Mark Allen Smith’s thriller debut, The Inquisitor, introduces a lead character, Geiger, who’s paid to extract information using torture.

What made you decide to make your protagonist a killer?

Actually, Geiger isn’t a killer. No one has ever died at his hands. He would see that act as something that falls far outside the nature and definition of his job. His only goal is the retrieval of information—the truth. I was looking for a unique way to explore one of the darker sides of the human condition—the ability to torture, the premeditated act of making someone suffer for a particular end—and to draw a connecting line between that act and the broader subject of abuse. As best as I could tell, the world of Geiger is a place readers had never been taken to before—and that kind of “newness” can be a powerful, magnetic element in a story.

Correction noted, but certainly the risk of death from Geiger’s use of torture implies he’s willing to accept that result and responsibility?

Interesting thought. Ultimately, I suppose there is that possibility, but Geiger goes to great extremes to minimize that possibility in the way he chooses what jobs to accept.

Geiger uses the euphemism “information retrieval,” but makes it clear that he’s talking about torture. You write that: “In the cause of expedience and the quest for information, man has always been willing to trump his laws and betray his beliefs to legitimize the torture of those who do not share them.” What does that mean to you regarding government policies against torture?

Massive crises are what truly test one’s beliefs. Fear, anger, the instinct to survive and protect, panic, retribution—they all come into play. I guess I am saying this: The use of torture is an immoral act. I also know that in the context of power, “hypocrisy” has always been pretty tricky stuff to nail down, because the nature of power almost always demands that the powerful alter their beliefs to achieve their goals, even those they feel are moral and legitimate, and remain in control.

How do you manage to create sympathy for Geiger?

If I’ve been successful in making Geiger a sympathetic character, perhaps it is because I tried from the start to show (subtly, I hope) the damage he carried around within him. We are all, to one degree or another, damaged people. We all have the internal wounds and dark places to show for it—and I hoped to bond the reader to Geiger by that shared reality.