By Jeff Ayers
Bestselling author Shane Gericke has been held at knifepoint, hit by lightning, and shaken the cold, sweaty hand of Liberace. His latest work is THE FURY, a sweeping novel of global terrorism that will release in trade paperback, eBook, and audiobook on September 4th.
His earlier novel Torn Apart was shortlisted for the prestigious Thriller Award for Best Novel, and named a Book of the Year by Suspense magazine. His debut novel, Blown Away, was selected as the year’s Best First Mystery by RT Book Reviews, which also named his Cut to the Bone a Top Pick. His books have been translated into German, Chinese, Turkish, and Slovak. Gericke’s new novel, THE FURY, is a bit of a departure in terms of the story, but not in the excellence of the writing.
Tell me about THE FURY in ten seconds or less.
If a grief-blinded cop can’t find the man who killed her husband, millions of people will die in a nerve-gas strike on America.
What sparked the idea for this thriller?
One sleepless night in 2011, a series of real-life events I’d read about over he years coalesced into this frantic brain-mash of doomsday weapons, Cold Warriors, psychopathic drug cartels, Nazis, nerve gas, exploding oil rigs, and saucy women with black belts in martial arts. Intrigued, I hustled out of my blankets, went to my computer.
Chief among those real events was the U.S. Army’s secret disposal of tons of “surplus” nerve-gas weapons during the Cold War. Chemical Corps soldiers loaded the bombs, rockets, missiles, mines, and warheads onto rust-scabbed Liberty ships from World War II; hauled both ships and weapons a few miles off our Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf coasts; and sank them into the Deep Blue Sea, on the scientific theory called, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Nerve gas! Including the world’s most deadly variant, VX, a single drop of which kills full-grown humans like they’d been crushed by anvils. I was astonished to learn those weapons still lurk on our seafloors today, active and itching for an excuse to kill. When the occasional bomb floats onto our seashores, or is scooped up with the Bluefin and mackerel by commercial fishing nets . . . blam, they explode, and anyone too near dies most dreadfully.
Second-to-chief was the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that blew like a trainload of dynamite, killing eleven workers and causing an oil spill the size of Indiana. And third, dozens of narcotics warlords were rampaging through Mexico, torturing and beheading thousands of innocent citizens in their battle for drugs and turf—then exporting that violence to the United States, the cartels’ biggest customer.
So the quick-and-dirty question I typed that sleepless night: “What if a dozen active VX bombs were parked on the Gulf floor south of New Orleans, and the tsunami from the Deepwater Horizon explosion washed them onto a Mexican beach, and they wound up in the hands of a psychopathic cartel enforcer who thirsted to kill a hundred million Americans for revenge and profit, and only a cop with gnarly kung-fu skills could stop him?”
The answer became THE FURY.
What’s your favorite line in the book?
“The duct-taped Buick swam north on Rush Street, hunting whores like a lesser white shark.” I don’t know why I love that imagery so much, but I do.
Was writing this novel stepping outside your usual comfort zone?
No and yes. I’d already written three bestselling crime thrillers, so the process of creating another wasn’t daunting. But the vast scope of THE FURY—I could create any characters, present or past, push them around the planet, and make them do whatever I wanted—was a huge departure from BLOWN AWAY, CUT TO THE BONE, and TORN APART. Those were traditional cops-vs.-psycho thrillers set in one single suburb of Chicago. The plots and bad guys changed each time, but everything else, including the good guys, stayed the same.
THE FURY, in contrast, is written in present day, but with a dozen flashback chapters that show how real nerve gas weapons were developed. I immersed myself in Nazi Germany, where nerve gas was invented; Manchuria, where the Japanese Imperial Army conducted live experiments on kidnapped Chinese, Koreans, and Russians (along with British and American POWs) in its top-secret Unit 731 Human Experimentation Lab, which rivaled Auschwitz for the extreme cruelty it imposed on its human guinea pigs; to Great Britain, which invented the VX variation of nerve gas; to Washington, D.C., which taught the Brits how to build atom bombs in exchange for the formula for VX; to the vast American factory system that grew toxic weapons like so many acres of corn; to the disposal of those same weapons into the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic, and Pacific during the Cold War; to completing the circle of doom by washing those weapons back onto shore in present day.
The research needed to make the flashback chapters exciting and loyal to the facts was daunting—to say nothing about making the present-day cop and cartel escapades so riveting that readers simply could not put down the book. THE FURY was a monumental challenge to write because of all the moving parts. But the effort will, I hope, pay off big for readers— particularly because they’re going to love hero Superstition Davis, the Chicago undercover officer who’s one part Dick Tracy, two parts Bruce Lee, and most parts Everywoman.
What is CRUSADE? I noticed this title comes up on Google Books and your Wikipedia page.
It is the biggest pain in the ass in my entire career. Twenty years ago, I wrote a novel called CRUSADE. I sold it to a publisher who promised it would go nova. But the publisher vanished into the night two months before publication, along with all his authors’ rights and royalties. Hundreds of us filed a civil suit. He was tracked down, served, tried, convicted, and ordered to pay us a collective $10 million. Have I seen a dime? No. Will I see a dime? No—he spent or hid ever bit of that money, and the courts can’t prove otherwise. So CRUSADE, while written, edited, and formatted, was never actually published.
But it had an ISBN number, so the publisher put it on Amazon and other bookseller websites months before the “launch” that never happened. I have tried repeatedly to get that listing erased, because it’s a ghost book that nobody can buy. But try explaining that to a behemoth like Amazon or Google Books! I finally bowed to the inevitable, and now use it as a funny story over cocktails at book conventions.
What prompted you to go with Tantor Media to publish your novel?
I’d been with, and loved, Kensington Publishing for my first three books. But Kensington has very specific requirements for its books, and “global terrorism thrillers with nerve gas and Nazis” is not one of them. So we parted on friendly terms, and my agent placed me with Tantor, who’d said: “We’ll give you a handsome advance, publish you in trade paperback, eBook, and audiobook, and pay you better-than market royalties. Deal?” Mother Gericke raised no stupid children, so I said, “Gimme the pen.” It’s been fun working with Tantor, because it genuinely partners with its authors on cover design, story editing, audiobook narration, marketing . . . basically, everything that counts. I helped shape the look and feel of this book, and with the expertise and hustle Tantor brings to the game, I think this is going to be a breakout novel for me. The professional reviews I’ve gotten so far have been stellar. I hope readers agree.
What has ITW and Thrillerfest meant to you?
Everything. No joke, Jeff; my career wouldn’t be nearly this far along without ITW and Thrillerfest.
I signed the contract for my debut, BLOWN AWAY, in 2005. My editor at the time, Michaela Hamilton at Kensington, said it was vital for new authors to get involved in the industry as quickly as possible, to make friends and connections and learn how the business works. She’d heard about a new author group called ITW—International Thriller Writers—and that I should give the co-presidents a call. Being they were David Morrell and Gayle Lynds, two of the hottest thriller writers on the planet, how could I turn down that advice?
I emailed Gayle, asking for a tiny little corner on ITW’s ground floor—the organization was just forming in 2005—and she happily put me in charge of some stuff. A year later, at the first Thrillerfest in Phoenix, I ran the author’s charity auction, where I gathered manuscripts, first editions, and other “book bling” from Clive Cussler, Steve Berry, Tess Gerritsen, Lee Child, and others, and auctioned them off to a roomful of readers, raising thousands of dollars that we donated to literacy organizations. I met a lot of people, did a lot of work, and few years later, Kathleen Antrim, the new director of Thrillerfest, asked me to handle the author auction and run our very first Pitchfest (then called AgentFest), which is speed-dating for authors: pitch your book to a literary agent, get the yes or no, then move to the next agent and pitch again.
I pulled off the twin events, somehow, and became chairman of Thrillerfest after Kathie moved up to vice president of national events. Because of all that work and interaction, I’ve received major-league writing advice, career tips, cover blurbs, and other help from the most respected and best-selling authors in the thriller business, from James Rollins to Allison Brennan to Joseph Finder to Heather Graham to Jon Land to John Sandford to the aforementioned Lee, Tess, Steve, Gayle, and David . . . well, you get the picture. I was in the right place at the right moment in history, I took my editor’s advice seriously, and now I’m publishing THE FURY, my fourth book and first standalone, blurbed by David Morrell and Steve Berry, just as Gayle Lynds graciously blurbed my debut, BLOWN AWAY. None of which would have happened without the support of ITW. I was a nobody novelist who was, and still is, treated with the respect accorded a New York Times bestseller. I cherish that kind of comradery, and I try to pay it forward by helping new authors with their questions, challenges, and cover blurbs.
And besides, New York City, the permanent home of Thrillerfest, is a great place to hang out every July with my friends in Thrillerville.
What is more important to you when it comes to writing: plot or character?
Characters, absolutely. Think of all the books you’ve read. Do you remember the plots? No, or at the most, kinda-sorta-maybe. You remember Jack Reacher. Dave Robicheaux. Harry Bosch. Dismas Hardy. Spenser. Lucas Davenport. Mike Hammer. V.I. Warshawski. Stephanie Plum. Lisbeth Salander. Sherlock Holmes. Phillip Marlowe. Sam Spade. Jason Bourne. Kinsey Millhone. Rizzoli and Isles. Superstition Davis. (Ahem.) You remember the characters. You even know the sidekicks: Holmes’s Watson. Davenport’s Virgil Flowers. Spenser’s Susan and Hawk. Hammer’s secretary Velda. Plum’s riotous Grandma Mazur.
Readers relate to characters because people are drawn to people. Plots, while important, are only the way we move the human chess pieces.
Talk about grief and revenge.
In real life, killers, rapists, terrorists, child abusers, and psychopaths are rarely caught. Even when they are, they never get what they really deserve: the same awful thing they did to their victims. As a moral people, that lack of closure offends us. We believe that every bad guy should “get got,” and when that doesn’t happen, it bothers us, profoundly.
But in fiction, we get to have it all—a whack job of a psycho who shoots up a playground of schoolkids? No problem. He’s hunted mercilessly by a grand, if flawed, hero, and in the final showdown punishes the psycho in creative and satisfying ways. It’s why thrillers must have a strong ending. It needn’t be happy, but it must be conclusive.
To let your final chapter go limp after all the long, panting buildup you created with hours and hours of verbish foreplay is cruel to readers moaning for a climax that never happens. I call it endus interruptus, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worse enemies, let alone my treasured readers.
I know that from personal experience. When I was eleven, two guys held me at knifepoint in a state park bathroom and argued about how to kill me. After a few minutes of heated debate, they let me go, figuring it would take too long to cut me up and dump me in the two-holer, which was their original plan. They were never caught, because they’d disappeared by the time my dad found me and called in the park rangers. It burns me still that they tried to murder a little kid and got away clean. So in my novels, you’ll never find a villain who doesn’t get his or her just desserts. Sometimes it’s death, sometimes it’s not. But it always satisfies. It’s my conniving little way of getting revenge on those who hurt me in real life.
I’m working on a new thriller that might be a standalone . . . or might be the further adventures of THE FURY’s Superstition Davis, with the addition of a character whose intelligence and courage are as titanic as his psychological flaws. I’ll know more after I’ve written another dozen chapters.
I’m working on a mini-thriller that pays homage to a mystery writer I adore for his Olympic-level writing and his towering sense of humanity. I’ve never met this man and I probably never will. But his books deserve the highest praise, and I hope this mini-thriller will, in some small way, say “thank you, sir,” for the marvelous stories he’s told us over the years.
And finally, since we’re done, I’m working on my Scotch.
Shane Gericke, whose last name is improbably pronounced YER-kee, spent two decades as a newspaper editor, most prominently at the Chicago Sun-Times, before turning to fiction. He keeps his hand in nonfiction by writing for digital media.
An original member of International Thriller Writers, he was chairman of the ThrillerFest literary festival in New York City and founding director of its agent-author matching program, PitchFest. He’s judged the Edgar, Thriller, MWA, and St. Martin’s awards, and belongs to Mystery Writers of America and the Society of Midland Authors.
He lives in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, the home of world-famous detective Dick Tracy, with whom Shane shares no resemblance except steely jaw and manly visage. Please visit him on his website, on www.TheFuryBook.com, and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.