By Dan Levy
A freelance writer and book author since the early 1970s, J. Sydney Jones routinely cranks out a half-million or more words per year. While his writing career may seem prolific today, Jones didn’t seem destined for a career as a scribe. According to Jones, “Unlike most writers–or what most writers say is the case–I did not enjoy reading at all as a kid. There was not a lot of reading for pleasure in my family.”
Jones credits his four-plus-decade passion for words to Mrs. Ringnalda, a college English instructor who introduced him to Steinbeck and the importance of writing well, combined with a junior-year-abroad college program that landed him Vienna, Austria. “That gave me a break from expectations imposed by others as well as myself,” said Jones. “I had the luxury of time to dream, to explore new things. That year turned me into a writer.”
His love for Vienna and history gave him the rich settings for his Viennese Mystery series. But for his latest installment, RUIN VALUE, Jones takes readers to 1945 post-war Nuremberg, Germany—the antithesis of everything Vienna represented. According to Jones, “The scene in 1945 was impressive if not horrific: the inner city totally devastated by Allied bombing. This was Hitler’s symbolic German city, home to the vast Nazi rallies of the pre-war years. It was also home to the War Crimes Trials that held the top Nazis accountable for crimes against humanity.”
For some, it might seem a daunting task set a thriller in a historic period already at the pinnacle of real-life drama. But Jones relished the idea, “How ironic, I thought, to set a serial killer (actually “multiple murderer” in the parlance of the day) to work in such a place and time, just as the trials are beginning–threatening, in fact, to upstage them.”
In RUIN VALUE, Jones casts protagonist Captain Nathan Morgan, a former NYPD and OSS agent, into the heart of post-WWII Nuremberg as the world held its breath hoping the City would become the global epicenter of justice. Morgan has been charged with overseeing the trials. As the U.S. grapples with the Soviets for postwar supremacy, a serial murderer targets the occupying forces. Morgan may be the perfect spy, but it’s time for him to turn cop once more.
Throughout RUIN VALUE, Jones appears to leverages symbolism illustrate the many internal and external conflicts of the time. For starters, Jones notes, “Morgan is a reluctant romantic. He can’t help himself; he believes in justice. A former NYPD detective who served in the OSS, he incorporates the best of both. I love his passion for the truth. But he is conflicted, an all too human quality. He does not know which world he belongs in, police or espionage, Jew or Gentile.”
In describing a favorite scene in RUIN VALUE, Jones explained that as Morgan and Kate Wallace, a journalist covering the trials, are on an evening stroll in Nuremberg: “High overhead a German fighter plane is suspended from the ruined roof, its pilot still on board presumably, moldering away. This is a totally imagined scene on my part, but it gave me chills when writing it and it does the same for Morgan and Kate who view this warplane–a symbol of destruction–in the holy precincts of a church as an avatar of the times.”
Even the book’s title, RUIN VALUE, underscores the paradox of the times. Jones tapped into a philosophy of Albert Speer, German architect and creator of the Nazi war-machine, who originated the vision dubbed ‘Ruin Value.’ “Nazi architecture should be so designed and constructed that when it finally collapsed or was destroyed, it would leave behind ruins to rival those of Greece and Rome,” noted Jones. “Another irony vis-à-vis the ruins of Nuremberg, which had nothing ennobling about them.”
On the heels of RUIN VALUE, Jones has three books at different milestones on their journey to bookshelves. The first is actually the fifth in Viennese Mystery Series, working title: A MATTER OF BREEDING. He’s also created a new series of thrillers set in more modern day Vienna. The first, BASIC LAW, is with publishers now. And finally, a WWI thriller, THE GERMAN AGENT, which will be out very early in 2015.
J. Sydney Jones in an American author of both fiction and nonfiction. He lived for nearly two decades in Vienna, Austria, where he began his writing career, and published his first thriller, TIME OF THE WOLF (1990). THE EMPTY MIRROR (2009) is the first title in his popular Viennese Mystery series. Now on its fourth installment, his most recent novel, THE KEEPER OF HANDS (2013), earned a starred review from PUBLISHERS WEEKLY. He lives with his family in California.
Learn more about RUIN VALUE and the many of J. Sydney Jones’s other works on his website.