Sleight of hand – Chris Holm
Chris Holm muses on paranoia, misinformation and viral fame.
Posted on October 12, 2017 in Guest Author
Tags: Chris Holm, Red Right Hand
Wanna know a secret? Despite a mountain of marketing, reviews, and blurbs to the contrary, RED RIGHT HAND isn’t really about terrorism.
That might come as a surprise to anyone who’s read the cover copy, the first sentence of which mentions a terror attack. Heck, it might even come as a surprise to folks who’ve read the beginning of the book.
See, after a brief prologue (I know, I know, I hate them too—but I promise this one’s hooky, necessary, and action-packed), my story opens with a family of tourists trying to record a video in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a gorgeous day, warm and sunny, so the trail they’re on is crowded with pedestrians. In the distance, a tugboat chugs across the glimmering bay.
They ask an old man walking by to film them so they can all take part. He’s so unaccustomed to technology, he briefly holds the cell phone backwards, and inadvertently winds up in the shot. Once he orients the camera properly, they count down to time their message just right: “3… 2… 1…”
And at that moment, the tugboat slams into the bridge’s southern support tower and explodes.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t waste your time with a three-hundred-page bait-and-switch; that explosion is definitely a terror attack. But I’m far more interested in the ripples an event like that creates than I am in the event itself, or the manhunt for those responsible. Much like the Golden Gate Bridge in the family’s video, the attack provides the backdrop of my story, rather than the meat of it.
One aspect of the modern era I find fascinating is the fog of paranoia and misinformation that follows in the wake of any disaster, be it natural or manmade, and the acts of heroism and opportunism it obscures. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, a pregnant woman trapped by floodwaters inside her Houston apartment went into labor. Call volume was so heavy, she and her husband were unable to get through to 911. That’s when her neighbors stepped in, linking arms to form a human chain and spiriting her to safety. (Both mother and baby are apparently now doing fine.) On the flipside of that coin, as Hurricane Irma battered St. Thomas, enterprising thieves made off with several ATM machines, presumably so that they could dismantle them at their leisure in a secure location.
I’m also fascinated by the negative repercussions of viral fame. Ken Bone became a minor celebrity after he asked a question in a presidential debate, only to have his (admittedly sketchy) Reddit comment history (which he’d made under an alias he unwittingly exposed while participating in an AMA) dissected publicly for all the world to see. And while you probably don’t know Joshua Holtz by name, I bet you’d recognize his catchphrase: “Damn, Daniel.” The video in which then-fourteen-year-old Holtz complimented his buddy’s white Vans was a viral sensation. Afterward, however, his Twitter account was hacked, and his family was swatted—a vicious prank in which a bogus emergency call results in the victim’s home being raided by police. (Thankfully, they weren’t harmed.)
To me, those fascinations form the backbone of RED RIGHT HAND. The family’s video winds up on social media and becomes the defining image of the bridge attack, which proves unfortunate for the old man who took it (and, remember, wound up in it). It turns out, he’s a former Federal witness named Frank Segreti, thought dead ever since the safe house he’d been stashed in blew up. Now that he’s resurfaced, the organization he’d agreed to testify against will stop at nothing to put him in the ground.
Segreti’s smart enough to realize he’s a target, but by the time he regains consciousness, the area around the blast has been cordoned off. He’s trapped inside a localized apocalypse, forced to rely on his wits to survive… at least until my series character, hitman-of-hitmen Michael Hendricks, wades into the carnage to protect him.
I suppose I could’ve sent Hendricks into a natural disaster—earthquake, hurricane, or (as Michael Koryta so masterfully employed in THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD) forest fire—but a terror attack just seemed more appropriate, both dramatically and thematically. For one, it meant that tons of law enforcement would be on scene, and Hendricks is a wanted man. For another, my series is very much about the evil that men do—and yes, I used that gendered term intentionally—so it seemed to me that the inciting event should be manmade.
Then again, maybe the terror attack in RED RIGHT HAND isn’t quite what it appears—and maybe it’s not as incidental to the plot as I’ve led you to believe. If so, I’m not telling. I guess you’ll just have to read it to find out.