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Life Imitating Art in Murder at the CDC by Jon Land

Margaret Truman's Murder at the CDCMurder and intrigue on the steps of the United States capital building pulls Robert Brixton into his most personal case yet in Margaret Truman’s Murder at the CDCCheck out what author Jon Land has to say in regards to toeing the line between fiction and reality in this gripping and enthralling new tale in the Capital Crimes series!


By Jon Land:

In the wake of 9/11, the newly formed Department of Homeland Security gave some select thriller writers a mission: conceive the next big attack on the country. We’ll never know how prescient the project, called “Red Cell,” actually turned out to be. We do know, though, that while thriller writers may not be able to predict the future, our work is based on anticipating it.

I began writing Murder at the CDC in early August of 2020, motivated in large part by what we all witnessed happening to the country during the Trump years. A divisiveness that hadn’t been seen since the Civil War had pit Americans against each other, separated into two warring camps.

For us thriller writers, the greatest two words in the English language are What if? That question has been the basis of too many great books to list and a number of them, like Tom Clancy’s 1994 “Debt of Honor,” which featured a commercial airliner crashing into the Capitol Building during the State of the Union Address, are incredibly prescient in their subject matter. So, in writing Murder at the CDC, I asked myself what if the notion of a second civil war was more than just a notion? I finished the book right around Election Day, having no idea that the next few months were going to reveal evidence of a bona fide attempted insurrection and coup. Suddenly, what I’d written no longer seemed like fiction.

Because I wrote the book before January 6, there’s no ripping off that day or the principals behind it. As always, I let my characters drive the story, not my politics. When I’m hammering away at the keyboard, I have a story to tell, not an axe to grind. So, the villain of Murder at the CDC, Deacon Frank Wilhyte, isn’t defined by his politics either. He’s defined by having a famous father he couldn’t please and who was physically abusive. Now he’s got his own son and finds himself effectively becoming the same man his father was. That’s powerful stuff and forms a big part of the book, culminating in the fact that the boy is a science savant capable of weaponizing the deadly toxin Deacon Frank has come into possession of when the experts he hired failed. His son proves himself to Deacon Frank in a way Deacon Frank could never prove himself to his father. The same holds true for the book’s hero, Robert Brixton. While I’ve made him the classic ex-special operator, he’s defined more by being a father and a grandfather, than by how many bodies he leaves behind in the course of the book.

When asked what’s the most important thing a writer can do, I used to say Tell a great story. Now I say Have fun telling a great story. And I had a blast writing Murder at the CDC in large part because characters like Brixton and Deacon Frank did the heavy lifting. I followed their lead in taking the book where it needed to go, which just happened to be a place I had never gone before.

I truly, sincerely, hope I turn out to be a lousy prophet. I truly hope the events portrayed in Murder at the CDC remain nothing more than fiction and that we never face anything approaching a second civil war. When I start a book, though, I never know how it’s going to end. And, similarly, I have no idea how this sordid chapter of our history is going to end because, sometimes, life really does imitate art.

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