Amy Hill Hearth is a New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author. Her first book, "Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years", was on The New York Times bestseller list for more than two years. It was adapted to the Broadway stage and for an award-winning film with actress Amy Madigan playing the part of Amy Hill Hearth.
Her eleventh book (and first historical thriller) is "Silent Came the Monster: A Novel of the 1916 Jersey Shore Attacks," which explores the real-life series of shark attacks that occurred along the Jersey Shore in 1916, weaving together historical accuracy with fictional elements to create a gripping and suspenseful narrative that will leave readers on the edge of their seats. In our recent interview, Amy Hill Hearth shared her inspiration for the book, her research process, and the challenges she faced in writing a historical thriller. Overall, "Silent Came the Monster" is a must-read for fans of historical fiction, true crime, and suspense.
TFx: Where did you come up with the idea for this book, and what can you tell us about the plot?
Hearth: I live at the Jersey Shore where the real events of my book took place in 1916. From the window of my home office, I have a view of protected salt marsh and a tidal estuary that is almost identical to the site, eleven miles to the north, of one of the worst in the series of shark attacks a century ago. I’d known the story for a long time, but during the pandemic lockdown of 2020, I saw parallels in the way people reacted to a new and previously unknown threat. Just as with Covid, the response to the sea monster, as they called it, was confusion as well as fear, denial, defiance, and even conspiracy theories.
My plot sticks to the facts of the shark attacks as described by witnesses, but the story is told through a fictional character, Dr. Edwin Halsey, a local surgeon who is called to examine the victims (or in some cases, bodies). Dr. Halsey believes the culprit is a shark, and desperately tries to convince a skeptical public that its existence is real and that it will strike again.
TFx: How many books have you written and which is your favorite?
Hearth: This is my eleventh book but my first thriller. I love trying new (to me) genres. As for which of my books is my favorite, forgive me but I can’t answer that! It would be like asking a mother to choose which of her children is her favorite. I am fond of each one in its own way.
TFx: How much research went into the writing of this book?
Hearth: Tons! I read hundreds of vintage newspaper stories. I spent weeks reading scientific journals about the many different types of sharks and their behaviors. I studied maps, both old and new, and spent hours comparing them. I researched every detail from 1916 fashion to specifics about German U-boats. Long before I began this writing project, I had learned a great deal about the shark attacks from local folk. I’m a boater, and I’ve piloted my boat in the same waters that the shark swam in. I’ve had conversations over the years about the 1916 shark attacks (and sharks in general) with Jersey Shore fishermen, my fellow boaters, and boatbuilders.
TFx: What was the hardest scene to write in this book?
Hearth: The shark attacks. Yikes! I scared myself half to death writing those scenes. I read witness reports over and over again to be certain that the words I used in my descriptions reflected the facts.
TFx: Tell us something fun about you that readers might be surprised to know?
Hearth: I have some Lenni-Lenape (sometimes called Delaware Indian) ancestry. The Lenape are the native people of the Jersey Shore and surrounding areas, including what is now Manhattan and Philadelphia. In the process of learning more about them, I visited the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation in Cumberland County, N.J. I ended up writing a book about the Chief’s mother, an elder named Marion “Strong Medicine” Gould. In 2010, in appreciation of my work, I was given the name Smiling Songbird Woman by the tribe.
Get Amy Hill Hearth’s latest release, Silent Came the Monster, out now on Amazon
“Sharks are as timid as rabbits,” says a superintendent of the Coast Guard, dismissing the possibility that a shark could be the culprit in an unprecedented fatal attack at the Jersey Shore. It’s July, and swimming in the sea is a popular new pastime, but people up and down the East Coast are shocked and mystified by the swimmer’s death. A prominent surgeon at the shore, Dr. Edwin Halsey is the one who examines the victim, and the only one who believes the perpetrator was a shark—and that it will strike again.
With the public and the authorities—and even those who witnessed the attacks—so stubbornly disbelieving, Dr. Halsey finds himself fighting widespread confusion, conspiracy theories, and outright denial. Seeking the input of commercial fisherman, he soon learns they have long been concerned about a creature they call the Beast. The Lenape, one of the tribes native to the area, have their own beliefs about this creature, but can Dr. Halsey convince the rest of the world before it’s too late?
The story of the 1916 Jersey Shore shark changed the way Americans think of the seashore, reminding us once again that nature plays by its own rules.
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