Garden City-based author Nelson DeMille puts detective John Corey back on the case in "The Maze," his latest thriller which was inspired by the Gilgo Beach murders. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Nelson DeMille is back with a new thriller in his John Corey series, and it’s obvious that Mr. DeMille is ready for his close-up.

Like Corey, the blunt and sarcastic detective he’s featured in eight novels — including “The Maze” (Scribner, $30), which comes out Oct. 11 — the bestselling Garden City author cops to not always being socially acceptable.

“A lot of people ask me if I’m John Corey,” he said. “No, I’m not him. But neither am I politically correct. … I think it’s a generational thing. This woke group needs to acknowledge my world. I say what’s on my mind.”

At 79, DeMille is unapologetically set in his ways when it comes to his opinions and how he works. He began writing his latest novel more than two years ago. “It’s the book I was working on during the pandemic,” he said. 

MEET THE AUTHOR

Nelson DeMille will discuss his new book "The Maze" at the following events.

WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Oct. 20, Madison Theatre at Molloy College, 1000 Hempstead Ave., Rockville Centre

INFO $35 (includes a signed copy of “The Maze”); madisontheatreny.org

WHAT Wine reception followed by a conversation with Theodore Books owner Steve Israel plus an appearance by actress Susan Lucci.

WHEN | WHERE 6 p.m. Nov. 3, Roosevelt House at Long Island University, 720 Northern Blvd., Brookville. (Wine reception, followed at 7 p.m. by a conversation with Theodore Books owner Steve Israel and featuring special guest Susan Lucci.)

INFO $45; theodoresbooks.com

WHAT LI Litfest at Newsday Live

WHEN | WHERE 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16, Newsday (in Studio 2), 6 Corporate Center Dr., Melville

INFO Presale begins Oct. 14.

He coaxed out the character contours and curvy plot twists of “The Maze” in longhand with a trusty No. 1 pencil. That’s DeMille’s not-so-secret formula: Soft lead, hard-driving heroes. 

Quick recap: Corey was an NYPD homicide detective sniffing out a couple’s murder when he was introduced in the 1997 bestseller “Plum Island.” A few gunshot wounds and 25 years later, that job, along with his gig as an anti-terrorist FBI agent, are in Corey’s rearview mirror.

Inspired by the Gilgo Beach murders, “The Maze” finds Corey in deep with a private investigation firm and a fictionalized version of that unsettling unsolved case. The search for the serial killer of at least nine prostitutes dumped a Fire Island beach takes Corey all over Long Island. 

What keeps bringing DeMille back to this character? “Sales,” he said.

Nelson DeMille's "The Maze" was inspired by the Gilgo Beach...

Nelson DeMille's "The Maze" was inspired by the Gilgo Beach murders. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

MINING THE ISLAND FOR INSPIRATION

Beginning on a waterfront porch on the North Fork, the story leads Corey to an old flame, a security company with iffy ethics, sexual gamesmanship, appalling corruption and — how could it not? — a nail-biter of an encounter in a hedge maze.

DeMille has said Long Island is a gold mine for inspiration in large part because of its diversity — culturally, ethnically, socioeconomically. Ideas flow from that.

He follows the write-what-you-know rule as he peppers his story with actual places, businesses, bridges, you name it, in his own backyard. In this latest edition of the series, Corey is at Claudio’s in Greenport and aMano in Mattituck. 

DeMille said he doesn’t ask permission to use real place names. He’s gotten enthusiastic thanks and raised some hackles over decades of writing. The latter came as a result, he said, when he made fun of the upper-crust yacht-club crowd in his 1990 hit, “The Gold Coast.”

The author takes blowback in stride. If anyone has an issue with his less-than-shiny depiction of law enforcement in “The Maze,” particularly in terms of the unsolved mass murders, so be it.

“People appreciate honesty,” DeMille said. He has had positive feedback from officers who’ve read his new book, including “two NYPD and one Nassau County PD. Nobody yet from Suffolk County PD, and maybe that's the real test.”

DeMille has three children, Alexander and Lauren, who are in their 40, and James, who’s 16. He has dedicated “The Maze” to his granddaughters. “Mudgie loves you,” reads the inscription. That’s an affectionate variation on “curmudgeon,” his daughter’s term of endearment for him.

Mudgie is fond of his new book, too. When asked for his verdict on it, he said, “I’m pleased with it.” He followed up that terse thumbs-up with a comment that might make John Corey die-hards feel as if they’d been wounded. “Maybe it wraps up the John Corey series for good,” he said. 

Really? “It’s quintessential John Corey,” said DeMille, adding that the fictional action figure “is not everyone’s cup of tea. He is always irreverent and slightly, maybe, misogynist.

“To be honest, I get it,” he continued. “There was some editorial pushback about the character. We live in a different era. This guy’s dragging so much baggage behind him. You just want to start fresh.”

DeMille paused, then added, “I’m going to wait and look at the reviews. Some early ones have been positive. There might be room for one more John Corey book.”

Nelson DeMille has a laugh next to a painting, done...

Nelson DeMille has a laugh next to a painting, done about 15 years ago, of his face on King Henry VIII on the stairway wall at his Garden City home. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

REAL PEOPLE, FICTIONAL CHARACTERS

That would delight dedicated franchise followers including Joseph Ferrara and Dr. Richard Shlofmitz, who are listed in an appreciation in the novel. They’re among the individuals whose names are used as a character in the book in exchange for contributions to charities.

Shlofmitz’s name has been given to a lawyer who defends lowlifes. The real-life cardiologist is “100% OK with that,” he said. “He actually made me exactly the opposite of what I would think I would be. He holds me in the highest regard.”

The feeling is mutual. DeMille salutes Shlofmitz and his staff at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn in the acknowledgments. “You are all heroes.”

Seeing a namesake private eye in the novel “was pretty cool,” said Ferrara, who lives in Syosset and runs a family trucking company. The literary immortality was a birthday gift from his parents a few years ago.

Ferrara tied the knot this summer. His autographed copy of “The Maze” includes a handwritten note from the author — “Congratulations on your marriage.” Ferrara is ready for more from the author.

DeMille is eager to oblige. Between promotional appearances for “The Maze,” including the Madison Theatre at Molloy University on Oct. 20 , and a Newsday Live event on Nov.16, he is at work on a new novel with his son, Alexander, a screenwriter. They co-wrote “The Deserter,” a 2019 book that introduced Army investigators Scott Brodie and Maggie Taylor, who were tracking a soldier in Venezuela. The follow-up takes them to Berlin.

While John Corey is known for doling out wisecracks, he also appreciates a thoughtful turn of phrase. “When you hear hoofbeats, you think horse. But sometimes you have to think zebra” is one that emerges in “The Maze.”

“I borrowed it,” said DeMille. He tries to heed it as he writes and navigates the daily maze of life.

“That saying speaks volumes about how we think, and the assumptions that we make,” he said. “Sometimes you have to look harder and think deeper.”

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