The 9th Man
Luke Daniels Book 1
Steve Berry and Grant Blackwood
Grand Central Publishing
The 9th Man by Steve Berry and Grant Blackwood is a spin-off of the Cotton Malone series. This is the first in a three-book series with the featured character Luke Daniels, a protege of Malone. This also marks the first time that Berry and Blackwood collaborated, creating a suspenseful believable novel.
The book opens with Jillian Stein calling Luke Daniels asking for his help. She has put her and her grandfather’s life in grave danger. He arrives to find a team of assassins entering her house. After the gunfight is over the grandfather is dead with Jillian and Luke seeking answers as to why. The killers are sent by Thomas Henry Rowland under the command of Jack Talley. Rowland is a power broker with connections everywhere. It turns out he was the 9th Secret Service Agent in the trail car during the JFK assassination. At the core of the violence against Stein and Daniels is the mystery of a rifle and its connection to the assassination.
Readers will get to know Luke, a former Army Ranger who is highly trained, and acts quickly to solve problems. He has a shrewd mind and works well with Stephanie Nelle, the head of the Magellan Billet, a super-secret US Agency within the Justice Department. Although Malone does not appear in the book, his presence looms. Luke has Malone’s words in his head, making sure he thinks before acting.
This story has non-stop action with many twists. As with all of Berry’s novels there is a mixture of history within an action-adventure plot.
Elise Cooper: Why bring back the character Luke Daniels?
Steve Berry: I had the idea. I wanted to do a Luke Daniels series for a long time. Unfortunately, I cannot write two books a year by myself, because I do an enormous amount of research. Luke is a secondary character in my Cotton Malone series. I decided I wanted to give him a series, so I called Grant to help me write it. We teamed up. Luke will have three adventures on his own.
EC: What was the role of Cotton Malone in this book?
SB: I have written seventeen Cotton Malone books; the eighteenth will come out next year in February. Luke is a secondary character in that series. Cotton does not make any appearances in the Luke books although he is mentioned. This is a Luke Daniels exclusive although it does take place in the Cotton world. Luke is an active agent with the Magellan Billet, part of the Justice Department, while Malone is retired. Stephanie Nelle is still in charge.
EC: With RFK Jr. running for President and giving his theory on the JFK assassination, the book seems very relevant?
SB: This is a new take on the JFK assassination. A lot of people did not know a lot about this interesting theory, first proposed in the 1990s. It answers a lot of the unanswered questions. Besides it makes for a great thriller by weaving in this real theory into the fictional adventure. My books are action, adventure, history, secrets, and conspiracy. I take something from the past that is real, and something the readers may not know a lot about. I weaved a modern-day thriller around the JFK assassination.
EC: Did you base your theory on any real facts?
SB: It is a real theory from a real non-fiction book published in the 1990s titled Mortal Error by Bonar Menninger. It has interesting aspects and makes a lot of sense by looking at the angles of the bullets fired. The Warren Commission that investigated the assassination had a purpose, to conclude that one person killed Kennedy with no conspiracy, that everything was fine. It had no purpose to get to the truth. We attempt to answer some questions in the novel in a unique and entertaining way.
EC: What did the diagrams in the book on pages 182-184 represent?
GB: The three characters in the story try to unravel the mystery of who killed Kennedy. Over the years they gathered forensic crime scene evidence. These are diagrams that they collaborated on to prove their theory correct on what could have happened. Much of it was taken from direct evidence of the scene. We hope that readers will come away with the thought that this theory is plausible and possible.
EC: Why this Ben Franklin quote at the beginning of the book, “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” Why put it in?
SB: It applies perfectly to this plot. Three people have a secret, and they must keep it. Unfortunately, it does not work out that way.
EC: How would you describe Tom Rowland?
SB: He was our fictional 9th man in the Secret Service trail car. Moved to work for the CIA. He was powerful, accumulated many favors, broke rules, amoral, no conscience, and vengeful. I call him an amoral sociopath who is obsessed with his legacy.
EC: What is the role of Jack Tally?
SB: In thrillers there are two kinds of bad guys, the thinking, and the doing. Ideally it is easier if the thinker and the doer are the same guy. Rowland is the thinker, whereas Tally is the doer. Tally is immoral because he has a conscience but did what he did for money. He sold his soul. At the very end he had lots of honor and integrity.
EC: What is the process of you and Grant working together?
SB: Grant is writing book two and is going to be with me for book three. I am glad he agreed.
Grant Blackwood: I had the good fortune of working with some wonderful authors including Clancy and Cussler. Not to take anything away from them but this has been the most rewarding collaboration I had. I have learned a lot. We went back and forth a lot with the plot points and the feel of the story. We did a lot of phone calls and texts to fine tune this.
EC: How would you describe Luke?
SB: Luke is evolving. We met him in the Malone book, The Lincoln Myth. He was impetus, made mistakes, dives right in, and not very attentive to what he was doing. Now he is much more careful and deliberate. Grant was able to explain how Luke’s military mind works and brought a little bit of methodism to Luke. He is now a growing character with Cotton in his head a little bit. He makes some smart decisions.
GB: Patient, focused, a good bluffer, and intense. In the Malone book Luke is impetuous, head strong, and wants to always act. He is still that way in this book, but Luke is much more influenced by Cotton’s words. This sets a tone. He will pause and thinks what’s the best way, instead of the fastest way. Since his background is as an Army Ranger, he was a Special Forces guy who always thought to take direct action. He needs to pull that back.
EC: Was it intentional to have non-stop action in this book?
SB: In the Luke books the history is secondary to the action, while in the Malone books the history takes center stage. This made Luke more of a three-dimensional character. We wanted the book to be tight, quick, and fast, with a lot happening at once, like a roller coaster ride. We did not see any reason to allow the readers to catch their breath.
EC: How would you describe Jillian?
GB: Smart, sassy, brave, confident, determined, calm, and tough. She also has the honor of being one of the first women to be in the Marines. She broke through a glass ceiling. Jillian and Luke make a very formidable team.
EC: Next book?
SB: The next Luke book will come out the summer of 2024. The plot deals with a treasure that has fascinated me for many years. It delves with the loss of the real-life library of Ivan the Terrible, lost in 15thCentury Russia. The book is titled Red Star Falling.