July 2015

Christopher Reich

The scary reach of Big Brother
Interview by
International thriller writer Christopher Reich admits his new standalone nail-biter, Invasion of Privacy, lacks the globetrotting savoir faire of his bestsellers Numbered Account, The Patriot’s Club and The Prince of Risk. But what it so deliciously serves up instead is a visceral fear feast centered on a simple premise: What if your iPhone turned against you?
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International thriller writer Christopher Reich admits his new standalone nail-biter, Invasion of Privacy, lacks the globetrotting savoir faire of his bestsellers Numbered Account, The Patriot’s Club and The Prince of Risk. But what it so deliciously serves up instead is a visceral fear feast centered on a simple premise: What if your iPhone turned against you?

Forty miles west of Austin on the dusty doorstep of the Texas Hill Country, FBI special agent Joe Grant is gunned down along with an informant in a shootout with parties unknown. Minutes before his wife, Mary, becomes a widow, she receives a cryptic voicemail from Joe that will lead her to question the FBI’s version of his death. To vindicate her husband, she’ll ultimately be forced to confront Ian Prince, the ruthless telecom billionaire behind a terrifying top-secret surveillance system every bit as plausible in our hyper-connected age as George Orwell’s Big Brother was during his.

Reich hatched the premise for Invasion of Privacy while watching news coverage of British media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s celebrity phone-hacking scandal. The topic hit close to home for the father of two teenage girls whose hands are rarely free of a phone, tablet or laptop.

“It’s a completely different kind of book for me—more of a family-oriented, inside-the-home thriller,” Reich says. “I wanted to write this David and Goliath story to show that it’s still personal grit and family love that ends up overcoming sheer megalomania and greed.”

To dial up the domestic dynamics, Reich set his tale in Austin, where his daughters were born and where he earned his MBA at the University of Texas. However, his research into the lexicon and subtleties of computer surveillance and phone hacking, which included meeting with an electronic payments expert, friends in the FBI and a reporter for Wired, was specifically intended to spare his readers geek overload.

“Once a story starts getting all technical and cyber-geeky, I just shut the book,” Reich admits.

He didn’t have to search far for a prototype of mega-mogul Ian Prince, however.

“He’s an amalgam of the leading brains and business personalities in Silicon Valley and around the world,” he says. “Apple’s founder Steve Jobs was elevated to this position of something more than a man but less than a god, and we all worshipped this guy and absolutely forgave all of his failings because he was able to design an amazing iPod and iPhones. We worshiped him, but when you get down to nuts and bolts, he was not the nicest human being to his family. I think on any other scorecard, he would get very low marks.”

For an additional twist, Reich places Ian and the National Security Agency on the verge of a lucrative, game-changing partnership with chilling implications for privacy in America. The reader is left guessing as to whose side the FBI is on until the final pages.

“How much would our nation allow some of these leading tech companies to get away with in the interest of furthering our own national security?” he wonders. “We live in an era where we’re made to be so afraid of even the slightest risk that we allow the government to take extraordinary measures regarding our privacy in the name of national security.”

The more he learned about cutting-edge surveillance technology, the less convinced Reich became that lawmakers can effectively restrict its use.

“The NSA, with their computers, are just being spies, and the whole point of spying is to collect information. You don’t tell a spy, ‘Only get half of the information you can.’ You tell them, ‘Get everything you can!’ That’s the whole point of having a spy agency.”

Ultimately, Reich came to a very Orwellian conclusion about the intrusion of cyber-surveillance into the American home.

“I’m a big believer in what President Dwight Eisenhower said in his farewell speech: ‘Beware the military-industrial complex.’ This is a whole sector of society that needs adversaries, needs conflict, and really requires even armed conflict in wars to drive their bottom line and become successful,” he says. “I don’t really think that the issues they’re screaming about are as life-threatening or endangering to our national security as they say. The more I research the various government military and intelligence sectors, I feel we really don’t need to be so heavily involved in a lot of these areas.”

To inject a little levity, Reich borrowed one of his daughters’ favorite pastimes: watching pet videos on YouTube.

“My daughters were always looking at a video about this sloth trying to pull itself out of a cradle, so as I was writing the book, it worked into kind of a MacGuffin [plot twist] in the book,” he recalls.

Invasion of Privacy marks the start of a busy year ahead for Reich, a one-time Swiss banker and watch company CEO who launched his writing career with the million-selling 1998 debut Numbered Account (and an assist from James Patterson, an enthusiastic early reader of the manuscript).

Reich’s Rules of Deception series featuring mountaineering surgeon Dr. Jonathan Ransom has been optioned for three 12-episode seasons by Paramount Television and Skydance Productions (Terminator, Mission: Impossible); he’s halfway through writing a fourth book in that series. And next summer, he’ll launch a new series called The Amateur’s Hour, about a cynical government contractor whose predictions about upcoming world events prove a little too close for some people’s comfort.

“I’ll be doing the David Baldacci two-books-a-year thing,” quips Reich. “I’m a little bit scared, but I’m happy to have that problem!”

Does the author fear his own phone may be hacked in the near future?

“I don’t really feel so vulnerable, because I don’t think I’m interesting enough for someone to want to look into what I’m doing,” he chuckles. 

But he does worry about consumers who share so freely on social media. 

“Most Americans put more stuff about themselves on Facebook than they would probably tell anybody. They don’t realize that that information is so readily accessible. We’re already very open with our information in this society. It’s all right out there,” he says.

As for the reception of Invasion of Privacy, the author says he’s already won over two very important new readers.

“This is the first one of my books that both of my daughters have read, and they both just loved it; they just disappeared into it with the teenage characters and the mom,” he says proudly. “Having tried to give my kids my other books, they would go, ‘This is so boring!’ When I saw my daughter disappear and read my book for four hours straight, that was like, OK, I wrote a good book.”

 

This article was originally published in the July 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Get the Book

Invasion of Privacy

Invasion of Privacy

By Christopher Reich
Doubleday
ISBN 9780385531573

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