Interview with Joseph Finder
P.I. Nick Heller Returns in Joseph Finder’s Latest Thriller “House on Fire”
Interview by Suspense Magazine
Bestselling author Joseph Finder never disappoints with his writing. That truth remains as he now releases the latest Nick Heller book, “House on Fire.” We are honored that Joseph sat down with us and talked about the book. If you would like to listen to the whole interview you can check out Suspense Radio on iTunes, Spotify or simply go to the website.
If you are not that familiar with Joe’s work, two of his books, “High Crimes” and “Paranoia” have been made into major motion pictures. “High Crimes” starred Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd, with “Paranoia” starring Harrison Ford, Liam Hemsworth and Gary Oldman.
Check out the newest incredible title, “House on Fire,” and then check out his interview below.
Nick Heller, private spy, exposes secrets that powerful people would rather keep hidden.
At the funeral of his good friend Sean, an army buddy who once saved Nick’s life and had struggled with opioid addiction since returning wounded from war, a stranger approaches Nick with a job. The woman is a member of the Kimball family, whose immense fortune was built on opiates. Now she wants to become a whistleblower, exposing evidence that Kimball Pharmaceutical knew its biggest money-maker drug, Oxydone, was dangerously addictive and led directly to the overdoses and deaths of people like Sean.
Nick agrees instantly, eager to avenge Sean’s death, but he quickly finds himself entangled in the complicated family dynamics of the Kimball dynasty. The other Kimball siblings view Nick as the enemy, and at least one will do anything to keep him from exposing the patriarch’s guilt. And Nick discovers he is not the only private investigator employed by a Kimball scion. His old lover Maggie has also been hired, reuniting the two after a conflict when they both worked at the Pentagon years ago.
Nick and Maggie soon realize the sins of the Kimball patriarch are just the beginning. Beneath the surface are the barely concealed cabals and conspiracies: a twisting story of family intrigue and lethal corporate machinations.
John Raab (J.R.): Hello everybody and welcome to a new edition of “Beyond the Cover.” My co-host, Jeff Ayers, and I, are very excited to be speaking with New York Times bestselling author Joseph Finder today. The latest in his popular Nick Heller series has just come out titled, “House on Fire,” and he has come back to talk all about that and a whole menu of other things. It’s great to see you again, Joseph.
Joseph Finder (J.F.): Good to be here. Thank you for having me.
J.R.: We want to jump right in! Your last Heller book was in 2016, “Guilty Minds.” This popular P.I. is back after a three-year hiatus; so what can your extremely excited fans expect to see with this new one?
J.F.: Well, it starts at a funeral of one of Nick’s friends; in fact, this is a guy who saved Nick’s life in Afghanistan. The guy died as the result of an opioid overdose and it makes Nick angry. At the funeral, he’s approached by a woman she wants to hire him and dig up dirt on the family that’s behind the production of this drug. Nick is all in. Anything he can do to sort of work against the company that did this, he wants to do. It’s the story of a strange, contentious family who are at each other’s throats, and Nick’s search for a particular document. It involves Nick finally coming to terms with why his friend died.
Jeff Ayers (J.A.): I have to say, I love being a reviewer in cases like this because I get the books early, and I absolutely loved this one. The disadvantage is I have to wait longer for the next one. Now, without giving any spoilers away, I’m wondering…. There are so many surprises in this one that I found myself shocked by some of the things that happened to your characters. In your writing process, did you see these things ahead of time or, like me, were you surprised by some of them?
J.F.: That’s an interesting question because, in fact, right now I’m working on my new book and writing an outline. This is actually a change of pace for me. I never did any outlining before; my process was always writing a plot up to a certain point that included the basic set-up, and then I would just sit down and start writing. With “House on Fire” I did a rough ‘beat sheet’ and not an outline, just to show me where the ‘beats’ of the story were. I would write something and think: What would the reader expect to happen next? Then I would turn left and go the other way, so I made it a point to surprise myself as much as the reader. This is definitely one of the pleasures of the thriller—to have your expectations be defeated because the author is playing a very competitive game at another level, which is what I want in all thrillers.
J.R.: Were you clamoring to bring Nick back? Did you have this story building somewhere after “Guilty Minds,” or did it just hit you?
J.F.: Right after “Guilty Minds” I had an idea for a standalone; I did not have a Nick idea right away. I have a file of ideas, per se, but not one that jumped out at me, so I wrote the standalone. One day, though, I was reading about the OxyContin epidemic somewhere and it made me angry to think that the companies marketing the drug knew how addictive it was but kept it silent. Doctor’s would prescribe it while being completely unaware that it was fiendishly addictive.
Because I was angry, I thought about Nick. He’s really good at making things right as much as possible, so that’s when I thought to myself, I want Nick to have an adventure involving a wealthy family with a dark legacy; the father is the founder of a company that made the rest of the family rich, and is knowingly marketing a drug he knows is dangerous.
J.A.: One of the things I love about Nick is that he doesn’t back down from anything and will do anything to bring justice to a situation. As the writer how, in your mind, is he fueled to do these things?
J.F.: I think in some ways Nick is the odd man out. Not a company man, not a joiner. Instead, he’s contrarian, which goes back to the way he was brought up. He was sensitized to helping victims of bullies in particular. So that need to defeat bullies is something that’s a great pleasure to write. When my daughter was growing up, I would tell tales at bedtime and she decided that the genre of stories she liked best were “bully” stories. I would make up the story about someone who prevails over the bully and I realized there was some deep-seeded need within us to not be pushed around or tyrannized. We take pleasure when someone comes in and faces down the bully. I created Nick for this; contrarian, stubborn but also relentless. He basically, as you put it, doesn’t give up.
J.R.: Through the series, looking back, has he progressed the way you thought he would, or has he given you some surprises that you didn’t think you’d see?
J.F.: He gets more complex and has opened up over time. In “House on Fire” he meets up with an old lover and we get a glimpse at what his relationship with a woman was like and what he did that eventually broke them up. I wanted to show the romantic side of Nick in this book which I hadn’t done before. I also wanted to show him younger: back from the war, living in Washington and waging a campaign to bring down a general who sexually abused his girlfriend. So, not just the personal side, but the way he was before he became the P.I. we all know. It shows readers a bit about how and why Nick has regrets. Sometimes he’s too much. Sometimes he goes too far with friends and tries to help too much. There are times he had to learn when to back off, and that was one very surprising aspect of Nick for me as I watched him overstep boundaries and learn from that.
J.A.: One of the other things I love about “House on Fire” is that we get a first person character. I was wondering what your preference was in your writing; first or third person?
J.F.: I prefer first person, actually. I love writing it, even though it does have obvious disadvantages; if you’re in first person you generally can’t show the bad guys doing something else away from the lead character. But I decided: Who makes these silly laws? It’s my book, so why can’t I mix first person with third? Seeing as that I’m my own boss, I’m going to follow my own rules.
There’s something up close and personal with first person. It enables you, when you’re in that character’s head, to be more closely aligned with the person. Yet, I want to bring in the bad guys at times and have readers see what Nick couldn’t possibly see, which is why I include those chapters. I want to write the story the way it works best.
J.R.: And if the story comes out right, that’s the whole point.
J.F.: Exactly. I talked to an editor before starting and he said that I “had to stick with the norm.” I tell you, there’s something liberating in writing your own book the way you want to.
One of the ways we create suspense and tension is by showing something happening at the same time as our hero is doing something else, and our hero doesn’t know about it. So mixing the points of view keeps the readers intrigued.
J.A.: Can you tell us about the success you’ve had in Hollywood?
J.F.: I’ve had two movies made from my books: “High Crimes” with Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd; and “Paranoia” with Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman. The first was highly successful. When we sold “High Crimes,” I said to my agent that if it was made into a movie (just because you sell it doesn’t mean the studio will greenlight it for filming), I wanted a cameo. The agent thought that was funny because, frankly, Hitchcock was the only one who got cameos and that was because he was the director of the films he showed up in. The writer of the book is much further down the totem pole; even the screenwriter(s) are above you. I’m not sure who pulled the strings, but eventually my agent called and said it was being filmed and that I could have a cameo. I was so excited. He told me to wait because the bad news was that I would have to shave my head and play a Marine. Heck, I would have gone to SmartCuts that day but, sure enough, they flew me to L.A. and I got my head shaved and wore the Marine uniform for five days.
J.R.: That must have been so cool, though, to see your words come alive in real life.
J.F.: It was amazing. I was actually sitting in a court room that was exactly as I had described it in my book. It blew my mind when I realized that it took just me, sitting alone at my desk in the office to write this book, but it took 500 people to make the movie. Talk about a collaborative effort. It was cool to see people speaking lines that I had written. I get why people want to be screenwriters in order to see it happen all the time. When it’s less of a success, and people who make the movie don’t exactly follow the book, it’s different. I have been at signings where people will ask me how I felt about “what Hollywood did” and how they altered it. I just tell them, I feel nothing. You see, the book still exists in its’ true form on the shelf of the library or in the bookstore. To me, movies are great ads that bring moviegoers into the fold of readers who already know my work, and, more often than not, will pick up the other books to see what really happened.
J.A.: With all the books you’ve written, what would you say is your “brand”?
J.F.: I write suspense novels, crime fiction, and basically stories about ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events. Nick is not an ordinary guy, so they’re slightly different in a sense. They are always about some kind of issue that’s present in our news, and they always involve the perspective of a regular person facing a large machine. Whether it’s wealth, or political power or industrial or corporate power, it’s always a common man or woman facing that big machine. In a sense, each of my books is a David vs. Goliath tale.
J.R.: And the best place to find out more about the books?
J.F.: The website, josephfinder.com, has everything. I don’t do Instagram, but I do post on Facebook and Twitter regularly. I feel like there are too many social media outlets out there and I don’t want to waste my time doing silly things, like taking pictures of my meals and posting them. I mean, who cares? I also feel strongly that when a writer is putting something out, it should be interesting. There should be a reason I’m posting so as not to waste your time.
J.R.: Thank you so much for coming, Joseph. It’s always a pleasure and congrats on “House on Fire.” It was great to see Nick again and the story was incredible.
J.F.: Thank you, guys. It was great talking with you!
We would like to thank Joseph for coming on and talking with us. To find out more about Joseph’s work, visit his website at www.josephfinder.com.
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