Last year, Jack Carr turned in what might just be the best debut political thriller since Vince Flynn published Term Limits in 1997. Now, he’s set to release his highly-anticipated sophomore novel, True Believer.
Picking up moments after the ending of the Terminal List, former Navy SEAL James Reece is one of the most wanted men in America. Escaping to sea, Reece spends months floating on a yacht, eventually winding his way to Mozambique, where he’s taken in by the family of an old SEAL team member and put to work leading a hired force to help slow down poaching efforts in the region. What Reece doesn’t know, though, is that back home, a number of terrorist attacks have rocked the West, and the Central Intelligence Agency has locked onto one person of interest—a man with a connection to Reece.
With a presidential pardon in hand, Reece agrees to come work for the CIA, and it’s up to him to figure out who, exactly, is behind the attacks . . . and how to stop them before any more innocent lives are lost.
Carr, a former Navy SEAL himself, delivers the kind of been-there-done-that authenticity that’ll have readers running and ducking for cover. And while his action sequences are already among the very best in the business, Carr continues to flash serious writing chops too, and though he’s just two books in, his stuff has already reached must-read status—and if you enjoyed his first book, just wait until you see what he has in store this time around.
After several interviews with him last year, Carr again agreed to partake in our Five Questions segment just ahead of the release of True Believer, and I asked him everything from what sort of research he had to do for this book to what’s next for James Reece in 2020. Check out his answers below, and make sure to pick up your copy of True Believer, available in bookstores July 30, 2019.
TRBS: After the incredible response from your debut, The Terminal List, this book was easily one of the most anticipated action thrillers of 2019. How did you come up with the plot details for True Believer, and did you go into it thinking you had to top yourself with book two?
Carr: “I started writing True Believer before I had even submitted The Terminal List to Emily Bestler Books at Atria/Simon & Schuster. I started writing it while I was still finishing up edits on the first novel, prior to submission, because I always knew that I would write at least two books. There are too many stories of authors whose first works don’t hit who keep going, and it’s their second, third or fourth books that take off. If John Grisham had stopped after writing A Time to Kill, we would never have had the pleasure of reading The Firm, The Pelican Brief, or The Client, and he’d still be practicing law.
“With the success of The Terminal List, and as I continued to work on True Believer, I was cognizant of the fact that I didn’t want to ‘return to the well’ and just re-set a revenge thriller on an international stage. This second outing needed to show a growth in scope and in the development of the protagonist, James Reece. I knew it would be disingenuous to deal with the trauma of the first novel in a paragraph or two and then race into the action and intrigue of what I call a novel of violent redemption. James Reece needed to learn to live again. He needed a mission. He needed purpose. These are the same issues that face veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as they return home, transition to the private sector, and embrace life on the home front. I was able to tap into those personal experiences and apply the lessons and emotions behind them to this fictional narrative.”
TRBS: This book takes place all over the world. What sort of research did you have to do before actually sitting down to write, and did you visit any of the locations featured in the story?
Carr: “I had the basis for the novel early on. It was inspired by my experience with an Iraqi officer in Baghdad in 2006. We were both working with a sensitive covert action program and he was a standout battlefield leader. Years later, I received word through the grapevine that he had disappeared. Taking my experience with him during a very chaotic time in Iraq, coupling that with word of his disappearance, and then morphing them both into the plot of a fictional political thriller formed the foundation for True Believer.
“The classic hero’s journey maintains similar elements across cultures. One of those is that a reluctant hero is also in the midst of a transformation. After the first novel, Reece needed to heal, to take a breath and learn to live again. He finds his purpose in the wilds of Mozambique. I traveled to the exact area where Reece finds refuge shortly after I retired from the military and spent time in the camp where Reece begins the next phase of his journey. I was in the middle of my own transition, leaving behind life in the SEAL Teams to pursue my passion for writing. Elements of that transition find their way into the pages of True Believer. The professional hunters, trackers, trucks, rifles, planes, landscape, camp, poaching situation, Chinese influence, and even the local beer, all add color to the story.
“Before joining the Navy, I had been fortunate enough to spend time in another location detailed in True Believer, a location the Department of Defense curiously found grounds to redact, so I’ll leave it up to the reader to see if they can figure out exactly where Reece’s next stop after Mozambique may be… I’d also spent time in Odessa, Ukraine which ends up featured prominently in the novel. There are just certain elements of local flavor you can only get by putting boots on the ground.”
TRBS: Already, you’ve been compared to some of the all-time greats. What is it like being compared to the likes of Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, Stephen Hunter, etc?
Carr: “It is humbling beyond words. I’ve wanted to write political thrillers as long as I can remember. My two callings in life have been to serve my country in the military and then to write thrillers. To have done one and to be doing the other is an honor I find difficult to describe. I grew up immersed in the pages of books by David Morrell, Nelson DeMille, Mark Olden, J.C. Pollock, Tom Clancy, A.J. Quinnell, and Louis L’Amour, authors whose work often contained protagonists with backgrounds in special operations or intelligence, backgrounds I aspired to one day attain in the profession of arms. Back in the days before the internet, much of my information on the military came from those novels, and their authors became my early professors in the art of storytelling. Later I devoured everything by Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, Stephen Hunter, and Daniel Silva. I always knew that after my time in service I’d set my sights on my next goal of becoming an author. To be compared to my heroes in the publishing world never fails to astonish and humble me. I feel extremely fortunate.”
TRBS: When you aren’t writing, what do you like to do?
Carr: “This next chapter in life is about taking care of my family. They sacrificed a lot over the last twenty years when my focus was on the Team and the mission, so it was time for the pendulum to swing back towards them as we travel forward together. After the military, we moved from the beaches of Southern California to the mountains of Utah and are raising our kids in a ski town, so we spend as much time outdoors together as we possibly can. Our children won’t be young forever and we want to enjoy this time we have under the same roof, raising them to be self-reliant, compassionate citizens and good inheritors of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.”
TRBS: Lastly, what is next for you and James Reece moving forward?
Carr: “I am currently putting the final touches on my third novel and I’ll start the fourth in August. When one book is put to bed, I find that I’m completely switching focus to what’s next. This third book is one I’ve been wanting to write since the 6th grade when I was first introduced to Richard Connell’s classic tale, The Most Dangerous Game. Book three pays homage to that enduring tale of hunter and hunted while exploring the dark side of man. I could not be more excited for what’s on the horizon.”
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.