By Dan Levy
Terrence McCauley recently released his seventh published work (including both novellas and novels) and the third work in his James Hicks series featuring The University. For McCauley, A CONSPIRACY OF RAVENS was a chance to stretch, as it was his first foray into a novel with multiple points of view. We had the chance to learn more about McCauley, his latest work, and his philosophies on writing.
To set the stage, what started you writing stories seven novels/novellas ago? Is that what keeps you writing today?
I’ve always been a big fan of good storytelling, whether it is movies, television or books. I got the urge to try it seriously in college and have been working at it ever since. The interaction with my readers makes it all worthwhile.
Your new novel, CONSPIRACY OF RAVENS, is your first novel with alternating points of view. What made this the time (or the novel) where that was the right thing to do?
In RAVENS, I was telling a far more complicated story than in the previous two novels. Sympathy for the Devil and A Murder of Crows were books that firmly cement the idea of The University and Hicks in the mind of the readers. Knowing they had a good idea of what I was writing about gave me the freedom to expand my narrative to include points of view from other key players in the story. It helped me vary the voice and the motivation to show the reader just how broad the world I had created really was. And the change in POV helped me tell the kind of complex story I wanted to tell without being too heavy-handed about it.
DEMARIS PROTOCOL is a taut espionage thriller set twenty-five years in the past when views toward gay men were much harsher. Trey Carter, a young gay man still in the closet, is involuntarily recruited by the CIA to help in a dark ops targeting a former Soviet nuclear engineer.
According to author Brian Randall, “CIA Special Officer Rick Morgan, Trey’s assigned officer in the CIA, is a former US Marine who was outed in 1981 and offered a non-negotiable opportunity to join the first class of recruits to the protocol.”
While there are two protagonists, they are not both heroic. Randall calls Trey a kid trapped in a CIA’s dark ops. “He’s trying to survive. I don’t think of him as a hero per se. Rick is a hero who sees Trey as a broken version of himself that he desperately wants to protect.”
The novel is based on actual episodes in the author’s life, and the fictional Rick Morgan is based on his own Agency handler, someone that he recalls fondly to this day.
But after a full-scale bloodbath of a firefight at the Dartford Crossing, they realize that they haven’t got any average prisoner on their hands. This one knows something, and that something has the CIA after them. And worse…
Riz and Holly will have to ditch all their hi-tech gear and use their survival smarts to evade their hunters, as the road trip turns into an epic pursuit across the landscape of southern England, using half-remembered stay behind networks from the Cold War and further back still… and as they dig themselves in and out of trouble on the way to a final showdown in a sleepy market town, they realize that the man they’re escorting may also figure in their history, too…
The Big Thrill had the pleasure of interviewing author Charlie Flowers about his latest novel, THE BOLDEST MEASURES:
Aloysius Wachter, a clandestine hacker forced by circumstances to turn amateur detective, recounts several of his adventures that begin with spotting a murder on his first night on the job at a city agency that monitors everyone and everything through a 10,000-camera system.
The improbable hero starts sleuthing to save a beautiful young woman falsely suspected of the crime. He battles disbelieving cops, feds and Israeli hit men, and soon he’s being chased by Chinese cyber-spies and Russian hackers in episodes ripped from 21st Century headlines.
Helping him are two pals: Vassily, a Russian hacker on the run from his former gang, and Michelle, Vassily’s girlfriend, a Chinese hacker who used to work for the People’s Liberation Army. By the end of their adventures, Vic, Vassily and Michelle muse that their lives seem like a bizarro tale out of Alexander McCall Smith’s imagination, jokingly calling themselves the No. 1 Hackers Detective Agency.
Patrick Oster recently spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing his novel, THE HACKER CHRONICLES:
Galina Rostova, the hot new star of Moscow’s theater scene—and mistress to a powerful Russian general—has reached out to the CIA. In exchange for information vital to U.S. security, she requests asylum in America. The Company’s top pick for the mission is Nora Baron. The wife of a CIA operative, this Long Island mother and drama teacher has proven to be an asset in the field before. And as an actress herself, her cover will be convincing.
Disguised as a television news host, Nora heads to Venice, Italy, where Rostova is appearing in Chekhov’s The Seagull. As the cameras roll during their mock interview, the starlet will make her escape—or at least that’s the plan. But when the defection goes off-script, the two women are on the run from Russian agents. And when a snowstorm buries Venice, clogging the streets, waterways, and airport, the stage is set for tragedy—with several lives at risk of a final curtain.
The Big Thrill recently spent some time with USA Today bestselling author Tom Savage discussing his novel, THE WOMAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH:
Growing up, Bianca St. Ives knew she was different from all her friends. Instead of playing hopscotch or combing her dolls’ hair, she studied martial arts with sensei masters and dismantled explosives with special-ops retirees. Her father prepped her well to carry on the family business. Now a striking beauty with fierce skills, the prodigy has surpassed the master.
She’s known as the Guardian. Running a multinational firm with her father, she makes a living swindling con men out of money they stole—and she’s damn good at it. She does things on her own terms. But her latest gig had a little hiccup—if you count two hundred million dollars and top secret government documents going missing as little. Her father also died on the mission. The thing is, the U.S. government doesn’t believe he’s really dead. They’ll stop at nothing to capture Richard St. Ives, a high-value target and someone who has been on most-wanted lists all over the world for over two decades, and they mean to use Bianca as bait. With only a fellow criminal for backup and her life on the line, it’s up to Bianca to uncover the terrifying truth behind what really happened…and set it right, before it’s too late.
When People’s Republic Flight 91 crashes in northeastern Ukraine with a U.S. diplomatic agent onboard, U.S. Diplomatic Security Service Agent Raisa Jordan is sent to investigate. The agent was escorting a prisoner home from Guangzhou, China, along with sensitive documents, and it quickly becomes apparent that the plane was intentionally downed. Was it to silence the two Americans onboard?
To avoid a diplomatic incident, Jordan must discover what the Americans knew that was worth killing hundreds to cover up. With Russia deeply entangled in the Ukraine and the possibility that China could be hiding reasons to bring down its own plane, tensions are high.
As international relations and even more lives hang in the balance, Jordan races to stop a new Cold War.
The Big Thrill had the opportunity to discuss RED SKY with award-winning author, Chris Goff:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
First, I hope they are entertained. This is an international thriller laced with espionage, politics and intrigue. Second, I hope they learn a little something about the geopolitics of Eastern Europe and China. I learned much more than I could include in the pages while researching the novel, and the region is fascinating.
The FOREVER SPY, sequel to The Good Spy, finds former Russian naval intelligence officer Yuri Kirov quietly living as a civilian with lover and ally Laura Newman. Yuri is pulled back into the world of espionage and political warfare when he’s pressed to help the United States contain a massive environmental crisis. When his presence is discovered by a turncoat spy, Yuri unwittingly finds himself part of a deadly scheme to spark the next World War.
Jeffrey Layton talked with The Big Thrill about his recent release, writing, and the world of Russian espionage.
THE FOREVER SPY, your second Yuri Kirov thriller, picks up a year after the events of The Good Spy. What’s life like for Yuri and Laura these days? Did you discover anything new or unexpected about your characters as the sequel unfolded?
Yuri Kirov is a Russian naval intelligence officer hiding in plain sight in the United States after a botched espionage operation (in The Good Spy). He is disillusioned with the Russian government because it abandoned him and others after the spy mission failed. Yuri’s government believes he is dead so no one from Russia is looking for him.
Sarah Appleton has been kidnapped from her university campus in Cambridge, England. When she escapes, killing her abductor, she sets in motion a chain of events that has repercussions all across the world. Sarah and her father, Martin Appleton, flee the Russian mafia, from whom Martin stole twenty million dollars in bearer bonds, leaving authorities to unravel the threat of a terrorist plot using biological weapons of mass destruction stolen from a Russian lab and sold to Middle Eastern extremists. As the authorities scramble to unravel the scant clues left by people who make few mistakes, terrorists gear up for an attack that will leave millions of innocent people dead and the governments of several Middle Eastern nations in chaos.
Paul Howard recently discussed his thriller, DISCIPLES OF DEATH, with The Big Thrill:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I hope any reader ofDISCIPLES OF DEATH will finish it and conclude that it was a page-turning novel that was exciting and entertaining from the beginning to the end.
The first book in the RISING SUN triptych, a science fiction historical thriller. An unearthly / mysterious / sinister and beautiful time traveler crosses paths and clashes with an American secret agent in the days before the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. A tale of intrigue, romance, deception, and betrayal. An epic journey revealing great secrets both international and intimate. The RISING SUN trilogy is three complete novels, almost three hundred thousand words, and took thirty-five years to complete. The RISING SUN trilogy might have an R-rating. Sexual situations and sexual language abound. Readers should be aware that most characters have a casual adult attitude to sex and therefore the depiction of their myriad odd practices can be troublesome & problematic for some.
James Cabot recently took some time to discuss Shadows and Echoes with the Big Thrill:
It’s been five years since Carter Blake parted ways with the top-secret government operation Winterlong. They brokered a deal at the time: he’d keep quiet about what they were doing, and in return he’d be left alone.
But news that one of Blake’s old allies, a man who agreed to the same deal, is dead means only one thing: something has changed and Winterlong is coming for him.
Emma Faraday, newly appointed head of the secret unit, is determined to tie up loose ends. And Blake is a very loose end. He’s been evading them for years, but finally they’ve picked up his trace. Blake may be the best there is at tracking down people who don’t want to be found, but Winterlong taught him everything he knows. If there’s anyone who can find him—and kill him—it’s them.
Mason Cross recently visited with The Big Thrill to discuss WINTERLONG:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Primarily, the experience of reading a fun, fast-paced chase thriller that makes them want to read the next one immediately.
Award-winning author Brett Battles is at it again. With several series under his belt, Battles is giving fans a spin-off from his highly successful Jonathan Quinn series with THE EXCOMS.
In THE EXCOMS we are reintroduced to Ananke, who debuted as an assassin in The Buried, and those who become her team: Rosario the obtainer, Dylan the courier, Liesel the bodyguard, and Ricky, the pain-in-the-ass/hunter. The five find themselves “saved” by a mysterious organization called the Committee. The Committee needs their help and expertise in solving a problem. In return, the Committee promises to reverse their excommunication from the secret world they inhabit.
Of course, nothing good ever comes without strings attached.
According to Battles, “THE EXCOMS brings together a set of fun, diverse characters who together are much greater—and better—than they are as individuals.” He goes on to say, “I loved how the relationships between the five (well, six, if you count Shinji) developed as I wrote the story.”
Battles knew that if he ever did a spin-off from his Quinn series, it would feature Ananke. “I knew she was someone special from the moment she made her initial appearance.” He wasn’t sure where the scene was going, but he knew he needed someone to carry out a quiet assassination. Ananke grew from that. “She took over the page. She’s smart, talented, and not above making a few bad decisions, Ricky being one.
“I started thinking she’d be great in her own series, but then had an idea to bring together a team, and then thought I would make her the leader of the team. So basically THE EXCOMS grew organically.”
As for Ananke’s unusual name, Battles said he wanted his assassin to have a “cool name.” So he “did a little research and discovered one of the ancient Greek gods was a woman named Ananke, who, in a nutshell, was the dictator of fate and circumstance. That sounded perfect for an assassin to me.
It’s back to Somalia (see The Watchman) for deep cover specialist Marc Portman. Hired this time by a French intelligence agency, he’s sent in undercover to provide back-up for one of their officers trying to recover a hard drive from one of the most dangerous cities on the planet – Mogadishu.
What they haven’t told Portman is that the device holds a record of top-secret negotiations for oil drilling worth billions, talks held between two leading western nations… and a hard-line terrorist organisation responsible for killing thousands of innocent people. If the recordings should get into the public domain, they’re capable of toppling two governments and ruining many reputations and careers, which is why it’s vital for the hard drive to be retrieved at all costs.
But while Portman and his French protectee are working hard to complete their task in already extreme circumstances, the decision is made to abandon the negotiations and close down all contacts with the terrorist organisation as if the talks never took place.
To reinforce this decision, an international team of former Foreign Legionnaires and ex-US special forces operatives is despatched to make sure that all records of the talks are buried for good. And that includes wiping out any non-affiliated ‘assets’ on the ground in Somalia.
Which puts Portman at the very top of the hit list.
Unfortunately for them, Portman doesn’t silence easily, and does what he does best, which is to fight back.
Humanity has always embraced new and exciting ways to inflict harm upon itself. How long did it take for the first bow-and-arrow hunters to turn their aim against a fellow Stone Age man? The over/under has to be measured in months, if not weeks. Which came first—the ploughshare or the sword? And let’s not even get started on atomic energy.
We embrace the new with gusto and quickly turn it against one another, even if we don’t know all that much about it. Remember, there were a few scientists out there who thought there was a chance, however small, that the A-bomb would fry the world’s atmosphere. We used it anyway.
These themes of novelty, responsibility, power and destruction were all swirling in my head when I sat down to write MJ-12: INCEPTION, the first in the series of MAJESTIC-12 spy-fi novels that’s coming out this month. For a long time, I had wanted to marry two of my favorite literary genres—spy thrillers and science fiction—in a single work, and this book was the result.
What would happen if, after World War II, ordinary individuals developed paranormal abilities? And how long would it take for the U.S. and the Soviet Union to try to weaponize them, even when the origins and extent of those abilities were still in doubt?
In my book, it took about three months for the U.S. to get started.
I wrote MJ-12: INCEPTION as a rollicking spy adventure, leveraging the MAJESTIC-12 alien conspiracy myth for a completely different story with many of the same players. I wanted James Bond and the X-Men in equal measure. And I’d like to think I got that—exotic locales, crazy action, super-cool superpowers. There’s excitement, a bit of romance, lots of twists and turns, heaps of conspiracies, all awash in shades of gray and noir with a big-band swing playing on a crackling radio and cigarette smoke creating a haze under the dim lights.
When I read James Swallows’s bio I had a distinct I-am-not-worthy moment. He’s a bestseller, a BAFTA nominee—but thank goodness he’s also a really nice guy, who answered my questions with both wit and wisdom. Writes a nifty book, too.
How do you compare scriptwriting and novel writing?
At the end of the day, it’s all just storytelling. Plot is plot, characters are characters and it doesn’t matter if you’re writing prose fiction or an opera. But I think the real, qualitative difference is in the toolkit a writer has to tell that story. A story presented in a script offers opportunities to explore narrative in ways that a novel can’t, and vice-versa. That’s why I love being able to do both–it’s like exercising different muscle groups.
Have you ever been writing and discovered something totally unexpected about one of your characters?
I tend to plot pretty deeply so reveals that emerge unexpectedly as I write don’t happen often–but yeah, there are times when a character’s voice will assert itself and you’ll realize that their reaction to a given situation isn’t what you first expected it to be. To me, that’s a sign you’ve given them a degree of life beyond the page.
NOMAD appears to be a departure from your usual genres. Why the change? What were the challenges in stepping into pastures new?
I’ve certainly written a fair bit of genre fiction in futuristic worlds and alternate realities, but NOMAD isn’t the first contemporary thriller; back in 2014 I wrote Deadline, an original novel based the TV show 24. There were a lot of things that drove me toward the idea of writing NOMAD; at the heart of it was the fact that I love these kind of books! But I think I was also looking for a challenge, for the opportunity to test myself as a writer and do something a little outside my comfort zone.
Inspired By Real-Life Corruption and War
From the prolific author of the Bourne series comes a new standalone thriller, ANY MINUTE NOW, a dark tale ripped from the headlines and inspired by Eric Van Lustbader’s fascination with the occult, the continuing war in the Middle East, and the “terrible price soldiers are asked to pay.”
“The ongoing corruption obscured by the fog of war both frighten and anger me,” he says.
ANY MINUTE NOW kicks off with Red Rover, the blackest of black ops teams, losing one of its own on a top-priority mission. The group is unexpectedly disbanded, leaving Greg Whitman and Felix Orteño to replace their lost team member with Charlize Daou. Daou, a brilliant and talented arms expert, becomes the team’s moral compass, helping Whitman and Orteño face the supernatural darkness into which she feels they have fallen.
“Charlize is a reflection of me, or perhaps part of me” says Lustbader. “I felt myself in every line I wrote for her. She’s very smart, damaged, and under-appreciated, except by the one person she truly loves. She’s a hero for our time.”
Against orders, the resurrected Red Rover team secretly hunts a protected Saudi terrorist, throwing them into the heart of a conspiracy involving the government, the Alchemists (a cabal of wealthy mystics), and a visionary striving to create a new way of waging war that could destabilize the world’s greatest superpowers.
For fans of the classic Bourne books, be assured that Lustbader is far from done with them.
“My brain is so overclocked, I’m someone who gets bored easily. I never held a job for more than two and a half years,” he says. “By then I knew more than my bosses did so there was really no point.”
By Don Helin
International intelligence agencies are after Bajjah, the brilliant and vicious mastermind of the bio-terror plot which nearly wiped out New York City. If not for the heroics of James Hicks, he might have been successful.
Hicks believes that some unknown adversary might be holding Bajjah, and he must track down this cold-blooded enemy while battling other agencies that have their own motives to find the terrorist. But when Hicks discovers that Bajjah’s network goes far deeper than anyone could have fathomed, he’s in a race against time to stop an international atrocity from taking place.
Early on in MURDER OF THE CROWS, James Hicks may captures one of the most wanted terrorists in the world— but in doing so, he has drawn the anger of international intelligence agencies who all target Hicks and his organization because they have someone they want to question. This month, I had the opportunity to catch up with the author of this page-turning thriller for The Big Thrill and ask a few questions of my own.
Did any particular event inspire the plot of this book?
I wrote MURDER OF THE CROWS with the intent of delving further into the world I set up in Sympathy For The Devil. It explains why the characters do certain things and why they’re prohibited from doing others. There wasn’t a particular terror or intelligence event that inspired the plot, but I drew plenty of inspiration from life. In this book, as in life, our actions have consequences. How we handle those consequences defines who we are. James Hicks is no different, except that he has people trying to kill him every day.
Do you have any tips for our readers on how you balance back story with new plot?
One of the main criticisms I received from readers of Sympathy for the Devil, was they didn’t know the back story for the characters. I intentionally avoided that spy thriller clichéd scene where two people sit and review the protagonist’s file. I wanted the reader to buy into the character and the world as it was without having details that people tend to skip anyway. In MURDER OF THE CROWS, I hint at Hicks’ back story without distracting from the forward action of the plot. By the end of the novel, the reader knows much more about Hicks, the University and the motivations of both, but won’t feel like they’ve slogged through a chapter of back story.
By Eyre Price
With her new novel, CODE NAME: JACK RABBIT, author Elizabeth Noble makes the transition from romance to thriller. I recently had the opportunity to put a few questions her way.
So…vampires? What attracted to you a genre that has been explored so thoroughly in the past decade?
Vampires are cool. They have the potential for very long lives and that offers a lot of character exploration. That’s my favorite thing about vampires. They also provide characters that have accumulated different skills over the decades, which really broadens what sort of story can be told. Since, in my world, the vampires heal extremely quickly they’re almost super-hero like. They are capable of surviving where a human might be killed. Then there’s the fact of their superior hearing, speed, and strength.
What measures did you take to put your own spin on vampires in order to keep the genre fresh?
This first book in a series I’m calling the Vampire Guard is a spin-off from a romance series I wrote with an author by the name of Anne Barwell. As we developed our original series (The Sleepless City) we wanted our vampires, and werewolves, to be different.
These vampires don’t hunt humans, and all vampires begin life as a human so as a group it’s in their best interest to preserve humans. Vampires can only change a human into a vampire during the few days each year surrounding the time when they were originally changed. They also don’t drink human blood, it’s an addictive substance for them. The blood they consume is a supplement to normal food and has animal sources. A vampire can bond with a soul mate. Once this happens it’s for life. There is an empathic, bordering on psychic, link between bonded vampires. In my series one of the qualities several of the vampire characters have and are proud of is their ability to change with the times. Even those born centuries ago have adapted to each era they live in.
By J. H. Bográn
I first began trading emails with Arthur Kerns back in 2014 when he participated in the Thriller Roundtables, a weekly forum for thriller writers to take part in themed discussions. At the time, Kerns was promoting the second book in his Hayden Stone series. Since then, readers have waited for another “Contract”—but now the wait is over!
This month, Kerns chats with The Big Thrill about his new book, THE YEMEN CONTRACT, which author D.P. Lyle describes as “A modern thriller that echoes today’s headlines.”
In your own words, what´s THE YEMEN CONTRACT about?
After completing a successful assignment in Africa we find the protagonist, CIA operative Hayden Stone, living at the Tuscan villa of Contessa Lucinda. She wants him to settle down with her and the offer is tempting until an urgent message arrives from Stone’s mentor Colonel Frederick. Stone’s CIA colleague, Sandra Harrington, has been attacked and arrested in Sicily and they need his help to extract her from jail. It’s learned that Abdul Wahab, Stone’s nemesis, is the instigator. His intention is to lure Stone to Sicily in order to kill him. Wahab a villain from previous novels has long-term intentions of seizing power in the Arabian Peninsula and wreaking havoc on the West. Without giving away too much of the plot, Stone rescues Sandra and both travel to the ancient land of Yemen and do battle with Wahab. Having traveled many times to the fascinating country of Yemen, I try to use what I know about the land and tribal system as a backdrop to the action.
What makes Abdul Wahab believe he can take Hayden?
Abdul Wahab makes his third appearance in THE YEMEN CONTRACT and his character continues to grow. He is a bastard, but has many redeeming qualities that my fellow writers who critique my work admire. This is a problem as he has killed a number of CIA officers, and there’s no way that he can get away with that. The clock is ticking. He’s very smart, having attended Cambridge and read into Middle English. He has two wives, a Saudi royal, and the other an Englishwoman with a title. Although he is well connected and educated, he’s not averse to personally pulling the trigger. He fought the Soviets and the Americans in Afghanistan, and knows how to handle weapons. Hayden Stone has become an obsession and he blames Stone for his failures to accomplish his terrorist goals. What gets in Wahab’s claw is that he believes Stone to be not up to his intellectual level or as cunning. Yet, at the end of each encounter, Stone wins!
Since this is his third time out, what can we expect from Hayden Stone?
Hayden Stone thrives on action. Although he is tempted to settle down with the Contessa and enjoy the good life, the minute the right opportunity presents itself, like an action adventure, he’s off and running. He knows his limitations and is aware he makes mistakes from which he must extricate himself sometimes at a cost. The only authority figure he answers to is his mentor Colonel Frederick. He is a loner and a patriot who finds himself a warrior against evil.
THE GOOD SPY is the latest espionage thriller from Jeffrey Layton, acclaimed author of Blowout, Warhead, and Vortex One. His latest work is in the coastal waters of the American/Canadian border. Russian naval officer Yuri Kirov faces a race against time to save the remaining crew of his marooned submarine amid escalating political tensions and a jealous husband.
Jeffrey Layton kindly took the time out to discuss his latest book with The Big Thrill.
THE GOOD SPY follows Yuri Kirov as he tries to save the world. Tell us a bit about the perilous situation that Yuri finds himself in and the dangers confronting him.
Yuri Kirov is a Russian Federation naval intelligence officer who specializes in underwater surveillance. He is aboard a Russian submarine on a clandestine mission over a hundred miles inside U.S. waters when the sub sinks. Employing cutting-edge deep diving equipment, Yuri is the only crew member to escape from the stricken sub. Once ashore but suffering from decompression sickness (aka the “bends”), Yuri’s mission is to rescue the surviving crew that remain marooned inside the hulk deep below the surface.
Can you tell us about Yuri Kirov?
Yuri is smart, motivated, and unrelenting in his struggle to rescue the survivors of the marooned spy sub Neva. He is also a decent man with a true moral compass that keeps him on course.
My characters are amalgams of people I know and/or read about, which is how I think many novelists operate. Yuri Kirov is someone who I would like to know personally―someone I would be pleased to call my friend.
How much research did you have to do to be able to bring a character like Yuri to life?
I spent considerable time reading about the Russian Navy and its officer corps with special emphasis on submarine operations. Like their counterparts in the United States and other Western powers, the officers aboard Russian submarines are an elite group who are highly educated, motivated, and goal-oriented toward defeating the enemy in combat.
Jeremy Burns travels…constantly, but right now he’s settling into his new office and celebrating the release of THE DUBAI BETRAYAL, a geopolitical spy thriller featuring Wayne Wilkins, a fan favorite from Burns’s acclaimed first novel, From the Ashes. As if providing the soundtrack to this fierce new book—in which Wilkins leads an elite group of black ops soldiers into Dubai to rescue the U.S. Ambassador to Israel—the adrenaline-pumping Celldweller comes up on Burns’s playlist while he sifts through photos and other mementos of his travels.
“I’ve been moving around a lot,” he says, which is an understatement considering that he, his wife, and dogs have been on a year-long sojourn exploring the country after several worldwide adventures on his own. Imagine the rakish Burns in expedition wear while spelunking in Lebanon or chasing monkeys through a jungle temple in Rajasthan. Or donning some city chic threads on the backstreets of Brussels or the forgotten churches of Rome or sporting some pretty cool aviators as he soaks up the Middle Eastern sun during his two years in Dubai, which is where he was living when he finished writing From the Ashes, the beginning of his American-based Jonathan Rickner series.
“Dubai was too fascinating a place not to explore in a thriller,” Burns says. “Everything there is superlative, designed to be bigger and better than anything else in the world.” In fact, every scene in THE DUBAI BETRAYAL is a real place and several of the locales are tied to specific events Burns experienced during his time in the country. “I celebrated New Year’s 2009 at a villa on the Palm Jumeirah. My apartment was in the Hor Al Anz neighborhood. I watched the grand opening of the Burj Khalifa and got to go up in it within days of its opening. And I spent many a weekend exploring the vast halls of the Dubai Mall. These and many more unique settings provided a fascinating backdrop.”
In THE GOOD TRAITOR, Ryan Quinn brings back Kera Mersal, the CIA analyst-turned-operative who uncovers a scandal within the agency and is then accused of treason. Her mission is now to unfold a geopolitical conspiracy while trying to clear her name after the events of the previous novel. Described by the author as a combination of Jason Bourne, Edward Snowden and Carrie Mathison from the TV series Homeland, Kera’s first appearance was in End of Secrets, a finalist for the 2013 International Book Awards.
Born in Alaska, Quinn worked in the publishing business in Manhattan for five years, during which he wrote The Fall, a college coming-of-age story that he published at his own expenses. The sales were so good he was soon contacted by an editor at Lake Union, an imprint of Amazon Publishing, who was interested in publishing the novel.
Quinn’s first literary attempts remain in his drawer. “I think first novels are incredibly valuable to writers, and best kept away from readers,” says the author. “It takes a full novel or two to begin to learn your own strengths and weaknesses and how to deploy them over a four-hundred-page project.”
The world of international espionage couldn’t be further from Quinn’s daily life, so half of his work is dedicated to research. He believes this is the best period in history for writers who want to tackle subjects that are away from their own personal reality, since information is widely available.
“If writers wrote only about events they had directly experienced in their own lives, most books would be excruciatingly tedious,” he says. “To create a richly imagined world, a writer must write about plenty of things he’s only imagined. Bridging the gap between what we’re fascinated by and what we have direct knowledge of is what fiction is all about.”
By Alex Segura
Chris Pavone likes to throw his heroes for a loop. Most of the time, they don’t even know they’re heroes yet. From expat mom Kate Moore to literary agent Isabel Reed, Pavone has crafted stories that pull seemingly normal people into dangerous worlds of menace and intrigue, forcing them to become much more than run-of-the-mill drones, and creating unforgettable thrillers in the process.
The trend continues with Pavone’s latest, THE TRAVELERS, a tightly plotted thrill-ride that takes burned-out journalist Will Rhodes from the nadir of his personal and professional life and catapults him into the deadly sphere of international espionage and double-crosses. Pavone’s knack for precise, impeccable pacing and layered, believable characters are on full display with THE TRAVELERS. The Big Thrill got the chance to ask Pavone a few questions about the book, which was released on March 8.
Chris, what can you tell us about Will Rhodes, the protagonist of your latest novel, THE TRAVELERS?
Will seems to have it all: recently married to the woman of his dreams, working in a glamorous job as European correspondent for Travelers magazine. But his marriage is in a sophomore slump, they’re completely broke, and Will is getting tired of a repetitive, exhausting job. He’s teetering on the cusp between optimism and disenchantment, between youth and middle age; Will still wants to believe that perfection is possible, but he’s confronting a lot of evidence to the contrary. And he’s about to make a huge mistake.
Will’s days are in a bit of a doldrums when we first meet him, before everything gets turned around. What is it that appeals to you about stories involving characters thrown into unexpected situations?
I like being able to imagine myself as the protagonist: what would I do? What decisions would I make? What chances would I take? I have a hard time doing this when it’s James Bond on the page.
By Basil Sands
Think Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in Africa. Revenge served cold amidst the bureaucratic bumbling inside the CIA as a political struggle unfolds. That is the thumbnail on CHOICE OF ENEMIES, a debut novel by M. A. Richards.
Richards was born and educated in Massachusetts and Connecticut. He served more than two decades as a Cultural Attaché in the Department of State. Aside from assignments in Washington, D.C., his career took him to cities in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, including Amman, Baghdad, Bangkok, Cape Town, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Kuwait City, Jakarta, Jerusalem, Lagos, Moscow, Seoul, Singapore, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, Ulan Bator, Vladivostok, and Wellington. He also served at the U.S. Pacific Command in Honolulu as the Special Advisor to the Commander.
How was CHOICE OF ENEMIES born?
When I served a year in Iraq, I spent a lot of time on Blackhawks, flying from Baghdad to Fallujah and Ramadi and back again. Strapped to a hard bench, I spent the time searching the skies for MANPAD flares and writing stories in my head. When I returned to the U.S., I was assigned as a Fellow at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, a wonderful experience that introduced me to a group of fascinating characters from countries as disparate as Pakistan and Japan. More importantly, for the first time since I joined the Department of State, I possessed blocks of time large enough to begin crafting a novel. I worked on two tracks at the Center—exploring links between jihadist groups in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, and drafting the rough outline (more of a sketch, really) of a book based on my helicopter musings. During my stay at APCSS, the musings morphed into the first draft of CHOICE OF ENEMIES.
It is a story of international espionage that exposes the “DNA strands” that entangle the United States’ efforts to secure steady supplies of oil, destroy radical Islamic terrorist organizations, and guarantee that governments in strategic countries remain within its orbit (regime change is such a quaint expression). After retiring in 2013, I bought a new laptop and went at it. Reams of (electronic) paper later, I sent query letters to agents and signed with Dean Krystek of Word|Link Agency. Dean placed the novel with Larry Knorr at Sunbury Press. It launched on January 10, 2016. My fingers are crossed (tough to type!) that Dean will soon secure a film deal—what a thrill it would be to watch my characters duel on the silver screen.
President Vladimir Putin is almost universally viewed as Russia’s strong man, willing and able to stand up to what he sees as bullying by the West. He presents himself as the strong, unyielding leader. At home, he’s surrounded by powerful political, military, and industrial figures, some of whom share his world view that friendly relations with the West are a threat to Russia and their own business interests and careers.
From a thriller perspective, I wanted to explore the possibility of what might happen if an outsider—a “dissident” and “traitor” to many in Moscow parlance—tried to lure the president away from his hard-line stance against the West.
I came up with a scenario where increasing tension between Moscow and the West causes a former KGB colleague and one-time mentor to Putin, Leonid Tzorekov, to act. Now a successful businessman and banker living in London, Tzorekov seeks a secret meeting with Putin inside Russia.
However, in doing so he has to factor in the people surrounding Putin. Among them is a group known as the Wise Men, a powerful caucus of politicians, senior military men, and business moguls—including arms manufacturers—who will go to any lengths to ensure the proposed meeting does not take place. Even if that means eliminating Tzorekov and anybody connected with him.
For Tzorekov, such a move is fraught with danger and doubt. What if Putin refuses to see him? Would that be the worst that could happen? Or only the beginning? It would mean failure, certainly—even humiliation on a personal level. But, Tzorekov reasons, it would be worth a try not only to improve relations at such a dangerous time for the world, but also to make up for his own exile from his Mother Country, which he misses with a heavy heart.
By Dan Levy
With 13 novels/novellas to her credit, one might not guess that Libby Fischer Hellmann never intended to be a writer. “I never had any desire to write a book,” she says. “It was not even Plan B on my agenda. I was always going to be a filmmaker. But life had other plans.”
Further evidence that Hellmann’s name would likely never grace the cover of a published work of fiction is that her mother is a prolific mystery writer—Hellmann’s “rebellious nature” would not allow her to follow in her mother’s footsteps. But as is the case with most writers, and nearly every great story, there’s a moment when everything changes. For Hellmann, it was reading Jeremiah Healy’s, The Staked Goat (recommended by her mother, by the way).
According to Hellmann, a voracious reader, “After a while, (thrillers) all started to sound the same. The world is going to blow up. The hero keeps the world from blowing up, and he walks off with his girlfriend.” The Staked Goat showed her that all thrillers were not alike. “It was about a murder. But what was very interesting to me was that there was a whole issue devoted to the after market of weapons from the Vietnam War. I was like, ‘You can talk about this kind of stuff in a mystery? That’s cool.’ I was really intrigued by the idea that you could write a mystery, but you could also talk about an issue.”
This month, Hellmann will release her 14th novel, JUMP CUT. It marks the fifth in Hellmann’s Ellie Foreman series, and the return of the protagonist after a decade. “When I first came up with the story I wanted to write, it was painfully clear that Ellie needed to tell (it). Plus, I got questions from fans, When is she coming back? We miss her.” The time and timing were right for Ellie’s return.
The reunion between Hellmann and her alter ego was as immediate as it was comfortable. And why not? Both are Chicagoans, both worked in video production and both are passionate about their pursuits. “It was like meeting up with an old friend you hadn’t seen in a (while)—and then having a great time. (Ellie’s voice) came back to me after one page.”
By John Darrin
I got stuck on this one, coming up with one reason after another to procrastinate. (Sorry, editors.) OK, the two days in the hospital were a valid excuse, but I was conscious the whole time and could theoretically have been writing. Anyway, I decided to try Matthew FitzSimmons’ writers’ block technique – lying on the floor on my back, staring at the ceiling. That ended up causing further delay when I had to go find my hammer, patching compound, and ladder to fix the nail pops I noticed while not overcoming the desire not to write.
FitzSimmons is the author of THE SHORT DROP and the subject of this profile. The book has been exceedingly well-received, jumping to Number 1 on the Amazon best-seller list in several Thriller categories after introduction as a Kindle First selection. Very impressive stuff, and maybe just a little intimidating to someone profiling him.
Matthew attended Thrillerfest before he started writing thrillers, a curious chronology. I asked him about that and he said, “I’d reached a despairing point when I felt my life had slipped out of my control. The book was a way to reassert control, if not over my life, then at least over a fictional one. It became my refuge. I don’t know that it saved my life, but it certainly helped me rediscover it. It was honestly quite late in the writing process that it occurred to me that it might interest a reader other than myself.”
Here’s a short blurb about THE SHORT DROP so you don’t have to just believe me when I recommend the book.
A decade ago, the fourteen-year-old daughter of Senator Benjamin Lombard disappeared in a most sensational missing-person case. And now, Lombard is running for the presidency and the mystery is still unsolved. Gibson Vaughn, hacker, ex-Marine, and the missing Suzanne’s close friend is asked by Lombard’s former head of security to help investigate new evidence about her disappearance.
Haunted by tragic memories, he jumps at the chance. Using his military and technical prowess, he discovers multiple conspiracies surrounding the Lombard family. With new information surfacing that could threaten Lombard’s political ambitions, Gibson must stay one step ahead of the powerful, ruthless players who will do anything to silence him as he navigates a dangerous web to get to the truth.
Brilliance and its sequel, A Better World, earned Marcus Sakey a legion of new fans. Now Sakey proves he knows how to bring in the big finish with WRITTEN IN FIRE, the closing act of this powerful trilogy.
The basic idea for the series is deceptively simple. What if one percent of the world was born savants, able to do thing the rest of us couldn’t? In Sakey’s world humanity has struggled to cope with the brilliants – that one percent of people born with remarkable gifts – for 30 years. All efforts to avoid a devastating civil war eventually fail. It’s a grand, high-concept idea that Sakey says he got from his wife.
“She had recently gotten her Masters in early childhood development,” Sakey says, “and so always had fascinating bits to share about how the brain works, especially the autistic brain. Which got me wondering, what if about the same percentage of people were born with a similarly specialized way of thinking, only the impact was cranked up and the social side effects were removed? ”
In this case, society’s reaction to these special people leads to the White House in ruins, Madison Square Garden turned into an internment camp, and an armed militia of thousands marching in Wyoming. In some ways it may sound familiar. Sakey himself will tell you that there have always been stories about the exceptional amongst us, from early mythology to the Arthurian legends to the X-Men to vampire tales. It’s his approach to that situation that makes this story unique.
“Where I tried to do something different was that instead of making the story about the exceptional people, I focused on the rest of us,” Sakey says. “On what was happening to the world, how mistrust and fear and intolerance were tearing us apart. The classic dystopian structure is to start far in the future, after the fall of civilization; I wanted to go the other way, and show the thousand blows that set it staggering and, possibly, collapsing.”
The protagonist of WRITTEN IN FIRE, Nick Cooper, has spent his life fighting for his children and his country. He’s the top gun of an agency that tracks and executes antisocial brilliants, and he is a brilliant himself. In the book every brilliant is different. Cooper’s gift is a heightened level of intuition. He builds patterns of how people think and act, and uses those to predict what they’ll do next. He’s committed, but is he a hero?
Jericho Quinn returns in BRUTE FORCE, the sixth in Marc Cameron’s popular series. This time, Quinn is wanted by his own government because he knows the truth—the president is controlled by terrorists and the vice president is a global mastermind plotting the demise of America. Knowing the plan is close to fruition, Quinn is working against heightened security, mass surveillance, and the establishment of a brutal police state in his own country while trying to operate overseas as a hunted man. Fortunately, his pursuit takes him to China where a lovely Chinese Ministry of State Security agent saves his life and proposes they work together to avert war between their countries.
Pakistan, Western China, Croatia, Seattle, and, of course, Washington, D.C. figure in the chase. Jacques Thibodaux, Ronnie Garcia, Emiko Miyagi, and other characters in the Quinn series return to help in the fight.
So where did the idea originate for Cameron?
“The genesis of BRUTE FORCE occurred while I was writing the second book, Act of Terror. That book introduced the overarching plan to put moles raised from children to hate the United States into the fabric of U.S. politics. Each book has a stand-alone plot as well but, to one degree or another, works toward the final culmination in BRUTE FORCE.”
Writing with an eye toward the long game is a unique aspect of his series. “I think a plot that weaves through several books is more like real life. Television and movies have made us accustomed to DNA results coming back at lightning speed and important criminal and counter terrorism cases being solved or resolved in one or two hours. Life is rarely that way. In real life, every day has a cliffhanger ending to one degree or another. Even if our hero rides off into the sunset, he’s camping somewhere in the dark, possibly with snakes…
She’s been called the “female Robert Ludlum” and the “Queen of Espionage.” She’s broken barriers for women in fiction, and co-founded one of the world’s leading organizations for writers. And, oh yeah, she writes kick-ass New York Times bestsellers.
You guessed it, she’s Gayle Lynds, and this month, she’s back with a vengeance with THE ASSASSINS (St. Martin’s Press, June 30).
On the heels of her smash hit The Book of Spies, this latest story is about what happens when two spooks get caught in the crossfire of a business dispute—one involving six of the world’s most deadly assassins. Part heist story, part espionage thriller—one hundred percent adrenaline—THE ASSASSINS should go down as Lynds’s best novel to date. And that’s saying something given that her work is on Publishers Weekly’s list of the top ten spy thrillers of all time.
What’s special about Lynds, though, is that when she’s not crafting page-turning thrillers or hiking in beautiful Maine, she’s helping aspiring authors. She’s a true writer’s writer, and it is no surprise that the International Thriller Writers, the organization she co-founded, carries forward her spirit of kindness, support, and mentorship.
Lynds graciously agreed to answer a few questions about THE ASSASSINS and her life and career.