An Interview with Lee Child


Lee Child and James Swain discuss Bad Action. Lee Child is the internationally bestselling author of the Jack Reacher series.

Lee Child: I’ll start with an obvious question.   Have you ever cheated a casino?
Jim Swain: Only in my dreams.

LC: Then how do you get the material for your books?
JS: I’ve had a lifelong interest in con men and scam artists that dates back to when I was learning magic in New York.  On Saturday afternoons, the local magicians would gather in the back room of a Chinese restaurant and perform tricks for each other.  Occasionally card hustlers would join us and be persuaded to perform.  I caught the bug then.

LC: Were the hustlers you saw good?
JS:  Phenomenal.   They had to be.  If they got caught cheating, they’d get hurt.

LC:My first exposure to your work was the Tony Valentine series, which also dealt with con men and hustlers.  What was the inspiration for these new books? 
JS: In 2008 I was hired by a men’s magazine to write a story about cheating at poker.  While in Las Vegas doing research, I became friendly with a crew of grifters that were ripping off the casinos.   They let me go into a casino and watch them scam a craps game for thirty grand.   It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.  Afterwards, I begged them to let me write a series of books about them.  

LC:   What made the scam amazing?  Outside of the fact that they got away with it.
JS:   Casino employees are inherently suspicious.   The crew convinced the employees working the craps game that they were suckers.  When the employees’ guard came down, the crew switched the dice in the game and ripped the place off.

LC: How does that work?  
JS: It’s a well orchestrated act.  The crew practices playing Iggys, or ignorant tourists, until they have their roles down.  They video-tape themselves and critique their performances the way actors would.  When it comes to the con, the first impression is everything.   I liken it to the dead possum my dogs found in the backyard.    After I herded the dogs into my house, I went outside to bury the possum, only to discover it was gone.  

LC: Which is where the expression playing possum comes from.
JS: Exactly.   I still laugh when I think about it. 

LC: Are you fooled by these scams?
All the time.    

LC: I’m interested to hear how you got the crew to confide in you.  Was it because of your background in sleight-of-hand magic?
I think so.  I did some card magic for them and they liked what they saw.  Sleight-of-hand magic and cheating have quite a bit in common.

LC: There’s a family of hustlers in this book called the Gypsies.   Where did you draw your inspiration for them?
Years ago I got a phone call from a blackjack dealer who’d been recruited by a family of cheats to rip off a casino.  We talked for hours about how the family operated and the code of ethics they lived by.  They were my inspiration for the Gypsies. 

LC: In the story, your main character helps another cheat who’s gotten himself in hot water because the Thieves Code requires him to do so.  Do people who steal from casinos really have a set of rules they live by?
 Believe it or not, they do.     

LC: I know you, yet have never seen you do a trick.  Is that on purpose?
 No. The next time we get together, I’ll show you something.
LC: Looking forward to it already.  If it’s amazing, I’ll rip it off and put it in a Reacher book.