Interview: JB Turner

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jbturnerLaunched earlier this year, Exhibit A Books is an independent imprint bringing together a stable of up-and-coming crime authors working in popular areas of crime fiction, but aiming to bring something a little different to the shelf. One of them is the Edinburgh writer JB Turner whose debut novel Hard Road we reviewed a couple of weeks ago. He’s taken the tone and intrigue of those great conspiracy films of the 1970s and combined them with the action and gusto of more recent crime fiction. If you can imagine Jack Reacher hunting down Carlos the Jackal, you’re in the right ballpark. We caught up with him long-distance from his family holiday in the Outer Hebrides…

What did you do before becoming a crime author?
I was a newspaper journalist in Edinburgh and latterly worked for a news agency where I was providing news and feature stories to major national newspapers in the UK. In the early years of writing my book, I also did a bit of freelance journalism, but now I’m a full time author.

What made you decide you wanted to write conspiracy thrillers?
Crime fiction I love, and thrillers. The conspiracy angle probably comes from my the unsettling, paranoid and conspiratorial atmosphere cultivated in 1970s films like All The President’s Men, The Parallax View and The Conversation. These films came out around the time of Watergate, and a few years after the assassination of JFK, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, set against a growing loathing of government for the Vietnam War. There was a feeling that people didn’t trust their government as they did, say, back in the 1950s or before. And the viewpoint that a democratically elected government could be acting against the wishes and interests of its people, struck a chord. Still does.

Hard-RoadTell us a little about the series characters you’ve created in Hard Road?
Jon Reznick is an uncompromising ex-Special Forces operative who is now a government assassin. He lives alone in Rockland, Maine, his only daughter at a boarding school. His late wife, Elisabeth, died on 9/11. FBI Assistant Director Martha Meyerstein is a workaholic, estranged from her husband, and pours all her energy into her work. But in Hard Road, she strikes up an extraordinary partnership with Reznick and finds herself pushing the boundaries of the rules she has always worked with.

Reznick is almost an anti-hero, the sole point of his moral compass being his daughter Lauren. Were you ever tempted to back off a bit and soften him at all?
Not at all. He compartmentalises his work and his life. He does what he has to do. And he doesn’t let anyone in to his world.

How did you research Reznick’s clandestine world, involving the CIA, NSA, Special Forces and so on?
It takes a lot of time and research. I visited the FBI in Miami and their HQ in Washington DC. They were incredibly helpful. Special mention also to Miami-Dade and Miami Beach police. I also read books on the FBI, the CIA, and articles on the NSA. A former Delta operator, Larry Vickers, helped out with a couple of technical queries. But there were also countless other people I spoke to in confidence. People in the military, in government. Newspaper articles on geo-politics and national security were also invaluable, especially the Washington Post series of articles, Top Secret America. And of course, the Internet. A brilliant resource for any writer.

You have a lot of fun with the technology in Hard Road. The encryption programmes, sleep sprays, poison pens and mobile geotagging software seem like they’re from James Bond, though perhaps they have more of a basis in reality. What was your inspiration for this?
Researching the subject was fascinating. When you look into assassinations, how they are carried out, not only is it extremely unsettling, but there are countless ways to go about it. I found the myriad articles on the Dubai assassination of Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, co-founder of the military wing of Hamas, to be invaluable to my research. With regards sleep sprays, the use of Fentanyl and other opiates as part of planned assassinations is quite well known, to incapacitate the planned victim. With regards to encryption programmes on cellphones, numerous technical articles and research online helped out with that. I also spoke to an international hacker who was most helpful. I found mobile phone geotagging rather interesting. Basically, from a photograph taken on a cellphone, the location where it was taken can be accessed, if the settings are not adjusted to ensure anonymity. So, in Hard Road, Reznick is able to track down a Haitian gangster simply from a cellphone photograph.

Who are your literary influences?
My influences are James Ellroy, James Lee Burke, Richard Stark, John Buchan, Jack Kerouac and George Orwell – especially 1984.

What do you have coming up next, and will we meet Reznick and Meyerstein again?
Hard Kill is out in July 2014, the follow up to Hard Road. And yes, both Reznick and Meyerstein will be major players in this book.

And how is it up in the Hebrides?
This is the first time we’ve been to the Outer Hebrides – one of the most beautiful and beguiling places I’ve ever seen. Can’t wait to go back. Harris and the beaches are the finest I’ve ever seen. A great place to get way from our 24/7 culture. And the landscape and isolation and locale has definitely provided inspiration for the plot for the third Reznick book!

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