One thing we’ve particularly enjoyed is doling out-in maddeningly small amounts-Pendergast’s backstory. Certain of our readers are desperate to learn more about him. And his natural reticence is the perfect foil for our scattering little hints and trace clues like gold dust throughout the stories.
What started as relatively uncoordinated and spontaneous asides has now morphed into a cohesive history, replete with certain mad and half-mad relations (Aloysius is not only the last of his line, but one of the few to be born compos mentis). We meet, or hear about, relatives of his-Great-Aunt Cornelia, Comstock Pendergast, Antoine Leng Pendergast-who have decidedly perverse and criminal minds. Even the Pendergast family mansion, the Maison de la Rochenoire, once a famous landmark on Dauphine Street in New Orleans, was ultimately burned to the ground by an angry mob.
Certainly the most memorable of Pendergast’s relatives to date has been his brother, Diogenes, who became the antihero of his own trilogy: Brimstone, Dance of Death, and Book of the Dead. (We had intended it to be a single book, but it basically “ran away” into something much bigger than we’d planned, not unlike the Castle Bravo thermonuclear test.) Diogenes first surfaces-if you can call it that-in our third Pendergast novel, Cabinet of Curiosities. I wrote a chapter in which Pendergast takes a mental journey through a purely intellectual reconstruction, a memory palace, of his childhood house. (Please don’t ask; read the book and you’ll understand what I mean.) As he walks down the upstairs corridor and passes his brother’s room, he observes that the door is locked and chained, and would always remain so. There was no reason for me to add this other than sheer perversity; I knew this tantalizing tidbit would set our readers frothing at the mouth. But as with so many things in our books, it essentially took on a life of its own. Once he’d trodden the boards, Diogenes refused to leave the stage; and we began adding increasingly frequent allusions to his dreadful past and shocking misdeeds. It wasn’t long until he demanded-and got-his own trilogy.