Shadow Ritual is available for pre-order. Eric is an investigative report and has covered a number of high-profile Freemason scandals, and Jacques, himself a Freemason, is a literary scholar who has written a biography of the Marquis de Sade and edited his letters. Together they have created this very successful series about a French Freemason cop. Douglas Preston calls Shadow Ritual “phenomenal.” Here, Eric talks about giving readers a very cold chill running up the spine.
What is your favorite flower?
In many thrillers, the feeling of fear is “produced” by the antagonist. The more the bad guy is twisted, perverted, sadistic, calculating, strategic or tactical, the more his actions send shivers up the readers’ spine. Whether the antagonist is someone unknown to the victims or someone familiar to them, his or her monstrosity will lead to terror. It’s mechanical. It’s no wonder then that serial killers appear so frequently in crime fiction. However, in Shadow Ritual, we deliberately avoided that particular archetypal bogeyman. We wanted a character that would embody an implacable killer, a professional sadist who looked like a nice guy. We wanted to play with contrasts. This character is nicknamed the Gardener. He’s a handyman who seems easygoing enough, but has a terrible habit of cutting off the toes of his victims with garden sheers. He collects the blood to feed his flowers. But first, he asks his victims, “What is your favorite flower?” And no matter what they answer, he cuts off a toe, without giving any explanation whatsoever, and then he starts over again with the same absurd question, plunging the victim (and the reader) into mental confusion. The Gardener is not frightening at first sight. He’s sixtyish, has a mustache and the blotchy skin of a bon vivant. He’s the kind of man you’d give your house keys to so he could prune the garden. He smokes a pipe and discusses gardening as he carries out his atrocities.
The idea for this killer came to me when I was shopping at a local nursery. One of the salespeople looked like a grandfather and was demonstrating a brand new pair of pocket pruners. He handled the tool with dexterity. As he twirled it in the air, producing a steady click-clacking, he joked about how the blades were so sharp they could cut off a finger just like that. Right then, I thought the fellow would make an excellent killer. But that wasn’t enough. The Gardener also needed to distill fear in his victims in a way that appeared to be incoherent. For that, the movie Marathan Man, and particularly the character of the Nazi dentist played by Laurence Olivier, inspired me. He kept asking, “Is it safe?” with a drill in poor Dustin Hoffman’s mouth, and the latter didn’t know what was happening to him. This scene terrorized me when I saw it. I still think about it when I go see the dentist. Some readers have told us that buying plants is never quite the same after reading those Gardener scenes.
From the authors: What's real and what's not in Shadow Ritual
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