Puzzles within puzzles.
My guest today is author Eric J Gates. In addition to sharing an excerpt from his brilliant thriller, Outsourced, he’s offering readers a chance to win one of ten copies by adding your guess for the Lie-Dar puzzle below.
Eric J. Gates has had a curious life filled with the stuff of thriller novels. Writing Operating Systems for Supercomputers, cracking cryptographic codes under extreme pressure using only paper and pen and teaching cyber warfare to spies are just a few of the moments he’s willing to recall. He is an ex-International Consultant who has travelled extensively worldwide, speaks several languages, and has had articles and papers published in technical magazines in six different countries, as well as radio and TV spots. His specialty, Information Technology Security, has brought him into contact with the Military and Intelligence communities on numerous occasions.
He is also an expert martial artist, holding 14 black belt degrees in distinct disciplines. He has taught his skills to Police and Military personnel, as well as to the public.
He now writes thriller novels, drawing on his experiences with the confidential and secret worlds that surround us.
Contact Eric J. Gates
Outsourced features a New York-based writer of thriller novels who receives a mysterious package from a fan. That fan turns out to be a professional killer. That’s just the start of the writer’s problems; problems that escalate way beyond anything he could have imagined on the pages of his novels, as death and destruction follow rapidly. Just when matter cannot get any worse for the novelist, he learns a high-tech Intelligence agency has been tasked with obtaining the contents of the package too, and they will stop at nothing to achieve that goal. They have their own global agenda. The agent assigned to the task is out of her depth working on US soil and her methods are unsuited to a civilian environment. As pressure mounts for her to achieve results, she becomes more and more radical in her approach. And, if that’s not enough… the sender wants it back, and his methods are even more direct and violent! He believes the contents of the package were used to try to kill him and his aim is to recover them and exact his revenge on the writer.
So Star-Trek got it right again?
- Title: Outsourced
- Author: Eric J. Gates
- Genre: Conspiracy Thriller
- Publisher: Eric J. Gates, September 16, 2014
- Pages: 364
Available from: Amazon
There’s a drawing by M. C. Escher showing a hand drawing the hand that’s drawing it. (Come on, you know you remember that one from your cool Escher period…) I was thinking of that drawing—and no, I wasn’t smoking anything—when reading Eric J. Gates’ fantastic thriller, Outsourced.
In some ways, Outsourced is a conspiracy thriller boiled down to its essence. Think Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series meets Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code. There’s the somewhat inexplicable murder at the start, which quickly devolves to the clueless and relatively powerless protagonist—in this case, thriller writer Nic Stiles—slowly realizing that he faces a vastly powerful and mysterious Them. (Bonus points if Them is The Government, or at least an Evil Big Business). In addition, Outsourced contains the other critical conspiracy thriller elements:
- MacGuffin (an Ancient Artifact works well here): When Nic Stiles receives a mysterious package, it sets in motion a murderous chain of events that results both in immediate tragedy and potential mass carnage.
- Sympathetic Evil: While there might be a truly despicable, puppy-kicking, absolutely no sense of humor Them out there, we also meet a conflicted hardass antagonist with a sad backstory—in this case federal agent Major Bridget Mason—who tells a joke now and then, and only does mean stuff because of her sad history. And because she can.
- Spying on Spies: In conspiracy thrillers, everyone spies on everyone else. Major Mason is especially lucky to have the vast resources of a conspiracy theorist’s wetdream as her tools, not to mention armor-piercing bullets. (Naturally, someone is spying on her too.)
- Them‘s Evil Plan: Sometimes making the world safe for Mom, democracy, and apple pie means you have to take over the rest of it. Collateral damage, baby. Why does Them do this? (Other than to mess with my pronouns and tenses, of course?) Power, duh. The beauty of having it be a government conspiracy is that you don’t even have to come up with another reason for wanting power, cause that’s just what governments do.
- A Soupçon of Science. Or maybe religion. Or aliens: This is a really good place to bring up that cat. Erwin Schrödinger’s theory that a cat in a box with poison might potentially be simultaneously alive and dead until you open the box and collapse all possible outcomes into one definitive reality might or might not fit neatly into quantum theory, but it definitely makes a good explanation for a conspiracy thriller. Tie that into a mysterious (possibly alien) artifact that needs to be watched over by a mystical religious order, and Outsourced completely nails this thriller element.
So far Outsourced sounds like a competent and even exciting conspiracy thriller. But that’s just the beginning. The twist (at least for me) that pulls in Mr. Escher and turns this into a many-layered offering with humor and all kinds of winks and nods is that [tiny spoiler alert!] the object Nic Stiles receives in the mail can open Schrödinger’s box and define his cat’s fate. How? The owner of the object gets to write Destiny itself. The keyword here is write.
If I had to point out weaknesses in the book, it might be the ease with which Nic Stiles, in reluctant partnership with his greatest rival and fellow thriller writer, is convinced about what the object can do. But, in fact, I don’t really see it as a weakness. Because writers don’t even need a mystical destiny-defining thingy to invent a world and write its fate. That’s what writers do anyway—all day long and twice as much on Sundays—with pens, pencils, typewriters, computers, and maybe the occasional alien objects they get in the mail.
Reading Outsourced was just so much fun! Its lightning-fast pace, adrenalin-boosting action scenes, and flawed three-dimensional characters would be entertaining enough. But the frosting is that it’s also about writing, with all it’s rewards and frustrations, not to mention the added digs against the traditional publishing scene by (self-published) author Eric J. Gates:
“These people are not our friends, Nic; you’ve got to see that. They just squeeze us dry then move on to the latest one-book-wonder, probably a ghost-written book with a celebrity name on the cover. We’re a commodity to these bastards, Nic, something to manage until it no longer provides benefits. Then it’s cut and run. Hell, their whole industry still works the same way it did a hundred and twenty years ago!”
And he doesn’t miss the chance for a poke at the critics too:
“They miss the point that, although we write popular fiction, we use it to say what we want about this world we live in. They’re too busy being wined and dined by the publishing houses and Lit Agents to bother about the damed writers, Nic.”
So we have a writer, writing about a writer, who solves a thriller conspiracy by…writing. I think Eric J. Gates is all those brilliant writers, and I don’t hesitate to give Outsourced five stars out of five. (And, when that box gets opened, the cat will probably add another couple of stars.)
Excerpt: Outsourced by Eric J Gates
The gavel impacted with imperative finality. The buzz in the courtroom continued; only those in the seating closest to the judge heeding her warning. Two more detonations of wood against wood followed in quick succession. This time a reluctant silence enveloped the room.
“I know this has been a tiring trial; it’s been a long trial for all of us.” She paused, glancing at the defence counsel to her right, then at the jury on the opposite side of the room. “I WILL have order in my court. Leave your outbursts, comments and protestations for the appropriate channels.”
Now she was looking squarely at the Prosecutor’s table. Its occupants stared back defiantly. Neither was happy at the verdict; both, however, realized the fault was their own. The case, at best, had been circumstantial, but, they were talking premeditated mass murder here. The man and woman looked at each other; they felt cheated.
The judge banged her gavel once more, unnecessarily, in the quiet that saturated the stuffy air in the packed room.
She twisted in her chair, facing the accused again.
“As I was saying…” another furtive peek at the District Attorney’s people, “Robert Polanski, you have been acquitted of multiple charges of murder by a jury of your peers and I hereby instruct…”
* * * * *
Polanski walked alongside his legal representative, his head on a swivel. They had exited the courthouse by the rear doors, hoping to avoid the expectant questions of the media. Polanski had been through two trials in the last few months; the legal one, fought in the halls of the large building behind them and bound by laws and procedures, and the popular one, disputed in the Press, on TV and on the Internet where no such constraints applied. Legally he had been found not guilty; in the Public Eye, he was a guilty as Hell! And he was; in the dark corners of his mind he was well aware of how he had escaped from what should have been a stay on Death Row prior to a well-deserved execution as retribution for the acts he had committed.
He turned to the chubby figure at his side.
“Did you bring that package I had delivered to you last week?” His tone was neutral; there was nothing between the lawyer and his defendant other than a strictly professional relationship upheld by force of cash.
The lawyer nodded, then raised a large, floral handkerchief to mop his brow.
“Let’s grab a coffee and…”
“No. We are going back to my office. You have some papers to sign and I’ll give you the package there. After that, I don’t want to see or hear from you ever again. Am I clear on that, Polanski?”
The shorter man looked over at the speaker. It was more than evident curtailing their connection as quickly as possible was uppermost in the lawyer’s mind.
“If you hate me so much, why didn’t you recuse yourself?”
“You know damned well why. But I’ve done my job now and don’t have to spend another day in your company.”
“Three million dollars doesn’t buy much loyalty these days, eh?”
“You’re free, although you shouldn’t be, as we both know, so it bought you that.”
The lawyer paused.
“I know I’m going to regret this, but, just how did you kill all those people?”
“Still Client-Attorney privilege?”
“One of the most abused concepts in American law, but yes; nothing you tell me goes any further.”
“I just manipulated their futures. It was all about the planning…”
“You manipulated the futures of 217 people?”
“Yes; over the last twenty-three years.” Polanski halted his steps, turning to face the lawyer. “And just remember, I got away with that, so don’t get any ideas about talking out of turn.”
“I have no wish to become your victim number 218…”
“Oh, the real number’s a little higher. Those were just the cases the DA thought they could prove. The total’s nearer to four hundred.”
The lawyer elected not to answer, glancing at his wristwatch and mentally counting the minutes he still needed to share with this client.
* * * * *
Thursday Lie-Dar: Giveaway–up to ten copies of OUTSOURCEDFor today’s contest, please guess which of the following statements is Eric J Gates’ true answer to the question: What is something your readers might not know about you?
- Used a Swiss Army Knife to repair a Supercomputer
- Cracked a cryptographic code, developed over 3 years, in 10 minutes just using paper and pen
- Piloted a light aircraft herding elephants in Africa
Please add your guess to comments below. Winners will be drawn in one week from all comments/guesses.