The Headiest Story Twists
Countless writers have lamented the grim—and, let’s be honest, vicariously sadistic—task of killing off a beloved protagonist. Brendan Reichs does them one better, though; in his new YA thriller NEMESIS, Reichs’ two main characters die a litany of brutal deaths as they are methodically murdered every two years by the same mysterious killer, only to “wake up” hours after each death, their bodies and lives restored as if nothing has happened.
Reichs, son of renowned forensic anthropologist and bestselling thriller author Kathy Reichs, says his head-scratching premise was born several years ago while he was watching the 1986 cult favorite Highlander. But the story that eventually took shape is far removed from the loopy fantasy film that helped inspire it. NEMESIS, billed as Orphan Black meets Lord of the Flies, centers on Min Wilder, an Idaho teen with an unusual problem: by the time her 16th birthday draws to a close, Min has been murdered five times by a black-suited executioner who tracks her down every two years. She eventually learns that classmate Noah Livingston has a similar problem, but an even more portentous threat looms in the form of the Anvil, an asteroid that could extinguish all life on Earth. When Min and Noah team up to solve the mystery of their own murders, they uncover a conspiracy with global consequences.
“NEMESIS has been a two-year labor of love (with a healthy dose of existential fear),” says Reichs, who previously co-authored the Virals series with his famous mom. “As my solo debut, I wanted to come out swinging with an engaging thriller that would surprise readers. I knew I wanted to write something fast, twisty, and deeply entrenched in a conspiracy. I ended up taking about three or four half-book ideas I’d been kicking around and forging them into one crazy, fast-paced thriller than never stops moving. I’m very proud of my absurd little mind-bender. It’s everything I personally love about books.”
If it sounds like an ambitious project for a solo debut, it is. With a hardcover edition that edges toward 500 pages and neatly sets up a sequel, NEMESIS is a sprawling story that encompasses a large cast of characters, a wide-ranging conspiracy, and heady plot twists. Reichs, a meticulous outliner, says he spent a lot of time auditing his story for plot holes and making sure all the character connections lined up.
“I have a six-foot by six-foot white board in my office, and I map out every chapter before I start, including character arcs,” he explains. “The planning process is a feedback loop that constantly changes and evolves, but for me, to effectively handle the plots I put together, I need to be able to visually track everything in the story at a glance. The planning I’m currently doing for the sequel is even more neurotic!”
All that planning has paid off. NEMESIS scored a coveted slot on the New York Times Best Sellers list within days of its release, with young readers already clamoring for the next installment. And while fans are clearly enthralled by Reichs’ sophisticated plotting and catchy premise, it’s the book’s likeable characters and sometimes-grueling emotional elements that make it such a compelling read.
“At times, I had to walk away and breathe,” Reichs says, on the emotional toll of killing his young protagonists over and over again. “But the impermanence of their deaths is both a release and a puzzle. How can they die, yet not? This question drives the story to places that feel impossible, yet hopefully it all holds together and merges in the end for a few truly shocking surprises. My favorite thing about NEMESIS was getting to play with characters in ways you’re not supposed to be able to. Exploring whether death might not be final—not in a religious way, or a ghost story way, or even a zombie way, but in a did-it-even-happen? way—is what drove me.”
Crafting thrillers might be in Reichs’ blood, but it’s a second career for the George Washington University law school grad, who turned to writing after an unhappy three-year stint as a litigation attorney, and hasn’t looked back. He freely admits that, while he might have had the skills to be an attorney, he didn’t have the temperament of one.
“Being a lawyer largely entails being serious all the time, and that’s just not me,” Reichs confesses. “I don’t regret going to law school, but the life of an associate at a large law firm can be pretty grim, and I wanted out almost immediately. I always felt like there was a novel kicking around inside my head, but I had never really committed to the idea of writing one until I became so miserable at work that I committed to pushing my personal boundaries. When the opportunity to write Virals came my way I jumped in with both feet. I have zero regrets.”
It’s hard to imagine better on-the-job training than co-writing a successful series with one of the genre’s most respected authors, and Reichs is quick to acknowledge the most valuable lesson he learned while working with his mom: “That books are made in revision. I had this myth in my head that novels came out essentially fully formed, but I now understand that the feedback and revision processes are crucial. This realization freed me to try new things, experiment, and not be afraid to fail, and NEMESIS is the culmination of that growth.”
Brendan Reichs was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina. He graduated from Wake Forest University in 2000 and The George Washington University School of Law in 2006. After three long years working as a litigation attorney, he abandoned the trade to write full time. He lives in Charlotte with his wife, son, daughter, and a herd of animals that tear up everything.
To learn more about Brendan, please visit his website.