posted by Nancy
I discovered bestselling author Jon Land's thrillers because K.J. Howe recommended them, so I owe her for a lot of reading pleasure. The first one I read, A Walk in the Darkness, featured a Palestinian policeman Ben Kamal and Israeli security agent Danielle Barnea, not exactly the couple everyone would predict. And they have issues aplenty, of course. I loved the book and started looking for more.
A short time later, I was walking through a bookstore and spotted Strong Enough to Die, the first in Jon's series about Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong and her extremely unlikely and unofficial partner. The book sucked me in like the proverbial black hole. I couldn't wait for the next one. Or the next.
Jon makes his Lair debut today with the latest installment of Caitlin's adventures, Strong At the Break. He has published thirty novels, with the second Caitlin Strong adventure, Strong Justice, named Library Journal's top thriller for 2010. His first nonfiction book, Betrayal, will be published by Forge Books in January. It's about decorated FBI agent Bob Fitzpatrick and his struggle against overwhelming odds to nail gangster Whitey Bulger. Welcome, Jon!
I love writing Caitlin Strong—let’s get that out of the way right from the start. In my thirty years of writing novels, there’s never been a character who’s come more to life for me. But how did she come to life in the first place?
Actually, Caitlin’s origins go back to a conversation my editor Natalia Aponte had with one of the heads of sales at Tor/Forge, my publisher. They were discussing the state of the genre and bemoaning the fact that with all the thrillers out there, bought predominantly by women, there wasn’t a single female thriller series hero. Not one. Sure, there were lots of women heroes driving less action-oriented mysteries, but nothing akin to what I like to call a female Jack Reacher after Lee Child’s seminal creation.
Well, after Natalia relayed this conversation to me, a light bulb went off in my head. I was looking for a new theme and potential series hero, something dramatically different than the Michael Tiranno “Tyrant” character I was coming off of in The Seven Sins. That was truly an over-the-top-book, as many great thrillers are, and the last thing I wanted to do was another just like it. I wanted instead to work with a character who was more conflicted, flawed, down-to-earth.
I’d always wanted to write about the Texas Rangers, having long been fascinated by their well-earned reputation for being badass lawmen and gunfighters. So the light bulb that went off shined squarely down on the notion of featuring a female Texas Ranger in the first of what I already envisioned as a series.
Making Caitlin a Texas Ranger, and a fifth generation one to boot, provided instant credibility for her character as an action hero. She’s got a past she’s not too proud of and the first book in the series, STRONG ENOUGH TO DIE, opens with her sorely searching for some form of redemption she finds by going up against an evil military-industrial company called MacArthur-Rain for reasons more personal than professional.
As always, I knew very little of this when I got started. Things just started falling together and if you asked me where it all came from, I honestly couldn’t say. But I knew I had something here that I’d never experienced before and STRONG ENOUGH TO DIE left plenty of room for Caitlin and Cort Wesley Masters, a man she wrongly put in prison and ultimately falls in love with, to grow and develop as does the second book in the series, STRONG JUSTICE.
I think I actually have the most fun with Caitlin’s relationship with Cort Wesley and his two sons for whom she becomes a kind of surrogate mother. The thing I love about their relationship is that it’s defined by conflict. The romance is there, yes, but so is the tension. It’s never easy for them. Take the following excerpt from the just published STRONG AT THE BREAK, for example. Caitlin and Cort Wesley are headed to Mexico, where he’s wanted for murder, on the trail of his runaway 16-year-old son Dylan.
“You call the cops?” Caitlin asked him.
Cort Wesley looked like he couldn’t believe she’d even posed the question. “I called you.”
“What about Dylan?”
“His phone’s going straight to voicemail. Turned off so you can’t locate him by GPS.”
“What kind of head start he got?”
Cort Wesley checked his watch. “An hour now. Bit more maybe.”
“Guess we both know where he’s headed.”
“You casting blame on me in that statement?”
“Why, ‘cause you never took him down there to see Maria Lopez like you promised?”
A year before, Dylan had saved the life of a runaway Mexican girl named Maria Lopez who’d been part of a kidnapped group of girls being ferried to a worksite outside San Antonio. Problem was the man he’d saved her from turned out to be behind four hundred serial murders of women across the Texas-Mexico border, embroiling both the Texas Rangers and Cort Wesley Masters in a battle with drug cartels and a renegade Mexican colonel. The embroilment ended with a host of bodies being downed and Dylan emerging with a chip on his shoulder he dared the world to knock off.
Facing down one of the deadliest men ever born, as close as to the spawn of Satan the world would ever see, had imbued the boy with a bravado and hardness that had come to define too many of his actions and thinking. That attitude had made school an afterthought and had led inevitably, Caitlin knew, to his actions of today.
“I’ve been busy too, in case you haven’t noticed,” Cort Wesley told her.
“South of the border, right?”
“Why you looking at me that way?”
“What way is that?”
“You got something to say, just say it.”
“I think you should have stayed clear of Mexico,” Caitlin said, the words feeling like ground glass in her mouth. “You’re not exactly popular with the federalés, one Major Batista in particular.”
“You ever know something like that to stop me?”
“No, that might actually take some honest thought.”
Cort Wesley stopped looking at the road ahead of them and turned to glare at her. “You know what takes some thought? Figuring out how many Americans still got legitimate business south of the border they’re too scared to conduct given the danger involved.”
“So they pay you to make them feel safe.”
“Where’s this headed, Ranger?”
“You kill anybody in Mexico?”
Caitlin watched him freeze up, his features locking as his chest stopped its quick motions in rhythm with his nervous breathing. She drew the folded-up piece of paper from the pocket of her jeans.
“You’re wanted for murder down there, Cort Wesley. And I’m supposed to bring you in.”
There it is, all the ingredients that define their relationship or, should I say, their struggles to build that relationship. Relationships, and emotion in general, form the basis of virtually every great story ever told. I have very high aspirations for my Caitlin Strong books and the primary thing that distinguishes this series from others is that the characters continue to change and evolve. And so do their relationships. While the three Strong books can be read in any order, reading them in sequence definitely adds to the enjoyment since you can follow the development of these complex relationships, especially the romance between Caitlin and Cort Wesley, from the beginning. You can see the dichotomy that is Caitlin who finds herself pulled toward the familial life offered by Cort Wesley and his sons and life on her own in the classic mold of a Texas Ranger or old-time gunfighter.
You see what I’m getting at? The Strong books have as much emotional or romantic suspense as they have tension derived by Caitlin’s pursuit of villains before they can do terrible harm to the country. My plots are always big, the stakes very high, and in the Strong books I’ve made the emotional stakes just as high to make sure you’ll always care about the characters. I guess that’s why I keep writing them and you can look forward to Caitlin’s fourth adventure, STRONG VENGEANCE, next June for more of the same.
For more about Jon Land's books, check out his website.
Jon is giving signed copies of STRONG ENOUGH TO DIE to three commenters today. The prize post will go up at 11:45 tonight.
So post a question for Jon about the book, the Texas Rangers, or his writing, or tell us about a couple in a book or a movie you enjoyed who started out as fierce antagonists and ended up together and why you liked it. Or tell us about your favorite book or movie featuring a law enforcement officer or a criminal (reformed, unreformed, or somewhere in between) in the lead and what you enjoyed about it. Or tell us about your favorite book or movie that has lots of things going boom.
(To keep the FCC happy, I'm letting you all know I received a free copy of Strong Enough to Die after I asked Jon to be a guest).