Matthew Reilly's One Impossible Labyrinth is a fitting farewell for Jack West

Matthew Reilly in his home office. Picture: Supplied
Matthew Reilly in his home office. Picture: Supplied

When Matthew Reilly was in Canberra in 2018 for the Canberra Writers' Festival I somehow convinced him to get the DeLorean DMC-12 out of storage and take me for a spin. Yes, that DeLorean, the one from Back to the Future. He's got a mate here who keeps it in his garage. The actual car.

Like Marty and Doc we zipped around the Hotel Realm, no clock tower or flux capacitor in sight, but you get the idea. We stayed firmly in 2018. (Given what's happened in the past few years, perhaps that's not as disappointing as it sounds.)

But now, with the release of The One Impossible Labyrinth, the final Jack West novel I wish I could go back in time to 2005, to when the first one, Seven Ancient Wonders, was released and we were introduced to this ex-soldier and his rag-tag team, Lily, Zoe, Pooh Bear, Stretch and Sky Monster, among others.

Because it's all over.

It actually took me a few days to open the book when it arrived on my desk. I refused to even think about the idea that this was the last one. That the adventure which started at the Great Pyramids of Giza, 16 years ago, was done.

Yes, I'm a Matthew Reilly tragic. I've been there since Ice Station (1998) and have read them all, even Contest, which started it all, that self-published book discovered at a bookstore by Cate Paterson, an editor at PanMacmillan.

The One Impossible Labyrinth, by Matthew Reilly. Macmillan Australia, $39.99.

The One Impossible Labyrinth, by Matthew Reilly. Macmillan Australia, $39.99.

Whenever I get the chance to chat to him, I do. Riding in the DeLorean with him is one of the highlights of my career.

But now I've got a beef with him. How could he do it? End it?

"Once I wrote Six Sacred Stones, I knew it was going to be a seven book series, and the 'One something something' would be the end, it would end there. But this is a first for me, I have never ended a series before."

He researched how "finals" were handled in television, from The Sopranos, to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, even Parks and Recreation.

He knew he wanted to give the characters the send off, or the ending they deserved, whether that be a good one, or a bad one.

In many ways The One Impossible Labyrinth is the ending the Jack West series deserves. It's big, it suspends belief, full of mazes and quests, full of those trademark cliffhanger section endings.

But this one is full of emotion too. You want these characters, who've you've been invested in for 16 years, to find what they've been looking for, and that extends beyond ways to save the universe.

Has Jack West changed over the years as Reilly got older and dealt with life experiences? In 2011 Reilly's wife Natalie took her own life while he was on a book tour. She had been suffering from depression and anorexia.

He's at a point now where he can talk about it and see hope for the future. In 2013 he met his current partner Kate Freeman and the pair now live in Los Angeles.

"When I think about Jack, or any of the characters, but him in particular, going right back to maybe the Four Legendary Kingdoms, which is the one where I came back to it after eight years, I always said to myself what does Jack want, what would he like, and what he wants is to live on his farm, to be left alone with Zoe and Lily, with his family, he wants to watch Lily grow up, be a good parent.

"As I've grown older I've become really aware of what makes me happy, what I want. When I was younger it was all about fast cars, now I like to play golf with my friends and be here with Kate and the dog."

Will Reilly miss Jack West?

"I will but I feel like I've left it all on the field with this book, there is nothing more I want to do, I am content, I feel he's had a wonderful series of adventures, he's a fully formed character now, and ultimately, what does he deserve after all this?

"He's spent six and a half books toiling away, saving the world in anonymity, obviously we can't spoil it for people ... but he deserves to be the most famous guy on the planet, he deserves the happily ever after."

He jokes about the fun he had finding a fitting farewell for Smiley, a huge bronzeman.

"What do you do with a leftover automaton?"

When I suggest he probably has one tucked in his office he pans his Zoom camera around to prove he hasn't. But there is plenty of cool stuff.

There are movie posters and memorabilia, figurines and models, books and costumes.

Author Matthew Reilly in his DeLorean DMC-12. Picture: Jamila Toderas

Author Matthew Reilly in his DeLorean DMC-12. Picture: Jamila Toderas

There's the Nakatomi Plaza building from Die Hard, the Millennium Falcon, a helmet that could well be Boba Fett's, a truck that looks like it came out of an Indiana Jones adventure, and the actual self-lacing shoes from Back to the Future.

Seeing his words come to life on the screen makes him happy too. It's something he's always dreamed off but in many ways his books are just too big.

In 2017 he sat down to write something smaller, something he could direct, something that could be made for less than $15 million.

Interceptor, starring Elsa Pataky, is the story of a female army captain who has to - in simple Reilly terms - save the world.

He joined forces with LA-based Australian screenwriter Stuart Beattie (Pirates of the Caribbean, Collateral), got it infront of Netflix and production began earlier this year - with Reilly directing.

Pataky's husband, Australian actor Chris Hemsworth, is one of the movie's executive producers.

It's due for release in early 2022.

He can hardly believe he's achieved a life-long ambition.

"Everyone who knows me knows I love movies, knows I've always wanted to make movies. This is like a dream come true."

We don't need to worry however that he'll be too busy directing movies to think about the next book.

"Every single day I get a message from someone, or a comment on social media, about when I might bring Scarecrow back. There hasn't been a Shane Schofield book since 2011.

"Unlike Jack, Scarecrow doesn't age, I made a deliberate choice when I started writing the Scarecrow books, Ice Station came out in 1998, Army of Thieves in 2011, so even though they're 13 years apart Scarecrow didn't age, he's still in his early 30s. He's like my Bond, he won't age. And a new adventure for him is definitely on my mind.

"But so is a new historical one, something along the lines of The Tournament, with a real historical figure at the centre of it, moving around real historical events, I have an epic story I've been thinking of.

"And that goes back to your earlier question about where do you go next after the fate of the universe has been at stake. You find different stakes, ones which are still very, very important, but don't involve the collapse of the entire universe."

Without giving too much away, Reilly has managed to give Jack West the ending he deserves, but he's far from writing his own ending.

"If I ever am not excited by the idea of sitting down at the keyboard that is the time to stop, but everytime, still, even after 19 books and screenplays and stories, I get this buzz every time I do it, still."

That's good to hear, because I don't think I can deal with another ending right now.

This story Will Matthew Reilly's Jack West save the world? first appeared on The Canberra Times.