“Skyjack” will elevate author K. J. Howe to a level close to Tom Clancy. She follows up her riveting debut novel, “The Freedom Broker,” with another gripping thriller featuring kidnap and ransom expert Thea Paris.
Her assignment is to escort two orphaned African brothers, Jabari, 12, and Ayan, 9, to their new adoptive parents in London. The children had been forced into soldiering after seeing their mom and dad murdered by Boko Haram. Now they will finally have a chance at a better life, a real childhood and education.
In route, the chartered plane carrying Thea, the boys and 12 other passengers is hijacked and lands in the Libyan Desert. Her long-time nemesis, Prospero Salvatore, the head of the Sicilian Mafia, forces her to intercept a truck full of Syrian refugees who are headed toward Budapest and supposedly exchange them for the plane hostages, including the boys.
As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that things are not what they seem to be considering those involved are a part of an organization who intends to reduce the world’s population by releasing a virus killing those of Middle-Eastern origin. They will stop at nothing, including brutal attacks and killings of innocents.
Elise Cooper: Did you base the characteristics of Thea on anybody?
J. Howe: I used the skill set of those I have the deepest respect for — people who dedicate their life to service. Because I know those in special forces, these experts helped me with getting scenarios correct. I asked them for advice before I write an action scene. I hope I write Thea to be as well-trained and disciplined as those in the military. I would be honored if people can come and say hi to me on my book tour. I will be in Los Angeles on Thursday night at Book Soup, in San Diego Friday Night at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, and in Orange County over the weekend at Book Carnival and Book Passage.
EC: The intensity of the plot involves a flight?
Howe: Since I am an avid flyer, although not a pilot, I started to think about the new security measures on planes, including reinforced cockpit doors. I wanted to create a real buzz in the air so I thought how passengers surrender control to the pilot every time they step on a plane. Everyone must trust that the pilots have our best interests at heart, but what if they do not.
Think of the German pilot that plowed the plane intentionally into a mountain or the Egyptian pilot that intentionally crashed the plane. I thought how different it is than getting into an Uber or bus, where if something happens there is the possibility someone can take over.
EC: Family plays an important role in the story?
Howe: Every single book will have part of the theme, family. In my first book it was Thea, her brother and father. In this book, it is about Johann and Gernot Dietrich, a father/son. Thea also is in the mother role with the two young boys. My goal is to explore how the dynamic effects and touches the peoples’ lives.
EC: You wrote, “For Rambo’s daddy, David Morrell: Inspiration, mentor, friend.” Please explain.
Howe: Yes, this was part of the dedication. When getting my master’s in creative writing David was a guest lecturer. It was a special moment to me because I thought about writing fiction after reading his spy novel. We had a great talk and I was able to show him my thesis about a female sniper. Later, I saw him at Thrillerfest and wrote a feature on him. He was so appreciative he offered to help me and coached me to dig deep into my characters as well as my writing craft.
EC: You highlight the atrocities of the jihadis?
Howe: They humiliate, torture and behead. Because of them, kidnapping and human trafficking are on a huge rise. Terrorists use it as a fundraiser mechanism and a political statement. It is a hot button for groups like ISIS, al-Qaida and Boko Haram who are incredibly awful to women and children. I wanted to highlight how we all have to pay attention as world citizens.
EC: The descriptions are pretty graphic.
Howe: I want to evoke emotion and showcase these very serious issues, to be educating as well as entertaining. It is important to have a writer interact with the readers, which is why I give broad strokes to create an image for them. Readers use experiences in their life to create a personal image in their mind.
EC: Is the plague a character in the book?
Howe: It is there as an impending threat. Father and son Dietrich are at war because of their different principles, worldviews and priorities. I used the plague as a ticking time bomb that helped to create a deep conflict within the Dietrich family. It highlights how these characters must make choices.
EC: How would you describe Thea?
Howe: Smart, fearless and vulnerable. It is incredibly important for me that girls have strong female protagonists to look up to. We have all these males: James Bond, Jack Reacher and Jason Bourne. Where is the strong female?
But, males are not turned off by her. In fact, a lot of my special forces guys enjoy reading her exploits. I think through her I am able to weed into the story both action and emotion.
EC: How would you describe the two boys?
Howe: Spunky, well adjusted, enjoy life and simplistic, despite their life’s experiences. They were fun to write. Since I lived in Africa for three years, I wanted to realistically get their personalities across.
EC: A supporting character that is enjoyable was the Texan, Michael Dillman. Was he based on anyone?
Howe: A super nice man who is a former banker who works in bookselling. His goal is to be a character killed off in as many fictional books as possible. I was his silver anniversary, the 25th book. He has this business card: Former banker, willing victim.
EC: Your settings appear very realistic.
Howe: I hope to go to different parts of the world in each book I write. I try to go to all the places I write about. I want to experience, touch and taste my setting personally. If I had not been to that place, I try to go there because authenticity is important to the story. Of course, authors take license to get the plot rich and interesting.
EC: Can you give a shout out about your next book?
Howe: A bunch of journalists will be kidnapped in Jordan along with an Israeli soldier. I explore more of the negotiation process and how each country handles dealing with terrorists.