K.J. Howe discusses THE FREEDOM BROKER

The Freedom Broker, K. J. Howe’s debut novel introduces Thea Paris, an elite kidnap and ransom specialist. Shortly after returning from saving a hostage Thea must face her most challenging rescue when her oil-magnate father, Carlos, is kidnapped on a yacht where very few clues are evident. To make matters worse the kidnappers won’t negotiate and only leave cryptic messages in Latin. In search of her father she travels to Africa, Greece, and Turkey and comes into contact with dubious players such as warlords and the Chinese. As the body count rises, the clock for rescuing is ticking down for Thea and company.

Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea for the story?

Kimberley Howe: I grew up in various countries and knew I wanted to write a book with an international setting. After reading about kidnapping, I realized a novel or series of novels about that subject would allow me to do this. When I was a child, my father worked in telecommunications. When we were in Saudi Arabia one of my father’s colleagues was arrested and nobody knew where he was because they moved him from place to place.

EC: Why the kidnapping angle?

KH: What I find fascinating from a psychological point of view is that someone kidnapped and held hostage, lives in a kind of purgatory. What I mean is you’re still alive, but have no quality of life. You’re in a cage, or a cabin, or in a jungle, being held against your will. You must ask the kidnappers for everything you need. The rest of the world goes on, but as a hostage, you’re stuck where you are.

EC: Did you interview anyone who was kidnapped?

KH: A girl from Germany named Rene was taken when she was in Columbia. She now cannot work because she took such a beating to her back. She also had Stockholm Syndrome where she tried to survive by bonding with her kidnappers. There were pictures of her holding an AK-47 and smiling. She got a lot of criticism for this because people judged her. I think we should be careful and not walk in other’s shoes. We do not know how strong we are mentally until we are tested. People taken hostage aren’t the same, and never will be. It’s a profound experience that changes people forever. 

I’ve also become friends with Peter Moore, the longest-held hostage in Iraq, held for nearly a thousand days. He was working in IT there and was taken with four British military men. Peter is the only person who survived. He endured mock executions, poor hygiene and all the deprivations you would expect under these circumstances. Getting to know Peter and understanding how he coped with his ordeal helped me in writing this story.

EC: You put tidbits throughout the story about the strategies of avoiding being taken captive and what should you do if kidnapped. Are these realistic?

KH: Yes. I went to a conference about kidnapping to learn more about the subject. I was very fortunate to meet people who opened up to me. I talked with kidnap negotiators; former hostages; Special Forces soldiers who deliver ransom money and occasionally execute rescues; insurance people; and reintegration experts, people who help hostages adjust to the world after release. I found out, which I put in the book, that our natural response to attack is flight or fight, two things dangerous in a kidnapping situation. You have to accept that you will need to ensure boredom, bad food, poor hygiene, loneliness, everything controlled by your captor.

I also learned an interesting fact. In Israel they will pay a ransom quickly. But after the person returns they hunt them down and kill them. I think this probably persuades kidnappers to avoid Israelis.

EC: What do you think the theme is?

KH: The central theme is family. They are the ones we love the most, but also those who can hurt us the most. Sadly children may judge their parents or vice-versa. Sometimes love is not unconditional. There are parents who see children as extensions of themselves in a narcissist way. I wanted to explore how children feel that they must live up to their parents expectations and demands. Is family only blood or broader? How will a family handle a kidnapping? I think the entire family would be held captive, and they have to make very complicated decisions. For example, should they get law enforcement or the media involved?

Lee Child joining K.J. for the launch of THE FREEDOM BROKER

EC: How would you describe Thea?

KH: Strong but vulnerable emotionally and physically. I think she is guarded, dedicated, and focused. She has survivor’s guilt that Nikos her brother was taken instead of herself. Since she has Type 1diabetes she is a bit OCD because she must calculate her food and insulin intake. As a former medical writer I decided to give her this chronic illness to show the reader that anyone with diabetes shouldn’t be defined by it.

EC: You also write about the geo-political world, having the setting in Africa, Greece, and Turkey. But you really are detailed with the child soldier. Please explain.

KH: I think the world is very small these days. I hope I never put in my opinions, but I do think a child soldier is a critical issue that needs to be explored. When I lived in Africa I saw them first hand and even met one. It made a great impression on me. I wanted to show how they are groomed and treated included having them take drugs to alter their behavior.

EC: Why the messages in Latin?

KH: It is the root of so many languages. I wanted to make sure readers knew the kidnapper was intelligent, well educated, and sophisticated. I hope it added to the novel’s mystique.

EC: What do you want readers to get out of the story?

KH: A bunch of things. When I read a novel it is very important to me to be entertained but to learn something as well. For me, fiction is a gateway to another world. Readers can get a taste for something they might want to pursue. I also hope they saw it as a Greek tragedy, especially surrounding the family. Most importantly, I had a profound sense of responsibility to get the word out about the many hostages still being held today. I want to immerse readers in the world of kidnapping. Finally, a good story that has some humor, international intrigue, and shows girls can write action and fight scenes.

EC: Can you give a heads up about your next novel?

KH: It is called Skyjack where Thea is taking two African orphans to London, their newly adopted home. These secret armies formed after WWII to fight Communism skyjack the plane. Everyone pretty much will be back except Nikos who will come back in probably the fourth book. Also, by popular demand Aegis will return. He is based on a dog my mother had, a Ridgeback. This breed is known for its intelligence, agility, and beauty. BTW: The cover has a plane with plume of smoke coming out of it. Since the cover of this one has a yacht with plume smoke coming out I guess I will be known as “the plume of smoke girl.’

THANK YOU!