The Thriller Zone

On today’s 173rd episode of The Thriller Zone, now in our Sixth Season, JACK BEAUMONT, former spy turned author, discusses his world of living in the spy world, as a former fighter pilot, and how those experiences have influenced his writing. 

Jack shares insights as we dive deep into the world of espionage, his creation of false identities, and perhaps most significantly, the deep psychological toll being a spy can have on a person. 

Our discussion covers not only his two smash hits, which include The Frenchman and Dark Arena, but your mind will be blown as you hear how he takes his decades of experience and weaves them into the realistic portrayal of spy life in his novels. 

Easily one of my favorite things about Jack, and one that I believe will pull you in and impress you as well, is when he reveals how he writes with the intention of helping others understand and cope with trauma. 

Our gripping conversation concludes with a discussion of future projects and some inside secrets as to how his work is being adapted to television.

TO LEARN MORE: JACKBEAUMONTOFFICIAL.COM

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Takeaways

  • Espionage is a dark and psychologically challenging profession that takes a heavy toll on individuals.
  • Creating and maintaining false identities is a crucial aspect of espionage work, requiring actors' skills and extensive preparation.
  • Jack Beaumont's books, The Frenchman and Dark Arena, provide a realistic portrayal of spy life based on his own experiences.
  • Writing with authenticity and emotional depth can help readers connect with characters and experience their journey.
  • Beaumont's future projects include a book on Chinese cyber espionage and a TV series adaptation of The Frenchman.

The Thriller Zone with David Temple is sponsored in part by Blackstone Publishing.

What is The Thriller Zone?

Join podcast host and thriller author David Temple as he gives you a front-row seat to the best thriller writers in the world. If you like thriller fiction in Books, Movies, and TV Shows, you’ll love The Thriller Zone Podcast.

The Thriller Zone with David Temple (00:00.09)

Hello and welcome to the Thriller Zone. I'm your host David Temple on today's 173rd episode of the Thriller Zone now in our sixth season Jack Beaumont former spy turned author is going to discuss his world of experiences and how they have influenced his writing Join me as we discuss his first breakout thriller the Frenchman and now his soon -to -be neck smash hit Dark Arena as always you've got a front row seat to the best thriller writers in the world right here on the Thriller Zone.

This we're going to be talking about Dark Arena here on the show. Have you have you heard the show at all? Have you had a chance to take a yeah. Okay, good. Well, very excited to have you and you are in let's see, where are you calling from today? I'm in Australia, but at the moment I'm in Canberra because I still work for defense. So everything happens in Canberra.

Oh, gotcha. So you're not a author full time? Unfortunately not. Hope one day I will, but for the moment I'm still working. Well, dude, and may I call you dude? Sure. All right. How would I say that with a French accent? Dude? We are not all speaking like Pépé the Pew, you know that? You're not what? We're not all speaking like Pépé the Pew, you know that?

Dude, you can slap me the next time you see me. I promise you. Yeah. But anyway, so it seems like it seems like just yesterday, the Frenchman came out and then I turn around and your good friends at Blackstone introduced me to Dark Arena. And I'm like, wow, part of that is time flying. Part of that is just getting flat out older, I suppose. You know, if you want to be really honest about it, probably for both of us, maybe harder on me than you. Before we...

jump into Dark Arena, I would love if we could, a little bit of a background on you. You could call it some intel, if you will. Now let's talk about the first book, The Frenchman. This is gonna teed up for my audience. It launched your career at Blackstone Publishing in this series. So I wanna step back and I wanna go, what is that experience that has informed your vast knowledge of...

The Thriller Zone with David Temple (02:18.958)
being able to write such a gripping spy thriller and folks, I gotta tell you right out of the gate, it grabs you by the throat and you can't let go. Well, that's pretty simple. I used to be a spy. So basically I started as a fighter pilot in the French Air Force. So I used to be specialized in dogfight, air to air combat. So I was flying single seat airs for dogfight.

and was engaged in a few combat missions. And then I had a flying accident, injured my back. Then I was moved to Special Forces and I did a few years in Special Forces. I participated to the hunt of the Serbian war criminals in the Balkans. And then I was picked up by the French Secret Service, so DGSE, the equivalent of the CIA, and internally selected to be on the field. And then I did a...

seven, eight years clandestine operations on the false identities in various countries. So I had five different IDs on which I was turning all the time for each mission. And so globally I did a bit more than 100 missions, which means I had a bit more than 100 different identities. And so I decided to leave the company in 2014.

because basically it's a very, very dark job. So it has a heavy psychological toll. And so I decided to leave the company. And then in 2018, I was still having nightmares and PTSD and chasing ghosts in the middle of the night in my house, walking around the house, checking every door, every window in the dark.

in the middle of the night with a knife in my hand and sitting on the couch in the living room waiting for someone to come in because that's what I used to do to the others. So I was expecting someone doing it to me. And then a friend of mine said to me, you should write it down. It would help you. Psychologically, it would really help you if you write it down and you unload everything from your mind to a paper. And that's how I started to write.

The Thriller Zone with David Temple (04:41.358)
the Frenchman. So it's very, so that's why it's so realistic. It's because it's basically based on real experiences and I wrote it thinking that no one was going to read it, you know, and then it became a best seller. So yeah, that's the story. All right. Well, I have to, I got to unpack this in small bites because first, let me, let me back up. First of all, I'm just trying to imagine, and as I was reading this, I was trying to imagine what it's like.

to be in your shoes. So we're gonna mention this in a second about being a spy. But the PTSD and the, I think what grabbed me the most was the multiple characters. And I'm following this character and I'm going, wait a minute, he changed his name. Oh, he changed it again. Oh no, he changed it again. And I'm thinking to myself, in reality, how does one keep,

the characters straight. It's very hard. It's, it's, well, you need, of course, some training. At the beginning, you don't have, you know, you don't have so many identities, but it's really hard. And it's also very hard because you have to really be, you know, in the character, basically of this false identity. It's not just a name. So you have to all the work to do, which, which is called gardening, where you have to prepare your false identity. So for example,

the place where you are meant to live, you have to spend some time in this area, in the city where you are meant to live. So you need to befriend the guy at the coffee shop around the corner, the hairdresser, the guy who is selling his fruits and everything, so that if you get caught in another country and if someone comes and checks your identity and it walks around with the picture of you, then all those people have to say, oh yeah, I know him, his name is this and he lives here around the corner.

So it needs a lot of time for you to spend in those false lives to really be in the character. Because if you get caught and interrogated, you're gonna fall, not having a solid false identity because otherwise you're dead. So you use the phrase gardening and that's part of building the legend, right? Yes.

The Thriller Zone with David Temple (07:04.43)
So you will have multiple legends simultaneously and you have to remember with whom you're speaking and which legend goes with that character. I mean, I, you know, we're used to watching spy television and movies. And I know you probably having been a spy, roll your eyes a little bit, but we only have one kind of connection. Uh, so it's kind of fair that that would, you know,

be a little bit hard to understand for your average bear. But I'm thinking to myself. You have to be I never thought about this. Your ability to be a good actor as well as a great agent of voice I guess I don't know why didn't think that but I'm like well we're sure you're acting because you're not really that. Person but. It's mind -bending for me.

A lot of, I mean, a big part of the job is to recruit and manipulate some human sources, to do some human intelligence. So you have a part of the job, which is actually what we call the environment, to detect the leverage that you're going to use to manipulate this person, what we call the MICE, M -I -C -E. So it's the four leverages on which you can manipulate someone. So M is for money, I is for ideology, C is for coercion.

and he is for ego. So you're going to observe someone and follow this person until you detect the mice. And from the moment you consider that you know which mice it is, then you're going to enter this person's life on a false identity. And already knowing a lot about this person because you've been observing this person for weeks, months, you know, and tapping the phone, emails, everything. And then you're going to have to befriend this person. So it's a really an actor game.

You really have to be the character you are meant to be and you have to pretend and befriend this person to reach the point where this person is basically is going to be manipulated and is going to trust you enough to betray his or her country or his company and give you the intelligence that you are after. And the problem is that from the moment you will have this intelligence, well, you don't want anyone else to have it.

The Thriller Zone with David Temple (09:26.446)
You don't want anyone else to know that you have it and you don't want anyone else to know who has it. So this person basically has to disappear. So when you were before you became a spy, uh, and, or, uh, or a fighter pilot, did you ever say to yourself as you were training? I don't know that I have the ability and we're going to get to the book in just a second. I don't know that I have the ability to.

convince myself that I can play these characters because it's one thing to go, okay, I'm going to take on a role. I'm going to put an outfit, be this person. I've got the intel on my head. I've got the legend built. But there has to be somewhere along the line where you just go, what if I can't pull this off? And the doubting would have to really screw with your head. Yeah, no, I mean, it does happen sometimes to doubt, especially when you are.

facing someone that your real yourself really hates, like a real bad guy, and you have to pretend you are his friend. And that's really, really hard. So the story you see in The Frenchman, when I met, you know, he was the head of a bacteriological weapon program, and I met him in a country, and I was meant to approach him and try to befriend him. And so I was trying to create the empathy. And I said to him, you have...

wife, kids, you know, just to try to establish a link, a relationship with him. And he said, Oh, no, with what I intend to do of the world, I prefer not to have kids. So he was like a real Nazi. You know, like he was, he was crazy. He really wanted to kill the whole world. And when someone tells you this kind of stuff, in my mind, in my real mind, I thought, you know, I could kill this guy, but you have to.

You have to smile and say, oh yeah, oh yeah, I understand, you know, people like you, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And you have to not to show, you know, to be poker face and not to show any emotions, real emotions. So you have to really convince yourself that you are this someone else with those other emotions and this other mindset. So, which is very dangerous because at the end of the day, you are losing yourself. You are losing who you really are. And by forcing...

The Thriller Zone with David Temple (11:52.238)
your soul and your spirit to be someone else. And then when you come back and have your wife and your kids, you end up playing another character, which is your real yourself. I think the one thing that kind of keeps flipping around in my head is you said it's so dark and that you're and you're still working and you want to there has to be a part of your psyche that wants to step out of that. Then I my head switches to you are the personification Jack.

Of the personification of writing what you know now you're gonna we're gonna talk we talk to people on the show all the time that They're right about military thrillers. They write about political thrillers Some of them have never been in the military never been into politics and there's a part of me always says well That's what writers do. We make shit up basically however with you, I mean

you don't really have to reach very far to make stuff up because you've already lived it. And I think that's what's so powerful about Dark Arena is that as I'm reading it, I actually, and especially the detail of the cities and the locations, I'm like, oh no, this is all spot on. And it's just fractions of fiction that, it's actually a good phrase, that set it apart and...

Your ability to master that with only two books. And I say this and it sounds so cliche when I say it, I can't believe it's your second book, but you know, books like this have made me even bigger fans of spy stories. And we all, we love spy stories. You've done something here with this book that has taken it to the next level. So kudos to you. Yeah, thanks. But you know, it's, it's in a way I've been cheating in a way because.

The main character is, because I wrote to expel my PTSD, the main character is me. So all those emotions that you feel when you're reading those books, The Frenchman or Dark Arena, are actually the real emotions I had being on the field. Like for example, you have the infiltration on a boat in Dark Arena.

The Thriller Zone with David Temple (14:06.57)
I really did this. I was trained for a few days to be a waiter on a boat for a few days. And I really had to do this. So all those pieces of the book compared to another writer who would create the story. I mean, I'm inspired by my real experiences. So I'm cheating in a way because it's just simpler for me.

Just to talk about what I've been going through and Jack I know Jack's not your real name, but you can tell me I'll keep it a secret. What's your real name? Jack. Okay. Got it. We'll be right back

And now back to the show. Does your family, since you just mentioned that, does your family ever look at you sometimes? And I'm trying to picture you at the dinner table and and you're still operating in a little bit of legend and your kid asks you a question and you answer in the legend and and he or she looks at you and Papa, come on. It's us.

Well, when I was in the company, they didn't know I was in the company. For them, I was still a fighter pilot, but at the headquarter of the Air Force in Paris, they didn't even know my background in Special Forces. So they only realized when the first book, The Frenchman, came out. And just before The Frenchman came out, I said to my wife, I said, I have to tell them before the book comes out. I have to tell them myself. I don't want them to discover through the book. And she said, oh, OK, but...

don't make a big fuss out of it. Don't tell them it's James Bond. Just tell them that it's a really, really shitty job. So I said, okay. And so I grabbed them. I said, ah, you always ask me what I was doing, what was my job when we were living in Paris. So I'm gonna tell you. So they were like, ah, really? I said, yeah, yeah, really. So after being a fighter pilot, I was Special Forces and then...

The Thriller Zone with David Temple (16:12.814)
I was a spy and there was this big silence and they looked at me and they started, you know, laughing like crazy thinking I was doing a joke. And I stayed very serious and I said, no, no, I'm not joking. I was a spy. And so the elder one continued to laugh and the youngest one started to cry. And I said, what are you crying? And he was at that time, he was like 12 or something. And I said, why are you crying? He said, ah, because now...

bad guys are gonna come after us and after our family. And I said, no, that's not possible. That's not how it works. And he said, why? And I said, because they're all dead. But it just came out like this. It did scare them even more. Because daddy killed them all. Yeah, it's a very dark, very, very dark world, the real world of espionage.

And usually divorce is the rule and suicide as well. And what's interesting is that actually we are what you see in movies, Jason Bourne, James Bourne. It's very cool to arrive in the lobby of a five star hotel and say, my name is Bourne James Bourne. But actually when you are in the DGSE, in the French Secret Service, first of all, you have a Peugeot instead of an Aston Martin. But the...

The reality is that we are recruited because we are married, or a lot of us are married with kids. Because marriage is a sign of mental stability. And so, as you're going to have a lot of different identities and go around the world being someone else, you need something to ground you. You need something to hook you back to your real life. And the best way of doing this is to be married.

Because if you're not married, if you're single and then you're on the other side of the world with a suitcase full of cash being someone else, it's very easy to lose it. But then they are pushing you to develop your own dark side as much as possible, knowing that this dark side at the end of the day will provoke divorce. So it's very tricky and you have to detect yourself when you're reaching this tipping point.

The Thriller Zone with David Temple (18:34.382)
Do you ever ask yourself why you signed up for a gig, especially knowing the propensity toward the PTSD and suicidal, et cetera? Do you ever stop and just go, what am I thinking? No. You do it for your country. You do it to save people while they are sleeping without them knowing that you exist because someone has to do this. You know?

go in those darknesses and fight the devil. Someone has to do it. And also because you are part of a very deep secrecy. You are living in a parallel world, a bit like being in Matrix. And you know what's really happening behind the curtain. And you are doing things that, I mean, what you see in movies comes from somewhere. So there is a lot of waiting, observing.

writing reports because everything has to be well documented, everything you do, etc. And the preparation of a mission is very, very heavy. So there is a lot of, let's say, boring moments, but there are some moments where, yes, you're jumping out of a plane in the middle of the night after having thrown a jet ski, you know. So there are some James Bondy moments, but they are very rare. Intelligence, the real intelligence is slow and very dark.

and you see the worst of the human nature and the worst of yourself actually. This is probably one of the most intense interviews I've ever had because my mind is racing. There's a profound respect and appreciation and then there's a sorrow for what you have been exposed to and how it affects you and your family. But there's a fascination I think because I've, you know, I grew up as you and I were probably, well I'm...

sure I'm older than you are. But we grew up with some of those same movies that we you know, we love the action and the thrill a minute. The difference being you've lived it and I've only sat stuffing my face full of popcorn and cold beer, imagining what it would be like. I mean, it's like being a fighter pilot. You know, before being a fighter pilot, my favorite my favorite movie as a kid was The Right Stuff, you know, and and

The Thriller Zone with David Temple (20:56.59)
So that's why I wanted to become a fighter pilot. I wanted to be a part of those guys. I wanted to be a part of that tribe. And so I became a fighter pilot. And one morning my CO said to me, well, Monday morning you're going to take off and go to a real war mission. And then you realize what a fighter pilot is. And it's not what you see in movies. Before joining, you don't realize.

the psychological toll it will be. And you don't realize that actually when you are in the normal, let's say, military, when you finish your mission and when you come back, you can have holidays, you can have weekends because the bad guys you've been fighting over Afghanistan, for example, they're not going to chase you in your hometown over the weekend. But in intelligence, it never stops. You can't have a weekend, you can't have a holiday. So even when you come back from a mission and...

under false identity and then you become yourself again and come back home. Everyone is a potential enemy. Everything is a potential threat when you walk in the street with your wife and your kids. So it just never, never stops. So it's like a war mission of eight years, psychologically. It's like a war mission of eight years because you just never, never stop. Everyone, the threat can come from everywhere at any time. So the paranoia level is very, very high.

and the psychological impact is permanent. But you... I'm gonna sound like an idiot when I say that, but just bear with me, people get used to it. You look and you seem like such a normal average guy. I mean, you could be a banker, you could be an accountant. That's why I was a spy, I can look anything. I know, that's just amazing to me. Okay, before I move on...

And some people call it an elevator pitch. Some people call it a byline, a log line, but I would like for you so that I'm, because you know all the intricate details and I don't. And while I enjoyed the ride, I don't want to give it away. Can you give me a little fast pitch on what this fabulous book is about? Dark Arena is just a rip -worn read. Well, actually it's, so it's a spy novel first and basically shows.

The Thriller Zone with David Temple (23:23.374)
let's say what could have happened behind the scenes to reach the situation between Russia and Ukraine. So it's, let's say, highly realistic, highly actual, topical, and with a very detailed spy plot and very detailed spy methodologies, with a real spy life, having to juggle with the family and balance the family and the job and those darknesses of the job.

and the joyfully, supposedly joyful moment of the life with the family. All this in the context of the gas battle on the Mediterranean Sea, which brings us to the situation between Russia and Ukraine. People love to use this phrase, Jack, especially when they're advertising books of this nature, ripped from the headlines. And this is one time.

that it is the personification of ripped from the headlines. I mean, it couldn't, it almost as though you wrote this last month. Well, actually I wrote it like I started almost three years ago. And because I really worked on this kind of topic and actually my ending normally was Putin invading Ukraine and on the first draft. And then it did happen.

So the publisher called me and said, well, you have to find a new ending because it's not fiction anymore. So I had to find a new ending. So yeah, it's very topical. Yeah, this one's better, by the way. I want to know this. For folks who are getting introduced to you and are good friends of Blackstone Publishing, would you say that it is better or you should? You must read the Frenchman first or can you just jump in with Dark Arena?

No, you can start with Dark Arena. So it's a series. So it's the same characters in The Frenchman and in Dark Arena. But it's a different mission. It's a different story. If you start with The Frenchman, of course, you will have a better understanding of the characters, maybe. But you can start directly with Dark Arena, of course, without any issues. And then go back to The Frenchman. Of course. Now...

The Thriller Zone with David Temple (25:39.598)
I would be remiss in our last few minutes, I would be remiss if I didn't ask what is next. And I don't want to jump ahead and not give this enough time because folks are gonna, if they like a spy thriller, they're gonna read this one maybe before almost any other book I've talked about recently. And I'm gonna get in trouble for saying that Jack, because I'm gonna have other people go, I was on your show when you said mine was, well, I lied, this one's better.

The Thriller Zone with David Temple (26:09.358)
Thanks, David. Yeah. But do you, my question is, how far away is the next one? I, you gotta be working on the next one already. Yeah, I'm working on the next one. So basically the topic of the Frenchman, the first one is about bacteriological weapons, which is basically a true story with a massive threat on Paris. Then in dark arena is about Russia, Ukraine and gas involving the U S.

And number three will be on the Chinese cyber. So I'm working on it at the moment. Wow. Tick tock. I can't even imagine where you'll get your research for that. I can't imagine either. Yeah. Yeah. But I know the interesting thing also is that I sold the rights for to make a TV series in the US of the Frenchman.

And the funny part is that actually the people I sold the rights of the Frenchman to are the two sons of John Le Carp. No way! Yeah, so they are the ones who made, you know, Little Drummer Girl or The Night Manager, Most Wanted Man or this kind of show. And the idea is to adapt The Frenchman as a TV series. And I'm very lucky because the scriptwriter...

who is adapting the book is Nick Pizzolato. Nick is the one who created True Detective. Yeah! And so if he's making a True Detective of espionage, it would be just fantastic. So I'm very lucky and there are really fantastic people to work with. So I'm very lucky. Boy, I don't say this phrase very often, but holy shit, that's amazing. We'll see if it happens.

We'll see if it happens or not. Side note, I'm sure you're a content consumer. Is that safe to say yes? Yes. Do you have you enjoyed the true detective series? Oh, yeah. The first season is just it's just crazy. Yeah, I love it. Season one was in a category by itself. Yeah, exactly. I agree. Season two, I had to go back the second time because one of the actors who play a bad guy.

The Thriller Zone with David Temple (28:37.568)
John Lindstrom was on the show last week and I had kind of washed through season two, but after having met John and had him on the show and the way he sang the praises of Vince Vaughn, I had to go back and watch it again. And sure enough, it was better the second time. And so now we're trying to catch up with Mahershala Ali on three as we are also simultaneously watching four, which is mind -bending.

Yeah, 3 3 is crazy. 3 is amazing as well. Yeah, I just I can't wait. But here's my point kudos to you. Golly day I cannot be happier for you. I hope it comes true because you're you're standing at the feet of Giants Jack. Well, you know you need you need to and that's what I understand now that you need to really line up a lot a lot of then it's to make it happen in Hollywood that probably and.

and there are moving parts, moving planets all the time, so it's really hard to line up everything. And of course, I'm not the one trying to do it. So I'm just an observer. And it looks like it's very hard, and I hope that all those planets will, you know, manage to be well aligned at some point. From your lips to God's ears. I would say this, my best piece of advice to you is...

patience because having worked in LA Hollywood three different times, nothing happens fast. No. I think if you, if there was something written on the tombstone of Hollywood, if Hollywood to die, it would say, yeah, we didn't do anything fast. Well, I can be very patient. So that's, that's okay.

Well, I would think in your job, especially when you're building your legends, et cetera, and you're building your worlds, you can't rush any of that. You can't rush a detail because you're operating with one mind. This is what blows my mind about you, Jack. You're operating with one mind while simultaneously performing through a different mind, trying to read the mind of the person in front of you.

The Thriller Zone with David Temple (31:00.718)
Man, talking about ADD, thank God you're not ADD, I suppose, but it's impressive. Thank you. Thank you. Honestly, I mean, I just hope that people in the US will read my books and Dark Arena or The Frenchman, because it is just also to share this experience. And I'm sure that, you know, for all different reasons, we all have traumas in our lives.

Some people is because of their childhood and some people because they were in the military or, you know, we all have different lives and different reasons to have traumas. And the fact that I'm sharing my own experience and my own PTSD through those books, through espionage novels, I hope it will, you know, potentially help people to, you know, take a bit of distance with their own, you know, issues or trauma and see that, you know.

something else exists in the world. I commend you for that because I don't hear that very often. I don't hear people say that I write my books to help others get through a tough time. That's, that's, I think that's a first on this show. I want to make sure I'm scouring my memory. Yeah, I don't, I have not heard that before and it, and it triggers a couple of different thoughts and I commend you on that. And I, I,

Wow, that's, it's good because it there's a humanity to that, that supersedes just the entertainment value.

Yeah. All right. As we wrap, because I know you're on a tight schedule, I want to ask you something. I know you're only two books in the Frenchman and Dark Arena, but what would you give my listeners and my viewers who are aspiring writers? What's that best piece of writing advice, especially woven through the mind of someone who really has lived it? Write with your heart, not with your mind.

The Thriller Zone with David Temple (33:04.974)
for a book to be a good book or for a reader to enjoy reading a book, you need to feel emotions. It's like when you watch a movie. If the movie is plain and without any emotions, you're not gonna enjoy it. The reason why you're reading a book, the reason why you're watching a movie is to have emotions, to be happy, to be sad, to be worried, to be scared, to be anxious. And so you have to feel for the character. And the only way...

you can make this happen is as an author to write with your heart and with your own emotions and not with your mind, you know, trying to depict or describe some situations or a character. You have to be in the character and really describe the feelings of this character and the emotions so that the reader can go through those emotions and in the journey with you. I think that's the good thing to do.

That is so superb. Well, Jack, once again, big congratulations for Dark Arena and the Frenchman. Thank you so much for showing up and spending the time with us. It's been an honor. Thank you, David. I'm very glad you got me in your show and thank you for your interest in my books. And I just hope that your audience in the US will enjoy reading it. I think they will.

And folks, if you'd like to learn more about Jack, go to jackbomontefficial .com. And I want to take this moment to say a special thanks to our good friends at Blackstone Publishing for not only introducing us to you, but for providing such superb reading content to our audience time and again. Thanks, David. Thanks again. Your front row seat to the best thrillers. The thrillers on.