Sunday, March 03, 2013

Special guest: Russell Blake talks about 'When Bad is Good'

I’ll admit, a lot of my favorite characters are bad guys. Don’t know why, but for me, those are the most memorable. Sure, I remember Bond and Bourne and whoever the hell Tom Cruise plays in Mission Impossible, but the ones that really stick in my mind are always the villains – in the movies, like the books, Hannibal Lecter/Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs, David Carradine in Kill Bill, Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, Lawrence Olivier in Marathon Man (“Eees eet safe?”), Kevin Spacey in Se7en, Gary Oldman in just about every role he’s ever played. I could go on and on.

I don’t know why a compelling bad guy sticks with us with such vividness, but there’s no denying that they do. Consider a great movie like The Usual Suspects – I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what any of the characters’ names were, save one, and he’s a doozy: Keyser Soze. The baddest mofo of crime ever conceived.

Many books and movies try to build a hero you can root for, and a villain you can hate – but where it gets interesting is when innovative thinkers discard that formula and blur the lines. I think one of the fascinating things about the film Pulp Fiction was that everyone in it was basically bad, and yet you liked the characters. Hit men? Generally agreed to be bad. Robbers? Bad. Kingpin? Super bad. The down on his luck boxer? Somewhat bad, although redeemable. Even the women were sort of bad. Maybe not 100%, but close enough to where you knew they weren’t all that good.

And yet people respond well to bad, when it’s done well.

In books, much the same as in films, although a lot of the aforementioned villains are drawn from books. And literary baddies like American Psycho’s main character, or Red Dragon’s serial killer, or The Stand’s Randall Flagg, or even smaller villains like that piss-ant guard in The Green Mile. They stay with you.

That’s the way I was thinking when I first conceived my ultimate bad guy, the cartel super-assassin known as El Rey, The King of Swords, in the first book of my Assassin series, King of Swords. From that kernel has sprung a slew of books, culminating with my new release, Blood of the Assassin, where El Rey plays a central role in stopping a German assassin before he can kill a visiting dignitary and destroy the world order.

But Blood of the Assassin is different than any of the other books in the series, in that it was written so it could be read as a stand-alone book by folks who have never read any of the others, and yet be every bit as enjoyable – sort of like Da Vinci Code was the second in the Robert Langdon series but you didn’t have to read the first one to have a satisfying time. Blood takes that same approach, giving new readers a chance to sample the best of my work to date without plowing through the other four in the series.

And boy, does it have memorable villains. El Rey is the character I get the most fan mail for – some even send in photos of guns they think would be ideal for him (that’s not a lie). People seem fascinated by his combination of genius IQ, nerves of steel, zen-like calm under any sort of pressure, and his almost preternaturally efficiency in terminating his targets. If an actor was going to play him, it would have to be Johnny Depp – he’s got that vibe, that dancing on a razor’s edge, I don’t give a sh#t willingness to go to the brink and balance on the edge, daring the world to blow him into the abyss, taunting it to steal his soul. El Rey is larger than life, coldly efficient, remorseless, relentless and an island unto himself, and he has no hesitation about killing some of the most dangerous men on the planet, as well as politicians, if the price is right. He’s a bad man. There’s little that’s good in him, and almost nothing to warm to...and yet, readers do. They love him. And they want to know what he’s up to next. I get probably three to four e-mails a week from readers asking when the next El Rey book will be out. That’s wild, considering that I sort of envisioned any series built from King of Swords would revolve around the protagonist, Captain Romero Cruz of the Federal Police. But things have a way of taking on a life of their own, and that’s not how it played.

In Blood, however, Cruz is in the mix in a very big way, and the story gives us a real sense for his depth, as well as more insight into his relationships, his frustrations and the obstacles he has to contend with in his career, and the thankless, dangerous job he performs hunting the most vicious cartel drug lords in the world. But when you add El Rey into that stew, and have them forced to reluctantly cooperate in order to stop a German hit man who is intent on taking out the Chinese leader on his Mexican visit, you have a bad-guy fest that plays out at hyper-speed – a high octane rollercoaster that makes Day of the Jackal read like Wuthering Heights.

What makes Blood of the Assassin one of my favorite efforts are the villains – we get to really know them, and whether we like it or not, they’re fascinating, just as a Keyser Soze was fascinating. You didn’t want to find him that interesting, but you couldn’t help yourself. El Rey and his cast of miscreants is much the same way, and anyone who is a fan of Harris, Forsyth, Child or Ludlum will find Blood of the Assassin to be a welcome addition to their bookshelf. I’m so certain that readers will like it, I’m dropping the price for a few days during its launch, to reduce the barrier to purchasing it about as low as it can go without paying readers to read it. My bet is that once a reader gets 10 pages in, they’re hooked, and there’s no turning back as they delve into a controversial, forbidden underbelly populated by miscreants, killers, narco-traffickers, scheming intelligence agencies and a few good men and women trying to keep the world safe.

As one early reviewer said, this isn’t a book for folks who want to read a few chapters and go to sleep.

True, dat.

If a little titillation and a breakneck-paced story are up your alley, I’d encourage you to give Blood of the Assassin a whirl. Who knows – you might just find that you’ve discovered your very own, personal Keyser Soze, hiding in the pages of your kindle.

And he wants out.
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Russell Blake is the bestselling author of twenty novels, including the thrillers Fatal Exchange, The Geronimo Breach, Zero Sum, King of Swords, Night of the Assassin, Revenge of the Assassin, Return of the Assassin, Blood of the Assassin, The Delphi Chronicle trilogy, The Voynich Cypher, Silver Justice, JET, JET II - Betrayal, JET III - Vengeance, JET IV - Reckoning, and JET V - Legacy. Non-fiction includes the international bestselling animal biography An Angel With Fur and How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated), a parody of all things writing-related. Blake lives in Mexico and enjoys his dogs, fishing, boating, tequila and writing, while battling world domination by clowns.

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