Special Treat- Here is an interview with Benedict Vickers, the male protagonist of POISON PILL.
Tell us about your family.
Dad was a diplomat in Her Majesty's Foreign Service. He had a remarkable talent to anger the higher-ups, especially for a diplomat, and as a consequence his postings weren't choice. For example, he spent a few years in
. That's when my brother and I were sent back to Albania to attend boarding school. He was a gregarious, bigger-than-life man, a friend to every underdog with a thorough dislike of hierarchy. He died when he was 52. His plane went down in the England . There are still questions surrounding this incident. Congo
Mum trained as an architect, but gave up her career to accompany Father on his postings. She was an avid painter and quite good, too. Her works hang in several major galleries around the world. She was a restraining influence on Father. Theirs was a very happy marriage, and Mum didn't adapt well to being a widow at 51. Not that she died of a broken heart. She died of Lung cancer. She smoked.
My older brother Jon was a physician and a biomedical scientist. He invented what seemed at first to be a miracle drug for obesity - very effective with no side effects. But then he began having doubts about its safety. He didn't get a chance to resolve the questions he had because he died in a climbing accident in the
Himalayas. I was with him on that climb, and I'm not going to talk about it.
And then there was one. I'm now all that's left of this branch of the Vickers family.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an adventurer. Like Sir Ranulph Finnes. Or
Jones. My parents indulged me in all the training I thought I needed for this vocation: I fenced, rode horses, swam, and shot pistols and rifles at marksmanship courses. My father was an avid mountaineer, and Jon and I inherited this passion. Jon was a more natural climber than I was, but I had more tenacity and drive, so it evened out at the end and we were technically a good match for each other. Indiana
I was a teenager before I realized that being an adventurer wasn't likely to pay the bills. I thought briefly about becoming a military officer, but the discipline and hierarchy didn't appeal. So I chose to concentrate on my other interests - art history and archaeology - as a career.
What makes you happy?
D'you know, I never thought about this question! Certainly the fact that I've found love to rival the one my parents shared brings me great joy. Having friends who have risked their lives for me and for whom I'd do the same is a comfort. Finding a long-forgotten document that advances our understanding of art history would thrill me and provide a lot of professional satisfaction. Intense physical activity, be it running or climbing, makes me happy. Also let's not forget that a snifter of an excellent cognac always does wonders for one's mood.
If you could apologize to someone in your past, who would it be?
My regrets cannot be absolved by an apology. I knew my brother was in no mental shape to go on the Himalayan climb, yet I didn't force the issue because I wanted to attempt it myself. One doesn't apologize for not preventing a brother's death. All one can do is live with the guilt and be more vigilant of one's motives going forward.
I also regret that Peter Gardiner, the venture capitalist who funded my brother's research, chose to commit suicide. I certainly didn't force this step on him, but perhaps I could have prevented it. I doubt his widow will find my apology either welcome or in any way soothing.
I suppose I could apologize to all the women I promised to call and didn't over the years. But that would take the better part of the next six months, and I do have better things to do...
Where do you dream of traveling to and why?
I don't dream of travel, really. I either go someplace or I don't. My parents were great travelers, and have instilled wanderlust in me, too. If I think of a place to go, I simply pack up and go, so there's not much time to dream about it. For example, the other day, my girlfriend and I had a disagreement about Mongolian horses. Yes, we could have looked up the answer on the Internet, but where's the fun in that? Instead, we flew to
, then found our way to a nomadic caravan. I was right, incidentally, on the horse question. Ulaanbaatar
Is there a piece of advice that you have received that has really stuck with you? If so, what was it?
My best friend, William, and I were refining our plan to force Peter Gardiner to stop the human trials of the drug my brother developed and had such grave concerns about. You should know that William is as upstanding and moral a man as you'd ever hope to meet. Yet, here's how our conversation went:
“Putting aside the blackmail and extortion angle of our plan, let’s try to tabulate all of the other criminal behaviors that it would entail,” I said. "There’s the procuring of fake identification papers, including passports. There’s likely to be breaking and entering. Smuggling in. Smuggling out. Possibly carrying firearms. And violation of currency regulations and securities and banking laws."
William replied, "Look, we either agree that all this is being done for a worthy cause or we call it a day. Make a decision and stop losing sleep over the lawfulness of each step. The key is not to get caught. Or if you’re planning on getting caught, make sure to do so in Western Europe, where the prisons are nicest, and fight extradition to the
U.S., Turkey and any of the independent Caribbean island states that might have a claim on you."
I have come to appreciate the wisdom of his words and now try to limit my illegal activities to
Peter Gardiner’s suicide merited a Breaking News bulletin on CNN. His body was found by a couple of hikers coming back from an afternoon trek. He was slumped on a park bench near the exit from the Palisades State Park, on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, his right hand still gripping the gun with which he’d shot himself. His Baltic Black Maybach 57-S was in the parking lot, and his suicide note, addressed to his wife and handwritten, was found inside a manila envelope on the driver’s seat.
Of course, most of these details were not communicated in CNN’s bulletin. Instead, the news channel concentrated on Gardiner’s achievements. He was a renowned economist who created and managed a family of well-regarded and highly profitable venture and hedge funds. He was on the Economic Advisory Panel for the current president as well as his two immediate predecessors. His status as a fixture of
society and his patronage of the arts was also duly noted. New York
Benedict Vickers caught the last few seconds of the bulletin as he walked into the living room from the kitchen, wiping his hands after washing his coffee mug. The news made him stop. He slung the dish towel over his shoulder and quickly grabbed the remote to see whether other channels were also discussing this development. None were.
Benedict returned to CNN, increased the volume and dropped the remote onto the leather armchair next to him. They’ll return to the story soon enough, he assured himself, and walked back into the kitchen. His phone rang just then and he picked up on the first ring.
“Did you see the news?”
“Just caught the tail end of it on CNN. That was unexpected.”
“Are you being sarcastic?”
“No. I really am surprised.”
“Are you okay?”
“I didn’t think he’d off himself. Poor Jennie. She doesn’t deserve this.”
“Does it change our plans?”
“I don’t think so. Although I’d rather leave the country today instead of waiting until Friday. Come with, won’t you?”
There was a long pause on the other end of the line.
“Please?” Benedict prompted gently.
“I’ll meet you at Grand Central and decide there.”
Benedict sighed with relief. “Right. By the information booth in the middle? In an hour?”
“See you there.”
Benedict hung up and headed to the third floor of his townhouse, taking two steps at a time. In his bedroom, he took a small suitcase out of the closet and checked its contents. It was nearly fully packed, and he decided it only required the addition of toiletries, a pair of socks, and a pair of cuff links.
After quickly showering and changing, he went downstairs and scanned his suitcase and himself for tracking devices with a hand-held wand, silently cursing his paranoia, but not willing to take a chance. Satisfied that he wasn’t a walking beacon, he armed the state-of-the-art alarm system he’d recently installed and left the house.
Maria Granovsky uses her background as a cancer biologist and lawyer, and her international travels, to craft fast-paced, intricately plotted capers, where the protagonists rely on their wits rather than their brawn, and the body count rises only as much as is necessary.
She currently lives in New York City, but has lived in many other places, from the exotic (Wilmington, Delaware), to the normal (St. Petersburg, Jerusalem), to the entertaining (Florence — in a convent). While it’s difficult to be the new kid on the block repeatedly, this nomadic existence – in terms of geography and career – continues to yield a rich vein of thriller plots.
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