By George Ebey
Author David Rich’s latest thriller, MIDDLE MAN, returns readers to the exploits of Lt. Rollie Waters, a character from his previous book, CARAVAN OF THIEVES.
Lt. Rollie Waters’ expertise is going undercover to solve complex crimes involving powerful military officials and unknown enemies who are prepared to kill for stolen fortunes. In his most recent case, Rollie is recruited into the U.S. Military’s elite, covert group SHADE. His assignment is to locate and retrieve the millions of dollars taken from Saddam’s cache during the Iraq War and shipped home in the coffins of dead soldiers. When a sniper fatally attacks the team and the list of graves he recovered proves to be wrong, Rollie is given a new mission: assume the identity of wealthy investment banker Robert Hewitt to find the puppet master who initiated the whole plot.
David checked in with me recently to discuss the approach he took when creating this latest chapter in the Rollie Waters series.
MIDDLE MAN is the follow up to your previous novel, CARAVAN OF THIEVES. Can you tell us a little about that story?
CARAVAN OF THIEVES is a father/son thriller about Rollie Waters, a Marine Lieutenant just back from Afghanistan and his charming con artist father, Dan. A cabal of officers in Iraq has stolen money that Saddam Hussein stole and shipped it home in coffins containing $25 million each. Dan has raided one of the coffins and now the Marines send Rollie to find his father before the bad guys get to him. But nothing is smooth and easy when it comes to dealing with Dan, and Rollie has to follow Dan’s clues about his past in order to find the money. Along the way, Rollie finds out the truth about his past and makes an uneasy peace with Dan. And, when he gets the money, he uses it to lure the bad guys into traps.
Having laid the groundwork in your first book, how did you approach the challenge of creating a second story in the series?
Readers of CARAVAN OF THIEVES wanted to know what happened to the other five graves full of money. It was clear that the plot had to involve that recovery, but that would only be plot. I had to find out what would interest Rollie, find out what the story would really be about. The officers had claimed the money was to be used to jump start a takeover of the Kurdish section of Iraq, an area flooded with oil. As I researched Kurdistan I discovered claimants to the throne – Kings of Kurdistan. That set me going. Someone had to be pulling the strings, putting the whole enterprise together and Rollie had to find that guy. The quest for the money would fall into place. There are Kurdish rebels (the PKK), too, who are classified as a terrorist organization by the State Department. The PKK are not angels, but it is difficult to see why they would be singled out in a region filled with brutal and ruthless killers. Rollie navigates the very difficult passage between the various interests in the area in order to capture the puppet master and along the way he gains a better sense of his own place in the world.
Your main character, Rollie Waters, is an expert in undercover investigations involving powerful military officials. How did you go about researching for this role?
Rollie poses as a hedge fund investor who specializes in energy investments. Fortunately, I live in hedge fund country – Connecticut – and could find plenty of people to interview. Once his identity is firmly established, the rest falls into place. People tend to believe what they read on the internet. Major Hensel, who controls SHADE, the organization Rollie works for, put enough stories online to reinforce Rollie’s undercover identity. People want to believe he is who he claims to be because first, second and third, they see money when he walks in the room. After that there is not a lot of research involved. Rollie’s father was a con artist and that is what every undercover man is at heart. Rollie just had to channel Dan.
You have a background in writing for film, television, and the stage. How did this help you to transition into the world of fiction?
I don’t think the transition is too difficult for most screenwriters. Characters are more important than plot and more important than prose style. If you’ve been trying to write about interesting people then the format hardly matters. Of course, there is learning involved, but if you are experienced, if you have developed a sense of how to tell a story, the obstacles can be overcome. Screenplays are limited in length – unless your name is Tarantino – so economy is essential. The general rule is to start a scene as far into it as possible. I think that habit is helpful in novels, too, and some experienced novelists ought to consider trying it. The requirements of fiction are less rigid. The freedom is fun; scenes can go on and getting sidetracked by interesting supporting players is a pleasure. The trick is to not let the fun ruin a good time.
Author of CARAVAN OF THIEVES, David Rich has sold screenplays to most of the major studios and to many production companies in the United States and Europe. He wrote the feature film RENEGADES starring Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips. He currently lives in Connecticut.
To learn more about David, please visit his website.