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An Art Heist, Spicy Romantic Chemistry, and Well-Placed Easter Eggs

The Big Thrill Interviews New York Times Bestselling Author Brett Battles

Book Cover: STUART WOODS' SMOLDERBy Bonnie Traymore

In bestselling author Brett Battles’ newest thriller, STUART WOODS’ SMOLDER, attorney Stone Barrington has an enemy hell-bent on his destruction. But lucky for him, he also has a cadre of powerful friends and associates, a hearty sense of humor, and a background in law enforcement that serve him well in this most recent installment of the best-selling series. When the book opens, Stone is celebrating his win in a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against his nemesis, Winston Petry, and the shady businessman is out for revenge. Stone’s late mother was a famous painter, and her works mean more to Stone than almost anything in the world. Petry hires some thugs to acquire Matilda Stone’s paintings and destroy them in an effort to crush Stone’s spirit.

Petry’s hapless henchmen are no match for Stone’s entourage—New York City police commissioner Dino Bacchetti, a covert CIA operative, and Stone’s newest love interest, Monica Reyes, a fraud investigator for a company that insures valuable artwork. Monica’s the one who first suspects foul play, and she’s instrumental in helping to snare Petry. Meanwhile, she and Stone dive headfirst into a spicy love affair that might even go somewhere. But what will Stone do about his on-again, off-again romance with Holly Barker—who just happens to be President of the United States?

Author Photo: Brett Battles

Brett Battles © Daniel Mendez

SMOLDER is the 65th book in the series, and the first one written entirely by Brett Battles. With a large and lively cast of familiar and novel characters, it can be read as a stand-alone, although diehard series fans will feel right at home. This is an engaging, fun, page-turner read with an original premise, a satisfying conclusion, and enough loose ends to warrant another book.

The Big Thrill caught up with Battles about SMOLDER, co-authoring with Stuart Woods, and what’s next.

The premise of the book is quite original for a thriller. Rather than getting back at Stone by trying to kill him, Stone’s nemesis wants to steal his mother’s paintings and destroy them. Why did you select this as the payback, and what does that tell us about Stone Barrington’s character?

The idea of featuring Matilda Stone’s paintings came to me as I was reviewing the previous Stone books again. Stone’s admiration and love for her work weaves throughout the series, and it seemed only natural to feature a story around it.

Throughout the series, he has been collecting his mother’s work when he can. While they are valuable to collectors, to him, they are priceless. So, a plan to destroy the paintings would be the same as a bullet to Stone’s heart. They are all he has left of her. Of course, destroying the paintings is just the first step in the antagonist’s strategy, and he has many more insidious schemes for Stone later.

This book required a great deal of research into the art world, including the dark underbelly of art theft, forgery, and fraud. Can you walk us through your research process and tell us how you gained inside information into the high-stakes, lucrative business of art dealers and their patrons?

Art theft is something that has always fascinated me, be it the great art thefts of World War II to paintings stolen from museums. In a way, I’ve been preparing to write something about art theft for years. Movies, books, and news reports I’ve seen and read in that time have all played a factor in my development of the idea.

Stone Barrington seems to have met his match in Monica Reyes. In fact, you have several strong, successful women in the novel, including Monica, Dino’s wife, Viv Bacchetti, and Holly Barker, President of the United States, Stone’s on-again, off-again love interest. Why is Stone surrounded by strong women, and how do you go about constructing your female characters?

I can’t take credit for Viv or Holly, as Stuart Woods created them long ago. Monica was mine, though. For me, I would call writing characters that are referred to as “strong women” as writing a female character. I think the harder thing for me would be to write a character that people considered to not be a strong woman. In my opinion, those kinds of characters are unrealistic. Women are inherently strong, and to ignore that doesn’t make sense. It’s the same way I write the female characters in my non-Stuart Woods books.

Do you have a favorite scene in the book? If so, which scene is it, and why?

I have several. I hate to give away spoilers, though. In a general sense, there are several small easter eggs dropped throughout the book that long-time readers of the series will pick up—mentions, callbacks, and even the closing of a very minor plot point from many books ago. Those make me smile.

Based on your author bio, you have a great sense of humor, and that is reflected in SMOLDER. How does humor complement a tense mystery or thriller novel?

I do love including humor in my books, mainly because there’s humor in life, be it light or dark. Of course, with SMOLDER, I had to mimic Stuart’s sense of humor to the best of my abilities. Our senses are similar but not exactly the same, so the humor you see in this book is a bit (but not a ton) different from the humor in my solo books.

How did you first come to work with Stuart Woods, and what was it like co-authoring books with him?

A few years ago, my agent was contacted by Stuart Woods’ team to co-write a book in his Teddy Fay series. Teddy is a former CIA agent who becomes a Hollywood producer. My most popular series is a spy series, and I worked in Hollywood for nearly 25 years—the perfect match.

That book went well. I really enjoyed working on it with Stuart. Sadly, just a few weeks after the book was finished, Stuart passed away. I had thought that meant I would not be working in the literary world he created anymore. But a few months later, I was asked to finish the next Stone Barrington novel that he’d been in the middle of writing when he died. That book was Near Miss, and I was so honored to be chosen to complete it. After that, they asked me to continue both the Stone Barrington and Teddy Fay series.

You’ve written over 40 books, and most of them are not co-authored with Woods. What’s it like working on a plot for a character who already exists, as opposed to fabricating a new character? Is one task harder than the other, or are they simply different?

I’m going to go with simply different. Both have their easy and hard elements. For example, with an existing character, I don’t have to come up with backstories and mindsets and attributes. They already exist. But that also means you have to stay within certain parameters when you might prefer to veer in a different direction. With a new character, you can make it up as you go. The problems come when you find that the character has certain traits or something in her/his past that requires going back and changing some of what you’ve already written.

What’s next for Stone Barrington? Will there be another book in the series? Stone and Monica had enough chemistry between them to spark another one!

Another novel is in the planning stages as I write this. But my lips are sealed on details.

What’s next for Brett Battles? Can you share a bit about what you’re working on now?

I’m actually working on several things. I’m just finishing up the next Stuart Woods’ Teddy Fay novel called Golden Hour. It will be out later in the year. Beyond that, I’m writing a new book in my Jonathan Quinn series, a fun multiverse adventure, the fourth book in my Night Man series, a romance that I’m loving, and, of course, I’m planning the next Stone Barrington novel. The Stuart Woods books take precedence, and I work on the others around them as I can.

Any fun facts about yourself that you’d like to share with readers or anything else you’d like to tell us?

I’m a huge K-drama fan (Korean dramas). You want recommendations? I’ve got recommendations. So, so many recommendations.


The Big Thrill Interviews New York Times Bestselling Author Brett Battles