The best thrillers feature complex characters thrown into impossible situations that generate nerve-shattering suspense. By that definition, THE SURVIVOR by Gregg Hurwitz might be one of the best.
The book opens with a bang: Nate Overbay – suffering from PTSD and dying from ALS – is on the ledge outside an 11th floor bank window preparing to jump. But when robbers burst into the bank and start shooting employees and customers Nate dives in and uses his military training to take them out. After that, things get REALLY interesting.
Nate Overbay is a more complex character than we usually encounter in thrillers. He is a hero, but as Hurwitz points out, he’s not in the usual thriller hero mold.
“He’s not a Navy SEAL or a supercop, “Hurwitz says. “He’s a guy in over his head, having to do anything to protect those who matter to him. And he thinks he’s got nothing left to lose. But he finds out just how wrong that is. And he has to step up and become the best version of himself. In that way, his heroism is an act of love and sheer will.”
Overbay is wry and funny but he’s also tough, and a bit of a smart ass. As it turns out, he’s also got a lot of heart. In addition to dealing with Post Traumatic Stress disorder he has ALS, sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s disease. This gives him a good reason to be out on that ledge about to end it all, but in this case also has interesting character implications.
“I thought it would be really interesting to write about a character facing terrible menace who is unafraid to die,” Hurwitz says. “His reactions in certain circumstances are wholly unpredictable.”
What kind of terrible menace? Well, Nate is kidnapped by Pavlo, the Russian mobster behind the failed bank heist. Unable to break back into the bank to get the critical item inside, Pavlo orders Nate to break in and get what he needs. If Nate fails Pavlo will kill Nate’s ex-wife and his teenaged daughter. He lost his family when he returned from Iraq broken and confused, but he can’t stand to let them die. He must protect them even if it is literally the last thing he does.
This is not a book filled with world threatening menace, yet Hurwitz manages to maintain a world-class level of tension. As he says,
“I think sometimes the everyday stakes are the highest. How do I keep my daughter safe? What would I be willing to do to protect those I love? You don’t need a dirty bomb to create tension with incredibly high stakes.”
Aside from a dozen bestselling thrillers, Hurwitz has written some of the most violent characters in comics: Wolverine, Batman and The Punisher. Like the comics, his novels feature tight, compelling action scenes, although he says writing comics, like writing screenplays, uses different mental muscles, but they all can teach you a great deal about writing.
“How do you show, not tell? What can you let the reader (or viewer) infer? Sometimes what is left out is more chilling than what is on the page. I think it all helps. They’re all different ways at getting at a story, and I pick up ideas and techniques all the time.”
Talking about THE SURVIVOR, RT Book Reviews said, “This book evokes a wide range of emotions… The plot, characters and their actions will keep you thinking for days.” So, with all the thrills and excitement, did Hurwitz intend to write a book that will keep readers thinking?
“Yes – always,” he says. What about? “Precisely about the stakes we talked about earlier. I want readers to wonder just what the hell they would do in a situation like the one I paint in chapter two. Or eight. Or twenty-seven.”
Readers will wonder exactly that in THE SURVIVOR as Gregg Hurwitz drops his fascinating protagonist into a pressure cooker of a plot. If you like to feel as if you’re standing right beside the hero while you root for him, this one’s for you.
He has also written comics for Marvel (Wolverine, Punisher) and DC (Batman, Penguin) and produced and written screenplays for film and television (ABC’s “V”, “Expulsion” spec script to Warner Bros, and many more). He recently announced that he will be developing his Tim Rackley books for TNT/Sony. Gregg resides in Los Angeles.
To learn more about Gregg, please visit his website.