By Gary Kriss
Half-Past Dawn on September 29.
That’s when, despite all efforts to head it off, fate catches up with The Thieves of Legend.
It’s a dark tale that best-selling author Richard Doetsch relates, but that’s because he’s sitting lightless in his New York suburban home, which had its power stolen by Tropical Storm Irene. No problem for Doetsch: he relishes challenges and thrives on the unexpected. Half-Past Dawn, his new stand-alone thriller, is proof of that.
Half-Past Dawn was originally slated to come out this month, and The Thieves of Legend, the fourth book in Doetsch’s uber-popular series featuring former thief, Michael St. Pierre, next year. Atria, Doetsch’s publisher, wanted to alternate his Thieves stories with his stand-alone books. But when 2010’s The Thieves of Darkness became an international success, Atria decided to immediately follow up with another Thieves novel.
Then a film deal for The Thieves of Darkness popped up and that, coupled with inveterate adventurer Doetsch’s 2012 “vacation” plans to replicate some of the heart-stopping action episodes in The Thieves of Legend, prompted a publication shift.
“With this being the case, it was decided to flip-flop the books back to the original schedule to take advantage of the various media opportunities,” Doetsch explained, offering a rational explanations.
But could it instead have fate, which, coincidently (?), happens to be the theme of Half-Past Dawn and a topic that fascinates Doetsch?
“I always wanted to write a book about fate,” Doetsch admits. “If we knew it, would we try to change it? If we changed it, would our fate be worse? I also love the complexities of the borders between life and death, dreams and reality, and insanity and reason, and how fascinating would it be to straddle those borders.”
To examine these borders, Doetsch crafted a story that (take a deep breath): pits New York City District Attorney Jack Keller, against fate; gives him 24 hours to find his wife, Mia, an FBI agent, and their two children; has him contend with an assassin who will stop at nothing to avenge his death sentence; and throws him, among other places, into the bowels of one of the country’s most heavily guarded prisons.
Oh, did I mention that the book opens with Jack waking up to wounds he can’t remember getting and a newspaper headline proclaiming he and his wife have been killed? Forget that strange tattoo with cryptic writing that now covers his forearm. And did I say anything about the Asian people of legend and their priests possessed of staggering powers or the diary that tells the future? And what’s with that mysterious box everyone is after? Then there’s the . . . . Well, it doesn’t matter: it’s all there.
And where did “all” come from?
“I had read a story about a man who woke up one day and read his own obituary, which got me to thinking how would I react,” he recalls. “Would I immediately call for a retraction and tell the world I was alive? Would I let the rumor float out there to see how people reacted to my demise? Being a writer, my mind ran to the more devious notions: is the obit merely a day premature; was it planted to create an effect; or is it just the hand of fate being shown early? This combined with a previous thought I had about breaking into the depths of the country’s most secure locations and the power of consequence became the germination for Half-Past Dawn. When I threw in how easy it was to fake an execution, the stability of a mind in jeopardy, the ticking clock of desperate men whose lives hang in the balance, and a mysterious box whose contents is out of legend, the story began to write itself.”
That, however, wasn’t the only reason the book came so easily to Doetsch. Pressed, he confesses that, in many respects it’s a love letter to his family, particularly to Virginia, the high school sweetheart who became his wife and who, decades later, remains his inspiration and his intoxication.
“In Half-Past Dawn, so much of Jack and Mia’s love and lives parallels my wife and I,” he says. “They say write what you know. Well I’ve been with my wife, Virginia, since we were kids and so it is one of the easiest things to illustrate: love and sacrifice, commitment and family, passion and worry. In so many of my stories, the hero is fighting impossible odds to save the ones he loves. Throughout Half-Past Dawn, despite both being in the crosshairs of death, Jack and Mia are more concerned about each other than they are for themselves. Each is willing to sacrifice their own well-being to save the other. When the people we care for are in jeopardy, it is something every reader can relate to and helps theme connect with the plight of the hero.”
Doetsch fans can also relate to other things. He’s emphasizes that even though “the scale of Half-Past Dawn is slightly smaller than my globetrotting Thieves stories and the plot is more direct,” the elements that captivated readers of his other books still remain. “While I dove into these newer waters, I still clung to my edge-of-your-seat narrative, the rich mysteries that are constantly evolving into greater questions, and the strong characters that you will find in all of my stories.”
Readers may also see threads of magical realism in Half-Past Dawn, which Doetsch notes is also common to his works.
“All of my stories be it The 13th Hour, The Thieves of Darkness, The Thieves of Heaven, The Thieves of Faith or Embassy have a touch of what some people call magic, some call fantasy, some call the impossible,” he says. “But whatever you want to call it, it is always written as if it is part of reality, part of the world we live in. I always make it subtle and use it as part of the underlying theme, never overtly, never to the point of the reader’s disbelief. I think that magical realism is something that is illustrated in all of my stories: just a hint of the impossible that we all wish was real, that we all experience in one way, shape, or form at least one time in our life be it Santa, the ‘69 Mets, or that special ‘something’ appearing at the exact moment of need.”
Does Doetsch believe in magic?
“I do,” he readily admits. “Magic to me is such a broad terms and is something I apply to things we can’t explain. Things like coincidence amazes me, that five people can be in a train car and someone starts choking and one of the five happens to be a doctor. It’s almost magical.”
If fate wasn’t weighty enough, Doetsch, who relaxes by, among other things, running triathlons, scaling sheer cliffs, sailing rough waters and diving out of planes, saw Half-Past Dawn as the perfect vehicle to explore—and push to the extreme—the concept of reality and what constitutes it.
“I think reality is very subjective,” Doetsch offers. “What is real to one can be entirely fiction to someone else. Some people step into New York City and see a magical world full of possibility, with bright lights, excitement and fun while others see shadows and danger and will only speak of the place from a safe distance.”
As a result, he says the end of Half-Past Dawn “involves a twist far from what any reader will expect.”
“It is something that, based on how each reader interprets it, can change the story in its entirety,” Doetsch continues. “I like when two people can walk away liking a story but have different interpretations on the ending and what they read. To accomplish this is like constructing a complex puzzle that doesn’t pander, doesn’t seek the easy way out, doesn’t allow the audience to see what’s coming, while consistently seeking to be unique.”
So, in other words, the readers can change the novel’s “fate?”
“I think we all have a fate but I think we can change that fate if we remain focused and work hard,” Doetsch says.
Or perhaps realize it, as Doetsch, a “terrible English student,” did.
“I didn’t become a writer until seven years ago,” he says. “I never thought of becoming a writer. It never crossed my mind until one day I was looking to read something new and couldn’t find a story that interested me so I decided to write what I wanted to read. Who knew all of those skills I had could be combined into writing a novel? Once I sat down I found a passion but I don’t think I could have done it without experiencing so much of life already. So, I think it was fate but it was my freewill of choices that gave me the tools to draw from.”
That outlook helps explain why the one book he always recommends that others read is Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.
“If you step back, you will realize it is so many genres wrapped in the fantastic,” Doetsch says.
And an enduring example of the fascinating relationship between free will and fate.
Richard Doetsch is an international bestselling author published in 28 languages and 33 countries. His two most recent novels, The 13th Hour and The Thieves of Darkness have been sold to hollywood along with his debut novel The Thieves of Heaven. his latest novel, Half-Past Dawn will be released September 27th, 2011.
To learn more about Richard, please visit his website.