Interview: September 12, 2003
September 12, 2003
In this interview with Bookreporter.com's Suspense/Thriller Author Spotlight team (Carol Fitzgerald, Joe Hartlaub and Wiley Saichek), Christopher Reich talks about fighting the war on terrorism, which is the subject of his latest thriller THE DEVIL'S BANKER. He also reveals why he admires John Le Carre, the books of Le Carre's he has enjoyed most, and the memorable encounter he had with Le Carre at a hotel in Zurich.
BRC: On your website Q&A, you wrote that you utilize newspapers, magazines, and the Internet in your research. How have your research methods changed over the course of writing four novels? How much time did you spend talking to various government agencies while working on THE DEVIL'S BANKER?
CR: I still read a ton, but personal interviews always yield the most interesting information. Last April I spent 10 days in D.C. talking to the CIA, FinCEN, Treasury and Customs. It was fascinating and frightening. I can tell you one thing --- we are not skimping in our fight to keep our nation safe from terrorist attack.
BRC: From your research and what you learned while writing, do you feel comfortable with how we are combatting terrorism, or are you a lot more circumspect given what you know? On this same note, do you think the efforts on the part of government should be kept as secrets or shared with the American people?
CR: I have mixed feelings. I was very impressed with nearly every agent either of the CIA, the Treasury Department, Customs or the IRS with whom I met. These are top notch, crackerjack individuals who could be making a fortune on Wall Street or as lawyers in private practice. Guys and gals, I call, that are programmed for success in any field. We have great personnel. The problem is the "cowboy" culture that encourages agents to work alone combined with a terrible, smothering bureaucracy. The system is getting in the way of allowing the good guys to do their job. One good thing about the Patriot Act is that it has broken down the walls between agency and legalized communication between them. The IRS can now look at the Treasury's files, the CIA can talk to the FBI, and on and on. Now it's just a question of if they will!
BRC: Tracking the money to find the terrorists sounds like a new concept to many of us. In the course of your research did you find that this methodology has been employed for a while now?
CR: Yes, but it's getting more and more sophisticated. Most important is keeping channels open across borders. France is a great help to us. Germany, far less so. Each country has laws and traditions that either help or hinder efforts to follow the money as it travels the world.
BRC: You have a real disdain for the way the media delivers news to us. What's a better way?
CR: I don't know about that. I respect the media on the whole. I feel they are tendentious and inflammatory, but that's what happens when you have a free press. It's our choice whether to buy newspapers or to watch TV. I don't think we can blame them for pandering when we're buying everything they're creating. Americans in general have very little self-discipline. They'll sit there and watch an E! True Hollywood Story murmuring to themselves, "This is such trash," but then they'll tune in again the next day.
One thing is for sure --- if you want straight unbiased news it's out there. Look at the BBC or Reuters. Everything's on the Net.
BRC: Reading your books, many people have written that suddenly the financial world does not seem as intimidating any more. Our January Suspense/Thriller author Stephen Frey, who also writes financial thrillers, told us when he first started writing he would go into too much detail for the average reader. Do you find it easy to write for the layman about a world in which you were so entrenched, or has this evolved?
CR: I think the financial world is more intimidating than ever. People have no idea how vast and dependent we all are on the smooth and efficient functioning of our capital markets --- the stock market, bond market, corporate debt, currencies and derivatives. It is all so huge and to an extent so fragile. Just you wait … we're going to have a major financial crisis within ten years and then you won't think things are so simple any more.
I don't know if it's easy to write about this world, but its essential and fascinating. High finance is fast-paced, sexy and explosive. You never know what's going to happen when a billion dollars is on the table.
BRC: Adam Chapel and Sarah Churchill were a hit with our readers who read advanced copies of the book. Many wanted to know if their characters will return. We think they will as the end of the book seems to leave a door open. Are we right about that?
CR: That's a great question. Sarah is a spy at heart and wedded to her ideals. She loves Chapel but doesn't yet realize just how much. Adam, on the other hand, is a fighter. He's not going to just let her walk away. More is definitely in store for these two!
BRC: In an earlier interview you mentioned a novel called BLOOD MONEY --- was this THE DEVIL'S BANKER with a title change? If so, why did you make the title change? Share with us how you decide to title your novels.
CR: BLOOD MONEY was the working title, but there are like fifty other books with the same name. Ergo, time to come up with a new title.
BRC: In the Q&A on ChristopherReich.com, you wrote "everything I learned about writing, I got from Le Carre." Would you elaborate with us on that comment? What about Le Carre do you especially enjoy? Do you have a favorite title?
CR: John Le Carre is my favorite author. I get choked up just trying to explain why I like him so much, but I'll try. First off, he tells interesting, exciting stories about spies and arms dealers and corrupt bankers --- the dark arts that I find compelling. Secondly, he is a supremely gifted writer. His use of the English language, his ability to describe characters through their psyche, their emotional state, is second to none.
But what I really love about his novels is his intimate knowledge of the human heart. His characters are all so full bodied, so lovable, so flawed, so arch ... so sadly human. There is so much emotion in these books. So much insight into man's character. Where does he find it in himself? Every time I read Le Carre, I feel he's teaching me something about myself. He is the master. My favorites are THE NIGHT MANAGER, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, THE HONORABLE SCHOOLBOY, and TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY.
By the way, I met him once in Zurich. David Cornwell is his real name. He was staying in my hotel --- The Dolder Grand (setting of THE NIGHT MANAGER). I listen to his books on tape too, and when I heard his voice in the lobby, I nearly fell to my knees with excitement. I sent a note to his room, explaining who I was, and asking if we might meet. He sent a note back beginning, "Dear Mr. Reich, Of course I know who you are…." We had drinks together and he was utterly charming and gracious. One of England's finest. The occasion remains one of the great thrills of my life.
BRC: Readers wanting to find out "what's next" can read a brief description of your work-in-progress on your website. The big question for fans remains: when will we be seeing this novel?
CR: The new one should be out next year, but I'm taking my time with this one. I don't want to cheat the readers, or myself.