Jack Erickson – Master of International Thrillers

Jack Erickson discusses his Milan Thriller Series, detailing his research process, character development, and the integration of Italian culture and history into his fast-paced, suspenseful narratives.

Jack Erickson is a literary polymath whose work spans international thrillers, mysteries, short mysteries, true crime, noir, and romantic suspense. Currently engrossed in his Milan Thriller Series, Erickson brings to life the intense world of Italy’s anti-terrorism police, DIGOS, through meticulously researched and authentically crafted narratives. His debut in the series, Thirteen Days in Milan, set the stage for the gripping sequels No One Sleeps, Vesuvius Nights, and the latest, The Lonely Assassin.

Erickson’s Milan thrillers draw inspiration from celebrated authors like Donna Leon, Andrea Camilleri, and Michael Dibdin, whose works have achieved critical acclaim and popular success on both the page and the screen. This foundation, combined with Erickson’s unique access to high-level officials in Milan’s DIGOS, imbues his novels with a level of detail and realism that resonates with readers and critics alike.

Beyond his literary pursuits, Erickson’s diverse background as a former Air Force intelligence officer, U.S. Senate speechwriter, and publisher, enriches his storytelling with a depth of experience and authenticity. His frequent travels to Italy for research, coupled with his immersion in Italian culture and language, ensure that his thrillers not only entertain but also provide a vivid and immersive experience of contemporary Italy.

In our interview, Erickson discusses his inspiration, research process, and character development, offering insights into how he crafts his compelling stories of international intrigue and suspense.

What initially drew you to the setting of Milan and the world of anti-terrorism for your thriller series?

My wife and I retired in 2011 and traveled for a year. When we were in Italy, we spent two weeks in Menaggio on Lake Como. We took a train to Stazione Central train station in Milano on our way to Paris. While in Stazione Centrale, I had ‘un lumpo di genio,’a lightening bolt idea for the book that became my first Milan Thriller, Thirteen Days in Milan. I spent the summer researching the plot, reading several books about contemporary Italy. I hired a researcher in Milano and gave her the basic plot. When I arrived in Milano, my researcher had arranged a meeting with the capo and chief deputy of Digos, the Italian anti-terrorism police at the Milano Questura (police headquarters).

Can you share insights into your research process for crafting authentic and intricate plots involving international terrorism and political intrigue?

Digos agents at Milano’s Questura have provided me with valuable information about surveillance and tracking suspects for all four Milan Thrillers. I have traveled to Italia every year — except 2020, of course — and am fortunate to have Italian and American friends in Milano. Three of my Italian friends have been researchers for my Milan Thrillers. We have become close friends and I have met their families and enjoyed many meals with them. My researchers give me important information about my Italian characters, their careers, families, and lifestyle.

Your protagonist, Sylvia de Matteo, undergoes intense trials throughout the series. How do you approach developing her character and ensuring her resilience resonates with readers?

In numerous conversations with my researchers and friends in Milano, I asked them for ideas on how a successful single mother, Sylvia de Matteo, would react if kidnapped and held as a prisoner for several weeks. My researchers and friends shared stories they had read or people they have known who find themselves in dangerous, life threatening situations.

The Milan Thriller Series explores various aspects of Italian society and culture. How do you balance incorporating these elements with maintaining the pacing and suspense of the story?

All of the Milan Thrillers have a connection to history. The prologue of Thirteen Days in Milan includes the gripping drama of the kidnapping and assassination in 1978 of five times Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro by the left-wing terrorists Brigate Rosse (Red Brigades) who committed many violent crimes in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The terrorists who kidnap Sylvia de Matteo have a link to Brigate Rosse. By combining history with contemporary Italian political and social issues and conversations with Italian friends and researchers, I am able to write fiction with all the knowledge I have learned over the years. Reviews for all the Milan Thrillers have comments that they read as if written by an Italian.

Your novels have been compared to works by established authors such as Donna Leon and Andrea Camilleri. How do you feel about these comparisons, and do you draw inspiration from specific authors or genres?

I had read some of Donna Leon’s and Andrea Camilleri’s mysteries which take place in Venice (Donna Leon) and Sicily (Andrea Camilleri. After I started the Milan Thriller Series, I felt that my thrillers could become very popular because they took place in Milano, one of the most dynamic and historic cities in Europe, the center of finance, media, fashion, and art.

As a former intelligence officer and speechwriter, how have your past experiences influenced your approach to crafting intricate narratives and engaging dialogue in your novels?

My careers as an Air Force Intelligence Officer and later a speechwriter for three American Senators taught me how to research, interview important people, and reporting / writing a document that would be read by many. I have been a writer for more than 50 years and had two careers in publishing, writing five books on the early days of microbreweries and later writing international thrillers, short mysteries, true crime.

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