A lie, a long-ago affair, a dark desire- everyone has secrets they take to the grave. No one knew that better than FBI Special Agent Smoky Barrett. But what secret was a very private young woman keeping that led her to her very public murder? And what kind of killer was so driven and so brazenly daring that he’d take her life on a commercial airliner thirty thousand feed in middair, a killer so accomplished that he’d leave only a small souvenir behind?
These are the questions that bring Smoky and her handpicked team of experienced manhunters from L.A. to the autumn chill of Washington, D.C., by order of the FBI director himself – and at the special request of a high-powered grieving D.C. mother.
As a mother, Smoky knows the pain of losing a child – it nearly killed her once before. As a cop with her own twisted past, she takes every murder personally, which is both her greatest strength and her only weakness. Brilliant, merciless, righteous, the killer Smoky is hunting this time is on his own personal mission, whose cost in innocent human lives he’s only begun to collect. For in his eyes no one is innocent; everyone harbors a secret sin, including Smoky Barrett.
Soon Smoky will have to confront a flawless killer who knows her flaws with murderous intimacy.
MEET CODY MCFAYDEN
My third novel, The Darker Side, is a thriller. It has all the thriller elements needed (in my opinion) to make a good book in that genre. But it also has a theme all its own, one that has fascinated me since I was a young boy: truth.
Normally, the search for truth is considered a good thing. Philosophers do it. Priests do it. Men go to mountaintops and meditate for ten years, through rain and snow, to find it. In The Darker Side, my serial killer is on a reputed search for truth, but penalty he levies for lying is death. Like many before him, he has all kinds of rationales and good reasons for this, but in the end, it’s just the murder that matters, not his message.
There is of necessity, since we’re dealing with truth, an exploration of religion in this book, and this was probably the most difficult part of writing this particular novel. It was important to me for the reader not to be able to figure out where I stand on the subject of God and faith and church by the end of the novel. If I failed at that, it would mean I was no longer telling a story, but was, instead, preaching. Rest assured, I have my opinions about all these subjects, but I’m writing thrillers right now, not essays, or sermons. All in all, I’m happy with how that turned out. Everyone gets fair shrift.
Truth, religion, the search for anything, can be either a blessing or a weapon depending on the hands that hold it. You see both sides of that in The Darker Side. My heroine is a long-lapsed Catholic who has stopped struggling with her faith. The bad guy kills those who violate his definition of truth. And there is a priest who serves as a good example of his church. Nowhere in the novel do I say ‘religion is the way to salvation.’ On the flip side, no where do I say it’s not. What I do is show that goodness often depends more on the person applying a subject than the subject itself.
My parents were always sticklers for the truth. When I was about five, I lied about something, and they found out. I can’t even remember what the lie was about. My punishment was to be sent straight to bed for the night. I was outraged! It was a full thirty minutes before my usual bed time! I wailed and cried and pounded on the wall with my feet. I finally decided I would get them, and I sat down and wrote the following letter:
Dear Mom and Dad I hate you I hate you I hate you!
I made it into a paper airplane and flew it down the stairs. I heard them laughing and was further outraged. I was trying to decide how to respond when I fell asleep. I woke up the next morning and couldn’t remember why I was angry. I went downstairs, made some cinnamon toast, and went on about my day. I remembered the lesson, and was conscious of my truthfulness with them from that point on.
I was also, about a year later, forced to confront the concept of a greater truth. I was six, and there was a girl in my neighborhood who was eight. She was a bit of a bully, and we got into a war of words. She called me ‘whitey’ (she was an African American girl) and in a search for a retort, I called her ‘blackie.’ I stalked away, and went home. My mother asked me what I was so upset about, and I described the argument to her. Her mouth fell open. She pointed a finger at me, and leaned up close and said something to the effect of: “You don’t ever get to use race as an insult in an argument or fight. Never. Don’t use the color of her skin against her.” (That’s highly paraphrased. I imagine she dumbed it down to a six year old, but that was the essential lesson).
“Do you know where she lives?” I said I did. “Then let’s go. You’re going to apologize to her for that.”
Now it was my turn to drop my jaw. I couldn’t believe this! I was the one who’d been wronged! My mother would hear nothing of it. She marched me over and knocked on the door. The girl’s mom answered (a gentle woman, by the way). The girl was standing behind her mom, sticking out her tongue at me.
“Go on,” my mom said. “Apologize.”
My cheeks were burning with humiliation. I felt wronged. I felt like a victim of the greatest injustice. The girl was grinning from ear to ear, enjoying it all. But in the end, Mom was Mom, and I did what she told me to do. “I’m sorry for calling you ‘blackie’,” I said.
We went home, and mom sent me to bed early. I wept, vowing I’d never forgive my mother for what she’d done. I fell asleep, and woke up the next morning without an ounce of anger in me. That’s childhood. How you can you stay angry when there are cartoons to watch, games to play, bikes to ride?
I mostly forgot these lessons at the time, but in later years, I’d remember them, and I’d be thankful. Mom and dad were working to teach me about truth at a young age, and I will always appreciate that. The simplest lesson ‘don’t lie to those you love’, could have been too simple. She followed it up with another lesson ‘sometimes a greater truth suborns and takes precedent over a lesser truth.’ Yes, the girl was a bully, yes, she’d insulted me first. But those were lesser truths. The greater truth was about character, and how ugliness is a weapon that fires both ways at once.
There I go, waxing all philosophical… but don’t worry. The Darker Side is 99.9% thriller. It’s a good, dark ride and it doesn’t require you to believe in anything, trust me. I threw that last 1% in there only because it belongs with the story. A little seasoning of truth and lies and faith and the lack thereof, the ways they can free us and the ways they can twist us. My primary goal is to entertain, but if the book makes you think a little, too, I won’t mind.
Born in Texas in 1968. He designed websites before selling his first novel, Shadow Man, in 2005. He has since had a second book – The Face of Death – published. Both were international best sellers. He lives in Southern California with his two black labs, often referred to as ‘The Black Forces of Destruction.’ He drinks coffee (copiously), plays guitar (badly), and reads (voraciously). He abhors adverbs in writing, except when used in short bios like this one.
1. What are the ingredients of a good book in your genre?
Answer: I think interesting characters are the key. Yes, I know, you could say that about all genres, but it’s the most basic truth. There are only so many story lines, serial killers and plot twists. In the end, in my opinion, what is going to drive a book is to have characters that resonate with the reader, that the reader truly cares about.
In my own writing, I feel like it’s important not to write about violence in a way that makes it palatable. I think you desensitize people to violence just as much this way as you do by graphic representation.
2. Is writing your main profession or do you have any other source of income?
Answer: Writing is my main profession and source of income.
3. How many books do you, approximately, read a year? What’s the latest book you’ve read and what did you think of it?
Answer: Wow, that really depends. When I am deep into writing, I don’t read much, as I find it distracting. When I am reading, I can read two or more books a week.
I recently read True Evil by Greg Iles and thought it was great, couldn’t put it down.
4. Who’s your favourite author? Which book would you love to have written yourself and why?
Answer: Favorite anything is always a tough one for me. You like different books, movies, or songs for different reasons. If I have to answer (and I guess I do), overall I would have to say that Stephen King is at the top of my list.
Along those lines, I wish I had written The Stand. The thing that I loved most about that book was how close he made you feel to each character. You get to see them before, during, and after the sickness hits the world, and none of them ever seem anything less than three dimensional.
5. What’s the nicest, weirdest or most remarkable thing that ever happened to you as a writer?
Answer: Let’s go with nicest. I had someone write me and tell me that they had not been able to express any emotion but anger since being abused as a child (this writer was now an adult). He said my novel made him cry and he thanked me for doing what thirty years of therapy couldn’t.
6. Did you always wanted to become a writer? When and why did you decide to become one?
Answer: I’ve always wanted to write. I started writing when I was ten. I lost my way for various reasons, and finally decided enough was enough, and wrote Shadow Man.
7. Which criticism bothers you more, the one from your readers or the one from the professional book reviewers?
Answer: I actually don’t mind simple criticism. What I mean is, I don’t expect every reader to like what I write. That’s just unrealistic. The only time it gets to me is when someone goes out of their way to be nasty about it. I’ve had a few reviews that made me see red — not because they didn’t like the book — but because of how they gave their opinion, like ‘How DARE you have written something this terrible.’
In the end, art is subjective, and I accept that, but it is a blade that cuts two ways.
8. What’s more important: the plot or the characters in a story. And why?
Answer: As I mentioned earlier, characters, always, always, always. People are always the most fascinating part of a story. People are us.
9. Are any of the characters in your books based on yourself? Which character do you like most?
Answer: Not really. I mean, there is a lot of me in anything I write, but I can’t point to any character and say ‘that’s based on me.’ I write what I feel, or what I have observed, sometimes the words just come from the word God. I don’t question that too much, I just say ‘Thanks word God.’
10. Is there anything that keeps you awake these days?
Answer: Writing almost always keeps me awake. I don’t sleep well when I ‘m writing, as some aspect of the story is always going through my mind. I’m terrible to live with when I’m writing.