When Jeff Abbott created the violent, adrenaline-fueled world of Sam Capra, he opened the door to endless possibilities.The Austin-based author has written just four novels featuring the former CIA man, but it’s already clear that almost any crazy thing can happen in them.The latest Sam Capra thriller is Inside Man (Grand Central Publishing, $26).Sam works for a shadowy group called the Round Table, which gave him a chain of bars all over the world as a cover. Now the extralegal organization can call on him whenever and wherever his CIA talents are needed. That said, Sam also often has his own agenda.So with every book, there’s a different bar, a different city, a decidedly different caper.Bearing in mind that every story is packed with requisite chases, gun battles, blood and double-crosses, the only thing a reader can truly expect from Abbott is the unexpected. Inside Man, for example, is classic misdirection. Sam infiltrates a Miami crime family to avenge the murder of a friend. But three-fourths of the way through the book, this mannered Shakespearean family drama morphs into a nail-biting tale of survival in and escape from a black-site South American prison.The setting and tone changes so abruptly, the reader practically winds up with whiplash. But it’s a good kind of whiplash.We talked with Abbott, a Dallas native, about Inside Man. Do you like the variety that this series gives you as a storyteller?It has been fun, because I have a flexibility in the settings and the kinds of stories, so Sam is not locked into any one particular kind of drama. Adrenaline was a story of Sam going undercover to clear his name. The Last Minute was Sam chasing someone to try to get his child back. Downfall turned it around, with Sam being chased and being hunted. In this one, he has gone back to his CIA roots as an inside man, where he goes undercover and plays a part, knowing that one wrong step is doom. When you pick a new setting, be it London, Amsterdam, San Francisco or, for the new one, Miami and Puerto Rico, do you go there to get the feel for the place and its layout and its vibe?Always. It’s one of the perks of the job that I can give Sam a bar anywhere in the world and then go visit that city in the name of research. I have friends who guided me around Miami and helped me find good locations.There’s a scene where Sam talks his way past two guards to get into an expensive neighborhood. My friend did that very thing. We had to talk our way past two guardhouses. Then I went to Puerto Rico, where the whole western side of the island is just gorgeous. It’s a beautiful, stirring place to set a thriller. Any idea yet where the next book will be set?I’m taking Sam back to Europe, which I haven’t done since Adrenaline. This is going to be a story that moves around the globe, but it begins in Budapest. My Hungarian publishers are very excited about my putting a bar in Budapest. I think they’re ready to go out and find where the bar will be. Protagonists in this genre often are in their 30s or 40 — or even older — and, like Danny Glover in the “Lethal Weapon” movies, complaining that he’s too old for this. Your hero is in his mid-20s. Why?It was something that came to me when my novel Panic (a 2005 standalone thriller) took off big in Britain. We were surprised that I had a lot of younger readers in their upper teens and their 20s, who may not be the classic suspense-novel audience. That planted a seed in my mind. When it came time to launch a new series, I decided upon a protagonist who’s noticeably younger and less experienced.He was with the CIA for only three or four years before his career ended. So he makes mistakes that others might not make. His confidence sometimes backfires on him, getting him into situations he’s not prepared for. I think his age often gets him into interesting predicaments. Is there a story behind the character name Sam Capra?I went through a lot of names. When I wrote that one, it seemed to work for him. Despite all the tragedies he has been through (older brother murdered by terrorists; CIA agent wife exposed as a traitor and now in a coma; infant son kidnapped), he is still something of an optimist. I also think of Frank Capra, one of the great optimists of American filmmaking. By the way, Capra is Latin for goat, which also fits. Because Sam is all about parkour, right?Exactly. Sam is a climber of buildings and a runner and a jumper. He’s like a goat. There are other reasons I liked that name. It’s short and easy to remember. It works for an international market.But what I really liked was the goat thing!
by Jeff Abbott
Grand Central Publishing, $26
Meet the author
Abbott will discuss and sign his new book at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Dallas Barnes & Noble, 7700 W. Northwest Highway, 214-739-1124.