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Linc

The thing one has to keep in mind is that we wrote Relic as a lark. Dont get me wrong: we had high opinions of our writing skills and our ability to craft an interesting story. Id edited dozens, hundreds, of novels, and Doug has always had a far deeper knowledge of literature than most English professors could boast (and he himself has taught writing at Princeton). What I mean is that we wrote the story to amuse ourselves rather than others. A lot of first-time novelists try to write what they think other people want to read, or cynically attempt to write a novel that will have the broadest appeal. Not us. We wrote-for want of a better word-irresponsibly. We created eccentric characters and put them in extravagant situations. Having two of us in on the job improved-or exacerbated-the situation. Id read something Doug wrote, would be hugely amused, and would then expand on it. If he wrote a scene of a terrified mob stampeding past an upended table of free hors doeuvres, Id add a gratuitous bit about a huge bolus of p^at'e being ground into mud beneath the running feet. And then Doug would have some character knocked to the ground, landing face first in the p^at'e, and so on, each trying to top the other.

It was into this hothouse atmosphere that Agent Pendergast first stepped. In those days Doug frequently wrote four out of every five new chapters, while I did significant rewriting and produced the outlines for the chapters to come. So one day I received, via 2,400-baud modem (dont laugh; it was the Pony Express of its day), what would eventually become chapter fourteen of Relic. It was an exciting rough draft. Among other things, in it Lieutenant DAgosta is so revolted by a particular sight that he vomits his breakfast of scrambled eggs, ham, cheese, and ketchup all over a museum courtyard. This happens moments after Agent Pendergast makes his very first appearance. (The two events are unrelated.)

What is remarkable is that even in this first chapter, Pendergast displays some of the traits that go on to become his defining attributes: touchstones that readers return to again and again like mantras. For example, the first word out of his mouth: Excellent. Or, when discussing certain personal flaws: A very bad habit, but one that I find hard to break.

Doug had put the initial touches on a character that, I saw immediately, had the potential to be deeply cool. He was cultured and cultivated. He was unabashedly eccentric. He could take in a crime scene with a single heavy-lidded glance though you wouldnt comprehend the depth of his perspicacity unless he chose to reveal it to you. He could descant at length, and with extensive learning, on the beauty of a particular painting-and then point out in an offhand way the fresh bloodstains that had recently marred it. This was exactly the kind of character I could sink my teeth into. So I was quick to add my own eccentric touches. As I did so, I had several antecedents in mind: Sherlock Holmes (of course), Futrelles Thinking Machine, and (perversely) Christopher Walkens character in The Dogs of War (from whence came the many references to Pendergasts feline grace). But for me, the single biggest influence was Alastair Sims insouciant portrayal of Inspector Cockrill in the obscure English mystery film Green for Danger.

Still, perhaps the strangest thing about the creation of Pendergast is that neither Doug nor I can articulate with any precision what each of us ultimately brought to the character. Its as if Pendergast told us what to do, rather than the other way around. Even, say, my recollections of the name are probably apocryphal. I think Doug had initially spelled it Prendergast and at some point I dropped the first R. But this may well be completely wrong.


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