Jon Land, the author of many mysteries and thrillers, including the Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong series, has graciously agreed to be interviewed. His latest pulse-pounding addition to the Caitlin Strong series is called Strong Darkness. In it, fifth generation Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong faces perhaps her toughest adversaries and challenges yet. She must search for clues from the past in order to find a serial murderer in the present. A ruthless Chinese business man wants to bring the United States to its knees, using technology and the 5G network to accomplish his nefarious goals.
Douglas Cobb: Thanks, Jon Land, for agreeing to do this interview with the Guardian Liberty Voice! First of all, what significance does the title Strong Darkness have to the plot of the novel?
Jon Land: You always come up with questions that no one ever asks me, so here we go again! Love it! All titles in the Caitlin Strong series are metaphors, ironic at times, that are not meant to be taken literally. In this case, the darkness refers to the side we all have but normally suppress, kind of a reference to the soul. When I started Strong Darkness, I wanted to confront Caitlin and her boy friend, Cort Wesley Masters, with a true emotional crisis. Take them as close to the edge as I could without pushing them off. In other words, bring them to the point where they may give up trying to restrain the dark sides we all possess—a true conunudrum for heroes who pride themselves on always being in control. The concept of “strong darkness” refers to what happens inside them when they realize they’re not anymore.
Douglas Cobb: Strong Darkness interweaves the past with the present, as all of the Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong novels do. Part of the novel is set in 1883 and Caitlin’s great-grandfather, William Ray Strong, teams up with a rather unlikely figure from history.
Would you get into how the past and the present relate to each other in Strong Darkness, Jon, and why the team up is an unusual one?
Jon Land: Another great question! And, yes, linking to the past and to the present has been a crucial theme in this series from the very beginning, but it’s especially effective in STRONG DARKNESS. That’s because Caitlin finds herself confronting a serial killer in the present whose methods are eerily identical to one her great-grandfather pursued in 1883. But it also allowed me to get into the virtual enslavement of the Chinese workers were so vital in building so much of the rail lines that connected the country back then. That becomes a crucial element to the villain’s motivation for wanting to destroy America in the present and there’s nothing better than vengeance, as Shakespeare taught us, as a rationale for action. But in this case the subplot set in the past also allowed me to have a blast taming Caitlin’s great-grandfather William Ray Strong with none other than the infamous hanging judge Roy Bean. Incorporating actual characters and history into these books lend them a relevance that is rare for thrillers and I really enjoy stitching elements of the past and present together. I do it in all my Caitlin Strong books, but it seems to click perfectly in Strong Darkness.
Douglas Cobb: Fairly early in Strong Darkness, Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong has a run-in with a fanatical religious group. You have included a few fanatical religious groups in your novels before, like in your novel Pandora’s Temple, in the McCracken series.
Why is it that you have sometimes written about certain religious extremist sorts of people in your novels and what does Caitlin do with some members of one who are picketing a funeral?
Jon Land: Wow, now that’s a very enlightening question. What you’re illuminating, Doug, is the loathing in which I hold religious extremists. They are the antithesis of everything I believe and stand for, so sententious and holier-than-thou (literally) that it’s utterly revolting. I’ve yet to hear a reasonable explanation, for example, of why the Midboro Baptist Church pickets veterans’ funerals in order to air their views on homosexuality. They have every right to believe whatever they want but, in my mind, they don’t have the right to choose that kind of venue to air those beliefs. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed writing a scene more than the one where Caitlin Strong literally bulldozers the members of a thinly veiled Midboro Baptist Church into a drainage ditch because she was doing to them what I and plenty of others wish we could do ourselves. And that’s what makes her such a great hero: Not only can she do things we can’t, she’s more than willing to, regardless of the consequences.
Douglas Cobb: In both the past murders of Chinese women that Texas Ranger William Ray Strong investigates and the serial killings that his great-granddaughter, Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong, investigates in the present, after the murderer kills his victims, he stitches their heads on backwards. Why is that, and are these murders based on an actual historical case?
Jon Land: No, they’re not based on a historical case at all. And, as far as the grisly condition in which both killers past and present leave their victims was just a matter of coming up with something that was unique, memorable and extreme enough to ensure the connection between the killers would be clear and obvious.
Douglas Cobb: Also close to the beginning of Strong Darkness, Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong and her boyfriend, Cort Masters, travel to Rhode Island because Cort’s oldest son, Dylan, who attends Brown University on a football scholarship, has been beaten within an inch of his life and is in a coma.
What does a mysterious Chinese woman he was seen with who was also in pornographic films circulating around the campus have to do with Dylan’s injuries?
Jon Land: That’s a simple question with a very complex answer because my Caitlin Strong books in general, and STRONG DARKNESS in particular, are layered like an onion: The more you peel away, the more you find. The people who beat up Dylan were actually after that young Chinese woman he was involved with. And the pornography element is vital as well, tying directly into the book’s major plot through the book’s villain. That young Chinese woman’s plight has its roots in his own past and will ultimately come to highlight the degradation of his soul and his single-minded obsession to do harm to the United States. That’s what makes villains like Li Zhen so much fun to write: testing the limits and levels of their personal depravity
Douglas Cobb: Wealthy Chinese villains, like Li Zhen, for some reason make for particularly evil villains. Li Zhen was sort of like a James Bond villain, like maybe Dr. No.
Were you at all influenced by Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond novels? Have you ever been to China before?
Jon Land: Oh, man, that’s best question of all. Not only was I obsessed with Ian Fleming and James Bond as a kid, those books and movies (the early ones starring Sean Connery) are among the most vital influences in my entire career in terms of character, structure, plotting, you name it; especially in my Blaine McCracken series but there are plenty of hints of it in my Caitlin Strong series as you allude to as well. There’s a wonderful line in the film Dr. No where the villain lays out his plot to Bond who, while lighting a cigarette, responds deadpan, “World domination. Same old plan.” Well, over fifty years later writers are still using that theme, me in particular. I think 9/11 reinvigorated readers’ desire to see great heroes toppling and/or preventing terrible deeds on the part of equally great villains. Remember, the success of Bond was spawned directly by the Cold War, just as the success of Robert Ludlum was spawned directly by the country’s post-Watergate paranoia, and the success of Tom Clancy came as a direct result of Ronald Reagan ramping up the rhetoric against the Soviets.
Douglas Cobb: In what ways do you incorporate technology into Strong Darkness, Jon? How, exactly, does Li Zhen plan to use 5G technology against America?
Jon Land: Well, Doug, without giving too much away, it has something to do with the phones designed to run on that network and a certain chip installed within them. The whole concept for STRONG DARKNESS was born when I watched a 60 Minutes segment about a Chinese company called Shinzen that really did build the 4G network. That opened the door both in my imagination, and reality, for adapting fact into fiction by having Li Zhen build the 5G network for nefarious purposes. Of course, he uses internal forces of the US government, specifically Homeland Security, who had their own nefarious reasons for awarding him the contract to build the 5G network in the first place. That’s the thing about my Caitlin Strong books: neither the motivations nor the answers are ever simple.
Douglas Cobb: Just a couple more questions to go, Jon! Great answers so far! Would you please tell the readers of the Guardian Liberty Voice how long it took you to write Strong Darkness? How many more Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong novels do you think that you will write?
Jon Land: I think it was about five months. And the last couple drafts took a bit longer than normal because the book needed a bit more polish than usual. But in the case of a book, the ends are all that matter and I think readers will have a blast with Strong Darkness. Not exactly sure how many more Caitlin Strong books I’ll be writing but I have absolutely no plans to stop. She remains as fresh and vital as ever and the books continue to maintain a great level of character and emotion. As long as those characters keep growing, I’ll keep writing them!
Douglas Cobb: Finally, Jon, would you please mention if you are currently working on any new novel? If so, what series is it in? Also, your novels seem perfect for either being made into TV series and/or movies. Has Hollywood come knocking on your door yet?
Jon Land: A perfectly timed question, since I’ve now jumped into the next Caitlin adventure STRONG LIGHT OF DAY and I can’t stop writing. Again, big crisis facing the country and, just as important, a big emotional challenge confronting the characters we’ve come to know and love. As for Hollywood, man, you had to ask, didn’t you? Because, actually, a television series based around Caitlin was set up at Sony with a fantastic production team assembled. Then that awful Killer Women, also featuring a female Texas Ranger if you can believe that, hit the air and knocked us out of the box. We’ve got some serious interest in Caitlin building again, but that’s the thing about this business: the only sure thing is that there are no sure things.
Douglas Cobb: Thanks once again, Jon Land, for agreeing to do this interview with me! It is always a pleasure to chat with you and find out more about both you and the books you have written.
Also, to anyone who has not yet read any of the Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong thrillers, or other novels that Jon has written, they all can be read as stand-alone ones, so have no fear. Once you have read one of them, you will want to read them all!
Written By Douglas Cobb
Buy Strong Darkness by Jon Land at Amazon here