Thriller writers can go off the deep end with characters. The darker the character, the better. Such fictional characters as the brilliantly conceived Jackal in Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal,stir up powerful emotions in readers. Fear, excitement or terror. Scientists have even shown that in such heightened circumstances, a chemical reaction in the brain releases dopamine and oxytocin. Which probably partially explains the huge attraction of the thriller genre for readers today.
Nathan Stone, the complex and unsettling protagonist in my latest book, ROGUE (Thomas & Mercer) which has just been released, 7 June 2018 – the first of my new American Ghost™ series – is such a character.
Stone has a past as murky and mysterious as the people who control him. He has been critically wounded while serving as a cover CIA operative and assassin. And everyone thought he was dead. But behind closed doors, he was rehabilitated by a highly secretive government organization known as the Commission. His brief: to execute kill orders drawn up by the Commission, all in the name of national security. The Commission owns him, but Stone knows one wrong move could turn him from loyal asset to hunted man.
Rogue sees Nathan Stone being housed at a secret facility in Scotland. And he is tasked with carrying out a hit on a popular senator who is on a top-secret kill list.
So how did this character come about?
Stone featured in one of my earlier books, Dark Waters, as a minor character. An assassin. But in the American Ghost series, I put Stone front and centre.
The book begins with the deliberations of the Commission – consisting of retired senior CIA and military experts – as to when and where the US senator should be killed. But then, the reader is introduced to Nathan Stone, at a facility off the north west coast of Scotland. A psychologist is trying to determine if Stone is ready to be deployed. He has undergone cosmetic surgery and extensive physical and psychological rehabilitation. New physical and mental identity. But the Commission are unsure if he still has the same killing instincts within him.
The psychologist shows Nathan Stone covert video footage taken of the US senator in Washington DC, the previous day.
“Can you identify this man?” the psychologist asked.
Stone studies the footage. He doesn’t recognize the man.
“Commit that face to memory?” the psychologist said.
When Stone asks why, the reply is simple.
“Because you’re going to kill him in nine days’ time, that’s why.”
But Stone is not just a cold assassin. Events in his past linger on in his mind. Stone is haunted by his upbringing at the hands of his sadistic father. His sister and Nathan suffered from beatings in his childhood home, a filthy one room apartment in New York’s Lower East Side. Their father was a drunk. And beat them every day. But one day, unable to take any more, Nathan’s sister picks up a pair of scissors, and kills their father. She is committed to a psychiatric hospital where she still languishes in Florida. But Stone hasn’t forgotten her.
When Stone is activated, after proving his assassin credentials in the most brutal manner at the secure facility, he begins to shadow the Senator. But what was envisioned as a straightforward hit on an American senator while he was alone, becomes more complicated when the girlfriend of the senator turns up.
Stone is closing in on the senator and the young woman in the wilds of the north west highlands of Scotland, miles from anywhere.
But unbeknown to Stone, the Commission are running a parallel operation. And when national security is at stake, he soon realises that the hunter can quickly become the hunted.
Although Nathan Stone is a dark and complex character, I ultimately wanted the reader to be rooting for him.
As a thriller writer, it meant going off the deep end to ensure a morally ambiguous protagonist, like Nathan Stone, can become a truly compelling character for the reader.