I’ll admit that when I heard that Sean Chercover had a new book, I had a range of reactions. The first, of course, was that it was about time. I loved Big City, Bad Blood and Trigger City, both featuring journalist-turned-PI Ray Dudgeon. These gritty Chicago-based crime tales showed Chercover to be a true talent, and I eagerly awaited the third Dudgeon tale.
But Chercover throws a curve ball with his new book, The Trinity Game. I saw that big red cross on the cover and wondered what Chercover was up to. A relgious-based tale? Sure, that’s relatively hot these days, but not exactly in his wheelhouse, right?
Wrong. The Trinity Game may be a story of religion, but it’s also a story of greed, deception, violence and bad deeds. You know, crime fiction. It’s a religious tale for crime fiction fans, and a crime fiction tale for religious book fans.
Here, Daniel Byrne is a priest with the Vatican’s Office of Devil’s Advocate, charged with proving (or in Byrne’s case, disproving) miracle claims. His latest job? To debunk the snake-oil salesman of a televangelist, Tim Trinity, whose speaking in tongues act has a strange kick: he predicts the future — accurately. Oh, and by the way, Trinity is Byrne’s estranged uncle.
There are many who want this to truly be an act of God, while others understandably fear what accurate predictions of the future might mean (Las Vegas, I’m looking at you). The result is a taut thriller that will have you turning pages well into the night.
Grift: So, as a fan, my first question to you is, why did we have to wait so long for this third book? Your second came just 18 months after the first, while this one took three years. What gives?
SC: You know… life. I took some paying gigs, wrote a couple television documentaries and the like. Then my dad died, which knocked me off course for a spell. And The Trinity Game required a ton of research. But whatever, I’m not making excuses. I’m just grateful that readers didn’t forget me in the meantime and have been buying the new book.
Your first two were with William Morrow, and this one is with Thomas & Mercer. What is behind that shift, and what was it like working with Amazon?
Well, a lot of factors go into these things. Do they love the book? Do they think it can sell? Do they intend to give it a meaningful push? Do they have a concrete strategy to garner attention for the book? And how much weight do you give each of these factors? In the case of Thomas & Mercer, it was pretty much a slam dunk. Andy Bartlett and Daphne Durham both loved the book, and Andy presented a very strong case. And it wasn’t just a lot of talk – they delivered, and we hit the Wall Street Journal bestseller list in our first week of release. Working with Thomas & Mercer has been a terrific experience. In addition to Andy and Daphne, I’ve worked closely with Marjorie Braman, Jacque Ben-Zerky, Leslie LaRue, Katie Finch, and Justin Golenbock… and every one of them has been a pleasure.
Have you experienced any blowback from the indie stores that are in your corner because you’re working with the 800 pound gorilla in the business?
A few. But mostly not. I’ve done a tour of indie bookstores including some of the best in the business. Sleuth of Baker Street, The Book Cellar, The Poisoned Pen, Murder By The Book, Mystery One, Books & Company, Read Between The Lynes… and we’ve got a few more to go. They’ve all been enthusiastic and we’ve sold a bunch of books, and from what I’ve heard they’ve been very well treated by Thomas & Mercer.
This feels like a story that had to have been percolating for a long time, and took some serious research (which may, I’ll grudgingly admit, might answer might first question). Does perception match up with reality?
It does. Yes, a lot of research, and yes, percolating for a long time. I first got the idea for The Trinity Game back in 1996. I started writing it as a screenplay but soon decided it should be a novel, so I put it aside and wrote a different screenplay. Sold that screenplay to Hollywood, but it later died in development hell. When I later switched to novels, I still didn’t feel ready to write this story, but it kept tugging at me, even as I was writing the first two Ray Dudgeon books. It just never went away, so eventually I surrendered to it.
Religion is a tricky subject, and you take it head-on with some of the most human members of the clergy I’ve seen on the page. Did you worry about the reception this might get from people of faith?
First of all, thank you, that’s gratifying to hear. Yeah, I worried about it, but I couldn’t let that get in the way of what I wanted to say. And the reception has been fascinating. I’ve gotten some really ugly hate mail from people who wish me eternal torment in the fires of hell, and worse. But I’ve also gotten emails of support from members of the clergy (a couple Baptist pastors and a couple Anglican/Episcopalian priests) who praised the “good theology” in the book and appreciated the way I addressed the struggle with faith. And from diehard atheists, who felt that their views were represented respectfully. I gotta say, I just love that. To receive praise from both clergy and atheists tells me that I hit the balance I was aiming for. The other stuff – the hate mail and the threats – I guess that’s to be expected when you wade into the subject of religion.
Is it true this is the first book in a trilogy? If so, is Ray Dudgeon permanently on the shelf?
it is true – The Trinity Game is the first book in a trilogy. But I wouldn’t say that Ray is “permanently” on the shelf. He’s just sleeping. If and when he wakes up, I’ll write about him again.