Monday, July 22, 2013

Wordcraft -- 'You can walk into any bar in the world'


by Jeff Abbott


When Texas thriller writer Jeff Abbott walked into a book signing in Dallas last summer, he brought his entire high school class from the Dallas suburb of Duncanville with him. This time around, the old gang was less in evidence, but the staff at the Lincoln Park Barnes and Noble still had to bring in extra chairs to accommodate fans of Abbott’s Sam Capra series.

The new book, Downfall, is the latest in Abbott’s series featuring Sam Capra, an ex-CIA agent whose enviable cover job is running bars. That’s bars, plural, because Sam’s activities require him to move frequently, escaping old bad guys and confronting new ones all over the world.

Although earlier books in the series were named after Capra’s cover bars. Downfall, is named for a computer file. “The name of the bar is Select,” Abbott said, “which I thought would be the name of the book. But my publisher said, no, we’re going to call it Downfall.” Just as well, Abbott mused, considering the implications of a bar with a name like Downfall.

Taking a page from the Faust legend, Abbott envisioned a network of wealthy business people who’ve made a deal with the devil. And to play the part of the devil in the story, he created a young character, the shadowy opposite of twenty-something Capra himself.

“It’s incredibly important for villains that they are sure they’re the heroes of the story. In the first books, Sam fought society’s outcasts. For this one, I thought, what if I made him fight the popular kids?”

After a nomadic childhood with parents involved with aid to third world countries, Capra yearns for the suburban middle class life he never knew. He’s spent the last two books nearly losing his wife and child. With his family back, he thinks he’s due to live a normal life. “But as soon as somebody’s in trouble, he can’t help stepping in.”

Which involves, of course, finding a new place to set up bar. This time it’s in San Francisco. “My British publisher told me, you have come up with the greatest business research scheme of all time ,” Abbott said to the crowd. “You can go to any bar in any place in the world, and it’s a tax write-off.”

Not that such research is always fun and games. For a previous book set in Amsterdam, “I was having lunch with my Dutch publisher and I said, I need to see a really bad bar.” After some horrified glances, somebody asked, “What was that bar where the girl and the dwarf came in and started punching each other? I spent all the time there that the research demanded -- which I think was about ten minutes.”

With Abbott’s tours for Downfall wrapping up, what’s next in his busy life -- and Sam Capra’s?

The next book in the series, set in Miami and Puerto Rico, is written. All the books have been optioned for movies and there’s also been interest in a television series about Sam Capra. In general, he tries to stay out of the movie ends.

If Capra does get a movie, an audience member asked who Abbott wants to play the lead.

“It‘s a question I never answer,” he said. “I think the real questions will be, will they cast Sam as the twenty-six year old (he is) or will it be somebody older?”

For more about Abbott, his books, and appearances, see

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