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Interview: June 27, 2017

John Gilstrap has cornered the market on hostage rescue thrillers told through dynamic characters who operate as a single unit. AGAINST ALL ENEMIES won 2016’s Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original Novel. His latest, FINAL TARGET, is the most intense of the series. Jonathan Grave and Boxers navigate southern Mexico’s jungle, where a single hostage is joined by 15 orphans, and the exfil helicopter pilot deserts the team. Gilstrap chats with’s Dean Murphy about winning the Thriller Award, the upcoming SCORPION STRIKE, the writing life, and a new subscriber-based YouTube feature. Jonathan “Digger” Grave returns to the jungles South of the Border and your traditional hostage rescue formula. Yet there are unintended “precious cargos.” Why so many?

John Gilstrap: Technically, there’s only one PC, and that is Harry Dawkins, the DEA agent they were sent to rescue. The orphans that Jonathan and his team liberate are along by their own choice. I set it up that way to give Jonathan some moral and ethical problems to juggle, and to give the reader a more enjoyable ride. The kids slow them down, they’re too loud and they don’t herd well. They made it a fun book to write.

BRC: You take on a wider scope, with international entanglements involving a US senator, drug cartels, the DEA and FBI. A classic power struggle? Any subliminal messages, as with AGAINST ALL ENEMIES?

JG: In my fictional world, virtually all political appointees work an angle, leveraging their positions within government to set the stage for future financial gain. There are exceptions, of course --- FBI Director Irene Rivers among them --- but the exceptions are rare. In the real world, the alphabet agencies continually jockey for attention and budget considerations. I don’t know that there are subliminal messages that would apply outside of Jonathan’s world (remember, I write fiction, not politics), but within his world, people like Jonathan --- people who solve problems in decisive ways devoid of political implications --- are what allow justice to prevail.

BRC: AGAINST ALL ENEMIES earned (not “won,” like a lotto ticket) the International Thriller Writers 2016 Thriller Award. Congratulations! Your thoughts on that?

JG: First of all, I was shocked. Honored, as well, but deeply shocked. In fact, when they were about to call the winner, I was on Twitter, preparing to tweet out the name. When they said “John Gilstrap,” I looked up to my friend and fellow nominee Marc Cameron who was seated next to me, and he said, “That’s you, dude.” The fact that the award is bestowed by colleagues whom I deeply admire in an industry that I adore makes it special beyond words.

BRC: Gail “Gunslinger” Bonneville returns, albeit reluctantly. Is she destined to be more to Jonathan than a team member?

JG: They’re working on it. They love each other, but they come at the work they do from such widely divergent angles that it’s likely to be a relationship fraught with angst and anger.

BRC: Venice (Ven-EE-chay) is portrayed as “unquestionably the leading adult presence” and thinks“Jonathan was himself an adolescent in his core, and when he paired with Boxers, their antics could be exhausting.” Are we beginning to see another side of the male Team members?

JG: Having come from an emergency response background myself, and having countless friends among cops, firefighters and warriors, I think that a common theme among all of us is a certain untamed adolescence. Life is too short and too fragile to take anything too seriously. Certainly, that’s the case with Jonathan and Boxers. Big Guy in particular is most self-actualized when the bullets are flying. Jonathan realizes the futility of trying to tame that, so he doesn’t try. In fact, he chooses to enjoy his friend’s enjoyment. Venice, on the other hand, is left with the less fun work of cleaning up the messes the guys make.

BRC: This is 10th in the Jonathan Grave series --- 16 total? What message do you bring to readers, other than enthralling thrillers?

JG: Yep, this is my 16th book. Hard to imagine, actually. My primary message through my books is a promise to deliver a fun ride with characters people like to hang around with. The fact is, people like Jonathan and Boxers do exist in the world, and they do extremely difficult jobs with team members who are closer than any real-life brothers. They would lay down their lives for each other, and too often end up doing just that.

BRC: SCORPION STRIKE will be the next installment, in 2018. What’s the synopsis? What message do you want to convey?

JG: I’m still very much in the early stages of SCORPION STRIKE, but the primary focus of the book will be Jonathan and Gail as the precious cargo needing rescue.

BRC: What’s the progress on adapting your books to film?

JG: That’s a damned interesting question. I know that Marc Butan and MadRiver Productions are now involved, and I have it on good authority that there is a script, but as we do this interview, I have not yet seen it. That’s a lot of words for me to get to the simple answer of, I don’t know.

BRC: For two years you were the Celebrity Author, speaker and workshop host at the Florida Writers Conference. Thank you. How much of your time is devoted to writers conferences and events?

JG: I enjoy going to conferences, but I don’t go to as many as I used to. ThrillerFest is a given every July, as is Magna Cum Murder in October. I go to more Bouchercons than I miss, but I won’t be going to Toronto this year. My big news appearance-wise is my new YouTube channel, A Writer’s View of Writing and Publishing where I post a short video each week on some aspect of the creative process or the business of being a writer. Subscribers are welcome!

BRC: Final thoughts?

JG: My final thought is to express gratitude to you and to the leaders and readers of for your and their tireless dedication to those of us who love books. Thank you.