Jeff Abbott is the international-bestselling, award-winning author of ten mystery and suspense novels. He is published in twenty languages and has been a bestseller in the US, the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Australia, Portugal, and other countries.
Jeff is a native Texan who graduated from Rice University with a degree in History and English, and worked as a creative director at an advertising agency before writing full-time. He lives in Austin with his wife and two sons.
His latest thriller, Trust Me, which has the same kind of breath-stopping action as Robert Ludlum's Bourne series, sets psychology grad student Luke Dantry right in the middle of 'the new battlefront in the war on terror'.
Q: You do a very good job of red herrings (in Fear and Collision as well as Trust Me) and create convoluted plots. Do you work these all out in advance or simply seize opportunities to lead readers astray as you go along?
A: Actually I think my plots are very simple — the hero usually has a pretty clear idea of what his goal is: To clear his name, or find out the truth about a terrible crime, or to get his old life back. I just throw in a lot of turns and twists. Sometimes I've thought of the bends in the road before hand, other times they arise entirely out of the character’s actions. But I think my books always follow a simple structure: give the hero a mystery of the world to solve, and a mystery of the heart. In Trust Me, Luke's mystery of the world is figuring out why he's being chased by killers and how to stop an imminent attack, and the mystery of the heart is the truth about his father's death.
Q: How do you maintain the breath-stopping pace you set for your thrillers; do you see the scenes play out in your mind's eye?
A: I am just constantly aware that the reader is giving me the gift of their time. So I want to give them every reason to continue reading. The scenes do play out in my mind, a bit like a movie, and I'm judging them by if they're true to the character, and interesting, and told in a fresh way.
Q: Your hero in Trust Me, Luke Dantry, has constant (and usually very painful) close shaves. How does this sort of action hero keep going without hospitalization?
A: You know, people went on for thousands of years without hospitals. The books often take place in a relatively short time frame (a few days) so my heroes can force themselves to struggle on. They're in the worst situation of their lives and so they have to see it through to the end.
Q: Collision and Trust Me address the grey world of international security; did you have any access to that world before writing your thrillers?
A: No, and it's not necessary. I worked in advertising; Robert Ludlum was a theater director. There is so much information that is available now - including vast amounts that have been declassified - that you can learn a great deal from reading and talking to people who work or have worked in that world.
Q: You must have done quite a few online searches in coming up with the Night Road plot for Trust Me; did you find the sort of 'crazy Internet ravings of vicious losers' Luke Dantry discovered?
A: There are over 50,000 websites with extremist or terrorist content out there; that includes blogs, forums, web sites, video sharing sites, and social networks. You can find a great deal of hate and propaganda. Because extremism thrives on socialization (no one becomes an extremist alone - Timothy McVeigh wandered the country for three years, talking face-to-face with other extremists) before pulling that truck up in front of the Murrah building) these web sites allow that socialization to take place across vast distances. So yes, you will find a lot of very angry people who look at the world only through the prism of their ideology, whatever that might be. Luke's interest in the book is that he wants to be a psychological profiler of extremists - figuring out who moves from simple anger to murderous violence.
Q: Do you have a background in psychology or was extremist psychology simply something that interested you?
A: I think every crime writer wants to know "why do people do evil things?" Much of our philosophy and religious thought has tried to answer this question. Luke's desire to understand why people do evil is the emotional heart of the book — and it is asking that question that helps him find his own enormous capacity for good.
Q: You mention a freelance activist doing Night Road style research (and also a jihadist exploiting the Internet) in your essay, "Behind the Book". Are you aware of any academics or intelligence services doing similar research?
A: The University of Arizona has been long tracking extremist and terrorist websites as part of their "Dark Web" project, searching, cataloging and archiving this sort of content so we can understand how quickly it is spreading and how terrorist use of the internet is changing. I'm sure intelligence services are doing the same.
Q: We've long been warned of the dangers of the Internet in terms of the accessibility it gives to information on topics like bomb making, but isn't it also a place that can be (to some extent at least) monitored for signs of dangerous communications?
A: The problem is that these sites are very difficult to shut down. For instance, Hamas started their own version of YouTube, including propaganda and training videos. It was run off a server in France. The FBI and the BBC (which ran a story on it) alerted the French government and the French immediately shut the site down. A few days later it was up and running off a site in Russia. The Russians shut it down, it's popped back up, running off a rogue server. There was a young man in East London, codenamed Irhabi007 "Terrorist 007", (so we can assume he's a James Bond fan), who was basically the mouthpiece for al-Qaeda on the web. He managed to move his online presence several times, including finding corporate servers with security holes. He was in London and for a while he was running a terrorist website off compromised servers in Arkansas and California. It's like a hydra; cut off one head, two grow back.
Q: Trust Me would make an adrenaline rush of a movie; is one likely?
A: We've had some inquiries, we'll have to see.
Q: Your ending hints at a sequel; is one planned and what are you working on next?
A: I've had a lot of readers asking to see Luke again; but right now I'm working on a new novel, which will be the first in a new thriller series, about an ex-CIA agent who owns bars around the world.Find out more about all of the author's exciting books, and read his bio and blog at JeffAbbott.com.
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