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Murder, like history, often repeats itself. And, when it does, it’s the worst kind of murder.
Detective Richard Jax was never good at history—but, after years as a cop, he is about to get the lesson of his life. Ambushed and dying on a stakeout, he’s saved by Captain Patrick “Trick” McCall—the ghost of a World War II OSS agent. Trick has been waiting since 1944 for a chance to solve his own murder. Soon Jax is a suspect in a string of murders—murders linked to smuggling refugees out of the Middle East—a plot similar to the World War II OSS operation that brought scientists out of war-torn Europe. With the aid of a beautiful and intelligent historian, Dr. Alex Vouros, Jax and Trick unravel a seventy-year-old plot that began with Trick’s murder in 1944. Could the World War II mastermind, code named Harriet, be alive and up to old games? Is history repeating itself?Together, Jax and Trick hunt for the link between their pasts—confronted by some of Washington’s elite and one provocative, alluring French Underground agent, Abrielle Chanoux. Somewhere in Trick’s memories is a traitor. That traitor killed him. That traitor is killing again. Who framed Jax and who wants Trick’s secret to remain secret? The answer may be, who doesn’t?
T.J., thanks for stopping by Island Confidential. Can you tell us a little bit about your lead characters, Richard and Trick?
T.J.:Richard Jax and Trick McCall are some of my fav characters from my mysteries! Jax is a Special Agent with the Virginia Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI)—the state’s version of the FBI. He’s a likable, hardworking guy who runs afoul of his fiancé and best friend—Kathleen Cullen and Special Agent Leo Carraba. Let’s just say he trusts the wrong people. Jax has a few quirks, too, like reciting movie quotes and characters when he gets nervous. His favorite is old firm noir from the 1940’s like Charlie Chan. Then there’s Trick. When Jax is ambushed and nearly killed, he’s saved by the spirit of long-dead World War II OSS—Office of Strategic Services—operative, Captain Patrick “Trick” McCall. Trick was murdered in 1944 and is hunting his own killer, now. But being the pragmatic investigator he is, Jax thinks he’s losing his mind and not seeing a ghost—despite the help Trick gives him. When Jax has to face his own failures with his fiancé and Carraba, he begins to question his own sanity and wonder if his being the prime suspect in Carraba’s murder is for good reason. Was he to blame? Did he actually kill his best friend?
While Jax is pragmatic and often too serious, Trick is a fun-loving, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants adventurer who pushes and cajoles Jax along the way to solving the murders. Together they must find the truth behind a WWII traitor and a treacherous plot that has lasted for over 75 years. As they do, Trick has to come to terms with being a 1940’s man suddenly thrust into 2011. The people and advances are unnerving to him and he uses humor and sarcasm to make his place in this world.
In the end, Jax learns the truth behind Captain Trick McCall, his friends and loves, and why history has once again repeated itself.
Is there any of you in either of the protagonists?
T.J.: Moi? Well … a bit but not as much as my protagonists in my other novels. I’m an acquired taste and it’s best to spread the real-me over a few characters and not all in one. As a former government agent now a consultant, Jax’s persona and idiosyncrasies are certainly from me. So are his skill-sets. I’ve run homicide and corruption investigations, chased terrorists, and dealt with the human side of these crimes and adventures. Those things come from my experiences and onto the pages—I hope. I try to capture that human cost—the innocent caught up in the chase, the untold consequences of my character’s actions and inactions. Many other’s thrillers and mysteries are focused on the chase, the clues, and the grand finale. Mine are too, but I try hard to carry along the cost of these events in my stories. With Jax, he loses his friends and loves along the way, and as he makes new ones, there is a larger cost—trust, respect, even his career. I’ve experienced these things myself.
There is certainly more of me in Captain Trick McCall than Jax. I love Trick’s character. He’s an adventurer—that’s how he was recruited into the OSS in the 1940’s. He tries to keep things light and fun and even in the face of danger, keeps his cool with jokes and sarcasm. That’s 110% me. Trick also likes to dissect problems with a little charm and wit—keep the goal in mind but don’t let it consume you. That’s also something I try to do. Not always successfully, but then, Trick isn’t, either.
In my writing, no matter the character, I try to look through their eyes and respond realistically. I’ve been in many real-life adventures and can relate to what my characters endure. Even the bad guys—although it’s a bit harder since I’ve never been a truly bad guy in my life. I have been to murder scenes, autopsies, terror attacks … you name it. I know what holding back bile is like when you first get to a nasty crime scene. I know fear and what it’s like to wonder if you’re going home that night. I also know what it’s like to tell someone their loved one is dead. So those costs in a murder mystery are real to me and I try very hard to make them real to my characters.
So between Jax and Trick, they each have a good piece of me in them. After all, I wrote them so I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a big investment in their lives.
How would you feel about these characters if you met them in real life?
T.J.: Truth is, I have. Every one of my characters comes from my real-life background and adventures I’ve had around the world. I’ve lived and worked in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, the United Kingdom, throughout the America’s and elsewhere. I’ve known some pretty amazing people and some pretty nasty ones. So when I develop a character, I steal traits from those I’ve known. Bad guys included. Oh, there is no character that is 100% someone, but maybe 50-50 between a couple people I’ve known. So, if I’d met them now, I’d be right at home.
Do your characters change and evolve throughout consecutive books in the series?
T.J.: Absolutely. If they didn’t, who’d read about them? I try to develop a character as close to life as possible—strengths, weaknesses, oddities. Jax can be too pragmatic, loses his confidence, and is no-fun—too focused and driven. As New Sins for Old Scores moves along, Trick begins to break through and pull other traits out of him. Jax lightens up a bit and regains some of his confidence. But since Jax is a victim in this story, too, he has a long way to go to find normalcy again. By the end of New Sins for Old Scores, he’s close but not completely healed up. Trick also continues to go through character development. He begins as an out-of-sorts forties man trying to understand the 21st century. As the story progresses, he begins to hone his own contributions to the story and grows his confidence in this new world of his.
My characters also have true-to-life failings. As I mentioned, Jax loses confidence and also is too pragmatic to let loose and enjoy sometimes. He struggles with the loss of his friend and fiancé, and that weighs him down. As the story builds, he occasionally finds his feet again but it doesn’t always last—causing him to make bad decisions and fail. As the series moves on, those gains and losses will continue and he and Trick will undoubtedly have to deal with other setbacks, too. It’s those setbacks and challenges that I use to move the stories and the characters forward. Without that, it would be the same old characters, doing the same old investigating. No fun at all.
One of the big changes in Jax is how he comes to grip with Trick McCall. He gives up trying to decide if he’s a ghost or the byproduct of his near-death injuries. Over time, he treats him like a partner in solving the murders and even allows Trick to “share” him. You’ll have to read New Sins for Old Scores to learn what that means!
Have you ever thought of killing someone that you know in real life–on the pages of a murder mystery, I mean?
T.J.: Well … Did someone say something about me? They can’t prove it!
In my profession, especially back in the gun-toting days with the government, I often considered the possibility I’d have to kill someone. Part of my mission back then was protecting high-ranking dignitaries from terrorist attacks and investigating terror attacks. While most missions were relatively safe, there were a few that raised the hair on my neck and kept me awake nights. There were lots of times I considered the very real possibility of having to kill someone—or someones.
But to your real question, absolutely. At one of my client offices, I have a very close friend. Every time he gives me trouble, I threatened to make him my next victim. Slow. Maniacal. In a dark basement with leeches and snakes. Yeah, he loves it.
In truth, there have been people I’ve known in my past that have already been the bad guys and victims in my books. About five at last count. It’s easier for me to connect with bad guy characters if I mentally connect them to someone. I know their personalities, their dark sides, their mannerisms, etc. I project them into a character. It works well for me.
And let me tell you, my ex-wife … boy, was knocking her off fun!
How realistic is your setting? Do you take liberties, or are you true to life?
T.J.: Both. My settings are, for the most part, real places that I take a few liberties with. For instance, the Grey Coat Inn in New Sins for Old Scores is a real place. It’s called something else and is not exactly where I say in the book, but it’s real nonetheless. It also has a deep history as part of the Underground Railroad just as I say in the story. Leesburg is a growing historic town in Virginia, as is Winchester (from my Oliver Tucker series). I try to keep places real so readers can relate, perhaps find and explore them too. I change things that can cause issues—building names (unless they are innocuous to the story) and specific streets, in particular if a murder occurs there or a bad guy lives there.
I am very fortunate to live in Virginia where history and wonderful towns are plentiful. All my mysteries have a historical subplot in them and I love to use the local Virginia culture and history to further those plots. It’s not hard to stay true to life, because in Virginia, history goes back to before we were a country and it has “been-there, done-that.”
I use historical events to bolster my modern-day plots. In New Sins for Old Scores, the historical subplot surrounds Operation Paperclip. This was a real OSS operation during WWII where the US was sneaking scientists and industrialists out of war-torn Europe back to the US. The Soviets and other allies did it as well. In New Sins for Old Scores, I overlaid that famous operation into the modern day and simply asked the questions, “What would happen if someone did that today in the Middle East? What if they did it illegally? What might happen then?” I connected Operation Paperclip, modern day activities surrounding the Middle East conflicts, and poof, New Sins for Old Scores was written.
Characters are real to life, too, and based on true events. Captain Patrick “Trick” McCall is based on my mentor of 25 years, Wally F. Wally was one of the last OSS Operatives from WWII and a former deputy director at CIA. He worked with me on the characters and history, and in time, became half of Trick McCall. I, of course, was the other half—clearly the better half. The fun half, too. I lost Wally in 2015 to age and a bad heart (he was 92!) and publishing New Sins became even more important to me.
Still, you might notice it’s not dedicated to him. That’s because I have since written a thriller, The Consultant: Double Effect, about modern day terrorism in Northern Virginia that will be published by Oceanview in May, 2018. In The Consultant, Wally is 100% the character named Oscar LaRue and plays a huge role in this book and the coming sequels. That book is dedicated to him as “the real Oscar LaRue.” I dare say, too, that every story I’ve written and published, Wally has been a main character in some way. In his living years, he begrudgingly loved it. He wasn’t a fan of the paranormal mysteries on the outside, but he loved that he was a main character on the inside.
When the movie or TV series is made, who plays the major parts?
T.J.:The big question, right? Today, you have to look a bit deeper into film and TV to find the really good characters. The media shoves the same old names and types at you—Brad Pitt, Jolie, DiCaprio. All stellar performers, no doubt. But there are some really great “others” that I’d go to see before any of them.
I’d love to see Nathan Fillion as Trick. I think he’s a fun-loving, personable actor who could pull off the role of being a man from the 40’s suddenly thrown into the 21st century. I also think Karl Urban from Almost Human would make a great Jax, or perhaps Alex O’Laughlin. Both of them are great actors. They can be focused and serious, but when a Nathan Fillion gets involved as Trick, they would be fun and adventurous, too. Alex, the beautiful historian, would definitely be Hayley Atwell from Agent Carter. She’s beautiful, skilled in action shows, and has that strong, take-charge persona.
What’s the worst and best advice you’ve heard or received as an author?
Best advice: Keep writing. Don’t quit. It takes years to get where you’re going for most of us, don’t give up or you’ll never get anywhere. It’s the way it is. Unless you’re the 1% of authors, you won’t write a blockbuster for your first book or two or three that will allow you to quit your job and move into the mansion. I’ll never be able to do that but I won’t stop writing and hope my books continue to be published. It takes time. Long hours. Rewrites. Rewrites. Rewrites. Then more rewrites and a hell of a lot of rejection. Don’t quit. Ever.
Worst Advice: So many I can’t pick. Here are a couple of small pieces of advice that nearly threw me before I realized they were not for me:
- Never mix first-person with third-person in the same novel. Oh please, it’s done all the time and while I’m a new author, it works for me just fine.
- Start with self-publishing to get your work out. If you’re really, really good at editing, covers, marketing, and all the things no one tells you about publishing, then this might work. For me, I went to traditional publishing first. I wanted to make my bones (establish myself) before I even considered any other path. I felt, and this is not true for everyone, that getting an agent and traditional publisher first would prove to myself that I was good and could “do this.” I can always self-pub later after I develop my work and an audience. To me, it was a means of proving myself in the market. Now, having said that, many authors find happiness and a good platform doing it exclusively on their own. There are some that have best sellers and have made a huge career on their own. I am in awe of them. One day, maybe. The truth is, there are so many publishing paths today. Self-publishing is just one. There are some amazingly good micro-presses and indie presses that even if you can’t get into one of the big houses, there are great options for more traditional publishing. Black Opal Books, who published New Sins for Old Scores, is among the best of these indie presses.
In my case, I’m extremely lucky that I have three publishing houses. My first series, the Oliver Tucker Gumshoe Ghost mysteries (God, I hate that tag line) has three books with Midnight Ink, a smaller publisher under Llewellyn publishing. New Sins for Old Scores is with a great indie, Black Opal Books. My new thriller, The Consultant: Double Effect is with Oceanview Publishing, a larger, great house right up there with the biggies. I’m thrilled with all the deals my agent put together and each one moves me farther ahead. Had I stopped early on and went solo in self-publishing, I’m not sure I’d have had the ability to get even this far along.
So, my advice? Look around. Do your research on your options. And above all, don’t be afraid to take a risk.
About The Author
Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS (IPPY) FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of New Sins for Old Scores, from Black Opal Books, and Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell. His new thriller,The Consultant, will be out in May 2018 from Oceanview Publishing. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York’s Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Lab companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying to Know is also the 2015 Bronze Medal winner of theReader’s Favorite Book Review Awards, a finalist for the Silver Falchion Best Books of 2014,and a finalist for the Foreword Review’s 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award.
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