If you’re a fan of Dan Brown, get ready. Linda Stasi’s latest novel, Book of Judas, is the best religious thriller since The Da Vinci Code first hit bookstores.
Ahead of the much-anticipated release of her new book, I caught up with Stasi, who, when she isn’t penning bestselling novels, is busy writing news columns for the New York Daily News. During our brief Q&A, I asked her about everything from where she came up with the plot idea for Book of Judas to how much of her main character, Alessandra Russo, is actually her.
Like Stasi, a well-known columnist and media personality, Russo is also a prominent journalist known for relentlessly attacking news stories. Turns out, that’s not all Stasi and her protagonist have in common. Read the full Q&A below, then keep scrolling to find out more about Book of Judas.
TRBS: Book of Judas is terrific, and, in my opinion, the best religious thriller since Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Where did you get the idea for this book?
Stasi: “Gosh, thank you, Ryan. What a compliment. My books are–hopefully without sounding like a crazy person–generally ‘sent’ to me through signs.”
“The Book of Judas began when I was sitting in a house we had owned for 12 years, glad to be done with the writing of The Sixth Station, when I saw a book on the shelf that I’d never seen before, titled I Judas by Taylor Caldwell and Jess Stern. Curious about the book and how the heck it got there, I picked it up. No one in my family had brought it in for sure because the book was 40 years old!
“It was a retelling of the Judas betrayal story from Judas’ point of view. Interesting, I thought. A few days later, on a girls’ getaway weekend with my daughter in Princeton, NJ, we walked into the bookstore and there on the front table was a new book, The Gospel of Judas, a scholarly work on the discovery of the lost gospel, by Princeton scholar Elaine Pagels. That was two Judas signs in four days! Wait, it gets better.
“Turns out the 2,000-year-old Gospel of Judas, which had been found in Egypt in the 1970’s and was passed around, lost and found and lost again on the black market ended up in a safety deposit box in–get this–Hicksville, Long Island where I’d grown up! Stranger still? It had been rotting for 17 years in the very bank branch where I’d had my first-ever bank account and where my parents had theirs!
“Judas was calling and I had to answer–whether I liked it or not. I’m a reporter. That’s what we do. (Although, the mystical signs part is not generally in the reporter’s bag o’ tricks.)”
TRBS: Not only is the plot blazing-fast, but it’s rich with historical data and, frankly, some mind-blowing facts. How much research did you have to do before sitting down to write this one?
Stasi: “Because I’m a journalist, I approach everything as a journalist does. I’ve always told everyone who works for me that a tip is just that–the tip of the iceberg. The dirt is down below and you gotta dig and dig and dig to get at it. That’s where the story lies.
“Of course in this 24/7 news cycle, rumor and innuendo are too often taken as fact and fly around until even the president is retweeting rumor. But I researched and researched this because everything turns up something else. I traveled to Israel and went to the home of a distant relative of my husband’s who is a mystic.
“Turns out he had a 3,000-year-old burial chamber in his basement that led to a tunnel and a dig! I couldn’t have made that one up. Unlike a lot of authors who can spin a tale from their imaginations, I need to go, to see, to walk, feel the ground, smell the air, hear the sounds, see the colors.
“Then when that’s done, I stick my head into research–which often means I uncover something and am compelled to travel again to see that thing for myself.”
TRBS: On top of being an author, you’re also a well-known media personality and respected columnist for the New York Daily News. How hard is it to go from reporting the truth to making up a story and characters–and what’s more fun, reporting on what’s actually happening or writing fiction?
Stasi: “To paraphrase the old adage about how dying is easy but comedy is hard, I say, reporting is easy, but writing fiction is hard.
“All reporting takes is the courage to go where you shouldn’t and ask the questions you are afraid/embarrassed or too upset to utter. Then you do ask and it’s OK, and you’ve got the story.
“The hardest thing for me when I began writing fiction was that as I said, I had to investigate everything 9 ways ’til next Christmas and then weave my investigations into a story. Worse, writing for a tabloid means you condense everything, but when writing fiction everything is expanded. It’s like a singer learning to act. It’s a whole other discipline.”
TRBS: Like you, Alessandra Russo (your main character) is a prominent journalist. How much do you two have in common, and what are your biggest differences?
Stasi: “We are the same person with the same anxieties, senses of humor–and taste in men. Yikes. But Alessandra’s a new mom of a baby boy and I’m the mom of a grown up woman. We make the same mistakes and have the same feelings. They say write what you know…”
TRBS: Lastly, what’s next for you and when can readers expect to see Alessandra Russo again?
Stasi: “You know, I don’t know. I will wait for the signs to tell me where my–and Alessandra’s–next adventure will take us. But…I did travel to Peru and Bolivia this year to climb and trek to all the sites that couldn’t have been built by humans. I have a feeling Alessandra might head that way as well.”
First and foremost, special thanks to Linda Stasi for providing such great answers, and for taking the time out of her schedule to take part in our Five Questions segment.
As I said above, Stasi’s book is the best religious thriller since Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Packed full of stunning historical facts, Book of Judas also features a fast-moving plot and a diverse, entertaining cast of characters. On top of that, Stasi’s dialogue is lightning-quick and full of wit and sass. I love her characters and, come Tuesday, so will everyone else.
Book of Judas, the second book in Linda Stasi’s Alessandra Russo series, comes out everywhere tomorrow, Tuesday, September 19th. Click here to order your copy now!