Interview: October 8, 2013
Since completing work on the BBC hit show "Spooks” and the Emmy Award-winning BBC series "Waking the Dead," Raymond Khoury, author of the international bestseller THE LAST TEMPLAR, is once again concentrating on writing novels. Lucky for us readers, his latest, RASPUTIN’S SHADOW, is now in stores. In it, we revisit FBI Agent Sean Reilly --- last seen in THE DEVIL’S ELIXIR --- who must connect the apparent suicide of a Russian embassy attaché and the disappearance of a retired Russian physics professor living in Queens to a small device that could change the world in a deadly way before it’s too late.
The real-life Rasputin’s shadow looms large over the story, and in this interview with Bookreporter.com’s Ray Palen, Khoury discusses what makes the notorious Russian mystic so fascinating, even to a modern audience. He also talks about why he likes rewriting history in a way that it could’ve happened, who is responsible when deadly weapons get into the wrong hands, why he’s wary of another film or television adaption of his literary work, and, of course, what's next for Sean Reilly.
Bookreporter.com: What is the appeal of the infamous character Rasputin? Why do you think so many fiction writers cover him and his life? What spurred you to write about him?
Raymond Khoury: Rasputin has to be one of the most intriguing characters of recent history, if not all time. An uneducated peasant who used religion and mysticism to rise to a position of staggering influence, he became the untouchable guru of the tsar and tsarina of Imperial Russia, and had a major impact on no less an event than World War I while bedding countless aristocrats along the way and leading a shockingly debauched life. His life is endlessly fascinating, especially since his actions were intimately tied to the revolution there and the rise of communism. And yet, we’re still discovering new things about him all the time, most recently that it was a British agent who pumped the fatal bullet into his head. I was actually doing the early research into the main theme of this book, mind control, when I came across a Russian scientist who did some pretty wild experiments, who was referred to as having “Rasputin-like powers.” And that was it. It all came together in a flash, and I had my story there and then.
BRC: What did you intend the focal point of RASPUTIN’S SHADOW to be --- Rasputin himself or his mysterious device?
RK: The focal point, as in all my books that have a parallel historical backstory, is the theme that I explore in the main, contemporary story. Rasputin serves as the origin, the backstory, the "color" behind what I’m really interested in. But, that said, it took far more research to get his chapters right than it did to understand what we know about psychotronic weapons.
BRC: Did any historical event inspire the Prologue set in 1906 Russia?
RK: No, that was made up. But I could easily have imagined it happening.
BRC: Why did you set most of the modern-day action in Queens, NY? Do you have a connection to Queens? I’ll share that having grown up there, I found your details to be spot on.
RK: Hah, I’m delighted! No personal connection for me, it just made sense given the characters I created: the Russian and Korean immigrants in NYC and their locales…
BRC: Sean Reilly seems distracted throughout much of the novel. How much is the Reed Corrigan saga from THE DEVIL’S ELIXIR playing on his psyche?
RK: Oh, it’s totally on his mind. While RASPUTIN’S SHADOW is a stand-alone story and not a sequel, I used one small sentence from the last chapter of the previous book to fuel a secondary, "B" strand in this one --- Reilly hunting down the man who was behind what they did to his son --- which, eventually, leads somewhere unexpected.
BRC: How did you research the Russian Federal Security Bureau?
RK: As much as I could without setting off too many alarm bells in their equivalent of the NSA!
BRC: Do you see Russian FSB Agent Larisa Tchoumitcheva becoming a recurring character?
RK: Larisa will be back. I really enjoyed writing her, and she will be instrumental in the next book.
BRC: What inspired you to use a deadly device from the past as a political terrorist weapon in the present?
RK: It’s a theme I enjoy exploring --- events and secrets from our past coming back to haunt us. And I think something like what I used in this book is the most frightening one yet, as there is no way of stopping it.
BRC: Who is more at fault: irresponsible scientists who create something that can be used to cause death and destruction, or those individuals with a deadly hidden political agenda who take advantage of this?
RK: In terms of motive and guilt, I would say the latter are clearly more at fault. But even the best intentions are often tainted and overcome by hubris, and it’s not uncommon for scientists to venture into dangerous territory, knowing full well what their work could lead to if it fell into the wrong hands simply because of what made those scientists brilliant in the first place: their insatiable appetite for discovery.
BRC: What historical stories interest you now? Will they inspire future novels?
RK: I’m fascinated by the Ottoman Europe, around the period of the Siege of Vienna, and I’m working on a book set against that backdrop.
BRC: I didn’t notice any shout-outs to authors like Brad Thor, James Rollins or Steve Berry in RASPUTIN’S SHADOW. Did I miss them, or were they done subtly?
RK: Hah, no, not in this one, at least not that I can think of. However, there are major shout-outs to other great writers and artists --- lots of them. I leave it to you and to the readers to see if they can figure out who they are. A hint: they were all great influences on why I became a storyteller…
BRC: No movie adaptations of your work have happened since THE LAST TEMPLAR was made for television. Is there anything in the works for your other novels?
RK: I hated that adaptation (in fairness, I only ever watched the first 10 minutes of it, but they were so awful I couldn’t keep watching), so I’m very wary of selling the rights to any more of my books. That said, there are some interesting talks going on for a movie of THE DEVIL’S ELIXIR, but having been in the business, I know how long and tortured that road is, so we’ll see.
BRC: What’s next for Sean Reilly? Will the search for Reed Corrigan become the focus of his next adventure?
RK: Without giving away a major spoiler, and in short: Yes. And it will revolve around a secret from the past, and the answer to "that" line is at the end of RASPUTIN’S SHADOW.