I’ve always enjoyed fiction based on fact, so when I began writing, I traded dusty, dull law books for equally dusty if much more interesting history books. Templars, Cathars, the Ark of the Covenant, even the actual location of mythology’s Hades, compete with boatman and seven-headed dog, filled my imagination and my books’ pages. They also filled my travel schedule to do on-site research. The wide-ranging travels of my main character, Lang Reilly, soon to be making his seventh appearance, in The Poison Secret, may be a reason I’ve been fortunate enough to have translation rights to some of my books sold as far away as Holland, Turkey, Russia.
There is always a trigger that gets me started. When my wife called my attention to Adrienne Mayor’s The Poison King, I dove right in. Mithridates (134-63 BC), subject of a Mozart opera and praised by Machiavelli for his military abilities, was the biggest threat to Rome since Hannibal.
But that wasn’t what caught my attention. The Poison Secret came from young Mithridates’s apparent immunity to poison, an immunity he developed while in exile, hiding from overly ambitious family members. In his day, poison was the favored tool of political advancement.
We may have evolved somewhat beyond such methods of political conflict in the past couple of millennia but the idea of a universal immunity to toxins has contemporary commercial pharmaceutical value in a market that advertises remedies for everything from impotency to flatulence.
Had Cleopatra known Mithridates’s secret, the asp might have just been another fashion accessory like today’s small dog instead of an instrument of her demise.
A faltering pharmaceutical company conspires to obtain possibly the universal anti-toxin by any means, including hiring criminal organizations on two continents.
The Poison Secret’s protagonist, Lang Reilly, former CIA agent, criminal defense lawyer, and CEO of the multi-billion dollar charitable Holt Foundation, is the only person standing between the bad guys and a serum that can benefit humanity. Like Mithridates, in The Poison Secret he will need to fight opponents who are stronger than he is. And like Mithridates, he will need to be resourceful.