Dick Wolf’s tight, twisty debut thriller, The Intercept, offers some globetrotting as well as some implications that are global in scope. But ultimately, The Intercept is a fiercely New York work, following Detective Jeremy Fisk of the NYPD Intelligence Division through the streets of the city as he investigates a failed hijacking and discovers it’s only the start of a more complex terrorist threat in progress.
The location will be no surprise to fans of Wolf’s most famous creation, the long-running TV series Law & Order and its several spinoffs. The novel is, Wolf says, “as reflective of the city as all the L & Os. I can’t get it out of my DNA…I love New York City; I grew up there….[When you set a story in New York,] there is no crisis of credibility. It’s a wonderful canvas to have at your disposal.”
He’s just writing what he knows, Wolf admits. However, Jeremy Fisk is a different kind of cop than the mainly bluecollar types who populate the Law & Order shows: Fisk is the Arabic-speaking son of a Lebanese Christian woman and an American diplomat, a background which gives him a “vastly different worldview about all kinds of things.” It’s that wider worldview that puts Fisk on the scene sifting intelligence after Osama bin Laden’s death, intel that proves essential to unraveling the scheme at the center of the novel.
However, the story’s timeline is slightly tweaked from the one we know: Although the story is set a few years from now, Michael Bloomberg is still mayor (his term actually ends this year). Wolf’s biggest gamble, he says, was completing the book before the 2012 election, because President Obama also cameos. If Romney had won, the book could have seemed “a little odd.” It was important to Wolf to include real-life political officials like President Obama, Mayor Bloomberg, and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, because he hates featuring “fake people” in his creations “more than anything.” Again, this is another borrow from L & O: Both Bloomberg and Kelly, among other New York personages, have appeared on the franchise.
Clearly, real-world relevance is important to Wolf. For example, the key plot twist (which obviously will not be revealed here) was inspired by an article he read two years ago about the spread of certain Muslim populations. Does Wolf think that terrorists are still targeting New York? “Yes, absolutely,” he says. “That’s the nature of the world we live in.” Although some actual terrorists, like some of The Intercept’s characters, fail because they’re not careful enough planners, Wolf warns that we “can’t count on them all being stupid.”
Wolf would not be specific as to what sources he consulted within law enforcement or intelligence to write the novel. “People who carry badges don’t want people to know they talked to anybody,” he insists. However, he will say that no one’s contacted him to complain about the accuracy of his details: “I don’t think it’s below an A-.” The tension between the NYPD and the other agencies will seem familiar to thriller readers, but that kind of “conflict is a cliché because it’s true. Feds and local law enforcement are not the best bedmates.” However, “it’s gotten better in the last eight to 10 years,” Wolf says.
While “there’s no classified information that’s revealed in the book,” Wolf is sure that it “accurately reflects what the people in the area are thinking.” He’s not concerned that the plot he describes nor the methods used to foil it will give the terrorists any ideas: “The bad guys have known about this stuff for years and are already thinking about how to exploit it.”
Many readers will finish the book with the conviction that it should be adapted for the small or the big screen. Wolf says that he would prefer it at as a miniseries. Sadly, at this point, “nobody has called” yet, he says. However, one can take some solace in learning that the second Jeremy Fisk novel, which (spoiler!) concerns narcoterrorism, is already “well under way.”
Amy Goldschlager is an editor and book/audiobook reviewer who lives in New York City and exists virtually at http://www.amygoldschlager.com. She has worked for several major publishers, and has contributed to the Los Angeles Review of Books, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Locus, ComicMix, and AudioFile magazine.