Thriller writer Andrew Gross honed his writing skills collaborating with James Patterson on books like Jester. Four solo novels later, he's become a best-selling author in his own right and has started a popular series starring police detective Ty Hauck, a tough guy who always tries to do the right thing. In Reckless, Gross pits Hauck against a group of unlikely terrorists whose target is America's financial system. Though Hauck is no longer a detective, he can't let this case go since in solving it he will also avenge the death of a friend.
We asked Gross a few questions about the book, the thriller genre and what sparks a writer's imagination.
In Reckless, Ty Hauk is no longer a cop. How does this change his ability to act in the story? Has it changed his character?
No, he's not a cop—or I should say, head of detectives—but he's still an investigator at heart and what he finds at the outset of Reckless hurtles him back, unofficially, into his old role. He is constrained by the fact that he has no badge, but he learns to piece things together through guile and stubbornness and by circumventing the proper authorities. And his new boss, too, who wants this investigation tabled.
In the book he's forced to weigh his own immediate interest agains the vow he has made to a dead friend to avenge her death. He never feels completely at home in his new role, but his toughness, smarts and clear sense of right and wrong are still prominent, though, as you say, he is swimming in a different pond.
You have said you try to combine the personal and the global in your thrillers. In this novel, terrorists attack America through our financial system. Do you think such a thing is likely to happen in the future? Are you surprised it hasn't already?
I don't really think of myself as a "this could happen" guy, but more of a "what if" guy. I’m not sounding any alarm bells. I'm trying to entertain. What I like to do is deal in conspiracies—with something important at stake, and with meaningful consequences worth covering up, and, of course, killing for. That's why my books always build from something local and personal to something much wider with more at stake. I would say that, for sure, financial terrorism and attempts to destabilize our economy are underway on a large scale—and there is no doubt to me, after the names of the dead have been read and read many times over, the true, lasting cost of 9/11—between two wars, global security, etc. is reflected in our national deficit and the spending of trillions of needless and unproductive dollars.
What kind of research do you do for your books?
Not as much as some, but enough to sell my characters and scenes to the readers. I'm not an information source. I don't want to be thought of as some kind of expert. Certainly not on finance. I want to be credible for sure—but I want to entertain a hundred times more than edify. You don’t exactly need an MBA to enjoy Reckless. In years of business and living where I do [Westchester, NY], I’ve known dozens of high-up financial guys, but it's the desperation and panic of someone whose once-secure world has been turned upside down I wanted to get at. And to me, panic is universal.
Before writing your own (four) books, you previously collaborated with James Patterson on six novels. What did you learn from him about the writing process?
Jeez, that's a big question. Lots. Jim's brilliant, if not as a stylist, then as a conceiver of ideas, an editor and an innovator in thriller structure. Here are three examples: short, dramatic chapters that end with a punch and insidiously draw you to the next one. Tons of surprises and plot reversals right to the end. And making sure the reader is invested in your hero's plight within the first 10 pages. I think all writers could learn from that. Oh yeah—and maybe something about keeping the story moving, too!
What scares you?
Well, my 401k scares me! And I don't do creepy well. Not in the books, and I surely don't go to "scary" movies. But if it's a serious question, what truly scares me is probably the potential deterioration of our country through polarization, divisiveness, lack of education, poor use of capital and lack of a cohesive long-term strategy that may render us non-competitive in the next decades. Not very thriller-esque perhaps, but it's at the top of the list of what worries me.
Suspense is one of the most popular genres in the world. How do you explain its appeal?
You could make the case that genre fiction crime, suspense, etc., instead of being dismissed, is actually the most relevant form of fiction being written today—dealing with the issues and events that reflect the headlines and the crises that affect the world today. I like to write about life and death matters; I like to write about everyday characters measuring themselves up to heroism; I like to write stories with large consequences at stake. I like to raise the blood pressure and keep people gripped. I like my stories to move fast. And I think those things are what captivate readers of suspense, as well.
What are you working on next?
Not a Ty Hauck book—a stand-alone. It's called One Last Thing. We had a personal tragedy in my family last summer. My 21-year-old nephew, a troubled bi-polar kid, jumped off a cliff and sadly killed himself in California. My brother's only child. So I’m working on a plotline about teenage suicide, mental illness, and a 30-year-old revenge killing that leads back to a Manson-like family. It's a very personal book for me; some of the stories, true or apocryphal, are about my family. I think it will please. Then I'll go back to a Hauck book on the next one.