“The top priority of a thriller writer is to thrill. To make your heart rate spike.”
So says author Joel C. Rosenberg, and when it comes to his latest work, The Beirut Protocol, mission accomplished. “I want you to be able to look over the shoulders of bad guys plotting their next moves.”
In the fourth installment of Rosenberg’s gripping new series with plenty of political intrigue, agent Marcus Ryker finds himself in the most dangerous situation he has ever faced; he is captured, brutalized and dragged deep behind enemy lines. (Learn more about the novel in our review.)
Rosenberg’s background and ties to political leaders around the world add a layer of unique credibility to his writing. He recently discussed The Beirut Protocol with BookTrib, going into detail on how and why it came about.
Q: In your novels, The Beirut Protocol included, you take people to places they may not want to go and advance real-life theories they may not want to hear. Is that part of being a thriller writer?
A: Absolutely. I need to draw you into a fictional world that fascinates and frightens you. I love to take my readers into places I’ve always wanted to go: the Oval Office, the White House Situation Room, the Kremlin, the palaces of Arab kings and crown princes, the inner sanctum of the Supreme Leader of Iran, the underground bunkers of radical Islamist terror masters, and so forth. And I want to put you inside the world of one of the CIA’s top operatives, Marcus Ryker, as he tries to decipher and defuse the plots against the U.S. and our allies.
Q: Are you trying to send any subtle or not-so-subtle messages to your readers, or is this just an entertaining ride?
A: Above all, I’m trying to entertain my readers. But I do have other objectives, one of which is to warn of threats I believe could blindside America and our allies if our leaders misunderstand or ignore them. Americans have been fighting the forces of radical Islamism for two decades, and I’m concerned that they are tired of the fight. They feel they have invested enough blood, toil, tears and sweat to protect their country and way of life. That’s understandable — indeed, I completely sympathize — but the problem is that the forces of radical Islamism are angrier and more dangerous than ever before, and there are other threats rising, too, in Russia, in North Korea and in Communist China. I’m trying to educate and warn my readers about these threats and why we must not let down our guard, even for a moment.
Q: You have had the chance to meet world leaders at the very highest levels. What kind of influence or impact has that had on your writing?
A: One of the most unexpected developments in recent years has been the wide range of world leaders who have read my novels and invited me to meet with them. Among them have been Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State (and former CIA Director) Mike Pompeo, back when they were both serving in Congress. Jordan’s King Abdullah II read The First Hostage, which was about ISIS trying to assassinate him, and rather than banning me from Jordan, the king invited my wife and me to visit him in Amman. President George W. Bush has become a reader of my novels, and the king and crown prince of Saudi Arabia, and the prime minister of Canada. Leaders in Europe and here in my home country of Israel have as well. I have been very fortunate, and I think these meetings and relationships have made my novels much richer and more interesting.
Q: Here are a few things we’ve heard about Marcus Ryker: He is your favorite character, he does not fit the typical superhero mold, and in The Beirut Protocol, we see him as we’ve never seen him before. Please explain all!
A: There is no question that Marcus Ryker is my favorite character I’ve written. Marcus is one of the most effective agents employed by the CIA. He is highly trained, incredibly smart and brave beyond belief. At the same time, Marcus has been wounded in combat as a Marine and in the line of fire as a Secret Service agent. He has also been wounded by the murder of his wife and son, by failing to protect the two people closest to him. He is free to take enormous risks to keep his country safe, but he struggles to know how to rebuild his private world. Is he wired to lead a quiet life and raise a family? Or is he called to a life of danger for which he should remain single and alone? It’s this tension between his professional skills and calling, and his private desires and questions, that intrigues me.
Q: How do you go about doing the research for your books?
A: I certainly do a great deal of nonfiction reading when I’m not writing novels, mostly autobiographies, biographies and history. I’ve also been very fortunate over the years to have built a wonderful network of current and former spies, CIA directors, special forces operatives, ambassadors, political strategists and others who have become great resources. I carve out time to meet with these sources, asking them questions and getting their advice and suggestions. There’s no question that I do a lot of googling, too. But I find that having coffee and tea and breaking bread with real people who are currently engaged in confronting our worst enemies — or spent their lives doing so, even if they are now retired — is the best form of research.
Q: What did you find to be the most difficult scene in the book to write?
A: My hero is captured by the enemy in the opening chapters of The Beirut Protocol. It’s hard to write about people being tortured. You try to imagine yourself in that situation and it’s stomach-turning. How does your protagonist handle it? At what point does he break? And how in the world is he going to be rescued or escape? I’ve written 15 previous novels, and I’ve never put any of my heroes in a situation quite like this. Plus, while Marcus is being held and tortured, a massive missile war is erupting between Israel and Hezbollah. That was hard to write because my family and I live in Israel and could one day, maybe soon, have to go through Hezbollah firing 4,000 missiles a day at us. That’s terrifying, I have to tell you.
Q: What’s your next project?
A: Even as I work on my next Marcus Ryker novel, I’m finishing up the final edits on a nonfiction book called Enemies & Allies: An Unforgettable Journey Inside the Fast-Moving & Immensely Turbulent Modern Middle East. Twenty years after 9/11, the book looks at where the region is headed, how attitudes toward the U.S. and Israel are changing, and how events in the Middle East will affect our futures. This book gives me an opportunity to take you inside meetings I’ve had with the president of the United States, the vice president, the secretary of state, multiple CIA directors, the prime minister and president of Israel, Arab kings and crown princes, and so many others, about the most important and sensitive issues of our time. This is the first nonfiction book I’ve written in almost a decade, and I’m very pleased with how it turned out.