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Thursday, February 10,2011

Straight shooting

A veteran FBI agent brings his own experiences to his fictional thrillers

by Bill Castanier


Fans of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Robert Crais’ Joe Pike and the brainiac Sherlock Holmes are talking about Steve Vail, the protagonist of Noah Boyd’s new thriller “Agent X”, in the same vein as these legendary heroes.


The comparisons are easy: Vail is a tough guy, an errant knight who applies Holmes-like logic to get the bad guys.


In “Agent X”, Vail, a rogue ex-FBI agent who is coaxed back to work to help solve a mystifying case of extortion and murder, joins his co-protagonist FBI agent and assistant director Kate Bannon in chasing spies who leave increasingly complex clues for authorities.


A Russian spy offers to identify government moles selling state secrets for a price, but when he disappears the race is on to trace the moles before they are killed. The action is complete with romantic tension, dramatic chase scenes and mental and physical battles that pit Vail against one of the most diabolically clever bad guys in fiction.


Noah Boyd is a pseudonym for former FBI agent Paul Lindsay, who spent 20 years working tough homicide cases in Detroit, including two high-profile serial killer cases.


Lindsay, who has written several novels under his real name, said he was fired by his former publisher.


“They let me go," he said. "They had warned me (about declining sales), and it was fair.”


Lindsay, however, is as tenacious as his new antihero. He began writing a new thriller series with a cerebral, ex-FBI agent whose frustration with bureaucracy leads to his dismissal.


The author found himself almost mirroring that situation in 1992 when his first book appeared, “Witness to the Truth.” It was seen as being critical of the FBI and its publication brought him an unpaid suspension.


Lindsay said his dialogue and plotting stem from his experience in Detroit.


“I spent 20 years doing research, and I have that to call on. You develop a good ear. It doesn’t matter if it is a pimp or a priest.”


“Agent X” is the second book in the series ,and it is strongly recommended that readers start with “The Bricklayer,” which introduced Bannon and Vail. Bricklayer is Vail’s nickname, which he assumed after being fired and returning to a job in construction. The monicker comes from Lindsay’s father, a bricklayer, with whom the author worked between a tour of duty in Vietnam and joining the bureau.


Like Vail’s fictional father, Lindsay’s father also took off when he was a kid growing up in Chicago.


Lindsay makes a persuasive argument the FBI is befuddled by bureaucracy.


“Every year, the FBI gets lazier and lazier,” he said, even calling the agency’s supervisors “dumb.”


“They are absolute morons and obstruct everything. They have agents wearing out shoes.”


Lindsay says he can’t watch most of the current cop shows on TV, but he points to "NYPD Blue" and "The Wire" as examples of realistic portrayals and great writing.


The author said that although he considers himself of average talent, “when it comes to writing I’ve had a hell of life and solved some tough cases.”


A couple of those tough cases — the Highland Park Strangler in Detroit and the Green River Murders in Seattle — he helped solve with dogged investigation, much like his character Vail does in “Bricklayer” and “Agent X.”


When he was called in to help solve the Highland Park Strangler case, Lindsay said he first reviewed the myriad tips in the case and discovered a woman who had gotten away from a strangler in similar circumstances. That was the break in the case that resulted in a sting that led to an arrest and conviction.


Lindsay’s writing, much like his investigative technique, is intuitive. He is able to make leaps of logic that are not obvious to others. He said he once tried outlining' but it took him longer to outline the book than it did to write it.


“I think you need to see the long-range picture. At the end, the good guys are standing and the bad guys are down.”


Noah Boyd


7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 16 Schuler Books & Music 1982 W. Grand River Ave., Okemos Free (517) 349-8840 www.schulerbooks.com


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