Tess Gerritsen’s Neighborhood is Filled with Retired CIA Agents…So She Wrote a Book About It

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International bestselling author Tess Gerritsen didn’t intend to start a new series. In addition to penning a number of chilling standalone medical thrillers and novels of suspense, Gerritsen is the creator of 13 Rizzoli & Isles books, now an Apple TV streaming series. 

But sometimes a writer stumbles across an idea too irresistible to pass up.  

When Gerritsen and her husband, a doctor, moved to a small coastal town in Maine, they realized several of their neighbors had a similar — and extremely secretive — past. Turns out, Gerritsen’s community is a hot spot for retired CIA. 

“On our very short street alone, there are two retired spies,” she says with a laugh. “They all looked so ordinary. Though I’ve never really gotten an answer as to why there are so many here, there is a certain amount of history of the CIA working in coastal Maine.”  

Armed with this knowledge, Gerritsen’s fertile imagination got to work. The Spy Coast (Thomas & Mercer) is Book 1 in Gerritsen’s Martini Club series. It features retired CIA Maggie Bird who arrives at the seaside village of Purity, Maine hoping to put her painful past — and the horrible mission that sent her to early retirement — in her rear view. But when a dead body lands on her driveway she realizes her old foes have no intentions on letting her move on, at least not alive.

But Maggie, on the cusp of retirement and not quite as sharp as she once was, also realizes she can’t neutralize this threat on her own. Enter an engaging and fully fleshed out supporting cast. It is this community — one that is a little like the one Gerritsen lives in — that will help propel the next few books in the series. 

Living among retired spies may have sparked the idea for The Spy Coast, but Gerritsen admits she couldn’t talk to her neighbors about their work, and while she is well versed in writing thriller, she had a lot to learn about espionage. 

“I was most interested in the emotional difficulty in being in this kind of career,” she says. “What does it do to your trust of others, to your relationships? It has to be hard.”

To learn more about that, Gerritsen read memoirs of former spies. 

“A lot of them considered it a ho hum kind of job,” she says. “Their stories told me a lot about the unglamorous side of being a spy. Marriages fell apart. Training was hard. I learned how brilliant you have to be just to get in the door. Of course I’ve read a lot of spy fiction in the past, watched a lot of James Bond movies. That’s boy fiction. For the most part, being a spy is using your emotional intelligence. You don’t even carry a gun.”

Gerritsen pushes the emotional arc even further by weaving in a bit of romance, and aging up her characters, a choice she says reflects not only a slight shift in the marketplace, but also where she is at personally in life.

About Tess Gerritsen:

Internationally bestselling author Tess Gerritsen took an unusual route to a writing career. A graduate of Stanford University, Tess went on to medical school at the University of California, San Francisco, where she was awarded her M.D. While on maternity leave from her work as a physician, she began to write fiction and in 1987, her first novel, Call After Midnight, was published. It was just the first of 31 suspense novels that she’s written over a 36-year writing career.

Tess’s first medical thriller, Harvest (1996), marked her debut on the New York Times bestseller list. Her novels have hit bestseller lists ever since. Among her titles are Gravity, The Surgeon, Vanish, The Bone Garden, and The Spy Coast. Her books have been translated into 40 languages, and more than 40 million copies have been sold around the world.

Her series of novels featuring homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles inspired the hit TNT television series “Rizzoli & Isles”.  She is also a filmmaker.  She and her son Josh produced a feature-length documentary, “Magnificent Beast,” about the ancient origins of the pig taboo. It aired on PBS channels around the country. Their previous film, “Island Zero”, was a feature-length horror movie that was released in 2018.

She lives in Maine.

(Photo Credit: Josh Gerritsen)



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