By Aaron Brown
Who is Joe Hunter?
For a start, there are certain things he isn’t. He’s not a cop. He’s not a bounty hunter. He’s not a private detective.
Some people call him a vigilante, but even Joe will tell you that vigilantes take the law into their own hands, whereas there aren’t too many laws that define what Joe does to get a job done.
Joe is someone who cares. Simple as that. He doesn’t like bullies. He doesn’t like men who hurt women or children. Put into context, that covers a whole bundle of bad guys the world over. He’s a tough guy with a heart.
In his new book, Cut and Run, Matt Hilton pits Joe against a killer who has stolen his identity and committed a vicious double murder. His motive? Revenge. His mission? Kill anyone Hunter holds dear. This forces Joe into a deadly duel of wits that takes him from the streets of Miami to the squalid barrios of Columbia to the jungle hideaway of a drug baron. And brings him face to face with his past.
Matt Hilton, the architect of the Joe Hunter series, is a writer who has been described by critics as “a sparkling new talent” writing books that “roar along at a ferocious pace.” I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt, discussing his upcoming projects, and learning about his thrilling real-life experiences.
You quit your job as a police officer when you landed your publishing deal, but you wrote your first novel at age 13 and continued to write novels until age 42 when Dead Men’s Dust rose from the slush pile. Did your dream of being a writer lead you into such interesting fields for your “day job”, or did your choice of career lead you to write crime thrillers?
It’s an interesting question. When I was a younger I had two great passions in life: writing and martial arts. Both of these interests have shaped me as an individual, and also guided my career decisions. I gained a black belt in Kempo Ju-Jitsu at the age of nineteen, and at the time was wondering how I could employ my new found skills in a way that would benefit both me and others around me. I initially intended joining the army, but life overtook me and I ended up working in a series of dead end jobs that didn’t fulfill me in any way. It was at that time that my new bride suggested that I should look into the security industry. As a martial artist I was used to discipline and thought that this was a good idea. I stayed in the private security industry for eighteen years, and a natural progression was to move on to the police force. Throughout those years I continued to write, and I think it was inevitable that my leanings would be towards the crime thriller genre. So yes, I believe that my life has been steered into this field by my career decisions.
Your new book takes Joe Hunter from the streets of Miami to the jungles of Colombia. Did you get to explore these locales as part of your research?
I did take a research trip to Florida during the writing of my second book, Judgment and Wrath, but not on this occasion. And no, sadly I didn’t make it to Colombia either. A lot of my research comes from the books that I read, the movies that I watch, and I admit that Google Earth has helped me immensely. I was actually on a boat on the River Nile when writing portions of Judgment and Wrath, and I thought that some of the scenery was reminiscent of the Everglades, so it gave me a sense of the heat and humidity for the settings I was conjuring. It didn’t give me the taste for local flavour or the nitty gritty points of interest that makes a location unique, so I felt that a trip to Florida was necessary. OK, so some of the trip was spent at Disney, but you can’t go to Florida without visiting can you?
Can you describe the concept of “point shooting”, a technique that you’ve employed to transform Joe Hunter into a modern day gunslinger?
I chose the method of ‘point shooting’ due to the fictional background I gave to Joe Hunter. He trained at ‘Arrowsake’ – based upon Arisaig, the training base for agents of the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner to the modern British Secret Services. The agents were trained in methods of armed and unarmed combat by William E. Fairbairn, Eric A. Sykes and Rex Applegate. They propagated a method of shooting that was based on the natural instincts and use of body mechanics for use in situations where it was necessary to engage close targets. Basically it’s used when you can’t sight a target, or in low light conditions, and relies on speed and the natural reaction of the body. Without conscious thought, you point where you look, and someone trained in point shooting uses this natural instinct to deadly effect. Point Shooting is a real concept and is sometimes referred to as FAS or FSA in respect to its originators. Because of the situations I place Joe Hunter into I thought it was an ideal method of shooting that would compliment his unarmed combat skills. Plus, I wanted to evoke a feeling of the old Wild West in a contemporary setting, and thought that ‘point shooting’ was an ideal style for a modern day gunslinger.
You’ve experienced countless “real-life” fights, arrests, and high-tension situations over your career as a Police Officer and Security Expert. Can you give us a few examples of the situations you’ve faced?
First off I’d like to point out that I don’t consider myself a ‘tough guy’. But yes, due to my twenty-odd years in a career where you’re guaranteed such, I’ve had to scrap for my life on a few occasions. You might find this strange, but the nastiest fights I had were when I was working in the private security industry, and in plain clothes. For some reason a police uniform still engenders some respect, and most confrontations I had as a cop were in subduing fights or stopping someone from making off. When I was a civilian and had no uniform to hide behind, the bad guys saw me as fair game. One of the worst incidents was where I was jumped on by three guys. Luckily they were so busy trying to hit me that most of their kicks and punches missed or landed on their friends. I came away from that one with a few bumps and scrapes, but gave as good as I got. One funny incident as a cop was when a guy with mental-health issues attacked me with a four-foot length of wood, and I was armed only with my extendable baton. It wasn’t so much an Errol Flynn-style duel as it was a lot of grunting and scrabbling about in the mud. As I was trying to control the guy I glanced up and saw a pit-bull terrier racing at me. I thought it was going to eat me but all it wanted was the piece of wood that was flailing around. The dog ran off with it and I had to go back and tell the custody sergeant that I was unable to seize the weapon. I still don’t think he believes what happened to this day!
Do these situations often make into your books, or do you just draw from them in a more general sense?
Fights in real life aren’t as dramatic as those in books or in movies. They’re nasty, horrible things that usually only last seconds or end up with the combatants rolling about in the dirt with hardly a punch thrown. So I only draw from them in general, and aim more for the emotions and bodily reactions that are felt during combat. For the books I dramatize fights to make them more interesting, but I also like to use ‘techniques’ that I’ve employed and know that they work. Not that I’ve ever killed anyone, mind you, but I do understand the dangers of certain combat moves.
With your background as a police officer, some would expect your protagonist, Joe Hunter, to be an ex-cop instead of a former counterterrorism soldier. What led you away from casting Joe as a law enforcement officer?
As a police officer the last thing I wanted to do was to write about one. I got enough of it at work. No, seriously, I gave the character of Joe Hunter some thought. I wanted him to be the kind of man with a specific background and skill base to take him on adventures throughout the world. I didn’t think a police background would fit him, so decided to make him an ex-Special Forces soldier. At the time I wasn’t aware of another Brit writing in the crime thriller genre whose character had similar traits. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher bears some resemblance, as does Robert Crais’ Joe Pike, but at the time British crime writing was dominated by Inspector this, that or the other. I was influenced early on by Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan, and wanted to write books more akin to his Executioner series than I did another British crime book. I made Hunter a retired soldier, who is haunted by what he did in the past, and is now trying to make amends by standing up for people unable to do so for themselves. I can have much more fun allowing him free reign than the constraints a law enforcement officer would have over him.
Was there anything particularly interesting that you learned through your research that didn’t make it into the new book, or something from the book that you’d like to highlight?
In Cut and Run it is the first time I’ve really tackled Hunter’s history coming back to have a real and fatal consequence in the present. As a result I had to take a portion of the book back into his military past and to a hit on a drug cartel boss, so had to research what was happening in the country around that time. Prior to writing the book I didn’t have that much knowledge of the way that the cocaine industry affected the country and I admit to having been horrified to learn what I did. I was pleased to read recently that much of the background I placed in the book is now in the past and the drug trade there is under better control than before. Hopefully it will mean a better life for many thousands of people.
What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books/authors? What authors have had the greatest influence upon your work?
I’ve just today finished reading – at the time of writing – Andrew Grant’s Even, and have just picked up Stuart Neville’s The Twelve (published in the USA as Ghosts Of Belfast). As you can probably tell, I prefer American-style crime thrillers to any other kind of book. I’m a huge fan of David Morrell’s work, particularly his Brotherhood of the Rose trilogy, as well as Dean Koontz’s thrillers. On my must read list are anything by Robert Crais, Jeffrey Deaver, Jack Kerley, Simon Kernick, Harlan Coben and Jeff Abbott. But my favourite writers are those that mix genres slightly. I love Michael Marshall’s Straw Men trilogy and never miss the latest John Connolly Charlie Parker book. If I’d to pick one series of books to take to a desert Island it would have to be John Connolly’s. As far as influences, it’s maybe not what you’d expect: my biggest influences as a writer are Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan), H P Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, Don Pendleton, George G, Gillman (Edge, Adam Steel westerns) and of the current crop, Robert Crais. I love Elvis Cole and Joe Pike.
What’s something that you’ve learned about writing as a career and the publishing business that you weren’t expecting? Any advice for those just starting in the industry?
When looking for the elusive deal I never expected anything like the success I’ve had. Then again, I went into it with a certain naivety and didn’t for one second expect that so much of my time as an author would be spent away from my writing. It’s a tough time for the industry and gone are the days when mega-bucks are pushed into advertising and establishing an author. It is now as much the author’s responsibility to push their work as it is their publisher’s. As a writer, you spend many hours sat in a secluded place with only your thoughts for company, then you’ve to come out all singing and dancing to promote yourself. It’s like you have to have a split personality and if you’re the shy and retiring type you are in for a shock. Something else I wish I knew before hand was that once you are in the public eye you are fair game for criticism. I write for enjoyment and for the enjoyment of my readers, and though I don’t expect everyone to like my style of writing, I never expected the kind of vitriol that some critics aim at authors. I’m the kind of person who only wishes the best for everyone. Thank god for all the wonderful people I’ve met along the way, and for ITW that offers a real sense of camaraderie and support to us genre writers. If you’re an aspiring or debut author I wholeheartedly recommend you join ITW.
Are you currently working on a new book? Can we get a sneak peek?
It’s probably important that I explain a little about my series. In The UK, there are two Joe Hunter books published a year, while in The USA it is only one. Book 2 – Judgment and Wrath – is coming out 17th August in the USA, while Book 4 – Cut and Run – comes out in the UK two days later. Therefore I am further ahead in the series than some readers might assume. I’m currently writing Book 7 in the series. It’s a little confusing I know, but the next book my American readers can look forward to is Slash and Burn (Joe Hunter 3). Here’s the cover blurb for that one:
“Joe Hunter is always ready to help a lady in distress. Particularly when Kate, the lady in question, is the sister of a dead Special Forces mate.
Robert Huffman pretends to be a respectable businessman. But the psychopathic twins he uses as his enforcers give the lie to that. Huffman is a player in the murky world of organised crime and needs Kate as bait for one of his schemes.
Joe is way outnumbered by the bad guys, but since when did that stop him? He’ll rescue Kate if he has to slash and burn to get her …”
Whereas the next book to come out in the UK is Blood and Ashes (Joe Hunter 5). Here’s the blurb for that one:
“Brook Reynolds died in a car crash. Tragic accident, the police say. But her father knows otherwise. And he wants Joe Hunter to find the men responsible.
Trouble is, they find Joe first. The ensuing blood bath is only the beginning of a trail of death that leads right to the heart of a racist conspiracy.
Joe is on countdown: can he stop the plotters before they reduce the free world to ashes?”
I hope my readers enjoy them as much as I enjoyed writing them.
Matt Hilton quit his career as a police officer with Cumbria Constabulary to pursue his love of writing tight, cinematic American-style thrillers. He is the author of the Joe Hunter thriller series, including Dead Men’s Dust, Judgement and Wrath and Slash and Burn. His fourth book, Cut and Run is due for release in the UK in August 2010. Matt is a high-ranking martial artist and has been a detective and private security specialist, all of which lend an authenticity to the action scenes in his books. For more information, visitwww.matthiltonbooks.com.