back I was wondering
what had happened to Joe Finder, as there had been a two-year
he published Power
Play . I talked to Joe back last fall at Bouchercon
Baltimore when he told me that he was working on a new
series, but as he is
associated with the Association
Intelligence Officers, he was rather tight-lipped about the
project. All I
knew was that he was changing direction in his writing, from standalone
corporate thrillers to a series (but which would still retain the
world as a backdrop). Joe assured me that I would receive one of the
[advance reading copy] off the presses, as he knew how much I enjoy his
which to be fair is a mild
understatement. He also told me that it was titled Vanished
and featured corporate
I was waiting impatiently
for his US publishers Minotaur Books
and his UK publishers Headline
Publishing for a review copy,
I got word that his ground-breaker Paranoia
been sold as a film option, and then it got to No
in the Amazon Kindle Charts as an eBook. Now this is little
surprise to me
has a special place on my bookshelf, and I have written about
updating of the Faustian
pact extensively. The weeks rolled on as I waited patiently
and by some bizarre coincidence the US ARC from his editor Keith Kahla as well as the UK
his editor Vicki
Mellor at Headline arrived on the same day. Needless to say, Vanished
jumped to the top of my review pile and as soon as I had read the US
enraptured was I with the narrative that I read the UK ARC straight
noticing some minor tweaks for the British readers.
So why had I read it
over two consecutive days? Well,
here’s my thoughts -
Kicking off on a regional
airfield outside of
LA; corporate security consultant Nick Heller is on the trail of $1 BN
funds that went missing while en route to Iraq. While back in Washington, it seems that
Roger, a high powered M&A (mergers & acquisitions)
has ‘vanished’, leaving his wife Lauren in hospital
following what appears to
be a random mugging. Nick, despite his dislike of his brother, agrees
uncover what happened to Roger, due to a plea from his nephew Gabe
stepson). Utilising all the resources Heller has via his working
friends and people he meets, he spreads out his techno-web to try and
what happened to his brother. During the investigation, we realise that
was working on a project that has a sinister side. It doesn’t
help that Roger’s
wife Lauren (who also worked at Gifford Industries) is concealing something, and
perhaps she knows more
than she will reveal. Gabe,while working out his teenage angst, may
also hold a
key to the disappearance of his stepfather. The theme in Vanished is
one is what they seem, and that face-values can hide aspects of our
perhaps were better left concealed in the shadows.
Vanished is written with real
compassion, while the backdrop is peppered
with technology. The true merit of this novel is its heart, for the
resonate with humanity and Heller is a decent man concealed behind a
exterior. There is no cardboard in sight, as all the characters are
flesh, despite the deployment of plenty of silicon devices. The novel
ruthlessly so there’s not a single wasted word rattling
behind the slipstream
of the narrative. Coupled with baited hooks carefully hanging at the
each chapter, you’ll curse Finder for keeping you up into the
Another interesting aspect is the peppering of insights into how our
world interfaces dangerously with new technology.
full review here
As is customary when a book engages me, I
called up Joe
and he patiently answered my questions, providing insight into his new
adventures on Twitter, his work in
film, his foray into comics, and his love of Spanish chocolate and
Firstly, obvious question – after writing
standalones, why did you decide to start a series?
been wanting to do a series, with a
continuing character, for a while, but I couldn’t figure out
how. My editor and
publisher and agent all urged me to do a series, because readers become
loyal to series characters they like, and your readership can really
way. And whenever I’d do book signings, I’d meet
readers who would tell me they
really connected with one of my characters and wanted to know when and
if he or
she was coming back. My answer has always been, ‘Are you
kidding? I can’t put
those guys through it again! That’s
I had other reasons to hesitate,
too. I didn’t want to give up the turf that I’d
discovered in my recent books,
which reached so many readers (Paranoia
was my first book to hit the New York
Times hardcover bestseller list). I love that real-world yet
of intrigue and conspiracy within the world of the modern corporation.
modern and different and cool, to me anyway. How was a private eye
work in that world? And
I felt that
private eyes and cops and CIA agents and the like have just been done
times by so many talented writers. Private-eye series have been done to
since Hammett and Chandler,
Macdonald and John D. McDonald. There didn’t seem
to be much juice left in
that lemon. If I was going to do a series hero, it would have to be
original. Otherwise, I’d get quickly bored.
one day a couple of years ago
I ran into a longtime source of mine who’d been a
high-ranking CIA officer for
a long time. And he told me that he’d resigned from the
Agency to go into the
private sector. Now, he said, he was doing the same work –
for the CIA, for
corporations, for foreign governments, for politicians – that
he used to do
just for the CIA. But at three or four times the money. Turns out that
has been outsourcing most of its intelligence work in the last few
my friend wasn’t alone: a lot of intelligence professionals
(in the US
and the UK)
have been leaving government work to go private.
there I had it: the private
Bond, but private. An updated Travis McGee (one of my
but without the Busted Flush. And when I realised how many great plots
– whom I named Nick Heller – could get involved in,
I knew that I had something
I could happily do for years. So far, so good.
So how did
you come up with the name Nick
question. The name just came
to me. Then later one of my early readers pointed out that
‘Nick’ was the hero
Man and Claire Heller was the hero of High
maybe it was an unwitting homage to my earlier books. Or maybe I was
plagiarising myself. Plus, doesn’t Heller connote
Sounds that way to me.
How supportive were your UK
and US publishers about this change of direction?
were all, without exception,
delighted to hear it. My US and UK
agents, too. I did tell them, however, that I might do the occasional
standalone, and they were OK with that – just so long as I
kept doing Nick Heller.
I told them I’d keep writing Nick Heller books until I got
bored, because when
a writer gets bored with his literary creations, a reader can always
You alternate from first person with
Nick Heller to third person, did you find that difficult to juggle
really. Writers far more skilled than
I have written great novels with alternating points of view –
Fitzgerald did it in Tender Is The Night.
Ann Patchett, in Bel Canto,
pov within paragraphs, but it somehow works. Still, it’s
considered a bit
unorthodox, and it does bother some purists. But I think readers are
shifting narrative perspectives, just so long as it’s not
confusing. And from
my standpoint, it was necessary, because I was unwilling to give up the
narrative pleasures of a standalone novel. Here’s what I
mean: when you read a
standalone, you don’t know whether your hero is going to make
it. (Well, you
do, actually – how often is the hero killed? But on some
level you believe your
hero might die. Rationally or not.)
Also, and perhaps more important, the hero in a standalone
a dramatic arc: he’s a very different person at the end than
he is at the
beginning. Well, you can’t do that with a series character.
He can’t change
significantly in each book, right?
decided I wanted to try something a bit unusual: to introduce, in each
novel, a different protagonist through whose eyes we see the story,
third person. And Nick Heller’s story would always be told in
first person. I
haven’t seen that done all that often in a series, which was
another reason to
try it. And that way I was guaranteed to produce a thriller each time,
just a mystery.
mystery is a whodunit. A thriller is a
howdunnit. A mystery is about solving a crime. A thriller is about the
protagonist’s dangerous adventure.
Despite the high-tech backdrop, Heller
is very human behind his tough exterior, so what came first, the plot
the character. All novels are
about characters. Even when I write standalones, where the premise
I can’t start plotting or writing until I figure out the
character. Believe me,
I love a great plot, and I work awfully hard at devising clever ones.
clever plots can never substitute for a character that readers fall in
I found Vanished
a very fast
read, though it had huge insights into the darker side of the corporate
so tell us if it was as fast to write compared to the standalones?
hard to say because it took me a
while to figure out not only Nick but his biography and family. Plus I
do some extensive research into what a ‘private
spy’ does, and how. And you
know me – I love delving into secrets so that my readers get
they can’t get anywhere. I did a lot of that with Vanished. But once I had the tools
assembled, the work went pretty
The start of a series always poses an
issue vis-à-vis not allowing the backstory to slow the
backstory is drip-fed and very intriguing and integral to the plot.
father Victor is an interesting character in a Bernie
Madoff kind of
way, so tell us about how you managed to work the backstory into the
without it slowing the narrative?
you. I thought a lot about that. I
hate encountering undigested globs of backstory when I read a novel. So
of the novel as, narratively, like a movie – give the
readers/viewers only just
enough to understand and bond with Nick by titrating his story in drop
After all, this is only the first Nick Heller book. I don’t
want to give away
his whole backstory in one novel. I have to save stuff up for the next
What is it about the dark side of the
corporate world that attracts you? And makes it an exciting backdrop
started with Paranoia – I
wanted to do a classic spy novel, a la John le Carre’s
Came in From the Cold, but set it in a high-powered
but very cool
corporation. But I knew nothing about the corporate world. So I started
visiting companies like Apple Computer and Hewlett-Packard,
sorts of executives and secretaries, poking around, getting the sort of
real-world texture that anyone who actually works in a corporation
because it’s so routinised. To me, though, it was all new and
felt like an anthropologist doing field work in Fiji:
all the natives were strange and different, and their tribal customs
I realised two things. One
was that the corporate world was not at all a bland, colourless,
This is where most of us work, and most of us basically enjoy our work
fact, we spend more time at work than we do at home. Work has become
some ways. So I needed to render the appeal of it – what was
cool about it –
and not just what could be scary about it.
other thing was that, in the
corporate world, the stakes can be immense. When it comes to billions
dollars, people will do some really bad things if they have to. And
work somewhere and something really bad is going on and no
one’s telling you
anything – well, that breeds some powerful paranoia. Michael
Crichton showed this in Disclosure
and Airframe –
there’s some fantastic
intrigue in the corporate world. Anyone who thinks the corporation is a
setting doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
There was close to a two-year gap
and Vanished, can you tell us what
happened, as you have been a book-a-year author?
was because of all the research I had
to do into the work of the ‘private spy’
– what these guys really do and how
they do it. I wanted to get the world right – particularly
since I was going to
keep going back to this well, year after year. That added several
months to my
writing cycle, which I considered the start-up costs of the series. So
publishers decided to delay the launch of the series by a whole year.
them a nice long lead time to get the word out about the series so the
would be as strong as possible.
How tough is it today to balance your
writing and all the promotional work that now comes with the writing
find it quite difficult. The more
successful I get, the more travel I have to do, the more interviews,
events. And believe me, I’m not complaining –
I’m extremely grateful that
anyone cares. It’s sort of nice to think that, even in this
era of Facebook
and every author having a website and being accessible by email, people
want to meet writers. So I’m happy to do all that. I just
have to be really
careful to defend the boundaries of my writing life so that when I need
to ground, I can do it.
Are you still working the journalism
field? And what are your thoughts on the current state of print
to the economy?
several years I swore I’d never do
journalism again, since I’d become a novelist. But because of
expertise – the research I’ve done, the contacts
I’ve made – I’m increasingly
asked to write pieces. It’s so much faster these days, with
websites like The
Daily Beast and Huffington
Post, and with the
separate web presences of magazines like Time and Newsweek and Forbes.
a great hunger for content. They don’t edit your stuff to
death. (Of course,
that’s a mixed blessing: a lot of the stuff that appears on
blogs and websites
sure needs some serious editing.)
actually extremely worried
about the state of print journalism. Not just because I love
for other reasons as well; newspapers and magazines give you an
can’t get on the internet – serendipity. You come
across articles you’d never
search out on the internet. And there’s just no substitute
for the very
expensive news bureaus and in-depth investigative reporting of our
newspapers. We’re losing something extremely important, I
novel of mine is Paranoia;
and we heard that a film option has been purchased, so any details?
it has. A few years ago it was
optioned by Paramount,
developed several screenplays, including a great one (I thought) by
Tolkin, who wrote that excellent Hollywood
movie The Player.
But there was a change at the top of Paramount
and it went into turnaround as a result . . . the typical story. My
determined to avoid that happening if at all possible. So when the CEO
French movie company Gaumont contacted him and told him he was in love
that book and made a strong case for why he could actually get the
my agent asked me to meet him and talk, which I did. He wanted to make
American movie, with American stars and an American director, in
English – but
with most of the financing coming from France.
Since the biggest hurdle in making a movie is always the financing, I
that sounded pretty good to me. Then I got on the phone with the
hired a very smart guy named Barry Levy, who wrote Vantage Point,
clever and well-written movie (even if it wasn’t a big
commercial success). So
I was reassured. Then again, this being Hollywood,
it’s all a crap shoot. We’ll see.
I enjoyed with a couple of reservations
the film adaptation of your novel High
so did you meet Ashley Judd or Morgan Freeman?
sure did. The director, Carl Franklin,
invited me to
play a small part, as
a featured extra, so I did five days of shooting, met Ashley and hung
with Morgan Freeman around the crafts-services table. A very cool
act in a movie made from your own book. Very Escher-like, if you know
Is it true that Company Man
was re-titled in some countries as it was thought that
it could be confused as a business textbook?
not sure why it was retitled, as it
was in the UK,
where it was renamed No Hiding Place. But I know that
I’m always getting grumpy
letters from readers telling me that they just bought that book and
they’d already read it when it was called Company
Tell us how you’re getting on at
Headline Publishing in the UK
and their plans for the Nick Heller novels?
love Headline. Vicki Mellor, their crime
fiction editor, is super-smart and extremely savvy and enthusiastic.
done a really impressive job already, with Power
Play, the first in my contract with them. Headline, like only
a few other
publishers in the UK
(one of them being Little, Brown and the other being Transworld),
the effectiveness of the slow and steady build. They have long-range
are very strategic about it, and they fully intend to make me at least
as big a
seller in the UK
as I am in the US.
And – knock wood – I’m convinced
they’re going to do it.
Will you stick with Heller novels or do
you plan to do the occasional stand-alone?
the foreseeable future – which for me
is the book I’m writing now and the one after that, which is
starting to take
shape in my head – I’m thinking only about doing
Nick Heller books. I love
writing this character. But if an idea comes to me that won’t
work as a Nick
Heller, I’ll do a standalone.
Tell us about the comic book The Cowl
that you worked on
with Brian Azzarello and the significance to Vanished?
was a very cool story, and it started
with research. I was at Bouchercon, the annual US
mystery convention, while I was working on Vanished,
and I had a subplot in the book involving Nick’s
sixteen-year-old nephew, Gabe,
who’s secretly writing and illustrating a graphic novel. He
gives it to Nick at
one point, and it turns out to reveal something very important
boy’s father, which helps Nick solve the big overhanging
mystery of the story.
I knew nothing about how
comics are really done. So there I was at Bouchercon, talking to my
fact, when he pointed out a couple of guys from DC Comics. I went up to
and asked if they’d mind giving me a quick
‘Comics For Dummies’ course, which
they did. One of them was a senior
editor at DC Comics, Will Dennis. The other was a comic-book writer
Azzarello. I had
no idea who Brian was.
I talked to my editor later
and mentioned I had met some guy named Brian Azzarello, he said,
know who Brian Azzarello is? He’s
one of the most brilliant comic writers alive.’
He’s the author of the 100 Bullets
better known to those of us who don’t regularly read comics,
of Joker, which is twisted and dark
brilliant and is the basis of Dark Knight.
and I emailed back and
forth, and I became increasingly interested in the modern comics world.
him what he thought about the idea of taking Gabe’s fictional
comic from Vanished and turning it
into an actual
comic. And he said not only did that sound cool but he’d be
willing to write it
himself. Meanwhile, Will Dennis, the DC editor, found me an amazingly
artist who lives in Spain,
named Benito Gallego, who drew in the style of some of the Silver Age
artists like Joe
Kubert and John
Buscema. Names that mean nothing to you if you
aren’t a comics reader but
are legendary if you are. The comic that these guys produced is called The
Cowl, and it’s set in a dystopian future Washington,
shorter than an average comic
book, but I think it’s darkly brilliant.
Many thriller writers such as David
Gischler and others have worked the comics field –
so will you start
writing comics now?
plans at the moment. Azzarello and I
have been toying with an idea for a series, but we’re both
Last year you were the head judge for
ITW Thriller Award for Best Novel, tell us what work that
involved reading hundreds of novels,
which was incredibly time-consuming. There was plenty of crap, but
also a lot of really good thrillers. The problem my fellow judges and I
was how to choose among some very different sorts of thrillers
suspense, action, military, high-tech, quiet and literary, fast and
ended up choosing Robert
Harris’s novel The Ghost,
is a wonderful book, but there are were other novels equally good that
be honest. They just didn’t grip everyone in the same way.
Considering the high-tech world you
write about, it is little surprise that www.joefinder.com
is state-of-the art, and you’re now on Twitter - Joseph Finder
(JoeFinder) on Twitter,
so tell us about what you get up to on Twitter?
I started on Twitter for purely
promotional reasons, at the suggestion of my publisher. But I learned
that it’s a true community. I learn all kinds of things, get
links to articles
I ordinarily wouldn’t have come across, and I connect to some
interesting, clever people. I’ve become reluctant to be too
when I’m passing along good news that I think they might be
interested in. My
only problem with Twitter is that it’s dangerously addictive.
I saw that you Tweeted while in Spain
recently, so tell us about your travels there?
was great – I went there to do some publicity
for the Spanish edition of Power Play
but also to see Barcelona
wife and daughter, which we loved. And my Twitter friends
(‘followers’ is the
word, which sounds cultlike) recommended restaurants that turned out to
wonderful. And a number of them ordered me to try churros
and chocolate, which I’d never had before. I left Barcelona
a lot heavier as a result.
So any hints
as to what is in store for Nick Heller in book #2?
that Nick has moved to Boston,
and I’m in the middle of writing it right now and I really
hate stopping work
to do anything else.
And are you planning a tour? I know you
attended Thrillerfest in New York,
so any plans for Bouchercon Indianapolis this fall?
go to Bouchercon and Thrillerfest.
I really enjoy both of them, particularly because it gives me the
reconnect with my fellow writers, whom I love spending time with. My US
tour this year is fairly short because apparently August is a lousy
time to do
book signings. And I believe I’ll be touring the UK
in February or so for Vanished.
And what books have passed your reading
table recently that you enjoyed?
long list, far too many. The latest from
Child and Harlan
Coben, of course, which are both excellent. As are the latest
Gardner and Lisa Scottoline. Gregg Hurwitz’s Trust
No One [We Know in
Sullivan’s Triple Cross.
Berry’s The Paris Vendetta.
really good. Sean Black’s Lockdown
fast-paced and totally gripping. I know I’m going to
accidentally omit some of
my favorites. Of course, I’ve definitely left out the ones I
for your time?
Thank you for
your enthusiasm and support, Ali!
More information about Joe Finder is available here
and an excerpt
Shots Ezine in conjunction with Headline
Publishing are offering three UK /
Irish Shots Ezine readers a chance to each win a copy of Vanished. Click HERE to enter.
US Shots Ezine
lose heart, as The
in conjunction with Headline Publishing will be issuing out the same
competition for three US /
Canadian Readers to win three x US editions of Vanished, so please keep checking The Rap Sheet.
An edited version of
interview first appeared at The Rap Sheet.