INTERVIEW WITH PRESTON & CHILD

 

VERSES FOR THE DEAD by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child brings back the return of their beloved character FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast. There is a slightly new recipe for this famous crime solver with a new boss, partner, and medical examiner.

A welcome relief in this story has the authors moving away from anything supernatural and deciding to stick to crime-solving, understanding that the story and characters are riveting by themselves. In this old-fashioned mystery, a Florida woman while visiting her husband’s grave has her dog find a human heart with an apology note. The current victims are women whose throats have been slit and breastbones split open to remove their hearts, all in quick and expert fashion. The killer leaves notes at the graves of women who committed suicide and signed it “Mister Brokenhearts.” As other body counts mount up it becomes apparent that the notes left have a tinge of literary verses from T. S. Eliot to Romeo & Juliet.

Unlike his past supervisor Pendergast must now deal with Walter Pickett, an FBI assistant director recently assigned to the New York City field office, who is determined to keep this maverick agent under his control by assigning him a partner, Special Agent Coldmoon. The new partner is expected to report back on any of Pendergast’s deviations from the rules. Both Agents are a contrast of each other.  Coldmoon is part Lakota Indian and part Italian.  Pendergast dresses like an undertaker, and always seems to have more money than the average FBI agent preferring the luxuries of a fine hotel, private jet, and nice car. Soon Coldmoon realizes his partner is astute, smart, observant, and has a way of looking outside the box. They enlist the help of the medical examiner who is willing to go against her supervisor to find clues.

Sorting through betrayals, lies, and deceptions, readers are treated to a unique storyline that is highly volatile.  An added treat is the humorous banter between the characters that is both refreshing and amusing.

Elise Cooper:  How did you both decide to write together?

Lincoln Child:  I was an editor for St. Martins where my job was to find new properties.  I specialized with non-fiction that included the sciences. I visited the Museum of Natural History in New York and saw peculiar objects, a bizarre history, with eccentric people. I thought this is worthy of an Indiana Jones movie.  I did some research and found the guy who wrote most of the historical articles.  We became friends after I edited his first non-fiction book.

Doug Preston:  I was sitting at my desk at the museum and this distinguished editor gave me a call asking me to lunch at the Russian Tea Room.  What struck me is that he appeared younger than I was; and impressively at the tender age of twenty something he was already a Senior editor.

EC:  How was Pendergast born?

DP:  I wrote the first few chapters of this novel that had two policemen.  Lincoln said that these two were essentially the same character.  He wanted to fold them into one character.  In about fifteen minutes Agent Pendergast was created.  When he arrives at the scene of a murder it becomes obvious he is not a conventional FBI agent, and looks more like an undertaker with his black outfits.

EC:  How would you describe Pendergast?

DP:  A person out of place and out of time.  A gentleman from the Old South, specifically New Orleans.  He is looked upon as a total freak. He does things off the books, unorthodox, wealthy, and an iconoclast. He is like a twisted, dark Sherlock Holmes.

LC:  We have fun writing him.  He is an over the top character that is eccentric.  He enjoys his comforts. He has become legendary to go rogue and work on his own.

EC: How would you describe Agent Coldmoon?

DP:  He is one of the finest characters we have written.  Very iconic that keeps to himself. One scene we wrote in the book shows their different tastes.  Pendergast is a terrible coffee snob while Coldmoon likes camp coffee with that foul smell.  At a certain point Pendergast buys his partner a fine expresso coffee. Coldmoon takes one sip and pours it out.  This shows their differences, but they both end up respecting each other.

LC:  One thread of previous Pendergast books is saddling him with lazy and incompetent law officials that he had to work with.  Coldmoon is not a boring person and we hope he made an impression on the reader.  He looks like a Native American with long black hair and piercing eyes.  Quietly he shows Pendergast he is an equal with the same intelligence and observations.

EC:  There are many contrasts from loyalty to betrayal, the coldness of Maine to the hot humidity of Miami?

DP:  We like moving our characters into different places literally and figuratively to see how they would react.  Coldmoon is from South Dakota so the Maine coldness does not bother him, but he could not stand the Miami muggy heat.  On the other hand, Pendergast in Northern Maine is freezing to death, but from New Orleans is used to the Miami weather.

LC: Regarding betrayal versus loyalty Coldmoon is assigned as Pendergast’s partner with a secret agenda.  As time passes he realizes it is wrong.  He must choose loyalty to his superiors or loyalty to his partner. Whoever he is loyal to the other will see it as betrayal.

EC:  Another contrast is insubordination versus thinking outside the box?

DP:  The FBI has evidence gathering rules to collect for trial.  Pendergast has a high closure rate of his cases, but rarely do they reach trial because the perp is dead.  At first, Coldmoon is appalled by his partner’s tactics, and the treatment of the FBI rule book.  They have quite a bit of conflict about this.

LC:  Pendergast only accepts one dollar a year because he is wealthy and is doing the job for the enjoyment of the work.  He thinks of it as solving a puzzle.  As the story progresses his new partner sees the reasons behind what Pendergast does.

EC: You have humorous banter?

DP:  We write it by playing off each other.  We keep re-writing it to make it funnier.  Sometimes our level of amusement gets out of hand and we have to take a step backwards. The author Joyce once said, “Tragedy is merely underdeveloped comedy.” We read what we write, books with a certain level of humor.

LC:  The partners try to one up themselves which can be humorous. Finally, there are scenes influenced by the setting.  For example, Coldmoon thinks he has a ten-minute drive, which turns into two hours because he got the name wrong.

EC:  Can you give a shout out about your next book?

LC: The next Pendergast book is out next winter.  We are discussing if Coldmoon will return in the next novel or sometime in the future.

DP:  We are starting a new series that will have two characters first introduced in the Pendergast books.  The recurring characters are Corrie Swanson, a newly minted FBI agent, and Nora Kelly, an archeologist. The two of them get tangled in a horrific case that has taken place in California’s Sierra Mountains.  This is where the Donner Party got stuck in the snow in 1847.  Half died of starvation, and half ate those bodies. In the present, Nora does an excavation of the campsite, and something happens that puts the party in mortal danger.  It will come out this summer and is titled Old Bones.

THANK YOU!!