"Writing a great thriller is like assembling a puzzle," explained author Jon Land recently when he called me from his home in Rhode Island. "When the reader first starts a book they should understand something about the pieces but not where they all fit."
"You have to remember you're a storyteller," added Land, whose books I not only find entertaining but highly informative as well. Land is fond of letting his heroine Caitlin Strong fire her sidearm more frequently than Dirty Harry, and in his latest effort, Strong Darkness, when his female Texas Ranger is confronted by an angry mob he puts her behind the wheel of a bulldozer. Land uses the book's quieter moments to enlighten his readers with relevant, interesting and frightening facts -- like part of the internet known as the deep web.
Land learned of the deep web from a Time Magazine cover story and he explains it as "a secret internet." It's a part of the internet that exists only for people who know how to navigate it and when they do so it's for nefarious means, and in the case of Strong Darkness, internet pornography. Land uses the deep web as a puzzle piece to connect his readers to the rest of the story as well as a plot device that ultimately helps destroy the villain.
"The mark of a great thriller is a book that makes you believe something doesn't exist when it really does," said Land, after I mentioned the deep web. "It happens when something seems so convenient plot-wise that you can't believe it's real." Land came up with the plot line for Strong Darkness after watching an episode of 60 Minutes that focused on Shinzen, a company in China that built the 4G cell phone network. Land created the fictitious Yuyuan Corporation, a new 5G network and he was off and running.
"All the things in this book that go bump in the night are real," said Land. "With a thriller I try to scare people by making them think, and that's what I do in Strong Darkness with the deep web. When I encounter something for the first time I try to write about it in that manner. I also added a subplot from the year 1883 while the railroad was being built with real historical figure Judge Roy Bean and had him hunt for a serial killer." Land parallels Bean's quest with a hunt for a similar present day serial killer and the back and forth keep the pages turning at a brisk pace.
Many great thriller writers use recurring plot devices and locations and so does Land, but his additional combination of history and new technology makes for a unique reading experience in this genre. Simply put, Jon Land is a great storyteller. "I don't want to give the reader too much information and overwhelm and numb them, said Land. "They stop caring about the book when you throw more and more at them so I try to strike a balance by not adding another two or three hundred pages with minutia that destroys any dramatic allusions."
When you read a novel by Jon Land, you're going to learn things and come to grips with facts about the world that you weren't aware of before you opened the book.
Land has a passion for storytelling as a reader and a writer and it shows. Strong Darkness brings two worlds -- old and new -- together brilliantly.