Mark Sullivan is the award-winning New York Times bestselling author of nine novels of mystery and suspense, including Rogue, The Purification Ceremony and The Second Woman. He also writes the “Private” series with James Patterson, including the #1 bestsellers “Private Berlin” and “Private Games.” His latest solo book, OUTLAW, comes out this week and is the second in the Robin Monarch series. “Private Los Angeles” debuts in early February.
Growing up, I loved to read action adventure, intrigue, and espionage books. Ian Fleming’s James Bond, Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne, and John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee were the heroes I followed religiously.
But as I got older I realized that in many ways my old heroes lacked soul.
About fifteen years ago, I started thinking seriously about writing an espionage novel, and I started to play with the idea of a bad-ass hero with a soft side, a conscience, and most importantly a soul. In my mind, he quickly became a thief, a master thief, so he had mad skills, but where was the compassion?
That question led to others: Where did he come from? What were his motives? What were the dimensions of his soul?
I couldn’t answer any of those questions easily, and so for eight years I put the idea aside. Then my son, Connor, got the opportunity to spend a summer ski racing in Patagonia, Argentina. He was fifteen, and flew to Buenos Aires alone. The brother of his coach picked Connor up at the international airport and drove him to the domestic terminal on the other side of the city.
The route took him on a highway that passed through some of the worst slums in the world where he saw children picking through mountains of garbage to survive. He wrote me a moving letter about the experience, and it struck me right away that my thief could have come from those slums and those garbage pits.
Literally within an hour, I had the basic biography of Robin Monarch. His mother was an Argentine con artist. His father was an American cat burglar. When Robin was thirteen, he saw his parents murdered outside a Buenos Aires cinema for swindling someone close to the Peron family. He fled because he had been part of the swindle. Orphaned, homeless, he ended up on the garbage piles until he was recruited to join a street gang called “La Fraternidad de Ladrones”, the Brotherhood of Thieves. He was an integral part of the gang until he was stabbed in a knife fight at age eighteen.
A missionary doctor named Sister Rachel Diego Del Mar saved his life, brought him to an orphanage she ran outside the city, and turned his life around. She urged him to return to the United States and enlist in the military where his skills might be valued. He did. After fourteen years, seven in the Special Forces and seven as an operator in the CIA, however, Monarch became disillusioned. He felt out of balance, as if he were losing his soul.
In response, he turned Robin Hood, using his unique skills to rob from the criminal rich, launder the money, and give it to Sister Rachel to use to save more kids from the streets. It is his purpose in life. It is what gives him meaning.
Once I had that biography straight in my head, the stories about Monarch seemed to spill out of me onto the page. He’s a man who believes that the ends do justify the means, a devious and sometimes ruthless thief carrying the memories of the slums and the children who survive there everywhere he goes.
Three novellas and two and a half novels later, I’m still fascinated by him. Every day I go to work excited because I have no idea what he’ll do next, and he constantly surprises me. I hope Monarch surprises you too in my latest book, OUTLAW, which details his efforts to “steal” back the U.S. Secretary of State after she’s taken hostage along with the foreign ministers of China and India.
His website is: http://marksullivanbooks.com