Meet Charlie Fox
"If I were a woman, I'd be Zoë Sharp. If Jack Reacher were a woman, he'd be Zoë's main character, Charlie Fox."
Lee Child, in foreword to Mystery Writers of America anthology, Vengeance, April 2012
The idea of a tough, self-sufficient heroine who didn't suffer fools gladly and could take care of herself is one I had lying around for a long time before I first wrote about Charlotte 'Charlie' Fox. The first crime and mystery books I ever read always seemed to be populated by female characters who were only any good at looking decorative and screaming while they waited to be rescued by the men!
I decided early on that Charlie Fox was going to be very different. She arrived almost as a full-grown character, complete with name, and I never thought of her any other way. At the start of the first book I wrote about Charlie, KILLER INSTINCT, she is a self-defence instructor with a slightly shady military background and a painful past.
"Charlie Fox is my favorite woman in the thriller genre"
In RIOT ACT, Charlie has moved on to working in a gym, and comes face to face with a spectre from her army past − Sean Meyer. Sean was the training instructor she fell for when they were in the army together and she's never quite forgotten or forgiven him for what she saw as his part in her downfall. Sparks are bound to fly.
Close protection work − the perfect choice
It's Sean who asks Charlie to go undercover to the bodyguard training school in Germany where the events of HARD KNOCKS take place. Charlie agrees as a favour to him, but gradually realises that close protection work is the perfect choice for an ex-Special Forces trainee who never found herself quite in step with life outside the army that rejected her.
By the time we get to FIRST DROP Charlie is working for Sean's close protection agency and he accompanies her on her first assignment in Florida. By now she has come to terms a little with her violent abilities − or so she thinks. But then she's plunged into a nightmare in which she has to kill to protect her teenage principal.
Which is why, at the start of ROAD KILL, Charlie was a little in limbo about her life and her career in close protection. Until, that is, one of her closest friends is involved in a fatal motorcycle crash and she agrees to take on an unpaid bodyguarding job. She and Sean are soon drawn together to protect a group of thrill-seeking bikers on a wild trip to Ireland.
The second book to be set in the US, SECOND SHOT, starts with a bang − or rather, two of them − when Charlie is shot twice and seriously injured in the course of her latest bodyguarding job in New England. The events of this novel strip away Charlie's usual physical self-assurance and leave her more vulnerable than ever before as she tries to work out what went wrong and still protect her client's four-year-old daughter from harm. Charlie is also forced to confront how far she's prepared to go in order to save the life of a child.
By THIRD STRIKE, Charlie and Sean are living in New York City and working for Parker Armstrong’s exclusive close-protection agency, where Sean has become a junior partner.
In this book, I really wanted to finally explore Charlie’s difficult and often destructive relationship with her parents − and in particular with her father. Charlie has to protect her mother and father from harm at all costs, but is hampered by trying not to let them witness just how cold-bloodedly their daughter must act in order to be effective at her job. It puts her in an often impossible situation, brings her relationship with Sean to an explosive head, and causes her father to reveal a side of himself everyone will find disturbing.
Not only that, but the story ends with big questions over Charlie’s entire future.
By the start of FOURTH DAY, where Charlie, Sean and Parker Armstrong are planning a cult extraction in California, Charlie has still not solved the problems that arose during the previous book − nor has she found the courage to explain it all to Sean. When she volunteers to go undercover into the Fourth Day cult, she’s looking as much for answers about her own life as about the man who died.
" . . . a genuine female action hero – a sympathetic character rather than just a 'guy in nylons' "
It's this battle with her own dark side that is one of the most fascinating things for me as a writer about the character of Charlie Fox. I wanted a genuine female action hero, but one who had a convincing back story. I've tried to ensure she stays human, with all the flaws that entails − a sympathetic character rather than just a 'guy in nylons' as someone described some tough heroines in fiction.
In FIFTH VICTIM − involving a deadly kidnap plot among the jet-set of Long Island − there are complications with Sean’s ongoing condition, and Charlie’s increasing awareness that her boss, Parker, views her as so much more than a mere employee. Charlie is forced to make decisions this time out that will change her life forever.
Sean is very much a key element in the events of DIE EASY, which sees him and Charlie in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina guarding an attendee at a glittering charity fundraiser. The idea of this book was to put Charlie in a situation where she was very much at a disadvantage. She finds herself unarmed and handicapped not only by having two civilians to protect but also worrying about a still way-below-par Sean, and coming face-to-face with an unpleasant reminder of their army past. It tests Charlie’s moral compass as much as her courage and resourcefulness.
Between book ten, DIE EASY, and the next in the series I wanted to fill the gap with another outing for Charlie, and also to explain what was happening to the relationship between Charlie and Sean. Initially I thought a short story might suffice but the idea grew until it became a novella, ABSENCE OF LIGHT. This sees Charlie tasked as security advisor to a specialist team sent in to lead rescue and recovery efforts after a major earthquake. Meanwhile, the events of FIFTH VICTIM have come back to haunt her − and Sean. For the resolution to that, readers will have to wait until the next instalment . . .
The instinct and the ability to kill
Characters who live on the fringe have a certain moral ambiguity that we find seductive, I feel. Charlie has that obscurity to her make-up. She discovers very early on that she has both the instinct and the ability to kill. And although she does it when she has to and doesn't enjoy what it does to her, that doesn't mean that if you push her in the wrong direction, or you step over that line, she won't drop you without hesitation.
Dealing with her own capacity for violence when she's put under threat is a continuing theme throughout the books. It's not an aspect of her personality that Charlie finds easy to live with − a difficulty she might not have if she was a male protagonist, perhaps? Even in these days of rabid politically correct equality, it is still not nearly as acceptable for women to be capable of those extremes of behaviour.
". . . one of the most enigmatic − and coolest − heroines in genre fiction"
But Charlie has evolved out of events in her life and, as you find out during the course of the series, things are not about to get any easier. I do rather like to put her through it! She's a fighter and a survivor, and I get the feeling that if I met her I'd probably like her a lot. I'm not sure she'd say the same about me!
Although I've tried to write each of the Charlie Fox books so they stand alone, this is becoming more difficult as time goes on and her personal story overlaps from one book to the next. I'm always expanding on her back story, her troubled relationship with her parents and her even more troubled relationship with Sean, who was once her training instructor in the army and, when she moves into close protection, he then becomes her boss. He continues to bring out the best and the worst in her. And their relationship is becoming ever more complicated as the series goes on . . .
For independent views on the development of Charlie Fox's character through the series, you may care to read Calum MacLeod's Charlie Fox − Action Girl, published in Sherlock Magazine. Also Charlie Fox − A True Original, Helen Gratton's perceptive assessment of Charlie's evolution through the first six books in the series.