Author Interview: Steve Berry on The Templar Legacy

Steve Berry, the New York Times bestselling thriller author of the Cotton Malone series, talks about his brilliant piece of literature The Templar Legacy in his interview with us,


What inspired you the most on writing the intensely suspenseful thriller- The Templar Legacy?

I’ve always been fascinated by the Templars, and writing this book gave me the chance to study the Order in detail. It was important that they be presented as they were, not some Hollywood stereotype, though a few liberties had to be taken to make sure the story remained a thriller. Their 686 Rules, though, are fascinating. Obedience was paramount.

Contrary to Sir Walter Scott and Ivanhoe, they were forbidden from participating in tournaments; they spoke sparingly without laughter; they did not bathe; they slept with the lights on and dressed; and they were not allowed to gamble or hunt, play games, or grow their hair, though their beards could be unkempt. By papal order the knights were allowed to wear a white mantle with a red cross, while the remainder of the Order wore differing colored mantles.

Within The Templar Legacy there’s an initiation ceremony which I tried to re-create accurately. That was quite an elaborate event. The hierarchy was simple: The master was in absolute charge, aided by seneschals, who commanded the knights (all of noble heritage) and the sergeants (warriors of non-noble background). Chaplains were the clerics and the rest of the Order was comprised of artisans, farmers, craftsmen, and administrators. Tens of thousands joined. Tens of thousands died fighting. Quite an organization. And the term ‘warrior-monks’— what a marvelous contradiction.

How do you want to describe the influence of “Dan Brown as a mentor” on your writing skills?

I changed the way I plotted novels after reading The DaVinci Code.  If you read The Amber Room, The Romanov Prophecy, and The Third Secret, then read The Templar Legacy or any of the books that came after, the reader will notice a difference in how the books were plotted.

Dan is a master of fast pace.  His cliffhanging at the end of chapters and sections is likewise marvelous.  I learned a lot from The DaVinci Code.  Most important, though, is that myself and a lot of other writers would not even be here but for what Dan and Doubleday did in re-igniting the genre and bringing the international suspense thriller back to life.  That’s why, to this day, when I pass a copy of DaVinci I stop and bow.    

How did you develop the character of “Cotton Malone” in a way to make it the most believable secular character?

He was born in Copenhagen. I was sitting at a café in Højbro Plads, a popular Danish square, when he came to me. I love that city and that square, so I decided Cotton would own a bookshop right there. I wanted a character with government ties and a background that made him a formidable opponent, but I also wanted him to be a person possessed of freedom.

Since I personally love rare books, it was natural that Cotton would too, so he became a Justice Department operative turned bookseller who manages, from time to time, to find himself immersed in trouble. I also gave him an eidetic memory, since, well, who wouldn’t like one of those?

At the same time, Cotton is also a lot like all of us.  He has to work for a living.  His marriage has failed.  He maintains a difficult relationship with his teenage son.  Yet, when necessary, he can do some extraordinary things.  I like how readers have identified with him. 

How do you handle the suspense to keep your readers breathless till the end?

I make use of my point of view characters, which range from 3 to 5, and an intermixing of the various stages on which these characters play.  Usually I have 3 stages.  A few of the books had 2.  Bouncing back and forth between these, as the plot unfolds, is one technique in maintaining suspense.

Which part of the novel did you enjoy writing the most, intermixing action and adventure?

All of it is tough; none of it is a joy.  But the ending is the best of all.  That feeling that the story is finally over (after 18 months of being in my brain).  Sure, there are lots of edits ahead, but the toughest part, the total, creative part where everything in that world is thought anew, is over.

Is it fact or fiction? – Should we believe that The Templar Legacy actually existed?

Why not?  It’s entirely possible.  The French king looked in vain, but to this day no remnant of the Templar’s wealth or knowledge has been discovered. There have been countless theories as to what the treasure and the knowledge entailed and where they might have ended up, everything from the European continent, to Scotland, to even America where the Templars supposedly sailed in the 13th century. But nothing has ever been proven. What better fodder for a novelist.

Have you met the end of your quest to find out the hidden truths of Christianity?

My three books with religious themes were The Third Secret  (in re Catholicism); The Templar Legacy (in re New Testament); and The Alexandria Link  (in re Old Testament).  I explored the whole gambit of religion with those three.  After that, the stories have moved on to other subjects.

Are you yourself a fan of historical fiction? Which ones have been your favorites?

I love historical fiction.  Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett, is one of my favorite books, as is The Sunne in Splendor, by Sharon Kaye Penman.  James Michener is my favorite writer of all.  But I don’t write historical fiction.  My stories are international suspense thrillers — a mixture of secrets, conspiracies, history, action, adventure, and international settings.  There’s something from the past, lost and forgotten, that still holds great relevance today.

Any message for your readers?

Just my thanks for their support.  I appreciate them more than I can ever say. As long as they keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

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