BY CONNIE OGLE

McClatchy Newspapers

CLOSE YOUR EYES

By Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen, St. Martin’s, $27.99

There are obvious things that unite them, such as being mother and son, but what brought Iris and Roy Johansen together as writers was submarines.

“We kept saying ‘We’ve got to write something together,’ ” says Iris Johansen, the author of contemporary and historical romance novels as well as 17 works of suspense, including the Eve Duncan series. “We have similar styles — we both write by the seat of our pants — but it was very difficult to find a vehicle that could please him and me too. Then one day he came back from Chicago, and he said, ‘Mom, I found it!’ I said, ‘What?’ He said: ‘Submarines!’ “

Roy Johansen’s trip to the Windy City’s Museum of Science and Industry (which has a German sub captured in World War II on display) inspired the pair’s first novel together, “Silent Thunder,” about a marine architect who discovers a dangerous secret while preparing a decommissioned Soviet sub for an exhibit. A sequel, “Shadow Zone,” was published two years later, after the standalone “Storm Cycle.”

The Johansens’ fourth collaboration, “Close Your Eyes”, is a thriller about a music teacher whose sight has been restored through stem-cell surgery. Being blind, though, has had one advantage; it has allowed smart, observant Kendra Michaels to perfect her other senses. She’s a problem-solver who’s an impressive weapon, and the FBI enlists her to help with an investigation into an agent’s disappearance. He just happens to be Kendra’s ex.

You might think residing on opposite sides of the country — Roy lives in Los Angeles, and Iris lives outside Atlanta — would make collaborating difficult, but the Johansens have perfected their system. One of them comes up with an idea, and they spend some time discussing it. Specifics come later. They agree on a concept, and one of them will write 70 or 80 pages, then pass the story along to the other to write the next 70 or 80 pages.

The approach keeps both writers on their toes.

“We each rewrite the other’s work,” says Roy. “We’re constantly surprising each other with these pages.”

The setup also ensures a layer of editing — and inspires a certain amount of mischief.

“Every time we get pages from each other, it’s a challenge,” Iris says. “It gets so we’re trying to outdo each other. He’ll paint me into a corner, and I’ll have to get out. And then I’ll spring something on him.”

“Hopefully,” Roy says, “some of that sense of surprise transfers to the readers. It’s definitely fun to get to the end of (the other writer’s contribution) and say, ‘What am I going to do now?'”

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