1. Your books often take place in foreign locales. What were some of the challenges for you in placing so much of the action of The Panther in Yemen?
Yemen is sometimes called “The Land That Time Forgot,” and this intrigued me. Also, I was looking to take my characters of John Corey and his wife, Kate Mayfield, out of New York City where they work for the Anti-Terrorist Task Force, and put them into a very remote and hostile environment, and Yemen fit that requirement nicely. This is a country that has become perhaps the largest Al-Qaeda base of operations in the world, and the place where Al-Qaeda bombed the USS Cole in October of 2000, killing 17 American sailors. The particular challenge for me as a writer was researching this country that Americans know so little about. The War on Terrorism that we conduct in Yemen is often not well reported, and we have a relatively small contingent there of men and women who are engaged in anti-terrorist operations which are mostly kept secret. So I needed to speak to people who had been involved in anti-terrorist operations in Yemen to find out what was actually going on there. Hopefully, The Panther, though fiction, will shed some light on our involvement in Yemen.
2. What do you enjoy most about writing books with timely, international themes?
I was a Political Science/History major in college and current events and politics have always interested me. This, I suppose, is reflected in most of my novels. During the Cold War, I wrote two novels with Cold War themes and two novels with post-Vietnam themes. Now I find myself writing about global terrorism. I enjoy the opportunity to explore important themes in fiction and I hope my books enlighten the reader while also being entertaining. The serious message in my novels is often more palatable in the form of exciting fiction.
3. What is the most surprising lesson a person would learn from reading The Panther?
As in many of my books, the surprising lesson is that not all is as it seems. Whether I’m writing about the Cold War, the War on Terrorism, or Vietnam, trickery, treachery, lies, and secret alliances are inherent in the story. The hero and heroine may be honest and duty-bound, but those around them—allies and enemies—have another agenda. There is always a “bigger picture,” which is understood in Washington and in other centers of power, but not always understood by the men and women who are on the front lines, trying to do their jobs. We all know this, but it’s still surprising when we see it play out in a story.
4. What is the most surprising lesson you learned in the course of writing The Panther?
What surprised me the most as I did my research was the level of deceit and corruption that exists in Yemen. I knew, of course, that Yemen was not the Switzerland of the Mideast as my character of John Corey jokes. But, as an American, I had trouble understanding the depth of dysfunction and anarchy that exists in this troubled land. The history of Yemen for over 3,000 years has been a story of invasions, tribal warfare, and civil strife, and this has continued into the 21st century. We learn of all this through the eyes and ears of John Corey and Kate Mayfield, who, though hardened veterans of the War on Terrorism, are still shocked by what they see and hear. Their surprise, of course, is a reflection of my surprise.
5. You've written that you never intended to use a continuing character in your novels, but John Corey, first introduced in Plum Island and now making his sixth appearance in The Panther, changed your mind. What is it about Corey that resonates with you, and with his legions of fans?
I had never done a series character before John Corey in Plum Island, and as you can see if you read Plum Island, it was meant to be a stand-alone book. The plot of Plum Island was what I believed made the book a huge bestseller. It was a plot that had been percolating in my mind for years, and I was convinced that the unique storyline, the setting, and the theme were what carried the book. Then something strange happened—most of my fan mail focused on my character of John Corey. Readers—men and women—loved this guy. They loved his wit, his sarcasm and his cynical, but funny world view. So, perhaps accidentally, I’d created a hero that everyone could relate to and like. A psychiatrist might say I’d unconsciously tapped into my own personality and that’s why John Corey sounds and feels so real. In any case, I listened to my readers and the book after Plum Island was The Lion’s Game, featuring John Corey who now has a new career with the Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force. In The Lion’s Game Corey meets and marries Kate Mayfield, and the rest is history.
6. How has Corey evolved as a character over the past 15 years?
I’d have to reread all the books to see the evolution of the character, and perhaps my own evolution as a writer. Corey in Plum Island was an NYPD Homicide Detective convalescing from his wounds on the East End of Long Island, and his personality reflected his life and occupation as a cop. Later, when Corey joins the Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force, which is comprised mostly of FBI and other Federal agencies, his attitude and “New York mouth” are not appreciated by his new bosses and colleagues. He could change to fit in, or he can remain who he is. Of course he picks the latter and this is what makes him stand out in his new politically correct environment at 26 Federal Plaza. Corey’s biggest change came about as a result of him marrying Kate Mayfield, an FBI Special Agent. She tries to rein him in a bit, but she also loves the crazy guy she married, though his antics sometimes compromise her career. Corey has not mellowed with age, but he has to some extent stopped saying all the provocative things he is thinking. The reader still sees on the page what he’s thinking, which is funny when he then says something less sarcastic to his bosses or colleagues or his wife. But in the end, he is who he is and he lets loose when he needs to.
7. Paul Brenner, first introduced in The General's Daughter, is also featured in The Panther. If Brenner and Corey were to get into a fistfight, who do you think would win?
Great question. When I think of Paul Brenner, I picture John Travolta, who played Brenner in The General’s Daughter. And when I think of John Corey, I think of Bruce Willis, who once called me about wanting to play Corey in a feature film. Brenner is ex-military and a combat veteran, trained in hand-to-hand combat. Corey is not as well-trained in martial arts, but he’s crazier than Brenner. I have no doubt this would be an even match and it would go on for some time before both men shook hands and went out for a beer.
8. As a writer, what is your proudest moment?
There are many proud moments, but I suppose the proudest was when I presented my first hardcover novel, By the Rivers of Babylon, to my parents, both now deceased. My father, a voracious reader, read the book and said, “Good job.” My mother said, “Don’t spend all the money they gave you.”
The card security code is an added safeguard for your credit/debit card purchases. Depending on the type of card you use, it is either a three- or four-digit number printed on the back or front of your credit/debit card, separate from your credit/debit card number. To make shopping at Book-of-the-Month Club®
even more secure, we require that you enter this number each time you make a credit/debit card purchase. Please note that your security code will not be stored with us even if you have saved your credit/debit card information.