Crescent Over Puget Sound

A local writer puts the jihadis in control of Seattle—and most of the remaining former U.S.A.

After decades of writing sinisterly sunny best-selling L.A. thrillers, Kirkland novelist Robert Ferrigno decided to risk his literary neck by penning Prayers for the Assassin (Scribner, $24.95), a dark, page-turning alternative-history novel set in Seattle in 2040, when it's the new capital of the Islamic Republic, locked in a cold war against the secessionist Bible Belt South, all thanks to the 2015 nuking of New York, D.C., and Mecca by the Israeli secret service. A beautiful UW historian discovers evidence that Israel didn't do it, and disappears, pursued both by her secret lover and a psychopathic Islamist assassin. In a Starbucks near the Eastside home Ferrigno bought by selling five prior movie options, we sat down recently to discuss the book. Seattle Weekly: So were publishers thrilled to hear your new topic? Robert Ferrigno: This book was considered career suicide by my agent. The publisher I had for four books passed [on Prayers] without any explanation. My agent said, "I want to warn you that this could be a complete failure—we may not even find a publisher because you'll confuse eight books' worth of readers." Why'd you switch from crime novels? A compulsion to try to make sense of what was going on—I really feel like the axis of history shifted abruptly on 9/11. I remember really being knocked out by [Robert Harris' 1993] Fatherland, a book where the Nazis won World War II, and the secret [a detective and journalist are] trying to uncover is the Holocaust. And there are secrets to discover in your futuristic Islamic Seattle, where people drink Jihad Cola—except the drunks in lawless, Blade Runner–ish Pioneer Square. Issaquah is the outpost of the tech world, and beyond it is the badlands, where squatters live in abandoned housing developments with no electricity. Dystopian novels used to be about totalitarian control, but your Seattle has various factions—secular types, moderate Muslims, and Taliban-like extremists. The outlying areas are always creeping into extreme fundamentalism, like you find in Pakistan outside the cities, where it's the 14th century. Or you just get people who want to live off the grid. There's more tolerance in some outlying areas. Your ex-fedayeen soldier hero, Rakkim, even smuggles gay people and others away from Islamist persecutors. He's a "travel agent," sort of like the Underground Railroad. Now Rakkim runs the Blue Moon, only it's much bigger and seems to have moved from the U District to Pioneer Square. Walt Crowley will have your head! It was kind of an in-joke for Seattle readers to have the Blue Moon be like Rick's in Casablanca. I think it's a great name for a club, and also the moon in Islam is so important. Why make Seattle the Islamic capital? It's a place that embraces new ideas—why not Islam? In hard times, freedom can be a burden. What's up with this elaborate fake-news Web site, www.prayersfortheassassin.com? They spent six figures on that Web site, every penny of the marketing budget. This is the first time they've spent that kind of money on the Web. This outfit called Level Ten in Dallas hired six journalists to write copy. There's probably been over 100 bloggers who blogged about the book—Tom Tomorrow, TBOGG. That's why I was on the Hot List of BN.com before pub date—all those blogs. [The book] is on The New York Times extended best-seller list Sunday—the first time any of my books has done that. I got a daily and a weekly Times review—I hadn't gotten a daily review since Christopher Lehmann-Haupt retired. Any movie interest? There's interest, but studios are very nervous, afraid Muslims would be upset, Jewish people, Catholics. You'll remember The Da Vinci Code was not bought by Hollywood immediately, because it was offensive to Catholics. Here, your Muslim morals squads, the Black Robes, flog women in coffee shops for offending dress codes, but Seattle's true religion still seems to be the nonfat latte. Yes, in my world, you can still get a coffee at Starbucks. There are some things I would not want to imagine away. tappelo@seattleweekly.com

 
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