In for a Shock?
Shock Warning, a new political thriller


LOPEZ: Who is Jake Sinclair and what is he doing hating on Twitter?

WALSH: Jake Sinclair is the media mogul to end all moguls — and an adamant opponent of President Tyler. He’s also vain, untrustworthy, duplicitous, dishonest, corrupt, vindictive, and malevolent — in other words, not a thing like anybody I know from 40 years in the media. He’s also stupid — like many news-biz execs of a certain age, he’s uncomfortable around technology, mostly because he can’t use it himself. So things like Twitter are a complete mystery to him.

LOPEZ: Does Devlin read Michael Ledeen?

WALSH: No, but I do, especially about Iran.

LOPEZ: You’re not kind to the New York Times in Shock Warning. Is that smart for a mainstream book author?

WALSH: Probably not, but the Times, for all its faults, is still the nation’s preeminent newspaper, and it’s exactly the kind of thing a man like Sinclair would acquire as a bauble and then misuse. If you’re referring to the contempt with which the Times is actually viewed by intel professionals (and thus expressed through some of my characters) . . . well, don’t blame the messenger.

LOPEZ: Why did you include Our Lady of Guadalupe?

WALSH: As a Catholic, I’ve long been fascinated by the phenomenon of Marian apparitions and the increasing frequency with which they’ve been reported. Early in Shock Warning, Devlin witnesses one in California City, Calif. — a monthly assembling of believers in the Mojave Desert who tote Polaroid cameras and photograph the sun at the moment the divine tells them Mary is appearing at the door of heaven, and then search the overexposed photos for signs and wonders. Such a thing actually occurs in California City, on the 13th of every month, when pilgrims from all over the world gather to experience a ritual much like the one I describe in Shock Warning.

LOPEZ: How did you go about writing a Marian apparition?

WALSH: For starters, I went out to the Mojave to experience it firsthand. I didn’t see the Virgin, but maybe that was just me. I also researched the history of Marian apparitions, about which the reader will learn a fair amount in Shock Warning, which re-imagines the apparition at San Sebastian de Garabandal in Spain in Chapter 13 and the Zeitoun apparition (see below) later in the novel. And of course I was fascinated by the technology — which really is in development — of using holographic projections to simulate miracles and perhaps thus destabilize whole excitable populations.

One of the subtexts running throughout all three books is faith, and not just in the religious sense. Field agents generally have to take a lot on faith, but Devlin takes nothing on faith. He is the ultimate empiricist, the prime mover of his own little universe — until in Hostile Intent he meets Maryam and decides, in a leap of faith, to accept her wholly and without reservation. (The fact that they meet during a gunfight in Paris just adds to the romance.) She’s also a strong character in Early Warning, at the end of which she’s on the trail of Skorzeny in central Europe.

(You can see Maryam and Devlin in action here.)

When we see Devlin again at the beginning of Shock Warning, his faith seemingly has been shattered, which accounts for the juxtaposition of the Marian subplot and Devlin’s own personal journey to greater faith and less understanding. Whether the miracles he experiences in the course of his journey actually happened I’ll leave to the reader to decide.

LOPEZ: How do you write some of the coarser language in Shock Warning on the same keyboard?

WALSH: It’s the old marriage of the sacred and the profane. As Milton said, “Good and evil we know in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably. . . . And perhaps this is the doom which Adam fell into of knowing good and evil, that is to say of knowing good by evil.” You can’t have one without the other, though I’m sure the nuns would cheerfully wash some of my characters’ mouths out with soap, especially President Tyler. My mother, too.

Interesting to note that Skorzeny, the world’s worst human being, never curses.