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Best-selling author Ben Mezrich goes behind the scenes of his new book, ‘The Midnight Ride’

Ben Mezrich stops by his Boston office in this May 26, 2015 file photo.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

It was early spring of 2020 and everybody needed a break.

Coronavirus had arrived, the country was in lockdown, and COVID was all anyone could talk about.

So when best-selling author Ben Mezrich was asked to write a serialized novella that would publish in the Boston Globe every day for three weeks, he really only had one question.

“Can it be a ‘Da Vinci Code’-style thriller?”

Mezrich set to work on “The Mechanic,” a 21-chapter novella that ran in the Globe and online. The story follows an MIT grad student who accidentally uncovers a hidden connection between the Gardner Museum heist, the American Revolution, and Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride.

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Mezrich, a Boston native, has since expanded the short book into a 300-page novel called “The Midnight Ride,” which is out Tuesday. The author of “Bringing Down the House” and “The Accidental Billionaires” spoke to the Globe about the new book, the process of writing it for a newspaper, and plans for its future — which already include two sequels and a screenplay deal with Steven Spielberg.

Interview was edited and condensed.

Q. What was it like writing “The Mechanic”? How did the partnership with the Globe first come up?

A. We were in the depths of the pandemic and I got a call from Linda [Henry, CEO of The Boston Globe] and Brian [McGrory, editor of The Boston Globe]. The headlines were all so dark at the time, it was all about COVID, and they wanted to offer readers something else to read.

I was a little fearful at first. I don’t normally write for newspapers, and I don’t normally write on deadlines like that. But I was really excited about the idea of trying to do something in Boston for Boston.

Q. You had to write this story pretty fast. What was that like?

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A. It was a frantic, crazed writing process where I was writing ‘round the clock. I had about a week, maybe two, to outline and come up with the whole plot after Linda and Brian said, “Let’s do it.” There were some elements of the story that were already in my head, but really I was writing just a few days ahead, often getting a chapter ready right up into the deadline.

Every chapter was really quick. I love writing in these little snippets. Every scene leads you to the next scene. I wanted the whole book to read: cliffhanger, after cliffhanger, after cliffhanger. And it was a really innovative thing for the Globe to do. To put a work of fiction and sometimes on the front page of the newspaper was just really cool. And most people were writing in how appreciative they were that they had something to read just for fun.

It was my first attempt at something like this. I’ve written fiction before, but not something that sort of winds through history. This was one of the freest writing jobs I’ve ever done. Something in the hometown, for the hometown.

Q. Could you talk about the audience it generated?

A. An audience was just building and building and building. I was getting more phone calls and e-mails from people who were reading my stuff than I normally do. It was almost like a book club. By the end of the first week, my agent called me from LA, and he asked me, “Are you doing something in the Globe?” He told me he was getting tons of calls from studios and directors interested in buying it.

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Normally when you write a book and hand it in, you don’t know if anyone’s going to read it. And when it comes out, it comes out. But with this, I was writing a chapter every day, and I couldn’t not hand something in the next day. People were really reading this. And then it became a Hollywood auction. I ended up selling the rights to Spielberg and Amblin studios to do a movie. So that happened first, then I sold the book to expand it.

Q. What was it like turning “The Mechanic” into “The Midnight Ride”? What are some differences between the book and the novella?

A. What I wrote for the Globe was about 20,000 words, and the book is more like 80,000. So the book is four times as large and tells a much fuller story revolving around the same characters.

In the Globe, the story ended on a real cliffhanger, so I essentially added 50 to 100 pages to the ending. I loved the Adrian character, so I wanted to have more of him. I also wanted to add the Bunker Hill Monument. I’ve always been fascinated by that. I already had a plan in my head for book two and three, so I wanted to write the first book in a way that leads us to book two.

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It was a fairly big lift turning 20,000 words into 80,000, and it took a few months, but it all fell into place, because there was more that I wanted to say. It’s fun to dig into this alternate history of why the Revolution really happened, and how it happened, and who these people were. And I get deeper with that as we move into book two and beyond.

Q. Could you talk about what it was like developing this plot? You make a case that the Gardner Museum heist and the midnight ride of Paul Revere are connected.

A. I’ve always been fascinated by the Gardner heist, and that was something I knew I was going to come back to.

As a writer, I get pitched things all the time. Years ago, someone connected me to someone who called me late at night from a pay phone, and told me that he’d been involved in the Gardner theft. He gave me just enough information on the phone that I was intrigued. It was someone who just got out of prison for a very similar crime, and he had some details that weren’t really out there yet.

He proceeded to say he was going to break his probation and meet up with me, and he gave me an address in South Boston in some alley. I’d set up this meeting, and then the night before, it just didn’t feel right. I called it off. I never went through with it, and I never heard from the guy again, but from that moment on, I was always intrigued by the Gardner Museum. I always knew I wanted to come back to that in some form or another.

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And then the card counter as a main character is something I’m very familiar with, and all the Revolutionary stuff is something I’ve always been interested in as a hobbyist.

Q. What are your goals for this book?

A. I’m really hoping that this becomes my career. I would love to write books like this for the next 10 years. It would be my dream to keep writing these books and turn them into movies. So that’s my plan.

In some ways, it’s a love note to Boston and New England. Boston deserves its own “Da Vinci Code.” There’s so much history in the town. Every street you walk on, Paul Revere walked down that street, John Hancock was hanging out there at that bar — and there’s not many other places that have that level of history. But there are also secrets. There are so many secrets within the city of Boston, and if you dig in the right place, you’re going to find something.

Cover art for "The Midnight Ride" by Ben Mezrich.Grand Central Publishing

Join Mezrich for a fireside chat with Boston Globe CEO Linda Henry on Monday, Feb. 28 at 6:30 p.m.



Brittany Bowker can be reached at brittany.bowker@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @brittbowker and on Instagram @brittbowker.