something I needed to learn how to get my voice to come through. First person voice, easy. Third? Whew, okay. But it worked! And I feel like the years it took me to write this made me a better writer. It’s the goth book of my dreams.
I also didn’t want to do Anya Goes West for this book. In FV, the mystery wasn’t who did it, but rather, how you, the reader, would react and who you’d root for. In KISMET, it’s more of a traditional thriller—well, about as traditional as I can get! I also wanted to work in things from my culture so that was fun. (Sorry to all my Aunties.)
I think they’ll find a way to forgive you. BIG spoiler – we’re friends IRL! So, as I read the book, I saw a lot of you in it – not just in terms of location, but the characters and their experiences. Can you talk about your connection to the work?
They’re all me, I’m a narcissist! Just kidding. I was trying to think what kind of person is going to be taken in by a guru. Who would meet Marley and say, yes, I’ll follow her! And it made me think of me at 18 moving to New York from my sheltered life in TX, and not being prepared for the world at hand. But in 2021, how do you shelter someone to that degree? (The nineties were such a different time!) So I had to work in that Ronnie’s so beat down that she’ll glom on to the first person to show her a bit of kindness.
What are some of the books, movies, or media that influenced KISMET?
A lot of social media inspired this because wellness is constantly changing and a little bizarre at times. I’m all for tarot and astrology, so it’s not a dig. But when we see the wellness folks get into the conspiracy theories, well…
I actually met a woman here who is named Brittany and is a shaman and she started telling me that our former president made the chem trails go away and well there you go. I can’t overstate how weird it is here.
That is…special. Can we please talk about the ravens? Because…wow.
The animals are such a huge part of daily life. I see them more than I see people! So, I live about 20 miles outside of Sedona, on a mountain. Our property is part of what I call the Animal Expressway. They all cut through it—coyotes, javelinas, bobcats, mountain lions, deer. We keep water out and food for the birds. So the ravens hang out. And the ravens are GIANT. Way bigger than my tiny little dog (Hi, Bean!). I wanted to really reflect that the wildlife is life, so the ravens get to narrate their own chapters. I love them. And, as I was writing KISMET and thinking of the ravens, one of them left me a giant black feather. That hadn’t happened before! So I took it as a sign. (Am I woo-woo? Yep!)
I also really wanted to make sure I didn’t step on any Indigenous myths of ravens. KISMET covers a lot about white wellness people stealing from other cultures, but I wanted this to be authentic to me. So I was digging for crow and raven stories and found one in the Qu’ran! The Islamic Cain and Abel story includes a crow/raven teaching Cain how to bury his brother. And that imagery stuck with me. It was just such a powerful idea of the ravens knowing how to handle death.
Did I miss anything?
KISMET it out July 1, 2022 and you can preorder it now!