DeMille, Nelson 1943- (Nelson Richard DeMille, Ellen Kay, Kurt Ladner, Brad Matthews)
DeMille, Nelson 1943- (Nelson Richard DeMille, Ellen Kay, Kurt Ladner, Brad Matthews)
Born August 23, 1943, in New York, NY; son of Huron (a builder) and Antonia DeMille; married Ellen Wasserman (a medical technologist), July 17, 1971 (divorced, January, 1987); married Ginny Sindel Witte, 1988 (separated); announced engagement to Sandy Dillingham (a book publicist), 2006; children: (first marriage) Lauren, Alex; (with Dillingham) James. Education: Hofstra University, B.A., 1970. Politics: Libertarian. Religion: Roman Catholic.
Agent—Nicholas Ellison, The Nicholas Ellison Agency, 15th Fl., 55 5th Ave., New York, NY 10003.
Novelist and freelance writer, 1973—. Has worked variously as a carpenter, electrician's apprentice, house painter, men's clothing salesperson, art dealer, stable boy, deck hand, insurance investigator, and editorial assistant. Military service: U.S. Army Infantry, 1966-69; became first lieutenant; received Bronze Star Medal, Air Medal, combat infantryman's badge, and Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.
Mystery Writers of America, Authors Guild, Mensa.
Honorary D.H.L., 1989, and Estabrook Award, both from Hofstra University; honorary D.H.L., Long Island University, 1993, and Dowling College, 1997.
The Quest, Manor Publishing (Staten Island, NY), 1975.
(Under pseudonym Kurt Ladner) Hitler's Children, Manor Publishing (Staten Island, NY), 1976.
By the Rivers of Babylon, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1978.
(With Thomas H. Block) Mayday, Richard Marek (New York, NY), 1979.
Cathedral, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1981.
The Talbot Odyssey, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1984.
Word of Honor, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1985.
The Charm School, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1989.
The Gold Coast, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1990.
The General's Daughter, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1992.
Spencerville, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Plum Island, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1997.
The Lion's Game, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Up Country, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Night Fall, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Wild Fire, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2006.
The Sniper, Leisure Books (Norwalk, CT), 1974.
The Hammer of God, Leisure Books (Norwalk, CT), 1974.
The Agent of Death, Leisure Books (Norwalk, CT), 1974.
The Smack Man, Manor Publishing (Staten Island, NY), 1975.
The Cannibal, Manor Publishing (Staten Island, NY), 1975.
Night of the Phoenix, Manor Publishing (Staten Island, NY), 1975.
Death Squad, Manor Publishing (Staten Island, NY), 1975.
(Under pseudonym Ellen Kay) The Five Million Dollar Woman: Barbara Walters (biography), Manor Publishing (Staten Island, NY), 1976.
(Under pseudonym Brad Matthews) Killer Sharks: The Real Story, Manor Publishing (Staten Island, NY), 1976.
Contributor to various periodicals, including Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Mystery Monthly, and Newsday. Editor, Law Officer, 1975-76.
The General's Daughter was made into a film directed by Simon West. Major Hollywood studios have purchased the film rights for Up Country, The Lion's Game, and Plum Island. Word of Honor, adapted from DeMille's novel, premiered on TNT in 2003.
American writer Nelson DeMille "is not a John Grisham/Stephen King blockbuster-level novelist," said Bethanne Kelly Patrick in a Publishers Weekly profile, "but he is a bestselling author … with millions of fans."
DeMille has several novels to his credit and has garnered acclaim for his skills in creating fast-moving plots and colorful characters. The settings of his novels range from Vietnam in Word of Honor and Up Country to wealthy Long Island, New York, in The Gold Coast and Plum Island to small-town Ohio in Spencerville.
Word of Honor is a novel recalling DeMille's years in the Army during the Vietnam War. It centers on the court-martial of ex-lieutenant Ben Tyson. Eighteen years after the fact, the publication of a book details Tyson's primary role in a civilian massacre. A Publishers Weekly contributor asserted that "if fiction can assuage the lingering moral pain of the Vietnam War, it's through the kind of driving honesty coupled with knowledgeability that DeMille … employs here." A Time critic hailed Word of Honor as "The Caine Mutiny of the '80s, a long, over-the-shoulder look at the time that grows larger as it recedes from sight."
The Gold Coast examines the life of attorney John Sutter and his heiress wife, Susan, who frequent all the "right" places along Long Island's "old money" North Shore. Sutter, disillusioned with the trappings and superficiality of the moneyed set and concerned with professional dishonesty among his colleagues, feels bored and ready for a change, which occurs when Mafia kingpin Frank Bellarosa moves into the estate next door and Sutter eventually winds up representing him in court. Washington Post Book World critic Consuelo Saah Baehr described The Gold Coast as a "captivating cautionary tale of soul-selling by a Wall Street lawyer seeking release from the stupefying boredom and compromise of upper-crust life." The reviewer continued: "DeMille … is a gifted eyewitness and so at home with his material we never doubt that he got it from the source…. DeMille observes with a personal involvement and self-deprecating rue that's irresistible. This is a page-turner but we want to linger and re-read."
Joanne Kaufman wrote in the New York Times Book Review that "what makes The Gold Coast glitter is Nelson DeMille's sharp evocation of the vulpine Bellarosa and of Sutter…. In his way, Mr. DeMille … is as keen a social satirist as Edith Wharton." Joyce Slater commented in Tribune Books that "DeMille shares with Dominick Dunne a caustic view of corruption and wealth." Stefan Kanfer, writing in Time, asserted that The Gold Coast exhibits "a smart social eye and an unfailing sense of humor."
The General's Daughter follows the process of the Criminal Investigation Division of the United States Army at fictional Fort Hadley, Georgia, as the C.I.D.'s Paul Brenner investigates the murder of Captain Ann Campbell, daughter of the camp commander. The trail leads to sexual and psychological secrets, which provide numerous suspects with motives for the murder. Chris Petrakos observed in Tribune Books that "the author is a solid craftsman with a droll sense of humor." A Time reviewer found the book "two or three levels better than routine," in particular citing DeMille's prose style. Although New York Times Book Review contributor Newgate Callendar felt that the book lacked sufficient character development, he nevertheless claimed: "Mr. DeMille writes well enough, there is some snappy dialogue, [and] the police work is painstakingly thorough."
Up Country, published in 2002, centers again on Chief Warrant Officer Paul Brenner (from The General's Daughter) who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, and agrees to return to track down a Vietnamese witness to a thirty-year-old unprosecuted crime, in which a U.S. Army captain murdered an Army lieutenant and stole valuable property. Paul senses an ulterior motive in all this, and wonders why the army would care so much about a thirty-year-old crime. Mary Frances Wilkens wrote in Booklist that "DeMille's portrayal of the cocky soldier returning to enemy soil is moving and realistic, peppered with Paul's recollection of the war and the people who must live with its legacy." In an interview with Maclean's, DeMille talked about returning to Vietnam himself in 1997: "‘I found it more traumatic than cathartic,’ he says. ‘When we stood on the battlefields of Khe Sa and A Shau, it all came alive again—the fighting as it happened, the guys who died.’"
Spencerville, published in 1994, features a retired government operative, Keith Landry. Finally back home in Ohio after twenty-five difficult years working for the government, Landry rekindles his love for his high school sweetheart, Annie Baxter. Unfortunately, Annie is married to the town's sadistic police chief, a man who dominates Annie and the rest of the townspeople with his brutal ways. A struggle ensues between Landry and the police chief, with Landry attempting to liberate Annie and the townspeople while staying alive.
Several of DeMille's most popular books center on ex-NYPD homicide detective John Corey. Corey made his debut in Plum Island, which found the detective recovering from wounds in the rural eastern Long Island township of Southold. There, Tom and Judy Gordon, a young, attractive couple, have been found on their patio, each with a bullet in the head.
The early signs point to a burglary gone wrong, but Corey is suspicious of fouler play and the local police chief, Sylvester Maxwell calls on Corey's big-city expertise. Corey had known and liked the Gordons. He had known also of their work on Plum Island, the government animal diseases center rumored to be involved in research into germ warfare. On this sinister island the brilliant young scientists had worked each day with the deadliest viruses on the planet, capable of wiping out thousands of lives in a matter of hours. Corey fears that Plum Island holds the key to the murders, a suspicion reinforced when the FBI and CIA become involved in the investigation. Before long, the town is on the verge of hysteria as news breaks that the dead couple may have stolen something very deadly. A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised the book, writing: "Key to the novel's sway is its boisterous plot, as DeMille expertly melds medical mystery, police procedural and nautical adventure, adding assorted love interests and capping matters with a ferocious storm at sea. Atmospherics are strong and the novel acquires its own storm force as it moves toward a cataclysmic denouement."
In The Lion's Game, Corey is now attached to the fictional Anti-Terrorist Task Force, based on the actual Joint Terrorist Task Force. "I think maybe writers always look for organizations that not everybody knows about," DeMille told Linda Richard in an interview with the online January Magazine. Through contacts on the New York City Police Force, DeMille was able to get a close-up view of this New York-based operation that, as DeMille said, "is in the front line in the war against terrorism in America."
As The Lion's Game opens, Corey and company are awaiting a special passenger on a flight from Paris at JFK. and no one has been able to contact the pilot via radio. On the flight is Asad Khalil, a Libyan defector known as "The Lion," who will be met by Special Contract Agent Corey, his FBI "mentor" Kate Mayfield, and the rest of the Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force. But when the plane lands, everyone on board is dead—except Khalil, who disappears after attacking the ATTF's airport headquarters. While the FBI and the CIA are convinced that the Libyan has returned to Europe, Corey is convinced he is still in New York. A Publishers Weekly reviewer gave high marks to DeMille's characterizations, noting: "[And] by making Khalil, who lost most of his family in the 1986 bombing, as much of a protagonist as Corey, DeMille adds several shades of gray to what in less skillful hands might have been cartoonishly black and white."
Night Fall, the third John Corey thriller, centers on a real-life incident—the downing of TWA flight 800 in July, 1996, which killed all aboard after the jet plunged into the Atlantic coast of Long Island. Night Fall takes place on the fifth anniversary of the tragedy as Corey and Kate Mayfield, now married, doubt the government's official ruling of "mechanical failure" and begin their own investigation into the crash. Key to their sleuthing is the testimony of witnesses "who swear they saw a missile lift into the clear night sky and bring down the airplane," as a Publishers Weekly writer noted. The plot thickens as Corey learns of a couple who may have caught the missile liftoff as background images during the videotaping of their own adulterous affair on the beach.
The author, said David Pitt in an Entertainment Weekly review, "spins an ephemeral mystery" in Night Fall. Although Pitt called the book "overlong," Robert Conroy, writing in Library Journal had a different reaction, calling Night Fall a "well-crafted, timely, and exciting tale." A Kirkus Reviews writer praised DeMille's "terrific dialogue," adding: "This real-life tragedy hands DeMille perhaps his finest plot over, one that involves real feeling." "Readers will think about this one for a long time," said a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
On the heels of Night Fall came 2006's Wild Fire. This installment of the Corey series has the married agents taking on "a megalomaniac with a secret agenda aimed at saving the planet by permanently rearranging its population," as a Kirkus Reviews writer put it. Set a year after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the plot focuses on an American reactionary fanatic plotting to set off an attack on the Muslim world by firing nuclear weapons at two U.S. cities. "Wild Fire" refers to a government program that "automatically responds to nuclear terrorism in the homeland with a nuclear attack that will wipe out most of the Middle East," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. That contributor labeled DeMille's novel a "can't-put-it-down" thriller, a view shared by a Library Journal critic Conroy, who praised Wild Fire as "an excellent read for a multitude of reasons." In his BlogCritics.org online review, C. Michael Bailey acknowledged that Wild Fire. "is no brooding intellectual read, but it is a raging blaze demanding to be read fast and without caution. It is easy to understand why DeMille is so popular."
The success of the John Corey thrillers has made DeMille one of the top-selling novelists of recent years; a New York Times Online interview by Ginia Bellafante noted that more than thirty million copies of DeMille's books are in print. The author had one theory on why his books sold so well. "Women like John Corey," DeMille told Bethanne Kelly Patrick in a Publishers Weekly interview. "That surprised me because he is the antithesis, I thought, of what women want. I guess I tapped into something, though, because most of my fan mail on those books is from women." Bellafante called the author "a conspiracy theorist of jovial disposition, someone who assigns truth to the most horrifying avenues of speculation without, it would seem, allowing his darker convictions to dampen an otherwise fine time."
About his career as a writer, DeMille once told CA: "Having tried other forms of writing, I always return to the novel. The novel is the ultimate test of a writer's skills, the most arduous of writing tasks, and the medium most open to criticism. The novelist reveals a good deal of himself in his story and has the final responsibility for every word written. Neither editors nor publicity people, cover artists nor advertising people should be made to share the responsibility for an unsuccessful novel, nor should they share in the triumph of a successful one. A novel is a long-term commitment with little ego reinforcement along the way, a brief flash of the limelight at publication, then back to the typewriter. It takes a great deal of tenacity to stick with a project for so long a period with no guarantee of anything at the end. Yet, the novelist, who by nature must be an optimist, goes on, year after year. I know very few ex-novelists; I know many working novelists and many aspiring novelists. It must be a good job."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlanta Journal Constitution, February 3, 2000, Don O'Brien, article on Nelson DeMille, p. E2.
Booklist, December 15, 2000, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Lion's Game, p. 738; January 1, 2002, Mary Frances Wilkens, review of Up Country, p. 776.
Entertainment Weekly, May 15, 1998, review of Plum Island, p. 93; December 3, 2004, David Pitt, review of Night Fall, p. 97; November 10, 2006, Will Boisvert, review of Wild Fire, p. 86.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1999, review of The Lion's Game, p. 1841; September 15, 2004, review of Night Fall, p. 882; August 15, 2006, review of Wild Fire, p. 804.
Library Journal, February 1, 2000, Wilda Williams, review of The Lion's Game, p. 115; February 1, 2002, Robert Conroy, review of Up Country, p. 115; October 1, 2004, Robert Conroy, review of Night Fall, p. 68; October 1, 2006, Robert Conroy, review of Wild Fire, p. 57.
Los Angeles Times, February 3, 2002, Jonathan Shapiro, review of Up Country, p. R10.
Maclean's, April 22, 2002, article on Nelson DeMille, p. 52.
New York, June 28, 1999, Peter Rainer, movie review of The General's Daughter, p. B1.
New York Times Book Review, May 27, 1990, Joanne Kaufman, review of The Gold Coast, p. 14; November 15, 1992, Newgate Callendar, review of The General's Daughter, p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, October 4, 1985, review of Word of Honor, p. 68; April 21, 1997, review of Plum Island, p. 60; December 20, 1999, review of The Lion's Game, p. 55; February 11, 2002, Daisy Maryles, review of Up Country, p. 77; September 20, 2004, review of Night Fall, p. 43; September 11, 2006, review of Wild Fire, p. 35; September 18, 2006, Bethanne Kelly Patrick, interview with Nelson DeMille, pp. 28-29.
St. Louis Post Dispatch, January 30, 2000, Harry Levins, review of The Lion's Game, p. F10; March 22, 2000, Dick Richmond, review of The Lion's Game, p. E4; February 6, 2002, Harry Levins, review of Up Country, p. E1.
Time, December 9, 1985, review of Word of Honor, p. 107; July 2, 1990, Stefan Kanfer, review of The Gold Coast, p. 66; December 28, 1992, review of The General's Daughter, p. 73.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), June 17, 1990, Joyce Slater, review of The Gold Coast, p. 4; November 8, 1992, Chris Petrakos, review of The General's Daughter, p. 8.
Washington Post Book World, April 29, 1990, Consuelo Saah Baehr, review of The Gold Coast, p. 1.
BlogCritics.org,http://blogcritics.org/ (January 3, 2007), C. Michael Bailey, review of Wild Fire.
BookReporter.com,http://www.bookreporter/ (April 27, 2002), Ann L. Bruns, review of The Lion's Game.
January Magazine,http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (April 27, 2002), Linda Richards, interview with Nelson DeMille.
Nelson DeMille Home Page,http://www.nelsondemille.net (March 5, 2007).
New York Times Online,http://www.nytimes.com/ (November 9, 2006), Ginia Bellafante, interview with Nelson DeMille.