In Deutermann’s contemporary thriller Red Swan (St. Martin’s, Aug.), the CIA clashes with China’s Ministry of Security Services.

The book is broken into two sections: “Black Swan” and “Red Swan.” Can you explain what these terms mean?

A black swan is an event that has three characteristics: it’s totally unexpected, it brings significant—usually bad—consequences, and then people spend a lot of time trying to explain how it could have happened. If a Western security service inflicts a black swan on the Chinese security service, the Chinese might well retaliate with a red, as in communist, swan.

Your lead character, Preston Allender, has golden-amber eyes so disturbing he usually wears sunglasses in public. Taken from life?

I met a German woman with eyes like that while I was taking a tour of occupied East Berlin in the 1970s as the U.S. representative of the occupying powers. She was the official custodian of the prison complex beneath the German Supreme Court building. She was not particularly attractive, but those amber eyes were a bit frightening to say the least.

Preston is also thought, at least on some level, to have the ability to read minds. Have you ever run across anyone with a similar ability?

I interviewed a so-called police psychic for one of my books early in my career. She explained that it was wasn’t mind-reading, per se, but rather that it was more like the blooming in her mind of images, emotions, or guilty feelings—but only when the person “being read” was under great duress. The cops she worked for treated her with almost reverence. I asked the chief of detectives how she did it. He said, “She just talks to them, real quiet-like, and tells the suspects what she’s ‘seeing.’ They stare at her and then start singing like a bird.”

The news media have recently published stories about CIA assets killed by the Chinese government beginning in 2010. Is this the sort of action they would take in response to a black swan instituted by our government against them?

First of all, I’m pretty sure we’re talking about Chinese nationals, not American spies cloaking and daggering around China. That’s what the word assets usually means. Second, the PRC routinely executes people for crimes both criminal and political, so this is more of a propaganda announcement than anything else. Will we respond in kind? I doubt it. A captured spy is too valuable to just slip into the nearest wood chipper. Think exchange, or extreme leverage. Those 12 people could just as well have been “counterrevolutionaries” who were agitating against communist control of China.