Thriller author Christopher Reich takes murder to new heights in ‘Matterhorn’ – Orange County Register

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You could say former stockbroker-turned-spy-thriller author Christopher Reich knows how to make a killing.

Since leaving a successful career in finance, the Encinitas-based Reich has penned 15 novels and is no stranger to the New York Times bestseller list. His newest release, “Matterhorn,” hit the shelves April 1. We had the chance to catch up with him for a Q and A about his latest release, some of his past work and his writing process.

Q: Many writers in the thriller genre tend to “stay in their lane,” following the old Mark Twain adage “write what you know.” Some stick to the spy and espionage thriller, the legal thriller, or cop/law enforcement characters. You come from a background in banking and finance, a common thread in many of your books. However, you often veer from your lane with characters that range from doctor to former thief. What inspires you to come up with such diverse characters, and what research do you engage in to realistically portray these characters? 

A: I agree with Mark Twain. My first novel, “Numbered Account,” was a financial thriller based on my time working at the Union Bank of Switzerland, in Geneva and Zurich. But I quickly discovered that, for me, the most enjoyable part of writing is the research involved, the chance to learn about other professions, other ways of life. After all, how many stories can you tell with a Swiss banker as the hero?

One of my heroes, Jonathan Ransom, is a physician working for Doctors Without Borders, an organization I’ve always admired. Right off the bat, he fulfills a lot of the requirements for a fictional hero — smart, accomplished, responsible, with a specific skill set. Simon Riske, another of my characters, is an expert mechanic restoring and selling vintage Ferraris for a small fortune. Again, he is really good at something. He’s capable, he’s independent and he commands respect.

For both of these guys, the fun part was digging deep to teach myself as well as I could in two to three months all about their jobs. I visited the Doctors Without Borders headquarters in Geneva. I visited their field hospitals. For Riske, I spent time with Joe Macari, one of the world’s leading Ferrari experts, in London. That’s the juice. You need that excitement when you sit down for nine months to actually write the book!

Q: In your upcoming stand-alone release “Matterhorn,” we see an aging former CIA operative living a secluded life as a dairy farmer in Switzerland. Much of your youth was spent in Switzerland, and as the title suggests we see aspects of mountaineering woven into the plot. How did your past experiences inform the new book?

A: I spent much of my youth in Switzerland. I’m a Swiss citizen. My father, Willy Reich, was from Zurich and emigrated to the States in 1956. After earning my degree, I worked in Zurich and Neuchatel — first in banking, then in the watch industry — for eight years. Nearly every weekend, I’d take the train into the Alps to hike or to try my skills on some of the lesser peaks.

More specifically, I’ve always been fascinated by the Matterhorn. It is the most iconic, most recognizable peak in the world. I visited Zermatt for the first time when I was a teenager.  I’ll never forget my first sighting of the Matterhorn. It looms over the valley. It has a presence of its own, sometimes benevolent, sometimes threatening. Either way, it is captivating. It is a force of nature staring down at you. I think even then I imagined writing a story centering around this majestic peak.

Q: You have two series with recurring characters, Jonathan Ransom and Simon Riske, along with eight stand-alone novels. When you began the two series, did you write them knowing they would be a series or initially as a stand-alone that evolved into a series?

A: I began both books thinking with an eye toward creating a series. Readers enjoy revisiting their favorite characters year after year. I loved the Tom Clancy novels starring Jack Ryan, and more recently, Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon novels. As a writer, it’s fun to build out these characters’ universe, to create a new alternate reality.

Q: Matterhorn’s main character, Mac Dekker, has a daughter who seems to have followed in his footsteps in the world of the CIA. Is there a future for Mac’s daughter in your writing? Could another series be developing?

A: Absolutely. Mac’s daughter, Jane, is a chip off the old block. She’s a climber. She’s a spy. And she’s tough as nails. She’ll be back in my second Mac Dekker novel, “The Tourists,” in a big way. This one starts at the Michelin-starred restaurant Le Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower … and then all hell breaks loose.

Q: All of your books have a diverse range of locations. This question is a sort of “chicken or the egg” question: Do you start with a location because of your past familiarity or do you come up with a location and then travel there to become familiar?

A: I always have a familiarity with a locale that inspires me to build a book around it. In “Matterhorn,” it’s the mountain itself. I’ve traveled to Zermatt many times and trained to climb it. My first attempt was interrupted by a freak snowstorm in July that closed the mountain for days. I’m going back this summer to take care of my unfinished business. Anyhow, I always thought that I had to tell a story that started and ended on the face of the Matterhorn. It’s just so damn thrilling up there.

These days, elite climbers can go up and down in two hours — without any ropes. Of course, one mistake and they will fall to their deaths. Imagine two spies, both world-class climbers, chasing each other up that mountain with guns in hand! My palms are already sweating!

Q: Let’s do the “If you were stranded on a desert island” final question — or, in your case, snowed in for the winter in a small cabin in the Alps. You can only have one book, one movie, one record and one bottle, what would they be?

Book: “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” by John Le Carre.

Movie: “The Bourne Supremacy.” It’s the gold standard.

Record: Beethoven’s “Emperor Piano Sonata.” It’s the soundtrack to all my novels!

Bottle: Passugger mineral water, from Switzerland, of course!

Christopher Reich will be speaking about “Matterhorn” on Thursday, April 18, at 6 p.m. at the Orange County Public Library Cypress Branch. The event is free and open to the public.

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