Homeland Security: From Middle East Correspondent to Global Suspense Novelist
In the final installment in our three part series, From Work to Writing, author Matt Rees talks about his nerve wracking adventures as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East and how it shaped the lead character in his new series.
I met a lot of guys who’d like to kill you, dear reader. Not just anyone, but you specifically. They didn’t kill me. So I decided to introduce you in The Damascus Threat.
As a foreign correspondent I spent 20 years in the Middle East. It was like a magical force field that made the worst men agree to chat with someone they might otherwise have dispatched without a thought. I sought out the terror chiefs, dictators, and factional politicians who hate America and the West. I listened to them tell me why. I soaked up the atmosphere of the Palestinian refugee camps, the Shia suburbs of Beirut where Hezbollah hangs, and the desert towns where Islamic State would bury their victims in mass graves. I listened so hard that they sometimes asked me if I’d honor them by becoming Muslim. A terror chief in southern Lebanon gave me a strawberry shake during Ramadan to show that he could live with Western ways. The guy who many believe brought down a Pan Am jet over Scotland reminisced all night about radical chic and killing people. A Hamas man wanted by Israeli and Palestinian authorities kissed me five times to show our friendship.
I saw the places no one can see, unless they happen to be a journalist. If my book’s hero, ICE agent Dominic Verrazzano, showed up in most of the places I went, he’d have to fight his way out. (Don’t worry, he’d make it.) I could share a plate of hummus and some kebab and depart with a handshake and kisses. I left with the sense of threat and the heat and the dirt and the welcome and the hatred that surrounded me there. I wrote about it as a journalist. But journalism mass-media style only gets you skin deep and, as a correspondent for Time, I was truly stuck with the ‘mass’ part of the media format.
The Damascus Threat got me beyond the skin to the level of the guts. Verrazzano is a Special Agent who’s a hell of a lot tougher than I could ever be. But he’s a listener, like me. He’s listening to the world and trying to figure out how to fix it, like me. But first he has to save it. Thankfully, that’s his job, not mine.
After graduating from Oxford University, Matt Rees served as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East before becoming an award-winning British crime novelist for his Omar Yussef mysteries. He currently resides in Luxembourg with his wife and two children. The Damascus Threat is the first in his new ICE Special Agent Dominic Verrazzano series. Visit him at www.mattrees.net
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