THE CHILL OF NIGHT, by James Hayman, 2010, Minotaur Books, New York City, 352 pages, hardcover, $24.99.
Residents of northern and Down East Maine tend to think of Portland as the state’s own little Mecca — a walkable city filled with art galleries, restaurants, boutiques and a working waterfront — a mini-Boston or New York without the street crime or traffic hassles.
Author James Hayman lives in that Maine city. So does Michael McCabe, the Portland detective Hayman introduced in his first novel, “The Cutting.” Hayman and McCabe, however, know that underneath the glitter of downtown Portland and the charm of the Old Port, a dark heart all too often beats.
Hayman, like McCabe, is a New Yorker. The writer moved to Portland in August 2001, after a 30-year career on Madison Avenue. McCabe fled big-city evil a year later only to have it follow him.
In “The Chill of Night,” Hayman takes readers onto Portland’s waterfront and its nearby islands. Because he sets his tale deep in a lightless winter, the city becomes a harsh, dangerous place, especially for the broken teenagers who there seek solace from neglect, abuse and their own demons.
McCabe, who works for the Portland police in the Crimes Against People unit, is bored, cranky and frosty as the novel opens.
“No rapes. No assaults. No murder. Not even a garden-variety case of domestic abuse he could sink his teeth into. It was as if everybody in Portland suddenly started taking nice pills.”
A bone-chilling cold front settles in before Christmas. By Jan. 6, it shows no sign of lifting. The boredom breaks that night for McCabe when an abandoned BMW parked on the Portland Fish Pier is reported. Its owner’s body is stuffed in the trunk and frozen stiff in “the tuck position divers squeeze into after they leap from their boards.”
The car is unfamiliar to McCabe. The woman inside is not.
“He flipped on the Maglite and suddenly found himself looking at a body he knew better than his own. Sandy. His faithless [b----] of an ex-wife. The one who’d walked out not only on their failed marriage but also on their only child. How many times had he silently wished her dead?”
But the woman isn’t Sandy. It’s Elaine Elizabeth Goff, a senior associate attorney at one of Portland’s largest law firms. The investigation of her death takes McCabe into the world of lost children and the people who work to rescue them.
The city of Portland is as much a character in this novel as it was in Hayman’s first. The liberties the author has taken in the plots of these two mysteries is to triple the number of serial murderers in Maine. Only one, James Hicks, has ever been convicted.
The thrill Hayman gives readers is the imagined possibility of it happening again. His skill as writer is that he bases the unthinkable acts of his killers in reality. Everything they perpetrated on their victims, except death, is described in files tucked away in courthouses around the state.
Author James Hayman will read from his new book, “The Chill of the Night,” at 6 p.m. July 16 at The Owl & The Turtle Books, 32 Washington St., Camden. For more information on Hayman, visit www.jameshaymanthrillers.com.