Cindy Dees is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author whose suspense, romance, fantasy, and alternate history novels have sold more than two million copies. She is the recipient of the Golden Heart Award and Holt Medallion, and a five-time finalist and two-time winner of the prestigious RITA Award. An Air Force veteran, Dees enlisted after earning a degree in Russian and East European Studies, becoming the youngest female pilot in the history of the Air Force. She’s flown supersonic jets, VIP airlift, and the C-5 Galaxy, one of the world’s largest cargo airplanes.
Q What did you do professionally to help you with the story?
Cindy: I was in the business peripherally. I was a pilot in the Air Force. My college degree was Russian and East European studies. My first unit was at Andrews Air Force Base where I did VIP airlifts. Someone in my unit was first generation American, had Russian parents, and after finding out I speak Russian as well as being a pilot recruited me. I was the person who escorted Russian diplomatic flights into and out of America.
Q How did you entice the Russians to talk?
Cindy: I was twenty-two and blonde. I discovered if I acted dumb enough, I was told pretty much everything to impress me. Every now and then something was told that would drop my jaw. I then went to be briefed by the intelligence community. For example, there were some passengers on the airplane who spoke with me because we were the only ones on the airplane for eight hours straight. I did get arrested by the East German secret police one time, which was very scary and once by the KGB.
Q How did you get the idea for this story?
Cindy: This is my 101st book. I knew the TV shows and movies depicting spies are not very accurate. With this story I did my homework, asking the right people, and the right questions to get a feel for what it is really like. Because the female lead was a professional sniper, I was able to pick the brain of a sniper who instructs other snipers. He also happens to have a psychology degree, so we discussed how it affects someone’s life, family, and how to compartmentalize. My military career did give me access to some of these people. Sometimes when I write I am not a 100% accurate, either to protect people or to keep the story entertaining. This is the story of the aftermath of a career.
Q How would you describe Helen as an assassin?
Cindy: She is a weapon for the US in the same way I as a military pilot was a weapon for the US. She is a sniper that worked for the CIA. We are mentally and physically tough enough and equipped to do the job. We are expendable and professional. The assassins I spoke with said “if I do not take the shot someone else will do it, to eliminate the threat to this country.” An assassin is the tool of someone else’s decision, so they do it effectively, efficiently, without causing someone to suffer. Most of the snipers have a matter-of-fact attitude where they are highly professional, careful, self-contained, self-controlled, and try to make sure there is no collateral damage, which is how I wrote Helen.
Q How would you describe Helen’s personality?
Cindy: She is a heroine in her late fifties. Guarded, calculating, analytical, an observer, in control, patient, and disciplined. She has a bit of an edge, sarcastic. She regrets that she had to sacrifice her family to do this job, essentially not being there for her family.
Q You describe internal CIA tension. What can you tell us about that?
Cindy: Prior to 9/11 the intelligence community had a lot of friction inside it. I had brought some information home about a Russian aircraft that should be classified. I could not find anyone to take down the information including those in military intelligence. No one seemed to want it. My uncle had a neighbor who was an extreme high ranking CIA official. He walked me next door to speak with them and then they did take the information.
Q What was the role of the resentful children of Helen?
Cindy: They were my love letter to military families. I wanted to show the cost of Helen’s career on her family. I was a military officer and a military wife. I flew C-5s during the first Gulf War. I was gone all the time, worked around the clock for a year and a half. I saw how it took such a toll on the families. Those children affected the most were the middle school children. They were old enough to understand mom and dad were in danger, and that mom and dad had to go out and help the US, which could cause them to die. They were scared silly. The not knowing is very hard and stressful. After volunteering at a middle school, I walked away realizing that a military family is part of the military as well, and never gets any credit.
Q How would you describe Helen’s handler, Yossi, her CIA supervisor?
Cindy: She has a work husband and a real husband. Yossi was her work husband who accepts her unconditionally. Her actual husband knows nothing about her and struggles to accept her. I wanted to play with the contrast of the “husbands.” Yossi is smart, analytical, curious, has a steady voice, and is always there for her. He is a mentor figure and is her buffer against everything including getting killed, getting trapped, avoiding the CIA politics, her own sarcastic mouth, basically to smooth all the rough edges. He is her touchstone.
Q One of the sub-plots involves a serial killer. Can you tell us more?
Cindy: On the dark web there are sights that have “thriller kills.” They film a video of people being killed. The serial killer in the book is a sociopath. I had to do a personal deep dive because unknowingly my daughter dated an anti-social personality. They do not experience remorse, empathy, and a lot of emotions. Most of them are bored or highly organized, very aggressive, and very ambitious. The sociopath in my book is smart and recreates the death scenes of real paintings.
Q How would you describe Yossi’s Russian counterpart, Anatoly Tarmyenkin?
Cindy: There is a civilized element in the espionage world. Nothing is personal and there is some personal respect. This is the “grand old school world of intelligence.” I am not sure it is really that way today. The glamor of the profession is gone. Helen has been a pain in Anatoly’s side for a long time. Yossi and Anatoly are friends, but he is not friends with Helen.
Q Is a TV show being made from this book?
Cindy: Yes. All the final contracts are signed. It will be a limited series. I am an executive producer. I do have a say in the writing of the plot. I do have a little power to protect the stories of future books. I think the head writer will do a spectacular job. Many actresses have expressed interest in this role. My one request is that whoever plays Helen should be at least fifty and preferably over sixty. This is an action-adventure story. The A-list actresses are coming out of the woodwork for this role. Hopefully it will be out in early 2024.
Q What’s next?
Cindy: It is titled Double Tap, which is a kind of kill shot. It means taking two shots. It continues where this story left off. The chase continues for the bad guy, a cat and mouse game between Helen and the Russians. Pretty much all the characters are back. It is slated for now to come out spring 2024. My editor told me they want about twelve more Helen books.
Second Shot by Cindy Dees is a fantastic thriller. There are three sub-plots involving CIA assassins, serial killers, and Russian hitmen that has the story part espionage thriller and part murder mystery. Readers will be reminded of what a TV host said, ‘that being fifty is over a woman’s prime.’ The main character, Helen Warwick, a CIA operative, has been kicked out the door of the CIA because she is female and turned 55. But she will show everyone that she still has the skills to kick butt.
Helen Warwick is recently retired from a long and distinguished career as one of the CIA’s premier assassins. She had planned to spend her retirement years making amends with her grown children. They resented her for never being around, because unbeknown to them she is asked to protect the US through black ops that involve assassinations. But her plan to spend time reconnecting with her grown children has just been blown, along with her son’s house. The question is who is being targeted, since her son’s partner is an NSA analyst? Or is she being targeted because of her past profession? Now she is on the hunt to find who is threatening her, her friends, and her family. Not one to sit idly, she enlists the help of Yossi, her boss, friend, and handler, to find out why and who is after her.
Another sub-plot involves a serial killer. It was interesting how the author brings together these killer themes. Readers begin to understand the difference between an assassin who wants to keep Americans safe versus serial killers who murders people for their own enjoyment. One murders his victims and poses their corpses in scenes that mimic famous works of art, while the other finds ingenious ways to frame innocent people for his kills. Helen gets roped into this investigation after her oldest son asks her to consult with his friend, a defense attorney, Angela.
Cindy Dees has hit a home run. There is plenty of action, funny banter, and characters who readers can root for. Everyone who reads this will look forward to the next book in the series because it is sure to be a back-to-back hit.