A Note from Stephen J. Cannell
I'm really excited about my latest book, The Devil's Workshop. My inspiration for the book was some fascinating research I ran across one day while working on my computer. I pulled up some websites about bioweaponry. The more I read, the more fascinating it seemed to me -- not so much just the whole idea of bioweapons, but the idea that our government might still be involved in actively pursuing new generations of bioweapons when, in fact, we, along with around 100 other nations, signed the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, which prohibits the proliferation of bioweapons. But the research clearly shows that many countries are disregarding this treaty and are actively developing bioweapons. It then occurred to me that it is highly unlikely that our own CIA wouldn't also be aware of these facts and for defense reasons be operating a unit to do the same. As I began expanding my research, I began to find out some shocking facts, such as the story run by "60 Minutes" about the bacterial tests with dangerous contaminants run by a government unit in the New York City subways. There were also some other strange things going on. For instance, more than one million mosquitoes a month were being bred in Fort Detrick, Maryland; needless to say, there were numerous complaints from nearby residents. When you put that fact together with the fact that mosquitoes are an excellent vector (or targeting mechanism) for bioweapons, and with recent congressional testimony about the rooms full of illegal anthrax and sarin that were found at Fort Detrick, it's easy to conclude that illegal testing is happening in the United States.
In the Fort Detrick case, the scientists argued that they had to have samples of antitoxins in case a terrorist attack does occur, and so in order to develop antitoxins they had to have strains of anthrax and sarin on hand. But you don't need two or three rooms full of that stuff, which is enough to kill the whole planet! All of this fueled my imagination to think, "What if this unit still exists and what if all of the evidence that I'm seeing here is evidence of a secret off-the-books unit that's developing bioweapons?" I decided that I would name it the Devil's Workshop, and it became the focal point of the story. But every story needs more than a great plot -- it needs interesting characters.
The main character in the novel is Stacy Richardson. I always want my female characters to be as important and as strong as my male characters. When creating a character, I always start by asking, "What's important to this person?" I gave Stacy a relationship that's very important to her, which she believes is nurturing and has allowed her to achieve her dream of becoming a microbiologist. Then, at the beginning of the novel, that relationship is snatched from her in a shocking way that doesn't make any sense to her. She believes she's being lied to about her husband's so-called suicide. So she starts on a quest; it's her quest that starts to unravel the conspiracy to hide this off-the-books program. Stacy is a very strong character: She stands up to some really powerful people, like Admiral Zoll, one of the main heavies in the book. I especially enjoyed writing the scenes where she takes on the macho military guys, with only her brains and courage to back her up -- those guys really underestimate her. She also has to find out for her own peace of mind what her husband was actually doing when he was stationed at the Devil's Workshop. The answers may not be what she's expecting.
I really enjoyed the process of writing The Devil's Workshop. I hope you'll enjoy reading it!
Stephen J. Cannell
A Review from barnesandnoble.com
Even if you don't recognize Stephen J. Cannell's name, you probably know his work his list of credits includes television shows as diverse as "The Rockford Files," "Hunter," "The A-Team," "Silk Stalkings," and "The Commish." The multitalented Cannell is also a successful novelist, having penned four bestsellers in the last four years. Seemingly loath to repeat himself, Cannell tackled a different subject each time The Plan examined presidential politics, Final Victim focused on the exploits of a brilliant serial killer, King Con featured a family of con artists, and Riding the Snake explored the workings of Chinese organized crime.
Cannell's latest,The Devil's Workshop, tells the story of newlywed Stacy Richardson, who, as the novel opens, is about to take her qualifying oral exam for her doctorate in microbiology. Stacy's world is turned upside down when she receives the news that her husband, Max, a research scientist at the Army Medical Facility at Fort Detrick, Maryland, has committed suicide. Refusing to accept the Army's story, Stacy infiltrates the installation and discovers that the Army is lying about Max's death. Prevented from investigating further by the head of the project, the zealous Admiral Zoll, Stacy vows to uncover the truth about her husband's death and about the top-secret biological weapons she suspects the Army is developing at Fort Detrick.
Based on discussions she had with Max prior to his death, Stacy theorizes that the Army is working with prions, proteins that, when ingested or injected, eventually attack the brain, causing symptoms similar to those of mad cow disease. Her fears prove to be more mundane than the reality: Admiral Zoll and his chief scientist, a lunatic named Dexter DeMille, have designed a prion-based weapon that targets specific ethnic groups.
Things go from bad to worse when the East Texas town of Vanishing Lake is accidentally exposed to the weapon. During the ensuing confusion, DeMille is kidnapped by white supremacists who plan to use the weapon to eliminate so-called "inferior" races. Stacy forms an unlikely alliance with a hobo named Lucky Cunningham, an ex-Marine who witnessed the "cleansing" of Vanishing Lake by an embarrassed military, and Buddy Brazil, a cocaine-snorting Hollywood mogul whose profligate son accidentally falls victim to the prions. Together, they struggle to expose the military and to prevent the white supremacists from carrying out their plans for genocide.
Cannell's scriptwriting roots are evident on every page put the narrative in the present tense and the dialogue in screenplay format, and The Devil's Workshop would read like the script of Will Smith's next star vehicle. Even so, that's not necessarily a bad thing, because, at his core, Cannell is a consummate storyteller. Although he does make some mistakes (his penchant for creating characters with alliterative names like Sylvester Swift, Sid Saunders, Randall Raider, and Buck Burger is especially annoying), the book is still a great read its serpentine plot, over-the-top action scenes, colorful characters, and snappy dialogue make The Devil's Workshop a guilty pleasure, a reading experience akin to watching a well-executed action flick. If you want great literature, pick up a copy of Anna Karenina. If you're looking for stellar entertainment, you'll find a plentiful supply in The Devil's Workshop.