Charlemagne is a historical figure you don’t see a lot of in thrillers. Katherine Neville is the only writer I can recall who’s made good use of him. But he’s fascinating. He ruled for 47 years, and lived to be 74, at a time when kings rarely reigned more than 5 years, and people died long before age 40. He unified a continent, laid the groundwork for the formation, centuries later, of a modern Europe, and many of his policies and practices became proven models for western civilization. He was a visionary who surrounded himself with smart people and, for the first time, placed the needs of his subjects before royal ambition. He was so progressive that it begs the question—did he have help? Was he privy to special knowledge?
Both questions spurred my imagination.
Within The Charlemagne Pursuit I utilized an actual artifact known as the Voynich Manuscript. It’s preserved in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University . Supposedly created sometime in the 15th or 16th centuries, its folios are penned in a language that no one has ever been able to decipher. In addition, there are a multitude of colorful, odd drawings. By general consensus the Voynich Manuscript is probably an elaborate medieval hoax, designed to fleece a royal patron out of a hefty payment. But no one knows for sure. Writing may well have been the single most important creation of human kind. Once we learned to memorialize our thoughts, in languages that could be understood by others many millennia later, human civilization rose to new levels. The Charlemagne Pursuit explores this all-to-real-phenomena.
The Charlemagne Pursuit is an intensely personal journey for my recurring hero, Cotton Malone. For 38 years he’s pondered what really happened when his father died in a submarine disaster in the North Atlantic. Then I came across the book Ice, by Marianna Gosnell, which described the amazing affects of Antarctic cold. Once I realized what was actually possible, I increased the intensity of Malone’s journey. As a writer, I struggle with character development. This book, my seventh novel, allowed me an opportunity to work on that aspect of my craft. It’s much more character-driven than the others (though I don’t scrimp on plot). I only hope reader’s regard my effort as a positive one.
In writing the story, I visited the Zugspitze in Bavaria and rode the same cable car, 10,000 feet up, that Malone finds himself trapped on. I also loitered around the cathedral in Aachen for four days, trying to conjure up the Charlemagne pursuit. Biltmore Estate in Asheville is one of my favorite places. I’ve visited several times, especially at Christmas. As for Antarctica, unfortunately I didn’t make it there (thank goodness the good Lord created National Geographic). My goal is to walk upon all seven continents. I have two to go.