June 13th, 2023
What Remains by Wendy Walker is part procedural, part domestic suspense, part mystery, and a cat/mouse thriller between a policewoman and a stalker.
The story opens with Cold Case Detective Elise Sutton stopping at a department store to buy her children a gift. She hears gunshots and is confronted by an active shooter. One man is about to shoot another, so she decides to make the choice to take one life to save the other. Elise is very shaken having killed someone, even if it was necessary to save other lives. As a detective who works cold cases, she has little need to fire her weapon in the line of duty. She is hailed as a hero, but she doesn’t feel like one. Steeped in guilt, and on a leave of absence from work, she’s numb, even to her husband and daughters, until she connects with Wade Austin, the tall man, whose life she saved. She asks him if it was a good shooting, which saved his life.
But this meeting will put her life in turmoil even though Wade, known as The Tall Man, hails her as a hero. She is guilt ridden that she took a life and tells him more about herself than she should. The problem is Wade is not his real name and when she tries to find him, he becomes a ghost.
This is where the story takes a turn and deals with the psychological aftermath of a shooting. Elise comes to grip with letting her guard down with a total stranger who is hellbent on ruining her life unless she gives into his demands of spending their life together. He begins stalking her and threatening the people she loves including her husband, daughters, and police partner. It now becomes a dangerous, twisted, and deadly game between Elise and the man she saved.
This is an edgy, intense, and chilling novel where readers take a journey with Elise. Readers will not be able to put the book down.
Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea for the story?
Wendy Walker: I was listening to the news years ago and heard about a shooting in Boulder Colorado in a grocery store. Listening to the bystanders interviewed it was so clear they suffered a trauma. I wondered what happened to them. This is where the title, What Remains, comes from. This was a sudden acute trauma and I wondered what happens to people emotionally. This is where the character was born and from there, I decided to make her a police officer, Elise.
EC: The steps of trauma?
WW: I found it interesting to find these stages. In the research, some had seven stages, some six, some five. Someone’s brain goes through this process of what happened. I put in the books these steps: shock, denial, pain, guilt, anger, bargaining, depression, then an upward swing toward acceptance and hope. I had Elise, obsessed with finding one of those caught up in the store to try to put her mind at ease about the shooting. She feels isolated and alone because she has stopped herself from going through these stages.
EC: How would you describe Elise, the police officer?
WW: She has an internal conflict after being hailed a hero, yet she has tremendous guilt and doubt about the shot she took killing the shooter. She tends toward having anguish, is a puzzle solver because she can control it, vulnerable, and a risk taker. Before the shooting she is confident and happy with her life.
EC: What about after the shooting?
WW: What happened really shakes her and changes her. As a police officer she second guessed herself. She is strong, tough, capable, and protects herself. I do not see her as a victim. She is kind of a bad ass because she decided to use her weapon to save people’s lives. She feels tormented, puts herself in danger, feels alone, and has secrets. Elise feels isolated, which comes from the shooting because she sees life darker. There is a disconnect from her emotional brain and thinking brain. The book has a scene where the psychiatrist tells her, ‘The worst kind of loneliness is to be with people you love and feel that they don’t see you, then to be alone. It is more painful.’
EC: Readers understand what a stalker does?
WW: Stalkers are irrational. The like to target, humiliate, create fear, and the victim feels helpless. They are compulsive, torment, play a game of wits, and love the control. If they cannot have someone in their life this is the way they do it. There is no end game because the victim will never be with them. They need to have it in that moment, a connection with the person being stalked. It is just in the moment. They crave power over that person.
EC: How would you describe Wade, the stalker?
WW: He is fragile and is in a compromised emotional state when he enters the store. In the store his behavior is less than heroic. His self-esteem is shattered. The focus on Elise is because he has “rescue worship,” which is based on obsession. He believes that the shooting was meant to be to connect him with Elise. He did not see it as random. Being connected to Elise is essential for Wade’s emotional survival. He is also ruthless and violent because he is desperate and loses control.
EC: The role of her partner and husband?
WW: Rowan is her police partner and is meant to be someone who witnesses what she is going through. He ends up helping her and keeps her secrets. He is the other man in her life even though there is no romance but is protective of her.
Mitch, her husband, had an affair that they are trying to overcome. With this dynamic it makes it easier for Wade to torment her and to get at her because of this vulnerability. What they managed to rebuild is challenging and being exploited by Wade. What Elise loves about Mitch is that he is protective, strong, and supportive. He is trying to understand what she is going through but does not.
EC: Next books?
WW: American Girl was an audible original in 2021. It is coming to print in October. There is a TV option for it. An autistic 17-year-old in a small town witnesses a crime, the death of a wealthy business owner. It is a fast-paced thriller. It was inspired by the Tom Petty song, “American Girl.”
Next year there will be an audio play called Mad Love. It is a psychological thriller. A con man is married to a wealthy widow and is found murdered in his bed and she is shot and in a coma.
Also, next year there will be a new novel coming out in 2024 titled Kill Me Softly. It is a play on the song, “Killing Me Softly.” It is about a serial killer who is targeting middle aged women and making it appear like suicides. A young feminist researcher comes to believe there is a serial killer.