Level 26: Anthony Zuiker puts CSI on Cocaine

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CSI creator Anthony Zuiker is trying to get deeper under your skin. The father of the forensics franchise is attempting to bring new life and dimension to the publishing world with the "digi-novel" Level 26, a multiplatform story that begins with a book and continues onto the web.

"I wanted to do CSI on cocaine," Zuiker says in the story's behind the scenes video. The tale follows FBI agent Steve Dark and his pursuit of Sqweegel, a killer who could have Hannibal Lechter for lunch. As the story goes, law officials classify murderers on 25 levels, but this fiend surpasses them all, having burned, strangled, shot, tortured, raped, maimed more than 35 people in 23 years, and in six different countries. And he happens to be a creepy contortionist too.

Readers take in the book (the first of a trilogy) 20 pages at a time, after which they're prompted to go to level26.com and input pass codes to view what Zuiker calls "cyber bridges," film clips that continue and enhance the narrative. The site also serves as a platform for readers to share in the experience, create profiles, contribute their own content—basically, a "haven for people who want to buy into the mythology of Level 26," says Zuiker.

Zuiker co-wrote the book with comic book and crime writer Duane Swierczynski and enlisted EQAL, the team behind "lonelygirl15," to create the Level 26 site. Marc Ecko created illustrations for the novel, which is published under the Penguin imprint Dutton.

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