Covert operations, political intrigue and international kidnapping, sex, sarcasm, and compelling characters. That's the stuff of any good fictional thriller... But toss in the first female heroine who happens to be living with type 1 diabetes, and you've got the makings of a truly unique must-read!
It's all in the new fictional novel The Freedom Broker, a 400-pager released in February 2017 by KJ Howe -- who isn't living with T1D herself, but her grandfather did and that was a big inspiration, along with her past work as a medical and health writer.
The book pitch reeled us right in: Main character Thea Paris (who actually has her own eerily realistic web bio page) is one of 25 kidnap and ransom negotiators in the world who rescue corporate execs for a living. Notably, she's the only woman in this elite field and the only one living with T1D. She got into the professional after the childhood experience of witnessing her brother being kidnapped, so instead of joining the family business built by her father, a self-made oil tycoon, Thea opted for the racy hostage negotiation world.
Per the book jacket: "Twenty years after her brother’s abduction, her worst nightmare is realized when her oil magnate father, Christos Paris, is kidnapped. He disappears off his yacht while it is moored at Santorini; the ship’s whole crew slaughtered mercilessly. Betraying her brother Nikos may be the only way to save her father. Will Thea be able to save him and reunite her family, or will she let her family down again?"
Totally up my alley, as a huge fan of Tom Clancy and Jack Higgins among others in this spy-thriller genre. Seriously, move over characters Jack Ryan and Sean Dillon, even Jason Bourne... Actually, I'd love to see Thea Paris go up against a Bourne-like character in some future movie adaption!
The length of the book was a bit intimidating at first, but as soon as you get rolling it's a fast and fun read. The gripping story kept me glued to the pages, I must say. The chapters are pretty short, sometimes only a page or two.
Turns out the whole kidnapping and ransom racket is actually quite an intriguing story in real life, too. Author Howe says she spent two years researching multi-billion dollar global crisis with an estimated 40,000 incidents each year. She traveled to conferences and security firms all over the globe to investigate, talking with negotiators, former hostages and their families, insurance execs, and special forces operators -- and all that research definitely shows in how she brings the story together in The Freedom Broker.
The fact that fictional Thea Paris lives with T1D, diagnosed as a little girl at age 10, is just an even more fascinating angle.
Note that this isn't the first-ever such character with type 1, as there's one in Kurt Anderson's book True Believers -- and both authors manage to make diabetes just seem like a normal, side aspect to their lives.
In total, I counted more than a few-dozen references to diabetes in this new book -- not in an overbearing or intrusive way, but just naturally weaved into the broader story. Sometimes it was a quick one-liner or a few sentences or a paragraph, so diabetes didn't feel like a central theme of the book, nor was it presented as scary or "OMG! you have diabetes," but rather something Thea just managed along with everything else in her life. A few mentions that stood out to me:
- Love how she named her Dexcom CGM "Dexter," and the insulin pump she seems to wear occasionally, but not always (?), is positioned inside her bra.
- Thea often just checks her smartphone screen for blood sugar data, whether it's during casual moments or high-stress kidnapping negotiations, or even while hidden in a muddy Nigerian forest closely watching targets through a sniper rifle scope.
- There's mention of Thea's how rising blood sugar levels in the mornings, and how that's a natural "dawn phenomenon" for people with diabetes.
- At some point, she reflects on her 10-year-old self practicing insulin injections on an orange.
- There's a part where syringes are found in a hotel fridge, and how they have a "Band-aid smelling" liquid inside. Totally insulin, right?!
- A plane crash leaves Thea and three others stranded in a hot desert climate and she points out that she always keeps some protein bars in her pant pockets as well as a special insulated case with two days' worth of insulin supply. Hey, hope for the best but always prep for the worst, no?
- Thanks to having no insulin on board (see above bullet point), Thea has some above-400 blood glucose levels during a crisis situation. And as PWDs know well, those higher BGs bring headaches and slower-moving actions on our part.
- When Thea had "cinnamon in her coffee," which didn't actually mention diabetes , I had to LOL given the overhyped connection between cinnamon and diabetes.
- Interestingly, this character keeps her diabetes secret from most people in both her personal life and at work, not wanting them to think she's not at the top of her game. Only three people knew at the start of the book, including her father and brother.
Howe says she grew up watching her grandfather inject himself with insulin and struggle with diabetes. She also worked with several longtime type 1 PWDs, who shared their personal insights in helping to craft the book, and they get specific mentions in the acknowledgments at the novel's end: longtime T1 PWD Laura Rogers, who's traveled around the world and also helps ship medicines to remote locations; and PWD Bethanne Strasser who's an avid runner and writer herself.
"We believe KJ's portrayal of Thea and her struggles with diabetes is an accurate representation of what it would be like for someone in Thea's field," the book marketing folk say.
Honestly, I couldn't agree more. Howe definitely got it right, based on my reading of The Freedom Broker. It all felt authentic and relatable to how T1D often fits into my life, sometimes back-of-mind and sometimes an issue that more forcefully interferes with whatever I'm trying to do.
The quick glances at her phone for CGM data was the most real aspect, and I found myself liking how Thea sometimes had to force herself to eat or be mindful of what the D-effect may be given she was caught up in so much stress and intense activity, especially without being able to sleep on a regular schedule.
There were also so many little vignettes that rang true to me, like when she grabbed a sugar-free mint from her supply kit, which was packed with a mix of weapon supplies along with test strips and lancets. And a mention of some party hosts skipping cake in favor of veggies and dip, which I thought was a real-life example of how many in our lives -- family, friends and coworkers -- often try to do what they think is best, but sometimes become the "Diabetes Police" for the sake of helping.
And to me, it fit right in with how Thea hadn't told many people about her diabetes in the first place, to avoid that becoming a more common occurrence. Of course, it also could have stemmed from an earlier mention that Thea's D-management choices were to avoid desserts, sweeter drinks and keeping a set routine. Maybe these well-meaning friends were in on that?
In any case, nothing stood out as inaccurate or odd -- except perhaps the reference to her Dexcom as a "continual" glucose monitor... :)
Overall, well done on your debut novel, KJ Howe!
I'd say it's worth checking out more on this new author, including this this Huffington Post interview with her and this Q&A with her published recently by fellow D-blogger Scott Johnson, who delves into more specifics on the D-aspect. It's also great to hear that Howe is already finishing up her second Thea Paris novel called Skyjack that's in the works!
Interested in adding KJ Howe's The Freedom Broker to your summer reading list? It's available in the U.S., UK, and Canada. Find it on Amazon for $18.35 in hardcover, $9.99 in paperback, and $2.99 in Kindle e-book form. But before you buy a copy, here's a chance to win a freebie from us...
A DMProducts Giveaway
Just leave a comment below, and be sure to include the codeword "DMBooks" somewhere in your comment so we know you're in it to win it. Since our comment system requires log-in, you may also email us your entry directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject header "FreedomBroker."
You have until Friday, July 7, 2017, at 9pm PST to enter.
And just to reiterate: Please be sure to monitor your Facebook messages or email, as that's how we contact our winners. If we can't reach you within a reasonable period of time, we'll have to choose another winner.
Good luck, Friends!
This contest is now closed. Congrats to Mike Stubblefield, who Random.org chose as the contest winner!