Obviously, action thrillers are sort of my thing. Guys like Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, Daniel Silva, and Ben Coes are some of my favorite authors. . . but so is C.J. Box, the king of cowboy noir. In that same vein, Craig Johnson is also really good, and Ace Atkins has really taken his series to another level as well. As far as new writers who write similar stories, you won’t find a better author than J. Todd Scott. I loved his debut novel, The Far Empty (2016), and was blown away when I dove into my review copy of his latest book, High White Sun.
J. Todd Scott has a gritty writing style that lends itself quite nicely to the genre he works in. And the guy really knows his stuff too! When he’s not writing crime thrillers, he’s busy with his day job — as a senior supervisory agent in a large DEA division. So he’s not just writing and making things up as he goes — Scott really lives this life, and that bleeds through in his writing.
While his actual writing style is more similar to Atkins’ than Box’s, Scott has done a fine job developing his characters over his first two novels. Basically, if you like any of the authors mentioned above, you’ll probably love his stuff.
Tomorrow, High White Sun hits bookstores, and I was excited when J. Todd Scott agreed to go on the record and take part in our Five Questions segment ahead of its release. See the Q&A below, then keep on scrolling to read more about the book, which you can order here.
HIGH WHITE SUN: Five Questions with J. Todd Scott
TRBS: You write with a lot of been-there-done-that authenticity because of what you do for a living. Could you give me a brief timeline of your career and explain to readers what you do?
Scott: “I started with DEA as a ‘street agent’ in the mid-nineties in Los Angeles, working undercover and investigating Colombian drug traffickers, street gangs, Mexican cartels…you name it. Over the next two decades, I transferred to several other offices overseas and domestically (with about ten years of that spent on the Southwest border) and moved my way up the ranks. Currently, I’m a senior supervisory agent in a large DEA division out west, responsible for about a hundred other agents and task force officers. I’m not on the street as much anymore, but I still wear a badge and gun every day and direct high-level investigations. I also put in a lot of long hours every week and have to make time to get my books done.”
TRBS: How does the real-life stuff that you do every day at work influence your writing? Also, is there anything from your job that you purposely don’t want to write about?
Scott: “I’ve said it before, but the DNA of my long law enforcement career is in everything I write. I was working in Texas at the time I was writing both The Far Empty and High White Sun, so those books are set there (plus, I fell in love with the area). Although I don’t write about DEA specifically, you can’t craft stories about drug smuggling, cartels, and the Border, and not talk about the agency, so I do. All the ‘badge and gun’ stuff is drawn from my own experiences, and the way my fictional cartels operate on the Border reflects the reality I observed and dealt with. However, there are numerous investigative techniques and operations I can’t write about since my books are vetted by DEA before publication.”
TRBS: Chris Cherry is a really great character who, I think, has grown a lot from book one (The Far Empty) to book two. How long was he sort of in your head before you actually sat down to write him, and is he based on someone you know or totally fictional?
Scott: “Totally fictional, although I was just as ‘green’ as Chris Cherry when I joined DEA. I had no prior law enforcement experience, no military background, and no one in my immediate family did, either. Chris didn’t exist in my head until Sheriff Ross (The Far Empty) did, and I created Chris to be a natural counterpoint to that character, who’s portrayed as a legendary and fearless lawman. Over subsequent books I want readers to watch Chris ‘grow into’ his badge and gun; to see him make mistakes and struggle and learn what it means to carry that sort of authority and responsibility. I never conceived of Chris as a ‘superhero,’ but I definitely think he’s heroic.”
TRBS: In your new book, Chris sort of faces off with the Aryan Brotherhood. How did you come up with the plot idea for this book?
Scott: “I’d actually wanted to write about an undercover agent infiltrating a white supremacist organization for some time, and knew that the FBI and DEA had jointly worked a long-term ABT (Aryan Brotherhood of Texas) case, so I had a bunch of notes and research, before realizing that part of the story had written itself – I already had Chris Cherry and Murfee, Texas, and what better protagonist, or better locale, to stage a bloody confrontation with some hardened gang members? The rest of the story wrote itself. I think it’s got a different ‘feel’ and scope from The Far Empty, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I didn’t want to write the same story again.”
TRBS: Lastly, now that your book is coming out, what’s next for you? Will you take some time off or start working on the next book right away?
Scott: “I never take time off; I’m always working on something else! The third Chris Cherry (Big Bend) book is already done. It’s titled This Side of Night and is due out next year. I’m stepping away from Chris for the book after that, a stand-alone crime novel tentatively titled Thirteen Days (I can’t wait to introduce people to Will Lucas and Naomi Wade). That one’s done as well, and just sitting with my editor. I’m deep in another book right now that I think is pretty damn good, but we’ll see, and then I’ll be turning my attention back to Chris Cherry. I’ve got that fourth Big Bend book plotted and ready to go – it’s never easy being the sheriff of Big Bend County…”
Even though the corrupt Sheriff Ross is dead and gone, outlaws still walk free, peace comes at a price, and redemption remains hard to find in this fiery and violent novel from the author of The Far Empty.
In the wake of Sheriff Stanford Ross’s death, former deputy Chris Cherry–now Sheriff Cherry–is the new “law” in Big Bend County, yet he still struggles to escape the shadow of that infamous lawman. As Chris tries to remake and modernize his corrupt department, bringing in new deputies, including young America Reynosa and Ben Harper–a hard-edged veteran homicide detective now lured out of retirement–he finds himself constantly staring down a town unwilling to change, friends and enemies unable to let go of the past, and the harsh limits of his badge.
But it’s only when a local Rio Grande guide is brutally and inexplicably murdered, and America and Ben’s ongoing investigation is swept aside by a secretive federal agent, that the novice sheriff truly understands just how tenuous his hold on that badge really is. And as other new threats rise right along with the unforgiving West Texas sun, nothing can prepare Chris for the high cost of crossing dangerous men such as John Wesley Earl, a high-ranking member of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas and the patriarch of a murderous clan that’s descended on Chris’s hometown of Murfee; or Thurman Flowers, a part-time pastor and full-time white supremacist hell-bent on founding his violent Church of Purity in the very heart of the Big Bend.
Before long, Chris, America, and Ben are outmaneuvered, outnumbered, and outgunned–inexorably drawn into a nearly twenty-year vendetta that began with a murdered Texas Ranger on a dusty highway outside of Sweetwater, and that can only end with fire, blood, and bullets in Murfee’s own sun-scorched streets…
Special thanks to J. Todd Scott for agreeing to participate and for providing such great answers!
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck is the editor-in-chief of The Real Book Spy, and one of the thriller genre’s most well-recognized critics. He currently lives in southwest Michigan with his wife and their five children. For more information, make sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook!