Set against the dark polar nights of northern Alaska, “Three Houses on a Hill” is the latest suspense thriller from former Yucaipa resident Nicholas Holloway.
Released at the end of 2020, “Three Houses on a Hill” follows ex-firefighter Lazalier Brady as he tries to provide for his sick toddler Ellie with a job as a groundskeeper for a wealthy oil tycoon, named Dilbrook, in the interior of Alaska.
Once there, the single father stumbles across a charred corpse in the woods near his cabin and a rundown shack. Soon, he finds himself thrust into the Dilbrooks’ web of deadly secrets.
This all takes place in the township of Ukippa. Hmm, that sounds a bit familiar.
“It is kind of a play on Yucaipa,” Holloway said.
The 2007 Yucaipa High School graduate, who now lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, admits he likes to incorporate familiar things into his novels.
“I like to pull things from my own life and throw them in there,” he said.
That’s why Yucaipa is not the only personal reference Holloway used in “Three Houses on a Hill.” Brady and daughter Ellie have a dog named Harvey, just like Holloway.
Those bits of familiarity are also what makes “Three Houses on a Hill” the more surprising, as Holloway has set the thriller in a place he has never been and approached its penning in a way he had not tried before.
“Up until now, I have only ever written in places that I have actually been to,” Holloway said. “This is a first time that I have written in an area that I have never been to but I have always wanted to go to. I always dreamed of going to Alaska, hopefully I will make it there soon, once COVID is over.”
In order to create a believable setting, Holloway did tons of research, looked at a lot of Google images and Google maps, and relied on insight from friends who live in Alaska.
“Lots of research went into it,” Holloway said. “The majority of the novel takes place between October and December, which is the time of year, especially north of the Arctic Circle … They kind of go into polar night, where it is pretty much dark all the time.”
His depiction of Alaska succeeded, according to some reviews.
“A lot of people are loving the scenery,” he said, “and they are loving just the depth of imagery, which is kind of what I try to do. I try to make the landscape and the atmosphere a character of its own.”
A review on Goodreads states: “Nicholas Holloway did it again! ‘Three Houses on a Hill’ introduces us to a group of unlikely and lovably rugged characters, one of them being the wild Alaskan landscape where the story is set. From the first page, I was hooked.”
The extra research did mean it took longer to pen the novel. Add a different writing technique into the mix and it took Holloway about two years to produce “Three Houses on a Hill,” compared to about a year for his initial murder mystery “The Loop,” a Killer Nashville Claymore Award winner in 2020.
Holloway decided to forego his typical structured writing technique after reading author Stephen King’s memoir.
“He starts with an idea, a one-sentence idea and then he just starts and lets the story take him. I was like, ‘That’s really cool,’ I am going to try it,” he said of the famed suspense writer.
“It was definitely an experience and maybe not one that I am going to do again,” he said, with a chuckle. “Just because it is super hard.
“When you let the story take you, it takes you to areas that can become dead ends … I think that is part of the reason it took so long to write, it kind of took on a mind of its own. It wasn’t like I was writing the story, it was kind of like the story was forcing its way out of me, which was really interesting and kind of eye-opening.”
“Three Houses on a Hill” is available on Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook format.