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Interview: September 15, 2006

September 15, 2006

Tess Gerritsen is the author of such bestselling thrillers as THE SURGEON, THE APPRENTICE, THE SINNER, BODY DOUBLE and VANISH. She recently spoke with's Carol Fitzgerald and Joe Hartlaub about her latest book featuring Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles, THE MEPHISTO CLUB, which explores pre-Christian mythological notions of the origins of evil.

In this interview, Gerritsen describes her own fascination with the Old Testament and shares rumors of secret organizations similar to the one featured in the novel. She also discusses the complex relationships of her characters and muses on what is in store for them in future installments. What spurred you to write THE MEPHISTO CLUB?

Tess Gerritsen: I've had a lifelong fascination with ancient cultures and mythology. I came across pre-Christian religious texts that described humanoid demons known as the Nephilim, who are the descendants of fallen angels. The Israelites believed that the Nephilim still live among us, committing acts of violence, and causing misery for mankind. I wondered: What if the ancient belief is actually correct, and there really is a subspecies of violent human beings? What if there's a biological basis for the myth of the Nephilim? It would be a unifying theory of evil! I wanted to write more than just another crime thriller --- I wanted to explore the truly creepy subject of demonology.

BRC: THE MEPHISTO CLUB obviously involved a great deal of historical and Biblical research. Do you do your own research, or do you have a research assistant? Do you research as you write, or complete the majority of this work before you begin?

TG: I do all my own research. I learned how important this is, back when I wrote my thriller GRAVITY, which was set aboard the International Space Station. I tried to hire a NASA engineer as my researcher, but he told me something that I've since learned is very true: that the only way to really understand a subject is to make the discoveries yourself. And while doing the research, I discover facts that often become new and unexpected plot twists.

I do the bulk of my research before I start writing, partly because I want to get the "language" right, and understand the milieu or the time period, and the way characters in that setting would think. Then while I write, I'll also look up facts as they become relevant to the story.

BRC: Have you had a long-standing interest in the interpretations of the Book of Genesis?

TG: I have an interest in all world religions, but I find Genesis and Exodus particularly fascinating, because the stories seem like such wild tales. Burning bushes? Rods that turn into snakes? Plagues of frogs and boils? It's only now, after having been educated as a physician, do I wonder about a scientific explanation for all these unnatural phenomena.

BRC: One of the more interesting aspects of THE MEPHISTO CLUB for me was Dr. Maura Isles and her continuing --- and evolving --- relationship with Father Daniel Brophy as well as her introduction to, and attraction toward, Dr. Anthony Sansone, who plays such a pivotal role in the novel. Both men, in their somewhat different ways, combat evil, while Dr. Maura also fights against the evil that is a part of her genetic heritage. Will you be exploring more of these interesting relationships in future novels?

TG: Oh, yes! Ever since I introduced Father Daniel Brophy in THE SINNER, I've struggled (as Maura has) with his role in her life. It seems like a doomed relationship -- or is it? I just don't know. As I write the books, I'm watching their love story unfold, but I have no idea how it's going to turn out. I'm as much in the dark as they are about their future together. Anthony Sansone is another complication, because I find him incredibly attractive and intriguing, but also a little scary. As the author, I'm torn between these two men, just as Maura is.

BRC: A subtle shift in focus takes place in THE MEPHISTO CLUB, away from Maura Isles and Jane Rizzoli and toward The Mephisto Foundation. Do you have any plans for future novels that will feature The Mephisto Foundation? Have you thought of writing any historical suspense novels that deal with what the foundation has done in previous centuries?

TG: Wow, you must have read my mind! While I was writing THE MEPHISTO CLUB, I kept thinking: "I'm dying to write a prequel!" I'd love to see other members of the Sansone family, in earlier centuries, and how they each struggled with evil. Isabella's son, for instance, in the 1500s. How did he establish this secret society? What agonies did he endure, knowing what sort of blood he was cursed with?

Then there's also the temptation to take THE MEPHISTO CLUB forward, and follow it through the eyes of Lily Saul, the newest initiate. What will be their next battle? I'm salivating at the idea.

BRC: To your knowledge, does such a club like The Mephisto Foundation exist under this name or a similar name?

TG: I have heard rumors that there's a secret organization called the Sons of Jared, who are dedicated to identifying and tracking down the Nephilim. But I have yet to make contact with any of them.

BRC: THE MEPHISTO CLUB is a complete novel in itself, but you leave a number of subplots hanging to be further developed and hopefully resolved over the course of your next several novels. I'm referring to Rizzoli's parents and to the Isles - Brophy relationships. Do you have these resolved in your own mind, or are these plot threads that you still are working on?

TG: I haven't resolved either of these plot threads in my mind. When I write a book, it's as much a journey of discovery for me as it is for my readers, so I don't know what the future holds for either Maura, or for Jane's parents. That's what makes writing so much fun for me. I keep getting surprised!

BRC: One of the elements that I enjoyed the most in THE MEPHISTO CLUB was the use of Italy as a beautiful, yet menacing, backdrop to parts of the story. Did the authenticity and familiarity that you demonstrated in the narrative come from hours in the library or from a boots on the ground visit?

TG: I've been to Italy a number of times. I'd live there if I could. What you describe --- beautiful yet menacing --- is exactly how I see the place. When I walk in places such as Venice or Rome, I'm always aware of the history of violence that still lingers in those streets, those ancient buildings. Terrible things happened there, over the centuries, and I still feel the ghosts.

BRC: A personal question: Rizzoli does not seem to believe in either good or evil as a force unto itself. Isles, although not thoroughly convinced, seems to lean toward a belief in divine goodness and, partially as the result of events in THE MEPHISTO CLUB, a satanic evil. You, as manifested by the arguments laid out in THE MEPHISTO CLUB, seem to be thoroughly acquainted with both positions. What do you believe? Or is your jury still out?

TG: I left the conclusions up in the air, didn't I? I don't know which is the actual reality in the book. Do demons exist? Or are they fantasy? Even my characters can't agree. While I don't believe in demons, per se, I do believe in a biological basis for violence. I believe that murderous behavior can sometimes be passed on. I keep going back to the stories of the Nephilim in those ancient religious texts, and I wonder if maybe the Israelites were closer to the truth than we give them credit for.

BRC: When you are writing, do you only work on one book at a time, from beginning to end, or do you work on two --- or more --- at various stages of completion?

TG: I only work on one book at a time. It takes my complete focus.

BRC: What are you working on now and when can readers expect to see it?

TG: Right now, I'm taking a brief detour from Jane Rizzoli. I'm working on a stand-alone historical thriller, set in Boston in the 1830s. I want to explore what it was like to be a physician back then. It was a really horrific time before anesthesia, when a medical student would have to secretly dig up corpses from graves, just to have a cadaver for anatomy class. The era was already a scary place. Throw in a serial killer, and the story becomes even more frightening!