Strength in Numbers
By Dawn Ius
Iris Johansen knows how to create strong characters. Her primary leading lady Eve Duncan—a forensic sculptor—is one of the genre’s most recognized protagonists, not only for her intriguing career, but also for her trademark strength.
“The initial book, Face of Deception, actually set the tone for the strength that became Eve’s trademark,” Johansen says. “The traumas that she went through with losing her daughter and having to fight all the evil that surrounded her created the character.”
And when Johansen realized that Eve wasn’t just a one-book phenomenon, she worked hard to nurture that strength while still allowing the character to evolve.
Twenty-five books later, Eve Duncan is still going strong—and in Johansen’s latest page-turner, SMOKESCREEN, the New York Times bestselling author peppers in a few more strong women to balance out Eve’s character.
“Others just seemed to wander into the story because it seemed right,” she says. “This is a tale where women and their ambitions and motivations are just as important as the heroes and villains who tried to control them.”
One of those women is Jill Cassidy, a journalist who has just come from a small African village with a story that yanks on Eve’s heartstrings and lures her across the world—half of the African villagers, many of them children, have been killed in a horrific attack by guerilla soldiers, the bodies burned beyond recognition.
“In many ways, Jill has the same drive and motivations as Eve,” Johansen says. “She has a career as a journalist and storyteller that means everything to her and when she finds a mystery that seems unsolvable, she has to meet the challenge.”
As longtime readers of Johansen’s thrillers can attest, Eve’s career is as important to her as it is challenging—many of the reasons for this coming to light in SMOKESCREEN. And despite their common goal—to find closure for the families of the victims—when Jill and Eve go head to head, sparks fly.
Which of course amps up the tension in a novel that overflows with conflict and danger. For Johansen, that was part of this story’s allure, the chance to up the ante for Eve.
“The possibilities of the plot offered me an opportunity for a rip-roaring adventure that would still allow me to let Eve come back into her own with forensic sculpting,” she says. “I never really considered this a tearjerker. Yes, it has tragic elements and is very emotional. But for me it was about strong people conquering evil and trying to make sure it never returned.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Johansen thriller without the element of romance, and for Jill, she created Novak, a macho man who comes across as much more than just a pretty face.
“Good looks are wonderful, and we all appreciate the sexual element,” Johansen says. “But I try to make my heroines very smart and they wouldn’t be attracted to only the obvious. I also like the hero to be complicated. A sense of humor never hurts either.”
Novak checks all of the appropriate boxes, but in the end, it’s the combined power and intelligence of the female characters that propel this story to its riveting end. In SMOKESCREEN, their collective strength is key in confronting their formidable adversaries—Johansen writes about very bad men, and makes no apologies for it.
“I guess I have a superhero complex,” she says. “I create my principal characters to be strong enough to eventually conquer any odds. They might grow and suffer to reach that point, but they get there. After I’ve given them all those odds to overcome, you can bet that I’m going to make the villains they eventually have to face worth the trouble. I want to have both them and the reader to cheer at the end.”
SMOKESCREEN may be one of Eve’s most dangerous adventures yet, but her story is far from over. Johansen’s next book—Hindsight—will be a Kendra Michaels collaboration with her son, Roy, and then it’s back to Eve with The Persuasion.
“Jane MacGuire, Eve’s daughter, is back with Seth Caleb—who receives more fan mail than any other male character,” Johansen says. “You asked for this one and you won’t be disappointed.”