When the commission for this article dropped in my inbox, I wondered why the Big Thrill gurus had chosen to pair me with J. T. Brannan for this interview. A quick visit to his website and all was revealed: it’s a case of us Brits sticking together.
Brannan’s Colt Ryder series kicked off in 2015 with The Thousand Dollar Man, about a homeless war veteran who travels the US with his dog, Kane, righting any injustice for a fee of $1,000. The 10th installment, THE THOUSAND DOLLAR KILLERS, finds Colt and Kane visiting Las Vegas for some down time, only to be swept up in a bloody mafia scheme.
In his latest talk with The Big Thrill, Brannan discusses several of his ongoing series characters, and shares the disturbing statistics that led him to set his longest-running action series in the United States rather than his native Britain.
So, J. T., what’s a Bradford boy doing writing about the US forces?
The main reason is simply because it affords more opportunities for action within my books. The United States is a much more dangerous country, mainly due to the availability of firearms. A firefight breaking out on the streets of an American city wouldn’t seem entirely unthinkable, whereas that sort of thing would be extremely rare in a British city, almost unheard of. Gun deaths in the UK are about 0.25 per 100,000 of the population. In the US, that figure is over 12 per 100,000—nearly 50 times higher! So, to have a British character taking on criminals within Britain, it would create very different kinds of stories and for the action-centric tales I’m telling, it just makes more sense to base things in the United States.
That makes entire sense. Although the fictional Britain—particularly Oxford—seems a dangerous place to live.
You’ve written several series, so do you have a favorite?
I love them all, but I admit that I do have a soft spot for the Mark Cole series, which is about an ex-government assassin who now runs a counter-terrorism group known as Force One. Stop at Nothing—the first book in the series—was actually the first novel I ever wrote, and I have very fond memories of that time. It was when I was learning the ropes as quickly as possible, such as how to structure a story properly, how to create dramatic tension, how to get a reader to really want to read on. I learned so much writing that novel; it was a fantastic experience. The Mark Cole series is also probably the closest in theme, style, and execution to the Tom Clancy novels, which were among my favorite books growing up. I still remember reading Clear and Present Danger as a young teenager and being absolutely blown away by it. In the same way, the Mark Cole series combines action with geopolitical intrigue, and as a result, I think it is still my overall favorite.
Mark Cole’s an interesting guy. If you were in a tight corner and had to rely on one of your characters to get you out of it, would it be him?
I would probably go with John Lee, the “Extractor.” As well as being great in a fight, he’s a survival specialist, so he would be able to get us out of all sorts of situations. He used to be a Pararescue Jumper in the US Air Force, which is an incredibly hard job—their basic training is two years, and they’re the ones who have to go in and rescue Delta Force!
They say never act with children or animals and I sometimes wonder if the same applies to writing. (I have a dog in one of my series and he’ll have to live to a hundred at least.) How do you make Kane work so well as a canine sidekick? Are there things he can do that a human can’t?
Good question! The age thing isn’t too bad actually, as the scenario in each book might last from a few days to a few weeks, and the next book might follow on just a little while after the last—so if there are 10 books, it might only cover a couple of years in Kane’s life. I thought it was important to give Colt Ryder a sidekick, because he wanders America looking for people to help, and I didn’t want him getting too lonely! But I also wanted to focus on Colt and didn’t necessarily want a human partner to confuse things. I love dogs—I have a Cane Corso (Italian mastiff), an English springer spaniel, and a Belgian shepherd—and I’ve incorporated elements of all of them into Kane’s character, although the main influence is Salvador, my Cane (hence the name). He’s useful—potentially more useful than a human partner—because he’s able to travel more quickly, and get into and out of places that a person couldn’t. He’s also very good at intimidation, and his natural senses often give Colt an advantage. Kane can hunt things down through scent, tell when people are approaching, that sort of thing. The senses a dog has are quite extraordinary, really. And, of course, he keeps Colt company when they’re out on the road together.
You’ve clearly done a lot of research on the mafia. What was the most interesting thing you found out? And the most frightening?
It might be the same answer for both questions! The most interesting and frightening thing is how much a part of the infrastructure organized crime is, how deeply rooted into almost every institution. When you mention the mafia and Vegas, everyone always thinks about the gambling, the casinos, but there’s so much more to it than that, an entire supporting structure for that main business. There are the construction workers, the hospitality workers, the drivers, the store owners, just this great mass of people that the mob still has influence over. This isn’t just in terms of extortion and kickbacks, but more involvement in white-collar crime, which is much harder to pin them down on. There’s still drug dealing and prostitution, of course, although it seems the Russian mob and its affiliates are increasingly involved with that more “overt” side of things. The Italian crews have “moved up,” if you will, and are now represented across even legitimate businesses.
I’m a huge fan of film noir. Has that genre influenced your writing? If you could go back in a time machine and have one of your books filmed in that era, which would it be and who would play the lead?
I do love film noir, but up until now, it hasn’t had a great deal of influence on my work, at least not on a conscious level. I have a new series coming out in July though, featuring the private investigator Maxwell Knight in a novel called Disappeared, and it will certainly be an influence on that. As such, if I had to choose a book to be filmed at that time, it would be this new one, which is about a young girl who went missing from a vacation home near LA two years ago, and the ongoing search for her. I think that Charles McGraw would be great for the part of Maxwell Knight. He just has that “look”—like in 1952’s The Narrow Margin—that would suit the part perfectly.
Currently serving in the British Army Reserves, he is a former national karate champion and doorman.
He now writes full-time, and teaches martial arts in North Yorkshire, where he lives with his two young children.
He is currently working on his next novel.
To learn more about J. T. Brannan, please visit his website.