Talking Thrillers with Gregg Podolski: The Recruiter


Gregg Podolski is a Jersey boy, born and bred, and to this day lives in The Garden State with his wife and two children, along with a cranky cat, and their rescue dog.  When not writing, he works as an executive recruiter for a family-owned staffing firm. Gregg loves Philly sports, the Jersey Shore, and is one of the last people on the planet who still buys CDs. The Recruiter, his hilarious debut action thriller, was inspired in part by his job at the aforementioned recruiting firm.

We recently had the immense pleasure of chatting with Gregg about  The Recruiter, a smart nail-biter that Publishers Weekly is calling “A page-turner with sharp dialogue and a memorable protagonist.”

TFx: What was the spark that ignited the idea for this book, and how did it evolve during the writing process?

Podolski: I've worked as a recruiter since 2007, and noticed that my profession didn't really appear much in popular fiction. Jo Nesbo wrote Headhunters in 2008, but that was about it. And even in that novel, the protagonist's occupation isn't integral to the story. Nesbo could have made him a financial advisor or an architect and still told the same basic story about him stealing art from his wealthy clients. So I thought it would be cool to write a novel where the main character was a recruiter, and where his or her job played a key role in the plot. But I didn't want to just write a John Grisham book with recruiters instead of lawyers. I didn't want my hero to be a regular recruiter who gets caught up in some shady situation. What if, I thought, there were recruiters for the criminal underworld? Like, let's say a mob boss needed to contract out a hit, but didn't know any good hitmen, or his regular people weren't available. Who would he turn to? That was the seed of the idea, and it grew quickly from there. 

TFx: Can you share a behind-the-scenes story about a key moment or character in your book that readers wouldn't know from the text alone?

PodolskiErica Krieg, the second biggest character in the book and easily the most badass, was originally a guy until she sat down at the table to meet Rick for the first time. Right away I knew the character worked better as a woman, and it opened up so many possibilities that wouldn't have existed if she remained Eric instead of Erica. 

TFx: In what ways does this book challenge the norms or conventions of its genre?

PodolskiPlaying around with the norms and conventions of the genre was a big part of the fun I had in writing this novel. For one thing, my protagonist, Rick Carter, would be a throwaway villain in a typical thriller. He's the middle man that Jack Reacher discovers halfway through the book, beats up for information about his client, the true Big Bad, and then we never see the guy again. And while Rick owns a room when it comes to interviewing a candidate or negotiating with a client, he isn't very good when the bullets start flying and fists start being thrown. I wanted to see if I could center an entire action/thriller around a throwaway character who kind of sucks at the typical action hero stuff. Oh, and I wrote it in first person, just so the reader would have to stick with that guy for the entire story. Man, I hope I got it right!

TFx: What inspired the first line of your book, and how does it set the tone for the rest of the story?

PodolskiThe original first line of the novel can be found here: https://killzoneblog.com/2020/09/first-page-critique-the-recruiter.html. It set the tone of a gritty, hard-boiled noir, and painted Rick as the kind of tough-guy, smartass hero you'd expect in that sort of novel. As I started playing with those norms and conventions, though, Rick changed into the barely-keeping-his-head-above-water antihero he became, and I realized the first 70 pages of the manuscript no longer worked. The first line you'll find in the book isn't as sexy as the one I originally wrote, but it was the most logical starting point for the story I wanted to tell. 

TFx: Which actor can you imagine playing the main character in the movie version of your book?

Podolski: Ryan Reynolds has always been Rick Carter in my head. But Ryan Gosling could also pull it off really well. Basically, any Canadian actor named Ryan would work.

TFx: What is the significance of the title?

Podolski: I love simple titles that aren't pretentious. I mentioned John Grisham before, and he's great at this. The Recruiter was simple, catchy, and to the point. I'm also hoping it appeals to any of my colleagues in the industry that, like me, have been clamoring for a book about their job! (Well, sort of).

TFx: How do you name your characters, and is there a character whose name has a special meaning or story behind it?

Podolski: Rick Carter just came to me, and I liked it even more when I realized it's phonetically similar to Re-Cruiter. (Which just goes to show my subconscious knows what it's doing). Others are amalgams of people I know. The rest actually come from the resumes I look at all day long for my real job. I'll pluck a first name from one, combine it with the last name of another and voila!

TFx: What was the hardest scene to write in this book?

Podolski: The scene between Rick and his estranged daughter. I changed Maggie enough that she isn't just a doppelganger for my real daughterwith whom I have a wonderful relationship, for the record but the emotions in that scene still hit in a way I wasn't expecting.

TFx: What was the last book you read that had a plot twist you totally didn't see coming?

Podolski: Curse of the Reaper, an excellent meta-slasher horror novel by Brian McAuley, with whom I share an agent. The ending hit me like a gut punch in the best way possible.

TFx: Tell us something fun about you that readers might be surprised to know?

Podolski: In college, I started a food fight at Rutgers Stadium that actually got on ESPN2 for a few seconds before they cut to commercial break. Our team was REALLY bad that year.

TFx: As an author, how do you navigate the balance between providing readers with closure and leaving certain elements open to interpretation?

Podolski: I'm big on trusting my readers. I also hate endings that feel the need to wrap everything up in a neat bow, so I just made sure that every question that needed or deserved an answer was closed out by the end, but was quite happy to leave certain threads dangling. It's more fun that way.

TFx: If you had to describe your book in just three words, what would they be, and why did you choose those words?

Podolski: Comedic action thriller. Because Reese Witherspoon Book Club Selection is two words too many. But seriously, Reese, call me!

TFx: Books often have a central message or theme. What do you hope readers take away from your latest work, and why is this message important to you?

Podolski: Be entertained. That's all I'm going for with this. Have fun. If anyone wants to find a deeper meaning then I'm all for it and think it's cool, but when the world's as heavy as it is in real life right now, sometimes the best thing you can do for a person is give them an escape from it for a few hours.

TFx: If your main character had a theme song, what would it be and why?

PodolskiI LOVE this question. Music is a big part of my life, and nothing puts the exclamation point on a moment quite like the perfect needle-drop. For example, there's a motorcycle chase through the streets of Brussels about halfway through the book that's set to "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" by the 80's band Starship, because I love when action scenes are set to music that you wouldn't typically associate with the genre. I even created a soundtrack on my website featuring the songs that appear in the book: https://greggpodolski.com/the-recruiter/. As for Rick's theme song, it's "Come With Me Now" by Kongos. It would play perfectly over the opening or closing credits if this ever became a movie. Just sayin', Hollywood. 

Get  Gregg Podolski’ latest release,The Recruiter, out now on Amazon

"Rick Carter is cunning and capable with a sarcastic wit and hilarious one liners. It feels like the heir apparent to Nelson DeMille's John Corey has just burst onto the scene in a big way." - T. R. Hendricks, author of The Infiltrator

An action-packed debut from Gregg Podolski, The Recruiter is a thrilling and unique adventure through the European underworld.

When bad guys need good help, they call Rick Carter.

He’s a criminal recruiter, searching for contract killers, cyber hackers, gun smugglers, and any other assorted villains-for-hire a European crime boss might need. But, when the family he left behind in New Jersey is caught up in a client’s plot to monopolize the black market, Rick has to save them from two of his own top candidates: deadly assassins known only as Ghost and The Persian.

Fixing his own mess will require a set of skills he doesn’t have—not a problem, as finding qualified help is where he excels. But stepping into action, becoming the hero his family needs, that’s new territory. For a man who’s spent the last ten years being the best at helping the worst, this may be his last chance to do something right.

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