The former lawyer talks about his latest thriller, ''Eclipse''

By Adam Markovitz
Updated January 02, 2009 at 05:00 AM EST

In his previous life, Richard North Patterson, 61, was a lawyer and SEC liaison to Watergate’s special prosecutor. His latest thriller, Eclipse, follows an American lawyer who defends a human rights activist in a corrupt country patterned on present-day Nigeria.

How did you research Eclipse?
I talked to military experts, among them Gen. Jim Jones, who will be Obama’s national security advisor…. Then I hired a security firm and went to Nigeria. I didn’t think you could do this book without immersing yourself.

Then why did you set the book in fictional Luandia?
Nigeria has 150 million people and 250 ethnic groups, and I didn’t want to pretend that I understood an entire, very complex country.

What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done to research a book?
I had one experience in the West Bank where I wanted to meet somebody who was a leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. I finally meet this guy, and…he’s got an AK-47 on his lap and so do his two bodyguards. I realized if the Israelis knew he was there, I might be collateral damage.

Are you a thrill seeker?
No. I’ve got as wide a streak of chicken in me as most people.

You’ve got a suspense novel due in September and another next year. Do you ever sleep?
I work like a dog. I’m not the master of the long-awaited novel. I write about contemporary issues. The world will move on you.