In the summer of 2001, my screenwriting partner Michael Brandt and I were hired to rewrite a screenplay for Universal Studios that involved an FBI agent embroiled in a global, political thriller. While researching the film, Michael and I flew to Washington DC and were able to train with FBI agents at Quantico, including watching members of the Hostage Rescue Team perform drills — storming a facility with live flash bang grenades and real ammunition. As part of that trip, we met with a reporter who covered the pentagon, and through him, we were able to interview a couple of real life American spies. I was struck in particular by one man who, while perfectly pleasant in every aspect, would not tell us his name. Still, he shared with us that one of his jobs while working for the CIA was to be in charge of holding copies of Presidential Directives. We pressed him, and he explained that these documents noted when the President authorized breaking the laws of another country. He would not tell us when he had this responsibility, because, he intimated, if the news got out, he would be targeted by several foreign services.
Years later, that little conversation over steaks at the Palms in DC stuck with me. What kind of man would the US send in to purposely break the laws of another country… and what would the US do if the man were caught? I remembered the biblical expression: “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” What if there were a field officer, known around Langley as The Right Hand, whom the US sent in when they wanted a mission completed but zero knowledge of how that objective was achieved. A man so autonomous as to be in a black ops unit consisting of only his handler and himself. And what if that spy embraced that anonymity, that it was a two-way street, that he was perfectly content to have his Agency unaware of his riskier methods. He could be the Right Hand. They tell him another spy went missing in Russia and they want him back. The Right Hand is the spy who completes the assignment by any means necessary, and if he’s caught, he will be abandoned by his own country.
As this idea started forming in my head, another notion struck me. What if this spy is given an assignment to track down a beautiful young woman who may or may not exist? What if the mission itself might be apocryphal? What if the Right Hand decided to make up his own assignment? After that, I had a character and I had an assignment and the pages started flowing.
My last three books were all written in the first person, and I was eager to stretch myself by writing this book in the third person while occasionally jumping points-of-view. Some of my favorite espionage authors — Ludlum, Clancy — deftly leap from location to location, character to character, as the web of intrigue spins out from the center. I tried to do that here, while always holding the main character Austin Clay at the center of the action. The fates of the other characters we meet are intertwined with Clay’s, and they will be moving towards each other like planets in the same gravitational pull as the book progresses. Some of the fun of reading these types of books is to guess how the various characters will come together. I hope I surprise you more than once.
That’s the origin of The Right Hand, a book I massively enjoyed writing and I hope you will enjoy reading. I’m more than happy to answer any comments or questions about The Right Hand or any other project in the comment section below… a feature on the Mulholland site that is woefully underused. Don’t hesitate to give me a shout… I love hearing from readers. I hope you’ll be one of them.
Derek Haas is the author of THE RIGHT HAND, THE SILVER BEAR, COLUMBUS, and DARK MEN. Derek also wrote the screenplays with his partner Michael Brandt for 3:10 TO YUMA, WANTED, THE DOUBLE and the NBC show CHICAGO FIRE. He is the creator of the website popcornfiction.com, which promotes genre short fiction. Derek lives in Los Angeles. Follow Derek on twitter (@popcornhaas), or facebook friend him.