My latest book, The Panic Zone, concerns the story of Emma Lane, young mother who survives a car crash, which claims her husband and baby boy. In the confusion she thinks she sees someone rescue her son. But in the hospital she’s told she’s enduring trauma and that her husband and baby are dead. A few nights later, while grappling with her grief, a stranger calls, telling her: “Your baby is alive.” Eventually, Jack Gannon, a wire service reporter based in New York City, helps her search for the truth about her baby. They learn that the tragedy may be tied to deadly conspiracy that reaches around the world with chilling implications and their pursuit becomes a panicked race against time.
The Panic Zone is the second book in the Jack Gannon series. Thriller fans met Gannon in the first book in the series, Vengeance Road, when it was released in 2009. The prestigious International Thriller Writers (ITW) has named Vengeance Road a finalist for a 2010 Thriller Award in the category of Best Paperback Original and The Private Eye Writers of America also selected Vengeance Road as a finalist in the category of Best Paperback Original.
The story for The Panic Zone came from a spectrum of sources. As I do with most of my books, I drew on my times as a reporter, my experiences as a human being, I observe the world around me, always thinking, wondering, “What if?” When I’m stuck, make things up.
With The Panic Zone, I recalled reading a news story years ago about a mother whose baby died in a house fire – was incinerated with nothing left. For years the mother had always believed in her heart that her baby was alive somewhere. Somehow later a child surfaced and DNA proved it was her child and they were reunited. I think the story was that the baby had been abducted from her crib during the fire, or something. Anyway, I thought of that when I created my fictional mother, Emma Lane.
For Gannon’s assignment I drew on my own time when I was a working at the Calgary Herald and Columbine broke. I was dispatched to cover the story – told to get on the next plane to Denver with nothing but a laptop and a credit card – to buy what I needed in Colorado. My stomach was in knots at the magnitude. When I left, the fear was 10 deaths. When I landed in Denver, President Clinton was on the airport TVs offering condolences and the fear was 25 dead. My knees nearly buckled. I drew upon that tension for Jack Gannon, when he’s dispatched from New York to fly to Rio de Janeiro to cover the breaking story of a cafe bombing — I used my experience of being thrown into chaos with a clock ticking.
Now, for part of the science in The Panic Zone, I recalled the time I was on assignment in Africa when I was bit in my lower leg by a dog in a village in Ethiopia. We were in a 90% exposure zone and doctors were extremely concerned, they feared that a bat could have infected the aggressive dog. Because it was in my lower leg, I got a pre-exposure shots for rabies in Addis Ababa. That got me thinking about bats carrying diseases and I imagined clandestine scientific expeditions into remote African jungle caves to collect lethal saliva from bats carrying a new lethal strain. That led to further research and some chilling scenes in the book.
I read a number of books on the history of secret, often troubling, research. Throughout history there are horrifying cases of people subjected to experimentation without their consent. Poor people, people in prisons, mental hospitals – look at the Nazi experiments on concentration camp inmates. In recent years there have been reports of disturbing efforts to create biological weapons that target specific races, or genes – a genetic attack. And just go online and you’ll find all kinds of conspiracy theories about any kind of questionable experiments — but The Panic Zone is all fiction.
However, there was the time I was dispatched to Jamaica to do a story on the murky background of an ex-Jamaican cop who murdered a police officer in Canada. I rode in the back of a pickup with Jamaica’s anti-drug task force on drug raids in the slums of Kingston. As our vehicles marshaled and the cops locked and loaded these two white guys in dark glasses materialized and asked: Who are you? Reporter, I said. Who are you? – We’re not here, they said. Later one of the cops beside me told me the strangers were CIA working on something. It stayed with me and got me thinking about the ghost work carried out in exotic places and I worked some of it into The Panic Zone.
As for what’s next: I’ve just written my 12th novel which will be released in the early part of 2011. It is titled In Desperation and will be the third book in the Jack Gannon series. I expect to do more in the series, and possibly another stand alone.