By Gary Kriss
Richard Doetsch spent most of his adult life selling buildings.
Then he started breaking into them.
Not just any buildings. Only the best, like the Vatican and the Kremlin.
And now he’s headed for prison.
Because, with apologies to Willie Sutton, that’s where the readers are.
Or that’s where they’ll become the end of this month when Doetsch’s new thriller The Thieves of Darkness is released. It’s the third book in a series featuring thief extraordinaire Michael St. Pierre, now retired, although circumstances keep dragging him back.
First, in The Thieves of Heaven, Doetsch’s 2006 debut novel, which introduced St. Pierre, it was an unsuccessful attempt to save his cancer-ridden wife. Then, in The Thieves of Faith, it was a commitment to fulfill a dying man’s last wish. And now, in The Thieves of Darkness, its rescuing his friend, a priest being held in a foreign prison and set to be executed. And in each of the novels, the inciting incident sets in motion a ball of high stake international intrigue.
This time St. Pierre, fresh from springing the priest, has to steal a map. Not just any map, but the mysterious Piri Reis map, a real document named for the Ottoman-Turkish Admiral and Cartographer who compiled it from other sources in the early sixteenth century. Since a teenager, Doetsch has been “in awe” of the map, which was discovered in in 1929 during renovations to Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace where it still resides. Among other things, the map depicts the Antarctica land mass and South America.
“The map should not have existed in 1520,” Doetsch says. “If you think about it, the charts and maps Piri Reis had to draw upon were at least 6000 years old and there were supposedly no sea faring cultures with the technology to draw such accurate charts at that point in history nor were there for thousands of years. Maps in those times were generated off of other existing maps. With that being the case where did Piri Reis get the source for the land mass of Antarctica, a land mass that has been covered in ice for 6000 years? Where did he get the info for South America and other areas? So how was this map drawn unless there was some unknown seafaring culture before recorded history?”
Ah, but there’s more mystery to the map than that, or less in this case, as Doetsch explains. “What most people don’t know is that the eastern half of the map is torn off and thought destroyed as it reveals secrets many deemed too precious to reveal,” he says. “What was on that missing half? What things did it depict?”
Destroyed? Don’t bet on it. And the quest for that other portion pits St. Pierre against another master thief after the same thing, a foe with no qualms about exploiting the map’s powerful secrets.
The book also introduces KC Ryan, who Doetsch says “starts as a love interest for Michael, but turns into something far more: an adversary, an ally, a thief and someone who he may just give his life for.”
Doetsch, who in addition to the Thieves books has also penned another well-regarded thriller, The 13th Hour, sees his new book as “one of the best things” he’s written.
“The story is truly global in scope, from Amsterdam to London to Middle Eastern deserts, from the palaces of Istanbul to the peaks of India,” he notes. “The Thieves of Darkness is a fast paced story that weaves together some amazing historical facts with some of the best characters I have created into a tightly wound mystery. I think people will find the story very fresh, not a retread of the two prior novels. Michael continues to grow as a person, coming to terms with the death of his wife and finding a new life and love with someone he would least expect. He also faces an adversary who is as smart and cunning as he is. And both individuals possessing a similar trait: they are thieves who have committed some of history’s greatest crimes.”
Michael St. Pierre may be growing, but he’s still a man of considerable mystery. When K.C. asks him why he steals, St. Pierre thinks about the question, which he considers “more intimate than sex,” but can’t answer her. The authorial voice reveals: “He had never bared his soul to anyone; he had never even discussed why he was a thief with his deceased wife, Mary. No one knew the whys of Michael.”
Actually, that’s not quite true. One person knows the whys of Michael St. Pierre and, surprise, it’s the man with that authorial voice: Richard Doetsch.
“Michael is a reluctant adventurer,” Doetsch says. “He will risk it all to save those he cares about. He prefers being methodical. but has been forced to be quick on his feet as a result of his profession. He is a romantic preferring love to one night stands. He is quiet leader who always rises to the occasion or challenge.”
And how does Doetsch know all this? (Yeah, right–he’s the guy that created the character. But let’s not go for the Big Easy here.)
“Michael St. Pierre is very much myself,” Doetsch confesses. “They say write what you know, so that is what I do. His thoughts, emotions, viewpoints are very much me. His skill sets: skydiving, scuba diving, love of extreme sports is directly from life; his caring for those he loves is very close to home and is what drives him and me in life and adventures. If you know Michael St. Pierre you really know me, something that my close friends and family recognize.”
Does that mean K.C., St. Pierre’s romantic interest is . . .
“. . . Virginia, my wife, who is always the basis for my protagonist’s wife or girlfriend,” Doetsch says of the woman who he has been “passionately in love with” for over 30 years. “Their thoughts, beauty, dialogue and emotions are very much a reflection of her. Of course I always put her in jeopardy, kill her, kidnap her and generally put her through the ringer. But at the end of the day it is the deep love that always drives and saves her. It really helps to give an emotional core to my stories and when we infuse the characters with our emotions it truly brings them to life.”
And what does Virginia, whom Doetsch feel in love with when they were both 14 and whom, after two decades plus of marriage and three children, still makes his heart “skip a beat when she enters a room,” react to the perils and more that he vicariously subjects her to?
“She sleeps with one eye open now,” Doetsch admits.
Such are the hazards of consorting with a writer whose books are classified as thrillers, which, to Doetsch, means, they’re “filled with suspense, a mystery with a high octane approach that takes the reader on a heart pounding journey.” However Doetsch sees his books as crossing and encompassing many genres.
“They are action stories mysteries on multiple levels, love stories, thought provoking tales of what if,” he points out. “The Thieves series is similar in that they are global mysteries, filled with action, filled with history, based around a thief who is trying to save the woman he loves. So how I’m characterized is different to each reader. Bottom line, I hope they just say I’m a good story teller. Above all else, I’m a story teller, I believe in order to have a compelling plot you must have compelling characters, but at the end of the day, story is king.”
Doetsch is on record as favoring an anti-hero “whose deeds came about as moral compromise,” saying this makes for a deeper and far more interesting” character, one who has to “not only battle outside forces but the moral compass within himself.”
And while he says he doesn’t preach in his books, despite these moral dilemmas, Doetsch believes “there are always themes that are illustrated through the characters arc throughout the story.”
“The Thieves of Heaven had a theme of finding faith in each other and the ones we love,” he notes. “The Thieves of Faith, ironically, had a subtle theme of hope and how important it is to have in life. The 13th Hour [Doetsch’s non-series novel, published last year] was based around the idea of ‘if we could change a single tragic moment on our lives how would it affect us, for good, for bad?’ And Darkness . . . well, it has a great theme that people will find when the read the book.”
Besides themes, Doetsch, harkening back to his days in real estate, likes his books to have “curb appeal.”
“I think the curb appeal starts with the author,” he explains. “He must create an amazing story that stands apart from others, just like if you want someone to buy your house or apartment building you have to make it the best that it can be. Of course, you need to go out there and sell it, make the world aware of it and that falls on the shoulders of both the author and publisher combining their strengths and capitalizing on the great story the author has created. If your story is weak, it’s like trying to sell someone a piece of swamp or the Brooklyn Bridge.”
Curb appeal isn’t all Doetsch brought to writing from a highly successful career in commercial and residential real estate, a field he entered because it was the first job offered him after college.
“I came from the business world where in order to achieve success you have to be organized, tenacious, and hard working,” he notes. “I believe if you’re lucky enough to be able to write for a living, you need to work at it all the time. I usually write two to three thousand words a day. If I’m not writing, I’m researching. If I’m not researching, I’m marketing. And if I’m not marketing, I’m coming up with new stories.”
That translates into a daily schedule that starts at 7:30 am with a bike ride, swim or run and has Doetsch at his “very organized desk filled with eclectic mementoes from world travels” by 9 am, listening to music, which he does during nearly waking moment, and writing.
“I’ll write until noon, eat and take care of the business aspect of writing until 2, write until five, work out, have dinner and family time, then get back to writing at 10pm and continue until 3 am,” he says. “Then up at 7:30 to start again.” When he indulges in serious relaxation, he trains for triathlons, skydives, scuba dives and does “things that get my adrenaline pumping.”
Not unlike writing, which furnishes him “escapism, catharsis, fun, thrills,” not to mention the opportunity “to create puzzles, mysteries, characters you love and hate.”
Oh, yes, then there’s the opportunity to experiment.
The 13th Hour, for example, is told in reverse. “So many books follow a pattern,” Doetsch says. “I like to break that mold, set myself apart. I think we owe it to our readers to be fresh, new and different.” He cautions, however, that “we must balance that though, because if we go too far we can lose them.” Half-Past Dawn, his next non-series novel due out later this year, also “follows a unique path” he says.
Then there’s Embassy, Doetsch’s 2009 thriller that Altria published as a “vook,” essentially an immersive multimedia melding of print, video and internet. Doetsch is quick to deny that vooks are meant to supersede books, holding instead that they are a totally different creative medium.
“A Vook is not a book nor should it be read that way,” he explains. “It is a new way to tell a story. It is interactive, combining the best of reading with the visual world we live in. In books we paint pictures for the mind and we should never rob people of that aspect. I believe the story needs to be written towards either a book or a vook. When you try to shoe horn a novel into a Vook you can destroy the readers images that they have created in their minds. But when the story is written to take advantage of the vook’s video aspect it can be thrilling.”
With The Thieves of Darkness done, does that mean that Doetsch will take a break from his rigorous writing schedule? Right. If you believe that, then you may want to look into the Brooklyn Bridge and Swamp Land he mentioned.
“I’m nearly complete with The Thieves of Legend, a fast paced thrilled that takes Michael into the heart of China, into its mysterious past and palaces, its modern casinos in Macau,” Doetsch reports, adding that he enjoys writing a series because “you can to take people you know and grow them, put them in new exciting situations.” He likens the experience to “paying a visit to your closest friends and relatives.
But he also enjoys standalone novels and says his current game plan is to write one of each every year. To this end, he already has five more Darkness outlines ready to go and more standalone story ideas than he can shake a pen at.
“I have what I call the everyday story file,” Doetsch says with an obvious sense of satisfaction. “I write a new story every single day. Usually only three paragraphs, but something that anyone could understand. In the same way so many writers say you need to write every day, I believe you need to create story every day. Then after a year, when it comes time to write your next book, you have a huge well to draw from. It forces you out of your comfort zone as you search not to repeat yourself. And it’s great fun to just daydream.”
That’s not difficult for someone who says that his greatest strength is “a very vivid imagination combined with near photographic memory of most of my life.” But once they’re written down, or even fleshed out, things get a little trickier for Doetsch, who concedes that his weakest point “is probably my grammar,” which forces him to “always have to go back and correct things.”
Recalling his high school years in Byram Hills, the New York City suburb where he’s lived for most of his life, he admits “based on my skills in English class, no one would have ever predicted I would be a writer.”
Yet in the span of six years, Doetsch has published four novels, all of them headed for Hollywood, has created the afore-mentioned vook and has two more books due out within the next 12 months. What does he have to say about that?
“I have a motto I really believe in,” he offers. “Nothing is impossible”
That’s one way to put it. But in The Thieves of Darkness, Doetsch, who admits “I hate failure,” said it differently when talking about Michael St. Pierre, the character so instrumental in bringing him success: “With Michael St. Pierre, you learned how to win.”