At the Sharp End . . .

The World of ZoŽ Sharp − Author of the Charlie Fox Thriller Series

If I were a woman, I'd be ZoŽ Sharp.  If Jack Reacher were a woman,
he'd be ZoŽ's main character, Charlie Fox.
Lee Child, in foreword to Mystery Writers of America anthology, Vengeance, April 2012
Meet Charlie Fox

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!

Keep Calm and Call Charlie Fox
Charlie Fox is my favorite woman in the thriller genre
Lesa Holstine

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.

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—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.

These first three books form what I would think of as the trilogy of Charlie’s early years, when she is still very much an amateur, working on home soil. I put these together into an eBox set called A TRIPLE SHOT OF CHARLIE FOX, with a free bonus short story, Last Right, included.

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 is 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.

Because these three books form a trilogy of Charlie’s first professional steps, I put them together into another eBox set, this one called , and including another free bonus short story, Tell Me.

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 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.

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 that will change her life forever.

Although I have never put them together in one package, I feel these three books form another trilogy in Charlie’s life, where she is now a full-blown professional who is severely tested on all fronts and who does not shy away from making the tough decisions demanded by her job and her personal situation.

After the shock of Sean’s drastic change in attitude, it is up to Charlie to guide him through leading a protection detail at a big charity fundraiser in New Orleans in DIE EASY. But the reappearance of someone from their army past proves confusing as well as frustrating for both of them. And when the situation turns deadly, Charlie is left not knowing who she can rely on. By the end of it, she—and Sean—are at a crossroads in both their professional and personal lives.

The novella ABSENCE OF LIGHT is book eleven in the series, and it sees Charlie working alone in the high-risk setting of a disaster zone following a catastrophic earthquake. The dangers here are all around her, both environmental and human. She cannot be sure of anyone—or anything—around her, and must rely on her wits as well as her skills to survive.

In the latest instalment, FOX HUNTER, we find Charlie again working without Sean, and possibly against him. Has he gone off the rails in search of justice or vengeance on Charlie’s behalf? Or is there more at play here than either of them realise? Charlie must put aside her personal feelings and go into a war zone in order to catch a hunter before they both become the hunted.

This book completes another trilogy of dramatic events in Charlie’s life. At the end of it certain doors appear to have been slammed in her face, but you can bet there will be others just beginning to open Ö

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.

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. The added complication of her involvement—strictly professional, for the moment—with Sean’s business partner, Parker Armstrong, means things are never likely to get much easier for her.

It is the personal relationships that seem to fascinate people as much as the situations Charlie faces in the course of her work. There will be more of both, as I have a feeling that her story is a long way from being over yet Ö

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.