When getting on the LIRR this week, you might find Long Islanders holding three things: a cup of coffee, a newspaper and a copy of Nelson DeMille's new book, "The Panther" (Grand Central, $27.99). This novel, which is destined to top bestseller lists, is something his readers have waited for -- the return of John Corey.
The NYPD homicide detective turned agent for the FBI Anti-Terrorist Task Force and his wife, FBI agent Kate Mayfield, are stationed in Yemen, where they go to battle with a terrorist known as The Panther.
Corey, with his wisecracking tone and gruff outlook, has kept readers turning pages since he first appeared in 1997's "Plum Island."
DeMille, 69, continues to churn out hit novels every two years; his last outing, 2010's "The Lion," was a continuation of his popular Corey book, "The Lion's Game." We spoke with the author, who was at his Garden City home, by telephone.
Where did the idea for "The Panther" come from?
My friend was on the joint terrorist task force and had been assigned to Yemen for two months. I was looking for a Corey idea, and it began percolating in my brain. I had to get John Corey and Kate Mayfield out of the so-called "civilized" environment of New York City. I wanted to move them to a hostile environment. You always get more tension when you do that.
How did you go about creating your new villain?
It was based on the idea that we all think we know who our terrorists are, but we don't really know them. The idea of making the Panther a Yemeni American helped a lot. The question is, why would someone who was born here in relative comfort go to a place like Yemen and take up this life? He's rather complex.
In this book, you do a crossover by having your character Paul Brenner from "The General's Daughter" and "Up Country" meet up with Corey. How did that decision come about?
The fans wanted to see Brenner brought back. Everybody wanted to know where he went after "Up Country." I knew he would end up with the diplomatic security service. He would be in a place like Yemen, and Corey bumps into him. They are alike -- both Irish alpha males.
Your action scenes are colorful and gripping. Is it difficult to pull that off in today's visual world?
I try to set the ambience of the area wherever the book is situated. The action scenes are the toughest. I see myself as a director and cinematographer trying to paint this word picture because things are happening so quickly. Plus, there has to be a level of emotion in there, too. The action-adventure stuff is the single biggest challenge.
Has there been any talk about bringing Corey to the screen?
Recently I spoke to HBO and AMC about bringing Corey to the small screen. Sony TV is interested in making the pilot for "Plum Island." The idea is to do 10 one-hour segments for each book per season, which would be a dream because it would be 60 hours on-screen. The guy who is interested in playing Corey is Aaron Eckhart.
Have you been surprised that your 1990 bestseller, "The Gold Coast," has sustained its popularity over the years?
My initial editor, from over 20 years ago, didn't want or like the book because it wasn't action-adventure. But I knew it was a good book. It did OK in hardcover, and in paperback it just exploded from word-of-mouth and then rolled on from there. It's the one I'm most proud of.
In 2008, you published "The Gate House." Did you feel it was a fitting sequel to "The Gold Coast"?
I wasn't as pleased as I could have been. The challenge was immense. There's a lot of danger in doing a sequel to a very popular book. It's a trap, and you have to be careful. With that in mind, I would never do another sequel. Sometimes, you have to leave well enough alone.
What do you want your legacy to be in the literary world?
Every author's dream is to stay in print long beyond the time they retired and pass away. If they remain in print then, the legacy is already there.
WHO Nelson DeMille talks about and signs copies of "The Panther"
Nov. 1 at 6 p.m., Forest Books, 182 Birch Hill Rd., Locust Valley, 516-759-1489
Nov. 3 at 11 a.m., BookHampton, 50 Love Lane, Mattituck; at 2 p.m. at BookHampton, 93 Main St., Southampton; at 4 p.m. BookHampton, 41 Main St., East Hampton, bookhampton.com