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Fame: In the Spotlight or the Crosshairs?

The Big Thrill Interviews Bestselling Author Thomas Perry

By R.G. Belsky

Book Cover Image: HERO by Thomas PerryBest-selling author Thomas Perry has come up with a fascinating premise for his new thriller HERO: a female security agent first gets media acclaim for stopping a high-profile Hollywood robbery but then finds her career destroyed and her life in constant danger because of this public spotlight as a hero put on her.

How did Perry get the idea for the book?

“My books are often sparked by a sight or sound, but sometimes the spark lights a very long fuse,” he explained in an interview with The Big Thrill. “The sight, in this case, was the first time I saw a female Secret Service agent protecting a politician. The sight remained in memory, and then, over the years, other bits of information stuck to the original and added to my curiosity. I began to notice private bodyguards of both sexes and wondered, ‘Who are they? How did they get into this job?’ When I had decided on the ‘Who,’ I was ready for the ‘What if’ questions that grow into the story of HERO.”

Author Photo: Thomas Perry

Thomas Perry
© Sam Dobbins, Access One Photography

The “hero” in this book is Justine Poole, who provides security for wealthy Hollywood celebrities and prevents a brazen robbery at the Beverly Hills home of her client by killing two of the five armed robbers—and putting the rest of the gang in jail. But the underworld kingpin behind the burglaries is so embarrassed at having this plan thwarted by a lone woman that he hires a scary hitman to kill her for revenge.

The boss, known only as Mr. Conger, and the hitman, Leo Sealy, are two of the most bad-ass, evil characters you’ll ever find in a book.

“Villains are part of the fun of thrillers,” Perry said. “I like to invent villains who are particularly dangerous and frightening to the protagonist. One of the things that’s often not talked about is that we learn about evil characters the same way as the good ones. They’re all aspects of the author. We get to make them and then move around in their skin for a while until we understand them.”

After the opening, where Poole risks her life to save her clients from the robbers, she finds herself in a cat-and-mouse game for the rest of the book with these professional killers who suddenly have her in their crosshairs. Meanwhile, the rest of her life is falling apart around her, too, as a result of the notoriety. Perry says it’s a lesson about what can happen to people who get turned into heroes overnight by the media.

“As her fame grows, so does the price. Within days, she loses her boss and mentor, her job, and the protection of her colleagues, her anonymity, the safety of having an unlisted address, her firearm, her car, and her ability to legally leave town. Over time, she’s reduced to relying on what’s left—her own will, experience, courage, and cunning—to keep herself alive for another day.”

She’s aided along the way by a chance encounter with an ambitious reporter who’s looking for a big story but also tries to help Justine stay safe and one step ahead of the hired killer out to get her.

“Joe Alston is a freelance journalist who soon realizes that she’s the young woman every reporter in town has been trying to find. He knows that he’s in a position to get an exclusive interview. Within a short time, each of them thinks he or she is taking advantage of the other and feels a little guilty about it. But each dismisses the thought—Alston because this is his profession, and Justine because her life depends on using him to get out of sight and stay there.”

Did Perry use any actual events in the news for inspiration for HERO?

“It’s based on many things I’ve seen in television news and social media. Both depend on using sensational events to attract eyeballs long enough to expose them to commercial messages. When a new person appears who can be made a hero, that’s a compelling story. The only story that can top that story will be that hero’s downfall—their exposure as a fraud or a monster, or the misfortune that happens and leads to their death.”

Perry is the best-selling author of more than 30 novels, including the critically acclaimed Jane Whitefield series; The Butcher’s Boy, which Parade included in its 2021 list of 101 Best Mystery Books of All Time; and Metzer’s Dog, which NPR listeners selected as one of the 100 Best Killer Thrillers of All Time. His book, The Old Man, inspired the television series.

Among those who have hailed his work is Stephen King, who said, “The fact is, there are probably only a half dozen suspense writers now alive who can be depended upon to deliver high voltage shocks, vivid, sympathetic characters, and compelling narratives each time they publish. Thomas Perry is one of them.”

We asked Perry if he had a favorite out of all the things he has written.

“I think my favorite is always the one I’m working on at the time because I hope it’s being written during the year when I know the most about writing and about life. Beyond that, I feel good about parts of books that I think worked out well.”

The next book Perry is working on now is “a stand-alone novel about a set of new characters, principally a young civil lawyer in Los Angeles who became expert in detecting and thwarting confidence people and embezzlers as a teenager because he watched his mother’s inheritance from his father drained and stolen by her second husband.”


The Big Thrill Interviews Bestselling Author Thomas Perry

R.G. Belsky
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