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Marc: STONE CROSS is the second book in the Arliss Cutter series. Cutter is a deputy US marshal based in Alaska, the same job I held for the last fifteen years of my career. Twenty-nine years in local and federal law enforcement gave me many opportunities to observe people from all walks of life, on their worst days and their best. Much of the last few years of my career with the US Marshals Service was spent working in Alaska Native villages. Bush Alaskans face an entirely different set of problems and challenges than we face in urban areas.
Most areas are accessible only by air or water so during fall freeze and spring breakup they can be completely isolated for days at a time by weather. I've spent quite a few days in rural villages waiting for the fog to lift or the rive to freeze solid enough for travel, sleeping on the floor of the school library and night and eating food I brought with me or relying on the hospitality of others. Sadly, violent crime is not uncommon in these remote areas. As a writer, I didn't have to go far to imagine what kind of hardships Arliss and his partner, deputy Lola Teariki, would come up against if they were plunked down in one of these villages with a murderer on the loose.
I've been fortunate to make some dear friends from bush communities over the years and have always been inspired and impressed by their culture and their general resiliency to everyday hardship--like not having indoor plumbing or a consistent water supply. The character of Birdie Pingayak, the school principal of Stone Cross, is a homage to these friends, as well as the bush teachers who work so hard in isolated and rustic conditions to teach and inspire village children.
Marc: I live in Alaska and love to write about her. Jericho Quinn, the main character in my first Thriller series is from here. Those are more globetrotting geopolitical stories, but I still bring him back here for adventures as often as I can. With the Cutter novels, Alaska is as much of a character as Cutter and Lola are.
The state is so large and diverse that stories can be set on the frozen tundra of the north, old growth forest of southeast panhandle, or birch forests of interior. Remote rivers, the tallest mountains in North America, ice flows in the Chukchi Sea, volcanos, earthquakes, lost gold mines, twenty-four hours of darkness...or daylight, temperatures that dip below minus forty, hidden ocean coves, the high seas--or shopping malls and urban problems of Anchorage, give me an almost endless list of backgrounds and settings in which to drop Cutter and crew.
Stone Cross is a fictional village, modeled after a couple of villages along the Kuskokwim River, where I did quite a bit of work as a deputy US marshal.
No question about it, of all the books I have written, this one is the most real to me. Most people I've talked to over the years have no idea that these villages even exist. STONE CROSS is a way for me to talk about some of the people I really respect--the real Birdie Pingayaks out there--by writing a fictional story. As I say, I believe this is the 'truest' of any fiction I've ever written.
Marc: I'm working on my fourth Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan book at the moment, which is an incredible honor and a intense experience. As such though, I don't have time to do a lot of reading for fun. I focus primarily on research and non fiction--in this case, books about nuclear submarines, spy catchers, the plight of the Uyghur population in western China, Chinese history, off shore drilling, and ice breakers. Like I said, it's a Jack Ryan, so it's got a lot of plot lines.
Before I jumped into the research phase, I was fortunate to get early reads on Jack Carr's fabulous SAVAGE SON, and Don Bentley's WITHOUT SANCTION. Both incredibly entertaining stories. I'm also a Don Winslow fan and read everything he writes--though sometimes his prose makes me sad because I know I can never match it. I did re-read RUN SILENT RUN DEEP by Edward Beach (and called it research.) I surprised to see how well it held up over time. A great read.
Marc: BONE RATTLE, number three in the Arliss Cutter series, is done and in the editorial process. This one takes Arliss and Lola Alaska's state capital--which is accessible only by air or sea, and deals with political corruption, murder, and miles and miles of abandoned gold mines beneath the mountains around Juneau. The research on that one was intense, but a great deal of fun.
Marc: I'll finish up this Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan in a couple of months, then jump right into Arliss Cutter #4. Before COVID, my wife and I traveled to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands for a few months every year. This is where Arliss Cutter's partner, Lola Teariki is from. I usually wrote a good deal of the Cutters there. Not sure how it's going to work next year. Rarotonga is an gorgeous place, sort of off the beaten path, very relaxed. We have a lot of dear friends there and it's the perfect place to write Fingers crossed we'll get to return sooner rather than later.
I'm planning another Jericho Quinn soon. Still working out the logistics. There are a couple of projects the works that I'm hoping to be able to talk about in the near future...
In a remote Alaskan village, Deputy US Marshal Arliss Cutter searches for a stone-cold killer amid a hotbed of corruption, lies, and long-buried secrets...
Winter comes early to the rural native community of Stone Cross, Alaska—and so does hunting season. Caribou and moose are a major source of food through the long, dark months ahead. But Arliss Cutter has come here for a very different game.
A federal judge is receiving death threats and refuses protection. Cutter and his deputy Lola Teariki have been assigned to shadow him on his trip to this icy outland to make sure that he’s safe. But they quickly discover that no one is ever really safe in a place like this. And no one is above suspicion...
When Cutter and Lola arrive, the village is already gripped with fear. A young couple has disappeared from their fishing lodge, just eight miles upriver. Their handyman has been found dead, next to a crude drawing of a mysterious symbol.
To make matters worse, a dense fog has descended on the region, isolating the town from civilization. With the judge’s life still at risk, and two people still missing, Cutter and Lola have their work cut out for them. But navigating the small-town customs and blood-bound traditions of this close-knit community won’t be easy. When the secrets come out, the deadly hunt is on...
Because in Alaska, nothing runs colder than blood.
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