NEW YORK • Stephenie Meyer's fans have come to expect certain supernatural flourishes from her novels, which feature shape-shifters, vampires and werewolves, even vampire-werewolf hybrids.
So fans were surprised to learn that her new book, The Chemist, published this week, is a grisly, twisted thriller about a highly skilled female interrogator who goes into hiding after her bosses at a secret government agency try to kill her.
It is a stark and unexpected departure for Meyer, whose Twilight series is one of the publishing industry's most lucrative entertainment franchises, with four novels, a companion novella and five blockbuster films.
So why did Meyer decide to write a pulpy spy thriller, an ultra-masculine genre that is notoriously tough to break into, particularly for female authors?
"I get a little bored," she said by phone from her Arizona home. "Stories kind of run out and you want to do something very different. It's like, after ice cream, you want pretzels."
The novel's wily protagonist Alex is a brilliant, paranoid chemist, trained to torture terrorism suspects with her excruciating artisanal chemical cocktails.
After her department head turns against her, she teams up with Kevin, a former CIA operative who is also on the run from his bosses. Their bold escape plan becomes more complicated when Alex falls in love with Kevin's identical twin Daniel. Gun battles, narrow escapes, kidnappings, disguises, torture and assassinations ensue.
Some of Meyer's most devoted readers have responded enthusiastically to the concept.
"I don't even read mysteries or series very often, but Stephenie Meyer wrote it, so I'm going to read it," said Tennessee book blogger Jessica Haluska.
Still, after Little, Brown and Co announced Meyer's new novel in July, some "Twi-hards" lashed out, complaining that she should focus on finishing Midnight Sun, her stalled re-telling of Twilight from the vampire Edward's perspective.
"I will probably NEVER pick up a book by her again unless it's Midnight Sun," one reader wrote on website Goodreads.
But Meyer, 42, seems to have vampire fatigue. Tellingly, the cover of The Chemist makes no mention of Twilight. She has ventured into a new genre before with The Host, her 2008 science-fiction novel and her first book for adults. It sold 6.5 million copies worldwide - just a fraction of her Twilight sales.
Little, Brown is printing 500,000 hardcover copies and aims to attract thriller readers and Twilight fans.
Meyer worked on the book quietly, after getting the idea for The Chemist in 2010. Just a handful of people knew that she was writing it.
She is mulling over writing something different again: a high fantasy, set in a world of darkness and suffering, where there is magic accessible to only a few.
"I know that doesn't bring in the same readers," she said, "but that's not why I write."