‘MatchUp’ — 22 thrilling authors

“MatchUp,” edited by Lee Child, is the sequel to the first anthology, “FaceOff,” published three years ago. In both cases 22 bestselling authors collaborated to write 11 riveting tales. All are members of International Thriller Writers, who donated their stories and time with all the proceeds from the books going to support the dues of the ITW membership. The stories flowed and the characters worked seamlessly together to solve the case, in part because each author read at least one of the other’s novels. Below is an interview with the authors, and the order is the same as presented in “MatchUp.” For fans and new readers alike, there is a shout out about the authors’ most recent books.

ITW is also known as an organization that will help the troops at every turn, where the authors do the walk as well as they talk. Many have traveled to Afghanistan and Iraq as part of USO tours, including Sandra Brown, Kathy Reichs, Steve Berry and David Morrell. Other authors such as Gayle Lynds support the military in their stories, evident when she was presented with the Military Writers Society of America Founder’s Award. Nelson DeMille, a former 1st Cavalry Division lieutenant, has woven military issues into his books. J. A. Jance made one of her main characters a Vietnam veteran, portraying the debts Americans owe to those who served in that war.

Steve Berry is the managing editor, but he also worked with Diana Gabladon to write the short story chapter “Past Prologue.”

“Lee Child, the editor, and myself looked for unique pairs, either people who would not naturally write together, or characters that would not naturally be in the same setting,” Berry said. “Basically characters that live in different worlds but come together for the short story. Because ‘FaceOff’ was a bestseller, Lee and I wanted to stay with the same formula. We took that idea and adjusted it to have a male/female team. Each writer picked the character they wanted to include, an iconic one, not a supporting one. The setting could range from a neutral place to a world of one of the characters.”

Sandra Brown and C. J. Box are two top westerners paired together. In “Honor & … “ Lee Coburn and Joe Pickett joined forces to defeat a white supremacist group. What worked best for these authors was to have Box write the first draft because Sandra had not previously written a short story. Since Brown’s book “Lethal” ends with Coburn touching down in Jackson Hole, Wyo., the setting was a no-brainer.

“After reading a ‘Joe Pickett’ book, I fell in love with the character and knew Coburn would be perfect as the anti-Joe Pickett,” Brown said. “Coburn, a deep FBI undercover agent never plays by the rules, is rough and tumble, and represents a trademark of mine — characters with their own sense of justice. The Box character Nate Romanowski can easily by a Sandra Brown hero. A book quote gives some insight on the difference between Joe’s basically normal life and Coburn: ‘I was never much for games, never much of a kid.’ I did write some backstory on Coburn because ‘Lethal’ was the only book where I did not tie up in a pretty pink bow the relationship. With this short story my readers can find out what happened.”

Box sees a lot of Nate Romanowski in Coburn.

“Just as in the first novel with Nate and Joe, ‘Winterkill,’ I punched up the antagonism between the two. I did not put in a lot of Joe’s backstory, except that he is a game warden outside of his district. Yet, he is in his natural environment and does what Joes does best, revealing his character through words. I did write all the hunting and wilderness scenes. Sandra told me that she could not imagine hunting and cleaning a fish, that it was not in her.”

In July, C. J. Box’s “Paradise Valley” will be published. It is the conclusion of the Lizard King versus Cassie Dewell series, where she must take down this serial killer completely on her own.

Sandra Brown’s novel, “Seeing Red,” comes out in August. It was inspired by all those iconic photographs, such as the fireman carrying the child out of a building after the Oklahoma City bombing. A journalist and the son of a hero, now an ATF agent, join forces to uncover why someone would want dead a national hero.

Kathy Reichs and Lee Child wrote “Faking a Murder,” bringing together the famous characters Jack Reacher and Temperance Brennan. She was a consultant on the cause of death of an Air Force colonel; did he commit suicide or was he murdered? Fast forward to today where a journalist supposedly uncovered evidence that questions her findings. After he is found dead, she is a person of interest in his murder, accused of planning it to save her reputation. In enters Reacher, who knows the facts and uses his street smart to help clear her name.

Reichs felt “being matched up was kind of like the prom after the announcement, with everyone scrambling for a date.

“Lee and I arranged our own date together. Since we have been friends for years it was fun and painless,” Reichs said. “I thought, what about a story where Brennan gets into legal jeopardy. I think his street smarts nicely complimented her science smarts. I wrote the first couple of scenes and then would send it to him to write the next couple, and so on. After finishing it we both worked on the edits.”

Her next book, “Two Nights,” comes out in July and introduces a new character — Sunday Night. While battling her demons, she agrees to help in the search to find a girl gone missing after a bomb explosion.

Gayle Lynds and David Morrell write stand-alones whose realistic characters make readers yearn for more, but alas, these featured characters very rarely reappear. “Rambo On Their Minds” brings back Liz Sansborough, Simon Childs and the spirit of Rambo. These original co-founders of the International Thriller Writers put their minds together to come up with a story mixing in Lynds’ espionage and Morrell’s action when Liz, a former CIA operative is captured by the Russian Mafia and Simon, an MI6 agent, temporarily assigned to the FBI, must rescue her.

Lynds wrote the opening scene “and kicked it back to David where he wrote the next scenes. We blended the two voices with the plot changing several times, which included making sure there was not an overabundance of characters that could possibly confuse the readers.

“Since we have been friends for years we worked together to try to figure out how to incorporate Rambo in the story, creating a rousing good tale where the thriller looks like an elephant but must run like a gazelle.”

Because Rambo was killed in the novel, “First Blood,” Morrell knew “we had to be able to use Rambo’s essence without having him physically appear.

“I had to decide which tone we would take, since the book is much different than the film,” Morrell said. “Someone once joked the novel is more hell and the film is more heck. I wrote the novelizations of the film sequels that added to the myth of Rambo. Using those parameters, we made the Russian Mafia guys learn to speak English by watching Rambo films. Gayle wrote all of Liz’s scenes, and I took over Simon and the dialogue involving most of Rambo. As with the Rambo book, there is no political correctness. One scene had Liz slitting this guys throat after breaking free and I thought, ‘Holy cow. This is much stronger than I imagined Gayle would write. Wow, this is certainly in the spirit of Rambo.’ The other scene, I wrote, and it came almost straight out of the novel, where Liz turns the knife into a spear and keeps lunging it into the Russians’ back. I think the intensity of the book was conveyed in this short story.”

Gayle’s latest came out in 2015, titled “The Assassins,: the second thriller involving the characters Judd Ryder and Eva Blank. These two are trapped in a battle to the death with six professional assassins who worked for Saddam Hussein. She is currently working on a book, “The Lion Of Moscow,” although there is no publishing date. It is a modern-day espionage novel about the extraction of a scientist from Russia.

David has spent the last five years writing three novels set in Victorian England based on Thomas De Quincey, blending fact and fiction. The latest came out in late 2016 and is titled “Ruler Of The Knight,” about the first death by train. Each is about a major real-life crime in that century, which changed the culture.

Karin Slaughter and Michael Koryta paired together to write “Short Story.” It takes place in the 1990s, since Karin’s character Jeffrey Tolliver was killed in a one of her previous novels. Someone steals a 1968 Mustang and ends up getting murdered, with Tolliver a person of interest. Eventually he teams up with DEA agents Joe Pritchard and Lincoln Perry to find the real killer.

Because this was the longest story, Karin joked “we entitled it ‘Short Story.’ We wanted to write the plot as a screenplay where I would take my character to a certain point and then his character takes over. I would say, ‘Your character needs to say something along these lines, and then he would write the line to keep it in his voice. We also helped each other plant clues. I told him if you let me set it in Georgia I will let you pick the weather, which he did by making the blizzard almost a secondary character.”

Her next book, due out in August is “The Good Daughter.” Samantha Charlotte experienced some horrific tragedies in her youth and now witnesses a school shooting. She must work with her estranged father and sister to solve the case and face the past.

Charlaine Harris and Andrew Gross both told of how hard it was to find a story that could involve their main characters, Harper Connelly and Ty Hauck. Being different as day and night, Harper locates dead bodies, while Ty is a gritty detective. Together they have to find Stephanie Winters who disappeared.

“The setting was the most difficult for me to grab my hands around because Harper has never left the Continental U. S.,and yet she gets this special job in Egypt,” Harris said. “I did the research and found that Alexandria used to be a great melting pot, but now it is closed and guarded. Having our characters work together for this seemed fine, but I do not think these two characters would hang around with each other for any length of time, especially since Ty is very skeptical.”

Because Gross had just traveled to Egypt, “I came up with the story. I would call Charlaine’s character ‘a dead person’s whisperer.’ I thought the city of Alexandria would be perfect for the setting since it is a testament to the dead. I had to convince her this was sensible since our characters are from very different regions: hers lives in the Deep South and mine resides in the Northeast. We wrote it as if we were playing ping/pong back and forth. Both of us made sure it was seamless and that the characters fit into the plotline.”

“Sleep Like A Baby” comes out in September. This latest installment of Charlaine’s “Aurora Teagarden” series has a dead body found outside the house.

“The Saboteur” by Andrew Gross comes out in August. This comes off the heels of his other WWII story, “The One Man.” It has the Allies raiding the heavily guarded Nazi factory where they are attempting to build an atomic bomb.

Lisa Scottoline and Nelson DeMille, two legendary thriller authors, combined action, mystery and humor in the “Getaway.” Spearheaded by the loss of a dog, Max, John Corey and Bennie Rosato end up meeting in the wilderness where they find a possible terrorist cell operation.

DeMille wanted to make sure these “alpha characters met in a neutral setting. Bennie reminds me of Kate Mayfield: Professional, intellectual and does not do well in an action situation. Because she is a strong and sharp female criminal attorney and Corey is a former detective we decided not to have them meet in a professional setting.

“I came up with the idea of the lake house in New York to put both outside their comfort zone,” DeMille said. “I thought it might be fun to combine some scenes from my previous novels. ‘Plum Island’ has him recuperating in a small town and with this story he is deciding where he wants to go with his life. Another novel, ‘Wild Fire,’ is set very near where the lake house is, and in my last novel, ‘Radiant Angel,’ he finds his personal life in shambles. This is why I thought he would flirt with Bennie, but Lisa wanted no part of it.”

Scottoline conveyed a story, which showed how DeMille supports authors.

“I am a huge fan of his,” Scottoline said. “At one of my book signings I noticed him sitting in the back and wanted to introduce him, but he said, ‘This is not about me, this is about you.’ I agreed to participate in ‘MatchUp’ only if I were paired with him. I drafted something, and then he completely redrafted it. This was truly a joint effort. Our characters are smart and funny. They both are a bit rebellious of authority and appear to be outsiders. I hope they came to some kind of rapport and understanding of each other and are not seen as banging heads. I know Corey can relate to and respect women and wanted to write it as a match-up of equals making sure it was not a love story, but a respect story.”

Furthermore, she said she felt, “The X-factor in the story was the dog Max. I wrote those scenes because he is her true companion. Although Nelson wrote the line, ‘Dogs eat, sleep, play, and screw. In his next life? Maybe.’ I think that is pure John Corey talking. Beyond that she thinks of her dog and Corey thinks of his glass of scotch.”

Scottoline’s next novel, “Exposed,” comes out in August. This pits Bennie against her partner Mary DiNunzio where she represents the employee and Bennie represents the company who fired him.

DeMille’s book, :The Cuban Affair,” comes out in September. Full of new characters, it has the Cuban exile community hiring the owner of a large fishing boat to take them to Cuba in search of $60 million left behind during the Batista regime.

A. Jance and Eric Van Lustbader combined in “Taking The Veil.” This was a true collaboration since the characters, Ali Reynolds and Bravo Shaw, were placed in Jance’s setting in Arizona, and the plotline was his, a medieval type of story with religious connotations.

Lustbader told of the difficulty in getting started.

“I called Steve and told him we were stuck. He suggested one of us comes up with a first draft, and after Judy proposed I try first, we were off and running. There were a number of instances where we each placed our characters in a situation that would not have worked so we changed it.”

Jance prefers to write full-length novels since “short stories are like wine tastings. You don’t get a whole bottle of something, but a taste of several. I think the way to describe how we worked was that I am summery Riesling and he was a port wine.”

In September, “Proof of Life” comes out, which is a J. P. Beaumont novel. He is trying to deal with the reality of retirement and realizes he does not like it. But it does not last for long after being dragged into an investigation at the request of the deceased victim, his longtime nemesis crime reporter Maxwell Cole.

In May Lustbader’s book “The Fallen” was released. This new trilogy explores religion, politics and civilization, as all roads lead to the “Book of Deathly Things: the Testament of Lucifer.”

“MatchUp” is the perfect anthology for thriller fans, allowing them to match wits with the bestselling authors as they try to solve the cases. The stories were entertaining and brilliantly written. Anyone enjoying thrillers will relish these stories.

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About the Author

Elise Cooper

Elise writes book reviews that always include a short author interview.