I write spy thrillers and have completed two novels. Arctic Wargame is the first book in Justin Hall series. Justin, an agent with the Canadian Intelligence Service, has been demoted after a botched rescue operation in Libya. Eager to return to the field, he volunteers for a reconnaissance mission to the Arctic, after two foreign icebreakers appear in Canadian waters. His team uncovers a treasonous plan against Canada’s security and falls into an ambush by one of their own. Left for dead in the Arctic, Justin and his team must race to save themselves and their country. Arctic Wargame came out on May 22 on Amazon as an e-book and paperback.
Tripoli’s Target is the second book in Justin Hall series. Justin and his partner, Carrie O’Connor, are sent to meet with the Sheikh of the largest terrorist network in Northern Africa, to receive some high-value intelligence. They learn about an assassination plot against the U.S. president, which is to happen during a G-20 summit in Tripoli, Libya. Justin and Carrie inform the U.S. Secret Service about this plot. Then, new intelligence comes in, and they realize something is very, very wrong in their plan. Against all odds, they must stop the assassination before the summit forty-eight hours away. Tripoli’s Target is scheduled for a late fall release this year. Its prologue and first chapter are included as bonus content at the end of Arctic Wargame.
Two of my short stories are also available on Amazon. The first one, "Carved in Memory," is a prequel to Arctic Wargame and explains an important aspect of Justin’s background. The second one, "The Last Confession," is about a dying NY mobster confession to his priest.
2.) Ethan, as your website states, you are a lawyer by trade. It seems to me a number of lawyers have become well-known authors over the years, Coonts and Grisham being two of the most obvious, so I have to wonder how that particular career has driven so many lawyers to become writers. How has being an attorney impacted your own writing?
There is a lot of writing and reading involved in the work of a lawyer. Memos, briefing notes, witnesses reports, opening and closing statements. A lot of research goes into preparing for a case, whether it ends up in court or not. The legal research sharpens one’s mind, as everything needs to be persuasive and concise. These skills are extremely helpful when writing a fictional novel.
3.) What do your novels bring to readers that is unique?
My stories feature Canadian secret agents and there aren’t that many of them in the fictional world, although Canada has a strong presence in the international intelligence community. The plots and the storylines take the reader to places they are unable to go or it wouldn’t be advisable to visit. I hope the readers find my novels entertaining and will want to read more.
4.) Since you write espionage thrillers with links to Canada, what kind of research have you done? For instance, have you had contact with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service?
I have read a lot of CSIS reports and double-checked the facts of my story. Of course, I have made full use of my creative license, but I have tried my best to give the reader as much truthful information and a plausible storyline. I have made good use of internet sources, as well as other media. I have also talked to some CSIS agents.
5.) What is your favorite sport? Why?
I like to play tennis. It exercises all the muscles of your body and it sharpens your reflex skills. Also, one needs only one partner to play it.
6.) You are sitting in your office one day when a well-dressed man comes in, sits down across from you, removes a pistol from beneath his jacket and places it on your desk within easy reach of himself but not quite within your own range. "I have a story to tell," he says. What is your response?
My response will be: I’ll cancel all my meetings for today.
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The Amazon page for Arctic Wargame.
As an added bonus, here is an excerpt from Arctic Wargame:
Six months ago
October 10, 3:00 a.m.
The sand dunes sank into darkness as a curtain of clouds dimmed the glow of the crescent moon. Justin limped closer to the small barred window of his prison cell. His bruised chest pressed against the rough surface of the bloodstained wall. He squinted and tried to stand on his toes for a better look. The rusty shackles clawed against the scarred skin of his ankles, and the heavy chain rattled on the cement floor.
“Quiet. Be quiet, you bastard infidel,” a guard growled in Arabic from down the shadowy prison hallway.
Justin stood still and drew in a deep breath, the cold night air of the Sahara desert filling his heaving lungs. Everything went silent again. No rapid steps rushing to his cell. No swearing bellowed by other inmates. He lifted his head, wrapped his free hands around the iron bars, and clenched his teeth, ignoring the jolts of pain from his fingers. With his eyes about an inch over the windowsill, Justin scoped the landscape, searching for the long-awaited rescue team.
Abdul, his connection within Libya’s Internal Security Agency who lay in the cell next door, had confirmed their escape was to take place early that morning. Their previous attempt the night before had failed, despite the inside help of one of the terrorists. Justin hoped this time their plan would be executed with no glitches.
At first, he noticed nothing except the rugged outlines of the steep dunes and the whitewashed walls of the sleepy town. Straining his eyes, he peered again. A small shadow slithered toward the prison wall. Justin blinked to clear his vision and stared at the approaching figure.
Bent at the waist, the shadow advanced at a rapid pace. It quickly disappeared from his sight, and he wondered whether the man had encountered a guard.
Justin’s heart pounded. He placed his ear to the wall and sensed a low grating noise. Someone, the shadow he hoped, was scaling the wall.
The window was at least twelve feet above the ground. He wondered how long it would take the shadow to reach it. A long minute dragged by and Justin was still alone. He breathed faster and faster and urged the man on the freedom side of the wall to make good time.
Finally, a hushed voice whispered in Arabic, “Abdul, Abdul, it’s me, Bashir. You there?”
“I’m Justin,” he replied softly.
“You’re the Canadian agent. Where’s Abdul?”
“In the other cell, around the corner, but that one has no window.”
“When did they move him?”
“A few hours ago, after they gave him a good beating.”
“Can he walk?”
“I think so.”
Bashir went silent for a moment. Justin looked up, but could not see the man’s face through the window. He asked slowly, “Bashir?”
A few seconds later, he heard a scraping sound. Bashir was offering him a large metal key through the window bars. “That’s for the shackles,” Bashir said under his breath, “and this is for the guard.” He produced a black dagger.
Justin grabbed the handle and weighed the weapon in his weak hand. A ray of moonlight glinted off the ten-inch blade.
“Can you do this?” Bashir whispered.
“You have only one chance. I’ll wait for you and Abdul in two black Nissans by the main gate. Then we’ll drive across the border to Tunisia.”
Justin frowned. “What about the hostages? The two Canadian doctors?”
“The Algerians moved them from their safe house to another location, out of the prison but still in town. My men are on their way there.”
“Yes, your partner is with them.”
Justin breathed a sigh of relief. “OK. I’ll make sure Abdul and I meet you by the gate.”
“You’ll have to be quiet. About twenty men are guarding the prison, and we can’t defeat them all.”
“Abdul knows the way, but if you can’t free him, walk down the stairs and go left. The hall will take you to a small courtyard on the ground floor. There will be a guard or two by the gate. You need to cross into the house next door.”
“Downstairs, then left, then to the house,” Justin said, finding it a bit difficult to concentrate on Bashir’s words.
“Yes. Get to the roof of the house and drop down along the side facing the mosque. Follow the road leading to the main gate. Is it clear?”
“Yes, it is.”
Bashir’s clothes rubbed against the wall, and then silence returned to Justin’s cell. He stared at the key and the dagger in his right hand. Stepping back from the window, he was careful not to jerk the chain and alert the guard beyond the solid metal door. The key fit into the shackles’ padlock. He coughed loudly as he turned the key to cover the dull clunk of the lock snapping open. Now almost free, he removed the metal loops from around his ankles.
First imprisoned in Tripoli after their hostage rescue operation went wrong, Justin and Abdul were subjected to torture by the Algerian hostage takers for two days. After Justin and Abdul attempted an escape and killed a guard in the process, the Algerians––with the help of the Libyan secret police––moved them to Ghadames, an isolated and less risky place in their minds.
Justin wasted no time. He took a deep breath, gripped the dagger tightly, and called out to the guard, “Hey, open the door.”
“Shut up,” the guard roared back.
“I need to talk to you.”
“No. Just shut up.”
Justin banged twice on the heavy door.
The guard’s voice grew louder as he drew nearer to the door. “What’s the matter with you? You want me to break your leg?”
Justin slammed his fist against the door.
“That’s it. You asked for it,” the guard shouted.
Keys clattered as the guard struggled to find the right one to unlock the door. Justin stepped to the side and lifted his dagger high, waiting for the right moment. His hand shook. The weapon felt heavy, straining his muscles.
“I’m going to beat some sense into you now,” the guard barked.
As the guard shoved open the door, Justin thrust his hand toward the man’s throat. The blade slashed deep under the man’s thick chin, severing his windpipe. The guard dropped dead into his stretched arms, blood sputtering from the man’s mangled neck.
Justin used the guard’s black robe and turban to wipe the blood stains from his face and his arms. He stripped the man of his keys, his side arm—an old Beretta 92 pistol—his AK-47 assault rifle and two magazines. Justin dragged the body to a corner of his cell and locked the door behind him.
He tiptoed to Abdul’s cell. On the second try, he found the right key. As he opened the door, the powerful stench of sweat and urine almost twisted his stomach inside out. Abdul was lying against a wall, asleep.
“Abdul, Abdul, wake up.” Justin rustled him.
“Huh? What?” Abdul mumbled with a big yawn.
“Time to go, man.”
“Justin, how did you…” Abdul sat up slowly and stared into Justin’s eyes.
“Bashir gave me a key and a knife.”
“Bashir? When did he come?”
“Tell you later. Let’s go. Can you walk?”
“Yes, yes, I can.”
Justin unchained Abdul’s bruised legs and helped him to his feet. Abdul leaned against the wall before taking a few unsteady steps.
“I’m good. I can do this,” Abdul said.
“OK, follow me.”
“First, give me that.” Abdul pointed at the assault rifle.
“Bashir said we need to break out in silence. Too many fighters for us to kill them all.”
Abdul held the AK-47 in his hands with difficulty and fumbled with the safety switch. Finally, he switched it to full automatic. “Just in case,” he mumbled.
Justin threw a glance down the hall and signaled for Abdul to follow him. They moved quickly to the end of the narrow hallway, their bare feet tapping lightly on the concrete floor, grains of sand gritting their toes.
“We go to the first floor, then left,” Justin said as they came to a spiral staircase.
“Left through the hall until we reach the courtyard. We have to go through the door taking us to the house next to the prison. Bashir will wait for us at the main gate.”
“What? That’s Bashir’s plan? There’s always a group of guards in the back.”
“He said there should be only one, two at the most, and we have to get rid of them quietly.”
“That’s impossible. They’ll see us as we go outside and kill us.”
“Maybe they’re dozing off.”
“If not, we shoot first.”
“No. We’ll have the rest of the Algerians coming after us.”
Justin winced as his left foot landed on the coarse surface of the first stair. He took two more steps and turned his head. Abdul nodded and followed behind him. Holding the dagger ready in his hand, Justin continued down the stairs. He reached the bottom. The hall forked right and left. A light flickered from the right. Justin stepped back, gesturing for Abdul to stop.
“What’s that way?” Justin asked in a hushed tone, pointing toward the light.
“A kitchen and a dining area. And someone’s awake.”
“Don’t worry about it. We’re slipping out the other way.”
Justin glimpsed again toward the dim light, then to the opposite side and began creeping down the hall. He saw a door about twenty steps ahead and figured it was the one opening into the courtyard. Pressing on, he quickened his pace. Abdul’s feet shuffled loudly behind him.
“Quiet, quiet, Abdul,” he said.
“That’s not me.”
Justin turned his head and looked over Abdul’s shoulders. He stared right into the eyes of a man standing five or six steps behind Abdul and pointing a pistol at them. The gunman was of a small, thin stature, clad in a white robe and a black headdress.
“Stop or I’ll blow your head off,” he said in Arabic.
The gunman’s voice crackled abruptly. Its unexpected high pitch startled Justin. The pistol shook in the young man’s hands.
“He’s just a kid,” Justin whispered to Abdul, who was preparing to turn his rifle toward the gunman.
“I will shoot you,” the young man squeaked, this time louder. “You, turn around with your hands in the air,” he ordered Abdul.
Abdul swung on his heels, firing a quick burst.
“No,” Justin shouted.
Bullets went through the gunman. Two large purple stains appeared on his chest as he collapsed over a chair.
“No, no, no,” Justin cried. “He was a kid, just a kid.”
“Who was going to blow our heads off,” Abdul replied.
“We could have talked to him.”
Abdul shook his head. “No time for talk. Now run.”
Before Justin could say anything, someone kicked open the door behind him.
“Down,” Abdul shouted and pointed his AK-47 toward the door.
Justin fell to the floor, while Abdul kept his finger on the assault rifle’s trigger. Bullets pierced the bodies of two guards who entered the hall. Loud cries and barking orders came from two stories above. Rapid thuds of heavy boots echoed throughout the prison. Justin pulled out the Beretta from a pocket of his tattered khakis. As soon as two men running downstairs entered his sights, he planted a couple of bullets in each man’s neck.
“Go, go, go. Move, move!” he yelled at Abdul.
Abdul checked the door and fired a short burst into the courtyard. A few shrieks confirmed he hit his mark, and he dove outside. More gunfire followed. The reports of assault rifles echoed in the night. Heavy machine guns hammering in the distance pounded the urgency of their escape into the Canadian agent. After trading his Beretta for a high-powered AK-47 next to the body of a dead guard, Justin joined Abdul in the courtyard.