Recently, I was fortunate enough to pose a number of questions to Steve Berry, the author of new contemporary thriller The King’s Deception. Steve’s answers were quite interesting and I’m looking forward to reading his latest novel even more now. If only the Dutch post office would be kind enough to deliver it already! But expect a review of it in the near-future. For now I hope you enjoy this interview.
For readers of my blog unfamiliar with the Cotton Malone series – and for me as I’m new to your work as well – could you give us a short introduction to him?
Cotton was born in Copenhagen while I was sitting at a café in Højbro Plads, a popular Danish square. That’s why he owns a bookshop there. I wanted a character with government ties and a background that would make Malone, if threatened, formidable. But I also wanted him to be human, with flaws. Since I also love rare books, it was natural that Cotton would too, so he became a former-Justice Department operative, turned bookseller, who manages, from time to time, to find trouble. I also gave him an eidetic memory, since, well, who wouldn’t like one of those? At the same time, Cotton is clearly a man in conflict. His marriage has failed; he maintains a difficult relationship with his teenage son; and he’s lousy with women. But he can do extraordinary things when he needs to.
Why the choice of mixing history with the thriller genre?
You should always write what you love. For me, I love action, history, secrets, conspiracies, and international settings. History has always been a love, so it was only natural it would become part of my thrillers. I like to explore the obscure, those rare lost items from history. Like here, with The King’s Deception, where the Bisley Boy legend takes center stage.
What made you choose to incorporate the iconic Tudor family in your latest novel, The King’s Deception?
They are fascinating. So much drama and intrigue. Then, when I discovered a secret associated with them, one that may well be true, I was sold.
An important element of The King’s Deception, at least according to the synopsis, is the imminent release of the Lockerbie bomber. Was it difficult to write about such a tragic, and for many people still very sensitive, historical event?
The release of that murderer drew outrage from around the world. America especially was upset. To this day we still have no idea exactly why the Scottish government did it, and the British government allowed it. So that uncertainty made a perfect premise of this novel.
From the synopses on your website the Cotton Malone books seem to have a lot of conspiracy theories at their core. What is your particular favourite conspiracy theory?
I don’t really have one. There are so many, so varied. My favorite ones are those with no answers. That way I can fashion my own solution that fits the novel. The Bisley Boy legend that forms the basis of The King’s Deception is a perfect example. In 2010 my wife, Elizabeth, and I were north of London in the town of Ely doing some publicity work for Hodder, my British publisher. A lovely woman was showing us around the magnificent cathedral and told me about a local legend. In the village of Bisley, for many centuries, on a day certain, the residents would dress a young boy in Elizabethan costume then parade him through the streets. I researched the legend and discovered that another writer, Bram Stoker, in the early part of the 20th century likewise heard the tale. The creator of Dracula was so impressed that he included the Bisley Boy in his non-fiction work, Famous Imposters, published in 1910. I found that book and read it. Then I found more books and discovered that much truth lay at the heart of the Bisely Boy legend—an enormous conspiracy which centers around Elizabeth I, the last reigning Tudor monarch, who died in 1603 and the novel was born.
The amount of history included in your books, would presumably entail a lot of research. In researching the Tudor and Elizabethan era, what was the most surprising historical fact you discovered?
The inconsistencies and how little we actually know about Elizabeth I. She was a unique individual. All of her life she wore heavy make-up, wigs, and clothing that sheathed her body. She refused to allow doctors to physically examine her and left orders that, at her death, no autopsy should be performed. Her main duty as queen was to produce an heir so the Tudor lineage would continue, yet she refused to marry, refused to birth a child, and proclaimed herself the Virgin Queen. Most curious of all was that she was buried with her half-sister Mary, in the same grave, their bones allowed to mingle together. I discovered that all of this happened for a reason, and it’s that reason which my recurring hero, Cotton Malone, becomes entangled with while in England.
Together with your wife, you founded the History Matters foundation. Has running this foundation and traveling to the different historic sites and buildings inspired you in your work? Do any of them make an appearance in one of your books?
Definitely. I’m always on the lookout for new locales and interesting historical elements. Several have made it into the novels. For the past three books, somewhere, at some point, I also have worked the words history matters into the story too.
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
I shelve them by writer for the novels and by subject matter for my non-fiction materials.
Bio (excerpt from website): Steve was born and raised in Georgia, graduating from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University. He was a trial lawyer for 30 years and held elective office for 14 of those years. He is a founding member of International Thriller Writers—a group of more than 2,000 thriller writers from around the world—and served three years as its co-president.