It was brought to my attention that today marks the paperback release of my thriller, The Last Ember -- in which a bomb suspect is caught on a blurry surveillance camera at a popular tourist destination.
Yesterday's New York Times provided an eerily similar image - a suspect on tape - the footage just grainy enough to see his race, height, age, but not his face.
It is a predicament that the "professors" of the genre -- Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsyth- exploited all the time.
But while the surveillance scene of the Times Bomb Square seems plucked from a modern thriller, the heroes do not.
The heroes of the Times Square Bomb scare were street vendors: Lance Orton and Duane Jackson. They are both disabled Vietnam War veterans. They sell "I Love NY" T-shirts. They are the ones who saw the Nissan Pathfinder fill with smoke and first reported the smell "of a firecracker or something." But in this plot, they are not the joyful sidekicks, inserted to add humor to a script. They are as much the heroes of this story as the brave men who ultimately disarmed the alarm clocks wired to the propane tanks in the Nissan's trunk on Saturday night.
Modern thrillers novels are dominated by a single "professional hero"--24's Jack Bauer or Vince Flynn's Mitch Rapp. Even the "accidental hero" often has a doctoral degree -- a Harvard symbologist in Paris, for instance.
But on Saturday night, a possible tragedy that might have changed the face of New York forever, was averted - not because Jack Ryan rushed in - but because a vendor stood where he always stands. Not because some high-tech piece of information was beamed to a blackberry, or because a portion of a Renaissance painting was decoded. A tragedy was averted because a disabled veteran had a hunch that something seemed "not right."
We all see the signs on the subway, "If you see something, say something." Mr. Orton and Mr. Jackson give us all a new reason to speak up.
They also give us thriller writers much to consider. Who are your favorite "ordinary hero" that breaks the super-spy mold? Real life or fiction is fair game. I've listed my own favorites at www.daniellevin.com. And no, I won't be insulted if it's not Jonathan Marcus of The Last Ember. In fact, I can't wait to hear who your heroes are.
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