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Seven friends, one eccentric billionaire, an all-expenses paid reunion on a private island with one catch: no phones, tablets or laptops allowed. It’ll be a weekend to remember—for those who make it out alive.

Ryan Cloverhill, founder and CEO of the world’s most popular social media platform, invites his six best friends from college to his home on his private island near Puget Sound. For Stephen, Emma, Perry, Will, Beau, and Lainie, day one is just what the doctor ordered: amazing food, many drinks, lots of laughter, and a sunset cruise around the island aboard their host’s custom Van Dutch 55.

Day Two, however, takes a bewildering turn when the six hungover guests wake up to find that their host has disappeared, along with all connection to the mainland. A touchscreen tablet of unknown make awaits them, blatantly defying the rules of the weekend with its on-screen challenge: Unlock Me! The passcode to the tablet is hidden somewhere in the group’s shared history. But what seems at first like just another silly game turns deadly serious when the group discovers what unlocking the tablet really means. Is it the key to their futures, a Pandora’s box none of them will ever be able to close, or both?

Only one thing is clear: their old friend Ryan has something unthinkable planned. Now it’s up to the six of them to stop him. And when this weekend is over, the world will never be the same.

Here, award-winning author Sean Doolittle takes TheBigThrill on an in-depth ride into the origins of his latest thriller, DEVICE FREE WEEKEND:

Can you pinpoint a moment or incident that sparked the idea for this book?

Novels generally come together for me when ideas from different places start sticking together. The basics for DEVICE FREE WEEKEND involved a news story I read about restaurants that take patrons’ mobile phones at the door, followed by a couple different travel-related stories about various “device-free” destination packages. All these stories shared a theme of people yearning to “disconnect” from our connected world for awhile. Add to that my own experiences with technology, particularly social media, and the reflection on earlier times that comes with aging, and Device Free Weekend started to take shape.

A novel is such a major undertaking; there’s the writing of it, of course, then you’re spending months and months revising, polishing, and then promoting it. How did you know this was the book you wanted to spend the next couple of years on?

Sean Doolittle

This is always a good question for a writer, and sometimes it’s the hardest question to answer, especially for the writer. Part of it is an instinct that develops after you get a few books under your belt. And then sometimes you take your hard-won instincts and dive into a project with certainty and resolve. . .and somehow it just doesn’t fly.

For me, titling a book is often a challenge. But DEVICE FREE WEEKEND was one of those books where all the basic components, including the title, just clicked together in what seemed like a single moment. In this case, that was enough to give me some faith that I had a clear basic vision for the book. Once I started writing, it seemed to come out quickly (if not always easily), and I found myself looking forward to the process of writing it every day. This consistent feeling of self-entertainment isn’t always easy to come by, and it gave me further confidence in the project, even when I had no idea what would happen next or where things might end up.

When you first created your protagonist for this book, did you see an empty space in crime lit that you wanted to fill? What can you share about the inspiration for that character?

DEVICE FREE WEEKEND is by far the closest thing I’ve done to an “ensemble” cast. The main characters are seven friends who met in college, and I definitely found that I had my hands full making each character pop and feel like a specific individual in the context of scenes where lots of other things are going on at the same time. One character can legitimately be called the protagonist, and inevitably, it’s the character that most closely resembles my own voice (even if we don’t share exactly the same personality, views, and opinions).

In addition to a great read, what do you hope readers will take away from this story?

A great read is more than sufficient 🙂

Maybe an additional urge to “unplug” and do something offline for at least part of each day.


Sean Doolittle is the author of eight crime and suspense novels. His books have received the ITW Thriller Award and the Barry Award, among other honors, and have been translated in several languages. He is a member of the International Thriller Writers and the Mystery Writers of America and is a past Bouchercon co-Toastmaster. He was born and raised in Nebraska and currently lives in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

To learn more about the author and his work, please visit his website.