This harrowing psychological thriller from Ward (The Making of June) begins with an aborted 911 call originating from the home that Ian and Maddie Wilson share with their three-year-old son, Charlie. Meadowlark, Kans., police officer Diane Varga responds to find the house silent, the phone smashed, and the kitchen bloody. Scenes detailing Varga’s search of the residence and the ensuing investigation alternate with flashbacks from Maddie and Ian’s perspectives. The couple chronicles the last 12 weeks, during which Ian was working private security in Nigeria and Maddie was in therapy for anxiety. They also reflect on key moments from their tumultuous courtship, starting with the couple’s first meeting in the war-torn Balkans, where Maddie was a Fulbright scholar and Ian served in the British military. Ward takes her time revealing what tragedy transpired in the present, heightening suspense and maximizing her devastating conclusion’s emotional impact. Evocative descriptions and strong senses of time and place complement the intricate, intelligent plot, which shocks and chills while thoughtfully examining trauma’s toll on people and their relationships. Agent: Madeleine Milburn, Madeleine Milburn Literary (U.K.). (Mar.)



Park Row; 3/5/19


CBTB Rating: 4.5/5

The Verdict: domestic suspense meets globe-trotting thriller

No matter how many domestic suspense novels you’ve read, chances are you haven’t read one quite like BEAUTIFUL BAD by Annie Ward. Intimate yet expansive, BEAUTIFUL BAD takes readers into the most private secrets of a troubled marriage via pit stops in that same married couple’s history. Traveling from the Balkans to England to post-9/11 New York, BEAUTIFUL BAD draws readers into a story epic in scope, but decidedly personal at its core. This suspense novel has all the hallmarks of your favorite domestic thriller: a marriage with a dark side, a cast of unreliable characters, and some engaging, page-turning twists along the way. But what makes me particularly glad to have read this book is the authenticity that fills its every page. BEAUTIFUL BAD is based on the real-life experiences of its author, and the author’s closeness to the material is evident here in the best possible way. Ward writes with sensitivity about topics including PTSD, the complexities of friendship, and the pressures and challenges of marriage and motherhood—not to mention the utterly compelling portrait she paints of the world as seen through her protagonist’s eyes. BEAUTIFUL BAD is a multifaceted suspense novel brimming with energy, emotion, and entertainment value. Highly recommended for readers who want complex yet binge-worthy domestic suspense.

Plot Summary:

Things that make me scared: When Charlie cries. Hospitals and lakes. When Ian drinks vodka in the basement. ISIS. When Ian gets angry… That something is really, really wrong with me.

Maddie and Ian’s love story began with a chance encounter at a party overseas; he was serving in the British army and she was a travel writer visiting her best friend, Jo. Now almost two decades later, married with a beautiful son, Charlie, they are living the perfect suburban life in Middle America. But when a camping accident leaves Maddie badly scarred, she begins attending writing therapy, where she gradually reveals her fears about Ian’s PTSD; her concerns for the safety of their young son; and the couple’s tangled and tumultuous past with Jo.

From the Balkans to England, Iraq to Manhattan, and finally to an ordinary family home in Kansas, sixteen years of love and fear, adventure and suspicion culminate in The Day of the Killing, when a frantic 911 call summons the police to the scene of a shocking crime.

One of my foremost priorities with every review I write here on CBTB is to provide you, the reader, with an accurate set of expectations for the book I’m discussing. Let me preface this whole review by saying… that is no easy feat for BEAUTIFUL BAD, but, in this case, that may be all the more reason to pick up this book. Is BEAUTIFUL BAD a domestic thriller? Yes, it is. Is it a globe-trotting review of pivotal moments in international and American history? Yes, it’s certainly that too. Is it a travelogue? An exploration of mental health and the personal ramifications of war? A love story? Yes, yes, yes. It’s a big, explosive novel, but it’s a heartfelt and highly personal one, too—and perhaps most importantly, it’s a novel with lots of disparate parts that work beautifully together. BEAUTIFUL BAD is a story of love tested by war, violence, time, and the strains of the very ordinary. And, of course, it’s a story of a murder.

Readers will encounter three core timelines in BEAUTIFUL BAD: the past, following protagonist Maddie as she works in the Balkans and meets Ian for the first time; what I will call the “near present,” a timeline that begins a few months prior to the story’s pivotal event, and brings readers up to speed on a week-by-week basis; and the “Day of the Killing,” or the present day - the timeline in which a shocking murder rocks a sleepy town in Middle America. If this plot structure sounds confusing, don’t worry. Author Annie Ward skillfully weaves her tale through these varying perspectives, never once dropping a thread or allowing readers to feel lost. This book would be impressive just for the deftness with which the author manages this plot structure—but the content found within these threads ups the ante even more.

In the past, readers witness the progression of Maddie and Ian’s relationship. A chance encounter brings the two together, and readers will follow the ups and downs of their friendship-turned-love over the years, as it spans continents and bridges massive divides. In the past, readers also meet Jo, the enigmatic and free-spirited best friend in Maddie’s life, and witness the complexity of the relationship these two women share. The past is also the story’s most globe-trotting plotline; readers will experience new worlds through Ward’s vivid and immersive writing. BEAUTIFUL BAD’s “near present” might just be my favorite storyline of all. In this thread, readers meet Maddie in her adult life. She and Ian are now married, and are parents to a beautiful son, Charlie. But something isn’t quite right. Maddie is plagued by anxiety and fear, and she seeks help through writing therapy. But the more Maddie writes, the more her secrets threaten to surface, and the more readers see behind the peaceful, picture-perfect facade she is projecting. And then we get to the story’s pivotal timeline: the “Day of the Killing.” A murder has been committed in a quiet suburban home. Police are called to the scene. The home is drenched in blood, and there’s evidence that a young child is somewhere in the house. Who is the victim, and who has committed this heinous crime? For the majority of BEAUTIFUL BAD, the Day of the Killing is shrouded in mystery—but when Ward finally pulls back the curtains, readers will be floored by the revelations she has in store. And throughout all these storylines, readers will slowly but surely build up a clear image of Maddie, Ian, and Jo: three friends whose paths cross, diverge, and cross again to deadly end.

BEAUTIFUL BAD is certainly full of revelations and surprises, but I wouldn’t personally characterize this thriller as “twisty.” Yes, it has some twists (in particular towards the story’s end), but these moments are occasionally predictable, and simply are not where Ward shines most. To that end, if what you’re looking for is a psychological thriller with major, shocking plot twists, you may not be the target audience for this book - but I don’t mean that as a negative at all. Ward is at her best when writing the emotional and psychological baggage that her characters carry with them every day, and this emotional depth more than compensates for any plot twists that you might see coming. Both Maddie and Ian are highly damaged individuals, but readers will never feel that these characters are damaged just for effect or shock value. Ward infuses each of their stories with life, illustrating for the reader the lasting impact of trauma on the individual - and making a case for the destructive nature of war even (or perhaps especially) on an individual level. Readers’ hearts will break for Maddie and Ian, a couple whose lives are marked by the violence of war and the insidious nature of PTSD left untreated. Ward convincingly illustrates the connections between a world filled with chaos and a home that descends into paranoia and, in turn, more violence, as two individuals grappling with their own personal demons seek to keep their family safe. Reading BEAUTIFUL BAD, you really do get the sense that this story isn’t totally fiction—and that gut feeling broke my heart. Whether or not you see the twists in this story coming (and I’ll be honest, I did), Ward’s visceral and insightful writing makes for an utterly gripping read.

There is quite literally too much contained within the pages of BEAUTIFUL BAD for me to touch on all of it in a review of a reasonable length, so I will cut myself off here—but I will reiterate just how impressed I was with Ward’s debut crime novel. It would be all too easy for a book as big in scope as is BEAUTIFUL BAD to get away from its author, but Ward manages every turn of this expansive story confidently and seamlessly. Brimming with emotion and authenticity, BEAUTIFUL BAD will equal parts thrill and haunt. Pick this book up for its intricate, tragic love story gone wrong.


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Maximum Shelf: Beautiful Bad & an Interview with Annie Ward


Readers who like unreliable narrators are in luck with Annie Ward's deliciously unsettling Beautiful Bad, which contains not one, but two unreliable narrators to keep everyone on edge until the very last page. And the third lead character can't be trusted, either.

The psychological thriller opens 12 weeks before the main event, with wife and mother Maddie, her face badly damaged from a recent incident, planning to see a therapist without her husband's knowledge.

Cut to the next chapter, titled "Day of the Killing," which unfolds like a scene in a spine-tingling suspense movie--character tiptoeing down the stairs into a dark basement; something horrifying is ahead but you can't look away. The chapter starts with a call to 911. When the dispatcher answers, a child is shrieking while a woman whispers for him to go upstairs. And then the woman screams for help and the line goes dead.

An officer races to the address where the call originated, hears yapping dogs in the backyard, peeks through the front door--and sees "a red mess in the middle of the room." The officer knows she's supposed to wait for backup before entering, but her priority is the child inside who's possibly in danger. She enters the house alone, "to see what unspeakable thing has happened here."

Back to Maddie, now 10 weeks earlier, giving her therapist a long list of her fears: whenever her young son, Charlie, cries; when her husband, Ian, drinks or doesn't wake up; ISIS; drowning; "the darkness in some people"; and finally "[t]hat something is wrong with me."

Maddie is currently residing in Kansas with her family. But back in 2001, she lived in Sofia, Bulgaria, teaching English to students and writing travel books. Maddie often visited her best friend Jo, who worked with refugees in nearby Macedonia. That's where Maddie and Jo met Ian, a bodyguard for the British ambassador. Ian was always texting his girlfriend back home, but from the start, chemistry sizzled between him and Maddie. Maybe with Jo, too?

Throughout the years, as the conflict in the Balkans intensifies, Maddie, Jo and Ian navigate the ups and downs of their relationships, the pressure of their jobs and devastating personal losses, trying to hang on to their sanity and humanity amid horror. All three eventually leave Eastern Europe, bringing home ghosts that won't stop haunting them.

After the early chapter with the officer at the house that portends nothing but dread, Ward takes her time unfolding the histories of her three lead characters, starting at the beginning of their friendships and bringing them up to the day of the killing. Against the vivid backdrop of the Balkans--readers can almost feel the heat and taste the dust--Maddie and Jo get high on danger. The more the Macedonian border guards warn Maddie to stay away, the more she keeps coming back. But she wasn't born intrepid. Ward reveals a harrowing incident in Maddie's childhood that made her defiant toward death, though perhaps the experience damaged Maddie more than she realizes.

Her friendship with Jo becomes strained at one point, each woman feeling betrayed. The reason for Jo's behavior is eventually explained--and it's a shattering one. Jo and Maddie are prickly and mercurial and sometimes make questionable choices, but they're always believable as they deal with the obstacles in their lives.

Ian's behavior after being in war zones is no joyride, either. He's desperate to move on, to build a picture-perfect domestic life with Maddie in her Kansas hometown. He buys them a house and takes up painting miniature models. But Maddie knows there's a darkness and unspeakable depth to his pain: "With trembling hands and squinting eyes, he gathered up the tiny parts of those dismembered soldiers and carefully glued them together... and painted them with bright colors to bring them to life. And then splattered them with blood."

This scene unnervingly captures the complicated nature of post-traumatic stress disorder. Ian is big and unpredictable; when triggered, he can transform from loving to menacing on a dime. Ward is careful, and skillfully so, to portray him as someone in need of sympathy and care. Maddie's heart breaks for him, but at the same time she's scared of her own husband. Her feelings expertly illustrate the beautiful and the bad in their relationship.

It's this combination of crime and psychological study that makes Beautiful Bad so memorable. It asks questions there are no easy answers for, and depicts a chilling scenario for when trauma goes untreated. Sometimes love isn't enough, and sometimes too much of it can lead to tragedy.

Interview with Annie Ward

Beautiful Bad started out as a memoir. How different was that from the final version?

The original manuscript was called The British Body Guard and it was an honest account of how I met my husband, the many war zones he had seen throughout his life and the extremely rocky path we traveled trying to become a real couple. My agent found the book troubling in its original form. I had no idea that a frank description of how difficult it is to love someone with PTSD would be so controversial.

What was your first reaction when your then-agent suggested you fictionalize it?

When he told me the book was very raw and that maybe it would be more palatable if it were not "real," I decided to take a break from the project and hopefully develop a different perspective. I stopped writing and focused on being a stay-at-home mom to two toddlers while my husband traveled for work. Strangely enough, it worked, and a few years later I felt ready to take another crack at it.

Maddie likes living on the edge of danger. How was your experience there?

I can't hold back here. I LOVED EVERY HORRIBLE, DIRTY, CRAZY, SCARY, HEART-POUNDING MINUTE! And I'm not alone. If you could gather 20 people in a room who lived in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1998, you would find successful filmmakers, New York Times bestsellers, world-renowned journalists and a bunch of intelligent criminals. They would all hug each other and yell nazdrave ("cheers") while they toasted to that era in that part of the world. I don't know anyone who lived there then who doesn't miss the endless nights where you could eat, drink and dance and barely a spend a penny.

What do you think people would find most surprising about that region during that time?

There were famous actors from Hollywood everywhere. Nu Image, an Israeli-American film production company, was making tons of low-budget movies in Sofia, starring the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme, Ron Perlman, Harvey Keitel and Steve Buscemi. I was the local screenwriter they used when they didn't want to pay to fly someone over from Los Angeles, and because I spoke Bulgarian, I was asked to take the Americans out to dinner and to clubs. It was crazy. Bulgarian mafia thugs at nightclubs do not always mix well with American stars.

My most popular story from back then is the time I got a bloody nose after being punched in the face for daring to introduce my girlfriend to Jean-Claude Van Damme while he was sitting with a very jealous companion.

What made you stay five years?


The reason I stayed five years? Honestly? It was cheap, it was exciting and Americans were given rock-star treatment because we could pay the bill. I'd spent my first 18 years in Kansas. Sure, I'd lived in Los Angeles for six years, but I was never the person allowed to cut the line at the club or buy a round for the whole bar. I was able to be that person for a brief amount of time. It went to my head. I'm ashamed, but it's true. We felt special and it was addictive.

Did you think you'd write about your experience there someday, outside of travel books?

Everyone who lived there knew they were going to write about their experiences. Lindsay Moran wrote the bestseller Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy. She is a character in my book, and I'm a character in hers. My friend Danielle Trussoni was in Sofia as well, and she wrote about Bulgaria in her Angelology series as well as in her poignant memoir, The Fortress. I write about what I find fascinating, and I could not have had better material.

One of the characters in your book struggles with PTSD. What kind of research did you do to write those scenes realistically?

Oh, boy. Towards the end of Beautiful Bad, Ian and Maddie get in an argument and he says something to the effect of, "What? You don't think I know about your little PTSD library?" That was me. I had my own library on the subject.

When I married my husband, I did it knowing what he had been through in Iraq, Bosnia and Rwanda. A couple of nights ago my husband said to me, "The equation that worked was patience plus time." That was how he got better. I was patient and we gave it time. He will always have PTSD, as will I. The boating accident in the book is real and I have been struggling with that memory every day of my life.

My empathy for his trauma and his for mine has brought us closer, and probably enabled us to put up with things most people would find untenable. So, to answer the question, I did do research on PTSD, but it was just to get the right words and terms. I knew what it was and how it felt on my own.

Film rights have been bought and you have an MFA in screenwriting. How involved will you be with the adaptation? 

My plan is to have absolutely nothing to do with the film adaptation. Nothing. I want to stay as far away as possible. I would really trust Sue Kroll, Warner Brothers producer, with my life. I wish the best to the person who writes the screenplay and I promise to stay out of their hair. I've got other fish to fry.

Which elements would you hope to see included?

My guess is that a film adaptation will have to pull back from the political and historical elements in the book to focus on the crime scene. As a screenwriter, I completely understand why that would be necessary. My hope is that the adaptation doesn't abandon the past altogether. The thriller genre is formulaic, and formulas exist for a reason. They are satisfying. I don't mind if the book is crafted differently for film. That's inevitable.


Kroll & Co., Warner Bros. Acquire Annie Ward’s Upcoming Debut Thriller Novel ‘Beautiful Bad’

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Warner Bros. Pictures, on behalf of Sue Kroll, has taken the film rights to Annie Ward’s debut thriller, Beautiful Bad, which Kroll will produce through her Kroll & Co. Entertainment banner.

The highly-sought-after novel originally sold to Quercus (UK) and Park Row Books (US) in a seven-way auction. With international rights sold in over a dozen territories, the US publication date is set for March 2019.

Beautiful Bad tells the story of a thrilling romance and destructive friendship between Maddie, Ian and Jo from The Balkans to England, Iraq to Manhattan, and ultimately to an ordinary family home in Kansas. Maddie and Ian’s seemingly perfect life starts to unravel when their estranged friend Jo returns, and Ian begins to show signs of PTSD. The tension between the group grows fraught and the situation intensifies, culminating in a desperate crime. At its core, this shocking novel tells the devastating story of three friends face to face with manipulation, turmoil and tragedy, unable to outrun their tangled and tumultuous past.

“From the very first pages of Beautiful Bad, I was completely hooked. I found the lives of its wonderful, surprising characters and the global and intriguing landscape they inhabit absolutely riveting. On the one hand, the novel carries the suspense of a truly unpredictable psychological thriller— it kept me guessing to the very end. Alongside that intrigue, however, is also a poignant and heartbreaking love story between the closest of friends,” said Kroll of the new project. “It’s a superb and gripping novel, and I’m thrilled to work with Annie and Warner Bros. to bring it to life on screen.”

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Kroll & Co.

“The first time I spoke with Sue Kroll was like being reunited with a dear friend who understands. It was not just her passion for the overall project but also her compassion for my characters that made me realize her vision was uncannily in sync with what I had only dared to dream. It’s stunning to be suddenly and utterly certain that you’re speaking with the right and kindred mind to cultivate something you hold precious. I’m deeply grateful for the fact that Sue Kroll and Warner Brothers found me and Beautiful Bad. It feels magical and yet at the same time like fate,” added Ward.

Ward has a BA in English Literature from UCLA and a MFA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute. Her first short screenplay, Strange Habit, starring Adam Scott was an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival and the Grand Jury Award winner at the Aspen Film Festival. She has received a Fulbright Scholarship and An Escape to Create Artists residency. Ward is repped by Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency and CAA.

Upcoming for Kroll is Warner Bros.’ A Star Is Born, on which she is an executive producer. The film, which made its Hollywood premiere last night, launched out of Venice and TIFF to stellar reviews, quickly becoming a hot-buzzed awards season title. The pic’s opening domestic weekend forecasts for Oct. 5-7 are well north of $30M for the Bradley Cooper feature directorial debut in which he stars opposite Lady Gaga; he also co-wrote and produced.

Also down the road for Kroll & Co. is Edward Norton’s crime drama Motherless Brooklyn due out next year; John Crowley’s The Goldfinch, based on Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel opening Oct. 11 next year; and the DC action adventure Blackhawk with Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment.


Additionally, Kroll serves as Producer on Cathy Yan’s DC film Birds of Prey starring Margot Robbie, who also produces alongside Bryan Unkeless, which will begin production January 2019 and open Feb. 7, 2020; The Six Billion Dollar Man, starring Mark Wahlberg; Nemesis with producers Ridley Scott and Jules Daly; an untitled comedy starring Sandra Bullock, who will also produce; the YA drama The Selection; a film based on Peter Kornbluh’s Politico article “My Dearest Fidel: A Journalist’s Secret Liaison with Fidel Castro” with producers Gal Gadot and Jaron Varsano; and an adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s The Feral Detective.

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You may think that everything goes a little quiet, but this is far from the truth. Let’s use Annie Ward’s Beautiful Bad as an example.

Take yourself back to October 2017, in the weeks before Frankfurt Book Fair. As the Autumn leaves fall, Annie’s upmarket psychological mystery has just been bought by Park Row Books in the US after a seven-way auction, and Quercus in the UK in a six-figure deal. As soon as the deals are announced the news post goes up.

But that is only the beginning.

Our Rights Department then launches into action, pitching the book to editors from around the world, both at Frankfurt Book Fair and beyond. Soon negotiations are being finalised and the book has been sold into territories around the world – fourteen including the UK, US and Canada – with more lining up.

Then what? With a book as exciting as this one, the hype continues to grow in the build up to publication (March 2019). Nowhere is this more perfectly illustrated than in the Publishers Weekly article that appeared a few days ago celebrating all things Annie and Beautiful Bad. It’s a fantastic piece exploring Annie’s journey towards writing the book, and the story behind the deals. Not only that, it mentions US editor Erika Imranyi’s plans for PR:  “We’re coming out with guns blazing,” Imranyi says. “We’ve got aggressive marketing plans with store visits and festivals. It’s our big book for 2019.”

As Publishers Weekly goes on to say:

‘A movie sale is inevitable, and the book has sold in 11 foreign territories so far: Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Israel, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, and Slovakia. Ward is over the moon. “I’m ready to do whatever to promote this book,” she says. “If they want me to ride a pony, I’ll be riding a pony!”’

So there you have it. The real work begins after the contracts have been signed, with the team here at the MM Agency working hard to secure the foreign rights deals and any potential film & TV options, the publishers focusing on marketing, and Annie Ward gearing up to appear at book festivals. In between riding lessons, of course.

The original online version of this article appeared at


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Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward: the story so far



 by Louisa Ermelino

Who Can You Trust in Annie Ward's New Novel?

The Balkans are the backdrop for a psychological thriller with an intriguing love triangle

Annie Ward and I had an instant affinity: we’re big fans of “bad” women—the ones who know what they want and go out and get it. My first clue as to how in sync we are was her amazing new novel,Beautiful Bad, coming in March from Park Row Books, which is touting it as 2019’s thriller of the year.

When I spoke with Ward, I discovered we had a lot more in common. We both love New York (she lived in my neighborhood in the early 2000s) and love foreign places (one of Beautiful Bad’s settings is Eastern Europe). And then there are those women. The heart of the book is the tumultuous relationship between two friends who meet in their 20s in 2001. Maddie is a teacher in Bulgaria, and Johanna is an aid worker in Macedonia. There’s drinking and rule breaking and the excitement of living in an unstable region. And, of course, there are men. One in particular, a military Brit, forms the apex of this ultimately unholy trinity. The book also features family life, when it moves to sleepy Kansas. But above all, there is tension and a sense of mystery and unbalance.

I’m not alone in my enthusiasm for Beautiful Bad. Ward’s editor, Erika Imranyi, editorial director of Park Row Books, read it overnight and tells me that she felt it had “a unique blend of cleverness and edgy dark, and all the hallmarks of the domestic thrillers that are working right now: a man you can’t trust, a woman you can’t trust.” She adds, “It’s also wide in scope—an international canvas of intriguing places.”

Imranyi, who bought North American rights in a heated auction, says she was excited to get it. “I immediately thought it was special, with its strong voice and memorable characters.”

When Harlequin decided to grow its trade list and launched Park Row Books, Imranyi, who’s been at Harlequin since 2011, says she was the logical choice for editorial director. “The imprint wanted to publish my kind of books, the ones that hit the sweet spot between commercial and literary.”

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Madeleine Milburn

Erika Imranyi

Beautiful Bad, Ward tells me, began as a memoir. “I write what I know,” she says. And she knows about everything and everyone appearing in Beautiful Bad. Ward, originally from Kansas, followed a man to Bulgaria in the mid-1990s, during the country’s transition from socialism to capitalism, and found work in the region as a journalist and travel writer, and also as a script doctor for an Israeli-American film company. She was there for five years, during which she received a Fulbright Scholarship; left the man; found a best friend (who was a CIA agent operating out of Skopje, although Ward didn’t know this at first); wrote a novel (The Making of June, her first psychological thriller, released by Putnam in 2002); and met her future husband, Josiah Richards.

The Making of June fared as many debut novels do: good reviews, few sales. By then she had moved to New York, where Richards suddenly arrived with stories of his experiences working with a private military company in Iraq and Yemen. His stories got her thinking about another book, although she admits she was daunted by her debut experience.

In 2007, Ward was married to Richards and living back in Kansas, and she started on the memoir. She handed in the finished manuscript in 2009 to her agent at the time, Doug Stewart, who advised her to fictionalize it, which she did. Then he turned it down as “not his thing,” saying she should find someone who was passionate about it.

Stewart says he knew the book would be a perfect fit for someone else, and when he heard about Ward’s deal, he cheered in his office. “I always root for talented writers who are also fabulous people.”

Ward says that after Stewart’s rejection, she “took to her bed.” But actually, she adds, “he was right, and he started a magical process.” When she finally got out of bed, she went into her office, looked up the agents for every thriller on her shelf, and wrote to all of them (she estimates she sent out 50 emails). One who responded was Madeleine Milburn, whose agency is based in London.

“I spotted it in our submissions account in March 2016,” Milburn says. “It was a smart email and an intriguing first three chapters. I requested the complete manuscript straight away.”

Of Beautiful Bad, Milburn wrote to Ward, “Wow... just WOW! I think your voice is remarkable—sophisticated and mesmerizing—and your premise is fascinating. I’m totally hooked in by your characters and the atmosphere you’ve created, and I’m desperate to read more.”

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Ward's apartment building entrance in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Ward tells me, “It was the letter of my life—I felt like I was going to pass out.”

The contract was signed in January 2017, and the goal was to have it done in time for the Frankfurt Book Fair. “Because of the big international flavor of the story,” Milburn says, “I wanted the manuscript to be ready so I could submit it simultaneously to the U.S. and the U.K. in a run up to the fair.”

Milburn accepted a preempt offer from Quercus in the U.K. and, after seven U.S. offers, proceeded with a major stateside auction. “The most passionate publisher with the most ambitious vision won,” she says.

The book went to Imranyi in a high-six-figure deal. Ward, meanwhile, was standing by in Kansas. “The time difference made it all the more exciting,” Milburn says. “I could do all the deals and then discuss options and strategies [with Ward] in the evenings when I got home.”

Beautiful Bad will be published in separate editions in the U.S., the U.K., and Canada (HarperCanada) with three different editors, but they consulted with each other on the manuscripts.

As for PR, “We’re coming out with guns blazing,” Imranyi says. “We’ve got aggressive marketing plans with store visits and festivals. It’s our big book for 2019.”

To get started, Imranyi brought Beautiful Bad to this year’s BookExpo. She handed it to PW reviews editor Peter Cannon, who walked it over to me right after. I put it front and center on my shelf, because Peter knows his thrillers and I had a feeling it was a winner. Milburn, in her original letter to Ward, called Beautiful Bad “unputdownable upmarket fiction that challenges readers as much as it pulls them in.” I couldn’t agree more.

A movie sale is inevitable, and the book has sold in 11 foreign territories so far: Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Israel, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, and Slovakia. Ward is over the moon. “I’m ready to do whatever to promote this book,” she says. “If they want me to ride a pony, I’ll be riding a pony!”

A version of this article appeared in the 09/10/2018 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: Who Can You Trust?