Internationally bestselling author Tess Gerritsen took an unusual route to a writing career. A graduate of Stanford University, Tess went on to medical school at the University of California, San Francisco, where she was awarded her M.D.
While on maternity leave from her work as a physician, she began to write fiction. In 1987, her first novel was published. Call After Midnight, a romantic thriller, was followed by eight more romantic suspense novels. She also wrote a screenplay, “Adrift”, which aired as a 1993 CBS Movie of the Week starring Kate Jackson.
Q: Can you share the inspiration behind your novel “The Spy Coast”?
Tess: I moved here thirty-three years ago and found out that the town has many retired spies. My husband, who is a medical doctor, had patients who used to work for the government but could not talk about what they did. We found out they were retired CIA including two who lived on my street.
Q: While crafting this story, did the film “Red” influence any aspects of your characters or plot?
Tess: I thought a lot of the Helen Mirren character. I did not want to deal with assassinations. What I wanted to write about is the tragedy of the last operation that has haunted the main character, a spy, Maggie Bird. Maggie is made up. Yet, all the spies in the Martini Club are like those retired spies who live in Maine. They are smart and very educated.
Q: What motivated your choice of Maine as the setting for your novel?
Tess: It is a beautiful setting. This location has many safe houses. We have an International Conference in this little town of 5,000 people. They bring in every year leaders, politicians, and foreign policy experts from around the world. They come and speak here every winter. The town has residents with a lot of international experience.
Q: Could you delve into the contrasting personalities of the two spies, Diana Ward and Maggie Bird, in your story?
Tess: Diana is a bit of a sociopath. She does what needs to be done and does not care about the consequences or morality. She is the equivalent of the assassins in so many spy novels. She is very efficient. Diana is not someone who could be trusted, not loyal, and self-centered. Everything is all about her. She might be a good spy but is a bad person. On the other hand, Maggie is a spy with a conscience. She is in it to help her country. She was forced to cross a line she did not want to cross. It moved into her personal life, which had everything fall apart for her. Maggie is loyal, calm, friendly, accomplished with a strong sense of morality.
Q: In your book, there are two teenage girls, Callie and Bella. How do their characters evolve throughout the story?
Tess: Callie is the ultimate innocent. She is a farm girl who is hungry for a mother. She likes to lean on Maggie. Callie is a very vulnerable character. Bella starts off as a vulnerable character but ends up as a nightmare in training. She is being groomed for a bad role because her father is a powerful Russian oligarch, Phillip Hardwicke. Her father sees her as a tool. Her mother is much more of a traditional mom who cares about her daughter. Yet, her mother is disappointed Bella is not more like her. Bella is disrespected by both parents.
Q: Why did you decide to make Danny, Maggie’s husband, a doctor in your novel?
Tess: I started off making him a professional chef. But I needed someone who had close contact with the bad guy. It did not feel right so I made him a doctor who would know Phillip’s most intimate secrets. He traveled with him. I gave Hardwicke a lifelong history of seizures.
Q: How would you describe Phillip Hardwicke, a key character in your book?
Tess: He wants power, money, and prestige. He likes to get his way and does not care who gets hurt. He is a control freak, obsessive, intense, cruel, and very smart.
Q: What dynamics do the spies from The Martini Club have with the police chief Jo Thibodeau in the story?
Tess: They simultaneously are cooperative but also antagonistic. At the beginning Jo does not know who these people are, but later realize they are retired spooks. As time goes on in this book and the next, she realizes they are a big help to her.
Q: Have there been any discussions about adapting your book into a film or television series?
Tess: It has been optioned by Amazon for a television series. This is one of the reasons I went with this publisher. They attached a TV deal. There is already a screenwriter, and they are talking about who will play Maggie Bird.
Q: Can you tell us about your upcoming projects or the next book you are working on?
Tess: I am working on the sequel now. The second book will take place entirely in the town of Purity Maine. It will be titled The Summer Guests and is scheduled for the spring of 2025. It will still have the five retirees and the police chief. The plot has a family visiting in the summer whose teenage girl disappears, plus there is a cold case mystery. The sequel will be more of a classic mystery. If I do a third book that is when I will probably go back to the international setting again
The Spy Coast by Tess Gerritsen sees her venturing out from traditional mystery to a spy thriller. In this novel, she expertly mixes spy drama with romance while adding a touch of humor. Not only is this a riveting tale, but the main character is also very engaging as she tackles the ghosts of her past.
Former spy Maggie Bird arrived in the seaside village of Purity, Maine, eager to put a tragic mission gone wrong behind her. Now living quietly on her chicken farm, still wary of blowback from the events that forced her early retirement, Maggie’s last assignment left her deeply disillusioned. Unexpectedly, a young woman calling herself Bianca arrives at her home, seeking Diana Ward, another old CIA colleague of Maggie’s. Diana, known for making enemies, is blamed by Maggie for the debacle in Malta that tore her life apart.
The plot thickens when Bianca’s body is dumped in Maggie’s driveway and someone takes shots at her from across a field. Maggie connects these events to the tragic case that led to her retirement from the CIA. She enlists the help of her baby boomer drinking buddies, four ex-agents collectively known as the Martini Club, each possessing a full assortment of tradecraft skills. They realize someone is seeking revenge on Maggie and work together to identify and locate these individuals. This forces them to revisit Maggie’s role in Operation Cyrano, the mission that changed her life and preceded her resignation. The story weaves through different timelines, 18 and 16 years ago, and the present, spanning locations across the globe.
The Martini Club also encounters Purity’s acting police chief, Jo Thibodeau, who is investigating the murder and shooting. Puzzled by Maggie’s reluctance to share information and her ability to consistently outmaneuver the police, Jo realizes there’s more to this group than meets the eye.
Readers will be hooked, searching for answers alongside Maggie and her retired CIA colleagues. Refreshing and entertaining, this departure from typical spy thrillers features senior citizens as protagonists. The story is amusing, suspenseful, and at times, intense.