Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Long Time Coming — Zoë Sharp’s FOX HUNTER: Charlie Fox book 12

I freely admit that there were times when I truly thought I was never going to finish the latest Charlie Fox book. Number 12 in the series, FOX HUNTER seems to have taken me longer to write than anything since the very first novel about Charlie, way back when.

(US print/ebook edition)

The extended gestation period has had nothing to do with character fatigue, though. I’m still as interested in the nuances of Charlie’s psyche as I was when I started out. More so, if anything. She’s become far more complicated as a person than she was, and although she’s rather more practised when it comes to taking a life, the conflict it causes her internally is just as strong — if not stronger.

Yes, the locations for this story were trickier to realise than the books that went before it. While I’ve been to the Middle East, going into present-day Iraq was always going to be a dubious proposition. Getting across a flavour of the places, without making it into a travel guide, is always a fine balance. As with all research you put into a novel, I was aiming for realistic rather than real.

Sometimes I think you spend more time describing the locations you know less well, just to try to ensure you’ve got them right. On the other hand, it’s also difficult to give a first impression of somewhere you know intimately. If a stranger was visiting your home town for the first time, for instance, how would they come away feeling about it? What would be the thing that struck them most?

In FOX HUNTER, I had to take care with my descriptions of Iraq, Kuwait, and Jordan, in an effort to make them distinct without overdoing it. I’m thankful, yet again, for my years as a photographer, working almost entirely on location rather than in a studio, which makes you look at places in a different way.

(UK print/ebook edition coming Sept) 

On top of that, of course, was trying to overlay how Charlie would view her surroundings. She’s worked in close protection for long enough to always be looking for the next threat, and here there were plenty. I read widely, mainly memoirs of people who’d worked in those countries as outsiders rather than written by locals.

The actual storyline of FOX HUNTER follows on directly from the previous book, ABSENCE OF LIGHT. Sean Meyer is missing, last seen crossing the border from Kuwait into southern Iraq. The next thing Charlie knows, the body of one of the men who ruined her army career turns up dead:

‘The dead man had not gone quietly … There was a time when I would have given everything I owned to be the one responsible for that.’

Charlie Fox will never forget the men who put a brutal end to her military career, but she vowed a long time ago she would not go looking for them.

Now she doesn’t have a choice.

Her boss and former lover, Sean Meyer, is missing in Iraq where one of those men was working as a private security contractor. When the man’s butchered body is discovered, Charlie fears that Sean may be pursuing a twisted vendetta on her behalf.

Sean’s partner in their exclusive New York close-protection agency needs this dealt with—fast and quiet—before everything they’ve worked for is in ruins. He sends Charlie to the Middle East with very specific instructions:

Find Sean Meyer and stop him. By whatever means necessary.

At one time Charlie thought she knew Sean better than she knew herself, but it seems he’s turned into a violent stranger. As the trail grows more bloody, Charlie realises that unless she can get to Sean first, the hunter may soon become the hunted.

I worried that this novel might contain too much of Charlie’s past for new readers, although I’ve tried to explain the role the recurring characters play, again without overdoing. The further on in a series you get, the more you either have to explain the back story, or ignore it entirely and have each book stand alone with no reference to the others. And if you want the protagonist to grow and learn from their experiences, you can’t escape having progression, and therefore history.

(US audio edition)

I hope I’ve created a couple of engaging and entertaining new characters in FOX HUNTER, such as slightly jaded CIA operative Aubrey Hamilton, and private military contractor Luisa Dawson. I’ve also brought back characters from much earlier novels in the series, like Ian Garton-Jones — owner of Streetwise Security from RIOT ACT — and Balkan gangsters Gregor and Ivan Venko from HARD KNOCKS.

FOX HUNTER also marks the appearance on stage for the first time of characters mentioned but never seen — Charlie’s former army comrades, Donalson and Hackett, and Commanding Officer, Colonel Parris. This involved going back through quite a few of the earlier books to see what snippets of information I’d included about each of them.

In fact, the more I think about it, I’m surprised it didn’t take me longer to finish writing this one …

Especially when there were delicate subjects I had to tiptoe around, from ISIS to honour killings. I admit that when FOX HUNTER came out in the US this week, I was holding my breath on its reception. The first reviews have been good:

“Gritty, hard-hitting, all-around outstanding crime fiction.” Booklist (starred review)

“Nonstop action and an intricate plot weave together to create another thrill ride for fans of Sharp's heroine.” Kirkus

And emails so far from readers are enthusiastic. The only trouble is, they already want to know when they can expect the next one.

Note to self: Must Write Faster …

This week’s Word of the Week is insidious, meaning evil by stealth, as oppose to invidious, which is a more open kind of nastiness.


  1. Hurrah! Hurrah!!! I have downloaded the e-book so I can read it right away. I will buy my paper copy for you to sign at Bouchercon. This one sounds absolutely amazing, Zoe. And for me it comes right at a time when I have some leisure to dive right in. Yippeee!!

    1. Thanks, Annamaria. I'm delighted you're so excited, and the timing is good. A win, win situation :)

  2. So are you coming to Bouchercon to sign a copy for me? Bill Crider's book with me as a character is out too, this has been a good year......

    1. Absolutely, Aubrey! It was great fun as well as an honour and a privilege working your character into the book. Thank you so much for bidding to be there.

  3. Congrats, Zoë! Just remember: the reward for a job well-done is... another job.

    Insidious, invidious, and then there's dividious (which is the evil on display in Charlottesville yesterday). Okay, I made that up, but it SHOULD be a word.

    Now, get back to work...

    1. Thanks, EvKa. Wasn't Darth Dividious a character in one of the Star Wars movies ...?

      OK, break's over. Back on my head :)

  4. That's all terrific news...and a starred review from Booklist to cap it all off! Wunderbar. Now about that next one...

    1. Thanks, Jeff. And yes, I'm already working on the next project. Got to keep chipping away at the word face.