By John Rabb
THE EMERALD SCEPTER is the fifteenth novel by Paul Kemprecos. He collaborated with Clive Cussler, the “Grandmaster of Adventure,” in writing eight books in THE NEW YORK TIMES bestselling NUMA Files adventure series. He is the author of a six books in the Aristotle “Soc” Socarides detective series. His first novel, COOL BLUE TOMB, won a Shamus award for best original paperback from the Private Eye Writers of America. He and his wife Christi live on Cape Cod, Mass. Let’s take a look inside THE EMERALD SCEPTER.
Something bad happened to Matinicus “Matt” Hawkins in Afghanistan.
The ex-SEAL was grievously wounded in an ambush that killed men under his command and almost ended his life. When he pushed for an investigation, he was kicked out of the Navy with a psychiatric discharge. The doctors put his shattered leg back together, but the bitterness destroyed his marriage.
Five years later, Hawkins is jerked out of his tranquil life as a designer of undersea robots. A super-secret government group wants him to go back to Afghanistan on a strange and dangerous mission.
A Georgetown University historian has unearthed evidence that could lead to the fabulous treasure of Prester John, a legendary Christian ruler of an eastern empire.
The historian has disappeared, and the government wants Hawkins to track down the treasure as a matter of national security. The centerpiece of the trove, an emerald-encrusted gold scepter, is the linchpin in the Prophet’s Necklace, code-name for a plot that is intended to kill more people than the attack on the Twin Towers and rally others to the terrorist cause.
Hawkins sees his mission to foil the plot as an opportunity to search for answers. He pulls together an eclectic team that includes his ex-wife, a former comrade-in-arms and a mentally unstable computer whiz.
Backed by his unlikely team, Hawkins will travel thousands of miles and hundreds of years on an amazing time-space odyssey. He’ll face off against a cold-blooded killer. Probe the underwater secrets of an ancient tomb. Navigate the treacherous stands of an unimaginable conspiracy. And in the process, will discover that there are treasures even more valuable than gold.
We asked Paul some questions, so you the reader can get a look inside the man and the books.
Tell us a little about the book THE EMERALD SCEPTER that is not on the back cover?
When my collaboration with Clive Cussler ended after a string of eight best-sellers, I pondered what to write next. Since the NUMA Files had done so well, I decided to use a similar concept. That is, a team approach with four main characters. In putting together the NF cast, Clive had the brilliant suggestion of making two members of the special assignments team man and wife. This made for some fun dynamics that would not have been there otherwise.
I wanted to concentrate more on character than I had in the NUMA Files. In pulling together my new team, I tweaked the concept and created a divorced man and wife who find themselves working together in a dangerous environment. The other team characters, a former comrade-in-arms and a mentally disturbed computer whiz, all bring their own baggage to the assignment. And in the course of the story, each must resolve the personal issues that have continued to haunt them.
All of the books I have written, with Clive and before, had a historical event that connects to the present-day action. Those of us who use this format spend a lot of time combing unsolved mysteries that can be used as jump-off. I don’t know how many times I passed over the Prester John story, thinking that the legendary ruler of a fabulously rich kingdom, who may or may not have existed, would make a good theme. I thought I’d give it a try. In researching the subject, I came across the story of Philip, the Pope’s physician, being sent on his mission to find the long-lost king. My first impression was: “poor guy.” That allowed me to put myself in his place. Then all I had to do was mix a treasure and some nasty bad guys into the pot and turn up the heat!
How was it getting back into the “Soc” series, after such a long layoff?
Through the years, many people have asked me when I was going to do another book featuring Aristotle “Soc” Socarides, the PI in the six-book series I wrote before hooking up with Cussler. Since I had some time on my hands while I was shopping TES around I decided to take another crack at a Soc book. Since I written the series in the 1990s, the first question I had to deal with was whether to age the detective or not. Things have changed so much in the interim. After talking to a few people, I set it ten years ahead, which allows the common use of computers and cell phones. I reasoned that investigation still relies a lot on knocking on doors, and that greed, jealousy and violence are timeless elements to any story. The next challenge was making sure that the voice was the same as it had been. It has been a bit of a struggle, but once I got into the character’s head, I was surprised at how quickly (for the most part) Soc’s off-beat way of looking at the world was still intact.
What will fans of “Soc” notice the most in THE EMERALD SCEPTER?
Probably the similarities. Soc lived in a converted boathouse with his Maine coon cat Kojak. Matinicus Hawkins lives in a converted Victorian with his golden retriever, Quisset. Both men are dealing with past trauma. In Soc’s case it was Vietnam and the death of his fiance in an accident. With Hawkins, he still hasn’t recovered from his injuries sustained in Afghanistan, his ejection from the Navy and his divorce. Both men have an edgy sense of humor and a strong sense of justice. Readers of the NUMA Files may some similarities with Kurt Austin, who was based in part on Soc. Guess I’m in a rut!
With publishing changing everyday, how have you been able to handle all of the changes?
It’s been an educational process. Keeping my eyes and ears open at Thrillerfest. Sharing experiences with other writers. Maintaining a flexible attitude about my work that will allow me to adapt to rapidly-changing times in the publishing business.
What was your biggest challenge in coming back to “Soc” and writing THE EMERALD SCEPTER?
THE EMERALD SCEPTER was my first solo project in years and I didn’t have Clive to bounce ideas off of. I knew I could do it, because I had written fourteen books before that. Not having a publisher waiting for the book meant I was gambling that a year of work would pay off. But I didn’t have the pressures that go with trying to hammer out a big book every year. I’ve detailed the technical challenges of a new Soc book above, but the first obstacle I had to conquer was my own self-doubt.
What does the future hold for Paul Kemprecos?
This summer I plan to finish THE GREY LADY, which is the working title for my seventh Soc book. I’d like to do a sequel to THE EMERALD SCEPTER after that. I’ve done much of the research for the book. It will have lots of action, but I hope that I can maintain character emphasis. The NUMA Files got weird at times, and I seem to be drawn back in that direction, so the next book will be more on the off-beat side. Blame it on the H. P. Lovecraft books I read as a kid!
Paul Kemprecos collaborated with Clive Cussler in writing eight books in the best-selling NUMA Files series. He is the author of a six books in his own detective series. His first novel, COOL BLUE TOMB, won a Shamus award for best original paperback from the Private Eye Writers of America. He and his wife Christi live on Cape Cod, Mass.
To learn more about Paul, please visit his website.