A big welcome to Joan Swan, author of romantic suspense. Her newest, Intimate Enemies, is out now.
Thanks so much, Angie, for having me here at Something Wicked today!
I’m going to explore something on the wicked side today – the art of being bad – or working undercover.
In my newest romantic suspense, Intimate Enemies, my hero, Rio Santana, is an undercover agent for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of Homeland Security. He’s working a major case in Baja, Mexico, posing as a human smuggler. His boss, also his target, makes a lucrative living by trafficking his own countrywomen over the border into the US where they hope to find work and better their lives. Instead, they are sold to predators who enslave them—in factories, in domestic servitude or, most often, in brothels.
But the mission changes scope when Rio’s boss decides to scale up the cargo from poor women to Hezbollah-trained terrorists. And it twists completely out of his control when his boss’s stepdaughter, and a woman he’d met briefly and has fantasized about for months, returns to Baja with an agenda of her own; one that threatens Rio’s mission and both their lives.
To write a convincing undercover agent, I had to get deep into the psyche of someone who not only constantly lies, but whose very life depends on his ability to keep those lies straight. I imagined how incredibly difficult and stressful that must be, to pretend to be someone else, day in and day out, always wondering if you’ve somehow given yourself away.
Then, add to that, the risk not just to his own life, but to another’s. An innocent. Someone that undercover becomes responsible for out of the sheer nature of his job, his duty as a cop—to protect and serve. And just to make the already intense situation impossible, let’s make that innocent someone the undercover cares for deeply.
This is the major dilemma Rio faces with his heroine, Cassie Christo, in Intimate Enemies. Of course, there is fiction and there is reality, and while I always try to stay as true to reality as possible, without actually having performed a job, there is only so “real” an author can get.
I thought I’d share some fascinating facts I learned while studying the life of real undercover cops:
· Uniformed cops and supervisory cops, i.e. brass, often view undercover cops with suspicion and because of the undercovers’ success, professionalism or accolades, are considered dangerous due to their criminal connections.
· The closer to the truth an undercover identity is, the safer the undercover agent will be. Simplicity is key.
· Undercover agents must only make claims, offers, threats that they are willing to follow through on or risk jeopardizing their credibility and, thus, their life.
· Undercovers are constantly at risk for ambush tests of identity and deep research into the impersonated persona often saves an undercovers’ life.
· Good undercovers have a gift when it comes to speech – they know when to talk, how to steer people into giving them the information they need and they know, sometimes most importantly, when to shut up
Informants are crucial to the success of an operation and an undercovers’ ability to manage information is imperative to the undercovers’ life. Informants’ loyalties shift on a dime and undercovers must engage in behavior that constantly reminds the informant of the power structure.
The psychological effects of this type of work on long time undercovers’ are complicated and fascinating—and one of the reasons I adore writing undercover characters.
Do you enjoy reading undercover characters? Who is the most wickedly good character you’ve read recently? Post your answer and you're entered to win a signed copy of Intimate Enemies!