Freeman’s ninth novel featuring Duluth, Minn., police lieutenant Jonathan Stride, Alter Ego (Quercus, May), explores some timely ethical issues.
Sometimes, as a thriller writer, you choose to build your story around current events. On the other hand, sometimes current events choose you.
I’ve had the chance to experience both with my last two books. When I wrote my previous Jonathan Stride thriller, Marathon, I made a deliberate decision to explore the ways in which social media has inflamed problems of conflict and prejudice. So Marathon focuses on a Muslim taxi driver who accidentally becomes the target of a terrorist manhunt when he’s misidentified in a viral Twitter post. It’s a thriller that puts the reader through the emotional wringer, but also tries to find a healing way forward.
Having dealt with sensitive and controversial issues in Marathon, I joked to my readers: “Next year, nothing but serial killers.” For Alter Ego, I wanted a pulse-pounding, character-driven novel without the added noise of current events. It didn’t work out that way.
Alter Ego focuses on a game of cat and mouse between Lieutenant Stride and a legendary actor playing him in a movie based on one of his cases. (Hint hint, film agents.) The actor has a history of violence and sexual abuse, but seems untouchable because of his Hollywood power and wealth. The media is complicit in protecting his secrets, and no one around him is willing to risk their own careers by challenging his behavior.
You can see the twist coming, right? I turned in the manuscript on Sept. 19, 2017. The Harvey Weinstein story broke on October 5.
Needless to say, we are releasing Alter Ego in a vastly different social climate than the one in which I wrote it. The themes are now ripped from the headlines in ways I never could have anticipated.
My goal was to write a character study of the mask that evil often wears in plain sight. The more we learn about the dark side of Stride’s alter ego, the more we realize that “everyone knew” but no one dared to be the first to speak up. What I most enjoy about Alter Ego—and what speaks to the events of the past six months—is that the real threat to this man comes not from his Hollywood colleagues, or the media, or even Jonathan Stride. Ultimately, his most serious enemy is an ordinary teenage girl, who’s determined to take him on regardless of his money or reputation. She’s the one who starts the dominoes falling.
So I didn’t set out to write a book about the #MeToo movement, but current events had other ideas. This is an instance where it’s gratifying to see reality catching up with fiction.