He might be one of the foremost thriller writers in the world, having sold millions of copies of his Scot Harvath series of books, but Brad Thor could easily have worked in any number of professions. Handsome and charismatic, it's tempting to think he missed his true calling as a televangelist, a car salesman, or, perhaps, a secret agent.
Rather, a chance meeting with a college counselor at the University of Southern California in the late '90s set Thor on his path to becoming a bestselling novelist. Uninspired with his business major classes, Thor ended up taking a professional assessment test where he says he says he scored "off the charts" for writing and publishing. Later, he hopped a plane to France to try his hand at writing his first thriller novel.
"I don't know if you know this, but I'm the first American to ever move to Paris to attempt to write a novel," Thor says sarcastically from his home in Nashville. "I got a couple of chapters in and thought to myself, 'man, this is the most solitary profession in the world. I'm such a people person, I don't want to do this.'"
He worked in public television for a few years, but after some encouragement from his wife, Thor buckled down and finished "The Lions of Lucerne," the debut novel in the Scot Harvath series. And while he never intended Harvath to be a reoccurring character, the response to the book was so feverish that he immediately began work on a follow-up (2003's "Path of the Assassin"). Eighteen books later, he's set to release the latest in the series, "Near Dark," on Tuesday, July 21.
One would think that, by now, Thor would have some secret formula or at least a template of how the books should be structured and consistent, but to hear him tell it, he's still "just bringing order out of chaos."
"You'd think that after you've done something this many times, it would get easier," says Thor, who is participating in a virtual event at Warwick's at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 22. "It doesn't. It is no easier and, in fact, it gets harder. I raise the bar for myself every single year."
As the Scot Harvath series has evolved, the protagonist has evolved from a Secret Service agent to a counter-terrorism operative to, most recently, one of the nation's top spies. What separates "Near Dark" is that readers now see the hero in a position of vulnerability, becoming the hunted rather than the hunter.
"In 'Near Dark,' everything has been stripped of him," Thor says. "He's basically just this slow-motion train wreck. Readers have never seen him like this."
Similar in scope to Robert Ludlum's Jason Bourne series or even the John Wick franchise of films, "Near Dark" sees Harvath with a bounty on his head. While the action sequences in the book are impressive and enthralling, the book's main strength is the detective work Harvath must undertake in order to find the person who's really after him.
"The trick was how do I reverse-engineer this," asks Thor. "How would this really work? Yes, I want readers, books in hand and toes in the sand, flipping those pages really fast. I want to entertain them, but I also want it to be as realistic as possible."
That sense of realism likely comes from the author's own upbringing, as well as the contacts he's made through the years. Raised in Southern California, Thor's father was a Marine and Thor recalls spending time with Navy SEALS while visiting his aunts and cousins in Coronado (the third Harvath book, "State of the Union," opens with the titular character meeting his girlfriend at the Hotel Del Coronado). Coronado in particular is often the setting of Harvath's flashbacks of childhood, with his father taking him to the movies at a theater clearly inspired by the real-life Village Theater in Coronado.
"I couldn't write what I do without the generous help of experts," says Thor, who often consults with retired and active SEALs in San Diego. "My job is to entertain people, but these are not training manuals, so it has to be a mix."
Still, even if Thor sees "Near Dark" as unique in that Harvath is entering a new, darker stage of his career, one of the more prescient questions is why the hero would keep doing this to himself.
"I grew up reading John le Carre, Frederick Forsyth and Robert Ludlum, so these types of characters who are a little bit damaged have always appealed to me," Thor says. "Particularly the ones who are strong and who could still overcome adversity."
Thor has no idea what's next for Scot Harvath. Having put out a book every year since 2002, it's surprising to learn that the author doesn't have an outline for the series or even for the books themselves. When it's pointed out that outlining his novels in advance might help make his job easier, Thor says, with his signature charisma, that he wouldn't have it any other way.
"If it was easy, it would be boring. This job is so hard, but I love it because it's so hard."
Combs is a freelance writer.
This article is written by Seth Combs from The San Diego Union-Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.