Billed as the "master of the modern thriller," New York Times best-selling author Joseph Finder writes books that play up his penchant for suspense and indulge his wish to be a spy.
With a master's in Russian from Harvard, Finder was once recruited to the CIA. After discovering he'd be working in a cubicle and not jumping between trains a la Jason Bourne, he decided he preferred writing fiction.
Finder is the author of 11 novels, including "Vanished" and "Buried Secrets." His novel "High Crimes" was made into a film of the same name starring Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman. His novel "Paranoia" was adapted into a 2013 film starring Liam Hemsworth, Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford.
Finder's latest book, "Suspicion," veers from the corporate setting of many of his previous works and instead inhabits the world of an elite prep school. Protagonist Danny Goodman is a struggling writer and single parent who would do anything to keep his daughter Abby in the school she loves, even if it means borrowing money from the father of her new best friend.
The moment Danny accepts the money, however, the Drug Enforcement Agency comes knocking, putting him in an extremely compromising situation. If he doesn't help the feds, he'll go to jail. But if he does, he could be killed. What's a father to do?
At noon June 6, Finder will speak and sign copies of "Suspicion" at the Moss Creek Clubhouse on Hilton Head Island. In a news release, Finder answered questions about his personal inspiration for "Suspicion," his writing process and more about why he chose writing over the CIA.
Question. What inspired you to write "Suspicion"?
Finder. When my daughter started going to a very prestigious all-girls school in Boston, I, a public school kid, found I'd discovered a fascinating new world, rife with narrative possibilities.
I made some good friends among the parents, particularly the dads, people I otherwise would never have met. We dads were a fairly representative cross-section of society: rich and poor, black and white and Hispanic and Asian; hedge fund billionaires and struggling students and musicians. What we had in common, though, was that we all had daughters we loved attending a pretty challenging high school. And I realized that I'd stumbled into an interesting way to put an ordinary guy into extraordinary circumstances, which is one of my favorite kinds of stories.
Q. In some ways, "Suspicion" is a departure from your previous novels. What made you decide to take this novel in a different direction?
Finder. It's a departure in the sense that, unlike most of my last six novels, it doesn't have a corporate setting. I still love that world and consider it a rich and largely unmined vein of human drama. But this time I wanted to do a story much closer to home, set in a world I know intimately.
This is also the first time I've written about the relationship between a father and daughter from up close. Being a dad has been a profound and important thing in my life. When it comes to character motivation, there are few more powerful than being a parent. Danny Goodman, the hero of "Suspicion," would do anything for his daughter, which is ultimately what gets him in such serious trouble. As a dad, I totally get it.
Q. Did you do any unusual research for "Suspicion" or run across anything surprising?
Finder. I was fortunate, while researching "Suspicion," to have the cooperation of the Drug Enforcement Agency and some of its former agents. They gave me some great detail on how confidential informants are recruited, handled and how their identities are kept secret.
In researching Mexican drug cartels, I was surprised at the ease with which the cartels have been able to use big, legitimate banks like Bank of America and Wachovia Bank and HSBC to launder their immense profits, and how easily corrupted our banking system is. The more I dug into the cartels, the more I was stunned by how terrifyingly bloodthirsty and violent they are. I was also amazed at the sophistication of spycraft used by some cartels.
Q. You studied Russian and Soviet history and politics at Yale and Harvard, and you almost went into a career in intelligence. What made you decide to become a writer instead? How do these factors shape and influence your writing?
Finder. Ultimately I decided that I was more suited to the life of a writer than the life of an intelligence bureaucrat. I don't play all that well with others, and I'm not great at obeying orders. I also love the creativity and autonomy of being a writer. It just suits me better. But as a result, I've made some great contacts in the espionage and intelligence community, because people who would never talk to a journalist will much more readily talk to a novelist. Knowing a fair amount about the intelligence business turned out to be quite helpful in writing thrillers.
Q. What is your writing process like?
Finder. After I come up with an idea, I spend weeks or even months brainstorming -- doing research, talking to people, reading books -- and coming up with ideas for scenes and subplots. I usually don't start writing until I can imagine the "movie trailer" for the book -- the high points, the drama, the obligatory moments, how the characters are entangled.
Writing, for me, always starts out slowly, but by the end I can write 10 to 20 pages or more a day. I become spacey and inattentive to anything except the story I'm making up. I really shouldn't be allowed to operate heavy machinery at that point. But being totally absorbed and completely lost in a story is what I love most about being a novelist.