The spy who broke out of the mold

The spy who broke out of the mold

Tory Pierce is no James Bond. Not that there's anything wrong with that. In fact it's sort of the point.

"Satan's Chamber," (Fuze Publishing) a new spy thriller by Molly Best Tinsley and Karetta Hubbard, turns the genre's macho clichés inside out in a world in which many of the spooks — especially the good guys — are women.

"Duh," Tinsley says, laughing. "What did you expect?"

Junior CIA legacy Tory Pierce has been posted to Sudan. Her agenda is to discover what happened to her father, an agent who disappeared. Her self-appointed mentor, Director of Intelligence Maud Olsen, fears Tory is in over her head. A horrific plot is afoot, there are wall-to-wall bad guys, and nothing is what it seems.

Tinsley, who lives near Ashland with her husband, Ed, is a playwright and former English professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. She and Hubbard worked for two-plus years on the book, (check out Bloomsbury Books or, during which Tinsley wrote a play about a Sudanese refugee, penned several short plays, volunteered with Kids Unlimited in Medford, was active in Oregon Stage Works' Playwrights Unit and played tournament bridge.

Hubbard lives in Virginia, where she co-owns the consulting firm NewPoint Strategies, among whose clients was the CIA. One day over lunch, Hubbard told her pal Tinsley she'd written some pages of a spy novel about a young woman, and they should collaborate.

"She's a good storyteller," Tinsley says.

E-mailing and phoning across the country, the authors had a handle on their heroine from the start. Although the book carries the usual disclaimer about any resemblance to real persons living or dead, a real person was in fact the seed for Tory.

"She developed from there," Tinsley says. "A radical loner who has some evolving to do. We put a lot of emphasis on character."

Much of it of the female persuasion. In addition to Tory, there's Maude, who favors designer shoes and had a crush on Tory's dad. There's Kendacke, a descendant of black, female pharaohs who seeks to unite the tribes of Sudan.

There are guys, too: Bart Wilkins, the buff but bumbling supply officer at the Embassy, and Adam Marshall, one of the richest men in the world.

Prod Tinsley a mite and she'll wonder aloud what our great, rough, messed-up globe would be like if women had more power.

"We see men acting badly all the time," she allows.

Is this the first feminist spy novel?

"Ohmigod," she says, laughing. "If you say that none of the guys will buy it."

OK, it's not heavy-handed, but there are women acting boldly in a moral universe dominated by strong men who are sometimes seen to strut and fret and lust and preen.

A literary writer by nature, Tinsley prepped for a genre that requires tight, carefully plotted scenes by reading thrillers.

"Many of them were badly written," she says. "Except for John Le Carré, who's out of our league."

Hubbard came up with the title, which Tinsley was leery of at first.

"What are people going to think it is?" she says.

What it is is a metaphor for Sudan, a failed state awash in very real tragedy.

There's lots more: oil, WMDs, rebels, an evil billionaire, oil, Leviticus 24, a mole, an ancient power place, Greek tragedy and oil. But no sex scenes. And women. Did I mention women? Smart, tough women.

Reach columnist Bill Varble at 776-4478 or

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