What does it take to produce a topnotch international financial thriller? For starters, bring together a published thriller writer well versed in the fine art of twists and turns and a banker and who blew the whistle against financial corruption in Europe.

The result? KGB Banker (Milford House Press) by William Burton McCormick and John Christmas, the perfect duo to pull off the kind of intrigue already receiving high praise from thriller masters such as Steve Berry and Robert Dugoni.

“John made sure I got all the scandal and banking info right, and I made certain the financial detail never slowed the narrative down or it lost focus as a thriller,” explained McCormick. “Numerous phone calls at weird hours (since we were often on different continents) and hundreds of emails later, we had a draft that we were proud of.”

McCormick, along with Christmas, provided more insight into the book in this recent interview.

Q: Spies, assassins and financial corruption ripped straight from today’s headlines. Tell us the primary storyline in KGB Banker.

A: When financial executive Bob Vanags takes a job at Turaida Bank in Latvia, he hopes to fight economic fraud in Europe. Instead, Bob is pulled into a world of political intrigue, blackmail, and murder.  As he unravels his employer’s darkest secrets, Bob discovers sins and conspiracies beyond his wildest fears. — secrets that Turaida wants to keep hidden, even at the cost of Bob’s life.  Now framed for murder by Turaida operatives, Bob must go on the run to clear his name, protect his family, and reveal the plot to the world before governments topple and war ignites in Europe.

Q: Where did you come up with the idea for this book?

My co-author John Christmas, in his role as a whistleblower against financial corruption in Europe, had experiences similar to our protagonist Bob Vanags. However, in reality there was no pat resolution and no punishment of the bad guys. The scandal is still ongoing, and we wondered how well it would read as narrative nonfiction with an unresolved ending. So, John and I decided that writing a fictional thriller, featuring adventure and romance and an ending where the good guys win, would be enthralling. Ideally, people who read KGB Banker will be entertained and afterwards want to investigate the real scandal.

Q: How did your personal backgrounds influence the story and its authenticity?

A: John’s experiences mirror Bob’s, especially in the opening third of the book. John’s time as a banker and whistleblower were absolutely imperative in giving it financial and banking authenticity down to the smallest detail. On my end, I’m a published thriller and mystery writer, who added the twists and turns to make it an engaging read. We both lived in Latvia at times, so we also knew the country. And I lived in Ukraine and Estonia, and visited Iceland on several occasions, all of which are key settings.  Our differing experience and skillset really complemented each other well.

Q: How did you function as co-authors? Explain how you worked together.

A: We hashed out the plot together in a multi-day meeting in London. Then during the writing, John made sure I got all the scandal and banking info right, and I made certain the financial detail never slowed the narrative down or it lost focus as a thriller. Numerous phone calls at weird hours (since we were often on different continents) and hundreds of emails later, we had a draft that we were proud of.  Then we repeated the process for several rounds of edits to get the finished book.

Q: Take us into the mind of Bob — how he got into this situation and what about his character and personality will serve him well into trying to navigate it.

A: Bob is Latvian-American who wanted to explore the land of his ancestors and help improve life there. We establish early that Bob does not tolerate illegalities and won’t be silenced.  He has a strong reputation for honesty. The nefarious people behind Turaida Bank think they can use Bob’s sterling reputation to further their own ends. They can’t, and this sets Bob on a collision path with Turaida that could cost him his life.  Besides being incorruptible, Bob might be a tad naïve, as he often doesn’t foresee the danger his honesty and actions put himself and his family in.

Q: Santa Ezeriņa has been called the best action heroine in years. Tell us about her.

A: Santa is a down-on-her-luck reporter for the Baltic Beacon tabloid in Latvia. She begins investigating Turaida Bank to further her career but ultimately bites off more than she can chew. She’s smart, beautiful, very shifty and makes her own rules.  Santa is the heroine of a series of award-nominated stories and novellas that have been published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, CWA Anthology of Short Stories: Mystery Tour, Black Mask, Mystery Magazine, Crooked, Vol.2, Black Cat Weekly and elsewhere.  She’s like an Eastern European fusion of Carl Kolchak, Jim Rockford and Æon Flux.

Q: What was the most challenging part of the book to write?

A: For me it was weaving the financial information necessary to understand the scandal and its stakes without slowing down the pace or confusing readers with too much detail. I think John and I found the perfect balance.

Q: What’s your next project?

A: Last year I wrote a Western tentatively titled Ghost with former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Inspired by real events, it is the story of the hunt for a murderous outlaw who preyed on lone prospectors in Nevada in the early 1900s. We had finished the edits when Senator Reid passed away in December. Now, the Reid family, our literary agency Janklow and Nesbit, and I are in the process of finding the best publisher for the book. We hope to see it released in 2023.

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