Grant Blackwood

The New York Times bestselling author of the Briggs Tanner series, (END OF ENEMIES, WALL OF NIGHT, and ECHO OF WAR) Grant Blackwood is also the co-author of the Fargo Adventure Series (SPARTAN GOLD, LOST EMPIRE, and THE KINGDOM) with Clive Cussler, as well as the co-author of the #1 NYT bestseller, DEAD OR ALIVE, with Tom Clancy, and the upcoming thriller, THE KILL SWITCH, with James Rollins.

A U. S. Navy veteran, Grant spent three years aboard a guided missile frigate as an Operations Specialist and a Pilot Rescue Swimmer.

Interview by Elise Cooper

Q: What can you tell us about this book?
Steve: The first book dealt with the JFK assassination. This book has a little more action/adventure. We put Luke in Russia on his own. We had two legends in this book, the lost library of Ivan the Terrible and a nuclear weapon launched by the Soviets into space. We merged all these elements together to come up with the plot.
Grant: Steve and I have always been fond of Cold War espionage. We thought it would be fun to put Luke through a lot.

Q: What was the significance of the lost library in the story?
Steve: Grant came up with a way to incorporate it in this plot. It is a key to the plot. It is one of the greatest collections of books ever. There are manuscripts of books that go back to the 2nd Century. I am fascinated by old books. Ivan the Terrible had a lot of old books that disappeared. It has been gone for 500 years.

Q: What role does Ivan IV play in the story?
Steve: Ivan the Terrible has a minor role. I do not want these Luke books to be heavy on history. I think we accomplished it with this novel. There is a connection between him and the current Russian President in the book, Konstantin Franko. They both are autocratic rulers, totalitarian, have tunnel vision, they look at their end game only. They use fear as a weapon, brutal, mean, and merciless. They are very similar. In Ivan’s day he had to do it that way, but Franko did not have to do it today. They learned that to function they had to do it from fear and to keep the population off guard.

Q: Does the network in the book rely heavily on human intelligence?
Grant: Technology is great for espionage but there is really no substitution for human intelligence, spies on the ground. Steve and I have an essay coming out this week about what is old is new again. Luke and his partner, John Vince, formed this network. Human intelligence and spies play a huge role in this book.

Q: How would you describe Danielle Otero, a former Russian SVR recruited for the mission?
Grant: She is driven by morality. She is on a personal mission and gets involved with the US because she sees her country going down the wrong path. She came of age when the Soviet Union was dissolved, and Russia came to the forefront. Danielle is not trusting, has a sense of humor, confident, volatile, anxious, has tunnel vision, and not open to advice.
Steve: She is also brave, clever, cocky, inexperienced, and fearless. This is a role reversal because in the Cotton books Luke is the guy without the experience. Now he has someone, Danielle, who is a lot like he was in the beginning.

Q: How has Luke progressed in this book?
Steve: He is growing up. He has learned how to be in charge and to handle others, making good decisions.
Grant: Luke worked with John Vance, the quintessential CIA officer on the ground. He brings a lot of his military background as a Ranger into his current job. In the first mission he played overwatch to John Vince, the eyes, ears, and muscle. CIA case officers are very subtle and do not want to be noticed, which is what Vince was very good at until he wasn’t.

Q: What can you tell us about the significance of “Red Star” in the title?
Steve: A tactical nuclear weapon, a Doomsday machine that is a threat. There is only one left with codes that can set it off. There is a twist that is not exactly what readers think it is.

Q: What did you want readers to take away from the Russian setting?
Grant: Russia is monstrously big and vast, largely rural. We had Luke go between a tiny island in the White Sea to St. Petersburg, the Ascension Convent, and the Oreshek Fortress. It is an adventure travel log for Luke.

Q: Why did you include a paragraph about Russian firsts in the book?
Steve: Among them are the first satellite launch, animal in orbit, man-made object to escape earth’s gravity, first animals to safely return from orbit, first man and woman in space, first spacewalk, first space station, and first woman to walk in space. I wanted the reader to know how Russia accomplished all these things. The problem is they could not repeat it over and over and continue to make it work. They could not be continuously successful, whereas the US could and does it better each time.
Grant: My impression was that the Russian mentality became like the Old West of space. In our world Red Star came out of the attitude let’s do it.

Q: How would you describe Sean Fernando, part of Luke’s CIA team?
Steve: He is a complicit guy. He thinks he is doing the right thing but is not. He has no loyalty to anyone except himself.
Grant: He has his own skew on patriotism and what it means. He is a CIA case officer, knowing how to play both sides.

Q: What can you tell us about Stephanie Nelle, Luke’s boss?
Steve: She is loyal to those who work underneath her. She is a good intelligence officer. She knows what she is doing and looks after her people.

Q: What can we expect in the next book?
Steve: The next one in the series will come out in June 2025. It will do with something near and dear to me, something I wanted to incorporate into a thriller. Luke Daniel’s adventure will be done with Disney. It will center around 1937-38 when Walt Disney went to South America on a goodwill tour. He went from country to country. The State Department asked him to spy, to keep his eyes and ears open on what the Nazis were doing.

Review by Elise Cooper

Red Star Falling by Steve Berry with Grant Blackwood is a spin off from the Cotton Malone.  Series. The title refers to a long dormant Soviet arms secret, a nuclear warhead that orbits the Earth.

Luke Daniels, the hero in this series, is informed that his partner, John Vince, is alive.  Their failed mission was to assemble an espionage network within Ukraine on the eve of the Russian invasion. Although Luke thought Vince was dead, he is now told Vince was captured by Russia and has been imprisoned, not executed. But just as he manages to extract his friend from prison Vince tragically dies, but first warns Luke of a satellite-based nuclear weapon. The key to unraveling the information is the legendary library of the first Tsar of All Russia, Ivan the Terrible.   Luke with the help of a US asset and Vince’s lover, Danielle, travel throughout Russia in search of the library that holds a key to the Red Star weapon before the warhead receives a code to send it back down to earth.

Berry intertwines action/adventure within history in the plots. Readers will get a bonus at the end of the book where he separates the factual history from fiction.

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