Through the Heart
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“In the inquiry, every detail is relevant. You never know where you will find meaning in the minutia that illuminates the whole.”
This is a tenet of Victimology, the study of the life of a victim that is routinely used to help solve crimes. It is also the focus of Through the Heart, a blend of love story, tragedy, and mystery told from three very different perspectives: Nora's, Timothy's, and the findings of a police report.
From the beginning of the novel, we know this much: Someone will die. But over the course of the story we also come to know Nora and Timothy, a couple who, against the odds, manage to find one another and fall in love. Nora works as a barista in a Starbucks knockoff in a tiny town in Kansas, caring for her terminally ill mother; Timothy is a money manager on Wall Street, where he oversees his family’s millions. They are the most improbable couple in the world, and yet fate brings them, slowly and not-so-gently, together. And then destiny strikes again, and as definitively: with a death.
Kate Morgenroth is a powerful storyteller and the practiced author of two thrillers in addition to other novels. Here she combines the genres of romance and mystery and plays skillfully with elements of narrative fiction. With Through the Heart she takes a traditional whodunit and makes it a modern contemplation on fate, love, friendship, and family.
A CONVERSATION WITH KATE MORGENROTH Q. How much research about homicide investigations did this book require? What gave you the idea to use exact text from your research inside the novel? Did any of the research change the direction of the narrative or even determine who would be dead (or the killer) at the end?
Q. How much research about homicide investigations did this book require? What gave you the idea to use exact text from your research inside the novel? Did any of the research change the direction of the narrative or even determine who would be dead (or the killer) at the end?
The idea for having information about police investigations within the novel came from the place where all my best ideas come from—my mother. Well, it wasn’t exactly her idea, but when she read the first draft, she mentioned that the book didn’t have as strong a mystery element as my last book (because the early version didn’t include the research chapters) and as a result of her feedback, I ended up adding in those chapters. So they were not part of the background research—they were researched specifically to be put in the book in that format.
A certain amount of research is critical to make the story believable, however the most important component of believability is, Do you believe the characters and their choices?
Q. Your research and your novel points out that most victims know their murderers. Did you feel it was important to point this out to your readers? Did you develop a greater sympathy or even empathy for victims and/or their killers?
I wanted to point out that most victims know their murderers because that fact highlights a big theme that emerged—how difficult close relationships can be. Of course in normal life, a difficult relationship doesn’t usually end in murder. But when it happens, it’s the result of the same emotions we all feel, but just more extreme. Once I looked at it from that perspective, I had a lot of sympathy for both victim and killer. (Though of course it’s easy to have sympathy for the victim, harder to do that for a killer. But I think that no one would hurt another person if they weren’t suffering themselves.)
Q. Timothy and Nora both end up believing in fate, and it plays a large part in one of the themes of the novel. Why were you interested in exploring the subject of fate? Do you believe in fate yourself?
When I write books, I almost always start with a question that I don’t actually have an answer to. This was no exception. I don’t have an answer to the question of what role fate plays in our lives. I don’t believe in fate in the classic sense—that it’s all planned out and we live our lives as if we were following a script. But I don’t think the universe is random either.
My ideas about fate are mostly inspired by the scientific breakthroughs of the last century, including Einstein’s mind-bending revelations about time and even stranger discoveries that have come from quantum mechanics. Science has proven that the universe is much stranger than we can fathom. I like a quote from Einstein where he says, “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” What is the meaning of fate if one of the world’s greatest minds says that past, present, and future are only illusions?
Q. What’s the most enjoyable part of writing a mystery novel? Do you know the climax and resolution before you begin writing? If you do, does it ever change as you’re further into drafts of the novel?
My favorite thing about writing a mystery is the logistical challenge of giving the hints in a way that a reader could figure it out (though hopefully most don’t) and when the reader reaches the conclusion it is both surprising and yet somehow obvious when looking back at the story. Of course when you give enough clues so that it is possible to figure out the mystery, there will always be some people who do. But my books are never just about the mystery, so my hope is that those who figure out the mystery enjoy the rest of the story as it unfolds. In a way the story unfolds for me as well as I’m writing. I always know certain key elements from the beginning, but I also leave room for surprises.
Q. You write both adult and young adult fiction. Which do you prefer writing? What are you working on at the moment?
The funny thing is that I don’t make much of a division in my head between adult and young adult. Really the only difference for me between the two is the age of the main characters. When I write YA books, I have teenage protagonists. For adult books, I write adult protagonists. But I hear from lots of teenagers who have read my adult books, and adults who have read my YA books.
It’s not that I like one more than another, I just like the contrast, so I tend to alternate between writing adult books and YA books. It keeps it interesting.
- Evaluate Nora and Timothy’s romance. Did you understand what attracted Nora to Timothy and why Timothy was attracted to Nora?
- Neither Nora nor Timothy believes in fate at the beginning of their relationship. They make it clear through their narration that meeting one another changed that. What do you think Morgenroth says, through this novel, about the concept of fate and its role in our lives? Do you believe in fate? Why do you think people tend to resist the notion of destiny?
- Would you have cut off your hair if you were Nora? Were you surprised that she cut her hair?
- If the tragedy had not occurred, do you believe they would have married in the morning? If they married, would they have stayed together? Could Nora and Timothy’s love withstood his infidelity? What did her reaction say about Nora’s personality and her attitude about love?
- Through the Heart focuses on romantic and familial love. What kind of statement(s) is Morgenroth making through her characters about our attachments to people and our faith in those to whom we are attached? Does the collection of statistics presented in “The Investigation”, plus the resolution of the murder mystery, give you pause about any preconceived notions regarding crime and/or family?
- Compare and contrast Nora and Timothy’s family dynamic. Who was more ensnared by filial responsibility and emotional blackmail, Nora or Timothy?
- There are two mothers portrayed in this novel. How do they differ and how are they the same?
- Compare and contrast the various friendships in the book: Tammy and Nora; Marcus and Timothy; Stephanie and Jeannette; and even Neil and Nora and/or Neil and Timothy.
- Which gets a more thorough examination in this novel, friendship or familial love? Is Morgenroth making a statement about the quality of our friendships, too, and the weight of our friendships compared to our relationships with family members?
- Which did you find more compelling in this novel: the romance or the mystery, and why? Did you like the way Nora explained everything at the end? How did the last chapter work for you?
- Through the Heart is told alternately from Nora and Timothy’s point of view. How effective did you find this method of narration? What was gained by telling it this way? Was anything lost? Which voice did you prefer?
- Similarly, the chapters are interspersed with “The Investigation,” excerpts from crime investigation texts and statistics about homicide, murderers, and victims. Discuss the ways in which you find these parts 1) adding to the “whodunit” part of the novel, providing clues to both the victim and murderer and 2) as a kind of prologue for the chapter(s) that followed? Did you like this technique? What are the advantages and disadvantages that come with organizing the book in this way?