Welcome to the second in a series of interviews I’m conducting with authors who write espionage adventure thriller novels similar is style and approach to my own novels.
Today’s interview is with British author Rob Sinclair, of the highly successful Dance with the Enemy (2014), Rise of the Enemy (2015) and Hunt for the Enemy (2016) series of espionage thrillers featuring embattled agent Carl Logan. Rob’s books are well known for their twisting plots, complex characters and human stories.
His most recent books are the psychological crime thriller Dark Fragments (2016) and his latest novel Red Cobra (2017) commencing his new James Ryker series.
Aiden: What is the Enemy series?
Rob: My Enemy series of books are three action-packed thrillers that have now sold more than 200,000 copies worldwide since the release of the first book, Dance with the Enemy, in 2014, which was followed by Rise of the Enemy and Hunt for the Enemy.
I set out with the Enemy series to write books that were fast-paced and filled with action, because those are the types of books that I’ve always enjoyed reading myself (not to mention the types of TV and film that I watch too), and the series is a globe-trotting espionage extravaganza filled with plots and subplots involving corruption, terrorism and conspiracies. If I were to liken it to other series I think the one that comes closest in my mind is probably Robert Ludlum’s Bourne novels.
Aiden: Your protagonist Carl Logan is typical of the hero type in espionage thriller fiction, except that he has a soft inner side to his personality. Why did you write Carl Logan the way you did?
Rob: When I started writing Dance with the Enemy I had a vague concept in my head as to who the central character would be. A tough guy. An all action hero who’d lived much of his life in that vast area of grey that separates right and wrong, but who had a certain vulnerability about him too. That last part was very important to me. I’d become increasingly tired of heroes who were too perfect, almost superhuman, and wanted a much more grounded and human hero. One who makes mistakes and one who gets hurt. And so was born Carl Logan.
Many years ago Logan, as a tearaway teenager, an orphan moving from foster home to foster home, and increasingly getting himself mixed up with gangs and drugs, was recruited by a shady law enforcement figure – Mackie – as a low level informant. Over the years that relationship grew until Mackie himself moved on in the world becoming a Commander of a secretive intelligence agency known as the JIA (Joint Intelligence Agency). Seeing potential in Logan, largely given his bleak outlook on life and his nothing to lose mindset, Logan was brought into the fold at the JIA and, through years of physical and psychological training, was turned into something of a killing machine, travelling the world and carrying out the dirty work of the UK and US governments, under the radar.
But, despite the brainwashing training, there was always a gnawing inside Logan that he was more than just an assassin, a feeling that wholly comes to the fore when Logan is captured, tortured and left for dead while on a JIA mission in the Middle East. Which is the point in time where the Enemy series picks up, with Logan struggling to come to terms with that trauma, and trying to figure out exactly who he is, with many in his organisation now believing him to be goods damaged beyond repair.
The three books then follow Logan from that lowest point on a journey of not just redemption and proving his self worth, but of revenge too, as he tries in vain to get his life back on track and to get his own back on those who’ve wronged him. I felt that taking Logan on the journey from the lowest point would help the reader to quickly empathise with him more than if he was just this all braun macho tough guy.
Aiden: Your Enemy series has been highly successful, do you believe that has anything to do with the Carl Logan character?
Rob: Absolutely. Most of my fans are fans of Logan rather than me. Readers feel an affinity to him, which I have to take as a real compliment. A large part of it comes back to that vulnerable side of Logan. Readers look up to him and admire him for all his tough guy attributes, but the core themes of the novels, the raw emotions he feels, his drivers – things like love, revenge and betrayal – are factors familiar to all of us, and that makes us want Logan to succeed and to overcome his problems and, ultimately, be happy (fat chance!).
Aiden: Your background is forensic accounting. What kind of work did that involve?
Rob: I qualified as a Chartered Accountant working for a global accounting firm, and then spent the next ten years in their forensics department investigating large scale fraud and corruption. The range of jobs was vast, from directors or employees embezzling cash (not petty cash, but hundreds of thousands or millions of pounds), to massive corruption schemes spanning continents and involving billions of dollars, to high profile accounting scandals. The work was interesting, and I got to travel a lot, but I also felt I got out at the right time as it was becoming a burden trying to juggle the job and my young family at home. The jobs themselves essentially involved evidence gathering and analysis – so searching computers, phones and email accounts, interviewing witnesses and suspects, and analysing financial records to try to figure out what the hell was going on!
Aiden: Can you tell us about a particularly interesting case?
Rob: Not really! The cases (and our involvement) were in nearly every case extremely confidential, though one or two would be familiar to people with an interest in the financial world. If you google ‘biggest accounting scandals’, at least one job I worked on would be in there.
Aiden: How much did your profession influence your writing?
Rob: It’s hard to say. I think every aspect of my life has, to some extent, influenced my writing. None of my books have fraud or corruption as the main plot driver, though I have used snippets of the cases in my works — e.g. particular schemes, but only as secondary plot devices. Some of the secondary characters are drawn from real life people I investigated, and I’ve used plenty of locations I travelled to as well.
I’d say the main influence on my writing career, though, was my report writing skills. The big outcome of most of our projects would be a detailed report, outlining our investigation, the evidence we’d uncovered, and really trying to tell a story of what had happened (in a factual sense). Those reports could be several hundred pages long and the process of pulling all of the data together and giving a succinct appraisal has many similarities to how I now write thrillers where you’re weaving subplots together to tell one over-arching story.
Aiden: France, Russia, Kazakhstan and China are frequent locations utilised in your Enemy series. Did you use first-hand experience from these locations in your books?
Rob: Absolutely. At least half the locations in the books are ones I’ve been to, either with work or on holidays, and it’s definitely a lot easier to write about settings that you’re familiar with.
Aiden: You’ve also written a crime novel in Dark Fragments about normal people in a tense situation. What prompted you to write this book?
Rob: I tend to just get random ideas and store them in my head until I get the chance to write them out. I can’t remember now what prompted the idea for Dark Fragments, but there’s a lot of me in that book. The main character is certainly a hard person to warm to, but actually a lot of him was just me venting onto the pages. I think I had a lot of pent up frustration and stress and anger when I was writing that book, just built up from my old job and the stresses of life really, and I let it all out. Writing can be quite cathartic and I think that’s what that book represented for me – it was just me letting off steam (in at times a horribly violent way!).
Aiden: What prompted you to move away from espionage fiction?
Rob: I don’t see myself as stuck in any particular genre. The Enemy books are classed as espionage but I’d only loosely put them into that category as compared to writers such as Le Carre or Silva, so writing Dark Fragments for me didn’t feel that big a leap really. I’ll write whatever I have an idea about. I’ve since drafted a follow-on to Dark Fragments which is more conventional crime fiction, with a police detective as the main character. Again that’s quite different from Carl Logan but once I had the idea the book just came out of my head really quickly, and I’ve got ideas for two more follow-ons to that. I know readers love Logan, and I hope they’ll like the new James Ryker series just as much, but I don’t feel it would be true to myself to force another ten books of that ilk out of me just for the sake of it, or to meet a perceived commercial need. Of course, if I have more ideas for Logan/Ryker, I’ll be straight onto it!
Aiden: You are now returning to the Carl Logan character in a new espionage novel, Red Cobra. What can we expect from this new series?
Rob: Readers of the Enemy series will fall straight in line with Ryker I think. It’s basically Logan mark 2, and all the elements of the first books that readers really enjoyed can be found in this series. So expect some horrible bad guys (and girls), lots of double-crossing, cross-continent settings, and of course me making Ryker’s life really, really bad for him (most of the time). After all, if I made it easy for him, there wouldn’t be a story!
Aiden: Why has Carl Logan changed his name to James Ryker?
Rob: It just felt right to me so that this series could be distinguished from the Enemy books, even though it is the same man. One reason was because Hunt for the Enemy did get to a good point of closure for Logan, so The Red Cobra had to be a distinct start point in his life. On top of that I’d already put Logan through so much in the three Enemy books that by the end of Hunt for the Enemy, it felt like it would be almost too implausible (even for thriller fiction!) to think of another connected (and concocted) scenario. I needed to start fresh with Logan in a new time and place, but make it so that readers of the Enemy series would be under no illusion that this was still the same Logan. This culminated in the idea of Logan’s new identity, James Ryker. It made absolute sense to me that Logan would have moved as far away from his life in the JIA as he could — new identity, new location, new outlook on life. But, at the same time, his history is so convoluted and twisted and murky that it had to be his past life that spoiled his new-found idyll. Which is exactly what happens in The Red Cobra.
Aiden: The title character, Red Cobra is an infamous female assassin who has been presumed dead for many years. What can you reveal about this new character?
Rob: I had to find a big hook that could draw Ryker out of his new life of solitude and safety and back into the open, placing himself and his way of life in peril in the process. The answer was The Red Cobra. I’d long toyed with the idea of writing a book about a female assassin, and had an idea in my head as to what her backstory would be (which is told in this book through flashbacks to when she was a child in post-Soviet Georgia). I can’t remember where that all came from, just a spot of daydreaming I’d done one day! Suddenly it made sense to use that character for Ryker, so I further developed her backstory to involve Ryker (or Logan). I always like the idea of delving into Logan’s past – it gives the reader (and me) a really good grasp of how he’s got to where he is today, and shows just what he is still capable of now (particularly when under threat), even though he’s trying his hardest to just be normal. So the resurfacing of The Red Cobra is the big draw that brings Ryker back into his old life (albeit begrudgingly). I knew, though, that The Red Cobra was too big a character to just be a simple adversary, so instead she’s the character who the whole story is centered on, and I believe she’s got further potential yet – possibly in a sequel, or maybe even a prequel.
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AIDEN L BAILEY is the author of the mind-bending, espionage adventure thriller novel, THE BENEVOLENT DECEPTION, described by readers as a “thought-provoking and utterly unique thrill-ride.” In 2017 he will be conducting a series of interviews with upcoming and established thriller fiction authors. Sign up to Aiden’s MAILING LIST to stay informed of new interviews as they are released and learn more about Aiden’s fiction.