Rollins was born in Chicago. His father worked for Libby's canning plant, his mother was a housewife and mother of seven, and he lived what he likened to a Brady Bunch lifestyle.
He attended Parkway South Junior High School and then graduated from Parkway West Senior High School in Ballwin, Missouri, in 1979. His undergraduate work focused on evolutionary biology. He graduated from the University of Missouri, Columbia in 1985 with a doctorate in veterinary medicine (D. V. M). Soon afterward, he moved to Sacramento, California, where he established his veterinary practice, licensed July 24, 1985.
In an August 16, 2012 interview, he told SLM 's Jeannette Cooperman:
For 20 years my paycheck was coming from my veterinary degree and my writing was my hobby, and I thought it would be really cool to flip that around. Veterinary medicine is much harder. It's a 14-, 16-, 18-hour-a-day job. I owned my own practice, had 24 employees. I couldn’t get away, that was the biggest thing. In the 10 years I ran my own practice, I had three weeks of vacation total. I started writing during my lunch hour at the clinic—dogs barking, cats miaowing—so now I can write anywhere.
Now, he's flipped that equation: "Once a week I spend about eight hours spaying and neutering trapped feral cats for the Sacramento Council of Cats. All I do with my veterinary degree now is remove genitalia."
Rollins found the authors of the Doc Savage series inspirational as a youth and acquired an extensive collection of the popular 1930s and 1940s pulp magazine stories. Rollins was fascinated by stories of the exploits of Howard Carter and his discovery of the tomb of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh, King Tutankhamun (King Tut). This true-life tale later inspired Rollins' novel, Excavation, in which the main character, archaeologist Henry Conklin, and his nephew Sam discover a lost Inca city in the mountains of the Andean jungle that contains a treasure—and a curse. He also enjoyed L. Frank Baum's Oz series, Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels, and C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. He was also inspired by Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, whose works he used as a springboard for creating similar contemporary novels filled with what he refers to as "the three M's of fiction: magic, mayhem, and monsters".
Czajkowski sold his first novel, Witch Fire (1999), under the pen name of James Clemens through Terry Brooks' publisher. Brooks had been one of the judges for a writing contest at the Maui Writers' Conference in Maui, Hawaii, in which James had entered a manuscript he had recently completed.
Beneath the ice at the bottom of the Earth is a magnificent subterranean labyrinth, a place of breathtaking wonders—and terrors beyond imagining. A team of specialists, led by archaeologist Ashley Carter, has been hand-picked to explore this secret place and to uncover the riches it holds. But they are not the first to venture here—and those they follow did not return. There are mysteries here older than humanity and revelations that could change the world. But there are also things that should not be disturbed—and a devastating truth that could doom Ashley and the expedition: they are not alone. The caverns are inhabited by an entire subterranean ecosystem of primitive mammals—some intelligent, others savage, all beyond the reach of today's knowledge.
In Peru, low in the Andes, Dr. Henry Conklin discovers a 500-year-old mummy that should not be there. While deep in the South American jungle, Conklin's nephew, Sam, stumbles upon a remarkable site nestled between two towering peaks, a place hidden from human eyes for thousands of years. Ingenious traps have been laid to ensnare the careless and unsuspecting, and wealth beyond imagining could be the reward for those with the courage to face the terrible unknown. But where does this perilous journey end—in the cold, shrouded heart of a breathtaking necropolis—something else is waiting for Sam Conklin and his exploratory party. A thing created by Man, yet not humanly possible. Something wondrous...something terrifying...a mysterious metal known only as el Sangre del Diablo (or Devil's Blood), known only to the most ancient of Incas and a secret sect of Dominican friars who have already killed and died to protect its secrets.
Ex-Navy SEAL Jack Kirkland surfaces from an aborted underwater salvage mission to find the Earth burning. Solar flares have triggered a series of gargantuan natural disasters. Earthquakes and hellfire rock the globe. Air Force One has vanished from the skies with America's president on board. Now, with the U.S. on the narrow brink of a nuclear apocalypse, Kirkland must pilot his oceangoing exploration ship, Deep Fathom, on a desperate mission miles below the ocean's surface. There, devastating secrets await him—and a power an ancient civilization. And it will forever alter a world that's already racing toward its own destruction.
Four years ago, all contact with a U.S. medical-scientific expedition in the wilderness of the Amazon basin suddenly ceased; the 30-man team was declared lost and likely dead. Now one of its members staggers into a Christian mission but dies within hours. He carries identification: he is Gerald Clark, ex-Special Forces. Two years before the expedition, while in Iraq, the CIA operative's left arm was amputated at the shoulder. Photographs of the corpse and fingerprints reveal that the arm has grown back perfectly. Unable to comprehend this inexplicable event, the United States CIA establishes a special team to return to this impenetrable secret world of unforeseen perils and to follow the dead man's trail. On arrival, they enlist Nathan Rand, the son of the lost researchers' team leader. A mysterious plague, that threatens the Earth's entire population, leads back to Gerald Clark. This means the lost expedition's destination, which holds the key to the cure, must be discovered at any cost. But the nightmare that awaits Rand and his team of scientists and seasoned U.S. Army Rangers dwarfs any danger they may have anticipated.
After an Alaskan game warden rescues a man from a crashed plane and saves him from subsequent attack by foreign soldiers, his ex-wife's piloting skills take them all to the man's intended destination, a US base on the Arctic ice, set up following the discovery by advanced sonar of a derelict Russian scientific base buried within a massive iceberg, Ice Station Grendel, where the personnel all died decades earlier. A Russian submarine carrying the son of the station's former commander also approaches, ostensibly for a handover of the bodies found by the Americans. Both sides know the station contains vastly important scientific secrets, worth fighting for, but neither side knows quite how the other will fight, or how Grendel itself will complicate matters. In an atmosphere of mistrust and fear, the Alaskans and the scientist overseeing the sonar project have unexpected roles to play.
In 2008, Random House commissioned Rollins to write the novelization of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the 2008 American adventure science fiction film. This is the fourth film in the Indiana Jones franchise, created by George Lucas and directed by Steven Spielberg.
The story starts outside the Baghdad Zoo immediately after the Battle of Baghdad (2003). After being decimated during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the floodgates have been opened for the smuggling of hundreds of exotic birds, mammals, and reptiles to Western nations. However, this crime hides a deeper secret. Years later, a Louisiana state veterinarian, Lorna Polk, is flown to a wrecked fishing trawler in the Mississippi River delta basin by the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The crew is missing, but the boat holds a live cargo: a caged group of exotic animals. Initially, Polk assumes it is part of a black market smuggling racket. Then she discovers disturbing deformities that make no sense. Also, the animals all share disturbingly heightened intelligence. To uncover the truth about the origin of this strange cargo and the threat it poses, Polk must team up with a man who shares a dark and bloody past with her, now an agent with the CBP.
The SIGMA Force is a fictional division of the U.S. DARPA program. The chief operatives in SIGMA combine highly trained military skills with specialized scientific knowledge. The Force's purpose is to investigate and to secure sensitive information that could be a threat to the United States; its functions are a combination of counter-terrorism, research, and covert operations. Following the first book, Sandstorm (2004), the SIGMA Force headquarters moves into the sub-basement of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. These novels are intended to be read in chronological order.
The first book of the SIGMA Force series, Sandstorm (2004), starts with Commander Painter Crowe and Cassandra Sanchez attempting to thwart a computer hacker who is putting the United States in danger. Meanwhile, in the British Museum, a private collection is destroyed; the cause can not be explained. The DARPA director, Vice Admiral Tony "The Tiger" Rector, instructs SIGMA to send a small team to investigate. Their quest takes them into the Arabian Desert, to a long-buried threat that may bring about the end of the balance of power.
This novel introduces SIGMA Force and a mysterious opposing group, referred to as the Guild, who appear in some of Rollins' future SIGMA Force novels. The main character, Crowe, is intelligent, fearless, resourceful, and romantic.
The magi brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ child; their bones may bring destruction to the world, if they are allowed to remain in the hands of the thieves who stole them, for these bones may not be bones at all. They may be something much more terrible and deadly, as Map of Bones (2005), Rollins' second SIGMA Force novel, suggests.
In Black Order (2006), SIGMA Force team members risk their lives to get to the heart of one of humankind's greatest mysteries: the origins of life itself. This novel introduced Dr. Lisa Cummings, who begins a relationship with Sigma Force Director Painter Crowe.
In The Judas Strain (2007), SIGMA Force members seek to prevent an outbreak that could threaten the entire planet. The outbreak's source and the key to the cure are based on the Hindu temple complex of Angkor Wat. The book also marks the apparent death of Dr. Monk Kokkalis and introduction to SIGMA Force of the character Joe Kowalski, who appeared in Ice Hunt. Kowalski acts as Gray Pierce's sidekick in this and following stories. Pierce's parents are captured and held hostage by a sadistic Guild operatives Annishen and Amen Nasser.
The Last Oracle (2008) involves an ambitious, young Russian politician's desire to use autistic savant children to develop a new world order. It is revealed that Monk did not die as understood previously in The Judas Strain, but was, for reasons central to the plot of this book, picked up by a Russian submarine and ended up in the hands of the bad guys; he is suffering from amnesia caused by experiments performed on him. Three of the savant children rescue him, and together the four escape and attempt to thwart the plot. With help from Pierce and the Gypsies, Monk and the children succeed although he still has (possibly permanent) amnesia due to the brain surgery experiments. If the plans hadn't been stopped, many world leaders would have been killed due to radiation exposure at Chernobyl, and millions of people would have died worldwide due to radiation being flooded into the world from the highly radioactive Lake Karachay.
The Doomsday Key (2009) starts with three murders on three different continents. Each shares a puzzling, hideous disfigurement, but otherwise no other obvious connection. A clue links the father of one victim, an influential U.S. senator, to a Norwegian corporation. Crowe takes part of the team to Oslo, while an unexpected phone call from a traumatized Rachel Verona has Grayson rushing all over Europe, ending up in a high-security prison in France. Crowe and his team fly over the Arctic Circle to land in Spitzbergen. Ultimately, it is revealed that the characters are dealing with an ancient, fungal parasite that was discovered and used first by the Egyptians and then, later, by eleventh century Celts and Druids as a bio-weapon.
In this short story "Seichan is ripped out of the Sigma series for an adventure all her own". She and a young urban explorer, who has tattooed on his body a map of the Catacombs of Paris, awaken in a Paris hotel after having been kidnapped and drugged, to find deadly electronic collars fastened around their necks. They are tasked to rescue the kidnapper's son, "who has fallen under the sway of the nefarious leader of an apocalyptic cult". The trail leads them into "the dark necropolis beneath the City of Lights". Seichan and her guide must battle the clock, as the cult leader has wired the catacombs with bombs.
This short story includes a sneak peek at the first 70 pages of The Devil Colony, in which a clue unlocked by The Skeleton Key plays a key role.
In The Devil Colony (2011), the SIGMA Force deals with mysterious nanotechnology that may have been mastered by an ancient Native American tribe, with input from the Manasseh. The team attempts to track down a lost map, journeying – among various farflung places – to Fort Knox and the grave of Meriwether Lewis. Rollins refers to secret codes used by Thomas Jefferson and Lewis. The coded message leads Crowe to John Trumbull's painting depicting the presentation of The Declaration of Independence.
In the medieval heart of Budapest, Captain Tucker Wayne and his war dog, Kane, rescue a mysterious woman fleeing three armed men. They are after the secret she holds, which will unlock a terrible treasure steeped in blood and treachery, tied to a crime going back to the fall of Nazi Germany and a heritage of suffering and pain that reaches out from the past to wreak havoc today. In a final showdown, truths are unearthed and treasures exposed. This "short story exclusive" includes a sneak peek at the opening chapters of Bloodline, in which further exploits of Tucker and Kane are revealed.
Bloodline (2012) has the SIGMA Force following up on information gained by Crowe in the previous novel. The president's daughter is kidnapped by mysterious doctors who seek her baby. President Gant's family is revealed to be a driving force behind the Guild, with their bloodline stretching back for centuries. Jack Kirkland, from the novel Deep Fathom, makes an appearance. Additionally, Lady Kensington, from Sandstorm, is mentioned. The novel deals with the quest for immortality, and with nanotechnology and microengineering.
The Eye of God (2013) follows the SIGMA team as they chase down clues related to Attila the Hun and his fateful meeting with Pope Leo I that stopped a Hunic invasion of Rome. The Vatican receives a package containing the skull of Genghis Khan, along with a book wrapped in his skin, leading the team to Mongolia. All the while an nearing comet interferes with the imagery of an orbital satellite, causing it to show an image of the eastern US seaboard in flaming ruins. It's a race against time for SIGMA to stop the apocalypse from occurring.
The 6th Extinction (2014) details the SIGMA team's fight against a geneticist with a nefarious agenda on how to handle the extinction of species. The team travels from California, near Yosemite National Park, to the tepuis of the northern Amazon rainforest, and to the ice caves of Antarctica.
The Midnight Watch is scheduled to be released November 3, 2015. In the dead of night, a faceless enemy hacks into the Smithsonian Institution’s network of servers, but it is only the first strike masking a larger attack. To rescue a biologist trapped in the National Museum of Natural History and to discover the true intent behind an assault that grows bolder and bloodier by the minute, Sigma Force must unleash its most headstrong operative —Joe Kowalski… ...
The Bone Labyrinth was released December 15, 2015.
Husband and wife production team Dino de Laurentiis and Martha Schumacher purchased the movie rights to SIGMA Force in 2010. Dino has observed: "James Rollins is a master storyteller. The Sigma Force series is rich with complex characters and thrilling action plots, and we can’t wait to turn this treasure trove of amazing stories into a great film franchise."
According to CinemaBlend: "The film won't adapt any of the six existing novels, but will tackle a brand-new story within the world with the aim of starting a franchise." Dino de Laurentiis died 10 November 2010, but Rollins, when interviewed by the Houston Chronicle 's Murder By the Blog staff (aka "MurderBooks") on June 27, 2011, confirmed: "I spoke to Dino's grandson last month. He reported that a screenplay was well underway and that they are looking at a couple of different directors. So things are moving." As of September 1, 2014, the project is listed as "in development" at IMDB Pro.
The five-installment Banned and the Banished series is about a girl named Elena "who ripens into the heritage of lost power". She goes on a journey to defeat the Dark Lord and to find herself.
For 4,000 years, the people of the Nine Lands have lived peacefully under the guidance of their hundred gods. When the goddess Meeryn is murdered the peace is shattered, and Tylar de Noche – a defrocked knight who, as sole witness, is now sole suspect – must find the killer and prove himself innocent. Tylar turns to Delia, a priestess and love interest, and to Rogger, a thief wise to the ways of the criminal underworld. Slogging hither and yon for scraps of clues, the three begin to suspect that the supposedly pacific gods are in fact engaged in an ongoing struggle for power and control. The self-absorption of the gods and the apathetic ignorance of the people form stumbling blocks on Tylar's quest.
Failed Shadowknight Tylar witnessed the death of a god, whose blood healed his deformities but branded him a Godslayer and a hunted criminal. In this second volume, Tylar's struggle for the truth is vindicated when he is officially reinstated as a Shadowknight. Yet this is a trap, revealed as Sithryn forces flow from the Ice Eyrie to wage a deadly siege, trapping Tylar and his friends. But even Tylar's skill and magic cannot save the Citadel of Tashijan, ancient Shadowknight headquarters, for something foul lies at the heart of their Order. The Cabal has infiltrated the inner council and Tylar and his allies must flee for now there can be no refuge from evil.
On the FAQ section of his website Rollins announces plans for further novels: "There are more plans for the Godslayer books. The working title for Book Three is God-Sword. Besides continuing the storyline, it will discover much more about Laurelle, her past, and her perilous journey to a god hidden in the heart of a volcano. God-Sword will finish the first trilogy. And there may be a second trilogy with many of the same characters."
On February 10, 2015, Rollins wrote in an AMA on Reddit.com: "Third book is done; fourth is midway. Once the fifth is done, the entire series is slated for publication, each book coming out 6 months apart, starting with a re-release of the first two."
Rollins collaborated with the mystery writer Rebecca Cantrell to write several works in the Order of the Sanguines series (a print trilogy plus a number of short story e-books): City of Screams (2012), a novella set in Afghanistan; The Blood Gospel (2013); Innocent Blood (2013); Blood Brothers (2013); Blood Infernal (2015).
Rollins collaborated with the thriller writer Grant Blackwood to write multiple works in the Tucker Wayne series of military thriller novels: The Kill Switch (April 8, 2014) and War Hawk (January 1, 2016).