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Interview: August 7, 2009

August 7, 2009

RULES OF VENGEANCE is the second installment in Christopher Reich's series starring mountain-climbing, Doctors Without Borders surgeon Jonathan Ransom (following 2008’s RULES OF DECEPTION). In this interview with's Joe Hartlaub, Reich describes creating Ransom's character as an exercise in wishful thinking and names some of the authors who have influenced the mystery elements in this thriller. He also shares his thoughts on what he perceives to be the largest global crisis today, thinks back to what he might have done differently earlier in his writing career, and hints at what's in store for his hero in the next book, RULES OF ATTACK. RULES OF VENGEANCE is a very different book from its predecessor, RULES OF DECEPTION. RULES OF DECEPTION begins with Jonathan Ransom believing that his wife Emma has been killed right in front of him; he later discovers that 1) she’s a secret agent, and 2) she’s still alive. In RULES OF VENGEANCE he is suspected of being involved with her in a terrorist act and is pursued by law enforcement officials from several different countries as he pursues his wife to prevent her from causing even further and more widespread carnage. Along the way he learns just how deep her deception has been, a fact that, with many others, changes their relationship, perhaps irrevocably. What methods did you use to make RULES OF VENGEANCE so distinct from RULES OF DECEPTION, notwithstanding their shared use of primary characters?
Christopher Reich: Every story begins with a new idea. In RULES OF VENGEANCE, I tried to imagine the circumstances under which Jonathan and Emma might get back together. I saw them meeting up in London, but knowing Emma, I figured she'd have an ulterior motive for risking her safety other than just to see Jonathan. From there, the story just took off. When her actions get Jonathan in deep trouble, it seemed only natural that Jonathan would do his best to clear his name and try to find out once and for all who exactly his wife is, and for whom she's working!

BRC: In the space of two novels, Jonathan Ransom has become one of my favorite thriller characters. He is extremely believable; while a rank amateur as a spy, he is a quick study, based on elementary skill sets in the field that he has picked up --- consciously and otherwise --- from his wife. He knows just enough to get himself in trouble and occasionally out of it. How did you begin developing Ransom’s persona? Will we see more changes in the future? And how long or far do you see the series going?
CR: Jonathan Ransom very much comes out of the man I'd like to be myself. I've always marveled at the dedication required to become a surgeon. Put that together with my respect and interest for Doctors Without Borders and "presto," you have a recipe for a new hero. Since I knew that I'd be asking so much of Jonathan as the series progressed, I made sure that he possessed some pretty impressive skills, himself, going in to this thing. He's a world-class climber, a top-notch physician, and a guy with a courageous streak a half mile wide. I think he's ready for pretty much any challenge, don't you? In my view, the series is just beginning. We are just starting to tap the surface of Jonathan and Emma's relationship, and we haven't yet begun to learn how and why Jonathan was chosen by Emma and Division in the first place. All that is to come. I see this as a big Dickensian story that can go on and on. 

BRC: After an explosive beginning, RULES OF VENGEANCE presents a classic “locked room mystery” with several very modern twists. What appears to be a death by suicide is in fact a murder. The question is how the murderer gained access to the victim’s heavily secured and fortified apartment building. This was one of my favorite elements of the book. Have you been a long-time fan of mysteries? Was this influenced by your reading of the classic masters? If so, what influenced you?
CR: I am a voracious reader, and yes, I love mysteries. Agatha Christie, Ross MacDonald, Jeffery Deaver and Michael Connelly are among my favorites. And so while RULES OF VENGEANCE is very much a "thriller," there is a large element of mystery involved. It's like having two lines of gunpowder running across your desk. You have to stop the ticking clock, and you have to learn "why" it's ticking in the first place.  

BRC: One of the more interesting elements of RULES OF VENGEANCE was the use of the Global Stress Points Matrix (GSPM), a list of 20 potential geopolitical crisis points ranked upon probability of occurrence, as a plot point. What, in your opinion, is the most significant global crisis? And how would you start --- if not necessarily finish --- resolving it?
CR: The most significant global crisis today is how to stop the Iranians from obtaining nuclear weapons, and this is coming to a head in the next 24 months. I don't foresee a diplomatic conclusion. That leaves only a military option. What people don't realize is that it isn't only Israel who doesn't want Iran to have a bomb. It's also Saudi Arabia. Either way, it's going to get ugly. Expect war in the region. 

BRC: Your novels contain a great deal of detail. How do you research in order to get things just right? And how did you go about choosing the geographical settings for RULES OF VENGEANCE?
CR: Detail adds texture and believability. I do my best to get things like geography, settings and atmosphere right. All this requires traveling to the locales where the book takes place. There simply isn't a substitute for going there. I find that I fashion large parts of my stories from the facts I learn on the ground. Here's a little secret: often, my stories' locales are dictated simply by where I feel like visiting. For RULES OF VENGEANCE, it was Europe all the way. London, Rome, Monte Carlo and Paris. There are tougher places to visit!

BRC: When you began writing RULES OF DECEPTION, did you conceive of it as the first in an ongoing series? If so, was there anything in particular that you did to set up the series?
CR: I was about halfway through RULES OF DECEPTION when I started to think that these characters might lend themselves to a series. Once the seed was planted, it took immediate root and I began to map out not only the ending to DECEPTION, but what might happen to Jonathan and Emma afterwards. I saw the series as an emotional saga as much as a series of exciting exploits --- kind of a combination of THE THORNBIRDS and Jason Bourne.

BRC: You initially conceived your first novel, NUMBERED ACCOUNT, shortly after you began working in the international banking industry. How has your writing schedule changed since then? Do you find it to be easier or more difficult to focus on writing now that you have, at least theoretically, more time?
CR: My writing schedule has remained the same over the past 12 years. I get to my desk as early as possible and research/outline/write as long as I can go. I try to apply the same work habits I learned as an investment banker to being a novelist.  There is no substiute for keeping your behind in the chair. 

BRC: RULES OF VENGEANCE is your fifth novel. Looking back from this point in your writing career, is there anything you wish you had done differently in the beginning? And is there any action that you took as you were starting out that you were glad you did at this point?
CR: Sometimes, I do wish I had started a series earlier on. But I don't believe in hindsight. I wrote what I wanted at the time and I'm proud of my body of work, especially my historical novel, THE RUNNER, set at the closing of the Second World War. 

BRC: You have primarily written stand-alone novels, and now appear poised to keep Jonathan Ransom as the feature of an ongoing series. Do you prefer writing stand-alone works or serial novels? What have you found to be the advantages and disadvantages of each?
CR: I am totally enthralled with creating this series. Jonathan and Emma Ransom have become a large part of my world. I can't imagine leaving them, though I do hope to write another stand-alone in between Rules #4 and #5. To an extent, it is much more difficult to write stand-alone thrillers simply because you are creating an entirely new universe each time.'s equally hard to keep a series fresh and exciting. Both have their pluses and minuses, but right now, I'm firmly in my "series attack mode!" 

BRC: Your background, at least initially, was in the banking and brokerage business. How is it that you come at this stage in life to be writing thrillers? And if you weren’t writing for a living, or pursuing one of your former careers, what do you see yourself doing?
CR: I've been writing since the age of 34, so now at age 47, I can't remember doing anything else. If the writing hadn't worked out, I like to think I'd be a partner at Goldman Sachs. Most probably, though, I would have been fired long ago. Making documentary films is my next profession! 

BRC: What books have you read in the past six months that you would like to recommend to our readers?
CR: THE DAWN PATROL by Don Winslow (one of my favorite authors!), SHIBUMI by Trevanian, GONE TOMORROW by Lee Child and EXTREME MEASURES by Vince Flynn. I love Flynn and Child, too. They never disappoint! 

BRC: What are you working on now, and when might readers expect to see it?
CR: Right now, I'm working on RULES OF ATTACK, the third episode in the Jonathan Ransom saga. All I can say is this: Jonathan is in a dark place and he's ready to lash out. Watch out world!!

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