To many visitors, Belfast is a quaint locale of art galleries and organic food. But to mystery writer Gerry Boyle, Belfast is a shadowy place full of lurking dangers.
In this town, thinly disguised as ‘Galway’ in the China resident’s latest book, “Damaged Goods,” nothing is quite what it seems. The suspenseful, gritty tale seems to have little in common with the cozy and scenic Maine coast mysteries of the “Murder She Wrote” variety, and that’s just the way the former Central Maine Morning Sentinel reporter and columnist likes it.
“I think that having been a reporter, you just have seen so much of the rest of it, it becomes the real Maine,” Boyle said recently over a cup of coffee in downtown Belfast. “The rest seems like a fantasy.”
Boyle’s longtime protagonist, freelance reporter and all-around tough guy Jack McMorrow, keeps the story firmly grounded in reality even as he tangles with a mysterious young woman who works as a “companion” and battles a family of angry Knox County Satanists.
It’s Boyle’s ninth go-round with ex-New York Times reporter Jack McMorrow, but his first time setting a book in Belfast, a town which he knows well.
“I liked the contained quality of the place. You can walk the main street and meet the whole cast of characters,” he said. “I populate it with people you might not want in your town.”
Although Boyle had taken a recent break from Jack and his adventures while he wrote a book with a new character set in Portland, he found that it wasn’t a struggle to go back to Jack.
“When you write this many books about the same people, they do seem very real,” Boyle said. “I felt that his life kept on going. I wanted to call him up and say, ‘What do you think you’re up to?’”
At first, it seemed that McMorrow’s life had taken a turn for the domestic. In “Damaged Goods” he’s married to Roxanne, a social worker, and they live off the beaten track in a town named Prosperity with their young daughter, Sophie. In the opening pages, Jack and Sophie explore the pine woods behind their house in a bucolic, peaceful scene that shows how much the previously hard-boiled reporter and detective has taken to fatherhood.
“I made my way down the trail through the pinewoods toward the house. Sophie was on my shoulders, her legs tucked under my arms, her arms around my neck, one small hand clutching a droopy bouquet, strangled in her sweaty grip,” Boyle writes.
But that peace lasts only until Roxanne returns home from work, bringing with her a troubled tale of Satanists who have abused and neglected their children so much she must remove them from the family. When the father threatens Roxanne to the point where she wants to quit her job, Jack decides to make more money by working on a couple freelance stories he’s had in mind. One of those is about a woman named Mandi who has placed a classified ad in the Waldo County News offering companionship services.
“I’ve been interested in those personals for a long time,” Boyle said. “I’ve always wondered who would do that. How can you do that in such a small community?”
As Jack finds out more about Mandi — and tries to protect her from someone who is trying to hurt her — he opens himself, and his family, up to a lot of trouble.
“As a parent myself, I thought, what would be the greatest threat to your life?” Boyle asked. “If someone threatens your child, there would be no holds barred after that.”
Trouble for Jack makes for a compelling book that might keep readers up at night, just to find out what happens next.
“He does surprise me, sometimes,” Boyle said.
Gerry Boyle will read from “Damaged Goods” from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday, May 14, at Belfast Mr. Paperback. For more information about the book, which is published by Down East Books, visit www.downeast.com or www.gerryboyle.com.