One of my favorite things to do is seek out interesting experiences that can be used to give my books a richer, more authentic feel. And sometimes it goes beyond even that. Often something I expected to become a minor flourish—someone I’ve met, something I’ve done, a place I’ve been—morphs into a major character or plot point.
Here are a few of the things that inspired the upcoming Enemy at the Gates.
I had an opportunity to spend some time living in Africa in the ‘90s and it’s a place that still fascinates me. The continent is so exotic and unpredictable that it’s impossible not to have an adventure there. Whether it’s nearly losing my rental car to an elephant, listening to tall tales in a local bar, or discovering that mopane worm stew is better than it sounds, there’s always a story to be told.
Long-time readers of the Rapp series will remember that he set up Claudia Gould with a new identity and a house near Franschhoek, South Africa. It’s an off-the-beaten-track place where she can lose herself and stay under the radar of any old enemies who might still hold a grudge.
It’s perfect for Mitch, too. Perhaps the most beautiful wine region in the world, Franschhoek is awash with quiet roads, rugged mountains, and strenuous hiking trails. Even better, Cape Dutch architecture is naturally sturdy and difficult to penetrate. The ideal place for a security-obsessed outdoor athlete.
Years ago, when I was doing a lot of biking and climbing there, I never imagined that I would eventually use my knowledge to make it the home of the world’s favorite literary assassin.
In 2009, I published Lords of Corruption, a thriller set in the world of African aid. In doing the research for it, I read a lot about Joseph Kony, the psychopathic leader of a Ugandan terrorist organization called the Lord’s Resistance Army. His ability to operate in the shadows while inflicting indescribable damage on local villagers almost seemed like magic. Before his heyday ended, he’d created thousands of child soldiers and displaced millions of people. Gideon Auma, one of the antagonists in Enemy at the Gates, is very much inspired by Kony. Sometimes there’s no reason to make anything up. Reality is worse.
The book’s denouement turns on telecommunications tech, giving me an excuse to do a deep dive into the subject. Everyone knows we’re being tracked by our phones, which is why people like Mitch Rapp use burners—pay-as-you-go handsets with no identity or contract attached.
I began to wonder if those burners were as foolproof as people think. Was there a way to track them? To put a name to their owners?
One day inspiration struck. I was listening to a podcast about how CAPTCHA was developed and it was just the missing piece I’d been searching for. That random podcast ended up inspiring a critical plot point.
In the book, I also talk about the high level of surveillance in Saudi Arabia and what Mitch does to evade it. For several years now, I’ve been following the Big Brother tactics of the Chinese government and the proliferation of cameras throughout their society. The Saudi royalty is starting to use similar technology, making it harder and harder for operators to remain covert.
I have more than a passing interest in all things medical and have written thrillers on subjects ranging from parasitic infections in The Ares Decision to humanity’s obsession with vanquishing death in The Immortalists. When I was developing the coronavirus bioweapon in Lethal Agent, COVID wasn’t yet a reality. But now that it is, there’s even more information available.
As I continued to pore over it, I started to wonder: Would it be possible to create a single vaccine that provides protection against this entire family of viruses? Fast forward to Enemy at the Gates and Dr. David Chism, who is performing just this type of research.
I See It. Then I Write It.
For me, it’s so much easier to describe a building, city, or landscape that I’ve actually seen than to create it out of whole cloth.
Little known fact: Scott Coleman’s house took shape after going to a friend’s newly constructed home in Wyoming. All I could think about as I got a tour was how much Scott was going to enjoy living there.
Want to know more about Enemy at the Gates? Here’s the story behind Mitch Rapp’s 20th mission.