CIA agent Jordan Sandor is a man on a mission and he has revenge on his mind.
The international terrorist known as Adina has killed indiscriminately in the past, taking out innocent people along the way, but this time it’s Sandor’s friend who was the victim, and to find the cold-blooded murderer he will travel deep into the Venezuelan jungle, where he will discover something much bigger is in play. Cocaine smuggling is only the tip of what is discovered as a global thriller puts Sandor racing against the clock to stop a terrorist plot designed to destroy New York City.
And if that sounds like the kind of adventure you’d want to follow all the way to the thrilling conclusion, then that’s just what Jeffrey Stephens wants to hear. The Greenwich resident decided to try his hand at writing a novel a few years back, and it has succeeded beyond his dreams. Targets of Revenge is the third novel in his Jordan Sandor series and is on the shelves now.
As he prepared for a book signing scheduled for tonight, Feb. 28, at the Barnes & Noble in Stamford at 7, Mr. Stephens sat down with the Post and talked about the success of his series and what’s next both for himself and for the superspy Jordan Sandor.
“I think Jordan is not just an action-type spy hero,” Mr. Stephens said. “I think he’s got a great sense of humor. He’s an iconoclast. He defies authority but he has a very, very strong moral compass. He just doesn’t have a lot of patience for rules.”
The action in Targets of Revenge would have been much different if Mr. Stephens had followed through on his original plan to send the villainous Adina to his final reckoning in his previous novel, Targets of Opportunity. Instead, he lived to terrorize another day as the antagonist for Jordan Sandor in the new novel.
“I decided at the end of writing Targets of Opportunity not to kill off the villain because the villain always gets killed,” Mr. Stephens said. “I thought he was such a compelling villain that I thought I would keep him around for another book. I didn’t know quite then what I was going to do about the next book, and I then decided that since Adina was around, rather than save him for later, I figured the first thing Jordan would want to do was seek revenge against the guy who had not only killed a lot of innocent people but also killed his good friend.”
The story continued to evolve as Mr. Stephens put it from his imagination to the page. Initially, Mr. Stephens said, he intended for Sandor to make his presence in Venezuela early in the book and get his revenge before setting the main plot in motion, but instead he decided, “What if he goes into the jungle and finds something so horrible that he can’t kill Adina because he has to make sure he gets out of there alive so that he can address this new threat that Adina is masterminding.”
This idea helped spin Mr. Stephens off into the book that is available today, and the buzz has never been stronger around Jordan Sandor. Mr. Stephens said he felt this quest for revenge while needing to put his personal feelings aside to stop a terrorist threat gave his lead character extra depth at the same time as the scale of the action was increased. This is also the first time Sandor has had a female character to try and relate to, one that’s not so much a love interest but rather someone dragged into the intrigue that he has to protect. Mr. Stephens said one of his biggest challenges was making sure this woman was not disposable.
“I love James Bond, don’t get me wrong, but in James Bond every girl who comes into contact with him dies and he never really seems to care about it,” Mr. Stephens said. “This was a great way to humanize Sandor. How would you feel if this girl who is a complete innocent comes into contact with you and is now in mortal danger? How would you react to that? That was a fun part for me.”
The action in Targets of Revenge goes from the jungle to New York City all the way to Mexico to Moscow and Egypt as the drug trade of Central America intertwines with a terrorist plot. And as always, research is key to how Mr. Stephens prepares. He says he doesn’t just want to mention a place or detail a plot but rather make the readers feel as though they are there and they can see things unfold. Mr. Stephens said he wanted to create memorable, dangerous villains (ones he says will “shoot you just to see if their gun is loaded”) but have the story be based in fact and not something over the top for the sake of drama.
“It’s never been my intention to create Jordan Sandor as some kind of super-agent,” Mr. Stephens said. “He doesn’t have super powers and he needs help in all of the books. The sad truth of the world we live in today, though, is that you don’t really have to exaggerate the action. These drug cartels are real, and what I wrote about them is based on fact. The stuff I wrote about terrorism and bioterror attacks is based on reality. I don’t have to sit up at night and think about ways to make it more interesting. These are real horrors.”
Mr. Stephens said he stands on the accuracy of the locations and weapons and the governmental protocols that the characters encounter. And much of the inspiration comes straight from the headlines. Mr. Stephens said he’s already working on the next book and that a lot of inspiration comes from The New York Times and its articles about terrorists in North Africa and drone attacks.
Over the course of his three completed novels, Mr. Stephens said, he feels he’s become a better writer just through getting more and more experience at it. But he also credits the careful attention of his editor, Kevin Smith, who, Mr. Stephens says, “takes no prisoners” in making sure the work is up to a high standard. Because of that, Mr. Stephens says, he feels the books have gotten better and the characters have gotten richer and he’s having a lot of fun continuing and expanding the universe of characters around Jordan Sandor.
“Obviously, every one of the characters is based in some respect on one or more people that I know, and so now that I’ve created these fictional lives, they’ve become my friends,” Mr. Stephens said. “When it comes time for Sandor to call his best friend, Bill Sternlich, a newspaper reporter, I can’t wait for him to show up and for them to have the conversations they have.”
But just because he is connected to these characters, it doesn’t mean Mr. Stephens isn’t afraid of putting them through the ringer. As Targets of Opportunity showed, no one is safe, and that’s something Mr. Stephens proves again in Targets of Revenge. It’s not easy for him to write difficult scenes like that, but it keeps things tied to the real world and its dangers, according to Mr. Stephens, and insures that his books, with their varying plots, do not fall into a repetitive pattern.
With three books complete in the series and such a memorable character at the heart of them, it’s no surprise that Hollywood has come sniffing around. Nothing is official, but there has been a lot of interest over the last month in optioning the series to package it as a blockbuster franchise for a major actor. Mr. Stephens isn’t closely involved with those efforts other than giving opinions of some of the big names being considered, but as someone who has seen every James Bond movie multiple times, he is very interested in how it all turns out.
Mr. Stephens also has plans on moving outside of the world of Jordan Sandor as he plots a novel that he describes as a “steamy psychological thriller.” And Mr. Stephens still continues his law practice out of his home, so while writing has become much more than a hobby to him it’s still something he can do for fun and he can still be thrilled by seeing his face on a poster promoting his Barnes & Noble book signing tonight from 7 to 10 at the Stamford Town Center.
With three books in five years and more being developed, Mr. Stephens said, he’s energized by the response he’s gotten from readers and fans.
“The success of the series has been fun and flattering, and also helps me to get on with creating the next story,” Mr. Stephens said. “I only hope that the readership grows as time goes on.”