In his new thriller, “Hell’s Corner,” due out Tuesday, David Baldacci introduces the idea that drugs, not guns, will be the ultimate undoing of America.
Baldacci shared his thoughts in an e-mail interview with arts Editor Terry Mathews.
News-Telegram: Wow. This book really grabbed me from page 1 and didn't let go until the final page. I think it's the best one yet. As you were writing it, did it feel any different from other Camel Club stories? If so, how?
David Baldacci: “Hell’s Corner” felt different than the last three Camel Club novels in the sense that Oliver Stone was back where he started, at Lafayette Park. It was a homecoming of sorts until everything fell apart for him. And of course, he is back working for he government which is very different than the previous four books. That was something the readers thought they would never see, Stone back in the government saddle.
N-T: This book offers up some scary scenarios ... like Russian domination of the illegal drug trade and the very real threat of nanobots. How is it that you're privy to this information? Are you allowed to reveal your sources?
DB: I wouldn't say that I am privy to special information – just that I do my homework before I conduct my research interviews and I always play “fair” with the information.
Organizations and government agencies know I try to get it right. Also, I have worked hard to establish and maintain professional relationships with people in these agencies. Over time and through careful use of the information, they have come to trust me.
There are scary scenarios out there. The drug problem is one of the most severe facing us today.
We hear a lot about the border wars on the Mexico side, but little about gang infiltration of major urban areas in the U.S. But talk to any police department and they’ll tell you how critical it is right now.
Nanobots can do pretty much anything. That’s a good thing, but, as you see in the novel, also a bad thing.
N-T: Oliver Stone (a/k/a John Carr) gets thrown into the middle of a very complex mess. He picks up on a lot of minutiae, but he also misses some critical clues. Why make him more vulnerable than in the past?
DB: Oliver’s vulnerability comes from his life experience and his great desire to do the right thing.
In this novel, I knew the storyline would take Oliver to new places emotionally, and I thought it was time that readers walked that path with him.
And he’s flawed. I hate perfect characters who never make mistakes. Stone makes mistakes, he misses things, but then he uses his cleverness and tenacity to get it right. That’s far more realistic and makes him more of an empathetic character.
N-T: Without giving too much away, why bring in British MI-6 agent Mary Chapman? Will we be seeing more of her in future books?
DB: Chapman is a great partner for Stone. She is his British equal and I wanted to have Stone see himself in her eyes. To be able to work with another agent who was his true equal in ability and rank. Will she return ... we’ll see.
N-T: A large part of this book's plot is focused on a maple tree. What kind of research was required to weave this angle into the plot?
DB: I had to learn quite a bit about what a historical botanist does. The maple tree is on historical property and under the protection of the United States Park Service. These men and women do anything and everything to meet historical accuracy. It wasn’t about just planting a maple tree but a very specific maple tree. It took more research than I really expected but I found it utterly fascinating.
N-T: Stone's buddies show up to help him out this time around. Will they be more involved in future stories?
DB: If the Camel Club comes back, they will come back as a team. But honestly, it’s up in the air right now.
N-T: Is there such a place as “Murder Mountain”?
DB: There isn’t a real “Murder Mountain.” That’s pure imagination. But I have been told of various places that could easily pass for such. These folks have to train somewhere!
N-T: In your opinion, what poses a greater threat to our freedom – drugs or Al-Queda?
DB: No doubt — drugs. An enemy outside ourselves can be fought and under the right circumstances defeated. But if we slowly and methodically kill ourselves through drug addiction, then we have no chance at all. It’s all about money. When there are billions of dollars at stake, pretty much anyone can be bought. But if there wasn’t a market for the stuff those dollars would go away, along with the crime.
N-T: At the end of the book, it seems that Stone's slate has indeed been wiped clean and that it should be "fair winds and a following sea" for him in the future. Does this mean we'll see him working on behalf of the government again?
DB: I don’t know if Stone will work for the government again, if he indeed sees his way back onto the pages of my computer. He may be following a completely new direction.
N-T: How are things with your foundation, Wish You Well ... and your partnership with Feeding America, Feeding Body & Mind?
DB: Things at the foundation are going great. Hundreds of organizations are being helped through the foundation to foster reading and literacy programs across the country. And the Feeding Body & Mind program continues its strong efforts in collecting and distributing millions of books to those who are served by the nation’s food banks through Feeding America. It is a tough time economically for many, and I am proud that the foundation can continue to help in these efforts.
N-T: I don't see a Texas stop on your book tour. Do you ever get down this way?
DB: I do get to Texas from time to time on book tour. A couple of books ago I was in Dallas, Austin and Houston and had an amazing time there. Huge crowds and warm and caring folks. I hope to get that way again.
N-T: What are you working on now?
DB: I am currently working on another novel with Sean King and Michelle Maxwell for the spring and I have another coming out next summer.
I’ll continue writing for Parade Magazine as a contributing editor and doing other short-form pieces. I’m working on a spec script for a feature film and have signed to contribute a novel in an ongoing and vastly popular young adult series. I enjoy bouncing around the characters and storylines from various book projects. It keeps me thinking in new and fresh ways, and I think that translates into my passion for writing.
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