It could well be that, someday, The Intercept will also seem to have been eerily prophetic. It starts with a crude, ill-planned attempt at hijacking an airliner. But that’s only a diversion to distract authorities from a much more sophisticated and deadly plot. Wolf says the premise is not fanciful but firmly rooted in the real world.
“Since 9/11, the people al-Qaida has sent in have not exactly been the sharpest knives in the drawer,” he says. “The shoe bomber, the underwear bomber — they just aren’t very impressive. But on 9/11, [chief hijacker Mohamed] Atta and those people, they had a much higher level of sophistication and intelligence. You keep wondering when we’ll see that again. That’s part of the thinking in the book, to use an initial red herring, a hijacking by somebody who seems too stupid to have thought of it.”
Many screenwriters can’t make the transition to novelists (and vice-versa), but Wolf didn’t find it that difficult. “I don’t think the two forms are that dissimilar,” he says. “My 25-year-old read The Intercept. ‘It reads an awful lot like a script,’ he told me when he was finished. ‘Well, thank you,’ I said. I can’t really say he’s incorrect.
“The nice thing about novels is that when you write a screenplay, the only thing the audience knows is what they see or hear. You can’t really do an internal monologue and tell what somebody is thinking. In that sense, a novel is like a beefed-up screenplay.”
Cervantes or Faulkner, Wolf concedes, might see it differently. “I started out in advertising, so I can say basically anything in 30 seconds,” he says. “I don’t consider The Intercept great literature. I think it’s a pretty good thriller. I think that, in a strange way, the difference between a thriller and a literary novel is probably greater than the difference between a thriller novel and a thriller screenplay.”
Wolf was comfortable enough with the form that he’s already gotten a deal for two more books featuring Detective Fisk. “I’m well into the second one, and I know what the third one is,” he says. “But this is not unexplored territory for me. If you get a really good character, you just keep putting him out there. We did it 456 times on Law & Order. So a series of thrillers comes quite naturally to me.”