In writing “The Terrorist Who Wasn’t” I wanted to produce the kind of book that I would personally love to read. That’s why the final product is a hybrid of three different story types. It’s a murder mystery as well as an alternate history. It also falls into the“thriller” genre, with a race-against-time to stop a lethal terrorist attack.
Like most of us who write stories, I’m an avid reader. I don’t keep count, but I’ve probably read more than 2,000 novels over the years. After the first hundred or so, I began looking for authors who write the kinds of books that “I can’t put down.”
For example, when I read the first of many books by the brilliant Harry Turtledove, I was hooked for life on alternate histories. Every Turtledove alternate history begins with a real-world historical context, to which the author adds, at least, one fictional person or event that radically changes everything that follows. For example, “What if George Washington and King George III had negotiated a peaceful agreement in 1776?”
Another story type that I have long admired is the mystery that keeps readers guessing through twists and turns; blind alleys; and forehead-slapping “aha!” moments. For me, the master of this kind of plot is Harlan Coben. His skill in building greater levels of intrigue grabs us from the opening sentence and keeps us guessing. And when he finally reveals the truth behind the plot, we’re relieved and happily satisfied to have shared the ride.
My third favorite is the “thriller” based on interesting characters struggling with life-threatening challenges, in real-world places. Nelson DeMille is the author I most admire for his excellently researched thrillers like Up Country, Plum Island, and The General’s Daughter.
With those three types as generic models, “The Terrorist Who Wasn’t” is an alternate history set in the 1990’s, with real characters and events that most readers will recognize. Their world shifts to a new reality, however, due to the failures of two petty criminals. The investigation of one of the criminals leads to a mysterious murder. The search for the killer uncovers a major terror operation and a desperate effort by law enforcement to identify and arrest the terrorists.
My question for readers: Can you identify the perpetrators before the story exposes them?