A big welcome back to author Gray Basnight. Today we’re chatting about his new thriller, Madness of the Q.
After almost three decades in broadcast news where he wrote fact-based stories, Gray Basnight now writes fictional ones. Originally from Richmond, Virginia, he’s lived in New York long enough to consider himself a native. His latest book Madness of the Q (Down & Out, December 2020), brings back math professor and decryption expert Sam Teagarden in an international thriller sparked by the discovery of an ancient, encoded Biblical parchment known as The Q Document. Prior books include Flight of the Fox [his interview with me is here], a political thriller introducing Professor Teagarden, who inadvertently uncovers revelations that could change 20th Century American history (Down & Out, 2018); The Cop with the Pink Pistol, a modern NYC detective mystery/romance; and Shadows in the Fire, a historical novel about two young slaves on the edge of freedom as the Confederate capital of Richmond falls in April 1865. Gray is a member of the Mystery Writers Association, Authors Guild and Thrillerfest. He can be reached through his website, on Facebook, and Twitter.
Welcome back to Reviews and Interviews, Gray. Please tell us about your newest release:
Madness of the Q plunges mathematics professor Sam Teagarden into an epidemic of religious-based bloodshed on a mission to help resolve a crisis alternating between two extremist groups. One faction threatens mass suicide to ensure global publication of the Q Document, a Biblical parchment unearthed in Israel. The other group will commit murder to prevent the decoded document from being released.
What inspired you to write about this book:
Three events conspired to bring forth Madness of the Q:
The first was when I was listening to a Great Courses lecture series about the New Testament and the professor casually mentioned the Q Document, explaining that it’s a theorized missing source for large parts of the gospels of Matthew and Luke. As someone who likes to peg fiction to history, I immediately sensed it could be a terrific “what if” plot element. “What if” the Q Doc were uncovered? How would it play out in contemporary times and what could it possibly portend?
The next component in developing the backbone of the story was my decades of experience in broadcast news where I all too often wrote and reported on suicide attacks in the Middle East and later, in major Western cities. The motive was frequently faith-based martyrdom. This propelled me to imagine the chaos that might ensue from two factions with polar opposite goals.
The third point of inspiration was from readers of Flight of the Fox, who requested another Sam Teagarden adventure – and to whom I dedicate this book.
Excerpt from Madness of the Q:
Friday, March 14, 2025
Sam Teagarden mistook the tiny drones for a swarm of ravenous bugs drawn to the apple core on the corner of his desk, the remains of a late lunch. He swatted absently while grading the last of the day’s midterm exams.
That afternoon marked the traditional Friday kickoff of spring break. The annual craving for south Florida was getting underway later than usual because of February’s terror attack in Manhattan, which set the academic calendar back by one week. Fourteen people were killed, and dozens injured by a series of remote-controlled bombs spaced around the city. After paralyzing Manhattan for several days, the NYPD said it was the work of a single suspect—a thirty-three-year-old carpenter from Enfield, North Carolina named Jeffery Nash. Angry about a new prohibition on the sale of assault rifles, Nash blamed New York City as the incubating capital of un-American liberality. Fearing they’d be next, community groups in Chicago, L.A., and other equally big and liberal cities demanded that the FBI verify that Nash wasn’t part of a wider network.
As individual stories of the New York victims emerged, national mass media found one to be particularly poignant. A father was walking his seven-year-old daughter to her public school when it happened. He was killed; she survived, though just barely. Unidentified at first, the hospital listed her as Little Girl Blue because of her blue dress. Finding it endearing, the press and public became fixated with sympathy which made her a cause célèbre. The collection of flowers, balloons, and stuffed animals grew so large it had to be moved from the hospital room, to the hospital lobby, and finally to a makeshift shrine in a military tent erected in a nearby park. Additionally, the hospital began releasing daily updates on Little Girl Blue’s condition.
It was small compensation that the delay of spring break was accompanied by early arrival of spring weather, allowing Teagarden to open his office windows in the Columbia University math building. Outside, the air smelled of photosynthesis, and the few students still on campus were already wearing tees and flip-flops. Some cited the season’s prematurely warm temps as the latest evidence of ongoing climate change, yet no one complained.
For a second time he waved with distraction at the buzzing. Reaching with one hand, he folded the wrapper to seal the apple core and scraps of bread crust from his turkey sandwich.
The final paper belonged to his star pupil, a brilliant young man named Aken Okeke from Namibia, who breezed through a previous course on Fluid Dynamics. This class was a graduate-level calculus requirement called Advanced Probability, though the midterm subject had been a curve ball about Random Patterns. A surprise that ruffled feathers for everyone, including Okeke, it was an experiment to see if anyone retained creative thinking after weeks of hard number-crunching. The test challenged them to find, analyze, and interpret useful patterns in things like stock market trading, traffic accidents, public health crises, even terror attacks. Once discovered, the theory goes, a hidden pattern might be put to good use by making money on the stock market, preventing traffic accidents, avoiding public health crises, and even intercepting terror attacks. After all, what’s the use in being a math whiz if all you become is a tax accountant?
Most students did poorly on the exam. A few did moderately well, particularly the two women in the class. At a quick glance, it appeared that Okeke would be among those who scored average at best.
After a third swipe at the irritating bugs, Teagarden snatched the wadded wrapper to heave into the wastebasket in the corner, hoping it would send them in pursuit. When they didn’t budge, he looked closer and saw that they were not flies, gnats, or insects of any kind. In that moment, his spinal fluid stopped flowing.
They’re drones. Ultra-mini drones!
What’s the next writing project?
I’m closing in on the words “The End” on a noir crime novel. As with my last two novels, it’s set a few years into the future and centers on a man who has two goals in life: to build out his idea for a new money-making highway franchise, and to reunite with the woman he loves. It has strong elements of crime, mystery, and romance. It also has a great deal of dark humor, but hey, that’s still humor.
What is your biggest challenge when writing a new book? (or the biggest challenge with this book)
The word “execution” comes to mind. No, not that kind of execution. I’m referring to the kind of execution that means accomplishing the job, the act of doing what needs to be done. I’ve learned through trial and error that I am not a natural outliner. So, as a seat-of-the-pantser, I write my stories by working from page to page and chapter to chapter. Sometimes that takes me down a rabbit hole of wasted time; sometimes it takes me on a surprising road of discovery with the story or in developing my characters. On balance, I’m certain that, at least for me, it’s the best way to craft a narrative that stakes out new territory.
If your novels require research – please talk about the process. Do you do the research first and then write, while you’re writing, after the novel is complete and you need to fill in the gaps?
I do a big chunk of my research before writing, but then continue as needed while writing. The greatest amount of research conducted thus far was for my historical novel, Shadows in the Fire. It’s set in Richmond when the city falls as the capital of the Confederacy. I had to get the background story – and the vocabulary of the time — bang-on accurate, which required a lot of reading, library visits, museum visits, and plenty of walking around in downtown Richmond.
Madness of the Q required research on The Quelle Document, aka, The Q Doc. As mentioned above, it’s a long missing historic codex theorized by Biblical scholars to have once existed as a source for the two Synoptic Gospels – Matthew and Luke. Thus, I read several academic and lay books on the topic, as well as online reading. For the most part, this was necessary before writing, but I kept my research nearby and frequently referred to it as the narrative progressed.
I also re-read Charles Mackay’s wonderful text, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, first published in 1841. It dovetailed so nicely with what I was doing that I pulled quote from it for use as my epigraph.
Additionally, I had to research the one location in the novel I’ve never visited: Israel. Google maps and the Internet in general came in quite handy for this purpose. I’m lucky to have visited and vividly remember the other sites – Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain, Venice, Rome, and Berlin.
What’s your writing space like? Do you have a particular spot to write where the muse is more active? Please tell us about it.
I’m very fortunate to have special writing spaces that are quite opposite each other.
One is in a tiny walk-in closet, a sort of kitchen pantry with no windows, in a small one-bedroom NYC apartment. It measures about four feet by seven feet. I like it. I have no claustrophobia, so the size doesn’t bother me at all. It was the main reason my wife and I bought the apartment years ago.
The other is a small house in the Catskill Mountains of NY, which came into our lives many years after the apartment. At the house, I have a cozy round table by a window in the corner of the walkout basement. I hung a birdfeeder on the patio outside the window which gets lots of colorful and entertaining avian visitors. There are squirrels and chipmunks who feed off the seeds dropped by the birds. At the right time of day, the white-tailed deer and wild turkey parade through. And there are lots and lots of trees that change color throughout the seasons. I know this space sounds better than the in-utero sized office, but I like them both and am equally productive in both spaces.
What authors do you enjoy reading within or outside of your genre?
The writers I read cover a broad range of styles and genres.
For audio books, I prefer non-fiction, especially history and biographies or memoirs. I’m also still praising Ron Chernow’s masterful bio of Ulysses S. Grant. It is truly wonderful. And I highly recommend the Great Courses lectures, one of which sparked the idea for Madness of the Q.
Outside of the thriller/crime genre, I’m still passionate for the authors I obsessively read as a teenager and young adult, which I think of as the best pillars for a writer’s foundation: Daniel Dafoe, Somerset Maugham, Sinclair Lewis, William Golding, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Aldous Huxley, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Wolfe, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut.
Within the crime genre there are three “grandfathered” names that will always remain in spotlights for me: Conan Doyle, Graham Greene, and John le Carré. Additionally, I am constantly reading and rereading several masters of crime: Josephine Tey, Patricia Highsmith, Daphne du Maurier, Jim Thompson, and Dashiell Hammett.
Among more contemporary writers, I’m crazy about Dennis Lehane, James Lee Burke, and Elmore Leonard. I read everything Robert Ludlum ever wrote. There are so very many more names whose books hit the bestseller lists with such regularity that it seems impossible to keep up. But I do enjoy checking in with John Grisham, James Ellroy, Lee Child, Michael Connolly, and others. I also try to stay in touch with the many writers whose soaring talent is being released by the small pub houses.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers today?
Keep reading. Read, read, read.
When ordering your books, remember indie bookstores and always, always, always patronize your local library.
Finally, I do love hearing from readers. My website has a contact platform for messaging, so dive in and we’ll have a chat.
Thank you for coming back to Reviews and Interviews!
And I thank you!