Read this exclusive Q&A with author Barry Lancet, and then make sure you're signed in and comment for a chance to win a copy of his latest Jim Brodie thriller!
I first met Barry Lancet in 2012 through the International Thriller Writers organization’s Debut Authors Program. It was an unlikely friendship, if only because Barry lives in Tokyo and I’m in Washington, D.C. But I liked his dry sense of humor and his Larry David-esque worldview. And then I read an advanced copy of his debut novel, Japantown, and was blown away by his talent. I wasn’t surprised that it later won numerous awards and citations and that the Jim Brodie series was optioned for television by J. J. Abrams.
Now, five years and collectively seven books between us, we’ve shared many laughs and misadventures. And even though he’s a notorious welcher on bets (he owes me hundreds of beers), and despite once making me brave D.C. traffic to drive him to the airport—not to catch a plane but for research for his book—he’s one of my closest friends. So it was with great pleasure that when I read his latest Brodie book, The Spy Across the Table, I loved it. Like Barry, Jim Brodie has gotten better with each book, and this one amps up the tension and political intrigue.
When Criminal Element asked me to interview Barry, they had no idea we were close friends. And I suspect they didn’t know that would make for an unconventional Q&A:
Let’s start with your background. You’re an American expat living in Japan. Why do you hate living with us Americans so much that you’ve spent the past 25 years in Japan?
I knew having you interview me was going to be a mistake. There’s no hate involved. It’s more of a case of being young and restless and curious. From the age of twelve, I felt an urge to travel. I was looking for something extra. When I was in my early twenties, I got Hemingway- and Lost Generation-fever, and it occurred to me I could maybe update the idea in a modest and anonymous way. I laid out my own journey to Paris, adding London to the plan, then took the long way around and found Japan. I returned five years later, and I’ve been here ever since.
So how’d you support yourself in Japan? Male escort?
You know I was a book editor for a major Japanese publisher, Anthony. In the international arm. While editing other people’s books, I was writing my own.
All right, let’s get serious. Elevator pitch us: give one sentence why readers should buy The Spy Across the Table.
Jim Brodie introduces his two friends backstage at the Kennedy Theater, and their subsequent murders lead him inexplicably into the world of espionage, dragging him through Japan, China, the DMZ, and North Korea in the attempt to find the killer and prevent America’s enemies from seizing a cache of America’s darkest secrets.
Will that do? I could add that Spy has more twists and turns than a sidewinder on steroids, but that would be a second sentence, so I won’t.
“Sidewinder on Steroids,” that would’ve been a good title for the book. Though Spy Across the Table is great too. The title was inspired by a real encounter you had, right?
Yes, in Tokyo. Spies don’t announce their occupation, but we exchanged business cards. His listed an embassy posting as attaché, which dinged my radar. “Attaché” is one of the titles embassies habitually use to mask their clandestine operators.
I joined him at his table, at the insistence of some friends. The drinks and food began to flow. Conversation wove in and around various topics, but over the course of about ninety minutes, it suddenly dawned on me that he’d learned everything about me and I knew very little about him. And then came the subtle inquiries that seemed to signal he was hoping to recruit me because, in the course of my work, I often dealt with Japanese VIPs. By the time I pried myself loose, I was seriously thinking about changing the locks at home.
Here’s a lazy stock question: Who are some of your favorite writers?
I love Martin Cruz Smith’s Russian detective Arkady Renko. Smith has created a great character, and I consider Gorky Park a contemporary classic. Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon has grown on me tremendously, and although I’m at least two books behind, I’d rank The Rembrandt Affair among his best, if not the best.
I’m envious of Walter Mosley’s fluidity and depth and output. I’ve long been a fan of Don Winslow, but I think he’s reaching new heights with The Cartel and The Force. Then there’s Lee Child. Each of his Reacher books is inventive and different. He takes risks.
I’m impressed with the breadth of subjects John Sandford manages to cover in his two series. His over-the-top Silken Prey had me laughing out loud with some of his lines, even as he ratcheted up the tension. That’s some feat—cranking up the drama and making the reader laugh at the same time. In a different way altogether, Nelson DeMille uses humor well, especially in his John Corey stories.
Oh, and you’re a favorite, of course. I thought that went without saying.
Last, tell readers where they can catch up with you in the U.S.
I always spend some time Stateside when a new book comes out. For Spy, I’ll be touring various bookshops (schedule here). And I’ll be appearing at conferences: the ThrillerFest in New York City and Bouchercon, this year in Toronto. For aspiring writers, I’ll be giving a class at CraftFest on July 12, co-teaching with a guy who, as is obvious from this interview, likes to give me grief.
I look forward to seeing you in New York. Bring money for those beers.
What beers? I have no idea what you’re talking about.
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Barry Lancet is a Barry Award-winning author and finalist for the Shamus Award. He has lived in Japan for more than twenty-five years. His former position as an editor at one of the nation’s largest publishers gave him access to the inner circles in traditional and business fields most outsiders are never granted, and an insider’s view that informs his writing.
He is the author of the Jim Brodie series: The Spy Across the Table; Pacific Burn; Tokyo Kill; and Japantown, which received four citations for Best First Novel and has been optioned by J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot Productions, in association with Warner Brothers. Visit Lancet at BarryLancet.com or on Twitter @BarryLancet.
Anthony Franze is a lawyer in the Appellate & Supreme Court practice of a prominent Washington, D.C., law firm and a critically acclaimed thriller writer whose novels are set in the Supreme Court, including The Advocate's Daughter, and next month’s highly anticipated The Outsider, a book James Patterson called “as authentic and suspenseful as any John Grisham novel.”