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Author of the Month

Name: Zoe Sharp

First Novel: Killer Instinct

Most Recent Book: Die Easy

'...I have waited a year for a great book, only for a brilliant one to be delivered...'

Synopsis:
In the sweltering heat of Louisiana, former Special Forces soldier turned bodyguard, Charlie Fox, faces her toughest challenge yet. Professionally, she’s at the top of her game, but her personal life is in ruins. Her lover, bodyguard Sean Meyer, has woken from a gunshot-induced coma with his memory in tatters. Piecing together the relationship they once shared is proving harder for him than re-learning the intricacies of the close-protection business.

Working with Sean again was never going to be easy for Charlie, either, but a celebrity fundraising event in aid of still-ravaged areas of New Orleans should have been the ideal opportunity for them both to take things nice and slow. Finding themselves thrust into the middle of a war zone makes it nigh on impossible. When an ambitious robbery explodes into a deadly hostage situation, the motive may have far greater complexity than simple greed. Somebody has a major score to settle and Sean is part of the reason, but he can’t remember why.

When Charlie finds herself facing a nightmare from her own past, she realises she can’t rely on Sean to watch her back. This time, she’s got to fight it out on her own. One thing’s for sure—no matter how overwhelming the odds stacked against her, Charlie Fox isn’t going to die easy …

Review:
I first heard about the plot for this book last year when I interviewed Zoë Sharp at the Harrogate Crime Festival in 2011. It is loosely based on the film ‘Die Hard’ and such was Zoë’s enthusiastic telling of the plot it made me want to watch the film for the ninety-fifth time. Instead of a skyscraper though, the main action takes place on a Mississippi paddle steamer. I counted three direct homage’s to the film along with a couple of indirect ones.

Leaving aside everything I’ve already said ‘Die Easy’ is a complex multi-dimensional action thriller which works on more levels than a lift in the Empire State Building. You have the attention to detail of the bodyguard’s role, action sequences worthy of any great thriller, the blast from the past and a modern day romance faltering on rocky shores. Throw in a few red herrings and some double crosses and what you get is an exceptional novel.

The effect of Charlie and Sean’s failing relationship leeches through into their professional life and the back-story coming back to haunt her gives Charlie a torrid time emotionally while creating a playground for Sharp to manipulate her characters. And what fun she has had in that playground! Charlie and Sean are put further through the wringer with every passing chapter. Baptiste, Autumn, Morton, O’Day and Dyer are all fine additions to the cast and are well drawn but never are they allowed to steal any of Fox’s thunder.

The plot is very intricate for such an action led novel and the different strands all interweave to keep the reader guessing on many different levels.

To sum up ‘Die Easy’ I would have to say that I have waited a year for a great book, only for a brilliant one to be delivered with all the style and panache you would expect from Sharp and Fox.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) In ‘Die Easy’ the relationship between Charlie and Sean took on a far greater role than your previous novels. How did you manage to keep this sub-plot going without the pace suffering?
For me, the relationships between the characters is a vital part of the series. Without that investment in the characters, you may as well be watching a game of chess—intricate and fascinating, yes, but not particularly involving on an emotional level. And so much of Charlie and Sean’s relationship hinges on how they react when the chips are down, so it seemed natural to interweave that with the action of the story.
2) Another strong theme of the novel is the fact that much of New Orleans still hasn’t been rebuilt since Hurricane Katrina and many people are still without their homes. Is this really the case or artistic license?
I’d really love to be able to say I made it all up, but sadly that’s just not the case. I was struck when I visited New Orleans a couple of years ago how much of it was still lying derelict. Not the tourist areas, but the poorer areas, certainly. It was a sorry sight and the main reason for setting ‘Die Easy’ here was to highlight the sense of abandonment I found. Anyone wanting to make a donation to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina should check out the American Institute of Philanthropy website on the best charities involved.
3) The idea of former tormentors appearing back into Charlie’s professional life adds yet another dimension to the novel. How did you keep all the threads going without ever getting into a tangle?
Well, I’m delighted you think I did manage to keep everything straight. I always knew I wanted to bring back at least one of the men who attacked Charlie when she was in the army, to put her face to face with him and see what she would do. This was especially the case after the events of ‘Fifth Victim’: Charlie Fox book nine, where she crossed the line of how far she was prepared to go for justice. With this new sense of moral ambiguity about her, now was an ideal time to introduce one of her former tormentors into the story. And it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that she would run into him again. The choice of employment for ex-military personnel is quite cliquey and close-knit.

As for not getting into a tangle, I do work on the storyline a good deal before I begin writing, and I keep a summary as I go along so I can try to make sure I’m keeping it all straight in my head. Sometimes it even works …
4) There are several references to the film ‘Die Hard’ and possibly some to the book by Roderick Thorp. How many other references were discarded during the writing process and can you give us some examples?
Well, I have to confess I’ve never read the Roderick Thorp book, which is perhaps just as well. Taking a visual idea like a movie and transforming it into a different story is one thing. It would have seemed wrong to me to take someone else’s novel and write my own take on that. In fact, once I’d decided to write ‘Die Easy’ I deliberately didn’t watch ‘Die Hard’ again. I wanted the themes and feelings the movie had invoked in me when I’d last seen it, not to copy any of the reality.

And if there was a hint of Alan Rickman lurking in the back of my subconscious when I was writing the bad guy, I tried to keep him firmly in check.
5) You have had Charlie travel around the US in your novels with each taking place in a new location. Will she ever travel outside of America?
Funny you should mention that, because I have it in mind to bring her across to Europe for the next book and to have much of the action take place there. I already have the basic shape and idea of CF#11, but I’ve a couple of winter projects to get through before I start work on that one!
6) Your short story ‘Across the Broken Line’ is written with a very fractured timeline. How hard was this to do, and what challenges did it throw up?
Ah, it drove me mad, if I’m honest. I originally intended to use that story as the final one in the e-thology- ‘Fox Five’: the Charlie Fox short story collection. But when I started putting it together I just couldn’t get the fractured timeline to work, and that was the aspect of the story I most wanted to explore. So, I put it aside and wrote ‘Truth And Lies’ instead for the collection. Having let ‘Across The Broken Line’ sit and ferment for a while, when I came back to it the whole thing fell into place much more readily.
7) You have written many critically acclaimed short stories as well as novels. Which medium gives you most satisfaction as an author?
I’m just a storyteller, and some stories need more space to evolve than others. I do like to use short stories to try out new characters, though. In some ways, the character has to come across faster and stronger in a short story than in a novel, so it’s a useful place to experiment. And I like to try out different forms, too. The short story I did for the MWA’s ‘Vengeance’ anthology was a dual-viewpoint tale in both second and third person, present tense. A lot easier to try something like that out over a few thousand words than a hundred thousand.
8) What are you currently writing?
I’m doing edits on a supernatural thriller I wrote earlier in the year, and then editing a standalone crime thriller called ‘The Blood Whisperer’, which should be out before the end of the year. After that I have the first in a new series to write, and, of course, the next Charlie Fox. Oh, and the first in a trilogy to finish as well. No rest for the wicked …
9) Which of the Charlie Fox was easiest and hardest to write, and why?
They’re all the most difficult. The day I find this easy is the day I give up, because if it’s not difficult, then I’m not trying hard enough.
10) If you had a gun to your head (metaphorically) who in your mind’s eye would play Charlie Fox?
Put down the gun or lose your fingers, Graham. Actually, I keep getting asked this question and I’m never sure of the answer. Gina Carano possibly? She certainly has the physical skills to give Charlie that edge. I’m open to suggestions. Now, seriously—put down the gun. Last chance …
11) What would you say would be your top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
Well, the first has to be ‘The Misfortunes of Mr. Teal’ by Leslie Charteris, later published as ‘The Saint in London’. This was a collection of three novellas given to me by my grandmother in 1979 and was my first introduction to crime novels. I loved the jaunty attitude of Simon Templar, alias The Saint, and the tense plotting, taking in everything from loose wild panthers to aerial dogfights and hidden submarines. But the thing I loved most about them was the unconventional hero, just to prove the ‘villain’ doesn’t always have to be the bad guy.

After that, ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ by Jack Higgins was one of my all-time favourites, and not simply for the story of a group of German paratroopers sent into England to kidnap Churchill during the Second World War. Again, Higgins provokes sympathy for the ‘enemy’ more than the home team. I like to play with preconceptions in my books, and this was probably the start of that.

And finally, ‘The Day of the Jackal’ by Frederick Forsyth. Another classic that shouldn’t really work, but does. It has a slow start, some ponderous sections, and in theory the tension of the climax should be entirely negated by the fact that history records no successful assassination of General De Gaulle. But the book does work, and does so brilliantly.