Nelson DeMille on Killing Off His Hero, John Corey

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.


  1. Keep up the good work. You have given me much pleasure. I’m glad that our vessel didn’t have a flat tire.

  2. The headline scared me. I really like this character and also like Kate very much. Maybe try a novel from Kate’s perspective. That would be enjoyable too. I love the books and I hope they will keep coming

  3. I can’t stand Kate. She doesn’t seem to love her husband very much and rarely supports him. Always has to be right. It’s a very negative female character. Can’t she be on Johns side, just once!

  4. I love John Corey and have read all of the books twice, with the exception of Radiant Angel. Please don’t kill John Corey! With all that’s going on in the world now, I’m sure he could be tracking more bad guys.

  5. Love John and Kate! They have a great back & forth bickering relationship. Kate always stands by her man in the end. Having been married for 25 years to a smart-ass like Cory, my husband and I find Cory & Kate great fun to listen to. Life would be boring without some sarcastic relief. :-)

    And – as a member of an Army Infantry family – I’d like to thank you Mr. Deville for your service to our country.

  6. As a former Long Islander and having family in the NYPD & Suffolk County PD Corey seems like someone I know.
    I have never been much for recreational reading: However since finding your work I find myself looking for more.
    I have since read them all and need more.

  7. This headline, when I first glanced at it after doing a Google search, freaked me out and saddened me. Ever spoiler-averse, I quickly looked away. Anyway I just finished Radiant Angel last night, convinced through the whole thing that he was going to die at the end, wondering how it would be done for a first-person book, and so forth. And now that I finished the book I went back to read this article and see that deMills DOESN’T want to kill him. JEEZ! What these idiots did with that headline. Anyway, I don’t see an Afghanistan book yet…maybe he had a change of plans and went with Radiant Angel instead.

  8. My wife & I just listened to Radiant Angel (Love Scott Bricks work) & were a little miffed at the relationship situation though all couples hit a bump every now & then. We are waiting with baited breath for the next Corey installment.
    We absolutely love the books even though I have never been much of a book reader myself we are both huge Corey fans.
    We dearly hope that you keep enjoying writing about John Corey as much as we all enjoy reading about him.
    Thank you for the many hours of reading (listening I’m a truck driver) pleasure & adventures you & John have given us all.

  9. I LOVE John Corey! His wise-ass attitude makes me laugh out loud – AND he always gets the job done, too. “The Panther” is my favorite so far. “Radiant Angel” didn’t quite measure up in terms of Corey’s wise-cracking character. it lacked the crackling energy of before. (But isn’t that true of most of us???) And Scott Brick is definitely THE voice for Corey. (Although I prefer reading the book myself, first.)

  10. I love John Corey, He makes me laugh so hard. Keep his wife on to, she likes to try and keep him in line about his wise ass cracks he makes. and it is funny, cause my husband and I have the same problem. LMAO. If you do not have a sense of humor and understand their marriage, then it would be hard to read. But you write perfect books and i can not get enough. Once i pick your book up, i can not put it down. Thank you

  11. I love your character, John Corey. Being a retired Balto.Co. Police Officer I can relate to his character, known many like him in my life. Could you please write faster and bring out more books of John and Kate more often. I can’t put your books down once I start reading them. Thank you for your great imagination and writing.

  12. Hey NDM, I love me some John Corey too but, don’t you think its about time we got a new John Sutter book? I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that we’d love to know what happened with Old”Wiley Willie” Stanhope after The Gatehouse..
    Please do us a solid kind sir..👍👍

  13. Love John Corey very much, my No 1 book Plum Island, like his attitude pissing off everyone, like what he did to Freddie Tobin.

  14. I am a total John Corey fan. I have never laughed out loud with any similar book and find this adds to the pleasure of reading every one of the JC books.
    His attitude to those less intelligent characters in the books adds to his personality and having been married to a similar, highly intelligent and lovable man for 60 years gives me a greater understanding of John Corey.
    I hope John & Kate remain a couple and I also hope it won’t be too long before we have another book in the series as Radiant Angel wasn’t a favourite altho really well written. Well done Mr DeMille

  15. I love the humour in your books….wow just made me laugh at the replies and jokes by John Corey.
    My brain was not prepared for the comedy in such a serious book.
    Looks like I will tackle all your books…Lions Game my first and I am ready for more
    I so appreciate the wit in all situations.

  16. I love all of John Coreys’ adventures, however The Charm School, and Up Country, are tied with those books. The stories and the places those two books, along with J.C. books managed to teach me history, cultures and how to be snarky, politely. All while sitting on my ass and reading. I love you for that!! Can’t wait for the next one!

  17. YES! Up Country and Charm School are the best. Want to see more Paull Brenner, Susan Webber, ans Charm characters.

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