Sorry, ‘Twilight’ Fans, Stephenie Meyer’s latest is a twisted spy thriller
Stephenie Meyer’s millions of fans have come to expect certain supernatural flourishes from her novels, which feature shape-shifters, vampires and werewolves, even vampire-werewolf hybrids. (Her 2008 novel, “The Host,” centered on parasitic aliens that occupy human bodies, and even that was too blandly terrestrial for some readers.)
So a lot of fans were surprised to learn that her new book, “The Chemist,” published this week, is a grisly, twisted thriller about a highly skilled female interrogator who goes into hiding after her bosses at a secret government agency try to kill her.
It is a stark and unexpected departure for Meyer, whose young-adult vampire novels have sold more than 155 million copies globally and helped spur an entire booming subgenre called paranormal romance.
“Twilight” became one of the publishing industry’s most lucrative entertainment franchises, with four novels, a companion novella and five blockbuster films.
The movies have made more than $3 billion worldwide, and that’s not even counting all the “Team Jacob” and “Team Edward” T-shirts and other merchandise.
So why did Meyer decide to write a pulpy spy thriller, an ultramasculine genre that is notoriously tough to break into, particularly for female authors?
“I get a little bored,” she said in a telephone interview from her home in Arizona. “Stories kind of run out, and you want to do something very different. It’s like, after ice cream, you want pretzels.”
The novel’s wily protagonist, who goes by Alex, is a brilliant, paranoid chemist, trained to torture terrorism suspects with her excruciating artisanal chemical cocktails.
After her department head turns against her, she teams up with Kevin, a former CIA operative who’s also on the run from his bosses. Their bold escape plan becomes more complicated when Alex falls in love with Kevin’s identical twin, Daniel. Gunbattles, narrow escapes, kidnappings, disguises, torture and assassinations ensue.
Some of Meyer’s most devoted readers have responded enthusiastically to the concept: “I don’t even read mysteries or series very often, but Stephenie Meyer wrote it, so I’m going to read it,” said Jessica Haluska, a book blogger who lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Still, some “Twilight” fans just want ice cream. This summer, after Little, Brown and Co. announced Meyer’s new novel, some “Twi-hards” lashed out, complaining that she should focus on finishing “Midnight Sun,” her stalled retelling of “Twilight” from the vampire Edward’s perspective. “I will probably NEVER pick up a book by her again unless it’s ‘Midnight Sun,’” one “Twilight” reader wrote on the website Goodreads.
But Meyer, 42, seems to have vampire fatigue. Tellingly, the cover of “The Chemist” makes no mention of “Twilight.” She says she’s given up trying to please her devotees or appease her critics, who are numerous and vocal.
Meyer has ventured into a new genre before with “The Host,” her science fiction novel and her first book for adults. It sold 6.5 million copies worldwide — just a fraction of her “Twilight” sales.
“The Chemist” is an even bigger leap, as Meyer tries to gain a toehold in a genre dominated by brand-name authors like Lee Child and Daniel Silva.
Little, Brown is printing 500,000 hardcover copies, and aims to attract both thriller readers and “Twilight” fans. The publisher is promoting the novel on “Twilight”-centric websites, and at fan conventions like ComicCon and Bouchercon, an annual gathering for mystery writers and readers.
“Fans who grew up with ‘Twilight’ — they’re not just reading young-adult anymore,” said Jodi Reamer, Meyer’s literary agent.
Meyer got the idea for “The Chemist” in 2010, during a freezing, rainy overnight shoot for “Breaking Dawn,” the fourth “Twilight” film, in Squamish, British Columbia.
Shivering in front of the movie monitors, Meyer thought of a female agent — part Jason Bourne, part Bill Nye the Science Guy — who has a peculiar talent for torturing people. She described the plot in detail to Meghan Hibbett, her partner at Fickle Fish, a film-production company.
At first, she envisioned the story as a movie that their company could produce, but the plot became too elaborate to stuff into a screenplay. She set the idea aside and became consumed by her work as a film producer.
A few years later, Meyer returned to the idea and decided to write it as a novel.
She keeps vampirelike work hours — a residual habit from when she began writing “Twilight” while she and her husband were raising their three sons — and worked on “The Chemist” from 9 p.m. until 3 a.m.
The plot flowed quickly, but she struggled at times to devise unusual ways to kill, maim and torture people, so she consulted several experts in biochemistry and molecular biology, including Kirstin Hendrickson, a senior lecturer at the School of Molecular Sciences at Arizona State University.
Meyer is mulling over her next project. One idea that she’s kicking around involves writing something completely different again: a high fantasy, set in a world of darkness and suffering, where there’s magic accessible to only a few. It probably won’t appeal to those who still want more vampires.
“I know that doesn’t bring in the same readers,” she said, “but that’s not why I write.”