Blog Tour: Rasputin’s Shadow by Raymond Khoury (Dutton Books; 384 pages; $27.95).
About The Book:
On a cold, bleak day in 1916, all hell breaks loose in a mining pit in the Ural Mountains. Overcome by a strange paranoia, the miners attack one another, savagely and ferociously. Minutes later, two men–a horrified scientist and Grigory Rasputin, trusted confidant of the czar, hit a detonator, blowing up the mine to conceal all evidence of the carnage.
In the present day, FBI agent Sean Reilly’s search for Reed Corrigan, the CIA mind-control spook who brainwashed Reilly’s son, takes a back seat to a new, disturbing case. A Russian embassy attache seems to have committed suicide by jumping out of a fourth-story window in Queens. The apartment’s owner, a retired physics teacher from Russia, has also gone missing.
Joined by Russian FSB agent Larisa Sokolova, Reilly’s investigation into the old man’s identity will uncover a desperate search for a small, mysterious device, with consequences that reach back in history, and if placed in the wrong hands could have a devastating impact on the modern world.
About The Author:
Raymond Khoury is the bestselling author of The Devil’s Elixir, The Last Templar, The Sanctuary, The Sign, and The Templar Salvation. An acclaimed screenwriter and producer for both television and film, Khoury now lives in London with his wife and two children.
I have been a fan of Raymond Khoury ever since I stumbled upon The Last Templar back in 2006. Unlike a lot of other writers of mysteries and thrillers, Khoury has managed not only to sustain my interest in his stories and his recurring characters but he also stimulates my mind by delving into history. His newest novel Rasputin’s Shadow is no exception. From its explosive (literally) beginning to a stunning climax to a satisfying conclusion, Rasputin’s Shadow is the thriller of the year. Khoury effectively blends mystery, action, and intrigue with history, producing a compelling, pleasing story. If the late, great Tom Clancy was the master of the Twentieth-Century thriller, Raymond Khoury is his Twenty-First Century successor.
Mini Q&A with Author Raymond Khoury
Rasputin is known as one of the most elusive figures in Russian history, but what specifically drew you to him as a character for your upcoming novel, RASPUTIN’S SHADOW?
As with previous novels, it was an unplanned convergence of influences. Very early into my research on the central theme of this book, mind control and how much we know about the way our brains work, I read about a Russian scientist who had been carrying out some pretty shocking “Manchurian candidate”-style experiments during the Cold War. He was described as having “Rasputin-like powers.” And that just lit up inside me. It was the perfect historical parallel for what I was working on, the big daddy of mind control, and the fact that Rasputin’s story had also taken place in Russia was too irresistible to ignore. The story fell into place within seconds. Like Hannibal Smith used to say, “I love it when a plan comes together.”
Your novels contain a lot of historical truths, so how do you go about researching your subject before you dive into the story? Did anything surprise you during your research for this book?
I probably do a lot more research than I need to for my novels, for several reasons: part of it is simple curiosity: I just find it interesting to educate myself about the topics and themes I’m curious about, and it’s so easy to get swept up in surfing from one link to the next. Also, I have this obsession with wanting every detail in my books, historical or otherwise, to be accurate. I remember being on a panel with Harlan Coben once, and he said, “we’re fiction writers, we can just make things up.” And he’s right, of course, we do—a lot. But I feel a need to know exactly what a Turkish horse-trader in the 13th century would have been wearing, what he would have eaten, what his sword (scimitar!) would have looked like, before writing him into a book. And that takes a lot of research that can only end up as a sentence here or a word there. The big scene at the end of The Templar Salvation, for instance, the plane and the sea, or the one where the Italian gets chucked out of it earlier on: I went through every detail of those sequences with a pilot who owns that exact plane, and we made sure everything I wrote was not only correct, but doable.
In past reviews your writing has been called “cinematic.” Do you consciously try to write this way? Or do you think that thrillers naturally lend themselves to this style of writing?
I see my stories visually, it’s hugely important for me. I see the scenes unfurling in my mind as I’m writing them, and I often sketch out storyboards for the big set pieces to “direct” them as I write them out. Thrillers naturally lend themselves to this style, and to be frank with you, I’m often disappointed by thrillers that turn out to have limited scale in their visuals. What I mean is that as a writer, you can almost take any scene and ratchet up the suspense and the scale without necessarily turning it into ridiculous, comic-book-like, over-the-top mindless action. Think of a director like Michael Mann, for instance, and the bank robbery scene from “Heat.” Or any scene from “Collateral.” Or read “Marathon Man,” which is exactly similar, beat for beat, to the great movie it spawned. In my mind, a real thriller should have a ‘cinematic’ aspect, but it’s crucial to keep it within the confines of reality.
What impact, if any, do you think your experience as a screenwriter and producer has on your ability to paint a vivid description in your novel writing?
Huge impact, no doubt. I’m always told by readers that they could “see” the book like a movie while reading it. I don’t believe in taking shortcuts. If the FBI is shadowing a hostage trade-off between a group of Russian mafiya thugs and some Korean gangsters in some remote Brooklyn shipyard in the dead of the night, that’s an opportunity for a major set-piece with a lot of suspense, it deserves to be cinematic. I believe good writing should conjure up vivid visuals in the mind of the reader and should kick up as much adrenaline in him or her as a great movie would.
What types of characters do you most enjoy writing?
I enjoy spending time with all my characters. RASPUTIN’S SHADOW probably has the largest cast of characters I’ve used in a novel, and I really enjoyed creating them and exploring their own foibles. That said, I usually enjoy writing the main antagonists most: characters like Vance in THE LAST TEMPLAR, the Hakeem in THE SANCTUARY, Zahed in THE TEMPLAR SALVATION, and El Brujo in THE DEVIL’S ELIXIR (no spoilers about the new book here!). They’re never clear-cut bad guys, nothing’s black or white. They have histories, they have reasons for doing what they’re doing, we need to wonder what we’d have done if we had been in their situation. The grey area of human nature is very interesting to me. I also hugely enjoy writing the historical characters: Rasputin and Misha, or course, in the new book; but also, Sebastian and Theresia’s love story in THE SANCTUARY and Conrad and Maysoon’s one in THE TEMPLAR SALVATION are particular favourites.