By P. J. Bodnar
Arliss Cutter is a man of action—so when his sister-in-law suffers a tragic loss, Arliss doesn’t hesitate and moves to Alaska to help. A Deputy US Marshal, Arliss is called to a remote island off the Alaskan Coast to look for a missing girl. But when others go missing, Arliss must use all his skills to find the missing—and bring the suspects to justice.
OPEN CARRY is the first book in a new series from bestselling author Marc Cameron. His other work includes the popular Jericho Quinn series and the Jack Ryan books in the Tom Clancy franchise.
Cameron is a retired Deputy Chief US Marshal with more than 20 years’ experience hunting people. He took some time out of his busy schedule to sit down with The Big Thrill and talk about his new thriller, OPEN CARRY.
Cutter pushes the limits at times but has a strong moral compass. How does he balance this?
Arliss Cutter will always err on the side of action. He rarely smiles so it seems like he has a bad temper, but that’s not it at all. He’s a big, imposing guy who believes wholeheartedly in the law, but he also has a strong view of right behavior. He doesn’t have to decide what to do in the heat of the moment. That decision has already been made. Cutter will suffer virtually any insult against himself personally, but he will not allow another to be bullied. There is a line he will not allow others to cross. Ever. No matter the consequences. He’s the type to put himself in the middle of a confrontation.
As the plot of OPEN CARRY unfolds, we see there is a moment in Cutter’s past that changed him profoundly. He feels extreme guilt for a time he feels he should have acted, but didn’t.
Younger couples often seek advice from my wife and me about law enforcement careers. I give them the following scenario: You’re in a crowded mall, you hear a scream and then a gunshot. Is your first inclination to hide and save yourself, or do you feel compelled to move toward the sound of gunfire and see how you can help? Honestly, hunkering down is the most sensible choice, and I’m telling you now that’s what you should do. But if your first impulse is to check it out, then law enforcement might be the right career choice. Cutter hears a scream, he’s already moving toward it. The gunshot just makes him move faster.
While tracking a suspect through the Alaskan wildness, Cutter uses some keen observation skills. Is this something that can be learned or is it innate?
Man-tracking is often seen as mystical. Sometimes it feels that way, but it’s really the science and art of observation. In the US Marshals, we used sophisticated technology to track and find fugitives, but observation is still vital, whether it’s in a flophouse apartment outside DC or the Alaskan wilderness. As trackers, we’d often play “Kim’s Game”—aka “The Game of Jewels”—that young Kim played when he was training to be a spy in the Kipling novel Kim. It’s essentially an exercise to test and train your skills of observation, like the memory games we play at parties. Some people are simply more observant. They naturally pay attention to the weather, terrain, human nature, etc. I think most people can learn to track/observe to one level or another—if they want to.
Cutter and his brother had a very special relationship with their grandfather. Is there someone in your life that gave you advice like “Grumpy?”
I’ve had a lot of mentors in my life, including my own father and grandfather. I apprenticed as a horseshoer when I was a young police officer trying to support my family. The two men I apprenticed with were prone to giving some pretty good advice while wrestling rowdy animals or stooped over nailing on horseshoes. I made a habit of writing it down early on.
My father-in-law was a British army officer who fought in WWII. He was 50 when my wife was born, which put him in his 70s when I rolled into the picture. This was lucky for me because he was terrifying enough at that age. Extremely taciturn, he was more likely to sit and listen at family gatherings than talk. When he did say something, he had a particular way of speaking that did not invite debate or argument. It was more like a decree, really. My kids still quote him, mimicking his baritone British voice. I often picture him when I write about Grumpy.
How important to OPEN CARRY is the novel’s Alaskan wilderness setting?
Just weeks after I transferred to Alaska, I was sent to do an investigation on the Alaska peninsula, almost to where the Aleutian chain starts. It was just me and the Marshals Service pilot, flying over endless miles of tundra, herds of caribou, salmon-choked rivers, and some really big bears. I felt like I’d been dropped into the pages of a National Geographic magazine. We’ve lived here 20 years now, and I still feel that way.
Bush Alaska is a major character in OPEN CARRY, much like it was in the last Jericho Quinn novel, Field of Fire. The weather, rough terrain, and remote location all add to the conflict, tension, and beauty. Big storms, apex predators, deep water, and dark, old-growth forests make the perfect setting in which to plunk down a character and see what he or she is made of. The fact that both protagonist and antagonist have something to fight in addition to each other adds another layer to the story.
I’ve always felt the cure for foolishness is the wild. Bush Alaska is a dangerous place that does not suffer the unprepared. It does, however, let a person see who they really are.
In addition to this novel and your successful Jericho Quinn series, you’ve been writing the Jack Ryan novels in the Tom Clancy franchise. Is it harder to write an established character or to create one of your own?
There are challenges to each. Jericho and Arliss are both from my imagination, so I can be a little freer with their backstories and character arcs. Honestly, though, with seven full-length Jericho Quinn novels and two novellas, I find myself going back to earlier books to make sure I don’t get a name or historical detail wrong.
I’ve been a Tom Clancy fan since The Hunt for Red October was published, so it’s a real honor to be able to write the Jack Ryan character. I was pretty familiar with him when I got the call, but still felt compelled to go back and reread everything by Tom Clancy and later writers. He’s such an iconic character and great fun to write.
When you are juggling three different series at different points in the writing/publishing spectrum, is there something you do or somewhere you go to clear your head?
Long motorcycle rides are therapeutic. Almost all of the books I’ve written have been plotted in part while I was alone in my helmet, getting from point A to point B on a bike. Several of the Jericho Quinns were plotted (and written in the evenings) on motorcycle trips up and down the Alaska Highway.
For the past five years, my wife and I have gone to the Cook Islands for a couple of months each winter. I work when I’m there, but it’s pretty hard to get stressed on a small island in the middle of the South Pacific, even with looming deadlines.
In your previous career as a Chief Deputy US Marshal, what was the most interesting hunt or case?
My youngest son is a police officer here in Alaska, and we often talk about how law enforcement is, at its guts, a people business. As a mystery/thriller novelist, I’m fortunate to have had the kind of career where I got nose-to-nose with some of the worst people on the planet—murderers, rapists, terrorists, and slavers—all while working shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the best.
Some of my most exciting memories come from my time as a young patrol officer in Texas.
Back then, it seemed that virtually everyone fought when they were arrested—like they were embarrassed to go to jail without blood on them. It made for some interesting shifts—and gave me lots to write about later on. Now, when I write a fight, I’m generally including some little nugget of experience from one of those arrest confrontations.
One fight in particular involved a meth dealer who was bent on killing my partner and me. I don’t remember many of the specifics of the fight, as much as the doper’s little pet bunny that hopped around the room in a panic while we crashed back and forth destroying the furniture. I kept thinking one of us was going to squish it. The bad guy went to the hospital, but we found someone to bunny-sit while he was in jail. That wasn’t something they taught us to deal with in the academy.
The mandate of the US Marshals is a broad one, meaning my assignments spanned protective details on Supreme Court justices and foreign dignitaries, Witness Protection details, to boots-on-the-ground law enforcement in the aftermath of hurricanes like Andrew or Katrina. My partner and I once hunted a fugitive whose girlfriend was a stripper known to have a lisp that made her spit when she was nervous or upset. Her description was so interesting that we started to hunt her with more gusto than the fugitive, telling ourselves she would lead us to him. She did. And she inspired a character in a Jericho Quinn novel.
You have said that you can count on two hands the number of evil people you have encountered, including three women. What kinds of things did they do to get on that list?
By far, most of the people I dealt with in my law enforcement career were just people who made bad choices. Some of their actions were certainly evil in nature, but that’s not how I would describe the people themselves. I found out early in chatting with prisoners that they often identify with the “good guys” in movies—and most certainly see themselves as good. Some might feel forced into crime by their situation, but wouldn’t generally hurt anyone unless cornered. Some act out of rage or jealousy. But, there were/are those who seemed to have no redeeming qualities, monsters who gain satisfaction from other people’s misery. The torturers, slavers, serial killers, they’re the folks I’ve hunted/arrested/transported who I generally draw from when I’m imagining villains for the books.
Marc Cameron spent 29 years in law enforcement. In early 1991, he accepted a position with the US Marshals Service where he moved through the ranks to finally retire as chief of the District of Alaska. Specializing in dignitary protection, his assignments took him from rural Alaska to Manhattan, Canada to Mexico, and points in between. A second-degree black belt in jujitsu, he often teaches defensive tactics to law enforcement agencies and civilian groups. Cameron is conversant in Japanese and travels extensively researching his New York Times bestselling Jericho Quinn novels, which have been nominated for both the Barry and Thriller Awards. A Texas native, he lives in Anchorage, Alaska.
To learn more about Marc, please visit his website.