Every once in a while an author comes along that becomes a sensation. Then they move on to become an outright institution. Today’s author is one of those. Today, I’m going to introduce you to one of the greatest thriller writers of modern times…Douglas Preston, the co-author of what has become known as the Pendergast novels and author of a host of other novels and works of non-fiction.
But since the Pendergast books are what Preston is best known for, I thought I’d spend just a bit of time telling you about them. The first Preston/Child teamup was a book called RELIC, which featured the first appearance of FBI Special Agent Aloysius X. Pendergast, in which he played more a supporting role. He later emerges as the major protagonist of many of the Preston/Child books.
Pendergast’s character, a favorite among Preston fans, is unique to say the least. Based primarily in New Orleans, the rich and cultured FBI Agent (with an almost uncanny ability to solve major cases) maintains a traditional southern charm, has his own (mysterious) butler/chauffeur, and owns a 1959 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith. In Relic, he appears to investigate a series of bizarre murders (and rumors of a strange creature) within the New York Museum of Natural History.
Seeing as how many Preston/Child books there are, I thought I’d just give kind of a bird’s eye view of the series and share details about the first two books starting with RELIC. (Yes, they did make a movie about it…but as usual, they changed many of the details of the book and most people will tell you to stick with the novel. Since I never saw the movie, I can’t really comment on it).
Here’s the book description for RELIC:
Just days before a massive exhibition opens at the popular New York Museum of Natural History, visitors are being savagely murdered in the museum’s dark hallways and secret rooms. Autopsies indicate that the killer cannot be human…
But the museum’s directors plan to go ahead with a big bash to celebrate the new exhibition, in spite of the murders.
Museum researcher Margo Green must find out who-or what-is doing the killing. But can she do it in time to stop the massacre?
Publisher’s Weekly said this about RELIC:
A monster on the loose in New York City’s American Museum of Natural History provides the hook for this high-concept, high-energy thriller. A statue of the mad god Mbwun, a monstrous mix of man and reptile, was discovered by a Museum expedition to South America in 1987. Now, it is about to become part of the new Superstition Exhibition at the museum (here renamed the “New York Museum of Natural History”). But as the exhibition’s opening night approaches, the museum may have to be shut down due to a series of savage murders that seem to be the work of a maniac-or a living version of Mbwun. When the museum’s director pulls strings to ensure that the gala affair takes place, it’s up to a small band of believers, led by graduate student Margo Green, her controversial adviser and an FBI agent who investigated similar killings in New Orleans, to stop the monster-if the culprit is indeed a monster-from going on a rampage. Less horror then action-adventure, the narrative builds to a superbly exciting climax, and then offers a final twist to boot. With its close-up view of museum life and politics, plausible scientific background, sharply drawn characters and a plot line that’s blissfully free of gratuitous romance, this well-crafted novel offers first-rate thrills and chills.
Sounds REALLY good, right? (You all know how I love this stuff!) Anyway, the follow up to RELIC is RELIQUARY. Here’s the product description for that:
Hidden deep beneath Manhattan lies a warren of tunnels, sewers, and galleries, mostly forgotten by those who walk the streets above. There lies the ultimate secret of the Museum Beat. When two grotesquely deformed skeletons are found deep in the mud off the Manhattan shoreline, museum curator Margo Green is called in to aid the investigation. Margo must once again team up with police lieutenant D’Agosta and FBI agent Pendergast, as well as the brilliant Dr. Frock, to try and solve the puzzle. The trail soon leads deep underground, where they will face the awakening of a slumbering nightmare.
The other Pendergast novels are as follows:
The Cabinet of Curiosities (2002)
Still Life with Crows (2003)
The Wheel of Darkness (2007)
Cemetery Dance (2009)
Fever Dream (2010)
Recently, Preston and Child have announced a new series of novels entitled: The Gideon Crew Series with the first novel being GIDEON’S SWORD. This book will be out in 2011.
Other novels by Douglas Preston only are:
Besides his incredible works of fiction, Preston also has a very impressive collection of non-fiction works. His most recent (and probably most amazing in my opinion) is a book called THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE which details his own investigation into a brutal serial killer in Italy and the crazy events that followed. We’ll talk more about this book within the interview, so I don’t want to give too much away. But as a professional forensic investigator, I have to say, I am definitely going to read this book!
Well, recently, I was fortunate enough to have the chance to chat with Doug about his books, Pendergast, and everything in between. Here’s what he had to say:
1) Perhaps you are best known for your collaborative effort with Lincoln Child in what has become known by many as the Pendergast series of novels…starting with Relic. How did this team effort originate and what was the genesis of the series?
I had been writing a column in the magazine Natural History, published by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where I worked. An editor from St. Martin’s Press, who had been reading my pieces, called me up and asked if I wanted to write a history of the Museum. I said yes — and that became Dinosaurs in the Attic. After the book was published, I gave the editor a tour of the Museum — at midnight. I showed him all the best places in the Museum to which I had access–the dinosaur bone storage room, the collection of 30,000 rats in jars of alcohol, the whale eyeball collection, the preserved mastodon stomach with its last meal inside, and a lot of other unusual things. We ended up in the Hall of Late Dinosaurs around 2:00 a.m., with only the emergency lights on, the great black skeletons looming in the darkness around us–and the editor turned to me and said: “Doug, this is the scariest building in the world. Let’s write a thriller set in here.” And that was the birth of Relic. That editor, if you haven’t guessed by now, was Lincoln Child. We both discovered we shared the same kind of sick, twisted view of the world. Linc is the smartest person I’ve met, with the exception of my brother, Richard (who wrote The Hot Zone and The Demon in the Freezer).
2) What many people may not know is that it wasn’t until the third book in the series that Pendergast emerged as a centralized protagonist. Was this intentional from the beginning or did he just evolve naturally into this? Share a little.
We had no intention of even writing another book together. We thought RELIC would be a one-time diversion for us both. But it turned out to be too fun, too much of a diversion. I realized I enjoyed writing thrillers with Linc a great deal. And so we wrote another, Mount Dragon, but with no Pendergast. Such was the clamor for Pendergast to return that we then wrote Reliquary, and somewhat later, after another clamor, came The Cabinet of Curiosities—in which Pendergast finally becomes the central protagonist. None of this was planned.
3) Changing gears a bit, you may not be aware of this, but by profession, I’m a forensic death investigator. One of your solo works, The Monster of Florence, is a bit right up my alley. Would you care to tell us a little about the book? How did it come about? On a personal level, what is the one thing that most impacted you during your research into this serial killer?
In 2000, I moved with my family to Florence, Italy, to write a murder mystery set in Italy. We rented a 14th century farmhouse in the hills of Florence. And then I discovered that the olive grove in front of their house had been the scene of one of the most infamous murders in Italian history, committed by a serial killer known as the Monster of Florence. (Funny that the real estate agent didn’t mention that.) I joined up with the Italian investigative journalist Mario Spezi to write about the case. THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE tells the true story of our search for a likely suspect. We found that man and we asked him, “Are you the Monster of Florence?” His answer was quite awful, and unrepeatable in a public blog—you’ll just have to read the book! It also chronicles how Spezi and I became targets of the police investigation into the murders. I was taken up, interrogated, and asked to leave Italy, while Mario was arrested, accused of being the Monster of Florence himself, and thrown into prison.
The story of the Monster is the most interesting in the annals of crime, an outrageous tale involving murder, mutilation, suicide, carnival trials, voyeurism, princes and castles, body parts sent by post, séances, devil worship and Satanic sects, poisonings and exhumations, Florentine high fashion houses and drunken peasants—with Spezi and I caught at the center of it. This is not “Under the Tuscan Sun”…
What impacted me most was coming face to face with naked, undiluted, pure evil. That shook me up like nothing else in my life.
[PERSONAL NOTE: I REALLY want to read this book. I’m not a big fan of non-fiction…especially non-fiction about something I do for a living, but I am so going to read this one as soon as possible!]
4) Tell us a bit about how your writing career began. When did you first realize you wanted to write professionally? Briefly, how did the journey unfold for you?
I started out as an editor with the American Museum of Natural History, and writing articles for their newsletter. I soon began writing columns for Natural History magazine and branched out from there to other magazine work—Smithsonian, Harper’s, Atlantic, the New Yorker. Now I only write books.
5) Who or what are your biggest influences (whether other authors, TV/movies, books, journals, etc.) in your writing?
Just about everything I’ve read had been an influence. Among the greatest would have to be the Aubrey/Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brian, Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut, Wilkie Collins, and Michael Crichton. That may sound overly eclectic, but then again, our novels are rather eclectic.
6) Besides writing, what are your interests? Hobbies? Areas of personal study? Care to share anything about these things?
I’m big on outdoors activities—skiing, scuba diving, mountain climbing, and mountain biking. I also love to cook.
7) If you could offer just one piece of advice to aspiring writers out there, what would it be?
Write. I don’t know how many people I know who aspire to be writers who don’t write every day. If you want to play your violin in Carnegie Hall, you got to practice every day. If you want to win the NYC marathon, you have to run every day. It’s no different with writing…
I want to take a minute to thank Doug personally for taking the time out of his busy schedule to give us this candid insight into his writing life. I don’t know about you, but I feel deeply honored that he would do this. He’s a great guy and his success couldn’t happen to a nicer guy in my opinion. I truly wish him continued success in all of his endeavors and highly encourage you guys to read his books if you haven’t already. I don’t believe you’d be disappointed. And you might just come back and thank me for introducing him to you in the future!
You can find out more about Douglas Preston and his books (as well as Lincoln Child’s) here at his website: http://www.prestonchild.com/