Nelson DeMille on Killing Off His Hero, John Corey
This article was updated August 13, 2013.
Now out in paperback, Nelson DeMille's smash hit thriller, The Panther, stars his returning hero, John Corey, one of the most skilled anti-terrorist operatives both at home and abroad. In this essay, DeMille fills in Corey's background, future and possible demise.
My fictional character of John Corey has appeared in six of my novels: Plum Island (1997), The Lion's Game (2000), Night Fall (2004), Wild Fire (2006), The Lion (2010) and, most recently, The Panther (2012).
When I first introduced Corey in Plum Island, he was an NYPD homicide detective on medical leave, recovering from wounds received in the line of duty. At the end of Plum Island he's medically retired, and that's the last I expected to see of John Corey.
My readers, however, felt otherwise, and thousands of fan letters arrived asking to see Detective Corey again. Reviewers, too, liked the character and wanted to see more of him. So I gave him a second career in The Lion's Game and made him a contract agent with the Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force, based on the real Joint Terrorism Task Force. This worked, and I also gave him a new wife, Kate Mayfield, a career FBI special agent whom he met on the job.
Together, John and Kate are hunting down terrorists in New York City, around the country and most recently in Yemen, in The Panther.
The Coreys have gotten every bad guy they've been after, but there are no shortage of terrorists and thus no shortage of plots and storylines for future John Corey novels. John and Kate—and the author—have job security.
So what's next for Mr. and Mrs. Corey? Well, I was going to give them (and me) a rest and write something completely different for my next book. But The Panther was a critical and commercial success, debuting at #1 on The New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists, as well as other bestseller lists. So, not wanting to break a winning streak and again listening to my readers, I put aside what I was working on and began an outline for a new John Corey novel.
Some writers, myself included, have ambivalent feelings about the popular character they've created. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, for instance, got tired of Sherlock Holmes and famously got rid of him by having Professor Moriarty push Mr. Holmes over the Reichenbach Falls. I think Doyle was hedging his bets on that because even though a trip over that waterfall (which I've visited) is almost certain death, we didn't actually see a dead body. As expected, Sherlock Holmes' millions of fans raised a ruckus, and, also as expected, Conan Doyle gave in and resurrected his creation.
I confess there were times when I wanted John Corey to meet a similar end—missing, presumed dead, though resurrectable—but I couldn't bring myself to do it. Why? Probably because I'm not as tired of him as I thought. If I really was tired of John Corey, it would show in the writing and my readers (and publisher) would start to suggest that I retire Detective Corey or kill him off.
But we're not there yet, so John Corey will return in my next book.
Most of my readers liked that John and Kate's adventure in The Panther took place in Yemen, a very hostile, dangerous, and dysfunctional country where American resources are thin or nonexistent. The Coreys needed to survive in this environment while trying to accomplish their mission, which was to find the terrorist code-named The Panther and arrest or kill him—then get out of the country alive. This foreign assignment was much different than anything John and Kate had done in the States and it gave me a lot of opportunities to put them in life-threatening situations. The readers loved it, and so did the writer.
So, in my new book, John Corey is off to another hellhole—Afghanistan this time. Why is he going there? Because Kate was sent to the capital city of Kabul on a temporary assignment, and while there she... Well, I don't want to give the plot away, but I'll say that Kate got into a bit of trouble in Afghanistan and John is headed there to help her. That's what any good husband would do.
I don't have a title for this book yet, but I'm pushing ahead with the research and just getting into the writing. So far, so good.
Afghanistan has been called the graveyard of empires, but will it be the graveyard of John Corey? Maybe. But I'll make sure there's no body found, just in case Detective Corey needs to reappear in a new adventure.
A native New Yorker, Nelson DeMille attended Hofstra University, then joined the Army and attended Officer Candidate School. He became a First Lieutenant in the United States Army (1966-1969) and saw action as an infantry platoon leader with the First Cavalry Division in Vietnam. He was decorated with the Air Medal, Bronze Star and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. He is the author of seventeen acclaimed novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers The Panther, Night Fall, Plum Island, and The Gate House, and New York Times bestsellers Wild Fire, The Lion’s Game, The Lion, The Gold Coast, and The General’s Daughter.