By Cathy Clamp
Former government agent John Brynstone barely survived his last encounter with assassin Erich Metzger while uncovering the secret of an ancient relic coveted by the descendants of the infamous Borgia family (THE RADIX, June 2013, which NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Jeffrey Deaver called, “A topnotch thriller . . . roller-coaster storytelling at its best.”).
In Brett King’s latest, Brynstone and assassin Metzger again go head-to-head in the page-turning sequel, THE FALSE DOOR. From an ancient Egyptian catacomb to a mysterious Parisian grave, Brynstone must race against determined adversaries to trace a chain of events that has spanned millennia and a string of murders dating back to the ancient world.
THE BIG THRILL recently sat down with the Brett King to talk about his electrifying new historical thriller.
Does THE FALSE DOOR stand alone as an introduction to John Brynstone or should readers first read THE RADIX?
This is a direct sequel. In fact, the first scene in THE FALSE DOOR takes place in the same moment as the last scene in THE RADIX, only told from the perspective of a different character. The setting is a famous cemetery in Washington D.C. on New Year’s Eve. It was fun to write, creating a concluding scene in one book and then going back to see that moment through the eyes of a very different character. That opening scene also answers an important question raised in the last few sentences of the first book, so it will bring some resolution for my readers. In the second book, former government agent John Brynstone faces the consequences of the darkest choice of his life, one he made in the first book. However, I wrote THE FALSE DOOR so it would all make sense even if the reader hasn’t touched THE RADIX.
How about the villain? Was he featured in the first book as well?
Yep, Erich Metzger is back. Except for the opening sequence, most of THE FALSE DOOR takes place five years after John Brynstone’s quest to find the Radix. He’s sworn to hunt down Metzger after the elite assassin came far too close to killing Brynstone’s wife and daughter. His only chance lies in finding a lost artifact—one so dangerous that it was broken apart and scattered across Europe centuries ago. Brynstone is the only person Metzger was never able to successfully assassinate and that missed chance drives both men throughout the second book. Metzger is a chilling character (the German word for “butcher” inspired his last name) and I love writing his scenes. He’s intense and calculating and always full of surprises. Unlike my other characters, I never outline Metzger’s scenes in advance. I want to be shocked by what he does, especially when he confronts Brynstone. He’s difficult to predict and I think that’s part of Metzger’s appeal for me.
In the first book, you featured the Borgia family, the famous family of poisoners. Are any other historical figures featured in this book that readers will enjoy finding out more about?
Several historical characters play a role in the second book. Hypatia of Alexandria was the greatest thinker of the fifth century until she was assassinated in what many historians describe as one of the most brutal murders in world history. I also highlight the work of a brilliant scientist of the ancient world known as Hero of Alexandria. In fact, I’ll be releasing three novellas that serve as companions to THE FALSE DOOR, each tracing the Radix saga over the course of three historical eras. One will focus on a string of murders in the first century while another takes place in the fifth century, a story where Hypatia plays a major role. The third novella is set in the Middle Ages during the time of the Black Death and features two ancestors of Joan of Arc.
You do a lot of research for your books. What’s the most interesting thing you discovered while writing this book—whether or not it made it into the book?
Wow, that’s a tough one. I learned a lot of interesting stuff while researching this book. Although I’m a psychologist, I gained some new insights into the disturbing way mental illness was viewed during the Middle Ages. I also enjoyed learning about some legends behind false doors. They were common architectural features in private tombs in ancient Egypt and some believed that false doors held powerful secrets. It was also fun to explore the histories of an ancient catacomb and a mysterious Parisian cemetery. Many of my readers have shared that they enjoy learning about the details in my books, so I always provide the fact behind the fiction at the end of my novels and novellas.
Did you have a chance to personally visit any of the tombs or cemeteries in the books?
I researched the cemeteries, but did not have the chance to visit the ones in France and Egypt. Fortunately, I have friends and colleagues scattered all over the globe. Many graciously indulged my detailed questions about the catacombs and cemeteries and agreed to serve as my eyes and ears abroad. That’s one reason I acknowledged so many people in my novel!
Most authors incorporate a little bit of themselves into both the hero and the villain. What part of you belongs to which character?
Interesting question. I hope I don’t have anything in common with Metzger! If I do, it must be buried deep in my subconscious ‘cause that guy scares me. I do share some traits with John Brynstone. We can both be driven and intense, although he outpaces me in both arenas. We both have a profound love for our children that can escalate into Daddy Bear Syndrome if we sense a threat to their wellbeing. We’re control freaks and we can both feel the bite of frustration when forced to make ugly choices. Beyond that, he is far more focused, but I think I can match him in terms of pure passion. One thing I know is John Brynstone could kick my butt without breaking a sweat.
You’re a well-respected psychology professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Has anything ever happened at the university that you wish you could put in a book, except that an editor would cut it out as “not believable”?
Every semester, I teach a General Psychology course to four-hundred-plus students. It’s an interesting course and I try to do different things like bring down forty or fifty volunteers and hypnotize them all at once. Interesting things take place when you hypnotize that many people, but in terms of the “not believable” category, I would have to go with something that happened about seven years ago. I teach PSYC1001 in the Muenzinger Auditorium, a big lecture hall at CU Boulder that Stephen King used as the setting for a scene or two in THE STAND (on a side note, I’ve talked to more than a few grad students who think the building is haunted). At the end of one of my lectures, two male students started fighting each other. It was a surreal thing to see a bloody fistfight in a classroom. Many students had already packed up to leave, but people just stood in the aisle, frozen in place as they watched the fight (it’s a common reaction called the “bystander effect”). The guys were battling about twelve rows from the front of the auditorium. I tried to get up there to break up the fight, but I was having trouble squeezing past all the people in the aisles. Finally, I just climbed on the back of a chair and I started jumping from chair back to chair back for about eight rows until I could reach them. One of my teaching assistants said later, “Dang, King, where did you get those ninja moves?” I was going on pure adrenalin, but I was able to get between them to break up the fight. Later, three different students reported seeing me get punched in the face during the fight. It wasn’t true, of course, but the story made a good example for later lectures on aggression and the fallibility of eyewitness testimony.
Wow! Interesting. So will there be more adventures for John? What can readers expect in the future?
Yes, more John Brynstone adventures are in the works. A revelation toward the end of THE FALSE DOOR sets in motion a chain of events that will dramatically change his life. It’s going to cause Brynstone to become someone he never thought he could be and that transformation will drive the third book in the series. I’m excited to see how it will all play out. Hopefully, my readers will feel the same way.
Where can readers find you online?
One of the best things about my journey as an author is the chance to interact with fellow readers. In the past, I’ve chatted with people about writing, books, history, movies, and psychology (sorry, but I can’t analyze crazy family members!). Readers can get in touch through my Facebook author page or on Twitter or my website.
Will you be appearing or attending any cons in 2014?
I always have a blast at ThrillerFest, so I plan to attend in July. It would also be great to hit Bouchercon in Long Beach, but that’s not definite right now. We’ll see.
Thanks so much for chatting with us today. It sounds like readers are really going to enjoy John’s latest adventure.
Brett King is an award-winning professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder. His debut novel, THE RADIX, was described by New York Times bestselling author Jeffery Deaver as “A topnotch thriller! Part DA VINCI CODE, part 24, THE RADIX is roller-coaster storytelling at its best.” The second book in his series, THE FALSE DOOR, will be published in December 2013 by Thomas & Mercer. King recently completed two novellas and is currently writing his third novel.