As a Yellowstone park ranger, he’s interrupted from relocating a nuisance bear by a bomb blast that sends his fellow ranger into a chasm… and that event launches him off on a quest to right wrongs and battle evil.
But I wanted to answer a question I hear often, whether it’s on a podcast interview or in an email:
Why did you write Harvey “Ben” Bennett to be a “normal” guy?
It’s a great question. I mean, we don’t read fiction to be reminded of our own insecurities and failures, right? We don’t want a thriller that features a main character who’s lethargic, annoying, whiney, and incapable of punching a bad guy in the neck.
But if you’ve read Lee Child, Robert Ludlum, or even Dan Brown, you’ll realize that many of our favorite action heroes tip the scales a bit too far in one direction.
Now, I’m a huge fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. He’s a monster of a dude, and he has no real reason to fear anyone — he’s trained to kill, to fight, and to outshoot his enemies. It’s a load of fun to read him skipping around (in a Reacher sort of way, of course), trying to solve a crime and bring bad guys to justice.
But, I’ll admit, I have a hard time feeling like I’m in Jack Reacher’s skin. It’s sort of like watching someone else’s life unfold onscreen in an action movie. It’s cool, but I don’t ever mistake Jack Reacher for myself. His problems are most certainly not my problems.
Ditto Jason Bourne. The guy doesn’t even know he’s a super-spy. He can’t remember anything, and then he finds out that not only is his own government after him, he’s been trained to take them out. Not exactly how I feel when I’m standing in line at TSA in the airport, though admittedly I’ve never actually tried taking them down with my bare hands.
Finally, we have characters like Robert Langdon, an eidetic professor of symbology. There’s nary a piece of history he hasn’t heard of, nor is there a symbol or a design or a shape that he sees that he can’t at least place in his near-photographic memory. He’s a walking encyclopedia, which comes in handy during his sightseeing-crime-fighting escapades.
I’m not trying to bring down these action heroes and heroines, or their authors.
But I wanted to try something that I hadn’t really seen before: I wanted to build an action hero from the beginning. From years before they’re trained, tested, and tried in the fires of battle.
I wanted an everyman, a guy who doesn’t know his right fist from his left or a shank from a broken comb. I wanted to build him, slowly, over time.
In my stories, I didn’t want a Batman Begins montage that answers the question in five minutes “how did he learn how to fight like that?” I wanted a guy who’s training was, and still essentially is, how to scrape poop off of privies in Rocky Mountain National Park.
That’s not to say he doesn’t have good qualities. I designed Harvey with one “superpower:” resiliency. The guy can take a lot of hits. Don’t believe me? Check out select chapters in The Ice Chasm and The Paradise Key.
He’s also got a strong sense of justice — which doesn’t always play out the way he wants, but it at least helps orient him in the right direction (stay tuned for another prequel novel about this dropping soon!).
The point is, I can see myself in Harvey.
He’s a “normal” guy. Sure, he’s got a history and a past, and it includes running away from everything and trying to start over. I wanted to give him a clean slate, in a way. But that clean slate is clean. There was no Arrow-esque secret island training/torture camp that taught him survival and killing methods. There was no military background, no abusive father, nothing that would have forced him to become a scrappy young fighter.
I can see myself in him — the kinds of battles he fights are the kinds of battles I feel (I hope) I would fight. They’re the sorts of events that would drive me to do something good, to protect the people I care about.
I think it was a risky move not making Harvey a badass soldier-type character. The genre is rife with those sorts of dudes, and that’s for a reason: they sell well. Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, Green Berets, CIA operatives, brilliant professors, quirky geniuses, all of these “heroes” and “heroines” have something in common:
They’re better than us at something really cool.
Something we associate with action movies and stories.
So I thought: how successful could I make a story series that features a guy who’s arguably not better than us at most of these things?
What if we could, immediately upon opening the book, see ourselves in him? The decisions he makes, the way he operates, the people he interacts with? Those, I think, are the things we’d do in those situations.
The challenge is to grow these characters. No one wants to read about a cardboard cutout or a caricature who stays the exact same from page one to page four-hundred. We want change. We want adaptation. Evolution.
Harvey is no different — the things that are changing in him are usually internal, from his ambivalence toward other people to his love for Juliette. But over time, he’s growing more externally as well. He’s being trained to fight, to think tactically and to assess his situations.
He’s slowly turning into the action hero we know he can be.
I didn’t ever intend for The Enigma Strain to be the first of a multi-part series. I wanted to see if I could write a good story that featured a male and female protagonist that share “screen time.”
But you liked it — upon publication, readers immediately began asking for a sequel. You wanted to know where Harvey and Julie would go next. You wanted to know where their adventures would take them.
I… had no idea. I hope I’ve done justice to the story thus far — I have no plans on ending it. As long as you’re interested in reading more about this everyday, “normal” guy and his girlfriend (spoiler alert: that’s changing!), I’ll keep churning them out.
We’re up to 13 books in the Harvey Bennett Universe, including 7 (soon to be 8) in the main series, but also these awesome spinoffs:
I hope you’ve enjoyed Harvey and his CSO friends thus far. There’s so much more coming (did you forget that Harvey has a brother… ?). I truly hope you’ll stick around for the ride!