Scott Butki’s Interview With Jack Carr

In his debut novel, Jack Carr has written a thriller about what happens when disaster strikes while protagonist, James Reese, a United States Navy SEAL team commander, is on his final deployment. His entire team is wiped out in a well-planned and deadly ambush that seemed orchestrated.

Carr knows what he’s talking about given his own long work with the military – serving as a Navy SEAL himself – and that experience shows. Carr is a pseudonym, which is explained in my interview with Carr below.

As Reece unravels the conspiracy that brought about the deaths of his teammates, he discovers that corrupt elements in the federal government, the financial sector, the pharmaceutical industry, as well as military leaders in his own chain of command are behind the attacks.  Using tactics learned in his years in the military he goes on a mission of vengeance.

While a fictional story Carr draws from lessons and emotions, including frustration, he experienced during his 20 years as a Navy SEAL. Carr set out with this book to do what so many novels about the military don’t do, namely get all the information correct.


Scott Butki: How did you come up with this story and how much of it is fact, how much fiction?


Jack Carr: It is 100% fiction but there are elements that ring true because the emotions that James Reece, the hero of The Terminal List, feels throughout the course of his journey come from emotions associated with real world experiences I went through in the SEAL Teams.  The guns, gear, knives and equipment are all things I was personally familiar with.


James Reece thinks through how to accomplish his mission in a way that someone with a background in special operations would approach the planning process.  Conspiracies sometimes have a hint of truth, and sometimes are exactly that – conspiracies. The Church Hearings in the late 70’s exposed gross abuses of power by federal government agencies in violation of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.  The Terminal List draws on those abuses as inspiration for a modern conspiracy involving our most elite special operations soldiers.


SB: How did you research this book? I ask because I’m assuming your background as a Navy SEAL team leader on four continents, provided some of the fodder as you prepared to write this debut novel.


JC: I always loved thrillers where the hero had the background to do extraordinary things.  Being able to effectively utilize weapons takes time and dedication. Being able to fight effectively takes time on the mat or in the ring.  The “research” really took place examining how I felt about certain events that transpired during my time as a SEAL and then applying those emotions to James Reece in the novel.


SB: As a former Navy SEAL you had to get the military censors to approve this. Was that a frustrating experience? How much did you have to change? Did you write it knowing that some parts might be flagged?


JC: I went into it expecting a frustrating experience, but the opposite ended up being true.  I went through a law firm so there would be some separation between me and the Department of Defense, and because the regulations and directives surrounding pre-publication for those that have formally held security clearances can be confusing if you don’t have a law degree.  I just wanted to make sure I honored my commitments and did it right. I was extremely careful throughout the writing process to not compromise anything that could have an adverse effect on national security or my brothers still actively engaging the enemy downrange.  I was surprised when the Department of Defense amended the novel by taking out a few sentences, including some written by my writing partner who has never been in the military.  Be that as it may, I am not the arbiter of what is classified and what is not, so I kept the redactions blacked out in the novel.


SB: Why did you decide to write under a pen name?


JC: I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Lee Child before I submitted the manuscript to Emily Bestler at Emily Bestler Books.  It wasn’t quite finished, but it was close.  Lee could not have been more generous with his time and advice, making me feel like I was already a member of the club of scribes.  One of the things he told me really stood out. He said, “I love your title, but you need a pen name.”  He went on to tell me how he picked his pen name when he started writing the Jack Reacher series and he recommended I choose a pen name that had short first and last names and that the last name start with a “C.” I figured I would be wise to take his advice.


SB: I’m always, as a long-time writer myself, curious about how authors organize books with a writing partner, in this case Keith Wood. How did you two divide up the work?


JC: It was such an amazing experience.  Keith has been a dear friend for years and we both shared the dream of someday writing novels in this genre.  Someday ended up being my transition from the military.  We collaborated on every step of the process, from developing an outline, to divvying up chapters, to editing each other’s work, to talking though challenges that James Reece would have to overcome while creatively working our way to a solution. It’s an incredible partnership that has led to an even closer friendship.


SB: How do you feel about Guns and Ammo, in this piece, – , using it to publicize some of the guns mentioned in the book?

I came across it while googling for reviews of your book. It was one of the most creative ways I’ve seen a magazine report on a novel.


JC: I thought Guns & Ammo did a great job.  In the military I was always interested in what was being developed by the private sector that might make us more effective and efficient on the battlefield.  I feel extremely fortunate to have strong connections to the outdoor and tactical industries and have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for the novel from those sectors.


SB: The final paragraph of your preface says, in part, “The consolidation of power at the federal level in the guise of public safety is a national trend and should be guarded against at all costs. The erosion of rights, however incremental, is the slow death of freedom.” Can you be more specific? I wasn’t sure if this is a response to current and/or former presidents or was more of an objection to actions by the government in general.


JC: It is an observation, and something American citizens, as a free people, should study and ponder.  We were given an incredible gift from the generations that preceded us.  I worry the comforts we enjoy today are leading to complacency and we may squander the gift of freedom we were entrusted to guard and pass on to our children and grandchildren.


SB: What do you hope readers will take from this book?


JC: I want readers to join James Reece on an exciting ride, connect with him over his devotion to family and country, get a glimpse into the mind of a special operator who is surprisingly human, and perhaps give more thought to encroachments on personal liberty in exchange for the promise government protection.


SB: The publicity material for this book included this comment: “The book is an adrenalin fueled revenge thriller that makes Charles Bronson’s Death Wish look like a G rated cartoon. It will excite and infuriate and lifts the genre with its raw authenticity.” What’s it like to read those kind of comments about something you wrote?


JC: I hadn’t seen that, but my first reaction is one of amazement and gratitude.  It’s exactly what I was going for as I explored the theme of revenge without constraint. What would allow a person with the training, experience and means to unquestionably dismantle and destroy the people involved in a conspiracy that took everything from him?  To me, it had to be more than just not having anything left to live for.  To do it right, this character would have to think he was already dead. How that comes about is one of the central elements of the narrative, so I will leave that for the reader to experience.


SB: What are you working on next?


JC: There is another novel in the works right now that includes characters from The Terminal List.  Which ones, and in what capacity, that’s a secret…

Review of Joe Lansdale’s Jackrabbit Smile

Joe Lansdale’s not quite dynamic duo of Hap and Leonard have grown to be a series favorite. Their friendship is strong and believable, particularly when irritating each other, and is the kind we hope to have if we don’t already. Joe understands the two in both their consistencies and contradictions. He puts his understanding of them to good use in the latest misadventure, Jack Rabbit Smile.
The book begins at a turning point in Hap’s life, a reception cookout right after his marriage to the beautiful and smart Brett. The good time takes a turn for trouble when Thomas Mulhaney and his mother Judith. two white supremacist Pentecostals, show up. Not initially knowing that the black and gay (also Republican) Leonard is one of the operatives for Brett’s detective agency, they want to hire them to find Thomas’ sister Jackie, aka Jack Rabbit. While not caring for the brother and mother, they want to help Jack Rabbit, and they could use some cash flow. The search takes Hap and Leonard back to Hap’s hometown where The Professor, a cult leader out to build a white utopia, is buying up the land. He also has some hired goons, some Hap’s old enemies, to keep figuring out about Jack Rabbit.
Lansdale has hit an interesting stride in the series that works perfectly for fans. While there is the action and pulp style you’ve come to expect, Joe puts complete faith in his characters. We get to enjoy that wedding cook out for a few pages before the Mulhaneys crash it along with the plot. He allows Hap and Leonard to talk and comment about what is going on or just happened before the next fight or reveal. That said, he provides a good detective plot for strong narrative drive. The result is an easy going story told with forward momentum. It doesn’t rush to the finish, but it never slows down.
The plot also entwines perfectly with the social issues that propel the story just as equally. He dives into strong commentary on race and religion. This is one of the few times where discussing the themes could allude to the spoilers, because they are so well fused to the the tale. Even though he rails against the narrow mindedness of society and their institutions, he sees hope in the individuals who break through the barriers that are putting up, proving their lack of true existence.
Hap and Leonard endure as protagonists because they break those rules and champion others who due. They are even willing to get their souls dirty for justice. They are working class heroes in the best sense of the term and Lansdale proves John Lennon’s belief that that’s something to be.


To celebrate the hundredth year of Mickey Spillane’s birth, Hard Case Crime has released a collection of two novellas, titled The Last Stand. It serves as a great way to view the man. One written in the fifties at the height of his career, the other his last finished piece, gives us book ends to the career of one the twentieth century’s most popular writers.
The first tale has one of those great Spillane grab-you-by-the-throat titles, “A Bullet For Satisfaction”. It could have easily been a feature or serialized for Manhunt magazine, where many of his shorter works in the fifties were published. The plot is reminiscent of of William P. McGivern’s  1953 novel The Big Heat, with a homicide detective going rogue when an investigation puts him up against the corruption of his city. However, Spillane’s Cpt. Rod Dexter quickly becomes like Spillane’s PI Mike Hammer, going on a bullet ridden hunt for the killers and to drive out the hoods muscling in on his Midwest city. The pace and attitude are relentless and the reveal is in keeping with many of the Mike Hammer novels of the time. Dexter even sleeps with just as many women as Hammer in almost half the page count.
The second novella, the titular The Last Stand, proves to be a much more easy going adventure. Joe Gillian, a retired Vietnam vet, crash lands his vintage plane in a the desert part of an Indian reservation. A resident, Sequoia Pete, discovers Joe after he’s been thrown from his horse. The two take on a hike back to the village that would seem more treacherous if it wasn’t for the the entertaining banter that cements their friendship. Along the way, Joe finds an arrowhead that is connected to rare minerals that a group of bad guys would love to have. When Joe meets Pete’s smart and pretty sister running Fox, we know he’s in for the fight.
You could say The Last Stand is an older man’s book. Joe and Pete don’t resemble Mike Hammer at all. They aren’t completely capable and admit their fears. Yet this makes them more heroic as they hold their own when the chips are down. They also have a sense humor that allows the reader to feel he is hanging out with them, instead of the rage a traditional Spillane character creates a distance with. If the book is about anything it is how a hero finds peace after his adventures, something Mike Hammer or Rod Dexter wouldn’t have the option of or consider if they did.
These two stories are a perfect way to celebrate Mickey Spillane’s career. In “A Bullet For Satisfaction” we get the brash upstart, connecting with the populace, damn the elite, fully engaged with the genre, pulling no stops. In “The Last Stand” he gives us a story that is less about attitude and more about awareness, that only a more experienced writer can produce. They prove at either end of his career, he was a writer who could entertain.


Our Hard Word Book Club will out our celebration of Mickey Spillane’s 100th year of birth to a climax. His two-fisted, forty-five wearing PI and angel of vengeance Mike Hammer paved the way for both Frank Miller’s Sin City and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. We will be discussing the seventh Hammer novel, The Girl Hunters as well as view the film version that has an interesting leading man.

Spillane wrote The Girl Hunters after a nine year hiatus from the character. We find Hammer in the gutter, drunk and without work. When he learns his former secretary and true love Velda is missing and the quarry for a mysterious assassin known as The Dragon, he has to get his gun, license and attitude back to save her.

The film version we will be viewing presents something rare in an adaptation. It is one of the rare moments to where the author played their lead in the film version.Due to the planed actor falling out at the last minute, this is what happened with Spillane playing Hammer in The Girl Hunters, opposite future Bond lady Shirley Eaton. We will be showing the film as part of the discussion. We’ll be meeting on BookPeople’s third floor at 7PM, Wednesday March 28th. The book is 10% off for those planning to attend.

True Crime at Its Finest: Lost Girls by Robert Kolker

True crime isn’t something we feature often on MysteryPeople, and yet it is a craze and a phenomenon that has been popular much longer than people have acknowledged.  The tradition of the true crime book and its incredible fandom goes back many years, but it’s difficult to place a book that is as popular or widely read as Robert Kolker’s Lost Girls.  Lost Girls is special for many reasons, covering the Long Island Serial Killings of recent years.  It is popular mostly for its ability to portray the real lives of the women (who did mostly work as sex workers) and how real their plights were, and how effective and ultimately destructive their deaths were.

I first read Kolker’s Lost Girls a year or so ago, but returned to it recently when I needed some comfort. Kolker’s writing style provides that, not just through lyrical sentences and beautiful construction of images and ideas, but largely through the compassion Kolker feels toward these women.  If watching movies and tv shows made and developed by men who have turned out to be sexual predators depresses you, you might find solace in Kolker’s brilliant and wonderful understanding of the human mind—and the female mind—in this great book. Kolker does not focus solely on the hunt for the serial killer (or, perhaps, serial killers?). Of course, it is an unsolved mystery to this date, and we may never know the truth about these women’s deaths, as unfortunate as that is for the victims and their families.  But that is where Kolker strikes gold in our hearts: he concentrates on the victims, their lives and their hearts, and what made the veins in their bodies pulse as opposed to what eventually ceased all life in them all together.

Kolker somehow remains both neutral and empathetic, showing how sex work is necessary for many individuals who cannot make ends meet, or may seek out the profession for many other reasons (even, perhaps, enjoying the work).  The author is nonjudgmental and as fair with the story as he can be, acknowledging the fallacies in people’s own stories and arguments, and meanwhile struggling to uncover the truth for these women. There is definitely a sense that Kolker wants to champion these lost girls, as the title states, long after their deaths, and have them remembered for the brilliant but complicated lives they lived.

Of course, there is a twist.  In fact, there may be more than one, but I can’t really tell you that.  Why would I spoil what Megan Abbott has claimed is the greatest book of this decade? (Yes, you heard me correctly, she actually said that.) I have purposefully avoided giving details because you need to pick up a copy of this book and give it a try, and you need to reach out to family members and friends and show them the work of Robert Kolker.  This is not solely to appreciate the life and work of Kolker himself, but also to remember the women lost to brutality and an America that only cares for privileged women who can be viewed as “victims,” not lost girls.

Murder In The Afternoon celebrates Mickey Spillane’s 100th With One Lonely Night

For March, our Murder In The Afternoon book club will celebrate the month that marks the hundredth year of hard boiled writer Mickey Spillane’s birth. With the creation of tough guy detective Mike Hammer, Spillane launched the paperback boom that gave us a new generation of great genre writers. We will be discussing his fourth Hammer book, One Lonely Night.

The story begins with Mike walking along the bridge on a rainy night after a judge has read him the riot act about his tactics. A woman runs toward him chased by a gunman. He shoots the man down, but frightens the woman so much, she jumps off the bridge. Out of a mix of guilt and blood lust, he tracks down those responsible in a back alley trail of thus, politicians, and (this being the fifties) communists.

There will be a lot to talk about with One Lonely Night – how Spillane reacted to his critics, Hammer’s relationship with violence, and genre fiction in the age of The Red Scare. We will also be showing a documentary — Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane, directed by friend and fellow writer Max Allan Collins featuring authors like Lawrence Block, Sara Paretsky, and Walter Mosley. We will be meeting in BookPeople’s Third Floor at 1PM, Monday the 19th. Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer Volume 2 that contains One Lonely Night is 10% off to those who plan to attend.

For more Spillane, the Hard Word Book Club will be discussing The Girl Hunters on the night of March  28th at 7PM, along with viewing the film version starring Spillane as Mike Hammer.

Scorching Love: Dodging and Burning by John Copenhaver

There are a select group of, usually, female writers I turn to in times of crisis, in times of desire, in times of need, woe, loss, hope.  These authors include Alison Gaylin, Alafair Burke, Alex Marwood, Megan Abbott, Lisa Lutz, and of course, Laura Lippman.  Laura Lippman often stands in a category by herself—she is both the leading writer in transgeneric literary mysteries, but also a powerhouse who generally puts out a book a year—flawless books, beautiful books, books that always end with emotional punches that are eye-opening in startling ways.  Other than perhaps Lou Berney and Daniel Woodrell, I find very few male authors approaching Lippman’s league.  And do not get me wrong, this review is not a love letter to Laura Lippman.  This is a love letter to Dodging and Burning, the brilliant, impeccable debut by John Copenhaver.  John Copenhaver, who may or may not eventually become the male equivalent of the heretofore unmatched Laura Lippman.

Me in hat.jpgI was hesitant in beginning this book.  OK, that may be a lie.  I was eager to start this book, after reading Kristopher Zgorski’s review at the end of 2017 in his year-end review.  The book features strong female characters, complicated homosexual relationships, and as Copenhaver himself has recently pointed out to me, a challenge to the patriarchy.  There are love triangles, or what might be perceived at first as love triangles, but really, just as in real life, love is much more complicated than it first appears.  There is mystery, and intrigue, as one character points out to the two female protagonists that he believes he has found a body (and taken a photograph) of a deceased—really, murdered—woman, somewhere in Virginia.

Whatever your expectations for this novel are, put them aside. You will not be able to predict a single twist or turn to this book. You will also, likewise, not be able to put it down, just as I read it all in one solid sitting—a long sitting, as it’s not a short book, but a delicious, amazing, startling book.  Copenhaver balances both a beautiful, poetic style written in many forms (narrative, epistolary letters, among other forms and styles of writing) but Copenhaver never once sacrifices story for style.  They are balanced perfectly equally, satisfying everything the reader feels he or she needs in this volume that is too slim for my liking.  I wanted more.

This novel has taken Copenhaver years to write, and what an unfortunate note for readers.  We will have to wait years more for another book from Mr. Copenhaver, potentially, but that is O.K. by me. There are enough twists and turns, jaw-dropping shocks and surprises, that I do not believe I will ever, ever get tired of Dodging and Burning.  This is a book that will never cease to surprise you with its turns and revelations, no matter how many times you breeze through it—and there is a danger in this, the ease with which one can breeze through Copenhaver’s writing without really, truly appreciating it.  Copenhaver’s style, his story, his everything is meant to be savored, like a delicious meal—a last meal, on death row, one you might never have again.  It needs to be appreciated as such.

The fatal flaw in this book is that it is only one book, one volume.  The fatal flaw is that there is not more to appreciate in Copenhaver’s irresistible story and style.  It is endless, how fascinating his words are, his characters and their actions, their voices and their thoughts and their yearnings.  They come to life on the page.  They come to life like no other author I can think of—other than the grand, remarkable, equally undeniably unmatched Laura Lippman.

Perhaps they should start a club.