September 18 – 24: “What are some other countries that might take center stage in the future?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5The Cold War is behind us, or is it? Russia still plays a key role in thrillers. This week ITW Members David McCaleb, J. H. Bográn, D. J. Adamson and Martin Roy Hill will discuss what are some other countries that might take center stage in the future. Scroll down to the “comments” to follow this riveting discussion!


D. J. Adamson is the author of the Lillian Dove Mystery series and the Deviation science fiction-suspense trilogy. Suppose, the second in the Lillian series has just been released. She also teaches writing and literature at Los Angeles colleges. And to keep busy when she is not writing or teaching, she is the Membership Director of the Los Angeles Sisters in Crime, Vice President of Central Coast Sisters in Crime and an active member of the Southern California Mystery Writers. Her books can be found and purchased in bookstores and on Amazon. Make friends with her on Facebook or Goodreads and LinkedIn.


Martin Roy Hill is the author of the military mystery thriller The Killing Depths, the mystery thriller Empty Places, the award-winning DUTY: Suspense and Mystery Stories from the Cold War and Beyond, a collection of new and previously published short stories and EDEN: A Sci-Fi Novella. His latest mystery thriller, The Last Refuge, was published in March 2016.


David McCaleb was raised on a rural farm on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. He graduated from the United States Air Force Academy, served his country as a finance officer, patented his own invention, and established several businesses. He returned to the Eastern Shore where he currently resides with his wife and two children. Though he enjoys drawing, painting, and any project involving the work of hands, his chosen tool is the pen.


J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact.  José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. POISONED TEARS is his third novel in English and has already garnered positive reviews and recommendations. Jon Land calls it “a splendid piece of crime noir.” Douglas Preston says it’s a first class roller-coaster ride. His other works include novels in both English and Spanish, short stories, screenplays. He’s a member of The Crime Writers Association, the Short Fiction Writers Guild, and the International Thriller Writers where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator.


  1. In terms of probability of becoming a significant instigator, North Korea has one of the highest probabilities of taking center stage. That dark country is truly an enigma. A nuclear power controlled by the world’s only hereditary dictatorship, the ruler of which shows few signs of deviating from his father’s and grandfather’s tyranny. As the ranges of their ballistic missiles increase, neighboring countries are rightfully alarmed. Yes, sabre rattling is their modus operandi, but a regime that so severely oppresses its own people should never be underestimated in its likelihood of doing something dreadful to surrounding nations. Such an act would require a response, setting off a chain of uncertain events.

    Possibly the most disturbing facet of N. Korea is their resiliency. The regime has survived three long generations, despite horrific mismanagement leading to famines whereby millions of their own citizens died from hunger. I foresee no events that would cause the government to implode, and none to cause it to change its reckless course. Thus, without intervention, the world can expect nothing except more except the same craziness.

    Much of my second book, RELOAD, (just released! – shameless promo) takes place in North Korea and is written from the point of view of a North Korean prison guard. It is dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children currently oppressed within their gulags.

    On a related note, in terms of probability of becoming a significant threat (as opposed to Korea, most probably an instigator), China is at the top of the list…

  2. Russia, indeed, remains the big bear (excuse the pun) in international thrillers. Cold War thrillers are still popular, as are thrillers about Russian drug cartels. In light of recent (air quotes) Russian-related events (ahem), Russia will remain at center stage. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t get Moscow-fixated.

    Latin America, particularly Mexico, offers fertile ground for thriller plots, again due to drug cartels. I recently read a couple thrillers–one by Bob Mayer, the other by Layton Green–that mined those fields for their plots. As a veteran of U.S. Coast Guard anti-smuggling operations along the U.S.-Mexico maritime boundary, I had a small peek at the real life crimes that plague our border, and that experience has inspired the plots for a couple of my stories.

    The Middle East and Southwest Asia are obvious hunting grounds for thriller plots because of the continuing turmoil and unrest in those areas, as well as the terrorist threat. Even though I hold a national certification in homeland security, I avoid plots involving terrorists because I think they are overdone. However, I do like Israel as a thriller locale because that small country is a hotbed of intrigue. Israel also has one of the best intelligence services in the world, the Mossad. In fact, a Mossad agent plays a key role in the plot for my second Peter Brandt thriller, The Last Refuge.

    I don’t think we can ignore Europe and the U.S. as thriller locales. The rise of neo-fascism in those regions offers great plot potential. A while back I heard an interview with a non-fiction author who maintains that while Germany surrendered in 1945, the Nazis didn’t, and those who fled to Latin America and other parts of the world continued spreading the Nazi cause through methods other than war, primarily economic. My writer’s nose sniffs a plot in that theory, if it hasn’t already been done.

    Of course, sometimes you have to go to the ends of the earth for a story. Anarctica has been a featured locale in many thrillers. With the disappearing Arctic ice cap, Arctic-bordering countries are positioning themselves to reap the newly unveiled mineral harvest and we as authors can farm that region for thriller locales. In fact, my current work-in-progress, Polar Melt, is a military sci-fi thriller that pits American and Russian interests in a nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean.

  3. Absolutely correct, David. China, in particular, is an especially good subject for a thriller. With the amount of Chinese espionage going on against foreign visitors there, as well as Chinese espionage going on in the U.s., you don’t have to search hard to find inspiration. And it’s hard to leave North Korea out of any equation involving China.

    With North Korea being such a closed society, it would be interesting to know how you researched Reload. Were you grant access to the country, or did you do other forms of research (readings and interviews, etc.).

    1. Martin, I didn’t dare visit North Korea. And if one does, what they likely observe is a carefully choreographed play. The people with whom they interact are trained and chosen. And if a visitor were to have an impromptu interaction with a North Korean citizen, even those would not produce unpracticed responses.

      Since my book largely dealt with North Korean gulags, Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden was a great resource, along with various reports from Amnesty International and the United Nations. The UN’s investigation of human rights violations completed in 2014 was quite sobering and provided good material.

      However, I truly started to feel a connection to the mind of North Korean citizens when I read Escape from Red China by Robert Loh and Humphrey Evans. It is a fascinating story of Loh, who rose in the communist party in China during Moa Zedong’s grab of power. Loh in no way agreed with the communist party, but lied for years to rise in status to be granted enough freedom which eventually allowed him to escape. His story is eerie – the way the communist party controlled the very thoughts of their citizens, beating and punishing them for inappropriate desires, having political police note and monitor the interactions of the people. Though Loh’s story is from China in the 1950’s, there are direct parallels to accounts from North Korean defectors today. The tyranny occupying North Korea today has many parallels to that of Moa Zedong.

      And as always, what I couldn’t read, I made up!

      And speaking of China…let’s not forget they are still a communist regime at their core, with a thriving manufacturing industry as a foundation. They are the next superpower and a garden for thriller plots.

      1. “And speaking of China…let’s not forget they are still a communist regime at their core, with a thriving manufacturing industry as a foundation. They are the next superpower and a garden for thriller plots.”

        Agree! They are posed to be the new big kid in the block.

  4. If the 2016 election is proof, I think Russia is still the people’s champion when it comes to antagonists in both fiction and real life.
    That said, after the demise of the Soviet Union we experienced a wider range in fiction. Taking as example Tom Clancy’s novels we can see he moved from Russia (The Cardinal in the Kremlin, Hunt for Red October), to drug lords (Clear and Present Danger), to Japan (A Debt of Honor) an Iran/Iraq combo (Executive Orders) and even China (The Bear and The Dragon), the last one interestingly features Russia as an ally!

    Given recent news, I concur the North Korea is posing as the next big had wolf and we’re already seeing that in a few books. Barry Lancet’s The Spy Across the Table is one such book.

    I also agree that Cold War is still a popular topic. I may even dare to say it is our version of the Regency Novels or Victorian Novels.

    1. >>I also agree that Cold War is still a popular topic. I may even dare to say it is our version of the Regency Novels or Victorian Novels.<<

      I like that. Here's to the Cold War giving us more fodder (for plots, not cannon).

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