Mystery Books News is thrilled to welcome Gerry Boyle as our guest blogger. Gerry is the author of Damaged Goods (Down East Books, May 2010 Hardcover, 978-0-89272-796-4), the 9th mystery in the Jack McMorrow series.
Today, Gerry writes about what it's like when your hero grows up. And he's also providing our readers with an opportunity to win a copy of his book and -- as a special bonus -- a copy of Deadline, the first in the series for another lucky visitor! Visit Mystery Book Contests, click on the "Gerry Boyle: Damaged Goods" contest link, enter your name, e-mail address, and this code (1852) for a chance to win! (One entry per person; contest ends July 27, 2010.)
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Photo courtesy of Gerry Boyle
My first series hero, ex-New York Times reporter, Jack McMorrow, is a pretty tough guy. He stands on principle, fights (often literally) for the downtrodden, and serves as backup for his partner, street-smart social worker Roxanne Masterson.
So when Roxanne became pregnant in Home Body (McMorrow No. 8), Damaged Goods (McMorrow No. 9), served up a new challenge. What would fatherhood do to my free-swinging journalist from the Maine woods? As one skeptical reader put it, “So is McMorrow going to be taking his kid on play dates?”
I have to admit this gave me pause. Could Jack be as tough and reckless with a new mouth to feed? When your hero has to get up to change a diaper, what does that do for his street cred? Would he pause from his investigations to pick up a bundle of Pampers?
Where’s the suspense in that?
It was one of those moments when you freeze at the keyboard, like a driver stopped at a fork in the road. Left is fatherhood, right is … what? After all, I’d set the stage for the child’s arrival.
As McMorrow is semi-autobiographical (I was a newspaper reporter and columnist for many years) I took a day or two to ponder my own experience with children. We have three (grown up now and scattered from Maine to Ireland), and certainly fatherhood had a settling effect on me. I gladly traded nightlife for hanging out with my kids. I still hung out with cops and criminals for work but did soccer on Saturdays. And in the back of my mind, I knew the day job provided more than a chance to hang out in courtrooms. It also meant health insurance.
So what of McMorrow? And then the light bulb went on. Jack has always fought for what he believes is right. He goes to bat for abused women, forlorn street kids. When he takes a stand, he doesn’t back down. When threatened by bad guys, he stands firm. But, I thought, what if someone threatened his child?
The answer made me smile—there would be Holy Hell to pay.
In mystery novels there is a tradition of the hero as loner. Outsider. It’s a form that goes back to medieval times with the roving knight saving the mistress and then riding off into the forest, and continues in the American West (Paladin and his ilk riding into town), to Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe, John B. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. McGee had a series of liaisons; Spenser had Susan Silverman. But no kids.
McMorrow may be a soccer dad. But more than those protagonists, he’s got something precious in play. His child.
That thought shaped Damaged Goods, in which Sophie is three (mirroring the time between publication of McMorrow novels, when I’d been off doing other projects and Jack and Roxanne were going through those sleepless nights).
Yes, I had to think hard about how a three-year-old sounds. I didn’t want the child to be cloyingly cute, nor did I want her to be so precocious that she didn’t seem believable. I ran her dialogue by a few people, including friends who had kids that age. But mostly I wanted this to be McMorrow unleashed. Roxanne, after removing children from the compound of a deranged backwoods Satanist, is threatened by the guy, and the threat is quickly extended to and focused on Sophie. Jack enlists his loyal and lethal friend and neighbor Clair, a Vietnam vet, ex-commando. As the threat escalates, it becomes clear that Jack and Clair will take no prisoners. If they go down, it will be fighting.
In the end, I liked writing McMorrow and Roxanne as dad and mom. They’re good parents and their daughter is a delight. And I think the juxtaposition of their idyllic family life in small-town Maine with the very real threats from the Satanist and, more subtly, from a prostitute McMorrow is writing about, make the book more suspenseful.
McMorrow the dad is devoted, gentle, playful. But he is also deliberate, cool, resolute and ultimately dangerous for anyone who would threaten his family. He will protect Sophie and Roxanne, or he will die trying.
McMorrow declawed? I don’t think so.
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Gerry lives in a small village in central Maine, making regular trips for book research. His deal with Jack: he’ll send him into some pretty dangerous places, but he’ll scout them out first. Visit his website at GerryBoyle.com or follow him on Twitter (@gerryboyle).
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About Damaged Goods: Ex-New York Times reporter Jack McMorrow has it all. A beautiful wife, social worker Roxanne Masterson, their wonderful daughter, Sophie, a cozy house on a back road in the hills of Waldo County, Maine. Jack freelances for the Times, cuts wood with his Vietnam vet friend and neighbor Clair. Life is good ...
... until the day Roxanne returns home shaken by a violent confrontation with a deranged Satanist whose children she has removed from a filthy backwoods compound. Roxanne decides to leave her job. Jack sets out to finish a story about small-town "escorts" and becomes entangled with one, the mysterious Mandi, who is injured by a client and taken in by McMorrow.
The threats converge until the family is surrounded in the Maine woods, literally and figuratively. Who will break the blockade? When the noose is tightened, who will survive?
Also available: Damaged Goods by Gerry Boyle (Kindle edition).
For a chance to win a copy of Damaged Goods or Deadline, courtesy of the author, visit Mystery Book Contests, click on the "Gerry Boyle: Damaged Goods" contest link, and enter your name, e-mail address, and this code (1852) in the entry form. (One entry per person; contest ends July 27, 2010.)