Jeff Abbott is the author of thirteen previous novels, published in twenty languages. His books Panic and Run have been optioned for film and are in script development. Jeff graduated from university with a degree in History and English, and worked as a creative director at an advertising agency before writing full-time. He lives in Texas with his wife and two sons.
Perfect lives. We see that phrase a lot used to describe protagonists in crime fiction—someone with a perfect life, before it gets ruined by the villain. It’s even been used in describing one of the heroes in my novel Adrenaline. He had a perfect life—until one day he lost everything that mattered to him.
And one day I thought: what would the villain do for a perfect life? What if you had a villain willing to do anything to give his or her family a life free of worry, that went along without the speedbumps everyone else experiences? What if at the story’s beginning the villain had the perfect life, instead of the hero?
The story that suggested to me immediately was Faust—the classic tale of the man who so wants the knowledge of the world that he strikes a demonic deal with Satan—twenty years of a perfected life in exchange for his soul.
I began to wonder how a modern thriller, drawing on the inspiration of the Faust story, would unfold. There would need to be a devil: someone who could somehow deliver a perfect life, and would charge a terrible price. There would need to be modern Fausts: those willing to strike the unholy deal, and do terrible things, in exchange for their charmed lives. And there would be the person—in this case, my series hero, ex-CIA agent and bar owner Sam Capra—who would seek to destroy the unholy deal between a modern-day devil and his club of Fausts. What kind of person could make that deal? And that was the start of coming up with the most interesting set of villains I think I’ve ever written. In the first two Sam Capra novels, Sam fought against the underside of life: human traffickers, smugglers, criminal syndicates. Now he’s fighting against the established, the elite, the successful. (I always think in a series it’s wise to vary your antagonists’ motivations.) And I could put another angle into the Fausts’ characterizations: what if they hadn’t needed to make such an unholy deal? What if they could have succeeded on their own merits, without help? We live in such a brutally competitive world that what is once your security blanket can end up smothering you.
I’ve known a few people here in Austin, where we have many high-tech companies, who have made tens of millions of dollars in start-up companies. They need not worry about their own futures any more, but they’ve secured the futures of their children and grandchildren as well. That’s a new level of desire, of accomplishment, and while the entrepreneurs I’ve known who made that kind of money are unfailingly nice and deserving, it was interesting to think about what would happen if such an entrepreneur had a bad guy smoothing his way to making millions—and what that bad guy might ask for in return.
Downfall then became not just a thriller concerned with action, but one concerned with what makes for a good life. What makes for happiness, what makes for success, what makes for security. And what price do we pay when we strike a bargain for unfair advantage? It also became clear that Sam, ever the hero, would be seen as an interfering villain by the antagonists—and I had a lot of fun writing the scenes from their viewpoints.
The Faust story has been told many times, in drama and musical forms and comedy. I don’t know if Downfall is the first retelling that casts it in a thriller, and it’s more inspiration than retelling. I never tried to literally follow the Faust story, but I let its take on greed and desire inform the characters. Because human nature hasn’t changed since that first story of a scholar making an unholy deal.
Downfall (Sam Capra, Book 3) published in the UK by Sphere 5th December 2013
Read More on Jeff at SHOTS
Interview with Ali Karim
Jeff on Panic