If you’re looking for a great new author to add to your reading rotation, check out Andrew Warren.
I first discovered his work a few weeks ago and was captivated by his Thomas Caine books, which read like a cross between Mark Greaney and Barry Eisler, with a bit of Steve Berry thrown in there for good measure.
Readers first meet Caine in Tokyo Black, where the former government assassin is living quietly off the grid in Thailand, after he was betrayed by the agency who made him a killer to begin with. Things ramp up after Caine is framed by some local gangsters for a crime he didn’t commit, and suddenly finds himself staring at a lengthy prison sentence—unless, of course, he agrees to take a dangerous mission in Tokyo on behalf of the CIA, who dangles a get-out-of-jail-free card in front of him.
Caine returns in book two, Red Phoenix, and then again in Fire and Forget, Warren’s most action-packed thriller to date. All three books are available in paperback, e-book, and even audiobook—but Kindle readers are especially fortunate this month because the author just released a three-book box set that features the entire heart-pounding series.
Just prior to releasing the box set of his first three Caine thrillers, I caught up with Andrew Warren, who agreed to go on the record for our Five Questions segment, and I asked him about everything from when he first knew he wanted to be a writer to what’s next for Thomas Caine moving forward. Read the full Q&A below, then make sure to pick up Warren’s box set, now available.
TRBS: First and foremost, let’s talk about this box set you’re releasing. What does it include, and can you give new readers a bit of background on your character and series?
Warren: This set collects the first three books in the Thomas Caine thriller series: Tokyo Black, Red Phoenix, and Fire and Forget. It’s the first time they’ve ever been bundled together, and I can’t wait for new readers to get a chance to read the whole series at once.
These three books introduce readers to betrayed assassin Thomas Caine, a former Paramilitary Officer in the CIA’s Special Operations Group. When we first meet Caine, he’s a bit of a cypher. His past experiences have left him a bitter and cynical shell of a man, but he’s driven by an inner sense of guilt, and a desire for atonement. Despite overwhelming odds, he always seems to do the right thing in the end. But every now and then, we get a glimpse of his dark side… and Caine can be a pretty scary guy when he wants to be.
Betrayed and left for dead by his CIA masters, Caine has managed to survive off the grid, operating as a petty criminal in Pattaya, Thailand. But when he accidentally pops up on the radar of an old friend at the agency, it sets off a chain reaction that sends him across the world battling organized crime, terrorist cults, NSA corruption, and even an all-out military coup.
Travel is a big influence on my stories, and these books take readers to exciting, gritty locations such as Tokyo, Latvia, Beijing, Shanghai, and East Africa. I’ve been to some of these places myself. For others, I had to do some research. But I did my best to capture the unique mood and vibe of each location, and give my readers their own ‘virtual vacation’ when they get into the books.
TRBS: What were you doing before you were a writer, and when did you decide you wanted to sit down and pen your first book?
Warren: I was working in the entertainment industry as a post-production vendor when I started Tokyo Black. It was kind of a low point for me, in terms of career, relationships, life, etc. So I decided writing this book would be my escape hatch.
One night, I bolted up in bed, and my brain was just overflowing with ideas. I had visited Japan a few years earlier and loved it. I really want to go back, but it wasn’t an option at that time. I realized I could set the book there, as a kind of ‘virtual vacation’. I loved action-packed spy thrillers with strong main characters, like the Gray Man series, and Eisler’s Rain books. Tokyo seemed like the perfect locale for a story in that vein.
As soon as I made that creative decision, everything just fell into place. Caine’s character and appearance popped into my head, along with his shadowy past. The villains, real-world locations I wanted to use… even the book’s title all came from that one night of brainstorming. And before it was done, I had a pretty good idea what I wanted to do in books 2 & 3 as well.
TRBS: What is your writing process like? Are you an outliner? Do you keep a strict writing schedule?
Warren: I do use an outline, but I keep it pretty loose. Things tend to deviate wildly once I start writing. Characters take on a life of their own, action scenes explode into unforeseen territory… that’s where the really good stuff comes from, right? When things take an unexpected turn.
For example, in Tokyo Black’s outline, just about every secondary character was supposed to die at one point or another. But as I wrote the book, the characters grew in my mind, and became so much more interesting to me… I couldn’t kill them all off! (Well, maybe one or two…)
One thing I am strict about is my writing schedule. When I’m working on a book, I write Monday through Friday, and sometimes on the weekends as well. I write in the morning through the afternoon, and I set a word count I want to hit. Then I just have to stick to it. Sometimes those last hundred words take me more time to get down than the first couple thousand! But I don’t know any other way to get it done… you just have to muscle through.
live and write by two mottos. One is from Steven King – “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” The other is from Raymond Chandler – “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.” They’ve both served me well so far.
TRBS: Who are some of your favorite authors, and what are a few of your all-time favorite books?
Warren: I used to be a voracious reader, and I probably have too many favorite authors to name. I don’t have time to read as much as I would like anymore, but there are still a few authors I make sure to follow.
I always come back to the master, Ian Fleming. I was a huge Bond fan growing, and Fleming’s writing has such a grand sweep… The descriptions, the little details, they really transport you to another place, and that’s something I try to do with my writing as well. My dad had a bunch of the old James Bond Signet edition paperbacks on this bookshelf, the ones with the bright colored covers. I can still remember the smell of those pages as I read them cover to cover. The opening lines of Casino Royale are timeless, in my opinion.
I mentioned this above, but I’m an enormous fan of Barry Eisler. John Rain is such a well-developed character, and no one writes about Japan like Barry. We have very different writing styles, but we obviously share some interests, and he was a huge influence on me. In fact, I just read his latest book, The Killer Collective, and I loved it… it’s like The Avengers for espionage fans!
Another big influence was Mark Greaney… his Gray Man series showed me that you could write big, cinematic-style action scenes, and still maintain an aura of gritty realism. Mark pulls off wild action sequences incredibly well, and he inspired me to bring my own style of mayhem to the page.
And finally, for dialog and atmosphere, I don’t think you can beat Raymond Chandler. I live in Los Angeles, and his books perfectly capture the strange, dark corners of La La Land, as seen through a noir lens. A lot of Caine’s taciturn nature and cynicism can be traced back to Chandler’s Marlowe books… The Long Goodbye is absolutely epic.
Those are just a few. I’ve also been influenced by Steven King, William Gibson, Robert E. Howard, Haruki Murakami… I could go on forever!
TRBS: Lastly, what other projects do you have in the works, and what’s next for Thomas Caine moving forward?
Warren: I’m in the outline stages of Caine #4 as we speak. I took some time off to work on a couple side projects, but I can’t wait to lose myself in Caine’s world again. Like I said, things always change as I write, but my plan is to set this new book primarily in Vietnam, with some action in Singapore and the US as well. I’ve been to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), and Hanoi is one of my favorite spots in the world… Beautiful scenery, fascinating history, incredible food… So much atmosphere! I knew as soon as I visited that I would have to set a book there, and I’ve just been waiting for the right story.
I don’t want to give too much away, but I expect this book to tie up some loose ends with an antagonist Caine has been chasing for some time now. And hopefully, set up some future storylines as well. I might even reveal a bit about Caine’s former military service. But no promises… The ongoing speculation about Caine’s mysterious background is a lot of fun for me to write, and I’d hate to spoil it.
After that, we’ll just have to see. I’d like to do a spinoff series someday, featuring one of the characters from Red Phoenix. I did a poll of my readers recently, asking what book they would like to see from me next. After another Caine book, that project was the #1 answer. But who knows what ideas will grab a hold of my imagination between now and then?
If you had told me ten years ago that I would have written and published the books I have, I probably would have thought you were crazy… but secretly, I would have been overjoyed at the idea. And that’s how I feel now, every day.
Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.