Altar of Eden
Released on 12.29.2009
Following the fall of Baghdad, two Iraqi boys stumble upon armed men looting the city zoo. The floodgates have been opened for the smuggling of hundreds of exotic birds, mammals, and reptiles to Western nations, but this crime hides a deeper secret. Amid a hail of bullets, an underground secret weapons lab is ransacked--and something even more horrific is set free.
Seven years later, Louisiana state veterinarian Lorna Polk stumbles upon a fishing trawler shipwrecked on a barrier island. The crew is missing or dead, but the boat holds a frightening cargo: a caged group of exotic animals, clearly part of a black market smuggling ring.
Yet, something is wrong with these beasts, disturbing deformities that make no sense: a parrot with no feathers, a pair of Capuchin monkeys conjoined at the hip, a jaguar cub with the dentition of a saber-tooth tiger. They also all share one uncanny trait--a disturbingly heightened intelligence.
To uncover the truth about the origin of this strange cargo and the terrorist threat it poses, Lorna must team up with a man who shares a dark and bloody past with her, now an agent of the U.S. Border Patrol, Jack Menard.
Together, the two must hunt for a beast that escaped the shipwreck while uncovering a mystery tied to fractal science and genetic engineering, all to expose a horrifying secret that traces back to mankinds earliest roots.
But can Lorna stop what is about to be born upon the altar of Eden before it threatens not only the world, but also the very foundation of what it means to be human?
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The two boys stood outside the lion’s cage.
“I don’t want to go inside,” the smaller one said. He kept close to his older brother and clasped tightly to his hand.
The two were bundled in jackets too large for their small forms, faces swathed in scarves, heads warmed by woolen caps. At this early hour, with the sun not yet up, the p redawn chill had crept down to their bones.
They had to keep moving.
“Bari, the cage is empty. Stop being a shakheef. Look.” Makeen, the older of the two, pushed the black iron gate wider and revealed the bare concrete walls inside. A few old gnawed bones lay piled in a dark corner. They would make a nice soup.
Makeen stared out at the ruins of the zoo. He remembered how it had once looked. Half a year ago, for his twelfth birthday, they had come here to picnic at the Al-Zawraa Gardens with its amusement-park rides and zoo. The family had spent a long warm afternoon wandering among the cages of monkeys, parrots, camels, wolves, bears. Makeen had even fed one of the camels an apple. He still remembered the rubbery lips on his palm.
Standing here now, he stared across the same park with older eyes, far older than half a year ago. The park sprawled outward in a ruin of rubble and refuse. It was a haunted wasteland of fire-blackened walls, fetid pools of oily water, and blasted buildings.
>A month ago, Makeen had watched from their apartment near the park as a firefight blazed across the lush gardens, waged by American forces and the Republican Guard. The fierce battle had begun at dusk, with the rattle of gunfire and the shriek of rockets continuing throughout the night.
But by the next morning, all had gone quiet. &nbs p;Smoke hung thickly and hid the sun for the entire day. From the balcony of their small apartment, Makeen had spotted a lion as it loped out of the park and into the city. It moved like a dusky shadow, then vanished into the streets. Other animals also escaped, but over the next two days, hordes of people had swarmed back into the park.
Looters, his father had named them, and spat on the floor, cursing them in more foul language.
Cages were ripped open. Animals were stolen, many for food, but even more were sold on the black market across the river, opening a floodgate of exotic animal smuggling to the West. Makeen’s father had gone with a few other men to get help to protect their section of the city from the roving bands.
t;p>He had never returned. None of them had.
Over the next weeks, the burden had fallen upon Makeen to keep his family fed. His mother had taken to her bed, her forehead burning with fever, lost somewhere between terror and grief. All Makeen could get her to do was drink a few sips of water.
If he could make a nice soup for her, get her to eat something more…
He eyed the bones in the cage again. Each morning, he and his brother spent the hour before dawn searching the bombed-out park and zoo for anything they could scrounge to eat. He carried a burlap sack over his shoulder. All it held was a moldy orange and a handful of cracked seed swept up off the floor of a birdcage. Little Bari had also found a dented can of beans in a rubbish bin. The discovery had brought tears to Makeen’s eyes. H e kept the treasure rolled up inside his little brother’s thick sweater.
Yesterday, a larger boy with a long knife had stolen his sack, leaving Makeen empty-handed when he returned. They’d had nothing to eat that day.
But today they would eat well.
Even Mother, inshallah, he prayed.
Makeen entered the cage and dragged Bari with him. Distant gunfire crackled in short spurts, like the scolding claps of angry hands trying to warn them off.
M akeen took heed. He knew they had to hurry. He didn’t want to be out when the sun was up. It would grow too dangerous. He hurried to the pile of bones, dropped his sack, and began shoving the gnawed knuckles and broken shafts inside.
Once finished, he tugged the sack closed and stood. Before he could take a step, a voice called in Ara bic from nearb y
“Yalla! This way! Over here!”
Makeen ducked and pulled Bari down with him. They hid behind the knee-high cinderblock wall that fronted the lion’s cage. He hugged his brother, urging him to remain silent, as two large shadows passed in front of the lion’s cage.
Risking a peek, Makeen caught a glimpse of two men. One was tall in a khaki military uniform. The other was squat with a round belly, dressed in a dark suit.
“The entrance is hidden behind the zoo clinic,” the fat man said as he passed the cage. He huffed and wheezed to keep up with the longer strides of the man in military fatigues. “I can only pray we are not too late.”
Makeen spotted the holstered pistol on the taller man’s belt and knew it would be death to be found eavesdropping.
Bari shivered in his embrace, sensing the danger, too.
Unfortunately the men did not go far. The clinic was directly across from their hiding spot. The fat man ignored the twiste d main door. Days ago, crowbars had forced the way open. The facility had been cleaned out of drugs and medical supplies.
Instead, the heavy figure stepped to a blank wall framed by two columns. Makeen could not make out what the man did as he slipped his hand behind one of the columns, but a moment later, a section of the wall swung open. It was a secret door.
Makeen shifted closer to the bars. Father had read them stories of Ali Baba, tales of secret caverns and vast stolen treasures hidden in the desert. All he and his brother had found at the zoo were bones and beans. Makeen’s stomach churned as he imagined a feast fit for the Prince of Thieves that might wait below.
“Stay here,” the fat man said, ducking through the entrance and down a dark set of stairs.
The military man took up a post by the doorway. His palm rested on his pistol. His gaze swung toward their hiding spot. Makeen ducked out of sight and held his breath. His heart pounded against his ribs.
Had he been spotted?
Footsteps approached the cage. Makeen clung tightly to his brother. But a moment later, he heard a match strike and smelled cigarette smoke. The man paced the front of the cage as if he were the one behind the bars, stalking back and forth like a bored tiger.
Bari shook within Makeen’s embrace. His brother’s fingers were clamped hard in his. What if the man should wander into the cage and find them huddled there?
It seemed an eternity when a familiar wheezing voice echoed out of the doorway. “I have them!”
The cigarette was dropped and ground out onto the cement just outside the cage door. The military man crossed back to join his companion.
The fat man gasped as he spoke. He must have run all the way back up. “The incubators were off-line,” he said. “I don’t know how long the generators lasted after the power went out.” lt;/p>
Makeen risked a peek through the bars of the cage door. The fat man carried a large metal briefcase in his hand.
“Are they secure?” the military man asked. He also spoke in Arabic, but his accent was not Iraqi.
The fat man dropped to one knee, balanced the case on his thick thigh, and thumbed open the lock. Makeen expected gold and diamonds, but instead the case held nothing but white eggs packed in molded black foam. They appeared no different from the chicken eggs his mother bought at the market.
Despite his terror, the sight of the eggs stirred Makeen’s hunger.
The fat man counted them, inspecting them. “They’re all intact,” he said and let out a long rattling sigh of relief. “God willing, the embryos inside are still viable.”
“And the rest of the lab?”
The fat man closed the case and stood up. “I’ll leave it to your team to incinerate what lies below. No one must ever suspect what we’ve discovered. There can be no trace.”
“I know my orders.”
As the fat man stood, the military man raised his pistol and shot his companion in the face. The blast was a thunderclap. The back of the man’s skull blew away in a cloud of bone and blood. The dead man stood for a moment longer, then flopped to the ground.
Makeen covered his mouth to stifle any sound.
“No trace,” the murderer repeated and collected the case from the ground. He touched a radio on his shoulder. He switched to English.
“Bring in the trucks and prime the incendiary charges. Time to get out of this sandbox before any locals turn up.”
Makeen had learned to speak a smattering of the American language. He couldn’t pick out every word the man spoke, but he understood the message well enough.
More men were coming. More guns.
Makeen sought some means of escape, but they were trapped in the lion’s cage. Perhaps his younger brother also recognized the growing danger. Bari’s shaking had grown worse since the gunshot. Finally, his little brother’s terror could no longer be held inside, and a quiet sob rattled out of his thin form.
Makeen squeezed his brother and prayed that the cry had not been heard.
Footsteps again approached. A sharp call barked toward them in Arabic. “Who’s there? Show yourself! Ta’aal hnaa!”
Makeen pressed his lips to his brother’s ear. “Stay hidden. Don’t come out.”
Makeen shoved Bari tighter into the corner, then stood up with his hands in the air. He backed a step. “I was just looking for food!” Makeen said, stuttering, speaking fast.
The pistol stayed leveled at him. “Get out here, walad!”
Makeen obeyed. He moved to the cage door and slipped out. He kept his hands in the air. “Please, ahki. Laa termi!” He tried switching to English, to show he was on the man’s side. “No shoot. I not see…I not know…”
He fought to find some argument, some words to save him. He read the expression on the other man’s face—a mixture of sorrow and regret.
The pistol lifted higher with merciless intent.
Makeen felt hot tears flow down his cheeks.
Through the blur of his vision, he noted a shift of shadows. Behind the man, the secret door cracked open wider, pushed from inside. A large, dark shape slipped out and flowed toward the man’s back. It ran low and stuck to the deeper shadows, as if fearing the light.
Makeen caught the barest glimpse of its oily form: muscular, lean, hairless, with eyes glinting with fury. His mind struggled to comprehend what he was seeing—but failed.
A scream of horror built inside his chest.
Though the beast made no noise, the man must have felt a prickling of warning. He swung around as the creature leaped with a sharp cry. Gunshots blasted, eclipsed by a savage wail that raised the hairs on Makeen’s body.
Makeen swung away and rushed back to the cage. “Bari!”
He grabbed his brother’s arm and dragged him out of the lion’s cage. He pushed Bari ahead of him. “Yalla! Run!”
Off to the side, man and beast fought on the ground.
More pistol shots fired.
Makeen heard the heavy tread of boots on pavement behind him. More men came running from the other side of the park. Shouts were punctuated by rifle blasts.
Ignoring them all, Makeen fled in raw terror across the bombed-out gardens, careless of who might see him. He kept running and running, chased by screams that would forever haunt his nightmares.
He understood nothing about what had happened. He knew only one thing for certain. He remembered the beast’s ravenous eyes, shining with a cunning intelligence, aglow with a smokeless fire.
Makeen knew what he had seen.
The beast known as Shaitan in the Koran—he who was born of God’s fire and cursed for not bowing down to Adam.
Makeen knew the truth.
At long last, the devil had come to Baghdad.
May 23, 2010
The Bronco crushed through the debris left by the hurricane and bounced off yet another hole. Lorna nearly hit the roof of the cabin. The car slid to the left on the wet road. She eased off the accelerator as she fought for control.
The storm had stripped vegetation, sent creeks overflowing their banks, and even floated an alligator into someone’s swimming pool. Luckily the worst of the dying hurricane had struck farther west. Still, with such downpours, Mother Nature seemed determined to turn Orleans Parish back into swamplands.
As Lorna sped along the river road, all she could think about was the phone call. It had come in twenty minutes ago. They’d lost power at ACRES. The generators hadn’t kicked in, and a hundred research projects were threatened.
As she rounded a final oxbow in the Mississippi River, the compound appeared ahead. The Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species occupied over a thousand acres downriver from New Orleans. Though associated with the city’s zoo, ACRES was not open to the public. Sheltered within a hardwood forest, the grounds included a few outdoor pens, but the main facility was a 36-thousand-square-foot research building that housed a half dozen laboratories and a veterinary hospital.
The latter was where Dr. Lorna Polk worked since completing her postgraduate residency in zoo-and-wildlife medicine. She oversaw the facility’s frozen zoo, twelve tanks of liquid nitrogen that preserved sperm, eggs, and embryos from hundreds of endangered species: mountain gorillas, Sumatran tigers, Thomson’s gazelles, colobus monkeys, cape buffalo.
It was a big position to fill, especially for someone only twenty-eight and just out of her residency. Her responsibility—the frozen genetic bank—held the promise of pulling endangered species from the brink of extinction through artificial insemination, embryo transfer, and cloning. Yet, despite the weight of her responsibility, she loved her work and knew she was good at it.
As she raced down the long entry road toward the main facility, her cell phone chimed from the cup holder. She grabbed it and cradled it to her ear while driving one-armed.
The caller must have heard the line pick up and spoke rapidly. “Dr. Polk. It’s Gerald Granger from engineering. I thought you should know. We’ve got the generators working and isolated the power loss to a downed line.”
She glanced to the truck’s clock. The power had been down for close to forty-five minutes. She calculated in her head and let out a sigh of relief.
“Thanks, Gerald. I’ll be there in another minute.”
She flipped the phone closed.
Reaching the employee lot, she parked and rested her head on the steering wheel. The relief was so palpable she almost cried, almost. After taking a moment to collect herself, she straightened and stared down at the hands on her lap, suddenly aware of what she wore. She had fled the house in a pair of wrinkled jeans, an old gray turtleneck, and boots.
Not exactly the professional appearance she usually maintained.
Twisting to exit the Bronco, she caught her reflection in the rearview mirror.
Oh, dear God…
Her blond hair—normally primly braided—had been pinned back into a rough ponytail this morning. Several flyaways only added to her already disheveled appearance. Even her black-framed glasses sat askew on the bridge of her nose. At the moment she looked like a drunken college student returning from a Mardi Gras party.
If she looked the part, she might as well go all the way. She pulled out the pin holding her hair and let it fall around her shoulders, then climbed out of the truck and crossed toward the main entrance.
Before she could reach the facility’s main doors, a new noise drew her attention: a heavy wump-wumping. She turned toward the Mississipi. A white helicopter skimmed over the tree line and headed in her direction. It was coming in fast.
As she frowned, a hand settled on her shoulder from behind. She jumped slightly, but fingers squeezed in reassurance. A glance back revealed her boss and mentor, Dr. Carlton Metoyer, the head of ACRES. Covered by the noise of the helicopter, she had not heard his approach.
Thirty years her senior, he was a tall, wiry black man with bushy white hair and a trimmed gray beard. His family had been here in the region for as long as Lorna’s, tracing their roots back to the Cane River Creole colony, a blend of French and African heritage.
Dr. Metoyer shielded his eyes as he stared at the sky.
“We got company,” he said.
The helicopter was definitely headed toward ACRES. It swept toward an adjacent field and began to descend. She noted it was a small A-Star helicopter equipped with floats instead of the usual landing skids. She also recognized the slash of green across the white shell of the aircraft. After Katrina, most people in New Orleans knew that insignia. It was one of the Border Patrol helicopters; fleets of such choppers had been vital to the rescue operations and security following the disaster.
“What are they doing here?” she asked.
“They’ve come for you, my dear. They’re your ride.”
The foregoing is excerpted from Altar of Eden by James Rollins. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022.
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In this stand-alone thriller from author of the Sigma Force novels, Dr. Lorna Park, a researcher at a high-tech facility dedicated to preserving endangered species, teams up with a border patrol officer, Jack Menard, to track down the people responsible for a boatload of genetically modified animals found beached on a small island near the cost. The book is written with Rollins' usual emphasis on history, cutting-edge science, and fast paced adventure, and the villains are carefully drawn and supplied with sufficient intelligence and motivation to make them feel like real people—and not cardboard-cutout bad guys. The two leads make a good team—there's a personal undercurrent to their relationship—and, as in all of Rollins' books, there is a series of questions, puzzles, and mysteries to be sorted out before the book's rousing conclusion. Readers who detect something different in this novel, a sense that the author is perhaps personally invested in this story than usual, aren't imagining things: Rollins is a practicing veterinarian, and his affection for animals comes through pretty clearly. A very good thriller and further proof (after his earlier stand-alones, not to mention his recent adaptation of the latest Indiana Jones movie) that Rollins is as sure-footed on new ground as he is in the familiar Sigma Force World. — David Pitt
James Rollins on the Truth behind the Tale:
Q: Your SIGMA series has been incredibly popular. In fact, the most recent entry, THE DOOMS DAY KEY, hit #2 on the New York Times bestseller list. What drew you to write a stand-alone thriller now?
A: After writing six Sigma novels, I was ready to tackle an independent story, one free of baggage and recurring characters. It was also a chance to return to my writing roots. My first five novels were stand-alone adventures. Each book was an attempt to capture some of the spirit of adventure found in the pulp novels that I grew up reading, paired with the wild imagination of writers such as H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and H. Rider Haggard. My first novel (Subterranean) was compared to Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. My second (Excavation) was described as a modern update to Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines. And it’s no coincidence that Altar of Eden begins with a quotation from H.G. Wells. The quote comes from his novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, where strange experiments are performed on animals.
Q: Where did the story of ALTAR OF EDEN originate?
A: It started with lunch. I was having a conversation with my editor at HarperCollins. She asked me a question that I heard too often while I was still a practicing veterinarian: Why haven’t you ever written about a vet, something like James Heriott’s All Creatures Great and Small? My short answer was “Because not enough people die in those Heriott novels.” Back then, I was working fourteen to sixteen hours a day as a vet, and I didn’t want to go home at night and write about one. I wanted to spin exciting stories of suspense, adventure, and exotic locales. So I told my editor at that lunch that if I were ever to tackle a veterinarian story it would still have to be a thriller. Based on that conversation, the story began to build in my head. What if a veterinarian stumbled upon an exotic animal smuggling ring…but something wasn’t quite right with the animals? From there, the story grew quickly. And yes, like in all my novels, many people do die.
Q: In this book the main character is a veterinarian. For many years you were a practicing vet. What made you want to have a protagonist share your former profession?
A: Because I still love the profession. I always wanted to be a veterinarian. I remember in third grade getting that assignment all teachers eventually inflict upon their students: to answer what do you want to be when you grow up? I sat at my desk as a third grader, scratching my head. I knew I wanted to be a veterinarian, but I had a big problem. I didn’t know how to spell it. So I did the one thing all third graders are loath to do. I looked it up in the dictionary. I was that determined to be a veterinarian. And though I’ve stopped practicing full time, that passion still creeps into my writing. My characters often have animal sidekicks: an old German shepherd, an orphaned jaguar cub, a wolf-hybrid rescue dog. So I thought it was high time to bring a veterinarian onto the main stage.
Q: And I see you decided to make Dr. Lorna Polk a woman. Actually, you have a huge female following. How are you able to get inside the mind of a woman so well and what made you want to write from the point of view of a woman for this book?
A: When I was in veterinary school, half of the class was composed of women. Since then, that percentage has continued to grow. So I thought it would be appropriate to tell the story from such a fresh perspective. I also grew up with three brothers…and more importantly, three sisters. When it comes to getting inside the mind of a woman, they keep me honest. They’re still my best first readers. And since I was breaking ground writing a new subgenre anyway—the first veterinary thriller—I thought I’d have a woman take the reins in what is normally a male-dominated genre. But I didn’t want to write a female Rambo. I wanted to flesh out a real woman with a rich history, one tied to New Orleans where the story takes place. So Lorna Polk came into being.
Q: This novel traces the Romani, known as Gypsies from Delphi, into the Indian Continent and across the world. Do the members of this nomadic tribe truly hold the key to long-buried secrets?
A: Considering the origin of the Romani people has only recently been determined by linguistics, I wager there are many secrets buried among a tribe of people who have been wandering across vast stretches of the world for so many centuries. A full descriptive history of these nomadic people has yet to be done. How many stories must be buried in the memories of those who have traveled continents and centuries? That knowledge alone is a vast treasure waiting to be tapped.
Q: Another aspect of your thrillers that appeal to women is the romantic themes throughout your series. Does Lorna have a romantic interest?
A: She does. Jack Menard is an elite member of the Border Patrol. And like Lorna’s family, he has roots in the New Orleans area. But unlike Lorna’s history of plantations and Garden District mansions, his family is Cajun and have their roots buried deep in the bayous and swamps of that region. And though the characters come from two different worlds, they also share a dark history from their youth, one they sought to keep secret. But some secrets refuse to stay buried.
Q: Much of the book is set at ACRES, the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species. What is this center for? You say it’s not open to the public, but have you visited? If not, where did your ideas for this center come from?
A: ACRES is a real facility associated with the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. The research building is located within a secluded thousand acres alongside the Mississippi River. The main goal of ACRES is to use cutting-edge science to preserve endangered species and hopefully pull them from the brink of extinction. To this end, they employ techniques such as artificial insemination, embryo transfer, even cloning. Back in 2003, they were the first to successfully clone a wild African cat. They named the kitten Ditteaux (pronounced Ditto). I love their sense of humor and knew Lorna would have to work at that facility.
Q: One of the true scientific gems you include in ALTAR OF EDEN is the idea of “genetic throwbacks.” What exactly is a genetic throwback and is it possible for my next kitten to be born with saber-tooth fangs?
A: The scientific term for “genetic throwback” is atavism. It’s a real phenomenon where a genetic trait, lost for generations, returns in an individual. In this novel, one of the many creatures featured is a python born with reptilian limbs, a throwback to a time before the snake’s ancestor lost its legs. I thought I was making this creature up, but a couple of months ago, I stumbled upon a scientific article about a Chinese snake born with a fully functional reptilian limb poking out of its flank. For the curious, a quick Google search will bring up a picture of this snake. It just goes to show that nature is full of surprises
Q: Another concept that you include in ALTAR OF EDEN is the idea of a higher, collective intelligence. Do you believe in the notion that animals can think together? Do you believe this type of intelligence already exists?
A: Something is definitely going on, something beyond our current understanding. One of the scientific phenomena explored in this novel is the human-animal bond—the strange and deep affinity humans have for animals, an affinity that goes beyond mere affection or need for companionship. The presence of animals has a profound effect on people: petting a cat triggers an immediate drop in blood pressure, animals brought into hospital wards boost immune responses in patients and accelerate healing times. Yet, it remains a mystery why we have this bodily reaction. Current research is exploring for the roots of this strange bond. In this novel, I offer my own theory. But to tell you more would ruin the story.
Q: As a veterinarian, how do you feel about the genetic experimentation that is one of the foundations of ALTAR OF EDEN’s plot?
A: As with the case at ACRES, innovative research into genetics can be of great benefit, holding the potential to save hundreds of species from extinction. But with all such technologies there are risks of abuse. It’s one of the themes I love to explore in fiction, to look beyond the cogs and wheels of new technologies and explore the moral implications of abusing that technology. And such a challenge is not unique to this century. I open this novel with a very telling quote from H.G. Wells: The study of Nature makes a man at last as remorseless as Nature. It’s a question faced with any scientific inquiry: where to draw the lines. In my novels, I love to to step over those lines and explore the strange and dangerous territory on the far side.
Q: In ALTAR OF EDEN you delve into the concept of private military contracts with a scientific research company called Ironcreek Industries who are experimenting with some pretty scary things. There has to be some sort of regulation for this type of experimentation, RIGHT?!?!
A: While there might be some regulation for labs within the United States, once you cross the borders it becomes a scientific free-for-all out there. With so much government money currently being poured into private military contracts—both to defense contractors and to the broader scientific community—competition has grown fierce and with it come abuses: including corporate espionage, vandalism, outsourcing to third-world countries to avoid regulations and safety standards, and unfortunately even darker crimes. While Ironcreek Industries was invented for this novel, its abuses are far from fictional.
Q: Your SIGMA series is set across the globe and finds your characters in far flung locales such as Antarctica, Tibet and Africa. Most of ALTAR OF EDEN is set in New Orleans. Why did you choose to center most of the story in one locale? And why New Orleans?
A: I love New Orleans. I’ve visited the city at least a dozen times—both before and after Katrina. I’ve toured alligator farms, traveled the bayous by airboat, walked its cemeteries by candlelight, visited plantations in the middle of July’s swelter, stolen bread from Commander’s Palace, and avoided guessing what that smell was on Bourbon Street. There is simply no other city like it in the United States. Despite the hurricane, the city abides. There remains an unmistakable vibrancy to the place, a rich blend of cultures, and a haunted quality that has been speaking to authors for ages.
Q: You are known for your extensive and intensive research. What amazing adventures did you undertake in researching/mapping the plot of ALTAR OF EDEN?
A: For the first time as an author, I got to follow the old adage: to write what you know. Of course, that applied only to the veterinary aspects of the story. For other details, I spent way too much time out in the swamps, learning such details like alligators like marshmallows, raccoons are good swimmers, and July is a very bad month to be out in the bayou. I also just listened. It’s amazing the stories and tales I heard from locals (many of them shocking and unfit for print). And of course, I ate my way through the culinary masterpiece that is New Orleans. Such is the sacrifice an author must make.
Q: I’m sure many fans of the SIGMA series are panicking, wondering when they are going to see Gray Pierce, Painter Crowe and the rest of SIGMA again. Why don’t you quell their fears, when can we see the next SIGMA?
A: It comes out next summer (July 2010). In that book, a major storyline that has been building over the course of the series comes to a head, and all Hell breaks loose…in this case, literally. It’s titled The Devil Colony and it’s a huge story.
Q: What else is on the horizon for James Rollins?
A: Always another book or two or three. In the spring of 2010, the second novel in my kid’s series debuts, titled Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx. Then, as mentioned above, the next big Sigma book comes out in the middle of summer. I also have two short stories in a pair of upcoming anthologies. Then next winter, I have another surprise in store, something I’m not at liberty to discuss yet. So there’s much more to come!
Q: You’re a busy guy, do you ever sleep?
A: Sleep? I’ve never heard of such a thing. Tell me more.