What would happen if two dozen of the world’s bestselling authors got together to pen a book of short stories pairing up their beloved series characters? If there was a thriller writer dream team? And what if the compilation was edited by #1 New York Times bestselling author David Baldacci?
Readers will find out in FACEOFF, an anthology released this week from Simon & Schuster.
In a first-of-its-kind collaboration curated by the International Thriller Writers (ITW), twenty-three critically acclaimed authors crafted eleven electrifying stories where their iconic characters go head-to-head. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for readers,” Baldacci said. “I’m honored to be at the helm of this amazing ship.”
Over the past few months, THE BIG THRILL, in conjunction with Suspense magazine, had the opportunity to talk to many of the FACEOFF authors about their stories, their collaborative process, and their reasons for participating in the compilation.[*]
But before we get into that, a little background on the project . . .
Striving to Innovate
FACEOFF begins with a dedication:
For Gayle Lynds and David Morrell
Readers know Lynds and Morrell for their bestselling novels. But what they might not know is that they co-founded ITW, which this year celebrates its tenth anniversary. In his Introduction to FACEOFF, Baldacci traces the origins of the organization, noting that “[f]rom its beginning ITW strived to innovate.” One of the ways ITW does so, Baldacci explains, is by creating its own books and using the revenue to allow the organization to operate without charging a penny to its members.
“FACEOFF was another opportunity to innovate,” added ITW’s co-president and FACEOFF contributor M. J. Rose. “All the authors are ITW members who donated their time, allowing writers and characters from different publishing houses to do something that’s never been done before. The proceeds allow ITW to charge no membership dues.”
For the authors who participated in the project, it was a chance not only to give back to an association that has done so much for writers, but also to work with people they admire. Lee Child, ITW co-president and FACEOFF contributor, added, “One of the things I like so much about ITW is that it is very collaborative. Writers are solitary people; it’s been several days since I’ve seen another human being as I finish up my current book. But ITW forces us to get out and you get a sense of collegiality; it’s fun, like a pickup jazz band. I like the organization’s way of forcing people together.”
The Collaborators and Their Stories
If the idea behind FACEOFF was innovative, the execution was flawless. Witnessing iconic characters go up against one another—or in many cases unite—is worth the price of admission. But the stories also deliver. There’s something for everyone: edge-of-your-seat psychological and legal thrillers, stories grounded in the supernatural, and tales that will force you to sleep with the lights on. The authors transport readers from a locals-only Boston sports bar to a seaside town in England, from the haunted streets of New Orleans to a riverboat on the Amazon. Along the way, tour guide David Baldacci introduces each work with a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the remarkable collaboration.
Here’s a sneak peek of the FACEOFF stories in the order in which they appear in the anthology.
Dennis Lehane v. Michael Connelly (Patrick Kenzie v. Harry Bosch)
In RED EYE, the first story in the anthology, Michael Connelly’s famous LA detective Harry Bosch travels to Boston where he encounters Patrick Kenzie, the private detective and hero in six of Dennis Lehane’s acclaimed Kenzie and Gennaro books. Bosch learns that the cold case he’s investigating may intersect with Kenzie’s active hunt for a missing twelve-year-old girl. When the connection between the crimes crystallizes, Bosch and Kenzie realize that they need to act fast if there’s to be any hope of saving the girl.
Lehane and Connelly ratchet up the suspense in this race to catch a monster before it’s too late. The story is authentic and believable, and it also provides a unique opportunity to see how two of fiction’s finest creations view one another. Bosch sees Kenzie as someone you’d be happy for your sister to bring home, but also detects “a hotwire running in the guy’s blood.” Kenzie, in turn, gets a “whiff of something sad coming off the LA cop.” Perhaps the greatest achievement is how these two distinctive storytellers make their tale feel as though it comes from a single narrative voice. RED EYE is a taut opener to the amazing collection.
Ian Rankin v. Peter James (John Rebus v. Roy Grace)
The second FACEOFF entry goes international. IN THE NICK OF TIME features Ian Rankin’s Inspector John Rebus and Peter James’s Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, who are the leads in two of the world’s most popular crime series. The characters join forces to solve a mystery rooted in 1960s England: the riots between rival groups known as the Mods and the Rockers.
“The Mods and Rockers were youth subcultures,” James explained. “The Mods focused on style and fashion, and the Rockers on motorcycles and rock and roll. During the sixties they made a weekend sport of going at one another.”
Rankin added that the authors chose this backdrop for the story because it provided a plausible way to connect their main characters, who are from different countries that have very different systems of law enforcement. “Peter’s character works out of Brighton, a seaside town where many of the riots took place, and Rebus is from Edinburgh but a fan of sixties music and old enough that a story from that era would make sense, so it jumped out at me that this was how they could meet.”
From there, the two writers crafted a compelling tale of, as James described it, “a murder mystery about a guy who confesses to a [fifty-year-old] crime and our characters get together to figure out what happened and if he’s telling the truth.”
Readers will love the twist in this story about long-delayed justice, as well as the banter between Rebus and Grace, detectives who, despite coming from different cities, cultures, and generations, nevertheless share common ground.
R. L. Stine v. Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Slappy the Ventriloquist Dummy v. Aloysius Pendergast)
In the only work in the anthology written by more than two authors, the third FACEOFF story puts lie to the old adage that three’s a crowd. Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child teamed up with R. L. Stine, one of the bestselling authors of all time. In GASLIGHTED, Preston & Child’s famous FBI agent Aloysius Pendergast takes on Stine’s evil Slappy, a ventriloquist dummy made of coffin-wood. In this tense, spine-tingling story, Pendergast awakens to find himself blind and in restraints. He sees ghosts—or are these specters actually alive? Why is there a ventriloquist’s dummy wearing a doctor’s white coat and carrying a stethoscope? Slappy forces Pendergast to question everything he’s ever stood for and everything he’s always believed. Was his mad-genius brother the one who was insane? Did his wife Helen really die a violent death?
If the pairing of the refined yet lethal Pendergast and an evil dummy that first appeared in a children’s story seems like it would be hard to pull off, the authors rose to the challenge. This psychological thriller is decidedly neither for kids nor for the faint of heart and will leave readers breathless.
M. J. Rose v. Lisa Gardner (Malachai Samuels v. D. D. Warren)
The next story features another inspired coupling, Lisa Gardner and M. J. Rose. In THE LAUGHING BUDDHA, Gardner’s no-nonsense detective D. D. Warren meets Rose’s reincarnationist Malachai Samuels. “We loved the contrast of putting together a born skeptic like D. D. Warren with old-world Dr. Samuels,” Gardner said. Rose mentioned that the authors, longtime fans of one another, jumped at the chance to work together and had great fun weaving reincarnation into a story about a present-day murder investigation in Boston’s Chinatown.
The story begins when Warren is assigned to investigate the murder of an importer of ancient Chinese artifacts. It doesn’t seem to be a robbery, since the perpetrator left behind many valuables. And the principal clue is something found clutched in the victim’s dead hand: the business card of Dr. Samuels. From there, Warren travels to New York to meet the mysterious Dr. Samuels, and the story takes the hardened detective places she’d never imagine.
Part of the beauty here is how Rose and Gardner merged their markedly different series and characters so seamlessly. THE LAUGHING BUDDA is as intriguing as it is original—and a tribute to its authors.
Steve Martini v. Linda Fairstein (Paul Madriani v. Alexandra Cooper)
No anthology like this would be complete without a legal thriller. So it was almost an embarrassment of riches when Steve Martini and Linda Fairstein agreed to unite their beloved characters of more than two-dozen bestselling novels. In SURFING THE PANTHER, Martini’s defense lawyer Paul Madriani and Fairstein’s prosecutor Alexandra Cooper sit on the same panel at a legal conference, where they spar over their competing views about the justice system. But the event becomes more than just bickering lawyers and bad coffee when a young journalist reports on a story about the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, and what she found in the burned-out building: priceless artifacts and gems that originally were found in King Tut’s tomb. When the reporter turns up dead, Madriani and Cooper must put aside their difference to help find the killer.
Grounded in the headlines, the story takes readers on an intense ride from New York to Los Angeles and back. And the real gem here is not something from Tut’s burial chamber, but watching Madriani and Cooper—two lawyers normally on opposite sides of the courtroom—work together to solve the crime.
Jeffrey Deaver v. John Sandford (Lincoln Rhyme v. Lucas Davenport)
The sixth story in FACEOFF pairs up Jeffrey Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme, the hero of THE BONE COLLECTOR fame, with John Sandford’s investigator Lucas Davenport, the protagonist in the blockbuster Prey series.
But why settle for two protagonists? In the cleverly titled, RHYMES WITH PREY, Deaver and Sandford added two more characters to the mix: Detective Amelia Sachs (Rhyme’s partner) and Lily Rothenburg (an NYPD detective who worked with Davenport in SILENT PREY). The result is a sophisticated, four-way face off that will keep the pages flying.
After some initial tension, the foursome must work together against a psychotic sculptor suspected of a string of horrific murders of young women. The pairs complement each other perfectly—Davenport and Rothenburg are streetwise cops, while Rhyme and Sachs focus on the forensic sciences. Sachs even joins Rothenberg in the field for some good-old-fashioned undercover work.
Readers are taken on a journey of serial murders, complex forensics, police corruption, and brutal sex crimes. Novel-like in scope, RHYMES WITH PREY will satisfy even the most discriminating thriller fan.
Heather Graham v. F. Paul Wilson (Michael Quinn v. Repairman Jack)
Lucky number seven in FACEOFF is INFERNAL NIGHT, a story that brings together F. Paul Wilson’s famous urban mercenary Repairman Jack with Heather Graham’s Michael Quinn from the successful Cafferty and Quinn series.
At first glance the Repairman and Quinn are quite different: one, a man with no last name and no social security number who hires himself out to fix problems that the system can’t or won’t tackle; the other, a former college football star whose excessive lifestyle caused his death until a team of doctors resuscitated him in the ER. And yet, they share an important similarity—the willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done.
In INFERNAL NIGHT, Repairman Jack comes to New Orleans where he and Quinn find themselves collaborating on a case involving the wealthy Jules Chastain—a friend of presidents and rock stars alike, who’s after a priceless piece of jewelry hidden in a family crypt. Jack and Quinn encounter the mysterious and very dangerous Madame de Medici.
Wilson and Graham blend perfectly in this atmospheric tale of avarice, deception, and the supernatural.
Raymond Khoury v. Linwood Barclay (Sean Reilly v. Glen Garber)
PIT STOP, the anthology’s eighth offering from bestsellers Raymond Khoury and Linwood Barclay, is a thought-provoking story that’s part high-stakes thriller, part family drama. As Barclay describes it, “The story begins in the middle of a fast-moving terrorist investigation when a bad guy who has a canister of ‘something’ intersects with an ordinary guy who’s in line at a fast-food place buying some chicken nuggets for his daughter.”
The ordinary guy in line is Glen Garber, a character from Barclay’s THE ACCIDENT, whose life takes a strange turn when he meets Khoury’s series character, FBI agent Sean Reilly. “I thought they were a perfect mix for the story,” Barclay said. “There was the contrast of a contractor who builds houses for a living with an FBI agent on the hunt for a terrorist. At the same time, though Garber doesn’t have the training and expertise Reilly does for the threat they face, he’s the kind of guy who can handle himself; he would do what he had to do, particularly where, as in our story, his family is at stake.”
Khoury agreed, and noted that the story came together so well because of the unusual approach he and Barclay took. “Linwood wrote a great opening line that we used to kick things off. From there, he wrote a chapter and sent it to me, I added a chapter, and we went back and forth completely unscripted. We thought the approach would work well since the story itself is about the random intersection of the lives of two very different men and how their strange road trip unfolds.”
What’s the opening line that inspired the story? No spoilers here. But suffice it to say, the seat-of-your-pants way the authors penned this tale gives it an unpredictable edge, to say nothing of a breakneck pace.
John Lescroart v. T. Jefferson Parker (Wyatt Hunt v. Joe Trona)
Two members of the FACEOFF team—John Lescroart and T. Jefferson Parker—paired up to write SILENT HUNT, the ninth entry in the anthology and a tale Lescroart described as “a Mexican border fishing story mystery.”
The story features Lescroart’s Wyatt Hunt (of THE HUNT CLUB and other bestsellers) and Parker’s Joe Trona (of the stellar SILENT JOE). “We had a blast writing this story,” Lescroart said. “We started it after we’d both been on a fly fishing trip to Baja, California, with a few other writers . . . . We found that our characters were compatible guys, oddly both were anglers, and Jeff knew a lot about the Mexican cartels, so we started mapping out the story.”
The adventure has it all—an interesting backdrop, a hunt for gold, and razor-sharp writing. But the true delight is the chemistry between Hunt and Trona, two guys you could imagine hanging out with in real life—if they weren’t protecting an extended family of fishermen from a brutal narcotics gang.
Steve Berry v. James Rollins (Cotton Malone v. Gray Pierce)
Steve Berry wore two important hats for the FACEOFF anthology. The first, as managing editor, or, as David Baldacci called him, “the glue that held this project together.” But Berry also was a contributor, working with James Rollins on THE DEVIL’S BONES. The collaboration is something fans have long been clamoring for: a story featuring Berry’s Cotton Malone and Rollins’s Gray Pierce.
“We got paired up because we’ve been friends for a long time and have a common fan base,” Rollins said. “But also, I once made a veiled reference to Cotton Malone in one of my books (not mentioning him by name) and thought no one would notice.” Notice they did, sending Rollins and Berry thousands of emails. Berry then added fuel to the fire when he made an indirect reference to Pierce in one of his novels, and the authors then continued the practice for several more books. Readers kept asking: When will you pair up Malone and Pierce? “So when FACEOFF came along,” Rollins said, “it was an ideal opportunity.”
Since both characters are globetrotting adventurers, the writers’ first decision was where to set the story. Berry and Rollins wanted to take them somewhere neither had been before. That led to South America and the idea of a jungle story. The next thing the writers knew, Malone and Pierce were on a riverboat on the Amazon. Berry explained, “When the story begins, Gray was already on the boat so Cotton comes aboard and they quickly realize it’s a left-hand/right-hand situation and they’d both been accidently sent for the same mission.”
THE DEVIL’S BONES is lightning fast, taking place over a few hours. It wouldn’t be Berry or Rollins without the action, but the exotic setting only intensifies the face off. The writers also had fun with the long-awaited meeting of their heroes. Malone’s first exasperated words when he realizes that “the threat” he’s about to take out is his old friend: “Gray friggin’ Pierce.” Pierce, in turn, replies, “Just what we need, a damn lawyer.” For fans who’ve pined to see Malone and Pierce together, it was worth the wait.
Lee Child v. Joseph Finder (Jack Reacher v. Nick Heller)
The anthology wouldn’t be complete without an appearance by Jack Reacher and another lone-wolf favorite, Joseph Finder’s Nick Heller. In GOOD AND VALUABLE CONSIDERATION, Reacher and Heller find themselves at the same Boston bar watching a baseball game. They’re both trying to mind their own business, as is their way, but they get sucked into trying to figure out what the hell is going on with the fat guy sitting between them.
Child and Finder recently talked about some of the challenges they faced in crafting the story. “One of the challenges,” Child said, “is that neither Reacher nor Heller would speak to a stranger unless they had to. They don’t want to be social; they’re not guys who want new friends. So they both come to this bar for private reasons, but we needed them to speak.”
Another challenge involved the authors’ very different approaches to writing. Finder explained: “Lee starts with an inkling of an idea, and the story grows from there. I’m a planner. I need to see the whole story before I start. So writing the story was this hilarious process where Lee sent me the opening scene and I had no idea where the story was heading.” Child added, “I got an email from Joe asking ‘What do you see happening next?’ My response: ‘No idea.’”
But probably the biggest hurdle—and, again, no spoilers here—was deciding who’d win the fictitious baseball game between the Yankees and the Red Sox that served as the catalyst for the story. (Child is a Yankees fan; Finder pulls for the Sox.)
Despite the challenges, GOOD AND VALUABLE CONSIDERATION (a term that refers to the unusual way Albanian gangs consummate a deal) is classic Reacher and Heller. It’s a joy to watch the characters separately size up one another, and how they individually react to the situation involving the guy at the bar. It’s also a thrill to see how together they dispense a double dose of their special brand of justice. The only let down comes with the realization that this is the last story in the FACEOFF anthology.
And there you have it, FACEOFF’s all-star lineup. It’s a collection that we believe lives up to expectations and, somehow, the sum is even greater than its parts. But perhaps the highest praise comes from the two authors who helped start it all.
Gayle Lynds called the anthology “smashing entertainment,” and praised the “generosity of so many iconic authors to donate their talents to create this memorable celebration of ITW’s decade of life. They remind us of what ITW is all about—great stories, great authors, great readers, and a great organization.”
David Morrell agreed, calling FACEOFF an “unprecedented merging of storytelling talents.” He, too, was impressed with all the writers who donated their time and skills to support ITW’s programs and its dues-free membership. “On every front, this is a triumph.”
We couldn’t agree more.
[*] For this article and the Suspense magazine series, “America’s Favorite Authors on the Rules of Fiction,” Anthony Franze interviewed the following authors in tandem: Ian Rankin and Peter James, M. J. Rose and Lisa Gardner, Raymond Khoury and Linwood Barclay, John Lescroart and T. Jefferson Parker, Steve Berry and James Rollins, and Lee Child and Joseph Finder. For the “face offs” about writing visit here. Special thanks to Steve and Liz Berry for helping coordinate these and other interviews.
Anthony J. Franze is a lawyer in the Appellate and Supreme Court practice of a major Washington, D.C. law firm and author of the debut legal thriller, THE LAST JUSTICE. Anthony also is an adjunct professor of law, a legal commentator for several news outlets, and the Managing Editor of THE BIG THRILL. Anthony lives in the D.C. area with his wife and three children and he currently is finalizing his next high court thriller.
To learn more about Anthony, please visit his website.
Robert Rotstein is an entertainment attorney with over thirty years’ experience in the industry. He’s represented all of the major motion picture studios and many well-known writers, producers, directors, and musicians. His second novel, RECKLESS DISREGARD (Seventh Street Books) will be released June 3, 2014.
To learn more about Robert, please visit his website.
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