Given the current political climate, it would be completely understandable if you were not interested in reading a spy thriller with political overtones. But in the following email interview with writer Jeff Gunhus, he not only discusses what inspired and influenced his new political spy thriller, Silent Threat (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), but also why it’s intentionally non-partisan.
I always like to begin with a quick overview of the plot. So, what is Silent Threat about, and when and where is it set?
C.I.A. assassin Mara Roberts knew that the Agency would kill her father when got out of prison, but she’s surprised when they ask her to the job. In the course of the operation, she discovers her nephew has been kidnapped by a shadowy organization called Omega and that her father holds the key to getting him back. They declare an uneasy truce, working together to form an unstoppable father-daughter assassin team, slowly rebuilding their relationship in the process. But in this business, nothing is what it seems, and trust can get you killed.
Where did you get the idea for Silent Threat and how did that idea evolve as you wrote this novel?
The idea started with the father / daughter relationship. I wanted to place them in a situation where their relationship was so terrible that she would gladly welcome the assignment to kill him. What caused that to happen, and how two people could come back from that edge, became the puzzle to solve. The world of assassins and spy craft creates the fertile ground where I could play with deception and high stakes that fed directly into their relationship.
It sounds like Silent Threat is a politically-motivated spy thriller. Is that how you’d describe it, or are there other genres at work in this story as well?
It’s certainly a spy thriller, and living in D.C. means politics enters into the pages. However, it acknowledges the political animals in this town without taking a side. Readers fatigued by the 24-hour news cycle won’t be hit over the head with a political point of view. At its heart, the family relationships take center stage throughout the story, while still keeping the breakneck pace of a thriller.
Does that mean that, in deciding how the president would be portrayed, you didn’t base him on a real president?
I always joke that the presidents I write in my books always come out in the first draft like Jed Bartlett from The West Wing, an aspirational leader who is intelligent, well-spoken, even if flawed. In the second draft, they become their own person, but that first draft is always Bartlett.
Silent Threat is, of course, not your first novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Silent Threat but not on anything else you’ve written?
Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series influenced the work. Ludlum was a master at layering deceptions upon deceptions in a way that kept his readers guessing without the plot becoming overly convoluted. Lee Child’s Reacher books were also instructive on how to create characters and stakes readers care about without it always having to be a bomb or the end of the world hanging in the balance. Reacher’s small-town conflicts hold as much interest and tension as an international plot to destroy society. That’s a special skill Lee Child possesses and good lesson for thriller writers everywhere.
What about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or video games that had a big impact on either what you wrote in Silent Threat or how you wrote it?
I’m a fan the most recent Mission: Impossible movies and the new Bond films. The trend in both these series have been to have the protagonists more emotionally connected to the world they inhabit and aware of the repercussions on the people they care for around them. That emotional resonance makes the action pack a greater punch.
Yes, this will be a series. I wrote Silent Threat so it could be a stand-alone novel, so it reads as a fully contained story, but Scott and Mara Roberts were too much fun to write not to keep exploring their world.
So how many books will this series ultimately encompass, when might the other books be out, and what are they going to be called?
The second book is already written and will come out later 2020 or early 2021. It’s called Imminent Threat and it’s one of the favorite books I’ve written. A first book requires some heavy lifting of establishing character, while the second books allows space for a deeper dive.
We’ll see how the books connect with readers to determine whether to keep going or not. There are endless possibilities with these two characters, so I hope people enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.
Earlier I asked if Silent Threat had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. Has there been any interest in adapting Silent Threat into a movie, show, or game?
Silent Threat would be great on the screen, big or small. There hasn’t been talks about it yet, but a father / daughter relationship in the context of political intrigue and non-stop action seems a perfect set-up. There’s so much great work being done in television right now, so I’d prefer for it to be a series where there is more time to develop the depth of the characters.
And if that happened, who would you want them to cast in the main roles?
Scott Roberts in my head was a combination of [Glass‘] Bruce Willis’s wry sense of humor and [Hobbs & Shaw‘s] Jason Statham’s physicality. Mara is a bit harder, but there are many terrific women who can carry an action film and connect emotionally with an audience. Alicia Vikander [Jason Bourne] and Kristen Stewart [Charlie’s Angels] are two that come it mind.
Finally, if someone enjoys Silent Threat, which of your other novels would you suggest they check out next and why that one?
Killer Within features another strong female protagonist, Allison McNeil. She tracks a serial killer in the streets of Annapolis while fighting old ghosts from her days at the U.S. Naval Academy. I like that one because of the story and characters, but also because it’s right in my backyard and I enjoy sharing Annapolis and the Chesapeake Bay with the reader.