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|July 30 - August 5, 2009
Evolution of terror
Local thriller author Stephen White terrorizes his readers
by Ben Corbett
Readers have come to expect certain things from a Stephen White novel: One, a solid, unpredictable storyline. And two, a cast of Boulder characters that, after 20 years, have become like family members for serious fans. Known for his bestselling Alan Gregory series, the former Boulder-based clinical psychologist has built a reputation for mining the complexities of the human mind. His latest, The Siege, doesn’t disappoint. As he says of the novel, “It’s my 17th book, and I feel like a very fortunate man.”
The setting is New Haven, Conn., and a group of students has been taken hostage in one of Yale’s secret society buildings. But who are the masterminds? What do they hope to achieve? Suspended Boulder police officer Sam Purdy joins up with FBI agent Christopher Poe and CIA terror expert Deirdre Drake to penetrate the minds of the hostage takers and their obscure terrorist intentions.
Boulder Weekly: The Siege is about terrorism. How much did 9/11 inform the novel?
Stephen White: Since 9/11 — and I don’t consider myself unique in this sense — I’ve been curious that so much of our energy in terms of counter terrorism seems to be involved in stopping the last attack and not looking forward to what is going to come next. I wanted to write a book that showed the importance of imagining the terrible things that people are trying to do to us so that we can use our skill and imagination to thwart them, and I decided to try and tell a story that showed how somebody with imagination and resources could potentially wreak tremendous havoc on our country’s interests.
BW: What’s occurring in your book is advanced terrorism. It’s more complex.
SW: What if the terrorist who decides they want at us is as smart as Bill Gates? What if the next terrorist is determined to wound us with the same kind of skill that Apple puts into building computers? How do we stop that kind of adversary? In the book, it’s what I call “the evolution of terror.” I really wanted to focus on that evolution, not the next person who picks up an M-16 and goes into a shopping mall, or the guy who figures out how to get another bomb onto an airplane. What I’m more concerned about is what happens when we do get a skilled, determined, intelligent adversary who wants to hurt us in unique ways.
BW: There’s a real sense of suspense in The Siege, where nobody knows what’s going to happen — there are no demands for the hostages, no terms for release. Does this reflect how, with terrorism, we really can’t predict what will happen next?
SW: The model I was using for this was the first half of the movie Jaws. If you remember, you don’t see the shark. There’s just a sense of “Oh my God, there’s danger out there.” There was this terrible threat, but it was unseen and we did not understand it. We didn’t know it. I wanted the reader to feel the same thing that law enforcement was feeling on the outside. So I decided to write a very unconventional hostage story, where we never knew the hostage taker, and we never knew the hostages. We never made it inside the front door of that building.
BW: Talk about your character Sam Purdy, a Boulder cop.
SW: Sam is someone I created for the very first book. I didn’t know any Boulder cops. I had no model for him. It’s an interesting story because right after the first book came out in the early 1990s, I got to know some Boulder policemen, and a few of them guessed that I’d based this on a recently retired Boulder cop, a detective who physically looked like Sam Purdy and had many of his personal characteristics, and they were sure that I knew this guy. It’s interesting how fiction and life sometimes overlap.
BW: Many of your characters are from Boulder and many of your books take place there. Why Boulder?
SW: It’s unique. It’s quirky. It’s one of those communities in the country like Madonna or Cher; it can be identified with just the first name. It turned out to be a perfect location. It’s enough of an urban environment that I can do a lot of story things that require a certain urbanism, and it’s enough of a non-metropolitan city that I could explore other things adjacent to wilderness. It just turned out to be a great environment for me.
On the Bill:
Stephen White will discuss The Siege and sign copies at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 5, at Chautauqua Community House, 900 Baseline Rd., Boulder,
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